Tag Archives: rowhouse

Farther Down the Front Door Rabbit Hole

I really should have been starting the kitchen, but that got held up this weekend so instead I decided to go to Philadelphia Salvage. Just to look for a skeleton key for the vestibule door and set screws for some old porcelain door knobs. Really, that’s all I was looking for.

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But, no luck. The few keys they had didn’t fit my lock and I couldn’t find set screws in the right size. My dad has a tap and die set though so I’ll get set screws and make them fit. Oh, did I mention I browsed the door aisle? But there were no exterior doors narrower than 30 inches. The guy there said that the kinda Art Deco doors seen on narrow houses in South Philly are called Hollywood doors and that they get them occasionally.

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“What does occasionally mean?” I asked. “Because I’m trying to decide if I want to spruce up a door I don’t like that much.”

He said it’s a craps shoot. Anyways, back home I went. But after 4 years abstaining from the door aisle… I needed more. And, there’s… another salvage yard. Better yet, this one has more exterior doors! This blue door was just about the right size. I was ready to jump on it, until I noticed that it’s half rotten, that the fancy ledge below the glass is just a piece of contemporary chair rail, and that most of the panel sticking is missing with caulk in its place. I may as well just buy a new door at that point. Neeeext.

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Then this one. It’s 28 1/4″ wide. I was hyperventilating now. All I’d have to do is make it a quarter inch wider and it would fit in the jamb I already have!

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Then I saw the next one, which is identical. And it’s tagged “$800/pair.” My heart sank. I had already planned out spending the rest of my life with this door. So I asked, “Don’t guess you’d let me have just the one for $400?”

No dice. But really, I shouldn’t be spending $400 on a door, so all the better. This set would never, ever work, but I want it anyway.

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Then I saw this one. It’s fitted with a mirror but it looks way to thick to be a closet door. And on the back side, the mirror is held in with nice glass bead. I said, “This looks like a front door! And it’s only 30 inches wide!”

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Alas, 30″ is still not 28 1/2″ and the stiles aren’t nearly wide enough to cut that much off. And home I went, thinking about that plan to spruce up the front door that is all of a sudden way less exciting than it used to be. I meant to take a nap, but instead I spent an hour on my phone looking at photos from streets department work on PhillyHistory.org, a mapping website that allows users to search for, view by location, and purchase thousands of historic photographs dating back to the late nineteenth century.

I’m sorry for destroying your productivity for the day. (philageohistory.org does the same thing with maps. Sorry again and/or you’re welcome.)

I said before that truly original doors are extinct in South Philly. I wouldn’t even know what they look like. The “Hollywood doors” are the oldest I’ve ever seen there. But in among photos of curbs, sewers, and excavation for the Broad Street Subway…

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Colorado Street, above, is very much like mine. And that house with the picture window appears to have… an original door! But now look below, in the 800 Block of Moore Street. This is a slightly fancier house type than mine but I guess not that far off. Note that the oldest doors all seem to have more glass than pretty much anything today.

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The 2300 Block of Federal Street, farther west, still retained 4 original doors in a row in 1956!

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And all I could think about was a door that I had passed over. It was old, but with 2 panels at the bottom and 2 panes of glass at the top, it was looking less like a back door and more like something precious and rare. It was all I could think about. And the next day I was back at Provenance again.

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But what’s this to the right of the door I was talking about? A basically identical door, in slightly better shape,  without the horizontal muntin that I don’t like. At 29 3/4″ wide and 83″ tall, this door needs to be cut about an inch narrower and 3 inches shorter. That has me a little skittish. But the guy liked me. He told me he could let me have it for $80 because it’s missing its glass, and so my new car lost its door-ginity.

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So, I hope this door works out. It would mean that my monomania got us somewhere yesterday.

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The Front Door – The Plan and Cold Feet

I’m hoping to start facade restoration next year as soon as there’s no risk of frost. In the meantime, I need to take my front door off and refinish it while the awnings are still up. I will be locking the house with an old fashioned skeleton key in the vestibule door in the meantime. Can you see how bad the varnish stain is right now?

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But this gets me to something I’ve been ignoring. I get a lot of compliments on this door, some of them from people I care deeply about. And this style of door is all over the place. But I look at it and think, “meh.” So anyways, if you strongly disagree with me here, please call me crazy since that crazy sounds better than a huge snob.

This is not how I react to old doors. In case you need a reminder, I said that the day I found a matched set of 5 doors that were pretty much period correct was the happiest in my life.

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And I spent about 100 hours refinishing them. (These doors are in fact a smidge too fancy with reeded details on the panels, but I can live with that.)

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I used trigonometry, the arctangent function, to cut framing lumber for this sloped ceiling in the back bedroom to make the room fit these (definitely not period correct but definitely awesome) closet doors.

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I carried these home when I had literally no use for them just because the idea of them going in the trash upset me. They got passed around to 3 different people but have hopefully now found their forever home. Important: the parallelogram panels in between the triangles were originally glass.

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And when the renovation got me stressed out, I laid out my door hardware and looked at it just to cheer myself up.

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So, old doors get an emotional reaction out of me. And actually so do the hollow core doors I started with.

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But a mahogany door in a not quite historically accurate Victorian style? Meh. But I’ve already put money into things that revolve around keeping it, and I still can’t afford to back out of that and dump more money into something else. The Irishman built nice jamb extensions and casings on the inside and when I needed a new lock I went one from Baldwin, the closest approximation I could find of the mortise locks I covet with the modern tubular design.

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For perspective, the oldest doors on my block or the next, which has identical houses, appear to be from the 1930’s.

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And there are others behind storm doors that look more like this wider door on a wider house. Note the starburst cut into the glass.

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Meanwhile, the fanciest houses in the neighborhood seem to hold onto their original doors more often.

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Even this weird effort to suburbanize a brownstone makes one side of me almost happy. Yes, I’m a fan of that mid-mod/colonial hybrid door if not the rest of what’s going on here.

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So, I’m not counting on ever looking at my door and being in awe of it.

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But can we drag its appearance a little closer to the doors I really love?

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Because when I take a second look at it, I realize that what I like least about this door is the faux-Victorian glass.

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So, like I said, I’m taking the door off to refinish it. And I’m thinking about my options here. What do you think? I’ll post some ideas next time but maybe yours are better than mine. For now, let’s just say that I have mixed feelings about clear glass.

The Small Project Roundup

Okay, taking on a challenge to do a job a day (on average) should mean a month of doing small, easy projects. As you know, I had a large, relatively skilled job that I was hell bent on finishing and ended up calling it like 6 of my 30 projects. But I decided to finish off the month with actual small jobs.

To start, I was anxious to get the car cleaned after spilling cement in it. After all, I should TRY to keep my brand new car looking decent, right? (This is why without my family’s influences I would have driven beaters forever.)

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So, I rounded up all the unused Home Depot stuff that was lying around and returned it (Project 18) including more cement. Then I cleaned my car (Project 19).

Then my parents came over to help rescue the living room from the project aftermath (Project 20). There was a happy hour in the neighborhood that night with free food and free wine. Somehow, we started at 8 after that and managed to get a lot done. I’ll call that a win. Sorry, I usually like to show you what tools, materials, and apathy do to my living room at the end of a big project but forgot to take a photo this time.

Then I took down all the upper cabinet doors that weren’t acceptably painted on the back sides and finished that job (Project 21).

Then since I had started going through drawers and stuff in my bedroom when I was cleaning out the closet, I finished that job and decluttered the room (Project 22). This means that the whole house is relatively tidy! Except the basement.

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Not that I’ve eliminated all weirdness. Like, my grandmother held onto certain things just because they’re old, and now I have an entire drawer of antique straight razors next to my bed. This is extremely creepy but I’m not sure what to do about it.

Then, it’s rude to talk about money but I’m going to anyway. I rolled all my loose change (Project 23). It came to about $60! And more exciting still, remember how I was hiring the Irishman all the time to get my finish carpentry done 2 years ago? Well, I’ve been carrying a credit card balance ever since. I’ve managed to move it around to keep it interest free but last week I did one better and finally paid it off (Project 24)!

And this brings us to Saturday, and I wanted to see if I could come up with 6 more projects to finish in one day. Unfortunately, my dad got caught up in other work and wasn’t able to come. Without solid wall anchors or caulking skills, I substituted in even smaller jobs.

And I’ve been improvising places to hang my bath towel (the bar in the bathroom holds towels that aren’t rags that I don’t use) and meanwhile had 3 robe hooks in my basement hoard. So now this has been rectified and both closets have a place to hang a towel (Project 25).

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The power has been off out back and I’ve missed having a working light. Now that I’m finished my 5 days of curing the stucco by spraying it with a hose twice a day, I was anxious to get the outlet back up (Project 26). Shockingly (or maybe predictably), I had to replace the screws that came with the box extension because they weren’t long enough, but luckily I have a 370-pack of assorted electrician’s machine screws. I assume the electrician left it behind and I didn’t say a word.

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I stumbled upon a mini-hoard of non-sexy, non-vintage hardware in the basement and now my bathroom has a door stop. Yes, Project 27 took like 1 minute. Womp.

Along with the straight razors I found pieces of my bedroom furniture that had broken off.

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Now it’s all glued back together and the fancy topper is screwed down to the mirror (Project 28). Note that it’s still not intact, but what’s missing now has been gone for about 50 years.

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Aaaaaaand that leaves me 2 projects short. I was gonna finish the challenge off on Sunday, but my mom asked me to help with yard work again and the jobs were things that I already gave myself credit for finishing last week. So… I laundered the shower curtain and cleaned the bathroom, including the tile, which had a lot of scale on it since I’ve only cleaned the tub as long as I can remember. Basic maintenance? Nah, I’ll call it Project 29. My roommate had a cockatiel and I think washing the shower curtain took care of the last of the bird shit, so that’s a permanent-ish thing. And yeah, I said I had to mist the stucco 10 times while it was curing? That’s Project 30.

 

I’m Not a Plasterer, but Stucco’s Done!

This stucco job is pretty big considering that I’m supposed to be averaging a project a day. But not only were there 2 more coats but there was prep in between, so that means we’re looking at Projects 14 through 17 now.

I had left tar paper lapped over the weep screeds and stuff and now trimmed it back so it doesn’t show anymore. And on to the brown coat. This coat is supposed to be thinner than the scratch coat and give a relatively smooth, even surface for the finish coat.

So how’d we do? Well, I didn’t get any pictures of the brown coat. Oops. But a few things to know. I worked really hard to get the surface flat and smooth but couldn’t make it completely free of knife marks. I floated it too close to the surface around the corner bead and then floated the finish coat right over all the metal and made the imperfect, handmade corner I said I had wanted anyway (tell me what you think about that). It dried my hands out like crazy and on the finish coat I gave in and wore gloves.

We got a rough start with the finish coat and for a bit my dad doubted if we’d finish. I started to float it onto the walls and it fell right off. So I ran out for Quikrete Acrylic Fortifier. If you’re going to try this at home, DEFINITELY USE THIS STUFF. Not only did the finish coat stick better but it was more workable, easier to mix and spread evenly. We were finally doing well with it! Phew!

Also, my dad made a big sacrifice for this. He put his Eagles game on AM radio instead of the TV.

Now with this final coat, I decided to do a sand finish, which means that once the stucco is solid but still soft you rub the surface with a rubber float, basically a really stiff sponge, and water, until the sand comes to the surface and it gets a rougher texture. As an added bonus, I could scrape the cement slurry out of the float and work it into the most obvious of my knife marks. This got me a relatively consistent surface even if it isn’t perfectly flat.

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And to me this is all TOTALLY FINE. After all, before I started my crippling fear was that it would be too perfect and my house would look like a McMansion. And remember how I said having the weep screed installed level drew attention to the crazy slope of my concrete yard? Well, now you can see what I meant:

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I have a plan. The city offers subsidies for improving stormwater management by ripping out concrete like this and replacing it with permeable pavers. So I’ll do that. And while it’s out I’m going to wrap the space below the stucco with cellular PVC. Since that stuff is basically inert I can bury it and make the house look clean across the ground. But for now I’m satisfied.

And since we’re close enough to “after” to guess what it looks like, let’s go back to “before.”

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And the industrial chic exposed sheathing look that I had going on for 2 years. Now I’m extra disgruntled about the ripped-out beadboard up there. The Irishman insisted we had to make sure the joists went all the way through… even though we already knew they did. (Also, I asked this before and we won’t have an answer ever but why did they put the textured plywood siding over nice beadboard??)

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Phew, Scratch Coat’s Done

Current 30 Projects in 30 Days count is 9. First I finally finished nailing the lath up to the house (Project 6). Between the casings, the tar paper, and the lath, the stucco prep took over 2 months. (Recycled photo but you get the idea.)

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And here it is with the stucco up (Project 7)! You’ll notice that some stucco is scratched and some isn’t in this photo. What we did after our lunch break was still too soft to scratch, so we took a break while it was setting up. The scratch coat is the first of 3 coats that are required for traditional (read:Twentieth Century) hard coat stucco. If I do the rest of the house myself, I will float only the second 2 coats right onto the old stucco and (thank God!) skip the lath.

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It’s funny because for what a big deal this is I don’t have that much to say. One thing is I was better at floating stucco onto the wall at the end of the day than at the beginning. Another is that my hands are dry. And most important, having exposed plywood sheathing on the back of the house was a worry and might have made the back of the house compete with my real source of future joy, restoring the front.

Speaking of which, we did one small thing to the front. I’ve had this nice mailbox sitting on my living room floor since my birthday in March, and you may have noticed that my 30 projects tend to revolve around finishing all the unfinished things that are stacked up around the edges of the living room. Alternate title for this challenge: #FreeTheCorners! Anyways, here’s the new mailbox. It doesn’t look TOO out of place on my scuzzy house, does it?

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And for reference, here’s the old one. Only downside is I’ll have shitty takout menus stuffed into my railings now because the new mailbox is too nice for a Circular Free Property sticker. I’ll stick one to the glass on my front door, but not until I spruce it up next month. More on that later.

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And I installed the third clothes bar in my closet. I re-purposed old clothes bars everywhere else and when I ran out, just did without on the right side and filled it up with junk. Now it will be easier to install baseboards in the closet because I can empty the lower bar on the left side and work without emptying the closet.

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So, will I make #30ProjectsIn30Days? Last update I was 2 days behind if my goal were a project a day. Today I still am! I think that’s a good thing.

30 Projects, Week 1

First off, I can already tell that I’ll be re-defining what a project is. There were a lot of things on my list. Second of all, it’s been a struggle lately to go to the gym, cook healthy food, and keep up with house work, let alone do remodeling on weeknights. But today I doubled up at the gym, am now blogging, and did some stuff to the house! But, sorry Mom, the dishes are gonna sit in the sink. Anyways, here are the tasks I’ve completed:

  1. I cleaned out the junk side of my closet, and the floor on the clothes side. I found some real gems, like pieces of the Pontiac that broke off and put in a box to reattach later. Now some of my random crap is in control and I’m ready to add  the missing baseboards, robe hooks, and clothes bar. Also note that I built more twice as many shoe shelves as I can fill.
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  2. The Irishman seemed to have forgotten to paint the back sides of all the kitchen cabinet doors that are the hardest to take down. I’ve had them leaning against a wall for a month. Now the back sides are all painted and they’re hanging again. The fronts will be painted in place on a separate item. (He also started to paint a bunch of his off-cuts because he didn’t check whether they were doors or not. Since I paid for that work, I’ve finished painting them to use them as extra shelves. But that’s not finished yet.)
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  3. I helped my roommate move out. Setting up my guest room is on hold until I can borrow the Suburban, or use my parents’ car and some bungee cords on a dry day.
  4. The bookcase in my living room had an open top. It was supposed to fit tight to an 8-foot ceiling, but because I have higher ceilings, I closed it up with a piece of scrap plywood that I stained. The color is too dark but you can only tell because I had the flash on.
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    The edges of the plywood look pretty bad but I’ll fix that once I retrieve my spare mahogany boards from the lumber-hoard.
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  5. Here, I’ll let you see how much I cared about my containers this spring.
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    I finally weeded them. Believe it or not, I had a boxwood and a camellia hiding behind those weeds. The vegetables on the wall aren’t mine. The neighbors borrowed my pots.
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So, even with this rather generous re-numbering and staying home on a holiday weekend, I am a little behind one project per day. Do you think I’ll make it?

30 Projects in 30 Days?

I’ve never thought it worked for me to participate in blogger things like the One Room Challenge. Starting a room and finishing it in the same year? That’s not how things work in the Crooked House. And even my parents, who raised me with more normal DIY remodeling, leave rooms unfinished until they redo them for the second time 20 years later. But 30 little things in 30 days? Stacy came up with this idea because like me, she’s made major headway on fixing up an old house but left little bits undone everywhere. I’m not excited to do these small projects, so I like the chance to cheer on and commiserate with other people doing the same thing. But on the other hand, September is the return of weather I like, and I’m not sure I want to be bound to give the house all of my time. Especially when some of these jobs can happen when it’s miserable again in January.

But My mom says do it! So here’s my list, leaving some bigger things for later months and breaking every item into the smallest thing I could possibly call a stand-alone job. I’m still not sure if I can manage 30, and I might come up with extra things to sub in for some of these. But this is a good start.

  1. Finish getting the lath attached? Yes, I am rewarding myself for missing my goal by putting it on this list. There’s almost nothing left to do from this.
  2. Stucco, scratch coat
  3. Stucco, brown coat
  4. Stucco, finish coat. 3 coats, 3 jobs is not a cop out because I said so.
  5. Wire brush and paint the stub of a cast iron pipe the gutter connects to.
  6. Weed my flower pots. I haven’t done a lick of gardening all year and now they’re kind of ridiculous.
  7. Finish painting the kitchen cabinets.
  8. Install kitchen cabinet knobs
  9. Have glass fitted in the china cabinet doors.
  10. Organize/clean the basement and retrieve some materials from the lumber hoard.
  11. Fill nail holes in woodwork throughout the house.
  12. (Have my dad) caulk seams in woodwork throughout the house. Because remember, I suck at caulking.
  13. Make small drywall repairs and patches throughout the house.
  14. Touch-up paint walls throughout the house.
  15. Install vintage brass switch and outlet plates throughout the house. (They are smaller than the new ones, thus most of the wall repairs.)
  16. Bring my twin bed back from my parents’ attic and furnish and set up the guest room. Yes, I have a guest room! I’ve arrived!
  17. Finish my closet. This means one more closet bar and baseboards, hopefully made of scrap wood. It also probably means random crap in the guest room closet.
  18. Finish the linen closet. This means paint the shelves and add baseboards.
  19. Paint woodwork in the upstairs hall
  20. Paint paneling under the stairs
  21. Paint and reinstall the basement stairway door
  22. Install a bulletin board on the back of the basement stairway door. Part for function, part to hide damage.
  23. Paint woodwork in the kitchen and the big archway between the kitchen and living room
  24. Paint vestibule door.
  25. Get the hardware back on the vestibule door and find a skeleton key. Because I’ll be locking the house with an old-fashioned skeleton key when I take the front door off to refinish it.
  26. Repaint kitchen walls as needed.
  27. Tape and mud basement stairway walls (there’s not much and they don’t need to be done well)
  28. Paint basement stairwell.
  29. My sister bought me a really nice mailbox for my birthday in March. Let’s get it up.
  30. I promised my sister I’d season her vintage cast iron at the same time that I do mine… a year later, she’s asking where it is. And since she’s visiting home this month, it’s time.