Tag Archives: small house

4 Year Anniversary Tour – The Exterior

I haven’t done anything to the front yet, but the plan is to restore it as close as possible to its original appearance. I’ll restore the original brick and marble, eliminate the plague of aluminum siding and awnings, restore or replicate the original wood trim, install wood windows (new or old). You can read more about this process here, here, here, and here.

Let’s pretend this other house is my after, though I plan to 2-tone the cornice and not have white paint on the marble.

The back started off in this grim state. The big square bay was wood framed with very crudely applied modern stucco. The rest is load-bearing brick protected with a thin layer of older stucco. Plus, rusty plumbing stack, rusty downspout, and tangle of cables.

But it got worse quickly when I started enlarging the back bedroom window and discovered how poorly the stucco was installed on that bay. Under it were 3 layers of asphalt siding, and these were damp! If you look carefully at the closeup of the bay, they installed flashing like corner molding, so it channels water INTO the wall. Then below this was the original siding, some of it rotten, nailed right to the studs. So fun times, off it came.

So this was a nice sized extra project when I was already in the middle of that back bedroom. I got the rotten clapboards replaced with new plywood sheathing and all of it wrapped in tar paper and let it go. And then came the polar vortex, the downspout froze solid and I had icicles inside! What a pleasant surprise for the day insulation was supposed to get blown in.

So when it came time to side it we overdesigned it absurdly. Lots of tar paper, flashing, indestructible cellular PVC trim sealed to the brick with silicone (to be eventually embedded into new stucco), and a 3/4″ air gap behind the siding that’s vented so if water does get in, it should stay on the outside of the tar paper. The wood strips are marine grade for nailing the siding into.

Speaking of siding, I was too snobby for vinyl even on a barely visible spot on the rear second floor, so I used HardiPlank. This is almost as nice looking as wood and more durable. The wider siding is not period correct but I figured it was less to install and my parents might want to use my leftovers. I had already committed to white trim and painted the siding a color that I learned is Wedgwood blue, not navy. The beadboard underneath is light blue to try to make this closed in urban space look cheery.

 

And here’s what it looks like now. The original stucco was in lousy shape and I was on a budget, so where I altered old window openings we filled them with whatever and I’ll have it all stuccoed later. You can also see that the patio door job involved ripping off some of the beadboard. I’ve been lazy lately but maybe I can get it fixed this year. Also, sorry Ross, but yes my ceiling fan has a light.

When this is all done, the plan is to have trim around the patio doors just like the windows above, have the stucco white or very light grey to reflect as much light into the living room as possible, and most importantly, I want a texture that looks like it belongs on an old house. What texture I get doesn’t much matter. The back of this house has no architectural style to speak of. It just needs to look old. The idea of a McMansion stucco texture on my house is enough to give me night sweats.

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Parties > Pigtails

So yeah, I had a party! I had a post drafted about it but it was boring, so here’s the tl;dr version. I invited 120 people on Facebook. I panicked. I cooked for 30. 15 showed up. It was nice. I think the Crooked House could accommodate 20 or 25 comfortably for this kind of party, or 10 for a sit down dinner. Here’s the living room at the end of the night, still messy after an hour of me and the roommie washing dishes.

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Now on to the light fixtures (and yes, you just saw one of them.) Remember the cute little pan light for my bedroom? It had non-original shades and there was an odd gap between the shades and the bells that cover the bulb sockets.

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I figured out that it had been a bare bulb fixture and that whoever redid it in the 80’s discarded the bobesches and clamped on globe fitters. Once I saw this I wanted to turn it back, but was nervous to buy bobesches online sight unseen. It also shorted out because the paper insulaters around the bulb sockets are gone, the polarity of the wires is backwards (which is fine as long as I know) and my lighting circuit has a ground fault interrupter breaker.

Then my flashy chrome chandelier needed a longer center wire and a new chain and canopy.

Anyways, I went to The Antique Lighthouse in Fishtown. They had brass bobesches that looked good to me. They’re a little too big but they screw on the bulb sockets and I don’t think anyone will notice that I cheated. The lighting shop is attached to a metal finisher, so they also polished and lacquered them to match the refinished fixture. And they replaced the insulators and fixed a crack in the ceiling canopy. So now it’s up and working!

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Rewiring the other chandelier was gonna cost me a lot more and I balked. They sold me 10 paper insulators and good chain and I decided to tackle it myself. Luckily, the wiring was in good shape so I didn’t have to fish anything, just put on a new center wire. I bought a ceiling canopy online. It’s not perfect. The canopy is kinda flimsy and the Irishman cut the drywall too big around the electrical box. But it’s up!

 

and boy does the room look more finished with it.

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Also, my fears about this not fitting in with my décor were completely baseless. I feared that it was gonna look oddly flashy but it turns out to be pretty understated. Trading in the country dining furniture for Danish modern might make it fit a weensy bit more too. Like I said before, it was made to have 30 crystals hanging from it and though I’m curious to know what that would look like, I’m not too eager to spend a lot of money restoring a feature that I may not even like. The stars are a garland my roommate had that I hung from ornament hooks through the holes for the crystals.

So this means that the pigtails are gone and every room in the house is now outfitted with presentable lighting. Except the 2 bare bulb fixtures formerly in the basement that are up in the bathroom. The price was right. Maybe I’ll find a suitable replacement soon?

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This concludes Phase 1

And I didn’t even notice!

Which is funny because I’ve been fixated on the end for a solid 3 years now. And it was 3 years of scope bloat. At first it was the things I needed to make the place safe, like this chimney. (This is behind my bookcases in April 2014)

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To the “while we’re at it” jobs that couldn’t feasibly happen later, like moving the bathroom.

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To the surprise problems I couldn’t fix later, like the water behind this stucco. It was at least not getting behind the asphalt.

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The messy things I wanted over with, like the patio door.

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And the things that seemed unnecessary until I was living without them, like kitchen storage. (The oak chopping block on top of this cabinet has been deferred beyond Phase 1.)

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Even with the washer and dryer it didn’t really feel finished. So how do I know it’s over? Because I went away for the weekend and my social calendar filled up every evening but one this week. Normally, there’d be something I wanted to do to the house and knowing that I was even slower would make me grumpy.

As far as actual work goes, it’s been only little things. My bedroom door has been down for a while. I was going to paint the jamb and install vintage hardware and all that. You know door hardware is my favorite. But after that got held up I just hung it back up again as it was and felt great about it. The only real house progress was the furniture and pretty things on this wall. Well, that and polishing silver.

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That dresser was in my grandmother’s childhood home and the mirror was in her living room. The mirror always looked really, really formal in her house and I thought it would be too much for me, but I love it. And I got the bust because I used to be afraid of one just like it at my friend’s house when I was little. The Irishman’s kids haven’t seen it yet.

And otherwise, I’m working on putting life before the house. On Tuesday I threw together a small dinner – this kind of thing is why I have a house at all instead of a studio apartment.

And I’m starting to get used to regular cleaning. Not shoveling up debris, the normal people kind. And I went to a neighborhood tree planting today after 3 years of no volunteer work.

So while I’m not doing house work, I have some other stuff that I’m looking forward to writing about. I think it’s time to put together a proper little tour of my little house. Then there’s the house hunt, stuff about the neighborhood and city, past and current projects for my family (because you know I owe my parents forever and ever), and other fun stuff.  There are little projects to do during the “break” and loads of clutter – moving my grandmother and dealing with her stuff is unfinished business. There’s so much more of it after my sister and I got what we wanted. And it’s never too early to plan out Phase 2. I’ve had ideas in my head and can’t wait to write them down. Stay tuned!

Queen For A Day

This reminded my mom of that terrible old show where women would tell their tale of woe and the one with the saddest story would win stuff. Can you guess why? It’s not because my life is impressively sad.

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No, it has something to do with my washer and dryer. And the big priority was getting something that fits. Remember how narrow my stairwell is? (It’s not this dirty anymore.)

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The only place to go for this is a Mom and Pop South Philly appliance store. Somewhere under that siding is a Victorian building, but we’ll rant about that kind of thing later.

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Usually in my family buying appliances is complicated, but not here. They told me that I can get the fancy Speed Queen top load washer with the digital controls or the plain one with a knob that was $100 cheaper. And my mom said that’s what they gave to the women on the show.

They also told me that the the breakdown guy was going on vacation and so I got them delivered the very next day! Eep, so weird to go fast! And what do I mean by the breakdown guy? The one who does this.

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I guess that very expensive paneled wall was worth it now.

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And then was what may have been a reality TV level tale of woe. The new plumber had some staffing issues and backed out of coming a couple times this week. So when he finally showed up yesterday it was super exciting. I may be done with Phase 1 contractors now!

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And you remember what my basement used to look like? Here, I’ll remind you.

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After the stuff went away only the dirt remained. I used 15 gallons of water. First tried scrubbing normally but it wasn’t working. The procedure that did work was pour water out from the bucket, scrub, vacuum up, repeat. Most of it needed to be done 3 times. Behind the boiler was worse. The floor at the bottom right in this photo used to be black and now it’s clean enough that you can see where the paint is peeling! Yay!

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And this little halfassed shelf I built above the shut off valves – I’m getting too happy over little things. And using the gas line as a clothes bar is totally fine, right?

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So there we are! The house is 100% functional! My roommate had to use a laundromat once (and got a discount on the rent accordingly) and then was so out of her clothes I did her laundry – 3 loads between the 2 of us. But this too was exciting.

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And then some more odds and ends – I had 4 mystery bins in the basement. Going through them made the house messy all over again. I took a lot of random crap and then when my grandmother went to assisted living I got better crap. This one was the most ridiculous – mostly scrap metal. But I found corner braces and 12 pair of scissors, pulled out the flatware to sell, and put out the rest for scrap. My roommate donated some furniture to Habitat and I sent some more stuff off with them.

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And I finally unpacked the china! Because every civilized home needs a celery and salt dish set. I’ll eventually paint this cabinet blue and stand plates up in the back.

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And the roomie and I came out of Aldi with a 2 foot long receipt. And with this I think it’s a fully functional house!

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My Income Is Risen!

I’m a little late to the party with posting that joke. But anyways, Easter was moving day in the Crooked House! So we met after brunch and I went to get stuff out of her old place. I’m pretty flattered that she wanted to come to the Crooked House because just look at this giant Mediterranean Revival twin in West Philly where she used to live! LOOK! I want this house so bad.

The leaded glass! That fireplace! The gas sconces! Original bathroom tile! Everything! But I’m not sure about having 7 roommates. And the bathroom has new plumbing that was rigged on the outside of the walls and I’m sure there’s a host of other hidden problems too. So it was probably a good life choice that I got a small house.

Anyways, by the time we got to my house, my parents were already there. My mom made dinner while we were going back to return the van and after that we came in to this!

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I’d like to think that print on the wall gives me a whole window in the dining room. It was a gift from my French host family in 2004 when I was in high school. The real window gives me light and air but overlooks a dingy blind alley. It also reminds me of my roof deck envy. I just don’t see any good way to get up there, but it’s a similar view. Particularly a little more to the left where there’s a handsome church.

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And then there was all the prep for having someone live here. First off, we’ve finally, FINALLY gotten somewhere with the painting! I touched up all the damage on the walls in the back bedroom, put up blinds, and took out some of my furniture. And 3 out of 4 closets are done! I especially have to thank my parents and their friend Evan. Evan came to paint for me even though he never did it in his own house. He told me that he’s no good at it, so I had him do the closet. And he worked in there for 8 hours like a champ and even offered to come back a second time. Weird. And I put up the wood blinds and cleared out the room because she brought a full size bed. It covers all this bare floor but totally works.

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Then, would you believe what a difference clean windows make? The front ones have survived the whole remodel plus I’m sure many years of neglect before that. My dad was mocking me pretty hard for how bad they were. The house is actually brighter now.

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And the stained glass transom is clear now! Who knew? My mom had this made for her first house. She said that she had it made by a local stained glass maker. He told her he couldn’t make it the way he wanted for her price. She wouldn’t come up, so he made it the way he wanted and undercharged her instead of toning down the design to fit her budget.

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It hasn’t been properly displayed in over 30 years. Now she said it’s in a better spot than it ever had. I get a disco ball effect when the vestibule light is on!

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I’ve run out of room to tell you about the super exciting kitchen work. Soon though!

 

Ups and Downs with the Bookcases

So first of all, yes I got them! I took the Suburban up to the seller’s house in Perkasie, and we got all of them except the middle lower unit in. This meant an hour and a half of driving over my usual afternoon commute. The seller is a concrete contractor and was working closer to where I work the next day, so he offered to bring it to his job site so I could get it there. But then he finished early and brought it to me instead. I said before that last week was bad. But then he showed up with this on his trailer. And yes, that’s my bookcase on the truck.

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And here they are in the house! They’re supposed to go on the other side of the room and will get a little cosmetic tweaking – more on that later – but this is a start.

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Sadly, the lowest shelf of the upper shelving units is fixed. won’t house a TV . But if I can choose between practical and solid mahogany… there’s no contest. The middle base unit has a pullout and a carousel for a TV, so that got me thinking that I could just be old fashioned and keep my TV 4 inches off the ground, too. And that way if there are people with bad taste in TV coming around too often, I can install locks on the doors! Should they insist on being allowed to watch, I’ll see if I can rig something up using the boiler as a stand and and throw some lawn chairs in the basement.

And then, remember how the bases are too deep to fit in my house? I plan to cut 5 inches off the backs, then rout out the side panels and reinstall the original backs to make them look like they came that way. This was easy in my mind. We’d run them through the Irishman’s table saw. He left it in my house and we’ve used it plenty.

But my dad wasn’t comfortable with us being able to balance something that big on such a small table. So instead he said we could clamp on a fence and cut them with a circular saw. We took one out to the sidewalk and made the first cut. The result? Wavy. A disaster.

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I’ll need a Plan B. Either going to Philadelphia Woodworks to have a real wood shop and professional guidance – at $70 an hour – or hoping I can do better redoing the cuts with a router. But for now I’ve just thrown the room together to leave this project till later.

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I thought seeing things bit scrunched and the couch off center was going to make me twitch, but I gave it a shrug. It’s fine. Also, I’ve figured out that the couch will be smushed against the bases if I size them to fit the stereo receiver, but because there’s a big gap behind the cabinets above the baseboards, I’m just gonna be lazy and cut a big hole in the backs. Problem solved.

A triumphant end to Phase 1

I always imagined that the stove would be just about the last thing I’d do in Phase 1. The house wouldn’t be perfect but it would be livable and I’d make pasta and it would be triumphant. Well, I’ve been making pasta and a triumph it is not. Even easy meals are kind of tedious in a chronically messy kitchen. And elsewhere in the house, the march toward civility is moving backwards.

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Now the plan was always to slow down a bit and get my life back for a little while after Phase 1. So when would that come? It was looking like at some point or another I’d just anticlimactically say that’s enough.

But now there’s big news – I have a triumphant end to Phase 1 once again. Because a good friend of mine wants to be my roommate! That means great things for my bank account. And it also means more stuff to do now. She’s pretty easy going, but she said in no uncertain terms that the doors need to be back up on her room and the bathroom before she can move in. And there’s at least one solid weekend’s worth of work left to turn the living room and kitchen right side up again. I’m hoping for a little more help from the Irishman; without him, it could easily be 2 weekends.

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And the new end of Phase 1 (I think) is the washer and dryer. But first, there’s all this painting that feels like it will never end. But there are bright spots. I’m done most of the prep now and at the very least, the messiest painting should be done this weekend. I hope. And the back bedroom closet doors look oddly new with the mildew bleached off and painted over. Of course new wasn’t what I wanted, but I’m happy enough to have it here.

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And there’s quarter round in the living room! That’s not just a big step forward (and a prerequisite for the bookcases) but also one more thing out of the basement. 5000 to go before the washer and dryer come! Just kidding. But not really.

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So, it looks like I need to put a third coat of paint onto most of the walls. Hopefully that’s done this weekend and I can really put the house together next. Then here’s what’s left:

  • Finish Phase 1 trim painting, which means all upstairs woodwork. Re-hang upstairs doors.
  • Clear out the back bedroom. There is stuff in the furniture. I’ll have to put it in boxes.
  • Procure and install curtains or blinds for the back bedroom.
  • Move the bookcases I have back to the long wall where they were and anchor them. Add a 4th narrow unit and height extensions. (Bringing over books and other things that go on them can go beyond Phase 1.)
  • Hang the 2 downstairs interior doors and slider screen door that are currently stored in the living room.
  • Bring over one more piece of furniture for the brick wall by the stairs.
  • Add 6 more drawers (for a total of 7) to the kitchen. Make plywood drawer fronts. Paint them? Rearrange kitchen things and bring in china.

The list is getting shorter and less scary, right?