Master Bedroom (Part 1)

The master bedroom is going to take a fair amount of work thus the “Part 1” portion of the title. I expect to turn this room into several posts just to keep it moving along nicely. In all fairness the work has begun but has stalled just the same. The master bedroom is one of two bedrooms on the front side of the house. All four bedrooms in the house are on the second floor, two on the front and two on the back.

The wall which hides two windows

The Master bedroom is the room which had two of it’s three windows covered by a sheetrock wall on the inside. Yes, completely covered over by a wall which was built by the previous owner to the owner we bought the house from. We needed to at least have the windows restated as part of the rehabilitation mortgage agreement’s final audit and inspection. After all, these are two of the most prominent windows on the front of the house!

From the outside, the windows simply appeared to have their shades drawn and closed all the time. From the inside … they were non-existent. The photo titled “The wall which hides two windows” is the wall being torn down (by my father-in-law and I) in the photo titled “Exposing the windows”

Exposing the windows

To begin we carefully measured outside to find the windows inside. I took very shallow stabs with a sheetrock saw to be sure I was not cutting near the window glass until we were confident we could locate the windows.

The sheetorck was backed by foil covered styrofoam insulation panels nailed through the plaster wall. And unfortunately to fit the sheetrock and insulation neatly into place, the installers of the wall stripped the inside windows of all its original trim, moulding and the portion of the sills that protrude into the room. A very sad discovery of what I’d say was a poor choice in the first place. I am happy they didn’t glue the insulation in place!  That would have been very damaging to the plaster wall.

Windows complete!

As luck would have it, our neighbor Dave Lieb who works on old houses and furniture for his profession had some old moulding salvaged from a demolition home that came extremely close to matching the other windows in the room. Dave graciously gave me three bundles of the matching moulding for me to use. All that was left now was rebuilding the sills (which I was able to do from some 5/4 white pine), scrape, prime and paint the sashes and re-hang them with new sash cord!

In upcoming posts, Karyn and I will walk you through each day of work on this pink room, from plastering to putting in sash cords, priming and finishing the floors.


Upstairs Bath

Someone pointed out recently that we haven’t been showing what we’re doing right at this moment.  (Sorry about that, there is so much past work to show, it’s hard to squeeze it all in.)  Well, Bill’s next post will unveil the biggest recent project and we’ll walk through each day of renovation in fairly real time so that you can see how long it takes us to finish a project.

Original wall paper

In the meantime, I wanted to show you what we’ve just completed — the upstairs bath.  There are only two bathrooms in the entire house, and the one upstairs is the only full bath.  When we moved in, the tub was actually brown with grime.  Thankfully, my sweet husband scoured it for me.

The dark green wallpaper was peeling from everywhere and the ceiling had also been wallpapered to hide cracks (also peeling).  The woodwork was dry, and the closet unmentionable.  So, we got to work.

Bill doing the wall paper peel

We started the bathroom renovation almost immediately when we moved in last July.  However, we couldn’t do much at that time as we were waiting for the full purchase to go through.  So, we removed the urine stained carpet in the closet and put 3 coats of paint on the closet walls to cover the dark green.  It was enough for the time.

Once this spring rolled around, we got to work on the main part, removing wallpaper.  It took us weeks to remove the paper, considering it had been put on bare plaster and bare sheet-rock in some places.  Nothing takes it off when it is glued directly to sheet-rock.  The only thing one can do is cover it, so we did.  Bill, the everlasting plaster machine, loaded on 6 layers of plaster to cover wallpaper, cracks and divets in the walls.  Then, I was able to prime and paint and stencil.  We both restored the woodwork with our new favorite treatment, Danish oil.  To round out our work, I repainted the light fixtures and sink brackets in hammered copper.  If you notice in the top photo, the marble sink has two brackets underneath holding it up, or pretending to hold it up.

Completed Bath

Our greatest treasure was finding an old marble topped vanity (matching the sink marble) to use as a counter and storage.  The bathroom is oddly shaped, but big enough to hold a small dresser.  To top off the new look, we got new sink hardware in oil rubbed bronze.  Course, there was no way I wanted to change the sink.  We think it is original, a small corner marble sink–couldn’t be more quaint.

Bill topped off the room by giving the floor a coat of polyurethane, and we called it done.  Really, this is the first room in the house that is fully complete~ floors, hardware, linens, everything.

The Wrap Around Porch

While you may have read that Karyn had a few requirements for a house while we were house hunting for 14 months, I had many, many more! One of which was that the house could NOT have a shared driveway … and …ours does … hmmm … 

One Driveway, two houses

It doesn’t matter.  Every one of my requirements faded away as soon as I stepped onto the porch of 60 West Main Street. The first words I declared, standing on the third step up was “We … are buying … this house!” 

There’s no better way of explaining it, and I hope that Karyn doesn’t feel jealous or threatened but stepping onto the porch for the first time was like falling in love. I was overwhelmed, rendered speechless (useless actually) and couldn’t do anything about it! 

(It’s critically important to add that I no longer feel that way about the porch but I certainly do about Karyn!) 

The first day we saw the porch. . .

The porch was in rough shape (the whole house was and much of it still is!) but I could see it for what it was and would become again the moment I was able to step up onto the first few stairs. It took a step or two to really see since it was covered with vines and hidden by the overgrowth of un-pruned trees and shrubs. The vines were entangled onto the porch roof and well upon the second story wall of the east side of the house nearly encroaching on the roofline! However once I was upon that second, then third, then fourth step I was absolutely overwhelmed with what the porch had to offer: an amazing welcoming to our new home, a quiet restful place to waste away lazy Sunday afternoons, a place to dispense candy to the over-300-trick-or-treaters we got our first Halloween, a place to play guitar when the living room feels too “inside”… It’s my favorite “room” “in” the house! 

Side porch now

The front porch wraps around the front-east corner of the house.  It has room for furniture, a swing, glider, tables, chairs, a rocker, planters and more! The porch carries you into the home and welcomes you to stay for a while and at the same time it tells you the house likes you. It was the first “room” I wanted fixed! 

Porch glider

There are two stair cases; the main front stairs and there’s a side stair case that was completely missing when we first arrived. You can enter or exit the living room from two different doors that lead onto the porch as well. The front stairs lead to the main double cherry doors and the side stairs have a single mahogany door that is in desperate need of refinishing however Karyn loves the distressed oil and shellac finish so much she won’t let me touch it yet… yes, yet. She promises I can refinish the door later. 

Side stairs

The side stairs had rotted so much they were basically a pile of decayed wood and dirt. Luckily there was enough of the railings to copy them for the refurbishing. As you may have read earlier in the “Exterior Paint Job” post, the porch was part of that project to satisfy the mortgage requirements so the work was completed by the hired contractors. I had a wood turner copy the spindles we needed and the contractors built the new stairs to replicate what was there as best we could tell. Completely hidden from view from the front of the house, they came out to be one of my favorite features of the entire house as they lead to my favorite side of the garden and yard! 

View from far corner of the porch

Karyn surprised me the week the painters had finished all their work with a new address number plate. I built an escutcheon mounting plate and proudly hung it next to the front door. I hope to get some urns for the front stairs and more furniture. The glider was a gift from me to Karyn for her birthday last March … but I think I use it more than she does! 

60 West Main

the Attic

When Bill and I were first looking for a house together, there were a few things that I really wanted.  I didn’t care how many bedrooms or baths, and I didn’t care about the year it was built or the style.  Granted, house-hunting is quite different here in New York than anywhere I’ve been.  There aren’t “suburbs” and new construction means “double-wide” or anything after 1960.  So, I adapted with a few requirements that stuck.

First, I wanted a place to garden.  Pulling weeds is relaxing to me, so I need a place to plant things, that I may or may not kill in my own way and time.  (I have started a garden of sorts here and the cherry tomatoes are growing!)

Secondly, I really wanted a fireplace. It is so cold here, and the snow makes that bearable.  But, the fireplace is my winter therapy.  The light even makes a room seem warmer than it is.  We’ve adapted the coal fireplace here to a usable status; so we’ll show you that in a later post.

Lastly, I wanted a walk in attic.

the attic stairs

Now, I didn’t realize that could be something that one could want, until we visited a glorious Federal home a few towns away.  This amazing brick house was a consideration of ours, but the trailer park neighborhood across the street drove away our interest.  However, it had a full walk up attic, where “I” could stand!  And it had windows, and old trunks!  Quickly, needing an attic became a requirement.

East side, and windows to house front

For most of the houses we visited, Bill looked at the attic and the basements first, to give me a full report.  At 60 West Main, it looked promising when I saw the STAIRS that led up to the attic for this house.  Bill shook his head and said, “Well, its a deal breaker, you’re not going to like this.”  I couldn’t have imagined what it would look like.

Windows facing the back yard

The trap door opened to reveal a full walk up attic, with windows on all four sides and the original beams showing their hardy structure.  I was in love, and ready to move my studio in right away.  Apparently, though, I’m not allowed to put a wood stove up there, and its not safe to heat without changing the whole thing.  We would have to put up sheet rock to cover the beams, and insulation and ultimately hide its glory in order to “use” it for living space.

So, instead, I visit it when I can, and I’ve put a light up there so that it shines through the three stained glass windows up there on winter nights.  This year, I might even put a small Christmas tree in one of the front windows.

At the top of the attic stairs

Dining Room, phase 1

We started with the dining room first, because it seemed to have the least work to do and we wanted to feel as though we really accomplished something.  When we originally looked at the house, there was a huge drum-

Dining room, pre paint

set in the room.  The walls were patched, and the undercoat was a dirty yellow.  But, its a HUGE room, with three large windows at one end and a curved cove at the other.  Yes, the light appears to be original, too.

And so, the real work began.  We have to re-paint and repair all of the rooms downstairs before we can refinish the floors, and that is another post of course.

Bill priming the ceiling

I chose a soft lime sage green for the base coat.  We had to patch and prime the entire room and ceiling beforehand, though. What we didn’t know at the time, however, was that the ceiling had been wallpapered at one time.  That old glue showed up much later, after the whole room had been completed and the ceiling started to peel.  Thankfully, it was our first ceiling, so re-doing it was more of a lesson learned well than anything.  Bill is still working on that part, but should be done in the next few weeks.

Dining room, post stenciling

Painting the room was a quick process, but the stenciling took about 6 weeks or so.  It was well worth it.  Though you can’t tell from these photos, we fixed all the windows, cleaned the hardware and the woodwork.  Most of the original hardware appears to be either copper or a rose colored bronze.  Most, if not all the windows in the house are dual hung, so that the sashes open from the top and the bottom.  We have replaced all the cords here in the dining room, so they are all completely functional.  The second phase of the dining room will involved refinishing the floors and getting real furniture.  Might be a ways off.

Other side of the dining room, (swinging door goes to pantry.)

Our last piece of the dining room came as a bit of a surprise to both of us.  Bill actually finished the ceiling while I was away this past week and we both decided that the light needed a little something.  So, we planned to put a plaster medallion in place around the base, and I thought I could clean the fixture while it was down.  Originally, I had thought it was plated with brass or gold and needed to be re-done.  However, with a closer look and some cleaning, I discovered that it was silver!  And, might not be just silver plate, either.  Check out the before and after!  Woo hoo, another sweet surprise that the house holds.

Dining room light before cleaning. . .
. . . and after polishing

Exterior Paint Job

I thought I would write about the exterior paint job we had contracted while I wait for the polyurethane to dry on the bathroom floor. Today I made the text-book error of applying polyurethane to the floor of our newly refinished upstairs bathroom. What’s the error? Today is the most humid, muggy day we’ll likely have all year. The house is damp and the weather is wet. The poly will likely not dry today …. I’ll save the bathroom for another post … 

Back to the exterior paint job: 

As Karyn explained in a pervious blog entry, our house would only qualify for a refurbish type mortgage. The primary reason: The house needed a full exterior paint job, some light exterior carpentry work and new rain gutters. 

 Neighbors tell us that pervious owners made attempts to paint small sections of the house, here and there over time, however a large house in the North East requires good paint with regular and complete maintenance. I’ve enjoyed many hours of watching paint fail in my Paint-Lab days at Golden … I’ll not enjoy watching the paint fail on our new-old house however… 

In need of paint!

The house not only appeared very dirty but there was cracking, peeling, blistering and allirgatoring paint on almost every surface of the house. Siding, shutters, porch floors and stairs all required scraping and sanding of old paint. Much of it came off easily but some was still well adhered. Every surface needed priming, some minor cracks and such were filled and stabilized before priming. 

The photo to the left shows the green shutters we’ll later turn blue. White siding with green trim and shutter color is a very classic color combo for older houses in the North East. The lovely home to the west of us, the one which we share driveways with is a classic example of this color combo. We chose to differentiate to make the house stand out a little more and to add some visual interest to the neighborhood without being too obnoxious! It would be easy to get wild with color on a house like ours. For now, we chose to be more conservative with color. We did however vary from the traditional “porch gray” for the porch floors and stairs. The brown roof, being only 5 years old and in excellent shape drove us to the khaki porches and stairs. And we feel the blue shutters compliment the overall color scheme nicely. 

As I mentioned earlier, we did not do the paint job ourselves. We were actually forbidden to do so by the bank. The 

Robert Birdsall sanding the porch floor.

very nature of the mortgage required the work to be contracted and inspected by professionals. We were also not allowed to use any relatives for the work. We originally planned to work with my brother’s company “Pecktown Construction”. After researching reputable contractors, we wound up working with a local painter, Robert Birdsall, who in our opinion did an excellent job for us and the house. 

Robert and his crew also did some light carpentry work needed. Directly behind Robert in the photo above is a missing staircase from the porch to the garden on the side of the house. The stairs were a pile of rotten wood. Luckily, the two handrails were salvaged. I found a local woodturner to hire for reproducing the 30 spindles the stairs required. He matched them perfectly to the already several hundred on the porch! This side staircase was one of the two outside stairs Robert replaced. He rebuilt the simple stairs leading off of the back porch as well. 

 A little more involved, Robert also replaced the front, center first-floor window on the Queen Anne tower a previous owner decided to “wall-over”. Honestly, this was the most insane choice for a “home improvement” in my opinion. As you can see in the first photo of this blog entry, the window to the side of the front porch is missing! Compare that photo to this one: 

Window installed with new siding

As you can see, the siding was in need of repair too. We were fortunate enough to find the original window sashes in the attic. 

Although the carpenter had to rebuild the exterior window sill and side boards, the sashes fit perfectly and match the other two windows in this very prominent front room of the house. 

The porch posts stripped very nicely. They were highly textured with allirgatored paint. Decades of oil-based paint tends to crackle in a patter resembling the reptilian skin of an alligator. Luckily, Robert and his crew were able to strip 100% of the paint bringing them back to their original, smooth appearance! 

The entire paint job took about 12 weeks to accomplish however the winter of 2009-2010 interrupted the progress. We got a late start on the project due to a late closing. There was roughly 6 weeks of work done in the late Fall of 2009 and work resumed in the early Spring of 2010 for roughly 6 more weeks. Our final inspection turned out to be a very quick and informal process of having the inspector over one evening after work. He was absolutely impressed. He shared with us that he was the original inspector for the bank’s original assessment during the mortgage approval process. He got to see the before and after and was amazed! 

We’re really happy with the results too.  The house gets many compliments from neighbors we know and many 

Painted and pretty again in 2010

neighbors we don’t know feel good about approaching us to let us know how much they like the work we’re doing. I never realized that fixing up an old house would be such a good way to meet people in a small town. Folks who have lived here either all their lives or for only a short time like to show their genuine appreciation of “fixing up and old house”. 

Now I wonder how that poly is drying upstairs …

An outdoor tour

To give you a full view of what Bill and I are dealing with, let me give you an outside tour.

Removing the huge raised bed in the back

The house was in need of a deep cosmetic painting job, requiring us to get a renovation loan in order to buy it. Right now, in NY state, any home that has peeling paint requires a renovation loan, as banks don’t want to be stuck with foreclosed homes in need of work. Once we found a painter, got an estimate and knew we could afford the home. . .we pursued.

Bill pulling cinder blocks up out of the yard

With the weather being so calm in August and September, Bill and I worked on clipping back the yard so that it was ready for the painters. This is a shot of the back yard and house before the painters even began scraping, so you can see. . . it needs work.

We had to do a LOT of preparation for the painters in terms of pruning back the vegetation, which had been growing for a good 10 years without any clipping. We left at least two piles of debris the size of a car next to the curb for pickup in the first month of cleanup.

Second visit to the house, pre-purchase

(Here you can see that one of the front windows on the ground floor is boarded over. How nice. . . and really weird.->)

After pulling out a chunk of hummingbird vine, we removed a large “L” shaped raised bed from the middle of the backyard. It had road ties to hold in the soil and was set upon cinder blocks. We spent a weekend taking it out.

The backyard is still quite full of vegetation, and the whole house is rather shady because it has been so overgrown. But, we managed to pull the vines off the south side of the house and started pruning the front yard, too.

One can barely see the house for the trees. .

I will show an after picture later of what the house looks like post-purchase with the vegetation cleared. But, this is really amazing growth, I think.