Servants in the Home

Servants door at left leading downstairs

Another post from my previous blog

Our house was built with servants in mind, evident from the butler’s pantry and kitchen layout and also from the once present servants’ stairs.  I wouldn’t mind if these stairs were still in place, in keeping the house as it was originally built.  However, the stairs paralleled the family set and their removal opened the hallway to access the basement more easily.

Upstairs, it appears as though one bedroom was for the servant(s) as it is considerably smaller than the others and it has no heat.  We believe there was the kitchen chimney that went up through this room which would have kept it toasty, but that entire fireplace/stove had been removed long ago.

Knowing about the presence of servants in our house has peaked my interest in understanding more about how Victorian families kept their homes, considering our home is a Queen Ann Victorian built in 1894.

I’ve read some about the middle class Victorian ladies in London, to learn that it was customary to have one servant, and sometimes two if it could be afforded.  Just the daily tasks of keeping a home the size of mine would have required full time help.  There were chamber pots to be emptied and cleaned, laundry to be done and ironing, cooking over wood stoves and cleaning without a vacuum or Pledge.  Shopping was done daily because of the lack of cooling.  Seasons brought different chores, like canning, gardening, soap making or spring cleaning.

So to look at what the cost would be to have a servant in this day and time comparably. . . well, if I eliminated all of the goods that make my life contemporary:  phone, car, cable, internet, garbage removal, sewer, pellet stove, washer & dryer, fridge, dishwasher, freezer, air conditioning, insurance, car maintenance, gas, movies, music, computers, cosmetics, salon visits, and all the costs that go with these that I haven’t mentioned,  I would save a good chunk of money a month and it might be enough to pay a live in “servant” or “help” as we call it.  Honestly, I’d rather not have the help and just keep my internet. 😉

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the Victorian Way

I’ve missed blogging about the house.  It makes sense that I haven’t written in a while due to the fact that we have slowed down production greatly in the past two months, but I still want to share our housey tidbits and journal everything we’ve come across as best I can.  So, I have decided to share more history about the house in some old posts that I wrote for my other blog (which I might be shutting down soon anyway).

It seems that our house has Victorian history as well as its own history about the family’s that lived here before us.  We know of several families due to the abstract that came with the house, and we’ve been told a few mighty fine stories along the way as well.  So, I’ll be adding those bits to the blog, too.  The photos might be lacking, however, but maybe I should dig around for some.  Wouldn’t it be cool to find photos of this house back in 1896, for instance? 

Anyway, I wrote about housekeeping in my previous blog (thecontemporaryhousewife.com) and thought I’d repost here.

I have almost always enjoyed cleaning, or parts of cleaning, or at least the end result.  And now with a baby, I want my home cleaner than ever and it is harder to do.  I’ve heard, too, that it will stay hard, especially because I have a boy-child who will likely leave a room with muddy prints, pee stains or crumbs as soon as I de-clutter and cleanse.

A Victorian living room, circa 1890

Now that I’m so focused on cleaning, I’ve taken to a few very important tools that I cannot do without, and I’ve once again looked back in time to see how a true 1890s woman would dust her home.

She would have entered a room, covered all the upholstered furniture with cotton fabric and dusted with a large feather duster.  Then, the carpets would have been taken outside and hung to beat.  This imagery leaves me thinking that the house would have been filled with dusty air during a cleaning and likely long after instead of removing the dust entirely.  Although that might be appealing to some, to see the bits of dust flying around in a sunshine ray, I prefer to remove the dust entirely. . . . forever.

So, I’ve clung to my can of Pledge and my Swiffer dusters.  Ahh, the satisfaction.  They really aren’t paying me to talk about their products, but I can’t say enough how happy I am to dust with these.  I’m addicted.  Really, I believe in taking care of the environment and not using harsh chemicals or throwing away a lot of stuff to our overflowing landfills.  But, sometimes, I make the exception, and this is it. . . Pledge and Swiffers.

Any cleaning tools you can’t live without?

Before and After. . . Renovations so far

Dining room, before we began
Dining room, complete with lemon trees

Here are a few images to give you an idea of how far we’ve come in 2 and a half years.  We still have a ways to go, but our house has become “ours”.  I’ll move through the images based on the order in which we completed the work.

We moved in during July of 2009, but since we were only renting (waiting on our loan to go through), we didn’t want to start any major work.  We spent the summer cleaning out the house, pruning back vines and readying for our paint crew.

When the outdoor work was underway, we began by cleaning up the kitchen and sealing the pantry.  We pulled carpet out of the laundry room, which I still haven’t show you.

And then we started the big work.  Since the dining room looked as though it would be one of the easier rooms, we started there.

Library with window still boarded
Library finished

Next we worked on the library, though we still have yet to put in shelves.

Bathroom before demolition
Completed bath

Then we started upstairs with the full bath and alongside we painted the kitchen.  It took us a LOOONG time to do the bath because we had to remove crappy wallpaper, which was adhered with caulk and a soldering gun.  Just kidding, but it was put on eerily strong.

Kitchen, fall 2009
Kitchen, freshly painted

We stayed upstairs to work on the master bedroom and redid the ceiling in the dining room, not even a year later.  Then we began the nursery and finished up with the living room, where we are still putting final details in place.

Pantry in progress
Pantry, painted

We’ve yet to redo anymore floors except for the master bedroom, though we did consider having someone else come in and do them for us.  We are still debating what to do there.  Such a big job for us.

We still have yet to put up the chandelier in the living room and attach the mantle, though Bill has completed it.

Master Bedroom, with windows covered
Master Bedroom completed, except for ceiling fan and stencil
Nursery first used as our bedroom
Nursery with mural begun

Once those pieces are in place, he will begin our bookshelves!  I cannot wait to get all my books in place.  I feel as though we still haven’t moved in because my books are waiting patiently in boxes all over the house.  I’m not a hoarder by any stretch, nor a collector of anything in particular, but I do love books.  And, thankfully, Bill loves building and working with wood, so this will be a great project for us both.

While Bill is working on the shelves, I have yet to finish painting and stenciling several areas in the house.  I am also going to draft up plans for our garden.  I’d like to get some flowerbeds in place this spring, for once.

Living room, first week moved in
Living Room complete!

Finally. . . our Victorian Living Room!

Bill repainting the living room

Whew, it has been a big and busy year for the Berthels.  We moved back into the living room this weekend, after putting on the sixth and final coat of ceiling paint.  Yeah, six.  Well, you heard about it being too glossy.  Then, we needed to put on 3 coats of matte to get it just right.  I can’t say I’m completely pleased, as I am a precise and finicky painter, but it is livable.  We cleaned the woodwork, scoured the floor, touched up the walls and moved back in.  I still need to oil the woodwork and Bill is finishing the mantel detail, but we moved in.  And, we need to hang the light.  I think we’re both worn out, though, frankly.

To recap 2011, we opened the year with a full pregnancy on my part and Bill hurriedly moving through the floor in the master bedroom so that we could have a place to settle the baby.  We spent the first four months living in the guest room and downstairs because the smell of those floors was so strong.  The newborn took all of our energy and time, and yet, we began putting up sheetrock.  AND while we were living in the rest of the house, we began re-plastering the nursery, in anticipation that our little one would be moving in there by late spring.  Well, as most things go, that took us a while and it was late summer before Will lived in his room.  SO, while that room became livable, we tore apart the living room, in hopes that we could plaster and paint and be done by the holidays.  It is the holidays, so we had to move in.

We decided to fore go refinishing the rest of the floors, until we could find the product we liked and the time opened up for us to do the work without sacrificing Will’s lungs or our sanity.  As of yet, we don’t know when that process will be complete, but I can say that we’re feeling the need to rest and work on the details.  With so many tidbits to finish up, I don’t know when we’ll begin the next big project.  Right now, we have two bedrooms to refinish, one bath to redo, one laundry room, a garage to paint, floors all over to refinish and all of the hallways to rework.  There is a lot left to do. . . but a lot more time to do it.

Moved in finally

Right now, we are going to enjoy our little guy and complete the little things we have going on.  I have lots of painting to keep me busy and Bill will share his woodworking as it progresses.

In the meantime, enjoy your holidays.  And write when you get a chance, we love hearing from you.

Living Room Green

Dark Red, view into the front hall and front door

So, I mentioned in the last post that I was having trouble painting the correct color green on my walls.  Today, I’m mixing up the green to match the swatch I’ve chosen and I’ll sit with it in all kinds of light to decide.  I’ll paint a test swatch about 2 feet square to see what I think.  I’ve already chosen the stencil to go over the entire room, and I’m starting to make that today.  Instead of purchasing that stencil, I’m going to cut it myself from a pattern that I found in Victorian wall paper designs.  I’ve cut plenty of stencils before, but I’ve never made one that will need to last me a while.  This will need to be quite sturdy and accurate.  I’ll take pics of the process for you.

Current green

In the meantime, here are the before and after pics to show where we’ve been and where we are now.  The red in the room before made it a cozy winter color, but it really didn’t match the woodwork or my decor.  The green makes the room quite light, so I’ll need to find a way to “warm” it without darkening it too much.

The light has been cleaned and is ready to hang.  We think that it is pewter, as the metal is soft.  Bill is going to rewire it for safety.  It matches the dining room light except for the center pendant.  You can see a close up of that light from the previous post on the dining room.

The next steps for this room will include replacing the mantle, which has been refinished and building an extension to it to fit around the pellet stove.  Eventually we will refinish the floors and possibly the side door.  Maybe, way down the line we will put in cherry crown moulding.  Honestly, I’m surprised the house doesn’t have crown moulding in the formal rooms downstairs.  Hopefully, we can move in before Christmas.

You’ve been waiting!

Waiting to move in

That title implies that I would be showing you a completed nursery, right?  Well, it is complete to a degree.  The crown moulding is in, we’ve put down a carpet and the baby has moved in.  But, I’m still painting.  Yes, it does take me that long.  I’m working on a Peter Rabbit mural for the nursery and now that little guy is napping in there, I can only work in bits and pieces.  However, here are the pics of the room so far.  We finished painting the room a light turquoise and then readied the closets.  I decided to paint them a bit darker than the walls.

Mural in progress

Previously, we thought we could line them both with pine and/or cedar and call it done, but the expense kept us on the original plan just to re-plaster.  My father had removed all the wallpaper in them during the winter, so they were completely bare.  Bill re-plastered and built shelving and I primed and painted.  In the meantime, we shopped for a carpet.  To keep the dust at bay and the baby healthy, we have decided to wait on refinishing any floors right now.  Course, this drives Bill crazy, but it keeps us moving along on getting plaster work done. . . and has given Bill motivation to work on other wood projects (such as our mantel).  So, the room has a full rug, which was hard to shop considering the room is shaped like an octagon.  We ended up purchasing a rug that was custom cut. . .but the store had to do it twice to get it right because the room isn’t square!  Crazy hard.  All in all, it is a clean comfy nursery space at this point, but not as fun as it is going to be.

Hard at work

While I’m painting away on the nursery (and finishing stenciling in our bedroom), Bill has moved on to plastering the living room.  As you may remember, the ceilings have been sheet-rocked.  So, he is working on the walls and seams.  The woodwork in there is all cherry, which we love, but this will mean that any additional work we do will need to match.  Well, we would want it to match.  Eventually, we would like to do a crown/picture rail moulding in there to formalize it.  However, the main woodworking project we need to complete is the fireplace mantel.  It is currently pine, and we are thinking that it is original, but we aren’t sure.  It looks to simple to be Victorian, and yet, we found a matching mantel in oak online that dates to 1890.  So, we are debating whether to improve the piece we have by wrapping it around the stove more carefully or to build an entirely new piece that would go up the wall.  Any thoughts on that?

Nice window, eh?

My favorite thing in the living room is the side door.  It leads to the porch, which is the front porch that wraps around, but the door is mottled with shellac and old stain.  I love it!  I don’t want to refinish it at all, because the patina is so beautiful to me.  However, Bill might win out.  It should be refinished to complete the house and care for the wood.  Sigh.  (I like this door even more than the stain glass in the front window).

So, this is our current state. . . Hopefully by the holidays we can have a lot more done.  It would be nice to be in the living room by Christmas, for Will’s first.

The Master Bedroom is Complete!

Finally we can breathe a sigh of relief as we can move into the Master Bedroom. . .every repair and redo is complete.

We will get new lights once we find what we’re looking for and we can save up for them.  A Victorian looking ceiling fan would be ideal, both for energy and looks.

Just to recap how we spent the past six months doing the master bedroom, I’ve written out how we spent every single day working:

  1. My dad and Bill pulled out sheetrock covering windows
  2. Dad and Bill removed “closet” made of sheetrock
  3. Bill and I redid all sash cords for front windows
  4. Bill puts in window moulding
  5. Bill removes the red shelves in the nook

    Goodbye red shelves
  6. Karyn cleans floors and Bill stabilizes plaster
  7. Karyn finishes last two windows and sash cords; Bill put up moulding and scraped sashes for priming
  8. Bill painted sashes
  9. Bill worked on moulding and Karyn learned to plaster
  10. Bill plastered
  11. Bill plastered and Karyn chipped paint and primed moulding
  12. Bill plastered
  13. Bill stabilized cracks and removed light fixtures
  14. Bill plastered
  15. Sanding the plastered ceiling
  16. Bill and Karyn laid in mesh ceiling and plastered corners
  17. Bill plastered ceiling
  18. Bill plastered ceiling second coat
  19. Bill plastered nook and ceiling
  20. Bill sanded ceiling and plastered nook
  21. Bill primed
  22. Bill and Karyn laid in mesh for hairline cracks
  23. Bill plastered back wall over mesh and touched up
  24. Bill finished putting in moulding and touched up plaster
  25. Bill and Karyn primed woodwork
  26. Karyn painted ceiling
  27. Karyn painted second coat on ceiling
  28. Bill and Karyn painted walls
  29. Bill painted second coat on walls

    Painting the walls
  30. Bill plastered and repaired nook
  31. Bill sanded and primed nook
  32. Bill painted the closet
  33. Bill painted the first coat in the nook
  34. Bill painted second coat in nook and Karyn cleaned the floor
  35. Karyn and Bill painted woodwork
  36. Karyn and Bill painted woodwork again
  37. Karyn did a first run stencil test
  38. Bill sanded the floor
  39. More sanding
  40. Karyn stenciled
  41. Bill sanded edges on floor
  42. Bill sanded corners, cleaned the floor and applied the first oil coat
  43. Bill applied the second coat
  44. Bill applied the third coat

    Cleaning windows
  45. Bill sanded the lamb’s wool fuzz, cleaned and applied the 4th coat
  46. Bill put up the hardware
  47. Bill built his closet shelves
  48. Bill put up the base moulding
  49. We cleaned the woodwork and painted the base moulding
  50. Bill put up shoe moulding and curtain rods
  51. Cleaned!

Whew, that was a lot of work, and well worth it, I think.  I hope you enjoy the before and after photos below. It is quite a difference.

I’ll post pics of the finished stencil work and decorated room once we have completely moved in and are settled.  Then you can stay tuned for our next project.  Let me know if you enjoyed the step by step posts of this room, and we can do the same for the next piece of the house.

The wall which hides two windows
View of the nook
Get a load of those floors and pink trim
Sheetrock gone, ready for plaster
In full plaster mode
Completed room (minus the light)
View of the nook with crib ready for baby
View towards closet and hallway