The Office

I know you’ve been wondering where I’ve been.  While I’d like to offer some excuse, I’d rather brag blog about our latest home improvement project!

[Insert loud applause]

Thank you, thank you.  Now.  To recap.  My husband & I bought ye olde village manse 10 months ago.  Maaaaaaany people had looked at this house before us, but turned tail & fled when they realized the amount of work it would require to maintain, let alone restore.  My husband & I (dreamers through & through) saw a shining gem of a colonial that with much polishing & SWEAT EQUITY could be Home (capital H).

When we moved in 10 months ago – and that alone is hard to believe, this was our office.

Okay. technically it wasn’t our office yet.  Although it may look spectacular in the photo (if you are standing reeeeeeaaaallly far away and squinting a lot), our office needed HELP (capital H).  For starters, it lacked a real floor.  Also the walls needed finishing and the original paneling and columns framing the fireplace needed attention.  Plus those curtains had to GO.  But you know what?  Once those curtains came down, the light came in even better than it had before.  Sure it made the room look even worse, but that only propelled us to complete our task more quickly.

So fast forward 10 months.  My husband and I – once we’d finished lining the chimney, installing a wood stove, tiling two bathrooms, renovating our dining room and after that, kitchen, cleaning out the basement and tackling the garden outside – we GOT TO WORK!  And lucky for us – we had just the right combination of craziness, vision, and tools necessary to complete the job.  Well, mostly just insanity and a few tools.  But we needed more.  Like flooring.  Good thing we’d invested in stunning, wide white pine from Carlisle wwaaaaaayy back in the fall, before all that OTHER work began.  (B/c we’d run out of money shortly thereafter.)  BUT Those floors were worth every penny! (*wink*)

So where was I?  Oh yes.  Many saner individuals had taken a look at this task and run away.  Whereas my husband & I tightened our belts even further and took that first step towards NEW OFFICE.  And I am so glad!  B/c now I am sitting in my beautiful new office, writing this post, while also reading a book AND simultaneously playing the piano!!  Rather than bore you w/ more details of HOW WE DID IT, I am just going to SHOW YOU.  Before & After pics speak a thousand words, and frankly, I deserve a rest.  Seriously.

And here it is today, June 26th.  Office Sweet Office.

The Garden Project.

Sorry for the lack of posting, my husband & I have been chained out in the garden.  HHAHAHAH – no I am serious.

This is what our side garden looked like when we moved in.  It’s a little hard to see, but there are flower beds and a brick path under there.

Our goal?  Make it look pretty.

I know people hate it (and BOY do I), but if you want a beautiful garden, you have to pay the love toll.  And the love toll = WEEDING.  So put on those work clothes and get out the tools, because digging up umpteen years of rooting doesn’t happen in one breezy hour.  And remember, it is crucial to be thorough.  B/c if you aren’t – it’s ALL GONNA GROW BACK.

WORK Kids Work!  They were actually quite helpful.. until they spotted the spiders.

After that I weeded solo, while John repaved the sides to give everything a nice clean edge.

In this pic you can see the weeds are mostly gone.  I’d put in a couple perennials in the fall, which thankfully survived the mild winter.  The path is paved.  So far, so GOOD!

All DONE?  Not quite.  That was just the one side.  I then got to weeding on the other side.  The spiders kept me company.

I got a wicked sunburn that weekend.  Plus two ginormous (and bleeding) bites on my neck and shoulder from I still don’t know what.  Which I watched vigilantly for days thinking they might “do something.”  Thankfully, they healed just fine.

Time to plant!

Given the amount of time & labor we’d invested, I wasn’t keen on doing this again next year.  So we chose a mix of perennials & herbs.  Plant them once and they do the work themselves, over & over again.  We filled in everything with rich organic soil, reconnected the drain spout extension and VOILA!  Good to go!

Lastly, John laid a new path (still to be sunk) from the rear garden round to the side.  (Note to John: Flip #3 before sinking..)

NEXT UP.  Front garden bed & path.

Here’s what it looked like when we started.

A couple lilacs and some lily of the valleys.  The flowers smelled nice, but they were blocking the light and obstructing the view of the house.  So after several more hours of grueling labor, digging up roots that went down seemingly forever, this is what it looked like.

John & I repaved the bed with bricks, put down more rich soil and then planted.

Here’s what it looks like now.

Pretty goal – ACHIEVED!

The best news of all?  After all that grub angst – our grass is growing back!!

Now. Must Rest.

The Birth of a Dining Room

Ask any parent.  Once you have a baby, your life is not your own.  As a mother, I understand this.  And as a homeowner, I understand it all the more.

Five months ago, my husband & I adopted a baby.  His name is The Dole House.  And although 250 years old, he is every bit a clapboard clad toddler w/a perpetually leaky diaper.  He whines, he cries.  He begs to be changed.  And much like our other babies, he has taken everything we’ve had to give and more.  When we first moved in, I felt as if I’d been swallowed whole, and now, five months later, I am still being digested.   Like parenthood, the process of restoring and updating such an old house is time intensive, financially draining, emotionally wrenching and physically demanding.  It has consumed us completely, often to the point of near exhaustion.  But, on occasion, much like parenthood, the moments of gut-busting angst give way to feelings of great accomplishment.  Like now.  As I present our new Dining Room.

August 28th, we adopted The Dole House.  Our (to be) dining room had only partial walls & plywood floors.  We were in equal parts excited and overwhelmed.

Work began in early November.  Down came the old drywall.

Unfortunately, 2 other projects took precedence at this point.  Re-tiling our upstairs bath (so we wouldn’t fall through the floor) and then lining our chimney & installing our wood stove.  Work resumed December 6th, and up went the new drywall.  FINALLY!

Joint compound is applied to cover all the cracks.

Then sand and paint.

My husband had to rebuild all of the casings around the windows.  He took special pains to insulate the walls thoroughly, and after installation, he caulked every gap.

Next we installed a multi-piece chair rail around the perimeter of the room.

We had to rebuild a mantel casing around the fireplace, again using multiple pieces of mill work.

We also at this point installed crown molding.  Which I did NOT document b/c of the agony involved.  Suffice it to say, if you know what coping is, then you KNOW WHAT COPING IS!

Next, we installed a new light fixture.

We painted,

and then painted again.

In between this we ate lots of smiley face sandwiches. B/c encouragement comes in many forms.

Next up, the floor.  In October we’d invested in wide plank flooring from Carlisle.  9 to 17 inches, white pine.  The boards had been stacked and acclimating to the humidity level in the adjacent unfinished room.

Before installation, my husband leveled the plywood floor.  Basically by jacking it up in several spots from the basement below.  In order to know where to nail, we had to mark the beams.  We did this by drilling small holes through the beams as guides, from which we marked chalk lines across the floor.  Then, board by board, we laid our new floor.

We’d purchased reproduction colonial face nails from Carlisle

which I couldn’t help but play with.  NOTE: in addition to great season’s greetings, they also made a superb jingle bell noise when shaken in my pocket.

As well as using the face nails, we also blind nailed the groove side of each board for stability. (Proof I did some work too.)

Finally the floor was IN.

Now onto staining and sealing.  Which we’d decided to do ourselves in order to save $$$.  Here is my husband in his boxers.  You do not get a picture of me in my underwear.

We finished staining and sealing the floor (I kid you not) two days before Christmas.  My family arrived the very next day (Christmas eve) for a 2 week stay.  To say we were stretched beyond our limits would be putting it mildly.  A normal Christmas would see me baking umpteen dozen cookies.  Sending cards.  Wrapping (and buying) elaborate gifts.  This year I baked NOTHING.  Sent zero cards.  And the modest presents I did give were wrapped at the last imaginable minute.  It was a strange holiday. But I am proud to say THAT YES!! We ate Christmas dinner in our NEW DINING ROOM.  All else be damned!

Over holiday break, my husband installed the door casings and then finally the floor base molding.

Which I then had to PAINT (again w/ the painting).  Here is the room today.  January 25, 2010.  D-O-N-E. Thank GOD ALMIGHTY!

This sketch of the house was my Christmas present to my husband.  It was done by an artist we knew in Philly and I actually commissioned it waaay back in August – before we even bought the house.  I found the frame in the attic after we moved in.  The table you see in the photos is a re-purposed work bench we’d previously had in our basement.  I bought the green chairs from an antiques store here in Portland.  And we found the benches on Craigslist.  They’re church pews from a convent in southern Maine that’s being sold.

Isn’t it amazing how pieces just fall into place?

As you can see in this last pic, there are STILL more remaining boards.  That’s b/c have another room to finish.

Up next?  The room across the hall.  Our (soon to be) office.  Stay tuned!

What I found when I ripped down my wall.

I’d planned on discussing more chimney stuff today, but I got too involved w/ work, it’s now 8pm and time for wine.  So I’ll just show you what I found in the wall.

BACKGROUND: A major reason John & I were able to buy this house is b/c two rooms on the first floor need to be restored.  One room is more complete than the other, but basically both need floors. and either partial or full reconstruction of the walls.  We have sketched out a plan for the first of these two rooms – which just happens to be the one needing more work.  Of course.  I spent the bulk of today working on Room #1.  This will be our dining room, once it’s restored.

dining room - BEFORE

The former owner began the process many years ago, by framing the wall and installing plasterboard.  Unfortunately this plasterboard is now in pretty bad shape, with holes in several spots.  First up: Removing this old plasterboard in preparation for new drywall.

dining room - removing plasterboard

Here I am – halfway done.  You can see the old insulation (love the vintage labels)

old insulation

and the original brickwork of the chimney behind the support beams.

chimney brickwork

All routine until the very last piece of plasterboard.  When I pulled off a chunk, there was some debris on the sill.

crap behind wall

A fragment of wood, spiderwebs, a bunch of dusty looking lint, and then I noticed a nasty bit which looked a lot like..

ancient rodent

rodent skull

a rodent skull – complete w/ desiccated maggots & disembodied limbs.

rodent foot

rodent leg

So that was my day – how was yours??

PS: GOOOOOO PHILLLSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Mystery Flue.

One of the most striking things about our new (olde) house is its original heating system.  Not oil, not gas, but CHIMNEYS!  Downstairs in the basement you can see the bottom arches of these massive brick structures, rising from the ground like roman aqueducts.  Impressive in scale and beautiful in form and function.  This Book speaks at length about colonial chimneys and is a great read for anyone interested in the subject.

chimney base

Our house has two of these giant chimneys, and every room in the house (excluding baths, but including the attic) has a fireplace.  The largest of these fireplaces is a hearth in the family room, in which five people can stand at the same time.  Both that fireplace and the one in the keeping room have hanging irons for cooking, and both have adjacent baking ovens.  Which unfortunately no longer work.. but a girl can’t have everything.

When we bought this house, a top priority was getting these fireplaces working again.  And in the past two months, we’ve lavished more attention on them than anything else.  First, my superhusband had to install a hatch in the roof, in order to gain access to the immense chimneys and get them uncapped.  No small feat!  Working three stories up, alone.  He not only did all the work himself, but he did it w/ aplomb.  My hero.

up on the roof - hatch installation

working hard - john installs hatch

Next, we (meaning JOHN) had to uncap the chimneys.  Again, no small feat.  Since the caps were custom built wooden structures, layers thick, literally screwed into the masonry.  Did I mention they were also massive and unbelievably heavy?  Yup.  John (the bravest man I know) not only deconstructed them – but he did so standing on the edge/s of our roof, ALONE.  While I watched from the hatch, snapping photos.  Just to give you a idea of scale – this is the larger of the two chimneys.

big chimney

When John uncapped the larger chimney above, he discovered a heretofore unknown TENTH FLUE.  We thought we only had nine fireplaces, b/c that’s how many you can see.  But apparently there is a mysterious tenth fireplace lurking somewhere in this house.  Hidden beneath a wall?  It was anyone’s guess – until yesterday.  When we spent the better part of an hour in quest.  John went up on the roof, and dropped a large bell into each flue, which he would shake loudly.  The girls & I ran from floor to floor screaming up IT’S THE LIVING ROOM!  IT’S IN GEORGIA’S ROOM.  And so on.  Until we determined the location of the tenth flue.  John suspected it was on the first floor.  I believed it was a 2nd fireplace in the attic.  WHO WAS RIGHT??  JOHN- of course!  Although it wasn’t a fireplace, per se.  The 10th flue actually goes to the brick beehive oven in the living room – which is sealed at present.  But it sure was great getting to the bottom of that mystery.

beehive oven

TOMORROW: pt. 2. The Tale of Two Chimneys.