Friday, May 8, 2015

a happy belated May Day

I had meant to post these shots on the first, but I failed.

In my head I can't even complete the phrase May Day without adding "is lei day in Hawaii."  I suppose my youth there has forever corrupted me.  It wasn't till I moved away for college that I learned that May Day has nothing to do with awkward little kids doing hula for their schools' May day production...

As part of the packet of mystery photos that were e-mailed to us last year by the Frick Archive, were these beautiful photos of our neighbor's spectacular home decked in garlands to celebrate May Day.  Now that I've gotten over the fact that the interiors weren't of our house I can appreciate these for how lovely and rare they truly are.

Happy May!

hey, look at us in the background!

Land of the flowers, of flow'ry bowers,
In her gay dress she appears
A sweet happy maid, may her dress never fade
As she carries this day through the years
Garlands of flowers ev'ry where
All of the colors in the rainbow
Maidens with blossoms in their hair
Flowers that mean we should be happy
Throwing aside our load of care, Oh!
May Day is Lei Day in Hawai`i
Lei Day is happy day out there.
Beaches of white shining sand
Where each one I see has a smile just for me
And has ready a welcoming hand
May Day is Lei Day in Hawai`i
Garlands of flowers ev'ry where
All of the colors in the rainbow
Maidens with blossoms in their hair
Flowers that mean we should be happy
Throwing aside our load of care, Oh!
May Day is Lei Day in Hawai`i
Lei Day is happy day out there.
May Day is Lei Day in Hawai`i
Land of green mountains, gardens and fountains

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

happy birthday to me

Actually my birthday was several days ago, but architectural pieces seem to be the gift that keeps on giving...

Before we left for Chicago a couple of weeks ago, a mantel showed up on craigslist.  While the lower section was quite plain, the overmantel was a spectacular aesthetic movement piece with a rainbow shaped beveled mirror, fretwork and floral carving.  My original overmantels were likely something similar (although ghost marks indicate they were substantially larger).  The price was far higher than anything I could afford, but I sent off my usual e-mail then put it out of mind.  After all, I had plans to hit all the salvage stores in Chicago and was hoping to find something to bring back.  Well, the salvage yards, while great, had nothing to offer me, so I was amazed when just a week later the owner of the mantel accepted my offer.

photo from craigslist
I was momentarily terrified when she said the mirrors would have to be replaced (I was certain they had been broken as the mantel was being removed, but luckily she just thought the foxing was undesirable.  Having to replicate that mirror would cost more than I paid for the mantel!

Not surprisingly, the house it came from was beautiful, and I'm more than a little sad that I'm responsible for making it less so (but if I didn't buy it, someone else would have I suppose).  The icing on the cake was that the majolica tile was falling off the wall, and she happily gave it all to us so she didn't have to pay her contractor to remove it.  We've attempted to salvage tile from a number of houses that were being demolished and have never had much luck - meanwhile, we were able to get 95% of these off intact with just a putty knife...

Now a disclaimer, I must have worn my camera out in Chicago because these pictures are terrible, but if I keep putting things off I swear I'll never post anything.

Despite the work remaining in the room, it's certainly a far cry from where it started...

listing photo

Friday, April 3, 2015

chim chiminey

well, hello...

Have you ever had a nightmare it which you're frantically trying to do something, but everything's moving in impossibly slow motion?  That's been the past few weeks here.  Slow.  As.  Sludge...

But there are people on my roof now, we saw the Decemberists a few nights ago, and the chimney is done.  Betcha didn't even know we were working on the chimney eh?  Well, we have been.  For months.

We're lucky enough to still have all five original chimneys, 4 on the main 1886 house, and one on the 1890's kitchen addition.  All were in danger of collapse when we bought the house, and we rebuilt the four main ones immediately because they tied into the slate roof work and flashing.  Not to mention had they collapsed they would have done major damage to the new roof and gutters.

The one on the end of the kitchen wing on the other hand was willfully ignored.  We weren't working on that section of roof yet, and other than someone parking under it, nothing would be harmed if it came down of its own accord.  Unfortunately, the spalling bricks impacted the plaster walls all the way down, but that damage was done long before we came into the picture.

the moss is a nice touch isn't it?  This is not what the inside of a chimney should look like!

So long story short, we met a new mason, he was willing to do our bidding (it's quite a bit harder than you'd think to find people willing to use the proper materials for restoration), and he didn't think we were strange for wanting to put our "collection" up top.  You see, when the top of this chimney had partially collapsed before we bought the house, it lost it's massive sandstone cap, which would have been very expensive to reproduce.  It was also the ugly stepsister to our other chimneys.  So, two house demolitions and one freecycle pickup later (all over the four plus years we've been here), and the forgotten chimney has a bit of eclectic British charm.

nicely bedded down in 4 inches of mortar

Perhaps the happiest part of all this is seeing yet more of my "clutter" get incorporated into the house and out of the way.  Unless you're in the enviable position of being Scrooge McDuck, the only way to tackle a massive project like this is to grab materials as you find them, even if it means storing them for years.  Yes, your friends and family may seek professional help for you (even though in this case I am a professional), but just remember, they're not the ones taking on an impossible project (I mean, if they truly cared they'd offer to pay right?).

Monday, March 2, 2015

the drip of despair

We've been on a roll getting stuff done around here, and the universe must have decided we had violated the two steps forward one step back rule.  Bam!  Roof leak!

When we redid the entire roof on the main house 4 years ago, there weren't many places it wasn't leaking (but because we started work in a very cold and snowy winter we had to do the electrical first, how's that for hilarious?).  Our roof was Buckingham (black and sparkly from it's quartz content) slate, which is perhaps the most desirable slate in North America. Instead of making repairs, the previous owners had been tarring the leaks for the past 60 years.  So we went from slates that should have been nearly 100% salvageable, to being able to save about 50%.

And why you ask are my black slates red?
Pollution from decades ago, this is Pittsburgh after all...

Your amateur slate lesson for the day:  A good slate like a Buckingham will last nearly indefinitely with proper care, and even a cheap slate that's installed well should last a century.  The steeper a roof, the longer the slates will last because water and dirt shed off well.  The materials that make up a slate roof will, in most cases, fail before the slates themselves do.  When that happens, the slates are carefully removed, gutters, valleys and flashing are repaired, and the slates relaid.  In this scenario, you may have to find a square or two to account for loss and rotted slates.  Doing this on a big house, even with copper everything, will cost about the same as a new shingle roof and last about a century.
But in our case, tar....  Tar is bad.  It is the destroyer of slates - it holds water and heats up, rotting the slate, and can't be removed.  And it doesn't even really stop leaks that well.  The slate was really the biggest hangup on us buying the house.  For what it would cost to properly restore the roof we could have finished the exterior.  That was an incredibly tough pill to swallow and we didn't feel we were up to the challenge.  If we didn't buy the house, not only would it not get a slate roof, it was facing demolition.  If someone else did save the house, they certainly weren't going to put slate back up.  The house had already lost so much, that losing it's slate would just be another nail in it's coffin.  And most of the other big homes had lost their slates - and it was an obvious loss.

We went with slate.  Or rather, mostly slate.

In every restoration there is room for compromise.  In this case, we did as much of the front of the roof in our original Buckingham slate as possible, putting enough aside to do just the front of the kitchen addition when that roof fails.  This is what passerbys see, and what we see coming home, so it was obviously the priority. 

everything that could be saved

I found some grey fishscale slates through salvage and we added a band detail to further stretch our original slates, while we used another cheap salvaged slate our slater had just taken off another house on the invisible roof angles. Lastly, there's ordinary shingles on the very back.   Why the non-matching slates you ask?  Well, our slate is the most expensive there is, and very little is still being mined (if at all, there's some debate over if what's being called Buckingham is the same stuff).  It was impossible to find anything that matched that wouldn't devour the rest of our make the house camp-able budget.  It's a big compromise, and actually something that still really bothers me.  I hope we're here long enough to re-slate the back of the roof - but realistically, it's the lowest priority on the list...

As usual though, I digress.  All that trouble, and there's a series of leaks on the back shingle section of the roof that appeared out of nowhere (not an ice dam which was my first thought).  Oddly enough, the only access to them from inside the house was supposed to get closed up this weekend, but our plasterer canceled.  So I guess that's a good thing?  Fixing whatever the problem is should happen on Wednesday, so details to follow I suppose...

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

that smell...

I had all but forgotten that distinct smell that goes along with replastering.  While the curing plaster has it's own delicious scent (the scent of progress and victory could never be called bad could it?) there's also the residual scents of demolition.  Musty rotted wood, urine soaked soaked squirrel nests, even the old plaster has a smell.  Of course, overlaid on top of those is the sweet smell of fabric softener if I've been stripping wallpaper.  All that, and there's no possible way of opening a window in this cold...

That somewhat dizzying potpourri is worth it though if that's what getting walls requires.

The butler's pantry is about half done, all that's left is patching the old holes.  You can see just how many types of plaster we have going on - three coat will go back on the lathe where possible, blue board and wire lathe are used in spots where there's no wood lathe left, or where he'll have to taper the plaster to blend two different surfaces.  Not to mention the veneer coat on the new surfaces.

It's a process that tries my patience, as part as our heavily negotiated price, the work is getting done on weekends and on some evenings.  While this was our choice, it still manages to drive me slightly nuts.

Upstairs, my to-do list is complete.  The only wallpaper remaining is on the ceiling of the big bedroom.  Since the plaster is in hideous shape, the ceiling and slanted walls will be laminated with blue board and veneer plaster, the fantastic ceiling papers can stay to enthrall a future owner.  While they appear strikingly modern, they are the first and second layers of about 15 total, so I have no doubt they date to about 1886 and 1911 respectively (first and second owners).  While I doubt it'll ever be in my budget to have these reproduced as wallpaper, I'm hoping to have a stencil made - time I have plenty of.

A lot of people ask why laminate instead of just demoing everything fully, and there are a few reasons (as much as I'd like to preserve every fraction of an inch height wise).  First off, the existing plaster is about an inch thicker than the half inch blue board, this would leave a difficult to patch gap where the walls meet the ceilings .  Secondly, our joists and studs are only a few steps removed from being trees, wonderful for holding the house up, terrible if you're looking for a flat surface - the plaster and lathe hides these inconsistencies, blue board secured directly to the joists would not.  The fix for this is to strike a level line around the rooms and screw level nailers into the joists - costly, time consuming, and likely taking away that inch of height you were fighting to preserve.  Lastly, while veneer plaster looks and feels nice, it still has that hollowness that drywall has, securing it against the plaster walls makes it nearly indistinguishable from the original.  Oh, and one more thing, I don't need a hundred more trash bags to deal with - we're already two months out with our current collection (between ours and our neighbors houses we can get rid of about 6-8 a week - Pittsburgh doesn't have a dump).