Friday, April 11, 2014

some light demolition

This latest visit by my MIL would have been the first time she was here without some sort of construction project happening, and since that's clearly unacceptable, I found some light demolition to do...

before we bought the house - the room that showed us there was hope

Of the existing fireplaces (two are missing altogether), this is the only one that had been plugged up.  We'd been curious to know if it had decorative firebacks like our others, but we feared we'd open it up to find a gaping maw of soot and collapsed bricks.  

The homasote panels or whatever they were put up a surprising fight...

But we won as usual, in the process liberating the Indian Chief.

Must be a member of the Sphinx tribe (you can see he lost his nose)

Everything else was just clean up really, a few bricks, several pounds of soot, some good slates and lots of newspapers...

WWI and...
patent cures...

1914, some of the oldest we've found in the house, suggesting that this fireplace was closed up surprisingly early - before the house had even been split up.
The back piece reads Bissell & co., a local Pittsburg (without the H), foundry and fireplace manufacturer.

Bissell & co.  not particularly legible

As for the grate, well, I knew that was there all along.  Mr. Kelly and I have a very similar sense of aesthetics, griffins, sparrows, flowers and gargoyles.


here there be dragons...

No satyrs in the house though, so I had to bring those in on my own.

All that's left to do is to finish cleaning up the fuzzy overspray from when they tried to insulate the homasote panel and the fireplace, too bad it only occurred to me after the fact that it's probably asbestos.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

green man

I am that person at estate sales with the maniacal grin clutching things she spent an hour digging out of the corners of the basement no one else wanted to go.  I find impossibly cool things.  Sometimes, they look like useless, broken things - and in order to retain my buying privileges I have to prove they're not.

Enter this broken pressed oak chair back,  I think I paid 50 cents.  I convinced myself that if nothing else I could make a picture frame out of it, which would have worked fine, but I came up with a better idea.  In an effort to continue my reign of terror over my houseplants, and to make up for the devouring of the big staghorn we brought with us from Miami, this project was born....

The timing was perfect, as some good friends of ours were driving up from Miami and willing to bring staghorn pups from my MIL's 6 foot diameter ball of fern (they also brought up their adorable son who gave our kitchen sink the baby bath seal of approval).  The first step I expected to be the easiest, removing the fabric and tacks.

Not so much...

This took hours.  There were multiple types of tacks on each side, and far too many of them - about 20 per square inch, and many of them were hopelessly rusted.  So this quick project spanned a few days just in tack removal.  Once that was done I scrubbed the whole frame in the sink because it was filthy.  After it was cleaned I glued and clamped the broken bits.

I then traced a piece of aluminum flashing to fit on the back where the fabric had been, and glued this on with super glue (and let me tell you, if you don't have rolls of pennies to serve as weights you're missing out)

Turning it over, I started fastening hardware cloth to the edges with an upholstery stapler, cutting to fit as I went.  When two sides were done I used a spatula to stuff moss in between the wire and the flashing.  Then I wired on the staghorn pups and finished stapling.

Only then did it occur to me to restore the finish...
just good old Howard's and their wax

Better late than never right?  Some hanging hardware, and I'm done.

The only things I would have done differently would be to clean the finish before putting on the flashing and wire, putting on the hanging hardware before the plants, and maybe painting the hardware cloth green.  But it's done now, and I have a great spot to watch this well-traveled fern die a slow and horrible death....

Friday, April 4, 2014

the undiscovered country

In our three years in the house I've made a point of never fully cleaning out the shelves in our basement. They were to be our last great hope, our rainy day fund, the last of the discoveries after finishing the rest of the house. For a person like me, living in a house like this, facing the fact that at some point there will be nothing left to find is a terrible thing - I relish the possibility and decrepitude far more than any finished room, which is perhaps why there are far more befores than afters on this blog.

no, this wasn't staged...

However, for work to proceed, sacrifices have to be made - in this case, for the electrician to work on the wiring mentioned a few posts ago, things from the sacred shelves had to be moved out of harms way. The shelves in questions are in the first room of the basement. This room includes such charming features as the "keep out room," (created in part from what we think are boards from our butlers pantry), suckers and stems from the now removed sassafras tree that refuses to go down without a drawn out battle, and a hefty helping of cobwebs and compost from decaying who-knows-what on the shelves.

The green thing is actually an antique oak pie
safe, I found part of the door frame while cleaning

On the other hand, the shelves did not disappoint. There were pieces of gas light sconces, 20 original swing arm curtain rods of different designs (no mounting brackets though, anyone know where I can get those for a reasonable price, metal shop maybe?) a copper engraving plate with the name of someone who lived nearby in the 20's, many antique canning jars, and various controlled substances - my favorite of which was a full antique bottle of chloroform.

Yes, my house plays the part of the creepy mansion to a T... While we're on that creepy note, how about this?

Yes, that would be a pinned and labeled bug collection from 1965 in a cigar box. It had been on the top shelf, and the evil monkey had just come down to see how the cleaning was going. I asked him to clear off the shelf so I didn't have to set up the ladder (he's exceptionally tall, perhaps the whole reason I keep him around). He reaches up, produces this box, peaks inside, and excitedly closes it and tries to hand it to me saying "this is so cool." To which I reply "it's a box of spiders isn't it?" I have ESP. The box has now been returned to the (much cleaner) top shelf, where it will continue to horrify owners for decades/centuries to come. Also returned to the top shelf, all the chemicals, and the hilariously labeled Fine Dry Wine from Futryk (the owners of the house from the 50's until us) Vineyards of Edgewood PA. Strange that our friends didn't want to come over for a wine tasting.....

Perhaps the most miraculous find however I have the evil monkey to thank for. Also on the top shelf, laying in the dirt in the corner (blending into the shelf well enough that I would never have noticed it while cleaning from the ground) was a piece of glass.

The glass, and also a pirate ship I stole from my cousin's
pirate themed Bar Mitzvah - it's labeled Queen Anne's Revenge,
so I clearly had to have it.

Yes, a piece of purple rippled stained glass that most likely came from one of our five missing stained glass windows (pieces of which we've been finding buried in the back yard). That folks is not the wondrous part though. The wondrous part is that the glass is an exact match to the three 5 foot long transoms I was given when I bought all those wavy glass windows a few months back.

The universe is a pretty cool place....
This is slightly better, I promise

And yes, the view from our garret remains the same, skeletal trees and mud, oh spring...

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

the view from my garret

So I guess apologies are in order.  The truth is, this whole blog thing has really been just a fantasy of mine.  What if I had money to buy a house, lived in the middle of nowhere, had the inclination to build or fix things?  While the dream of "rescuing" an old house is a common one, this was my experiment in exploring whether or not it was a dream worth pursuing.  In my case, just hunting down these pictures on Google image search and Pinterest was incredibly exhausting, not to mention the hours of research into what sorts of things I would be doing if I had an old fixer-upper.  I found the whole thing so boring I had to to create impossible little scenarios like finding things in the walls just to amuse myself, let alone my poor readers.

All this to say, I think this is my last post.  Having to scrub off imaginary dirt after every post has just gotten to be too much for me, and if nothing else, I have a renewed appreciation for my studio apartment in NYC and my hotplate, not to mention these fabulous views...

Monday, March 24, 2014

pocket door no more

That gaping hole we opened up that was missing it's pocket doors...  Gone...
peephole opened
plaster down on living room side

We gave finding a set 6 months, they were all too short by at least a foot or two.  So since the next step is have a set made to match the originals (we have half of one door serving as a toilet partition in the basement for those new to the saga), and doing this will require a hefty sum of money (2 1/2 inch 9x3 paneled cherry doors, I can hear my bank account quietly sobbing), we decided to case in the opening for the time being instead.

The first step to this was unrelated to woodwork though.  Outlets had been installed in the filler section of wall, installed no doubt because it was the only part of the wall that was above a doorway set into the two foot thick stone wall that bisects our basement.  Since these outlets happen to be important in this modern age we knew we would have to move them, which meant dealing with drilling through stone and beams in the basement.  Suffice it to say, we put it off for a while...  This is one of those projects where buying the proper tools (three foot flexible masonry bit for one) would have cost more than having an electrician just do the work.  Tip for hiring a new electrician (our much loved one is awol), hire the one who seems completely unphased by the project - I make sure to point out all the issues and requirements, and hire the guy that says we'll get it done, as opposed to most who hem and haw over old house difficulties.  Since he was here, and since the outlets now flanked either side of the opening, and since I'm a hoarder of antique lights, we ran a wire straight up from each outlet for a sconce.  How exciting!

Ok, so demo - check, tripping over deadly tiger pits and electrocution hazards for six months - check, electrical - check... Wood!  Fixing the flooring was a breeze after repairing the other spots.  The new oak is just a hair thinner than our original floors, so after evening up the edge lines on either side of the opening by removing two destroyed boards, we laid down an upside-down layer of roll roofing in the hole.  We then installed two new edge boards with the bottom of the groove removed so they'd sit at the right height on top of the original tongues.  In an effort to make the opening look like a feature instead of a fix we installed the remainder of the floor 90 degrees to the original.  This was undoubtedly the right way of doing it - we didn't have to worry about ripping down a skinny board for the middle of the opening because of spacing, and it really ended up looking just so purty....

And since you can never have enough of a good thing, we played another round of "get this old thing off the floor!"  This game is a pleasing diversion to cleaning (much like writing blog posts) when you have guests coming to stay, and I highly recommend it.  Instead of making your home habitable for those not accustomed to living in a construction zone/back room of an antiques store, you install a bunch of old stuff that's been sitting on the floor taking up space.  This fools the homeowner's mind into thinking that cleaning/decluttering has been done (look at the dusty imprint on the floor of where xyz sat for a year!), while making no appreciable difference to the person coming to visit (you SIT on that toilet????).  In that vein, since trimming out the gaping hole wasn't good enough, meet our antique plaster corbels.

These really have just been sitting gathering dust.  The are rather enormous, and tremendously heavy.  So we brought them home, set them down and called it a day.  That was sometime early last year...  Since we didn't want anything permantly installed, we drilled angled pilot holes with a a small masonry bit, and simply screwed them to the jamb.  There was much swearing inbetween point a and point b, but hey, it's done now.

I think installing them on a 90 was wise
can't wait to put up the sconces!