Tuesday, April 30, 2013

slate, in all its forms

Despite the radio silence the past few days, we've been busy finishing off little projects around this old pile. Most notable is finishing the slate apron for our drainboard sink. We bought the sink before we even closed on the house, and luckily we were able to store it inside the house until we closed. It turned out we did well, as we've found evidence that a similar sink may have been installed under the small window next the the chimney (along with a beadboard backsplash). By evidence I'm referring to the stray mounting brackets found on the third floor, the plumbing holes in that section of floor, and outlines on that wall after I stripped the paint and wallpaper. We chose not to install the sink in this corner because it would have meant that there could be no cabinets on this, or the adjoining wall (not to mention a dishwasher), and the small window is too high to look out of.

Although these big porcelain drainboard sinks are common around here, this one was unique with its clipped corners and beaded detail. It also has the coveted large drain hole, meaning that at some point we can hook up a garbage disposal. What it didn't have was its wall brackets, and finding ones the right size proved impossible. It ended up not mattering since we were placing it in front of the window, but it forced us to come up with a way of installing it. I've seen these mounted on top of custom cabinets, but cost-wise that wasn't an option for us. Instead we built a deck - bolting a ledger board to the wall and building off of that using 2x6s and joist hangers (this thing is heavier than you can imagine). If any of you have driven through rural areas where you can identify the old homesteads by the chimneys that are still standing in the woods you can get an idea of how strong this sink is, come the apocalypse it'll just be our 5 chimneys and the sink still standing . . .

The framework is hidden on the sides by the only two cabinets we kept from the kitchen that was here when we bought the house. They're cheap 70's particle board, but they were in decent condition and saved us from buying new (if we bought new we'd have had to buy custom cabinets that matched either the built-in or salvaged cabinets we're using). We've set it up so we can remove and replace them if we change our minds at some point. The top is plywood covered with hardibacker and salvaged blackboard slate. We were concerned about cracking the slate when we put the sink on top, but it all went smoothly. The piece de resistance is the three pieces of slate across the front which are parts of two different slate mantles. We've had these materials ready to go for months now and were dreading the process, but zip boom bang and 15 minutes later we were done.

The sides are attached with heavy duty construction adhesive (you can see they're off the ground for height reasons, we haven't decided what we're filling in the gap with) and were clamped for 48 hours. The middle already had 8, half inch diameter holes, so we used bolts to attach it to the frame. I would have liked to put bolts in the side pieces as well, but despite having drilling through slate before, I just didn't have the guts to potentially ruin a piece for cosmetic reasons. If the construction adhesive fails I'll reconsider. We still need to grout the seams and clean and seal the slate, as well as caulk the gaps. We will eventually sew a curtain to hide the plumbing, but for now I'll just enjoy not having to move or trip over the slate ever again!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

a demo a day

So what if we're getting house guests tomorrow, lets tear stuff up!

when we bought the house
as we got started

And by stuff I mean floor. And by floor I mean the cheap oak that was slapped on top of the existing quartersawn oak and faux grained pine.

quarter sawnish grained pine

This top layer was poorly installed (splitting, cracking, buckling) around the same time that the house was split into a multi-family in the 20's to hide the changes to the floor plan.

good on the bottom (quartered oak with
mahogany border), junk on the top

We started from the living room, and an hour later the boards were gone (don't worry, we're keeping them and hopefully will reuse it upstairs in a herringbone pattern, we have two full rooms of it to remove downstairs) . . .

The purpose of this, in addition to general removal of travesties, was to get an idea of what changes had been done to the house. We were hoping the pine underneath (the original finished floor) would give us some clues, as it has done elsewhere in the house. Specifically, we know this hallway was once part of the dining room, and that it was seceded when the bathroom was added (we've seen the remains of the cove ceiling and original stenciling above the drop ceiling in the bathroom, and the door trim in the hallway only matches that in the dining room). I was holding out for an outline on the floor of either a built-in, or the correct door location from the front parlor to the dining room, sadly, all I got was a bobby pin and some cut floorboards whose significance is yet to be determined . . .

now it just needs scrubbing

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

a cure for boardom

Now that it's warmed up our main task is sorting through all the piles that we've accumulated in the past two years. Most of these are marginally useful building materials, things like fir porch boards and true 2x4's, that we keep around for patching. The problem in the case of the wood is that the longer it sits outside, the less and less useful it becomes (in addition to attracting things like carpenter ants and termites, which have already claimed a set of corbels), not to mention how heinous it all looks. We knew it was time to begin cleaning it up when a current aerial of the house was worse than it was before we bought it (when there were piles of trash, a collapsed garage, trees taking over the fire escapes and junk cars). We'll hopefully finish moving all the bricks next week when reinforcements arrive, until then, we took on a project that will hopefully prove that hording these things serves a purpose.

The purpose in this case is a table top for an antique industrial drafting table base. The plan is for a long, console type table to sit behind our main office desk, with our filing cabinet underneath and printer and such on top. We're using the beautiful straight-grained fir porch boards we removed from the stair addition. We had hoped to use the full 10 foot lengths, but doubted the edges would support the weight of the printer (the drafting table supports are only 28 inches apart). We cleaned up the usable boards with 80 grit, and then nailed them to 1x6's.

yes, we build stuff at night, we wouldn't
want our neighbors getting sleep or anything!

We couldn't nail them properly because most of them were missing their tongues, which means ugly, impossible to hide nail holes - but it will be covered in office supplies most of the time, so I doubt anyone will notice. We then used 1x2 on the edges, both to hide the end grain and the nailers, and to stiffen the table top (which worked much better than expected - there is no flex).

We couldn't resist writing on the inside of one of the 1x2's, if you can't read it, it says something like "this was made on my birthday, 4/23/13, from floor boards removed from the stair addition." Yes, it is indeed my birthday, if you need proof, here it is . . .

Those are for me. Because I'm awesome. And my mother-in-law loves me.

Here's the first coat of stain (just dark oak gel stain), it needs another coat of stain, then some poly. In a day or two we should have our 1/6th of a bowling alley to put our printer on. Hopefully it keeps behaving itself.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

the great garden saga
continues . . .

Honestly, there's not much to report, but my muscles are so sore that there has to be SOMETHING to show for it. So, how about one more garden update till I move back to indoor work (last one for a while, I promise).

We strung up some galvanized cable onto tapcons for the wisteria. The wisteria deserved the attention - I bought it for a dollar at the end of the season a year ago not even knowing if it was alive. I dropped it in the ground, forgot it was there, stacked the pieces of two slate mantles on top of it, neglected it through the drought last summer, and yet, it's still alive and growing. I had thought someone would be selling more of them last year, so I could buy two more for the other brick porch columns, but none showed up for a reasonable price. Does anyone know if wisteria is easy to propagate?

I also got a bunch of plants in the ground in the front yard, including some cosmos, ferns and hostas. Our neighbors up the hill took out a lot of the previous owners overgrown landscaping and are putting in grass - I retaliated by putting in some crimson barberry along the lot line. This way they can mow without my worrying about them veering into my plants. They're nice people, but it took every ounce of self control not to go into a replacement window rant when they talked about getting quotes to replace their original 3 over 1 windows (literally the last original thing on what could be a very cool Prairie style house). I thought about offering to let them borrow a couple of my books on prairie architecture, but I don't think they'd go for it. Luckily their quotes started at $40,000, so I don't think their windows are going anywhere anytime soon!

I had dragged some terracotta chimney liners home from a house that came down, I dug them into the ground, and I think I'll fill them with some potting mix and plant some trailing annuals in them. These are surrounded by the hostas and ferns that haven't made an appearance yet.

I also planted some pots with my red cannas and some annuals (red and purple pansies) - frankly, I'm amazed the cannas have any life left. I dug them well into winter, brought them into the kitchen to clean up before storing, forgot about them, and left them in a plastic bag next to the radiator all winter. Shame on me... The planters that were right at home at our Miami house seem a bit out of place here, I probably should have left them with the in-laws.

Since I had the pickaxe out the trained monkey did some research into how much of a fight the last of the concrete in the old driveway would put up. The answer - not much...

scale-wise these chunks are about 3 x 3

The supervisor was not impressed...

think our other critters are jealous
that only this one gets the cameos?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

the color purple

Thursday was warm and sunny so it was spent working in the garden. Actually, strike that, it was spent in equal parts in the street and on the sidewalk. As is typical, I'm the crazy woman, doing crazy things, with the crazy house, for all the street to laugh at. Oh well, as long as no one bothers my plants I'm ok with it. And by bothers I mean things like driving through cones over newly paved curbs or breaking the buds off my smoke trees. oy. . .

In an effort to distract the neighbors from the madness that is our house we're planting the newly formed berm and hellstrip. The berm fills in part of what was our driveway when we bought the house (we've since moved it to it's original location), and the hellstrip was redone and expanded when we redid the sidewalks last fall. In a mad dash to get trees in the ground last fall we purchased two Grace smoke trees, the purple leafed, pink blossomed tree cultivar. We couldn't find any locally, so we purchased from Whitman Farms in Oregon (who're wonderful by the way). We had originally planned on using them for all of our street trees (we have 120 feet of frontage), but in a case of what would the neighbors think, we abandoned that plan (too Dr. Seussian, too many purple plants - I may be obsessed). Instead, we'll plant some crimson cloud hawthorns to match the trees on the other side of the street (only that side has street trees), but it'll have to wait because frankly, trees cost money. As for why we're not planting behemoths (copper or purple beeches come to mind), well, we're the side with the power lines.

smoke tree, a row of these
would look silly, yes?
copper beech, lovely, but
not worth cutting my oaks
down over

What we can do is rehome some of our many freecycle plants, and the 50 cent end of season big box store plants that made it through winter. The plan is to dig up as much as the stuff that passes for dirt from the hellstrip, replace it with compost (we bought some called organic claybraker), add a brick border, and see what survives. We added a strip of bricks parallel to the walkway which will hopefully discourage people from walking through the landscaping, and a soldier course of bricks will wrap around the planting beds. Hopefully the raised bricks will keep the dirt and such in place, and alert people to the fact that someone loves those plants . . .

smoke tree, black parrot
tulips and some sort of
dark red iris
daylilies, wine and
roses weigela

the new burial mound in question
gratuitous cat shot

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

this is not a real post

No, it's not, I promise. 
Instead, this is a people are so deranged I had to share it with you post...

Now craigslist has treated me VERY well over the years.  I have a system.  It works.  But every so often someone creeps under my radar.  Case in point is a little desk I have posted at the moment.  I have a policy where if I can sell one thing and get something better for the same price I do.  The replacement item is a Limbert #130 desk, it's not in great condition, but hey, it's usable and when else will I get a chance to own an early signed Limbert for God's sake.  NEVER, that's when . . .

Back to the desk I'm selling.  I'm asking $150 (more then I spent on the replacement).  I'll take a bit less obviously.  So today I get an e-mail "I only have $75."  To which I reply "I can do $100 if it helps you out since I want it out soon, but I do have other people looking at it this weekend."  The reply a few minutes later is that it's too much.  Fine ok, no deal.  An hour later they send another message, "what about $65 and they'll pick it up today."  wtf is wrong with people?

As for my tricks?  I check my sections everyday, scrolling till I get to what I last saw.  I send friendly and sincere e-mails with a bit of our house story if applicable, complete sentences and spelling, and if I'll be negotiating hard, a number, a reason, and an apology if they take offence (i.e. I know that's less than it is worth, but it's all we can afford).  If someone mentions they're moving and I've offered a low price I'll say we can even pick it up on moving day if it hasn't sold (that trick got us an enormous, fully restored antique parlor organ for 1/10 of asking).  Pay cash, and make it clear you'll pay cash in your e-mail. Try to make it there as soon as is convenient for the seller, and show up on time.
by popular demand (I guess it's a real post now)
the perks of being a compulsive craigslister . . . 

As for selling on craigslist?  Do not put your address, e-mail or phone number in a listing ever.  Use e-mails to screen buyers (again, complete sentences, polite, good spelling), I don't even reply to any that don't marginally meet those criteria. In my ad I put at the bottom "cash only please, scammers will be reported."  This has been enormously helpful (and I do indeed report scammers to both craigslist and their e-mail host).  Lastly, other than the obvious be safe admonishments, I provide my general area and my cell phone number to whomever I'm meeting and tell them to call when they're nearby for my exact address.  If people feel this is overboard, they're probably not someone I want to deal with . . .

Hmm, maybe that was a real post, but there are no pictures, so I guess it still doesn't qualify . . .

I'm off to resume scrubbing the grossness that is our vinyl office floor (hopefully usable office = more work done = affording the schoolhouse).  If I don't post again soon it's because my hands have dissolved in whatever caustic mixture I'm using.

Monday, April 15, 2013

more counter talk

Over the past few days we've been working on wrapping up several small projects (well, more like smaller parts of bigger projects).

The guest room walls finally have their second coat of paint, which allowed us to rearrange some furniture - I'll post some pictures in the next few days.

The kitchen cabinets and counters are now fully installed. The drawers and doors that are missing are still waiting for paint and for their hardware to get cleaned up and installed. We used the scraps of the butcher block to make shelves which will get installed to the left of the small cabinet. Although the shelves will get mounted to the two uppers, we'll use some antique corbels underneath for looks - but along with gluing up and waterloxing the shelves we need to strip the corbels, so it may be a while before we get them up.

In front of the sad excuse for a window will go another, larger hutch top. This window was a casement, but as of now has no hardware, has been plastered into the frame, and is both broken and spray-painted a classy brown (faux stained glass look anyone?). Strangely enough, freeing that window from the 70's cabinetry that was mounted on top of it was the first thing we did within hours of closing on the house. Long term kitchen plans (i.e. custom cabinetry) will include restoring this window, and building a twin to the left of the chimney - for now, we cleaned up the worst of it, added proper trim, and will replace the glass before hiding it again behind a free standing hutch top. We're using the hutch top not so much because we need the storage (our kitchen is huge) but because we don't want to break up the set of vintage cabinets. The hole to the right of the stove is awaiting a dishwasher (and for plumbing to be run to said dishwasher), that cabinet is just the freestanding dishwasher cabinet from Ikea (we bought it on clearance, I don't think they carry it any longer). Although we had money set aside for this, the schoolhouse trumps all, so I may be handwashing dishes well into the next decade.

as it stands today
the hutch top that will
go in front of the window

before: the corner in question is to the left

Tomorrow I'll start the waterlox on that last counter, and in two weeks (5 coats + cure time) I'll have countertops - which aside from the island, I haven't had in a year. Exciting!
And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention what happened in Boston today. I lived there for a number of years (I bought and restored my first house there when I was 22, a little Victorian), and it's one of my favorite places on the planet. It's incredibly heartbreaking, and my thoughts go out to everyone affected . . .

Saturday, April 13, 2013

moving mountains

We've been running in a hundred different directions at once here, without much photo worthy to show for it, so instead we'll go back to last fall and take a look at our mud pit project. When we bought the house the driveway was a mostly decomposed concrete mess centered on our front door, with an overgrown pea gravel track circling around the house (on the aerial it looked like we had a go cart track of our very own).

we're the house with the track - we originally
faced the main road and owned those lots, as
well as half the lot above us

When we found the historic photo several months in we could see the entrance of the historic driveway far to the left, along with what looks like a carriage house on what used to be our property - that lot now has a Prairie Foursquare on it (although it's now devoid of any distinguishing features). Strangely, the mystery building doesn't show up on any plat books.

Since we needed to do the sidewalks (they were a serious hazard) we decided that this was our only chance to fix the driveway. And with the aid of heavy machinery, we dug . . .

And in moments of unbelievable brilliance we:
a. thought it was a good idea to pile the dirt on a tarp.
That tarp is now three feet underground serving as the most ineffective weed barrier ever conceived . . .
b. removed the original driveway before moving my pt cruiser, leaving it stranded on the hill with a dead battery, and 20 feet of 3-4 foot deep soft fluffy dirt to roll through . . .
Despite those setbacks, with the help of friends we managed to dig through the hill of trash in the backyard and use some of those broken cinder blocks to start to fill in the missing berm (we cut the existing driveway opening down by 2/3, leaving space for a walkway), and moved all the dirt to make the front yard a more gentle slope.

To try and manage the mud (this happened in late fall, well after grass would have time to grow) we tried winter seeding and laid down a thick layer of shredded leaf mulch and stepping stones. I was doubtful that it'd work, but sure enough, there is a smattering of green poking through. There's still an enormous amount of work to do now that it's warming up, but behold, driveway!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

schoolhouse, we are go for launch. . .

Well, it looks like we've now saved two from the wrecking ball. I'm pretty sure that means we get a free pass when we get to old house heaven. But until I have that white pile of wood on my flatbed trailer I'm going to try and not get too carried away ...
for interior lighting we'll pick up 6 of
these if they're still available

a brick floor
a pergola over the doors

I can build these right? (they're on ebay right
now, don't choke when you see the price!)

these for the exterior, at least we already
own them(and they were free, and are huge!)

As of now the plan will be to rebuild her on a pole barn style foundation, building off of about 25 cement footings set at 36 inches (frost line for western PA). The interior will just be gravel for the time being, we can come back and pour a concrete pad later (although I may store my brick pile in there as a floor). While this is not ideal, it gets us a carriage house, and saves the building - huge barns built this way can easily last a century or more. Currently, the schoolhouse sits on top of a perimeter of stacked stone, not mortared, and not below the frost line - if it's lasted this long more or less abandoned since 1945, I think we're going to be fine. Our carpenter will be rebuilding the framing and re-roofing, while we re-side, paint, build and install carriage house doors (unless we can salvage those) and restore the windows and shutters. We will be matching the stickwork on the main house in the gables, which should help to tie the two buildings together. Longer term, we'll add a small pergola over the front using some antique corbels I have, and build another patio with pergola attached to the side using three antique columns from another demoed house.

this pattern if we're able to find a cottage
pattern stained glass window for the gable

we'll use this pattern if we can't find a window

I will admit to being torn about making so many modifications to the building. But the truth of it is that there isn't much call for one room school houses anymore - and I think that re-framing the front to accommodate sliding doors is probably less intrusive than framing off rooms on the interior right? Am I crazy for even being bothered by that?

No matter what I do it'll never look like these though . . . *sigh*