Tuesday, May 28, 2013

and then the bees came

I had a number of things in mind to talk about today, as we, like the rest of you, were busy over the long weekend. But then the swarm descended upon us . . .

You see, when we bought the house it had two active honeybee hives in it. The first was under the juliet balcony, and the second was in one of the hollow brick columns that supports the second floor balcony. I'll give you one guess which hive we were able to save. The head of the urban apiary here in Pittsburgh was able to come out to take care of both hives, charging us only what it cost him to buy a new hive setup. Sadly, there was no way to get into the second hive, so those bees couldn't be saved. What most people don't realize when they go out to kill bees is that A. it's frowned upon unless there's no other option, and B. killing the bees won't solve the problem long term. The honey that remains in the hive, in addition to rotting and ruining any woodwork that may be near by, also attracts other insects, and even years later, continues to attract other honeybees. Despite caulking the gap (the previous owner used foam, which held water and rotted the wood, not to mention bees will chew through it), both years we've had multiple swarms try to recolonize the hive. Today's was the biggest by far, the noise it generates is intense - despite this, we've never been stung any of the times we've had to deal with it. 

We couldn't get a hold of anyone quickly enough today, so I made the executive decision to get rid of the swarm with the soapy water treatment (recommended by the beekeeper we worked with) - lots of dish soap mixed with hot water dumped on the swarm, kills instantly. There are still lots of strays milling about, but not enough to be a long term issue. Still, it has not been a good couple of days for the wildlife on our little half acre, a pet finch, a groundhog, a vole and 30,000 bees. And here I thought I was an animal lover . . .

Thursday, May 23, 2013

white walker

Well, the red rimmed blue eyes and white pallor can only mean one thing - the walls have been patched and sanded in the once-was-closet. I had intended to take copious pictures of the process, but really, what can I say that hasn't been said a hundred times before. Despite what many contractors would have you believe, patching walls is not rocket science. When we bought the house, huge sections of the walls and ceilings were on the floor, and more came down as we rewired and repaired our radiators. I was told by everyone I spoke to that I could never learn to plaster well enough to make repairs, and that if I was going to DIY it I should just rip it all down and drywall. Bleh. I hate drywall nearly as much as I hate vinyl and the color white. So I read the Petch House blog, and the Dept. of the Interior Preservation Briefs, and I plastered. And it turns out I'm not half bad at it, although issues with my joints prevent me from holding a hawk and large trowel.

That said, the sections of the closet were so small, and I was on such a time crunch that we decided not to three coat it in this case (plaster would have been three days, plus a week or two cure time before paint. First I stripped the wallpaper, I use a couple of different scrapers and fabric softener and hot water in a spray bottle (about a 1:6 ratio). The fabric softener has done more to remove the abandoned house smell than any other thing I've done. I spray and just keep everything damp as it penetrates - in rooms like this with painted paper, scoring it is definitely helpful. After that's clean and dry I wash off the residue with TSP, hot water, and a green scrubby. Strip wallpaper before repairing plaster, I can guarantee you'll need to repair more than it looks like at first glance.

painted wallpaper

After everything's dry I clean out all the rotted plaster from the holes with a 5 in 1. I go down to the lathe (and clear out the plaster from between them) in any section that's not just delamination of the finish coat. Once the worst of the crumbles has been conquered I dab on plasterweld to the lath and inside edges of the plaster, and wait for that to dry (the waiting is the main theme of any plaster repair). For this repair I didn't have any holes larger than 5"x5" (and the square ceiling batch was nearly flush with 1/4 inch drywall), so I went with durabond. Holes bigger than 3"x3" get wire lathe screwed into them (you can also use blue board or drywall in larger holes, which I did in the ceiling patch), if there's not enough support for the wire lathe just add more wood lathe. I normally don't patch with drywall, but in this case there was an enormous old raccoon nest in the eaves that was oozing through the lath, I need to crawl into the third floor knee wall space to clear it out, but in the meantime I didn't want my plaster keys bonding to that disgusting mess, and blue board only comes in 1/2 inch, not 1/4 inch.

holes are cleaned out
first coats
final coat drying

Here's where things diverge from actual three coat work, in this case I just use durabond 90 as a base coat, building up thickness to just shy of flush (easy sand is a lie), and then finish with whatever joint compound you have laying around (I only use drywall tape for patches with board like the ceiling). Last but not least, remember how much you hate sanding the stuff and vow to do only plaster in the future (about the 100th time I've remembered this). On that note, after all my hard work to control the dust during demo, I started sanding with my ceiling fan still on high. Dust. Is. EVERYWHERE ...
picture is true to wall color,
sage green
color is true to the ambient light

None the less, we're sanded and painted, although stripping the trim and repairing that section of floor will wait till fall. At least working inside all day is a pleasure when it looks like this outside . . .

fog across the valley

Monday, May 20, 2013

down with closets

Alternatively titled: look, more pictures of corners!

This will seem strange to you old house owners, but in our two odd years of living here we've now knocked down a total four closets *hits head on wall.* Although all of these were added in the 20's as part of the triplex conversion and needed to be removed to restore the house, it's still unfortunate that lots of stuff is still living in plastic tubs on the third floor and in the basement. This weekend saw the destruction of the fourth closet (still one more to go), which happened to be in the room we're using as a master. We believe this room would have been Mrs. Kelly's room, as evidenced by the gorgeous Art Nouveau woman in the moon fireback (which I can't get to to take pictures of at the moment), tower windows, newly discovered wallpapers, and position over what should be the front porch. The adjoining room is much larger, but has a much more masculine firebox surround with bulldog looking gargoyles in it, it's also on what should be the front of the house.

Strangely (from a modern master bedroom perspective), this is by far the smallest room on the 2nd floor, but the adjoining room was the only one that lent itself to being split up (master bathroom, walk in closet, and laundry), and I am enthralled with the fireplace and tower, and refuse to share them with anyone! The closet we tore out had served as a chute for water leaking through the gutters on the roof down to the first floor, reparing it would have required demoing and rebuilding a substantial part of it, all while working inside a roughly 2x2 space. Given the minimal amount of storage it offered, and the way in which it threw off placing furniture in the room, it drew the short straw and had to go.

On Saturday we pulled off all the trim and demoed all the plaster and lathe. Demoing plaster is not for the faint of heart - I don't know why anyone would do it except as a last ditch solution (here tearing out plaster and replacing with drywall is seen as a matter of course when many people buy a house, awfulness). One wall, 10.5 feet tall by 2 feet wide filled 10 contractor bags, just saying . . .

We had planned on opening that big window and putting one of our many box fans in it venting out (the best method for controlling the dust, makes it look like your house is on fire), however it turns out that window is painted shut (as are 75% of our windows). Since we don't have a tall enough ladder, and didn't want to reassemble the scaffolding, we opened windows in the other rooms, and just went slowly and cleaned up as we went.

Yesterday we took down the framing (which wasn't really attached to anything) and danced a jig when we saw the closet had been built over the original molding. This may be the only time they built something respecting the house (I mean, they trashed all our over-mantels the entire quarter-sawn cherry staircase, and all our picture rail and paneling).

I also got a look at the wallpaper that had been hidden in the drop ceiling of the closet. The floral was below the picture rail, while the aesthetic movement/japonesque silver and white cloud paper started above the picture rail and continued onto the ceiling. This house had extraordinary wallpapers throughout when it was built. The ceilings on the 2nd and 3rd floor were each papered in a different cream or white iridescent patterned paper. Contrast that with the room when we bought the house; light purple paint on the walls and ceiling with no primer over the bare plaster (it was chipping and peeling off in sheets), darker purple over the shellacked woodwork, and in the closet they used the light purple over the wallpaper, moldings and floors. Ewww . . .

Ok, this somehow got quite long, so I'll do another post on patching the plaster tomorrow. Here's where we stand now.

Friday, May 17, 2013

good news everybody . . .

I know I haven't mentioned the schoolhouse for a while, and I've had my reasons. Applying for the variance for the bell tower was an expensive shot in the dark, and with neighbor issues, we were paranoid that one of them would contest it, leaving us $400 poorer, and towerless. So instead, we immersed ourselves in the code for the borough, and lo and behold, a miracle. It turns out that spires, domes and cupolas are exempt from the accessory building height requirements! The building inspector was unsure about our interpretation and had to turn the borough attorney to clarify the legalese, and it turns out he agreed with our interpretation - so we're free to start building, no variance required (and we didn't have to pay for the attorney) ...

The owners of the property have been beyond wonderful through this, and they've even offered to let us stay in their cabin overnight while we're disassembling her. We hope to have the building moved and resurrected (re-framed and re-roofed at minimum) within the next two months. It's a tall order, we'll see how it pans out.

In other news, we've been moving forwards with a lot of little projects. My in-laws are planning a huge family reunion in July, so a lot of my energy will be going towards finally finishing up whatever I can. Our last salvaged cabinet is installed, although it's still awaiting it's doors and some caulk. Naturally, that didn't stop me from unleashing my dishes upon it. I've also gotten a few more bits and pieces painted, and even found some hardware that'll work.

I've also started cleaning the slate that makes up the sink surround, which is turning out to be a far bigger project than I anticipated. Case in point, compare the left upright to the one on the right, can you tell which one was scrubbed for an hour? It also turns out that the gilding on the middle piece was redone with a gold sharpie; a gold sharpie that hasn't been happy with the scrubbing going on. I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to trace the design, strip the slate, then re-gild it once I'm done.

an awful picture, I know . . .

In the meantime, have some more spring . . .

mystery wisteria, and it even looks
like it wants to bloom?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

revenge of the open windows

With all the gorgeous weather we've been having I took it upon myself to open some windows and put in our window fans a few days ago, so it goes without saying that this cold snap is my fault, and is mother nature's revenge for my audacity. Between the cold, and my stubbornness about not closing the windows and turning the heat back on I haven't done too much other than throw temper tantrums about misbehaving projects. Instead, lets take a look at an old project that's somewhat completed (for now at least).

When we bought the house we had passed off the 1st floor bath as a modern addition, as it was one of two rooms with drywall, and was a vinyl monstrosity (albeit a small one), and was carved from space stolen from both the dining room and front parlor (we could see traces of the coved and stenciled ceiling when we tore down the drop ceiling to work on plumbing, sadly I can't find those pictures, and the ceiling has already been patched).

At the same time, it had a working toilet and shower (some of the only working plumbing in the house), which made it possible to hole up in a few rooms on the first floor while we tackled the rest of the house. We had asked the heirs that were selling the house if there had been anything of note to the bathroom before they remodeled it, to which they said no. So imagine my surprise when the pink toilet failed a few months ago (the pink toilet was installed used by the people selling the house), and in the process of replacing it I found a surprise under the rotting sheet vinyl under the toilet.

Umm, hello hex tile. What are you doing in my cheap 90's bathroom? Needless to say the vinyl came up (or is still coming up actually, we haven't pulled out the vanity yet). Came up may be a generous term though, as they used concrete floor leveler over the top of it - luckily hex tile's pretty indestructible and nonporous, so it hasn't minded my hammer and chisel. Sadly, it turns out that a good portion of the floor happens to be in the backyard.

For some reason they removed chunks of the hex tile (and the six inches of mortar it sat in) and chucked them in the backyard - funnily enough I was using the chunks of concrete (the pieces were upside down) as places to sit while I dug up a bathrooms' worth of baby blue, yellow and black tiles from Mt. Trashmore in the backyard (I assume they came from this bathroom, hence the newly sheetrocked walls, however I just started finding original subway tiles in the pit, so who knows?). Had I bothered to turn over any of those pieces I would have ripped up the bathroom long before I did looking for their origin . . .

Even though I knew I could grind out the concrete that had been used to level the floor and retile those sections, the plan is to eventually rip out this side of the bathroom and return it to the parlor. Instead, I got busy with the sharpies . . .

That's right, I drew hex tiles. First I scrubbed the concrete, then matched a white floor paint to the hex tile, then bought five gray and silver sharpies and went to town. It took a disgusting amount of time, and there's a good chance I could have retiled it more quickly - things to keep in mind next time you want to draw your floor . . . I sealed it with clear polyacrylic, and it has held up well (obviously no one's walking back in that corner). Here's where we're at today - the mirror is a story in and of itself, so I'll save that for another day!

Friday, May 10, 2013

spa treatments for inanimate objects

Today ended up not being half bad despite beginning with a bowl of rice. Yeah, you heard me, rice. Actually the rice part began last night, after realizing that in my new blogger eagerness to take decent photos I had left my camera outside, in the rain, overnight. Amazingly, after its starchy spa treatment, it's revived and clicking - disaster averted.

I had hoped to work on a bunch of small things today, but instead ended up going to the first day of the Phipps Conservatory's May Market. Last year I went on Saturday, and not only was it crowded but most of the smaller things that I wanted/could afford were long gone. This year I behaved myself, and came home having spent a whole 2 dollars (3 if you include parking), on a tiny daylily - Night Embers, which has been on my wish list for a while.

night embers (not my plant though)

We had planned on having raised beds made by now (we've earmarked our piles of yellow bricks for that sole purpose), and the plant sale would have been heavenly for vegetables, but oh well, maybe next year. Then, since we had been so good not buying plants, we went to lunch. After we got home we wandered the yard a bit looking for something we felt like doing, but the thunder and lightening nixed our productivity . . . Instead I cleaned a bunch a paint brushes, which wasn't nearly as fulfilling, but at least the plants are enjoying the rain while it lasts . . . Astoundingly, the plants in the side yard are original to the house and used to border the wrap around porch, after several prunings they're finally blooming again.

At least during the thunder it's lovely to finally have an office to work in, especially one with windows on three sides and a sleeping porch! The table top came out nice (and functional, which was its main purpose), it sits on top of an antique industrial drafting table base that we love, and have been waiting ages to be able to use. The desk is a free one (also an industrial castoff) that we never in a million years thought would clean up like it did. But I tried the Howard restore-a-finish (and their wax) that everyone raves about, and lo and behold, this desk is heavily grained quartersawn oak. Still beat up, but in an absolutely beautiful way. I need to do a much more detailed post on the office itself, but until then, some pictures . . .

fir porch boards reborn!
we added the casters to make it tall enough for
the exceptionally tall trained monkey
hello beautiful

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

the voice of god

So I made a promise in the last post, and I've now seen the error of my ways, and PROMISE never to do it again. Truthfully, I'm entirely too scatterbrained to commit to finishing and posting things in any sort of orderly fashion. Oh well, at least I've been trying to use a real camera for my photos, baby steps. So, despite being behind on things I would otherwise have posted about, I did finish staining the shingles (for those not familiar with the project, the center is entirely new restoration work, replacing a bumped out addition).

It's amazing how once you get used to being up on the scaffolding you feel like you're now qualified to run away and join the circus. Also amazing is how my being up there led to my chatting with about 50% of the people that walked or drove by, while the other 50% had no idea I was there and proceeded to be idiots, and do things like pick my flowers (or park on top of them). Luckily, yelling from on high is ridiculously effective.

mostly unmolested . . .

My favorite chat was with a couple of contractors in a big truck that drove past, backed up the street, gawked for 5 minutes, noticed me, said they have never noticed the house till now (a huge compliment), asked me about my hoarding of cobblestones, and said next time they found some they'd drop them off along with a case of Red Bull.

Although I still need to finish painting the corbels and sanding the beadboard (the beadboard is from about 4 different houses, and you can trace the decades through the shades of pink), staining the new shingles and painting the new trim is done.

I'm beyond thrilled with the shingle stain, as it ended up being a near perfect match (Behr's Russet solid stain). The colors for anyone who's interested are Roycroft bronze green, Rookwood dark red, and Raisin (sashes and accent). We had hoped to use a terracotta/pumpkin color instead of the red, but the lovely Victorian two houses up (also a shingled house) beat us to the punch (red shingles, green trim and cream and pumpkin accents). We also have to clean this section of new masonry, does anyone know if the muriatic acid would mess with the paint? If so, I supposed I should do that before I paint the corbels. I desperately want to paint at least the front of the house now, but so much of the trim has completely rotted away and replicating it is way in the the future . . . In the meantime though, be jealous of my dogwood . . .

there's a few new shingles back here too . . .