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!

Monday, March 17, 2014

the fifth year is wood

So says traditional wedding anniversary lore. We buy lots of wood however, so that didn't seem so exciting, instead, I bought the trained monkey something wood adjacent.

not our house, but you get the idea

He's in love.

So in love, that the formerly formidable task of repairing the original oak floors was suddenly within the realm of reason.

check out that threshold, with the fir to the far left

These floors had been hacked apart when the house was subdivided, with pieces removed where they built new walls, and other sections (those that had never had flooring since they were under where the original staircase ran) had been filled in with fir porch boards instead of oak. Instead of making repairs after the house was turned into apartments, they added cheap oak on top, which was now splintered and bulging. We removed the junk oak when we did stage one of the staircase restoration, but left the holes and awfulness, leaving everything hidden under old rugs. Seeing the original patterned hall floors was one of our first tastes of being on the right track. Last fall we got a truckload of antique oak flooring for free that was a close enough match to ours, all winter it's been in the shed waiting to get used. We hope to cut most of it down for a herringbone floor later on, but chose the best long boards to do the patching.

those white sheets are before photos we put down for fun

There are plenty of tutorials written on how to patch floors. I will add though that when patching things like thresholds, and where two types of flooring meet, think about which will result in the best hold before blindly nailing boards in. In our case, we got creative with the tongues and grooves (as well as removing them), to try and give them the most sticking power. Also, square off the ends of all boards, both old and new before nailing anything in (we learned that the hard way).

In addition to the benefits of not tripping in nail filled holes anymore, it was nice to get a good look at the ends of the pine floors that are in the current entry - they're still hidden under more of the awful oak that needs to be removed, but the ends are grain-painted, telling us that the original opening between rooms was similar to what we built, and definitely not the single width door that was here when we bought the house.

so much better (the orange oak at the top still needs to be removed)
As for our anniversary, it being spent on house projects was more than a little appropriate, given that we made, built, and did everything for our wedding. The in-laws certainly got a crash course in what it was going to be like having me in the family, and getting married in a historic garden founded by a proponent of the arts and crafts movement (Bok Tower Gardens), and staying in a stunning craftsman mansion certainly helped. I don't think there's anything more beautiful than moss, live oaks and azaleas...

the only glimpse of me you're likely to see
Now, if only our azaleas here would bloom, I'm more than ready for spring.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

bite my shiny metal...


There she is, waiting for us. It's a Samsung with stainless interior and hidden controls. After hours of searching, and poring over Sears Outlet's website (and purchasing dishwashers through them that apparently didn't exist), it was waiting for us in the scratch and dent aisle of Lowes that we stop at a few times a week. Go figure.

And since it's pointless to keep things simple, we'll go ahead and buy and install a garbage disposal too, just for giggles. Two appliances that have never been in this house, I almost feel ashamed...

And yes, until an appliance company comes out with an iron finish (or gives us the Jenn-Air suite in oil rubbed bronze that was out a few years back) we'll use the stainless. I've been into plenty of historic places with steel worktables and stoves, and the shiny white or black textured plastic just makes me gag, and the pseudo antique ones are almost as bad.

Do you have any idea how excited I am to buy dishwasher detergent?

Monday, March 3, 2014

driven to distraction

Now that we're once again on the one month countdown to a houseful of people we've switched focused from construction on the third floor to finishing up odds and ends around the place. In some ways these are the most exciting projects since they create the illusion of livable spaces. On Friday though, we were lucky enough to have a day of distraction thanks to a good friend of ours. His father is spearheading the restoration of the Braddock Library (, the first of the Carnegie libraries (1889).

Our interest in Braddock lays in Braddock National Bank, which was founded by our house's builder, John Gracey Kelly. The bank is in good hands, and it's wonderful to see some of the other extraordinary structures in the area being carefully restored, after so many have been demolished over the years.

Currently it's the music hall that's receiving the bulk of the attention. The last performance was around 1969, since then a corner of the ceiling caved in, causing a fair bit of water damage (would have been catastrophic were it not for the steel beams supporting the structure). The roof has since been restored, along with the decorative plaster work and gorgeous new murals. At the moment the rows for the theater seating are being widened to accommodate modern American's increasing girths. The stunning cast iron and velvet seats are being widened by popping the rivets that hold the sides together and adding a small piece of qswo between them to make them a bit wider.

Although the public spaces, with their stunning iron, wood and plaster work, are beautiful, the attic and tower rooms are even more interesting to me, perhaps because the were stuffed to the brim with "treasures," including long-forgotten plaques from area schools, some of which I believe have been demoed, ornate bookcases from the stacks, and the library's original turn of the century gym equipment, including a boxing ring and pummel horses. Sadly, the places were so dark and cluttered I wasn't able to get any usable shots of those spaces, but I did get a couple shots of the third floor basketball court and basement swimming pool (currently full of more awesome storage).

Seeing a structure like this in the midst of a decades long restoration highlights just how overwhelming a process it is, constantly preforming triage with whatever funds have been obtained in the meantime. If you'd like to know more about the building, it's wiki page is enlightening (and hey, that's my picture of the newel post!).

And the highlight of the tour? Climbing to the tower for a bird's eye view of Braddock roof lines, with a peek of our bank - peaked roof the the right of center...