Wednesday, April 30, 2014


The heat gun has been the tool of choice for the past few days, but I haven't yet reached a point that's worth writing about, so we'll talk about the paint scraper instead.  This winter has been terrible in many respects, and the incredible and prolonged dryness has done a number on things like our woodwork and paint.

Most of the first floor got a quick paint job with gloss white (walls/ceiling/woodwork) some point before it was listed for sale.  None of the walls were prepped (they were covered with grime and wallpaper paste), and no primer was used, which, paired with the stresses of construction and habitation has resulted in paint cracking and flaking.  I won't complain, it all needs to be stripped anyway, and doing so has revealed some pleasant surprises.

This section of paint was helped by a massive leak from when we started reconnecting radiators.  It reveals that there was some decorative painting on the ceiling, bordered by some sort of trim (we can see the patched nail holes) and likely wallpaper over the cove which would have extended to the picture rail (also long gone).  The brown of the ceiling is somewhat of a conundrum as the original section of the dining room ceiling above the now-bathroom's dropped ceiling appeared to be navy blue with a painted mosaic pattern around the edges (pictures were on the stolen camera, and the drop ceiling has since been patched).  The brown that was revealed may just be the background of the mosaic, I'll need to open up another section to know for sure.  

Of course this just piqued my curiosity about our other first floor ceilings (all those on the second and third were originally wallpapered).  The current entry room/library has 1/4 inch drywall up, so that will remain a mystery.  I can tell that the cove of the molding in there was wallpapered since the adhesive was still there after I scraped the paint away.  The old entry was mostly gutted when the house was converted into apartments, so I doubt anything would have survived if even the plaster moldings were removed.  The section of molding that was clinging to life above the added closet was painted a bronzy green.

That leaves the (used to be) front parlor/living room.  

Mind you, this room faces west, and gets the most spectacular sunsets - those Victorians really knew their stuff.  Can you imagine how the room would light up with the ceilings and moldings painted out like that?  Gorgeous, and they will be again.  The problem I'm running into in here is that it appears that there was decorative painting done in that darker pink color across the ceiling, but it's being pulled off by the white paint.  We have another non-original closet in this room that has a dropped ceiling, so I knocked a hole in the wall above where the ceiling was dropped.  I had hoped the ceiling was in it's original state, sadly, all I got was some teens or twenty's wallpaper and beige paint...

lovely leafy paper, but no orange paint to be seen

So this means that this room had already been redecorated by the time the house was split up.  It's likely that this was done by the second owners (Escher), who were also responsible for some other lovely arts and craft papers in the house.    What this 4 foot section of wall does reveal is that it is original, and has intact molding which is important to know for when we take out the closet.  The opening you seen to the right is above the ceiling of the first floor bath (carved from equal parts of the dining room and living room).

Luckily the paint on that section is peeling too, so maybe it won't take off quite as much of the original paint when I go to strip it.  Stripping it will have to wait however, because those last two pictures?  Taken by sticking the camera into the little black hole above the door frame below...

Friday, April 25, 2014

and all that we want is a shady lane...

Last year at around this time we were having the Dr. Seuss' garden conversation (  With that pressing issue resolved we were left to find street trees that fulfilled MANY criteria, including maxing out at 20 feet, non-destructive roots, high crown, indestructibility, and some level of uniqueness/beauty.  We had thought about planting hawthorns to match those on the other side of the street - but those trees are doing terribly, so it was obviously a poor choice.  What we came up with instead was Amur maples (flame cultivar).  Incredible fall color in addition to all the other requirements, plus pretty leaves and persistent red seed pods.

 The problem was, I couldn't find them anywhere!  Once I make up my mind I'm fairly stubborn, and even online these were not only small, but very expensive as well.  So we had resolved to leave our sidewalk bare for the time being.  On a whim I looked them up again this spring, and lo and behold Lowes said they were stocking them at all their stores.  This ended up being a lie - but we tracked down one store about 45 minutes away that was the only Lowes to get them in the region.  The drive was well worth it, we found three highly branched, 10 foot tall trees for $34 each.  Sometimes the big box stores really come though...

This leaves our sidewalk with 3 Amur maples and 2 Grace smoke trees which flank the stairs.  There are two tree wells that are too close to the telephone poles for trees, so we'll probably plant more of the Wine and Roses weigela that flank the stairs if they do well this season.  The rest will just be planted with free daylilies and irises (hurray for craigslist and freecycle) as they seem to be made of steel and maintenance free.  On the house side of the sidewalk are the existing ancient mock oranges, roses and lilacs, blooming again after a few massive prunings since we bought the house.  At 11:00 last night we also picked up 5 beautiful boxwoods and about 20 huge variegated hostas (thank you mystery craigslister).  Three of those boxwoods are now planted on the new section of the berm that was created when we closed off the driveway, with the hostas serving as edging.  Although none of these plants are that exciting on their own, the fact that after all these years the house is beginning to have a cultivated garden again is more that exciting enough for me.  

Today - don't mind the chunks of concrete the trash truck wouldn't take
Before we closed on the house - ivy and "driveway"
right after closing
November 2012 after finishing the driveway and sidewalks
There's a lot more that needs to be done over the next couple of weeks (before it gets hot!), but I'll wait until things have leafed out a bit more so you can actually SEE the lovely new plants in question unless of course the cat eats them first.  

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


I haven't taken much in the way of photos over the past week, so I'll dig back a month into the archives for today's offering. I've mentioned my affliction/affection for antique plumbing before, and this sink was my most recent acquisition.

The sink that came with the house was an early, but somewhat plain pedestal sink that was badly rusted out.

Although I had intended to restore it, the truth is I can replace it with another antique sink much more cheaply - if it were original I'll shell out the cash, but I doubt it is. To fulfill our 203k obligations we had to make this bathroom operational, so we picked up another vintage pedestal sink with working taps on Freecycle to serve in the interim. Those taps had started to fail, and the bad refinishing job on the sink (not our doing) was only getting worse, so when I saw this sink for $50 on craigslist I jumped on it. Of course it wasn't the sink I was interested in, it was those lovely nickel taps...

The sink is an antique barber's sink, that upper middle nozzle is for a hand sprayer attachment which we don't have. Thankfully, tightening those threads shut off the water flow, although it still makes an awful whistling noise we have yet to remedy. Although the sink itself is rather plain Jane (and will likely get replaced when we decide to have the faucet replated), the soap dish is supremely awesome in that it has an integral drain that connects to the main drain. Very cool... Of course simply hooking it up would have been too simple, naturally it leaked from every conceivable spot - I almost wish I had a picture of the waterworks, but you'll just have to imagine the mess on your own. Since there is really no good tutorial on repairing these (let alone picture of the process), I'll bite the bullet and do my best to describe what we did. The article that guided us initially can be found in this Old House Journal Article - it provides the terminology that you'll need to tell your friends what you did with your weekend, you're welcome.

Remove the handle by unscrewing the screw on the end of it (yours may have a cap that needs to be popped off), then use a wrapped wrench to remove the nut.

Take pictures of what you find, usually a decayed washer and/or packing if there have been previous repair attempts.

Put the handle back on and gently wiggle/unscrew as though you were turning on the faucet to loosen the stem. Once it is able to go past the normal on position it should come out easily - this was the hardest part - looking at it you'd have sworn this was all one piece. We used pb blaster and a needle to break up and remove the grime.

Once we got the stem out we cleaned everything, and tracked down the appropriate washers/screws. Skip the big box stores and go directly to a plumbing supply if you have a truly old faucet like we did.

Place the new washer after thoroughly cleaning off the old gunk (tweezers, q-tips, whatever it takes)
Screw in either the original screw if it was in good condition, or a new brass screw

Coat the stem and threads in the lube, this will make the handle easy to turn.

Use the handle to screw the stem back into the seat
Neatly wrap the packing

Use thread dope and carefully place the nut over the packing, then fully tighten.
After the last nut has been tightened, reinstall the handle, making sure it's positioned in it's desired off positioned before screwing it back in.

If there are any other leaking connections unscrew and pack/use thread dope as necessary.

Smile, you're done. Take an "after" picture that doesn't show the item in question...

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.