Thursday, June 26, 2014

five feet long and luminous

Soul Coughing really pinned my mood down tonight...

A piece of furniture I loved is missing from our old entry room, and I'm absolutely ecstatic about it!  The giddiness is twofold.  About a month ago I found a piece of furniture I adored (no holds barred obsessed with).  The seller didn't reply to my e-mail and I assumed it had sold.  A few days ago it appeared again for a much higher price, but the seller was kind enough to agree to sell it for the previous price.  This in itself is a good thing, but to subsidize the purchase I decided to sell a lovely old Victorian wingback I had.  It needed work, and with so many projects around here it was languishing and taking up space.

"I'm gonna be a star!"

A day after I posted it someone e-mailed to buy it, but this was no ordinary buyer.  As it turns out he was a buyer for a production company, and would be buying it for use it an upcoming movie (yes, I know what and who, but would rather not risk ruining a good thing).  He and the set decorator went though every room taking pictures of every detail, cataloging things they may be interested in renting for future projects.  It was so lovely to meet people for once that loved my worn and dilapidated antiques as much as I do.  Even better, our house has been added to the list of possible filming locations for the company.

Now I'm not one who has ever dreamed of being a movie star, but seeing some of the objects we've rescued, let alone our home, on the silver screen would be utterly thrilling.  I'm pretty sure this is how pretty young starlets feel when they book their first embarrassing pharmaceutical commercial.

It's not all rainbows and kittens around here though, the red dog is sick and in pain, and Daphne won't shift into anything but second.  Nothing's ever simple...

Sunday, June 22, 2014

more of other peoples' houses

Since everyone seems to enjoy my estate sale photos, here are some from the past couple of weeks (none today though, I might as well have stayed in bed).

Last week we stopped at a house in Schenley Farms, a historic neighborhood here in Pittsburgh, and found something rather amazing still in operation...

That's an original built-in vacuum cleaner.  So very cool!  Also some nice art tile (Grueby, Moravian?) with brass lantern sconces on the fireplace.  They also had a lovely copper and glass awning over the back door. 

Another house was full of original details (and also so full of people I couldn't take many photos).  There were so many closed and caution taped doors that I missed most of the house, the few I peeked into were original/untouched bathroom and closets.  But since I was in ninja picture mode, no pictures..

Another rather unassuming house had both it's original 40's bathrooms, including colored fixtures and patterned linoleum.  Sadly, I don't think the future bodes well for their continued survival.  

A nice hex tile floor at a storefront near us (it also has a great early light fixture that I don't have a picture of). 

And just a pretty rear view of a couple of houses in Shadyside.

And lastly, some nice details from a Mt. Lebanon Tudor Revival.


 Hopefully you all had fruitful weekends, if not, hope you had a nice spot to lounge

Thursday, June 19, 2014


We've been keeping the purse strings pretty tight around here while saving for the wrap-around porch build.  Although we still religiously check craigslist and estate sales, things like ebay and salvage yards have been strictly off-limits.  Luckily, I could start a salvage yard of my own out of my basement, and given it's state of utter chaos, wandering around down there has become a bit of an adventure.  Typically, this amounts to finding most everything I need if I just root around down there long enough - and knowing what I have somewhat determines which new projects I start.  However, sometimes my memory fails me, forcing me to actually buy pretties like these...

Antique screen door hinges, I'm a sucker for the spirals...

We had a bit of a Memorial Day party here, which prompted me to begin the EPIC painting of the house by starting with the back porch.  And since huge projects are never quite huge enough, I decided I'd begin fixing up the door, transom and screen door while I was at it - under the mistaken impression that I would have everything I needed to gussy it up somewhere in the house (really, just a crowbar made a huge difference).  Well, I had most everything, but it turns out the antique screen door hinges I had didn't match one another and were lacking in the aesthetics department.  Ebay was more than happy to come to the rescue...

One purchase however led to another, and now this month I've already bought hinges, sikaflex, a new dripless ergonomic caulk gun, wheels for my scaffolding, two new tires, and some moldings.  Ouch.  Luckily, I didn't have to buy these...

antique brass screen door knob and latch

All this, and the screen door still will never fit in the opening properly.  Oh well...

And once the floodgates opened, there was nothing to stop me from buying this lovely doormat when some wonderful person posted it on Pinterest (but why oh why doesn't anyone make nice mats for double doors?).

He never learned the art of being welcoming...

Monday, June 16, 2014

the albatross

When we lived in Miami I broke down and bought my dream car (under duress), a '71 Karmann Ghia autostick convertible.  The thought was, when else am I going to make the leap?  The reality of it is that for a "dream car" (I've been pointing these out every time I saw them since I was 10) they're relatively cheap, can be dependable, make a good daily driver in tropical and flat Miami, and we had an awesome repair shop that specialized in vintage air-cooleds (The Wizards in Coral Gables).

I'm pretty sure she much preferred the weather in Miami
and going to car shows instead of watching us work on the house 24/7

Now when we moved to less than tropical Pittsburgh, a garage was supposed to be a requirement for anything we bought.  We know how that worked out...

We left Daphne in South Florida safely tucked into my parents garage until we figured out exactly what we would do.  We eventually bought one of those tarp type carports, and assembled it on our concrete slab in preparation for bringing her home.  Unfortunately, by the time she got here her shed was full of house parts.

Our first "garage"

This is the part where I reveal just what a horrible person I am.  Before we got the shed unloaded to park her inside for the winter she got a flat tire, and ended up parked under a tree that first winter because I convinced myself I needed to save up and buy a set of whitewalls ($$$$$).  That following spring we moved the schoolhouse, thinking we'd have it up and built by the end of the summer.  We moved the carport to store schoolhouse parts, landlocking the ghia until the shed could be moved.  We never did order those tires...

stranded between all the woodpiles

Well, another winter has passed, the schoolhouse is built but all the siding is still neatly piled up inside, and Daphne still sat under her tree.

Two days ago I saw a groundhog crawl underneath her.  It was more than I could take.  With nightmarish visions of warrens of groundhogs making a home underneath her I pulled off the cover - half expecting her to be stuffed to the brim with leaves and acorns.  Nope, only some very large spiders.  She was pretty well rusted into place, but we freed her up by jacking up the tires to loosen them up, and with help we got her rolled out of her resting place.  A new battery, tightening up the belt, fresh gas and 10 minutes of trying to turn over the engine and she sputtered to life, blowing out a billow of black smoke and spiderwebs out of her tail pipes.  Two plain old tires are ordered and on their way here.

 I have to say it's nice to have one less thing eating away at me, and she makes a nice little escape pod for when the house gets to be too much.

Friday, June 13, 2014

one coat of paint

Few people realize the damage one coat of paint can do.  "The wood looks so old."  "Dirty." "It'll brighten the place up."  It'll help with resale."  This single coat of latex has been the cause of much angst.  And stripping it hasn't even begun yet.  See how all the lovely wood work blends into blahness in these before pictures?  Even the antique colonial revival fixture has been painted white!

This room is our main parlor, just off of the original entry hall.  It's the last room that's cut up (with a large closet and bathroom), although we won't be tackling that demo until we're ready to build the master bathroom above it.  For now though, we sold off our Art Deco living room set, which gave us access to the bay window.  Once again, our house rewarded us with a few lovely surprises.
cute, but too low for bad backs...
We haven't had room to look back here with all the furniture, so the first thing I did was whip out the heat gun.

Yatta!  More cherry (I think, I'm pretty sure, sorta?)!  No primer, just one damn coat of paint that will make stripping awful since I can't use a heat gun (too much chance of scorching the wood).  Also...

Ample evidence that there was a built-in bench wrapping around the bay.  Although cool, this is unlikely to be rebuilt because honestly, they don't tend to be that comfortable, and this is (and will remain) the tv room.  Also cool is that we still have the rods for portieres (visible in the first three pictures).  I can actually imagine this having been a Turkish corner with the beautiful painted ceilings (more about that here), portieres and built-ins.  Also, fretwork - we only recently looked closely at the uppermost piece of jamb around the arch, and it shows clear evidence of patched nail holes. Beyond exciting, especially since it prompted us to look at the other bay, which shows the same evidence of fretwork.  So yeah, terribly exciting, and yet sooooo utterly depressing...

Saturday, June 7, 2014

the tower room

We've been bouncing around with several different projects over the past few weeks.  Given the periodic torrential rains and such, it's been about 50/50 whether I'm inside or out.  During the showers (and overly sunny days too) I've been slowly putting the third floor tower room back together.  I started this over the winter, and since then have cleared the room, stripped the wallpaper from the walls and ceiling (only one more room to go!), reinstalled the storms (only ones in the house), demoed the bad plaster, repaired and insulated the eaves and begun completing the electrical.  With the lines in place I could finally start patching the walls.

victorian tower bedroom before...
wallpaper stripping begins
The whole third floor was inundated with water for years (decades?) from the failing roof flashing. This has obviously caused a number of issues with the plaster, everything from rotted lathe and plaster, to wholesale failure, broken keys and cracks.  All these issues mean I'm using every trick in the book for making repairs in this little room.  For holes, I typically do true three coat plaster, using wire lathe on top of the existing wood lathe to make sure things key properly.  I was lucky in that when we bought the house (and contents, mostly bags of trash) there was also a box of expanded corner lathe, which when flattened out is perfect for patching these smaller holes (using several overlapping pieces instead of trying to cut a piece from a large razor sharp sheet).

This room only had a handful of spots that lent themselves to this though, the slanted ceilings were too much for this self-taught plasterer to handle, so I used 1/4 inch drywall instead (also came with the house, and using it seems to be easier than throwing it away), taping the joints on the first pass, and I'll fill in the rest on the second pass (I use 90 minute durabond for the first coat, and premixed to smooth it out on the second pass).

In spots where the whole wall came down we used half inch blueboard, and will do two coat veneer plaster over it, again using durabond to bed the tape.

That's great stuff foam filling the gaps in the cornice

When possible (it wasn't in this case) I like to leave the lathe behind the blueboard - while the veneer plaster looks excellent, it has the same hollow feeling as drywall if there isn't a solid surface behind it.  This knee wall was interesting to work on, it turns out the dividing wall between the two rooms (now covered in old rock lathe) had been moved a foot forward at some point, this necessitated sliding the blue board through the gap where the walls met into the next room, as there were no studs to fasten it to.

Last but not least, I've been trying my hand at repairing the cracks and loose plaster.  The first year we owned the house I tried plaster washers, which were junk as far as I'm concerned.  Since then I've either ignored the problem, taped the crack, or just opened up the bad spot and did a standard repair.  Since seeing others use Big Wally's Plaster Magic I thought I would try it, until I saw the price...  To do the work required in this house would likely require several hundred bucks, which is just not an option.  Instead, I figured I'd try it using materials we already had on hand, pink plaster bonder, construction adhesive and fender washers.  So far my results are mixed, although admittedly I likely didn't vacuum the holes on the first pass adequately as I was afraid of pulling the plaster off the wall.  

If you're curious about the process, here's someone's tutorial which is more or less the same thing I'm doing.  Once I get more sections done I'll talk more about it, and well, if Big Wally's wants to send me some of theirs I'll gladly do a side by side comparison...

I swear my walls aren't bleeding...