Tuesday, September 30, 2014

more of Mildred

After finding the silhouettes and initials on the wall (read more about it here), I've been intensely curious about Mildred.  Despite being the only daughter of a fairly prestigious family, we knew little about her life until after she married Robert King, who had to have been one of Pittsburgh's most eligible bachelors. As it turns out, I already had a wealth of info open in a pdf on my computer (a tab that had been open for months in fact), that I had never gotten around to going through.

There, waiting for me to find her, was Mildred A. Kelly.  As it turns out, she was quite a beauty...

Miss Mildred A. Kelly

The photo and new tidbits were found in the digitized archives of Pittsburgh's Illustrated Weekly.

Pittsburgh's Illustrated Weekly, 1911

New and exciting?  Details of motoring trips to East Coast resorts and cities via their car and chauffeur, cruises to Europe, where they were renting their summer home and details of what must have been her and Robert's stunning wedding at the Bellevue-Stratford in Philadelphia.

We spend so much time working on the house and trying to make ends meet that it's always a shock to realize that our overwhelming project was once a manse built for a life of luxury and privilege (and MAIDS!).  Even more difficult to comprehend for my 21st century mind?  After her marriage, John and Agnes moved into their new son-in-law's even larger and more beautiful mansion, two new photos of which were also lurking in the magazine...

The King Estate, Baywood on Negley
side view of Baywood in Pittsburgh

While I have no desire for a chauffeur, and had a beautiful wedding of my own, a grand tour of Europe would certainly be a welcome change.  And I don't think I'd turn down a maid either (although I'd see about trading her in for a live-in carpenter instead).

Friday, September 26, 2014

paint by the foot

These past few days have been beautiful, and it looks like we'll be getting more of the same in the upcoming week.  I've been using the time to wrap up some painting I started much earlier in the summer - the plan had been to be much further along, but sick dogs, a spike in paying work and a troublesome neighbor managed to throw a wrench in those plans.

This part of the house was in wretched condition when we bought it.  A window had been removed, and the hole filled with fiberglass insulation covered with a piece of plywood.  The rotted built-in gutter and leaking downspout were pouring directly into the hole, which made a lovely spongy home for a colony of carpenter ants.  On the interior, this space had been walled off from the rest of the bedroom to form a kitchen of sorts, with a collapsing drop ceiling and a nice 50's steel sink cabinet that had never been installed.

and yes, they removed tile to build that wall...

braving the plywood and temporary tar paper
We have no idea why this window was removed, although I did pull out pieces of broken glass from under the floorboards - our best guess is that it's one of the windows used to fill in the doorway and stained glass window in the original entry from when the house was divided and the entry moved.  We think the other window in the entry came from our office - which has a little wood replacement window.  When we restore the entry we'll move the two windows in there to these two spots - for now I'll count my blessings that I found a used replacement window with the perfect dimensions at the Habitat Restore for $15.  While I'm usually the first to expound on the evils of vinyl, there's a time and a place for everything.

When we installed the window we jerry-rigged a new sill and trim that will be replaced when we re-install the correct window.  Since the restored window will be slightly different dimensions, it didn't make much sense to spend too much time or money on it.  Same goes for the cedar shingles, we replaced what we had to when we put in the window, but the rest are at the end of their lifespan and will get dealt with later.

None of this had been painted, caulked, stained or primed though, so three years later I conned the flying monkey into helping me set up some scaffolding.  Convincing him wasn't too hard being that water was making it's way in through the un-caulked window.  Half a tube of Sika-flex bronze later, this section of the house is water tight (why can't they make a brick color though!).  Many hours of scraping, sanding and filling later and I was able to prime everything, although it wasn't until yesterday that I actually got paint up.  

the flashing had to be re-glued and clamped

primed, stained and caulked
two months for 15 feet of trim...
from the inside, just need to finish plastering
 Hopefully this slow progress isn't how the rest of the painting will go, on the other hand, I bought scaffolding casters, which may have been my best idea ever.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

well, hello there...

My melancholy mood. brought on by nearing the end of scraping the wallpaper from all these old walls, was relieved by one last surprise today.

Waiting to make my acquaintance on one of the last walls I've worked on was a self-portrait of a little girl, initialed M.K.  I can only guess that this is Mildred Kelly, only child of our house's original owner, John G. Kelly, and future wife of Robert King (of the King Estate, Baywood).  She hasn't been alone on the wall all these years though, there are other profiles and initials on this section, although who they might be I don't know.



Cousins, workers, maids?  I have no idea.  Hopefully we'll encounter more names as our research continues.  For now I just hope we can save this section of wall before it crumbles away.
the drawings are on the small wall to the right of the chimney wall
I'm grateful for this discovery, in this room, as this room was home to another huge drawing on the plaster which was destroyed by our electrician before I stripped the wallpaper - the only evidence being the outer edges of sketched hills on either side of a gaping hole.  What it could have been will haunt me.  

Of course, this isn't the only art we've found in the house.  Several rooms have sported sketches of room outlines and molding profiles.  The best however, and one in a series of strange coincidences that gave rise to our house's name, is found near the floor of the guest bedroom.

Friday, September 19, 2014

back upstairs

As much as finishing the schoolhouse is key this fall, also key is not freezing to death this winter.  Would you believe a pipe going up the center of our house managed to freeze during last year's polar vortex?  We don't need a repeat of that performance.

Now when we bought the house (almost four years ago now), we promptly bought all of our blown-in insulation before the tax credits ended.  Between the gift card offer at Lowes and what we got back on our taxes, we paid less than half price.  Of course, we expected to install it by the following fall, and, of course, we're still not ready to install it this fall, 3 years later.

What we have left to do includes stripping one last room of wallpaper, running electrical for two lights, plastering two rooms, installing baffles in the attic and plywood to hold the insulation back from the attic hatch.  It may seem like a long list, but given how far we've come, it's ceased to terrify me.

We've moved all the insulation and cleaned out the hallway to make room for the work to be done.  Hint - don't store insulation in front of south facing windows for 3 years.  The bags all exploded from the heat.  It was a cataclysmic mess that ended with my mom shoveling it all into contractors bags.  Not the best use of time...  Now I just need to finish stripping wallpaper.

every trash bag is full of insulation
completely filling the tower

Monday, September 15, 2014


With fall coming at us full force (it was in the 40's last night!) we've started our yearly attempts at clean up and winterization.  First on the list is always getting the yard in order, which is easier said than done.  But we're off to a good start!

Mount Trashmore, the gift that keep on giving
mostly gone!

We got someone to haul away most of the mismatched cinder blocks we've unearthed from the hill, glorious!  There's more still buried, but we'll get to those later.

I know I haven't mentioned the schoolhouse much this summer.  It's been slow going, to say the least.  While we've put up siding a few pieces at a time, there's such a fear of running out of the oak for the upper section that it makes it hard to maintain any momentum.  Not only that, each piece is incredibly time consuming - don't forget, these are nearly 150 year old oak planks with uneven edges, widths, and thicknesses, full of holes and cracks, and badly warped.  The installation process includes sanding all the edges, priming the exterior side, clamping and shimming the board in place to minimize cracking, pre-drilling, then nailing with stainless spiral shank nails.  It's been about twenty minutes per board, at least they're blissfully short lengths.

Although that's been slow, we did finish installing the loft in the building.  We chose to put it in the back third (about 15 x 10), so it will serve as a ceiling to our workshop.  It's made up of three different homes worth of tongue and groove fir porch boards.  The age of the unpainted undersides of the boards blends in perfectly with the rest of the wood of the schoolhouse, while the uppers are a mix of colors which I find charming, although no one else will ever see them.

We needed to get this section finished for the storage it provided, at the moment we're moving up all of our salvaged tin ceilings, and I think my stash of wavy glass will end up here as well.  It's a shame, I had wanted to move our old king size mattress up here and snooze away the last nice days of the year....

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

agent orange

At least that's how I felt about the crummy orange oak on the first floor.

badly stained oak on our first walk through
it's easy to forget how much WHITE there was...

It was laid around the time the house was split, presumably to help hide some of the floor plan changes, as well as the then out of fashion pine planks. The discrepancy between it and the original 1880's quartered oak with inlaid mahogany floors makes one wonder how the two woods could have originated from the same type of tree. To add insult to injury, it was laid against the original shoe molding, the same direction as the original floor, and was covered in rather severe stains.

right up against the shoe molding

I removed the first section when we restored the layout of the staircase, before I started the blog. This revealed a discrete patterned landing area that confirmed that I made the right call on how to build the stairs (only off by one inch when all was said and done)!

this was hiding under the oak...

Removing that section showed that it butted up to faux finished pine in the current entry room, which carries through to the dining room.

it'll be so nice to have even floors!

The next section we pulled out was the hallway to the bathroom (in this post here), both of which used to be part of the dining room. I was hoping to find ghost marks of a built-in on the floor, which weren't there. We can now assume that any built-in would have been on the wall that was demolished when the kitchen addition was built in the 1890's. There is some evidence on this section of where the passage from the front parlor to the dining room was, just based on wear, as well as two strange sections I haven't figured out yet. This floor is also faux finished pine, and most likely had wall to wall, or a tacked down central carpet from day one.

The current project is stripping it from the current entry room (eventual library/music room). While the timing is admittedly strange with the (futile) yearly rush to winterize the house and schoolhouse, I have my reasons... Our antique square grand piano is being rented for the Vin Diesel movie "The Last Witch Hunter," which started filming last week. What this means is that professional piano movers will be here to pick it up at the end of the month, and it'll be off being famous for the next three weeks, along with four of my light fixtures. It would be a shame to waste the opportunity to restore the floors while the behemoth is out of the picture. On that note, there had been talk of renting our bed - luckily for my husband that didn't pan out, the fact that Vin Diesel had been in my bed would have remained my default icebreaker small talk until the day I died....

obviously a bed worthy of Riddick...

I've stripped a third of the floor of the oak so far, revealing, as expected, faux finished, random width southern yellow pine just like upstairs. The center is as naked as the day it was installed, just missing it's carpet. What wasn't expected is just what good condition it's in. The only flaws are a slight warp at the wall where the oak had a huge number of stains (likely from the pets of previous owners), one buckled board from the weight of the radiator foot, and the inevitable nail holes from the oak. Surprisingly, the faux finish is in incredible condition as well. It was designed to look like rift sawn oak, and is fairly convincing while you're standing. Although we had it throughout the house upstairs, this has been the only time it's been in good enough condition to get the full effect.

Which leaves me with a decision... We had planned on just sanding and waterloxing, which would look lovely. But now that I see the finish (on this section at least) seems to be restorable, and it's become so rare to see in antique homes, I feel quite obligated to save it. This was put in by a man who could have afforded whatever he wanted for his floors, and he chose to have an artist paint them. If it was good enough for him I feel like it should be good enough for me too...

as it stands now, still need to scrub off the paper stuck to the shellac

So there seems to be three options:

a. sand everything down, stain and waterlox
b. sand only the center, waterlox it and restore the faux finish border
c. try my hand at restoring the faux border, and faux finish the rest of the floor as well

I'm vacillating between all these options, and would really love to hear your ideas! In the meantime, three little discoveries...

See how the building paper jogs in about an inch just past the plinth? This suggests that I was almost dead on in deciding how much to open up the doorway (it had been just a single door when we bought the house). The longer section of paper likely protruded into the original doorway.

The second is more of a question.

See that hole? I can think of only one reason for it's odd location. I've seen historic dining rooms where there was a servant call button on the floor at the head of the table (you would tap it with your foot). The location would be dead on, and this house had speaking tubes and annunciators - BUT, as far as we know this wasn't a dining room. At the same time, we now know that the kitchen wing was an addition, meaning that there's really no reason this couldn't have been the original dining room.

Lastly, proof that there are no new ideas...
"Factory Finished Flooring" Williamsport PA

All the fuss over today's pre-finished floors and it turns out they've been around for a long while. They likely went out of style when people figured out that they offered no protection for spills (or pet accidents) that go right through the joints. I wonder how long it'll take people to figure that out this time around?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

so there was this bubble....

While I was doing some prep work for a bigger project I noticed some paint on the door jamb was bubbling.  I had a razor blade near by.  Naturally, this happened....

It then logically follows that this came next...

Bad prep work is a beautiful thing.  Granted it does nothing to help me with stripping the ornate moldings and details, but it's a start, and I'm forever indebted to the wonders of shellac.