Tuesday, December 22, 2015

december updates

Truly I meant to start up again before now, but then my computer started smoking...

Luckily, it had the good sense to die on cyber Monday, so a replacement was easy to come by.  I'm well past the point of being excited by electronics though, so the expenditure was nothing but aggravating.  It's hard not to calculate the things I won't be able to work on around here so that I'm able to keep typing...

Since last we spoke we've:

a.  planted many of the bulbs bought for us in the Netherlands - some of which have already emerged given this crazy weather

b.   cured the hatch to the widow's walk of an obnoxious little leak.  This allowed us to weatherstrip the attic hatch (compressible gasket on top of the quarter round the hatch rests on) and reinstall it, finishing up the attic work at last.  I had intended to paint the hatch before putting it back up, but some chips revealed that it was originally shellacked, and the beadboard looks worth restoring.  That'll wait till spring, but I did put on some nice reproduction Eastlake hardware to make handling it much easier (it's remarkably heavy).

c.  hosted Thanksgiving and HAMukkah 2.0 with great success, while managing to forget the 5 year anniversary of owning the house.

d.  restored and rewired another chandelier better suited to the scale of the dining room (the vintage fixture that was there will grace another room).

as close to the correct glow as I could photograph

e.  have read more books in just the past 2 months than in the previous year, best among them?  High Fidelity, which is impossible to read and not envision John Cusack narrating and The Time Traveler's Wife, with shockingly excellent music and Arts and Crafts references.

f.  put up a bit more siding on the schoolhouse.

g.  finally finished the floors in the nursery/future master bath, full details will be forthcoming...

h.  got rid of 2 1/2 trees worth of logs to a friend for his woodburner.  We're seeing some evidence of ground termites, which is forcing us to start rounding up our stray woodpiles.  In return for the free wood they helped us move the last salvaged radiator to the basement, and there's a chance for free BBQ if the restaurant wants the sassafras for smoking...

i.  managed to keep an infant alive for two whole months!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

filling the house...

Well, long time no see huh?  It may come as no surprise to some of you what we've been up to, being that it seems that any female blogger of a certain age who disappears for a period of time is either selling their house, getting divorced, or happier in our case, having a baby.

Drawn by yours truly, the whole menagerie is represented....

Well, as you can see from our announcement postcards, our Toren was supposed to arrive today.  Much to our dismay he just couldn't wait, and arrived on the 18th.  He and I spent a week in the hospital, but are home now and much improved.  This is the first Halloween there hasn't been extensive decorating and pumpkin carving happening, and I certainly hope it's the last.  

There are countless posts waiting to be written, and I'm far too private a person for this to become yet another mommy blog, so bear with me just a few more weeks.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

the future master bath

There are times when words just don't cut it, and I'm afraid the last post was one of those times.  So, floor plans, drawn just poorly enough to still be useful!

First, here's how the room was originally...  The largest bedroom in the house, southwest exposure (stunning in the evenings), overlooking the original front of the house all the way down the hill which used to be part of it's estate (now filled with small infill 20's homes).  Judging by the size and masculine fireplace, I'd guess that this was Mr. Kelly's room.  His wife Agnes' likely adjoined on the left (our current master, and the smallest of the main bedrooms) given the art nouveau fireback, gas sconces, lincrusta, tower and feminine wallpapers.

Next, the room as it was when we bought the house...  Drop ceilings, no working electrical or plumbing, leaking badly, saturated with cat piss and missing moldings.  What else, hearth tile missing where the wall was built on top, rotted corner where they had ripped out a window and not properly closed up the hole, missing flooring and burst pipes from the radiator freezing when the house was empty, caving in plaster and badly damaged double hung windows.  I'm sure there's more, but that's enough to give me nightmare flashbacks.  It's also the list for most every room in the house I suppose.

And now...

If you know me at all, you know making these changes upset me.  After the indignities this house has suffered there is nothing it deserves more than a true restoration.  At the same time, even though we plan on being carried out feet first, we have to think of the house's future, and insure that there is no excuse for future travesties.  It's unlikely that future owners will have need of 9 bedrooms, or be able to fit their clothes in an armoire in the bedroom, so some changes are inevitable.  In the case of this room, it was the only one with access to plumbing, or that lent itself to being split up.  On the plus side, no structural changes are being made, and we've restored a hidden window and added a stained glass window.  Is it a net gain?  Probably not...  But a second floor laundry is certainly all it's cracked up to be, and having a decent shower in the distant future won't be so bad either...

An addition to these plans is Ross' fantastic entry - woe that we couldn't have made it work without major expenditures.  It also brought an issue to my attention - the basis for these drawings were done years ago now, there is in fact NO WINDOW next to the bay window in the bathroom.  It was theorized at the time, and historical photos have proved we theorized wrong.

Friday, July 17, 2015


Just a brief update between chopping up the tree that came down last week.  While I'm more than a bit disgruntled to be wasting the time when there are so many other things to be working on, I should be grateful.  What came down was directly in between the schoolhouse and the fire pit, and nearly on top of our stored roof slate.  Other than an impaled plastic chair and a cracked cinder block, nothing was harmed, not even the antique iron lantern that was still standing after the tree fell AROUND it.  Mind boggling....


Another plus?  The new chainsaw we had bought and given up on as hopelessly broken three years ago (and forgotten to return) was able to be coaxed back to life now that we know considerably more about repairing tools.  It's nice to know the chainsaw is back in our arsenal.

As far as work on the house itself, we decided the now fully walled and insulated third floor can wait till cooler weather for floor finishing and painting.  Instead, we've turned our attention to the future master bath which adjoins our bedroom.  As I've mentioned before, it was the largest and most beautiful bedroom in the house when it was built.  When we bought the house it was saturated with cat urine (badly enough that we thought it was a mystery leak and almost walked away from the deal), chopped up with walls going across the fireplace tile and had a dropped ceiling -all this on top of the issues every room in the house had with water damage and abuse.

 For now it's just storage, and aside from partitioning the room with the laundry and walk-in closet, and a quick pass on the floors, nothing's been done.  We're many years from affording the bathroom, so for now the room needs some additional plaster repair, a temporary box built over the exposed laundry room plumping, trim and paint stripping.  All of these are in progress - finished is boxing in and blue boarding the plumbing (plastering will happen in the next couple of weeks.  Not exciting unless it's your house I suppose, but I guess that's the case with most things I do and write.  Boxing in the plumbing actually turned into a monumental task after a tiny leak was discovered coming from the washer plumbing.  We thought we were going to have to rerun the pipes, only to discover the leak was coming from the hook-up box in the wall.  Trying to repair that leak lead to the Watts Intelliflow emergency shut off malfunctioning, i.e. no laundry right before having house guests, and a few weeks of back and forth with them to figure out exactly which part was broken.  Thankfully, all fixed now.

As part of the work, we stuffed all the exposed cavities with Roxul Safe and Sound to mitigate the noise from the laundry and bathroom - the difference is amazing, even with the door to the bathroom open and the broken stained glass window on the laundry wall.  Well worth the $50 we spent on the bag, and I'm glad local stores have starting carrying it.

With all this rain we've been having, the yard isn't the only thing growing like a weed, Maugrim is 9 months old and around 90 pounds.  He finally met a dog bigger than him the other day, and wasn't quite sure what to make of him.  

Thursday, June 11, 2015

where angels fear to tread

It's really not that things haven't been happening around here, it's just that they haven't been happening on MY schedule...  But finally, walls are all up, likely for the first time since the 40's.  That's a lot of decades to not have walls and ceilings (and to see blue sky though), it boggles one's mind really....

But since I'm still stressed out over the plastering, lets talk about what the plastering made possible, namely, attic insulation.  Believe it or not, we bought all our blown in insulation nearly five years ago when we first bought our house to get the 25% discount running at Lowe's and to beat that years tax rebate (an additional 30 percent I think?).  Installing it was not only dependent on ceilings, but also on new electrical, new roof, siding and gutter repair, as well as proper plumbing venting.  All those things have been done for years now, with over a hundred bags of cellulose and fiberglass taking up two full rooms of our third floor.

The space they took up made working on those rooms impossible, and to add insult to injury about 20 bags that were in front of windows exploded from the sun degrading the plastic bags, and a certain cat decided that all that fluff made an excellent litterbox before we discovered the issue.  

Knowing that the plastering would eventually get done I began working on the attic a month ago. Work that had already been completed included removing all the squirrel, raccoon and bird nests, insulating and sealing the third floor knee walls, and running/fixing some wiring.   The plan had been to do all this while it was still cold out, with the plastering delays the attic became my personal hell on earth.  Well over a century of household and Pittsburgh soot, soaring temps, cobwebs, rusty nails and tiny confined spaces made this one of the worst projects yet (second only to deconstructing the schoolhouse).

In the attic, first I stuffed unfaced batts into the stud bays so we didn't lose the blown in down the walls and ceiling slopes.  The knee walls that I had been able to close up were vented with Styrofoam baffles to connect them to the attic - keeping them as cold as possible in winter will hopefully help with ice dams.  The knee walls I didn't have access too (I didn't take down any plaster that could be saved) were kept cut off from the attic to cut down on chimney effect.  For those who are curious, we have an unvented slate roof.  We made no effort to seal the attic off from the exterior, so the whole house fan and small (watertight) gap between the flat widows walk and the rest of the roof provide more ventilation than we really need, but again, a cold roof helps with ice dams...  We also spray foamed all the wiring and plumbing penetrations.  We went ahead and screwed down boards to walk on, they'll be mostly useless since they'll be buried under more than a foot of insulation, but they at least make installing it easier.  Last but not least we built a platform around the attic hatch and surrounded it with an osb wall to hold back the drifts.  This will give us a place to sit on the way to accessing the roof hatch.  And last but not least, blown-in fiberglass (varying between R-38 and R-49)...

Still to do are cutting some additional batts to sit on the platform, and restoring and insulating the original beadboard attic hatch.  Now, if only I could fast forward to fall and winter to see how effective all this is.

Friday, May 8, 2015

a happy belated May Day

I had meant to post these shots on the first, but I failed.

In my head I can't even complete the phrase May Day without adding "is lei day in Hawaii."  I suppose my youth there has forever corrupted me.  It wasn't till I moved away for college that I learned that May Day has nothing to do with awkward little kids doing hula for their schools' May day production...

As part of the packet of mystery photos that were e-mailed to us last year by the Frick Archive, were these beautiful photos of our neighbor's spectacular home decked in garlands to celebrate May Day.  Now that I've gotten over the fact that the interiors weren't of our house I can appreciate these for how lovely and rare they truly are.

Happy May!

hey, look at us in the background!

Land of the flowers, of flow'ry bowers,
In her gay dress she appears
A sweet happy maid, may her dress never fade
As she carries this day through the years
Garlands of flowers ev'ry where
All of the colors in the rainbow
Maidens with blossoms in their hair
Flowers that mean we should be happy
Throwing aside our load of care, Oh!
May Day is Lei Day in Hawai`i
Lei Day is happy day out there.
Beaches of white shining sand
Where each one I see has a smile just for me
And has ready a welcoming hand
May Day is Lei Day in Hawai`i
Garlands of flowers ev'ry where
All of the colors in the rainbow
Maidens with blossoms in their hair
Flowers that mean we should be happy
Throwing aside our load of care, Oh!
May Day is Lei Day in Hawai`i
Lei Day is happy day out there.
May Day is Lei Day in Hawai`i
Land of green mountains, gardens and fountains

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

happy birthday to me

Actually my birthday was several days ago, but architectural pieces seem to be the gift that keeps on giving...

Before we left for Chicago a couple of weeks ago, a mantel showed up on craigslist.  While the lower section was quite plain, the overmantel was a spectacular aesthetic movement piece with a rainbow shaped beveled mirror, fretwork and floral carving.  My original overmantels were likely something similar (although ghost marks indicate they were substantially larger).  The price was far higher than anything I could afford, but I sent off my usual e-mail then put it out of mind.  After all, I had plans to hit all the salvage stores in Chicago and was hoping to find something to bring back.  Well, the salvage yards, while great, had nothing to offer me, so I was amazed when just a week later the owner of the mantel accepted my offer.

photo from craigslist
I was momentarily terrified when she said the mirrors would have to be replaced (I was certain they had been broken as the mantel was being removed, but luckily she just thought the foxing was undesirable.  Having to replicate that mirror would cost more than I paid for the mantel!

Not surprisingly, the house it came from was beautiful, and I'm more than a little sad that I'm responsible for making it less so (but if I didn't buy it, someone else would have I suppose).  The icing on the cake was that the majolica tile was falling off the wall, and she happily gave it all to us so she didn't have to pay her contractor to remove it.  We've attempted to salvage tile from a number of houses that were being demolished and have never had much luck - meanwhile, we were able to get 95% of these off intact with just a putty knife...

Now a disclaimer, I must have worn my camera out in Chicago because these pictures are terrible, but if I keep putting things off I swear I'll never post anything.

Despite the work remaining in the room, it's certainly a far cry from where it started...

listing photo

Friday, April 3, 2015

chim chiminey

well, hello...

Have you ever had a nightmare it which you're frantically trying to do something, but everything's moving in impossibly slow motion?  That's been the past few weeks here.  Slow.  As.  Sludge...

But there are people on my roof now, we saw the Decemberists a few nights ago, and the chimney is done.  Betcha didn't even know we were working on the chimney eh?  Well, we have been.  For months.

We're lucky enough to still have all five original chimneys, 4 on the main 1886 house, and one on the 1890's kitchen addition.  All were in danger of collapse when we bought the house, and we rebuilt the four main ones immediately because they tied into the slate roof work and flashing.  Not to mention had they collapsed they would have done major damage to the new roof and gutters.

The one on the end of the kitchen wing on the other hand was willfully ignored.  We weren't working on that section of roof yet, and other than someone parking under it, nothing would be harmed if it came down of its own accord.  Unfortunately, the spalling bricks impacted the plaster walls all the way down, but that damage was done long before we came into the picture.

the moss is a nice touch isn't it?  This is not what the inside of a chimney should look like!

So long story short, we met a new mason, he was willing to do our bidding (it's quite a bit harder than you'd think to find people willing to use the proper materials for restoration), and he didn't think we were strange for wanting to put our "collection" up top.  You see, when the top of this chimney had partially collapsed before we bought the house, it lost it's massive sandstone cap, which would have been very expensive to reproduce.  It was also the ugly stepsister to our other chimneys.  So, two house demolitions and one freecycle pickup later (all over the four plus years we've been here), and the forgotten chimney has a bit of eclectic British charm.

nicely bedded down in 4 inches of mortar

Perhaps the happiest part of all this is seeing yet more of my "clutter" get incorporated into the house and out of the way.  Unless you're in the enviable position of being Scrooge McDuck, the only way to tackle a massive project like this is to grab materials as you find them, even if it means storing them for years.  Yes, your friends and family may seek professional help for you (even though in this case I am a professional), but just remember, they're not the ones taking on an impossible project (I mean, if they truly cared they'd offer to pay right?).