Much ado about toilets

Progress in the parlor bathroom has been, well…. essentially none. Part of the holdup is that I can’t decide what toilet to buy. I know we want a high tank toilet. But beyond that, the logical brain and the lizard brain are in great conflict.

Scott won’t let me have an actual old toilet (I already made that argument multiple times and have been vetoed every time – something about the possibility of leaking sewage and such).

So I chose the next best thing:


I like the shape of the bowl and it’s the most reminiscent of an actual old toilet. Unfortunately, next best thing costs 1,500. I don’t know if that’s worth it. Is it? Lizard brain says yes. Logical brain says hells no! Lizard brain says, but it has free shipping!

Next up, is this one.


I’m not wild about the shape of the bowl and I really don’t care about the weird scalp design at the base. But also, how often does anyone (but me) notice what the base of the toilet bowl looks like?

Finally, my least favorite option:


While I actually don’t mind the shape of the bowl, I dislike the tank – just looks like someone disassembled a regular toilet and hung the tank on the wall.

And here is proof that literally zero things happened in this room since we took it apart:


Random thing we didn’t know about the house – there was a heat vent in the bathroom, right above where the rim of the original tub would have stood. I guess to keep the bathing victorian’s tushies nice and warm.



Everything is fixable!

(except for my laziness to write about it)

Parlor Powder Room demo

Parlor bathroom mid-demolition. Project was hastened due to a plumbing leak in the bathroom above. This will get fully restored to what it looked like in 1895. 

Bloggy has been very quiet these days (who am I kidding? It’s been ages since I posted any updates). While we did take a collective deep breath after the façade strip a while back, we are again gearing up to tackle some big things.

On the slate for this year:
Parlor bathroom
Top floor bathroom
Closet room

And if we have the time and energy (read: money and more money), also the kitchen and deck.

Concurrently, I’ll continue to chase my backyard unicorn of an outdoor oasis. Mustering the enthusiasm and intestinal fortitude to pull up 3 tons of pavers and carry them through the house has me reconsidering my life choices… just kidding! I can’t wait to get started on that.

Anyway, this is just a note to say a) we’re not dead – yet and b) big projects are poking up from the horizon. Looking forward to sharing them with you.

Front parlor floor

Our house has many beautiful period details: mantels, moldings, pier mirrors, wainscoting… but the floors are a whole different matter.

When we moved, every single room had some kind of floor covering. The third floor, was all stick-on tile. The parlor floor was mostly parquet laminate and ceramic tile and the same for the garden level. Unlike carpet, removing sticky tiles or glued-on laminate usually leaves behind a trail of destruction and an unholy mess, so we proceed with caution.

The rooms with the parquet laminate were low priority. While not to our taste, there wasn’t anything really wrong with them – until of course, there was. In the front parlor, the tiles started just coming up randomly. They simply gave up and quit. My solution was to buy bigger and bigger rugs, but eventually that became impractical. Time to do something.


Some free-form flooring happening. 

Pulling up the tiles was pretty easy. They weren’t really attached and came up with just a nudge with a scraper.

Luckily, what was below wasn’t too damaged:


After all the tiles were gone, we hit the floor with some ZipStrip to lift as much of the paint as possible (it was painted brown). As with the other flooring throughout the house, this too was pine.


Floor mid strip

After the paint was gone, we were left with a strange wear pattern on the floor. It seems there must have been something in the center of the room for quite some time. The finish of the floor was different and still visible after the paint was removed. Maybe there was never hardwood on the parlor level. Our house was built in the mid 1890s and carpets and floor cloths were in style back then.


The strange rectangle in the middle of the room.

Here is what it looked like at the end of day 1:


You can see the rectangle in the middle (and the wear pattern of heavy furniture being moved over the years, some crazy furniture ballet).

Next step was a light sanding to ensure a splinter-free experience for humans and cats:


Terrible photo taken by dying iPhone. 

At the end of day 2, this what it looked like – still splotchy, but smooth enough for now.


Unfortunately the middle parlor has the same parquet tiles, but they are glued down. They will not be nearly as easy to pull up. Not looking forward to that one…

























































































































































































































Big Project Week 4 (5, 6, 7…)

So where were we?

Ah, yes, the façade. The epic project to end all projects.

To recap: scaffold went up, and we had 28 days to strip. On day 29, the scaffolding turned into a pumpkin and went on to a different job site.

On the to-do list:

  • Repair holes in cornice, paint cornice
  • Stip façade
  • Remove vinyl flashing form around windows, restore old window frames (hoping those were still there)
  • Restore turned columns (which we hoped were still there).

So here is what got done:

Cornice. Our tin cornice had several holes. The part above the corbels is actually really thin – so thin that an overly enthusiastic wayward bird could puncture it.


So the holes got patched up with Bondo. The orange paint got scrapped off and the whole thing got coat of oil based paint in flat black.

Here is the cornice in progress:



Here is the cornice all done:


 Next up, the windows. The two turned columns were still there, however they were very damaged. The flashing did an excellent job of trapping moisture, which in turn rotted the wood.


Ugly flashing covered the columns


and trapped moisture, which did a number on the wood


The hubs rebuild and re-sculped the parts of the columns that were missing bits. Eventually these will need to come down for a full restoration, but for now they a) look good enough from street level and b) we stopped any further damage.

A coat of primer and paint and now they look like this:


Columns partially restored and painted to prevent further damage. Paint is left over from the front door project from a couple of years ago. 

Aaaaand the paint stripping. This one is self explanatory (but I’m working on a post about how to DIY your very own façade stripping, which is really not as scary as it seems). For now, suffice to say: PeelAway1 + Time + Water = pretty brownstone.


Before scaffolding went up , the house looked like this. 

The thing with stripping paint is ‘easy does it.’ You have to work in small areas and it’s super hard to resist the urge to just cover the whole damn façade in PeelAway all at once. Don’t! There is a limit to how much you can accomplish in a day, and if you over do it, you’ll be racing daylight (and exhaustion) to get it all off before it hardens beyond removal (which means you have to apply paint stripper to the paint stripper, and that’s just counter productive)


After the paint was removed, the stone was washed with citric acid, to bring the pH of the wall as close to neutral as possible. The citric acid, in turn, removed the old mortar in between the sheets of brownstone. So the entire façade was repointed with the appropriate mortar mix (not modern cement, because that will crack the stone).


The gray/light brown stuff on the wall between the window and the door is the runny left-overs of the old mortar. It will be washed off eventually. Will take some elbow grease to get it off. 

There are a few areas of stubborn pink paint. These are patches where the stone was improperly repaired in the past.  We found it impossible to remove the paint from it, so at some point in the near future, we’ll have a mason drill it out and do a proper repair job. This is one of those things that is well above our DIY skill level.


Palor window frames mid restoration. The white is just premier. 


The project started on August 1, with the delivery of the scaffold. The majority of the work was completed by August 22nd, when the hubs had to go back to work. We still worked on it over the weekend, until the scaffold came down on August 29.

How much did it cost?

  • Scaffold rental: $603.17
  • PeelAway 1 and related supplies: $374.25
  • Masonry supplies: $112.02
  • Other supplies (window restoration, new ladder, primer/paint, etc): $1,255.89

TOTAL COST: $2,345.33 (plus a whole year’s vacation taken in one chunk).

Cost was one of the two major factors why we decided to tackle this project ourselves. The estimates we were getting just for the façade work (not including fixing the cornice or dealing with the window flashing) started around 60K. The second deciding factor was that none of the contractors we spoke with wanted to use the technique we felt would do the least amount of damage to the stone. We hard a lot of power-washing/jackhammering, so, um…. no.


Big Project Week 3

So it’s more of the same, really.

As we removed the paint, we noticed that the stones needed mortar (re-mortared? is that a word?). Anyway, the appropriate mixture was made (light on the cement, heavy on the lime) so that it won’t dry too hard and damage the stone. The color mixture is a little tricky, but I think ours turned out pretty well.

The cornice got a second coat of paint (matte black, oil based), and it’s looking mighty fine, if I do say so myself.

The biggest thing that happened is half of the scaffolding came down.


So then we got to see our handy work a bit better:


At some point, the façade was patched, which what we presume is cement. It’s impossible to remove the paint from it. Eventually we’ll have a mason come take a look at it and maybe drill it out and fix it properly. But for now, the house will have a few splotches of pink.

So onto the home stretch!


Big Project week 2

(yes this is a bit late, since it’s almost week 3, but better late than never, yes?)

It’s been a hot summer in New York. It’s humid and gross and the simple act of blinking triggers a massive amount of sweat. While I’ve spent the week toiling away in air conditioned office, the hubs has been hanging off front of the house doing all sorts of amazing work.

Because of forecast called for heavy downpours for most of the week (which never really happened), the application of PeelAway1 was delayed. After much experimentation, we found that the optimum dwell time is 12-48 hours, depending on the surface to be stripped (flat surfaces need less, bumpy surfaces need more). Because we broke the cycle of application/removal (staggering the application and removal times so that you always have a section ready to strip), the stripping took a bit of a back seat to some of the other restoration work.

Remember our columns? For as long as we lived in the house, we always held on to hope that these guys were still under that thick band of ugly, no good, very bad flashing – and they were! Yey!


But they were also severely damaged. Our best guess is that the flashing was improperly installed, allowing moisture to slowly rot away at our pretty pretty columns.




With a lot of patience, the hubs stripped the old paint and started re-building the more damaged sections. To do this properly, the columns should come down but we don’t have the time for it now (column removal would leave a hole next to a rotted window. No bueno).


Knowing this is temporary, the approach was to stop the damage and make it look good enough from the street. Columns mid-repair:



IMG_3249 (1)

Big Project – week 1

Week 1 of the façade project is coming to an end. It still feels slightly unreal that we are tackling this. We’ve known for several years that we would need to do something about our façade, not just because of the ugly pink, but because the ugly pink was actually the wrong kind paint (regular paint, not masonry paint) and it was causing damage to the brownstone. Kinda like this:

Painting brownstone is generally not a good idea. Brownstone is a type of sandstone, which is very porous and soft, as far as stones go. Whenever water gets trapped in it (because it found a way in somewhere – water will always do that – but can’t find a way out, because it’s sealed in by paint), and temperatures drops during the cold months, the bits of water will freeze, which will cause them to expand and break a little bit of the stone. This is called a freeze and thaw cycle, and can happen dozens of times during the winter. It’s small incremental damage that eventually will become big/expensive/difficult to fix. The stone will appear deteriorated and turn to sand when you touch it. Not good. Not good at all.

Sometimes painting a brownstone is inevitable (at least for some of us, mere mortals and not Captain Money Bags). If that’s the case, using the proper type of paint (masonry paint) and making sure that the surface is properly prepared and properly painted should go a long way to prevent further damage.

Anyway. Here we are. Our façade was improperly painted in too many ways. Over the course of 4 winters, it went form fully painted to fully peeling. While this makes the removal of the remaining paint easier, it also escalates the urgency of getting this done before winter, as we have more ways for water to get in and damage the stone.

The only sane way to get this done is to put up scaffold, which went up on Monday. We have a total of 28 days to get the job done, before the scaffold goes away. No pressure.


So day 1, scaffold goes up, exploratory surgery is performed. We were always curious on whether our turned columns by the top bay window were still there. Our windows have thick bands of white vinyl flashing, a nod to an era we are not fond of, aesthetically speaking (hello 1990s).

Flashing was removed from the first window. The original window frame was stripped and painted black. Yes, this leaves us with a 2-tone paint job, but the windows will ultimately be replaced (with black ones), so this is preemptive.


Window frame minus ugly flashing. Existing window frames were stripped, painted and priorly caulked. Some of the paint on the stone on either side has been removed.

Day 2-5: Removed flashing from the first part of the bay window and found the original turned column. While it’s still there, it is in terrible condition. Our best guess is that the flashing was improperly installed and trapped moisture behind it. It will get stripped and painted (for now), but may need to be re-created in the future.


Damaged column, rotted windwo to the left.

Also, the only 2 remaining original windows in the whole house are rotted. Because of course they are.

Stripped the first chunk of façade (Peel Away has a dwell time of 36-48 hours to do its thing, so the initial setup can take a little time). While the paint came off fairly easily, found damage caused by improper patching of the stone. Seems as Portland cement was used to patch the stone, which means 2 things: damage to the stone, because the cement is too hard (same thing with the old bricks), and also it’s nearly impossible to get paint off cement. Don’t know why, but it is.

Weekend 1: cornice time! Our cornice had holes, that much we could see form the street. What we didn’t know was the extent of the damage. Also, we didn’t know anything about cornices, other than they are pretty.


Here is what we learned:

  • Tin cornices are very very fragile, particularly the crown part that forms the overhang. Ours downright wobbly and could be damaged by a distracted bird inflight.
  • Patching a hole presents a conundrum, because the patching material must be non-reactive to the tin. It must also expand and contract at the same rate, otherwise the repair won’t last.

There were 3 holes in the front of the overhang. These were patched with Bondo. There was also damage along the top, close to where the cornice meets the roof. This was something that we couldn’t see from below, and learned once we got up there.

(by we I mean Scott, because there is not a chance I will climb up that high. I’d need the FDNY to come pull me down, it would be scandalous).



Cornice repair in progress. From Muppet-flesh orange to black.

Anyway. while Scott was doing work up above, I was picking paint off the rough stone above the parlor window arches. Got to look at the stained glass up close and they are in terrible shape. The lead is sagging and folding over itself. Not good.


Seriously. This flashing. Why? Why? WHY?



Sagging stained glas. Sigh.

So this is where we are. I’m sure there will be plenty  more eye rolling this coming week.