Month: February 2015

A rabbit hole

I had every intention of organizing the mess in the cellar today, because I need to make room for a whole house worth of trim (but not before removing approximately a million billion quadrillion nails – I’m totally not exaggerating. There A LOT of nails). The situation is dire, and I need to make room for more dusty treasures by Monday.

Salvage

an itsy bitsy sample of the mess in the cellar.

 

Yet, it’s past 4 o’clock and the only reason I’m not in my pajamas is because I had to take the garbage out this morning. The rest of the day was spent poking around the interwebs researching the builder of my house. This is all because of tag found on the back of the salvaged mantle from yesterday. It seemed to have the tiniest of vestiges of a name I recognize: Daniel McDicken, the man who built my house (on spec). So one Google search leads to another, and my two great enablers: BPL’s digitized collection of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and Columbia University’s collection of the Real Estate Guide lead me down a rabbit hole that is just impossible to resist. So… basically nothing got done today.

While you’d be shocked to learn that my pile of trim did not neatly stack itself (crazy, right?) you might be amused to learn that Mr. McDicken advertised his houses as “the most complete two family house in the market; two baths; two refrigerators; dumb-waiter; everything latest.”Even if the refrigerator was an ice box (this was 1896, after all), it’s still pretty cool. Some of my neighbors still have theirs. We, sadly, do not.

 

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Kilian Brothers

KilianBrothers

(a bit of a rant)

It makes me sad when old houses are stripped of their detail. Not only is the craftsmanship amazing, the old growth trees that were harvested for all of our pretty ornamentation are long gone. I know a lot of people don’t share my opinion, but old houses are such a finite resource, I wish people would think twice before ripping the insides out.

Sometimes there are little clues here and there as to who created all that fantastic work. For the past week, I’ve been salvaging as much as I can from a gut renovation in my neighborhood. Among the items I have been able to divert from the dumpster are 3 fireplace mantels (one in good condition, one which has been severely altered, and one that is basically just one broken piece. All three have the same stamp in the back: Killian Brothers.

(I’m trying not to think about the fact that all the fireplaces were intact until they were ripped out – think of my happy place, think of my happy place).

Anyway, a quick Google search reveals that they were prolific cabinet makers and furniture makers. The Goulding’s New York City directory for 1877 lists two Kilians (Theo and William) who were in the furniture business and shared the same business address: 159 W 32nd Street. Did they make the mantels? Did I find the correct Kilians?

Kilian Brothers furniture turns up at auction on occasion. It seems they were really into the Eastlake aesthetic of the late Victorian period. Google it – some really amazing stuff.

Whether the Kilians from my broken fireplace mantels are the same Kilians of the fancy furniture is almost beside the point; there was someone who actually made all this stuff – not a fully automated machine that packs saw dust into some semblance of wood.

Now, if you still must get rid of all the things that make your house unique and interesting, then please give me a call and let me take your treasures.

 

 

I totally have a plan and I’m going to – LOOK! SHINY THINGS!

(actually these were painted, dirty and discarded things, but we’ll get to that in a moment)

Ah focus. Some people have it, I don’t. I’m easily distracted by possibilities, by day dreaming and by imagining the worst of the worst case scenarios. Yet, once in a while, I will spring into action at a moment’s notice, after realizing that life cannot continue on in this manner. After having one of those “I cannot stand this room one more minute” moments, I decided to get serious about our dining room. I had already attempted a Style Cure (HA. HA HA HA HA!) that was interrupted by  6 weeks of 14-hour work days, followed by binge holiday cooking baking (not having an oven for 3 years will do that to you), followed by a very sick kitten (who has since recovered, but not before consuming a healthy amount of our home restoration savings). Anyway, time to get this room done!

With newfound enthusiasm, work resumed. I begun skim coating the walls – after a steep learning curve, I’m getting quite good at it. It’s t time-consuming (what else is new?) because I discovered that many thin coats are much better than one or two thicker ones.

Skimcoating in progress

please excuse crappy cell phone photo, which makes the moldings appear bowed. They are not.

So slow we go, that is, until I notice that one of the houses in the back is being renovated. This precipitated a trip around the block and the discovery of a ton of Victorian trim, just tossed in the front yard.

This is a good place to mention that the way I feel about architectural salvage is the way a lot of women feel about shoes: you can never have too much. Like a lot of people who wouldn’t pass up a good shoe sale, I cannot let 120-year old lumber be tossed in a dumpster. It’s against my nature, and it will cause me great intestinal distress to just let it go. After hemming and hawing about whether a pile in the front yard is fair game (I knocked on the door but no one answered), I decided to leave a note asking whether I could come dig through their “trash.” Much to my surprise, the contractor called me back within 30 minutes and said “be my guest.”

What started as a quick peek, stretched over a couple of hours of treasure hunting in sub-zero temperatures. The guys showed me inside and to another pile of “garbage,” far more than what I could take in one day. With a gargantuan dumpster looming over me (and my soon to be) salvage, the nice people said I could come back Saturday morning at 8 am and take anything they didn’t want to keep.

one car load

Long story short, the car was filled 3 4 times (and counting). The overflow (which included two carved fireplace mantels) was walked around the corner. I’m happy I was able to save so much mill work, yet I’m sad for all the other wonderful things I wasn’t able to save. The house was nearly intact before the gut renovation started. I wish I had stopped by earlier. It’s heartbreaking (to me) when people rip out details from old houses. A Brooklyn brownstone is not meant to look like a loft; I have very strong feelings about plaster and the role of bricks in a brownstone (to be hidden by plaster and never seen). I also realize I’m not Queen of the Universe and these are just my opinions (surely this is an oversight due to be corrected any day now). Until then, if detail must be ripped out, then at least it should not go to the dumpster. It should be saved and re-used by those of us who appreciate it.

Now if you please excuse me, I have another carload of stuff to rescue. One man’s trash is another woman’s treasure…

Then there was this

Water in cellar

It is a magnificent feeling to step in cold water (of questionable cleanliness) first thing in the morning. Not fully awake, still in your pajamas and flip-flops. Yep. Awesome.

This is the landing of our cellar steps. Pictured here is enough water to cover my foot, and is a small sample of what was in our cellar. A neighbor has a ruptured pipe of some sort, which has yet to be properly fixed. This is the third time this has happened since the holidays, but this time they went for extra credit, sending a whole lot of water our way.

One of the things that people don’t tell you about townhouse living is that even though you’re separated from your neighbors by stone, bricks and mortar, what happens on one side of the wall frequently has consequences on the other side. The water pictured here, originated 18 feet away at the other side of the cellar, yet it made its way across the wall in the photo, to say hello to our other neighbor. By the time it got there, it had lost some of the oomph and was more or less just a damp spot.

If you live in a home that is attached to another home, don’t be a dick to your neighbors. To quote Bill and Ted: “be excellent to each other.”

 

Austerity (or the fear of unannounced visitors)

Progress has been slow these days and work happens in fits and bursts. In the 3 years since we’ve taken over care of the Pink Lady, there has been a grad school graduation, a new job, and a miscellany of small events that go along with being an adult (ha!). In other words, life continues to chug along and compete for time with the house projects.

We got to the point where we grew accustomed to the detritus that comes with living through construction:  don’t mind that door leaning against the balustrade; pay no attention to that massive tile cutter in the foyer. Oh, those 803 bricks stashed under the stoop? Yeah, we’ll get to them at some point. You accumulate things you have grand plans for, yet never seem to get around to the execution phase. (We are prolific accumulators of architectural salvage. In my mind, that makes it all OK and not crazy. Not at all…)

I’m tired of the piles of stuff everywhere, the stuff we’ll get to eventually, yet never seem to. I’m so tired of being worried one of the neighbors might knock on our door and I may have to invite them in and let them see our utilitarian hovel. I don’t know about you, but I believe that unannounced visitors are the Kryptonite of the DIYer. Anytime we have friends over, there is a at least a half day worth of frenzied cleaning and organizing and just shoving things behind a door we won’t let anyone open (don’t go in there – fumes! the magical word that keeps people away). As we learned, normal people don’t have a 120-year old salvaged sink and marble vanity sitting in their hallway for months. Weird.

All this brings me to the Austerity Measures we have just declared. This year, no big projects will get started. Instead, we’ll focus on finishing what we have already started, then we’ll focus on “quality of life projects,”  like finally banishing all traces the Muppet Flesh paint (even if it means painting over it for now), to pulling up the shitty parquet floor in the parlor (the floor has been helping us along by removing itself from the subfloor) and finally  accepting the fact that our new kitchen is light years away and might as well spruce up the one with have.

We haven’t been total slackers, though. After redoing the bedroom ceiling and stripping the walls, it’s looking like this (walls have been primed, not painted yet).

Progress has been made

Progress has been made

Still working on that picture rail that lost most of its detailing in the stripping process.

If you recall, it used to look like this (shield your eyes, not for the faint of heart):

At the point of no return.

At the point of no return.

Our seam-taping skilsl have improved considerably and I’m happy to report that there are no visible seams, bumps or other unsightly blemished on our new ceiling.

On we go. What are the odds we get to move back into our bedroom before August 3, 2015 (the 2 year anniversary of this project)?