Big Project

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.

cornice-beofre

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:

cornice-repari

cornice-being-repaired

Here is the cornice all done:

finished-cornice2

 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.

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Ugly flashing covered the columns

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and trapped moisture, which did a number on the wood

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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-after

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.

facade-bedore2

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)

peelaway1

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).

facade-after

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.

facadeafter3

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

facadeafter2

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.

 

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Bedroom update

The great bedroom saga has been quite the epic (as in long and torturous) project. Here is a recap and here is a tour of the whole third floor as it used to be.

A full post is to come, but here is what it’s looking like

Betroom wall

The first coat of paint is on the walls, but it hasn’t really been cut in yet, so it’s sloppy around the edges . This drives me crazy, as I can’t stand sloppy paint jobs. (Yes, it’s yellow. More on that later). All everything that appears to be painted white isn’t really painted yet – it’s just primer, so that’s why it looks blotchy and gross. Other notable improvements: there is a ceiling! And moldings! The picture rail took a bad beating from the paint stripper, but we decided to keep it as is rather than replace it (there is a pretty close match that can be had for about $6 foot + shipping. Husband used the kryptonite word “but this one is original to the house.” Dammit! he wins)

Berdoom light fixture

Ah, the ceiling of proper height and no popcorn! The fact that it’s not really painted? Totally small potatoes in comparison… The light fixture is up, but it will need to come down so we can get rid of that glob of paint leftover from its previous life on a ceiling somewhere in Detroit.

(that goofy looking light bulb is a faux Edison LED bulb. The light is crazy yellow and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Evidently I don’t feel strongly enough to remove it. Inertia is a powerful thing)

Finished floors

To be honest, I didn’t think this day would ever come. This August it will be 2 years since we last occupied our bedroom. The whole bedroom saga started with this, this, then this, this, a little progress here and finally the floors.

The bedroom project has been the perfect example of how things to go for us: wild enthusiasm, followed by huge list of things that need to be addressed before we get to do what we really want to do, followed by a period of moroseness, and finally completion – well, mostly completed.

This is what the floors looked like before we started.

Floor before

Here it is after the broken boards were replaced and the whole thing was sanded.

Floor first sanding

One coat of stain (Minwax Mahogany)

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We went with a dark-ish stain because of some damage that a lighter stain might not cover. Also kinda loving the trippy grain pattern that the stain brought out. The floors are far from perfect – and we’re OK with that, after all they are over 120 years old.  Gone are the sprinters, the squeaky boards and the huge gaps between some of the boards.

This is what it looks like after the first coat of wax:

FullSizeRender_1

I realize wax is an unusual choice, and may be one that we regret later on, as it’s untested against the formidable adversary that is cat vomit. I grew up in a house where the floors were waxed, and we have lived in plenty of rentals with poorly applied polyurethane. Wax gives the floors a lovely texture and it is not overtly shiny. Compounding the choice for wax is the fact that we put Tung Oil on our floors a couple of years ago. According to people who know more than we do, once you apply Tung Oil, you can’t do Polyurethane, even after much sanding. Why? I have no idea, but that’s what the cook kids say.

Next up, paint!

We are on track to move our stuff back into the room this Saturday, a full day before our guests arrive. Nothing like waiting until the last possible minute…

An ode to our pine floors

(this is long).

(I promise I will make a point eventually).

(or not).

As part of the epic never-ending bedroom restoration, it’s time to tackle the floors.

The third floor of our house was covered with vinyl tiles. Way before we knew better, we had high hopes of peeling back the stick-on tiles and finding beautiful hardwood, just waiting to be re-finished. The reality was a sticky mess of 4 (sometimes 5) layers of vinyl tile and a couple of layers of paint on a pine floor. Pine! Not hardwood: we have pine. Sticky, icky pine.

After pulling up all the stick-on tile, and stripping the paint, we were left with a floor that was in OK shape, except for where it was not. We did some sanding and slapped on a coat of Tung Oil, figuring these floors would eventually get covered up with proper hardwood – after all, pine is soft and does not a proper hardwood floor make. We figured we’d probably destroy it with our chairs, our cats and their never-ending supply of puke. Yet 3 years and 1 2 5 cats later, the floors are still fine (except for where they are not, but that was a pre-existing condition). What I mean is that the pine held up beautifully – no nicks or dings and cat vomit cleans right up. The bigger problem is that some boards are splintering, which is not only unsightly, but also unpleasant to walk on in bare feet. We have splintering boards, broken boards and enormous gaps in some areas.

Floor Pic copy

Please excuse the filthy floor. This was taken in the bedroom construction zone.

Because wood floors will contract and expand, fixing the gaps can be tricky. Some suggest using sawdust and wood filler. A lot of people say to just leave them as is. The problem is that in some spots, the gaps are so wide that you can actually drop things in it – valuable things like heirloom jewels (not that we have any), and of course, the gaps also collect a spectacular amount of dirt (which we do have copious amounts of).  So the problem needs to be addressed.

A few months ago, when the house behind us was being gutted, I asked the demo crew if I could have some of their “trash.” I salvaged a huge pile of lumber (trim, crowns, fireplace mantels, wainscoting, shutters), and also a big pile of pine subfloor. The pine used for sub-flooring in these houses is not your average Home Depot cheap-o pine. It’s old growth/slow growth stuff. It’s the type of wood you can’t get anymore, since all those trees are gone (probably because the Victorians used ’em all up). In order to repair our floor we needed a stockpile of similarly old floorboards, of the same type of tree. This is what old growth pine looks like (this is a piece of the salvaged floor):

Old Growth Pine

Look at all those pretty tightly packed growth rings. This was a slow-growing old tree. The piece above is about 1″ thick.

Overachievers as they were, the Victorian-era builders ran their floorboards from end to end of the house: they go into the walls in the front and back and under all the walls in between; frequently it’s one board running most of the length (some really old, really tall trees). This also means that the demo crews destroy a lot of the floors when pulling them up (the tongue and groove usually gets broken and the boards just get hacked into smaller pieces). We salvaged a good pile, but in hindsight, I wish I had not been so picky and grabbed more. Regardless, we have enough to get us started on the upstairs projects.

The hubs did some research and came across the English way to fix old floors. Given that the Brits have lots of old buildings, we figured it was probably sound advice. So here is what we did (and by we, I mean he – my only involvement was befriending the demo crew, transporting and hoarding all this lumber).

First he took a stack of the salvaged floor to a wood shop, where things whirl and buzz and bigger things get milled town to smaller things, and tongue and grove thing-a-ma-jigs get made (luckily the boards salvaged were wider than ours, so milling them down and shaping new tongue/groove is no problem):

tonge and groove

The re-making of tongue and groove. These became the replacement boards for the broken ones. 

He also made a pile of very thin strips of the same old-growth pine to be used as gap-fillers:

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If flooring could be a potato chip, it would look like this.

Back home, he shimmied the strips into the gaps:

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Always looks worse before it looks better

He then trimmed off the excess and sanded everything down.

shimming the shims

Gaps gone!

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The broken boards were replaced in sections, so that only the bad parts were removed (given our limited supply of replacement parts).

Once all the shims have been trimmed and the bad sections of floor replaced, the whole thing will get sanded and finished.

(we can’t agree on what type to finish to use – but I suppose we’ll cross that bridge once we get there).

About the point I promised to make: floors are usually not too far gone to be brought back. No living trees were harmed in the fixing of this floor. This didn’t really cost us anything, except for some wood glue and sand paper. So there is that.

(I think that’s 3 points – and a whole lot of rambling)

But the bigger question remains: will this be ready in 42 days before our guests arrive?

T-43

It’s official: we have out-of-town guests arriving in 43 days. That means we have to vacate the rear parlor/guest room and move back into our bedroom.

This is what it looks like right now:

Bedroom progress

You may ask yourself: WTF? Why is this taking so long?

Well, here is the painstaking way in which we are fixing the floors:
floor fix

(yes, I owe you a post about the floors. It’s coming, I promise)

Out of town guests: the sure way of making DYI-ers get it together in a flash.

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)?

Early Stages of a Garden

It’s been a cold, long winter in New York City. Yesterday was the first day of spring. Next week, we will likely be smacked upside the head with a Nor’easter once again. I am so done with the Polar Vortex.  This time last year, I was already playing in the dirt. This year, however, I’ve been keeping my excursions outside to a minimum. A winter person I am not.

We spend a ton of time outdoors during the warm months, and while our back yard has been presentable(ish) over the past 2 summers, a big overhaul was always part of the house master plan. At some point. In the very very distant future.

Backyard2012

Backyard in 2012, our first summer. The big bushy plants to the right are tomatoes. It was a fantastic year for tomatoes.

Backyard2013

The backyard in 2013. The fence was replaced and we built a planter/retaining wall to compensate the height difference between our yard and the one behind us. It was a terrible year for tomatoes.

3/4 of the way through this particularly harsh winter, our garden redo got bumped up in priority, courtesy of the water that came gushing into our basement during a rain/freezing rain/snow/rain event. We realized we needed to pay some attention  to the garden drainage and the pavement that is not sloping away from the house quite enough. Oh, and the holes. There are holes where the coal chute joins  the house.  Because, why not?  True to the old adage of “project begets project,” we figure we might as well go the Full Monty on this. In addition to the must-do-to-keep-the-basment-dry (re-sloping the surface closest to the house and installing French drains  throughout the yard), we’ll be doing a fair amount of cosmetic work, too. Woo hoo landscaping!

FloodedBackyard

This is what happens when it rains: the water has nowhere to go, so it just hangs out.

Puddle

This is actually really close to the house. Not good.

About 4 months ago, we had preliminary plans drawn by a fantastic landscape architect (aka, dad). The design calls for separate living areas in our compact yard: seating under the grape-vine (new arbor, pebbles underfoot), a grilling area and eating area (both paved with reclaimed old pavers), as well as shrubs and perennials evoking a Victorian garden.

Garden Board

The design, along with some of the materials and plants. Yep, I do suck at Photoshop.

To put the design into practical perspective, I ventured outside today and drew it in chalk, making some changes along the way. I think I worked out most of the kinks (and found a dead bird along the way).

Chalky

Pardon the ugliness, but the garden is still asleep.

Dad says good garden design has a bit of mystery drawn in. I don’t think he means all the blank spots on his sketch, but rather that one should not be able to see everything all at once, that one would wind their way through, and discover new areas. That is easier said than done with a back yard that measures about 40 feet x 18 feet. Dad proposes a complete re-think of how we use the space. The table will move to the back of the yard, where the vegetable garden is (at some point, it will get sanded and slathered with Tung oil – yep, on the list). The area beneath the grape-vine will get fine gravel, and will house a seating area with custom-built wooden benches. We’ll reduce the hard surfaces of the yard (which will also help with drainage), and use reclaimed old brick pavers as our main surface material.

Salvage Pavers

Sweet old brick pavers. How I love thee!

It all sounds fine and dandy. Once reality sinks in, including carrying all this stuff through the house, I’m sure it will be a different story.