Another day, another project (and a post with terrible photos).

A normal person may look at what projects need to be done and prioritize accordingly. A normal person may look carefully at the options available and make sure not to overburden themselves by taking on more than they can handle. A normal person will finish a project before starting a new one.

Well, normal people we are not.

Over labor day weekend, we tore out the bedroom ceiling. A cheap patch job of installing a false dry wall ceiling (and covering it with popcorn) robbed the room of its original height – plus it left us wondering what lurked above it.

Old Ceiling

This is how it used to be (pardon the cell phone photos, but in possibly what was the only case of good judgment here, we did not bring the big camera in with us).

Half gone

Dry wall pulled down, you can see the old ceiling through the 2x4s

Turns out the damaged original ceiling was still up there, minus a big chunk of plaster right in the middle. It was severely bowed towards the center of the room, which is probably why the plaster fell off. There were signs of water damage. Fun!

Just a little bit of plaster missing...

Just a little bit of plaster missing… And seriously – what’s up with all the popcorn?

After we removed both ceilings and the original lath, we discovered that the support structure  was compromised: the strips of wood attaching the ceiling to the roof had come lose over the years.

lath

Presented without comment

Open ceiling

Open ceiling, cockloft above.

With the ceiling gone, we had a good look at the space above – more like a crawl space than an attic, it’s called a cock loft (and yes, because I’m totally immature I can’t say it without giggling). It’s kinda interesting to see the structure from above: the sky lights, some strange built-in alcoves. The filth up there is indescribable, the dirt is nearly impossible to wash off the skin. I suppose that’s what 120 years of dust, coal, cigarette smoke, and old fart residue looks like. Absolutely gross.

Dirt

This photo doesn’t fully capture how dirty we were. And by the way, the Facetime camera on the iPhone is absolutely awful!

The space is now ready to be re-built. We saved a piece of the ceiling molding so that we can restore it in the new ceiling. Sadly, most of it was gone so we’ll have to rebuild from scratch.

Moulding chunk

It was a total bummer to have to remove the moulding, but most of it was already gone. What was left did put up a good fight. We will use this chunk as a template for the restoration.

Since all the prep work has been done, you’d think we’d finish it off quickly. That is where you’d be wrong. This past weekend was dedicated to working on the stoop railing and doing a test stripping of the brownstone. Why? Well, winter is coming and it needs to be done. The stoop has been the Hubs pet project during the summer. Amidst finishing grad school, the crazy rains of June and the sweltering temps of July, progress has been slow. Happy to report one whole side has been stripped and coated with primer.

As for the masonry, we’re having a hard time finding someone who will strip/repair the brownstone the in the way we feel it should be done.   So I decided to do some tests and see if I could do it myself.

Cue stripping test #1: Some PeelAway 1, a bit of time, some water and some citric acid later – voila! Brownstone without paint.

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Step 1: apply layer of PeelAway that is at least 1/8 of an inch think. Kinda like frosting a warm cake. Got a bit melt-y…

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Step 2: Cover with the nifty paper provided. And wait.

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Step 3: remove the goop and wash. And wash. And wash. Then spritz some citric acid and wash again.

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And there you have it: stone (mostly) free of paint.

My biggest problem is that I’m super afraid of heights and I have no idea how I’ll get to the second and third floors….

One bold step

Our brownstone is pink. Well, at the moment it’s mostly pink, as the paint is peeling in large chunks.

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Yep, it’s starting to look really bad. Not only does it look bad, but paint is also bad for the brownstone itself. It traps moisture and causes the stone to basically turn into sand. Not good. Not good at all.

We want to return the façade to its original non-painted stage. As you can tell by the photo above, this task is being helped by the elements.  Living in the sad looking house is starting to make us feel sad. So we decided it’s time to find someone to strip the paint and patch up any damaged spots. Easy right?

Wrong! Contractor #1 seemed to be on the right track, but has yet to provide an estimate (it’s been a month!). Contractor #2 declared the façade strong, but also stated that he will chip it all away and rebuild it with tinted cement, as it won’t withstand power washing. Um – what kind of an idiot would dream of power washing brownstone (which is a form of sandstone)? I mean, duh!

I have been looking at brownstone façades and I can always tell when they have been chipped away and redone, because the material used tends to have a flower-pot quality to it. Sure, sometimes the stone is too far gone and needs to be patched or replaced. But to just start off removing the very thing that makes the house special? No, thank you. Turns out we’re quite protective of our brownstone.

So what to do? Would it be crazy to tackle this ourselves? The pink latex paint is coming off is big pieces. How hard can this possibly be? Somehow I have a feeling I’m abut to find out.

 

 

Waking up from a long winter nap

We blew through our funds getting the garden apartment ready to rent, as well as spending money in the very un-glamurous-yet-very-necessary electrical and plumbing departments. Towards the end of last year, with the garden apartment rented, it was time to take a break and save up some cash for the projects ahead. They are:

Façade

Façade: This could potentially be a huge cost. The original façade is made of brownstone, which has been painted many times over the years. In its current iteration, it is pink. And it’s peeling. Our hope is once the paint is removed, the brownstone will be in good enough shape to be left alone, sans color. In case you are wondering, this is what it looks like now. Yes, we are the creepy house on the block….

SAMSUNG

Powder Room: Turning this once-closet back into a bathroom is the first step into a larger project of moving the kitchen down to the parlor level (it’s currently on the top floor, next to our bedroom).

Icky Parquet

Parlor Flooring: The original parquet floor is long gone. It’s been replaced with fake parquet, which was poorly installed and is lifting all over the place (the splotchy marks on it are not dirt, but residual glue form a sloppy installation). The idea is to replace it with period accurate parquet, with a nice border around it.

New Hatches: our house has two hatches, one in the front, one in the back. The front one was used as a coal chute, not sure what the one in the back was used for. In any case, both hatches are in dire need of replacement. The brick in the front hatch also needs repointing and the chute door needs a little love to make it look less like a horror movie set.

So yes, there is a lot of work ahead…

Making an entrance

The entry way to the garden level apartment used to be a narrow hallway flanked by a mishmash of closets. The space was barely wide enough for a person to get through – a fairly thin person that is.

This is the best “before” shot I could find. The closets are to the right. Pay no attention to the debris on the floor (that is what happens when you pull up ugly tile)

What is probably the world’s skinniest door. It turns out it’s hiding a really cool forgotten feature.

There was also evidence of some major water damage and a lot of rotted wood. Yum!

It gets worse before it gets better… demo in progress

The closets were not particularly well built and seemed cobbled together from whatever materials were available, just short of cardboard. We removed them and in the process found the old dumb waiter shaft.

Looking up the dumb waiter shaft from the garden level. The “ceiling” above is the bottom of the pantry on the top floor.

Looking up into the attic from the top floor kitchen, we found the dumb waiter mechanism still more or less intact.

We replaced a water damaged wall and created a nook for coats and shoes where the closets used to be – after all, we didn’t want to give up all the storage in that area.

Cell phone snapshot of the new coat nook in progress

There is now space to comfortable access the apartment and as a bonus, the awful tile is gone (and replaced with durable and earth friendly bamboo flooring).

Not quite finished yet, but much better already

French Doors

I realize that most of my posts seem to be about floors – so let’s mix it up with some doors!

A couple of weeks ago we scored a free pair of French doors on the interwebs. The idea was to use them to create a separation between the bedroom and the living room in the garden apartment.

It used to look like this:

Looking through archway from bedroom to living room

The existing archway was not at all in keeping with the character of the house, since there are no archways anywhere else. Best we can tell, the archway was probably created around the 1930s, because the material used (rock lath, the precursor of drywall) was smushed in it among the original lath wall. Besides not matching the rest of the house, the archway  provided zero privacy for the sleeping area. It was time for it to go.

A little fun was had with demolition and the helping hand of a friend.

The arch is no more

Enter the awesome vintage French doors. With a little trimming (the doors were mismatched and needed to be cut so that the glass panels lined up properly), we now have this:

Doors in place

There is still some finishing work that needs to happen, but overall I’m super psyched about these doors!

Big Project #1

The Pink Lady is a 2-family house. We will be living on the parlor and top floor and renting out the garden level apartment. The previous owner had the reverse configuration (lower duplex with top floor rental). After being downstairs neighbors for all of our married life, we decided it would be exceedingly luxurious to be upstairs neighbors for a change. This of course presents some fairly immediate renovation challenges (as in get it fixed up and rented sooner rather than later).

This is what the garden level looked like. Since this was the owner’s living space, the kitchen is really large – way way too large for a one bedroom rental in New York, that’s for sure.

Looking into kitchen from living room. Hello plastic chandelier!

Kitchen

Bedroom (ignore the couch and the flower arrangement)

Hallway leading to rental unit: super skinny & gloomy

The challenge is to make the kitchen smaller to allow for more living space in the middle room without disturbing that super loud tile in the kitchen, as there reno budget does not allow for a floor do-over.

This is what we plan on accomplishing:

Make kitchen smaller, make living area larger

Add French doors to divide bedroom from living area

Re-arrange entry way to create private entrance that is wide enough for an actual person

Make the bathroom bigger, comfortable  for a regular size person

Replace plastic chandelier

Replace garden access door with an exterior door (current door is just a cheap hollow core door meant for indoor use)

Move thermostat to parlor level

Paint

It’s a lot to do….