Life in an Old House

Dog days of summer

Things have been very quiet here on the blog. This usually means that life is getting in the way of house projects – and while this has been the case for the past several months, we are coming back full tilt. Prepping for a massive project this weekend, one that we have been meaning to do for years now, and finally (finally!) getting to it.

Here is the calm before the storm…


I promisse to be more forthcoming with updates. (Really).



Unabridged to-do list

Making lists is comforting. They provide the illusion of control; a sense of order and the hopefulness that things will get done. I love making lists. I find it is calming. Lists turn chaos into manageable orderly pieces. Lists calm me down. Lists give me hope. Yes, I make lists. Many lists.

Today is one of those crappy days – nothing monumental, but lots of crappy things keep happening. I’ve heard this feeling being referred to as being pecked to death by a duck, and that’s totally it. Lethal by the sum of its parts I guess.

So I am going to use the wondrous power of lists to take a delusionary moment away from this shit day, and compile a comprehensive and exhaustive (exhausting?) list of everything that needs to be done to the house. Starting from the front, working our way in, up from the cellar, to the roof and ending in the back yard. Ready? Here we go:


Finish stoop project

Coal shoot trap – needs new trap door

Strip and repaint gate under stoop

Fix front yard light

Remove cement, create flower bed

Strip and repair façade

Strip, patch and paint cornice

Replace windows

Purchase and install mail slot in front door

Replace entry door hardware



Repoint stones

Do something about the floor

Rebuild cellar stairs

Remove ugly paneling

Retrofit heating system to gas (or something more environmentally friendly)

Remove oil tank

Take down room that houses HVAC, since no longer needed by code (after the switch)

Replace rear hatch to back yard, make functional


Garden level

Finish plastering entry foyer

Replace ugly tile in foyer with something nicer

Fix plaster under the garden stairs

Install proper door trim on tenant’s front door.

Install proper door trim on both sides of French doors in tenant’s apartment

Fix plaster under parlor stairs

Replace all windows

Parlor level

Fix missing bits of encaustic tile in entryway

Hang light fixture in entry foyer

Fix plaster in entry foyer

Remove ugly hallway tile, replace with wood

Fix creaky stairs

Fix plaster in hallway

Strip and re-finish all woodwork

Remove stick on floor in skinny hallway, replace with wood

Clean out closet of doom

Turn closet of doom into 3 piece bathroom

Install new door in closet of doom/3 piece bathroom

Remove green bathroom from existence, prep for future kitchen

Fix floors in front, middle and rear parlor

Finish stripping front parlor summer cover, install

Redo bad fireplace stripping job.

Fix ceiling plaster in front, middle, rear parlor

Remove horrendous ceiling fan, replace with less offensive model

Finish plasterwork in rear parlor wall

Fix pocket doors (middle parlor to rear parlor)

Fix glazing on pocket door glass (middle to rear parlor), strip and re-finish doors

Redo bad strip job on rear mantle

Create new kitchen in rear parlor/green bathroom

Turn one of the rear windows into doors

Make window in bathroom (future kitchen) smaller.

Move radiators in front parlor

Make shutters in front parlor functional (strip?)

Front, middle and rear parlor woodwork.

Replace all windows


Top floor

Move roof access ladder back into closet (where it belongs)

Fix stair hall ceiling, including hole where ladder used to be

Repair stained glass skylight

Repair treads on stairs

Remove ugly tile from hallway, replace with wood

Replace temporary vinyl floor with wood.

Redo bathroom

Turn kitchen into my office/library

Remove drop ceiling in rear top floor

Finish stripping rear fireplace

Rebuild original cupboard

Fix plaster throughout

Turn front little room in walk in closet

Fix plaster in small front room

Make ladder closet not scary, turn into linen closet

Strip millwork in small front room

Paint ceiling and coves in bedroom

Apply second coat of paint on bedroom walls

Finish stripped woodwork

Re-wax floor

Fix squeaky floorboards

Replace middle window, restore small windows

Paint radiator

Replace all windows, except for the 2 original ones



Replace roof

Add insulation in cockloft

Replace skylights

Relocate roof hatch to its original location

Replace downspout as needed



Remove middle and bottom sections of fire escape

Close up top portion of fire escape, but preserve roof access

Install deck

Remove ugly pavers, replace with historic brick

Build new grape arbor

Build outside furniture to create living area under grape arbor

Build retaining wall to address sloping rear yard

Install French drain by the old tree pit

Remove flower beds by fence

Create raised planters to divide living area from grilling area

Rebuild rear extension. While this doesn’t happen, put new roof on extension

Replace squeaky vent chimney with with one less irritating.

Install water spigot somewhere

Install electrical outlet somewhere





DIY Medicine Cabinet

Or, should I say, the medicine cabinet of a DIY’er.

Medicine Cabinet

Scrapes and bruises are par for the course. We have a great assortment of bandages and ointments. Personally, I feel life is too short to go for plain Band Aids. The hubs favors the boring fabric kind, claims the other ones are too small and made for children. Whatevs.

Almost 5 years in and my  biggest boo-boo was this:


Don’t get me wrong. It hurt like a (expletive deleted), but the nail didn’t even fall out, so I had that going for me – which was nice. There have been splinters jabbed under finger nails, pulled muscles, sore backs, that type of thing. But mostly we’re pretty good about our “on the job safety.”


Work around here has ground to a halt, largely because of the hubs’ torn meniscus. Not DIY related (me thinks), but an injury that is taking it’s sweet ol’time to heal. The time where I had to glue his scalp shut  (courtesy of gravity + piece of wood)  and couldn’t look (I don’t do blood) and glued a bunch of his hair in there – even that healed much faster than the knee. This basically means that the bigger projects are taking a back seat – you know, the ones that need a level headed, knowledgeable person – not someone often drunk with enthusiasm, yet easily distracted.

We are still hoping to fix the cornice and strip the façade this summer and researching our scaffolding options. The hubs seems to think his knee will be OK with this. (Perhaps my drunk enthusiasm is contagious?)

Things will get done, however slowly. It would only stop raining so I could get the back yard done, that would make me oh-so-happy. Since we’re in for yet another rainy weekend, I’m fairly confident I’ll spend a good deal of time complaining about it, while ignoring the pile of laundry or the other 9,000 project I could be doing.


Unfinished projects – a visual guide of procrastination

Starting a project is always fun. The excitement of change, the endless possibilities… which end up simply turning into endless projects. Yep, we have a few of those.

Some projects stall because of weather. Other because of time and finally a great many because of moroseness.

Rear top floor fireplace:

I’ve been working on this on and off for… a few years. Yeah, lame I know.


What I learned: My old favorite, PeelAway6,  was replaced with SmartStrip, which is not as effective – in my humble opinion. I switched to Zip Strip, which is super toxic, but very fast and effective. Reason for stalling: got sidetracked by other projects, switched stripping methods and it’s too cold outside to ventilate properly.

Front parlor fireplace summer cover: I truly hate the brass monstrosity that is currently serving as our fireplace cove. Think suburban house, circa 1985. Yeah. that bad.


What I learned: in this case, I also switched stripping methods, from PeelAway 1 to Zip Strip. Reason for stalling: There is so much detail. And the tiny ridges of texture. Ugh. Also ,it’s been cold outside, so I can’t zip strip with abandon. Did I mention there is SO. MUCH. TINY. DETAIL!

The many plastering projects:

We live in the house of crack. Our plaster is cracked EVERYWHERE! It had been poorly patched by the previous owner before he put the house on the market, and now all the cracks are coming back. I’m currently working (ish) on the front parlor, rear parlor, garden vestibule and dining room. Have I finished any of the rooms? Nope. Have I learned better technique? Absolutely.

Reason for stalling: It’s a slow process and I think I got bored with it. In the instances where  Plaster Weld is needed, I prefer to be able to ventilate – not because I have to, but because I don’t like the way the stuff smells.

Stoop resurfacing. If you look around, you will see very few stoops that are still original. Most of them (ours included), have been resurfaced over the years.

Stoop in progress

This still needs one more coat of the cement/brownstone mixture.

Reason for stalling: winter. We had a torrential downpour the night when most of the steps got done, so I don’t think they dried properly. We had some breakage and hat to patch with off color mixture. It will get fixed as soon as the weather warms. Consolation: the yahoos who did the stoop next-door, presumably professionals, had the same problem and had to patch up missing bits.

Old houses & old house friends

Not that long ago, I had the chance to contribute my 2 cents to an article about the historic row houses of Bed Stuy (and the wholesale modernization that is landing irreplaceable woodwork into dumpsters). You can read it here.

Row Houses

If you are in Bed Stuy, I highly recommend taking one of Morgan’s walking tours. You can check the Municipal Arts Society’s website to find out when the next Bed Stuy tour is. Last but not least, if you would like to see a drool-worthy Victorian brownstone, look no further.

NEDS is closing (for real this time)

You know that feeling when one of the items of your bucket list is soon to be no-more?

By now you probably figured out that architectural salvage is my kryptonite. I suppose I came by honestly, a child of parents who built a house with lots of old parts and who still have unused stained glass doors stashed in the garage.  While my parents are reasonable people and have a few items stashed away, I’m know to be a bit more, uh… impulsive or even hoard-y.

I’ve known about New England Demolition and Salvage for a long time. I always figured I’d make it up to their New Bedford warehouse at some point. I wasn’t in any rush, and the local dumpsters kept me supplied with more salvage than I could possibly use. I figured NEDS would always be there.

Well, I figured wrong. After  months of negotiating with a potential buyer to take over the operation, the place is actually closing for good. Everything is 50% off till the doors close on March 31st.

As of yesterday, they still had a good inventory of claw foot tubs and wall mounted sinks. They had a few marble counters similar to ours, but the two remaining under-mounted  sinks were broken (one was cracked, the other was totally busted).


They had beautiful stone laundry tubs that I haven’t the faintest idea how anyone could possible move from point a to point b.

Stone tub

boston nustone

I would be lying if I said I didn’t geek out over the old toilets and the wooden toiled tanks.

Old toilet

wooden toilet tank

There were still plenty of doors and windows, and a decent selection of balustrades and newel posts. There is still stuff to be had, however not anything we were looking for.

If you go: 73 Cove Street, New Bedford, MA. Hours: 9-5 daily. (508) 992-1099 /

TBT: The original sink

In what I rank as the biggest salvage find thus far, we managed to get our hands on the original sink to our house. Finding good stuff can be summarized into two steps: being at the right place at the right time, and not being afraid to ask: can I have that?

Lucky for us, we happen to be walking down the street on trash day, when our neighbor asked us if we thought sanitation would take it. I am so glad we were able to grab it.

The two original bathrooms to our house are very very tiny. I’ve embraced that fact and let go of my old dream of a humongous bathroom. Who needs that? I’m over it. I want original, a fact that has been met with some opposition by the husband, who wishes to have a bathroom large enough so that he can towel off without having to open the door. Details!


Bathroom plan

This the original drawing for the bathroom by Daniel McDicken, the builder. As you can see, there isn’t much space.

(pardon the blurry photo. It was really hard to take pictures at the DOB and not be trampled by developers. A metaphor for what is happening in Brooklyn? Hmmm…)

Before finding the sink and the plans, we figured this must have been a small wall mounted sink. Turns out, it was a small sink with a darling marble counter:



A tiny under mount sink. How cute is that?


We have located a skinny bathtub (29 inches wide), and now we just need a toilet. And of course, to install everything. Details, details…