Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Custom Features Make All the Difference!

Dining Room Workshop
I'd like to think that custom touches are a hallmark of our projects.  And we've really taken that to heart on this project.  The guys have been busy and it's making such a difference!

One of the focal spots in the house is the dining room.  A key part of the design is custom wainscoting around the walls.  It's a big job, as they biscuited each section together (we used MDF, to minimize any shrinking/expanding from changes in weather).  With the addition of trim at the top and inside of each section, it looks pretty fantastic.
Wainscoting around Dining Room walls

To give you an idea of the carpentry skill that goes into this project, check this out. The giant bay window features a gentle curved wall on either side of it.  It's an elegant feature that we didn't want to lose.  The guys custom made the wainscot trim to flow with the curve - requiring kerfing the wainscot and custom curves on the top rail.  Impressive!!

The paneled walls continue above the fireplace - framing the new sconces that we've added.  The bed molding that's used over each doorway is no longer commercially available.  So they made molding to match on-site, to top off the fireplace wall.

And we also created a little mud bench with a place to hang coats and dry mittens as you come in from the garage.  Once it's painted up, I'll be adding coat hooks, so it will be ready for use!

Foyer to Dining Room - Before
The new handrail and balusters to the 2nd floor are such a nice feature - so much better than the light blocking wall we started with - remember this before photo?

And the fir handrail ties nicely with the original kitchen floor.
Can you believe the difference????

Upstairs, the custom touches continue.  The guys built custom radiator covers throughout the house.  But in the master bedroom we took it a step further.  We created a built in window seat between the closets.  With the radiator directly below it, it's a cozy spot to relax!
Creating face frames for the radiator covers

In the front bedroom, we added a cute triangular bookcase, to provide some unique storage and display space.

So what do you think?  I know I love these details, but will the buyers appreciate all these custom elements?  
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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

My Favorite Room - The Freezer

This will be a lovely house with a beautiful new kitchen and bathrooms and lots of brand new finishes.  But the room that I'm really excited about?  The office.

So why you ask, do I like it so much?  Well, it's a great room off on its own - separated a bit from the rest of the house.  It has 7 (that's right seven!) windows  As well as built in, floor to ceiling bookcases.  The sun pours in all day and it's just this great spot.  Seriously, I'd be in here all day if it was my home.

But there are some issues.  First and foremost, we nicknamed it 'the freezer', because I had stored some cleaning supplies in there and they all froze solid.  Yikes!  The radiator doesn't work and apparently there isn't any insulation in the floor, walls or ceiling (not to mention the drafty windows).  

So it needs some updates (now we know why there were so many heaters in there when we bought the house!).

We quickly got the steam radiator working.  It helped a lot, but it was still cold - particularly on windy days with the drafty windows.

Next, the insulation team came out.  This was quite a challenge - there was no access panel to the crawl space, so we had to cut one into the siding.  And poor Chris drew the short straw and got the job of insulating the crawl space.

Big smile when you're the guy handing the insulation to the guy in the crawl space!!

But we also needed to insulate the ceiling.  To accomplish this, we cut an access hole in the adjoining bedroom.  That let the guys blow in insulation to achieve a R-49 (modern building code for attic insulation) rating.
Paperback bookcase - 10" tall shelves!
And of course we insulated all the walls with the blown in insulation.  See all the wooden plugs that they use to fill the blown-in holes?

And while the bookcases are nice, they have an issue that is one of my pet peeves.  Each shelf is only 10 inches tall - that's simply not tall enough for your typical hardback book.  This seems more like a paperback bookshelf.

So the guys pulled out the old shelves and we added them back with much more generous dimensions.

In addition,  tan office really needs some closed storage, for things like printer paper and stuff that isn't attractive enough for open shelves.  Chris custom built cabinet doors for each side and then added a custom radiator cover.  Once all this gets painted, it will be a beautiful storage wall!

Ta da!!!
And we have new electrical outlets as well!!

For lighting, I bought this great flush fixture.  The Edison Bulbs will look so nice in there!

Or course paint will make a big difference - but the room is already looking good and with our recent cold temperatures, it's still nice and cozy!  I can't wait to see it all come together.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Behind the Walls - All the Important Stuff!!

It's been 3 months, so it seemed like time for an update.  And so much has changed!!!  I can't believe how quickly things are moving forward.

We got electrical and plumbing completed and passed our inspections with flying colors.  Now there are multiple outlets in each room, new lighting and 2 new bathrooms all plumbed up.  Next step, insulating the house.  And that was a really big job.

You see, when we gutted a few of the walls, we discovered there wasn't any insulation in the walls!!  No wonder we were burning through oil at a crazy rate during the cold snaps!  And insulating an old house isn't all that easy, but it was fascinating to watch the process.

Pink snow???  Nope, shredded fiberglass!

We used blown in fiberglass (which looked a bit like pink snow as they move the hoses around the house!).  It doesn't compress as much as cellulose over time and it can be chopped up finer - which is important when you're filling an irregular cavity in an old house.  Typically, it's done from the outside.  But since it's so cold, the exterior siding was too brittle to be moved and we decided to have all the holes drilled from the inside (our drywall team was not amused!!).

Essentially, they drill two holes in each bay between the studs.  That lets them fill from the bottom first and then the top.
Chopped up fiberglass insulation is pumped through the hose into the walls
Once the bay is filled with insulation, the hole is fitted with a wooden plug, so they can do the plaster repair.  There are a LOT of plugs!!

We also added extra insulation in the attic and basement, to seal up the whole building envelope.

What I found most amazing was the dramatic difference in sound levels after the insulation.  Suddenly there's a lot more sound deadening - the house used to have a bit of an echo and now it's dead quiet.  You can't hear cars go by, the way you could before.  And we haven't even finished swapping out the windows!

Next the drywall team moved in.  And they really had their work cut out for them.  Not only did they have to install drywall in the kitchen and baths, but also seal up all the wall plugs.
Special delivery!!!

'Pillowed' ceilings
And the upstairs ceilings and exterior walls had an interesting pillowing effect.  The original house has long sections of drywall installed, with a plaster coating on top.  But on the unheated ceilings, the plaster had sagged between the studs and created all these pillow-like areas.  They were totally solid, with no cracks, so must have evolved slowly over the 80 years with no insulation.  Essentially all the cold/hot seasonal changes made the plaster sag a bit.

Don't you love a guy on stilts?
But it took a lot of time and skill to smooth out the valleys between each 'pillow', to give us a smooth ceiling again.  Add the work required to fill all the insulation holes and we've practically replastered the whole house.  See the difference in the front bedroom?
The drywall has been primed and I thought it would be nice to share a few photos and a video.  Enjoy the tour!!  
Living Room - Fireplace is updated and ready to use.  Wall to Kitchen is completely open.
Kitchen looking towards dining room, living room and office
Dining room with view towards kitchen (right) and living room (left)
Front bedroom - opening up wall to include additional window floods the room with more light!

Creating a Master Suite by adding a bathroom 
Back bedroom

Next up?  We have 28 new windows to be installed....the guys have gotten a good start on them, but it takes awhile!  And again, the difference is remarkable.  No more drafts wafting through the rooms!  And they open and actually lock!  Now that's fancy!

And the most exciting thing?  With all this work done, we're ready to move forward with finish carpentry.  We can start the kitchen, install the doors and get this place put together.  Can't wait!!
See these boxes?  That's the kitchen - including the kitchen sink!

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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Vintage Colonial: Curb Appeal

At first glance, the exterior of our project is quite nice.  A stately white colonial, it looks great from the street.

But as you get closer, you notice a few issues.

  • The front storm door has no doorknob.  Hmmm.... makes it a bit tricky to go in that way!  (It's also missing a knob on the interior, as well as some other necessary parts)
  • There's aluminum trim covering the door frame, windows and garrison undercarriage.  But it's all pieced together and has a rather haphazard look.
  • We have a mixture of windows with/without storms windows and screens.
  • The garage door has seen better days
  • The side door is a) unusually narrow, b) falling apart & c) the mail slot is exposed and the mail falls on the damp garage floor
  • I'm a huge fan of rhododendrons.  These are loaded with buds, but need a bit of pruning to encourage them to thicken up and clear them back from the windows.
So - we've got some updates to do.  Some of it we really can't tackle in the winter, but we can start with a few changes now, while we wait for spring.  

First and foremost, I want to add a small front porch.  This will keep guests dry when they come to the front door.  And it will also help fill some of the space below the second floor windows.  We spent a lot of time trying out different ideas, but finally settled on a simple gable roofline.  It has an arched opening, which mirrors the windows we're putting on the new garage door.  It also gives us a great spot to put house numbers (which were absent from our 'before' house - unless you count the ones I drew in magic marker, so contractors could find the house).
Cardboard to the rescue!!!  The best way to visualize a change!
The guys made quick work of it and got the main structure in place.  The pillars will have to wait until after the weather warms up and we can fix the front steps - but I'm already so happy with it!  Someone commented the other day that it looks as if it's always been there, which is the nicest thing they could possibly have said!

We removed the aluminum that covered the bay window and discovered really nice woodwork.  I never like to create a lot of maintenance for new owners, but this isn't a lot of wood and it has so much more architectural definition than the bland, white aluminum.  With a fresh coat of paint, it will look great!  We are also going to add a little more architectural definition around the windows and doors, which should make it more attractive.  And once we get the new windows in, it will really look nice!
Original fluted casing under the aluminum!!!

And the best surprise???  We found original fluted casing around the front door in excellent shape!!!  What a discovery!!!

And the front door?  Well, my fancy new thermal imaging camera (thanks to a surprise stocking stuffer from Santa Claus - I know, I get the coolest stuff!!) shows a front door that leaks a lot of cold air.  The wood panels radiate cold (the blue/purple color is cold) and you see it seeping around the rest of the door (despite a storm door!).  So this will get replaced with a new, insulated fiberglass door.

Which brings me to the 28 brand new windows that we are installing.  They will also help the house look a lot nicer, as well as be much more energy efficient. We've started putting them in during the nicer weather days.  And what a difference - no more animal chewed mullions!!!

What else?  Well, the garage door is on order and the new front door will arrive this week.
It's probably hard to tell, but this arch matches the one on the front porch!!
And we've also started a lot of work on the back of the house.  It's not called curb appeal there, but we're doing a lot of work.  We had to move a couple of windows, which meant we needed to replace all the siding, which meant we had to update the trim, which meant we had to replace the gutters, and then there's the screened porch.....well, you get the picture.  We're talking major facelift here!  

So stay tuned over the next few weeks.  Barring a few more big snowstorms (like the one today!), we hope to make lots of progress!!  

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Sunday, March 4, 2018

Dirty Jobs? Oh Yeah, We've Got Those!!

Every project has its share of dirty jobs and this one is no different.  I sometimes think I should have a list of the top 10 worst jobs on a remodel.  And right near the top of the list?  Wallpaper stripping.

It's truly a thankless job.  You spend hours & hours (and in this case days and days) steaming it off the walls.  The old glue reactivates and your fingers start to stick together.  And invariably, when you walk down the hall your find a piece of paper stuck to your shoe.....sort of like the embarrassing moment in middle school when you were walking down the hall, dragging toilet paper behind you.  

The back bedroom on this house was a real chore, but after that I discovered the dining room walls have painted wallpaper.  PAINTED WALLPAPER - seriously, there should be a special place in hell for people that paint wallpaper.  It's a nightmare to remove, because you really can't soak it with water or steam.

Somehow it looks better in this photo.....much more drab and dingy in real life
Which brings me to the hall closet.  This is a small closet with metallic wallpaper - which is particularly heinous to remove.  Probably 70's vintage.  I get claustrophobic just looking at this space and think I'll end up with a steam facial for my whole upper body if I try and remove it.  And after many days of wallpaper removal throughout the rest of the house, I finally decided to paint it.  I KNOW!!!  Someone in the future will hate me, but I'll do it carefully and once it's painted I'm not sure anyone will be able to tell, especially after it's full of coats.   But I'll start preparing myself for a toasty future :-) 

But an even worse job???  Insulating underneath the office.  We nicknamed this room 'the freezer' - everything we put out there kept freezing.  Not a great selling point!  We need to make this room nice and toasty!

So the first step was to insulate the crawl space underneath.

The guys cut an access panel on the back of the siding (oddly, there was no way to get in there!).  And poor Chris drew the short straw and got the unlucky task of having to get the job done. 

Worst job ever!!!  
 It's a good sized room, so it took a lot of insulation - but what a difference it made!!  Not only is the room warmer, but it's also much quieter now!
It's easy to smile when you're just the helper!!
Oh, and as luck would have it, our electrician couldn't get out to add new outlets until after the insulation was done.  He had a pretty rough time of it as well!

So those are the top dirty jobs on this project.  What are your worst dirty job??  Do you have a favorite?  I'd love to hear!

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