Wood Floors

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Every once in a while (ok, my husband will say all the time) I take on a project that completely overwhelms me. This project in the old house was refinishing the floors. All 9 rooms, a staircase and a hallway. I totally planned to pay someone to do the floors. And then I got the estimates. The best one was nearly $6,000 and that didn’t even include the boy’s bedrooms. Since we are soooo far over budget I thought, how hard could it be to refinish wood floors when there is a $6,000 incentive? Turns out it is hard….very hard. And dirty….very dirty….

Our floors were in basically decent condition, just covered with years of grime and old varnish.

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First, I rented a drum sander, had it loaded by the nice tool rental people, got to the house alone with it and discovered it weighed well over 100 pounds. I somehow got it out of the back of the Jeep and into the house. It takes off the top layer of grime and varnish, but is a beast to work with and can easily damage the floors. 75641_10152028497157054_1549354671_n
IMG_4718After 2 full days of sanding I rented an edge sander to get the 6 inches or so around the walls that the drum sander can’t reach. As I was leaving the rental place with it, the guy said to me, “I feel sorry for you. You are going to hate this machine.” Yep….I hated it. It wants to take off on its own and you spend the entire time you are using it wrestling with it. It absolutely kills your back.

Then it was on to 4 solid days of sanding all the places where both sanders missed. I bought a heavy duty hand sander and all went well. At first. Then it was one problem after the other when I couldn’t find sandpaper that fit it and ended up retrofitting it with pieces from another sander. After a day of crawling around on the hard floors, I realized if I didn’t get some really good kneepads, I was looking at a double knee replacement! For the final sanding with the fine sandpaper I rented a square sander, which, while still weighing over 100 pounds, can’t do the type of damage a drum sander can. Through the weeks of endless sanding I also replaced belts on rental equipment and rewired the plug on the square sander. I learned to be prepared to troubleshoot rental equipment. During this whole process we pulled about 10,000 nails and staples from the floors. Judging by the leftover bits of carpet we found, at one time the house was covered in a lovely orange shag. I truly believe that as long as we live int he house, we will continue to find staples in the floors.
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Finally, the last wonderful step – applying the three coats of poly. We have pine floors, which don’t take stain well so we decided to just clear coat them.
IMG_4781My favorite rooms are the boy’s bedrooms which had been painted, glued, covered with linoleum and subfloor. They turned out very rustic looking.
IMG_4775The rest of the floors look as good as can be expected for floors from 1860. There are marks and stains that will never come out, but that’s what furniture and throw rugs are for. So, if you visit the house after it’s finished and see an area rug in a rather odd place, you can safely assume it’s covering something up. Really, you can safely assume all rug and furniture placement is strategically done to cover up things.

So, all in all, I am glad I put in the work to save $6,000. The floors make a huge difference in the house and make it look more like a home. So if you ever want to refinish the floors in your own house and need some help, all I can say is……call someone else. While I am happy the job is done, I will never, ever, refinish a house full of old wood floors again!
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The kitchen!!

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They say the kitchen is the heart of the home, and I have recently come to realize that a house definitely does not feel like a home without a kitchen. This past week my kitchen cabinets were installed! After pricing kitchen cabinets at the big box stores, a friend told me to visit her Amish custom cabinet maker. When I told her there was no way we could afford custom cabinets, she assured me they would cost less than the big box stores and be better quality.

So out to Grabill I drove to meet with John, the owner of JM Woodworking. His shop is amazing, if you love to see cabinets being made like I do. John not only helped with design, but his prices were thousands less. I really wanted a big hood and never thought I would be able to afford one, but John was able to give me the hood, along with a gorgeous island that has a built in bookshelf at the end. We met three times to work on design and paint colors and I had a ball! John has great ideas and he had seen the house so he understood the age of the house and the look we were going for. I wanted the cabinets to look as though they could have been original, had people actually had kitchen cabinets in 1860! Custom cabinets mean everything is made to fit perfectly in the space, without using filler pieces or having to compromise on cabinet sizes.

With all the snow, the installation of the cabinets was delayed, but now they are finally here and the house is starting to look like a place where people could live! My favorite part may be how tall my upper cabinets are, with an extra glass-doored unit at the top. This was John’s idea, since we have 10 foot ceilings and a normal cabinet would look tiny on walls that tall. My island is a contrasting black, with the cabinets a just off-white. The countertops have arrived at Menards – we are doing solid wood countertops, very much like what may have been in the original kitchen.

What’s strange is that with the cabinets installed the kitchen actually looks bigger than it did when it was empty. We flipped the kitchen with the dining room, and we have a pretty large kitchen, especially for an old house. Now that the kitchen is in, a bathroom sure would be nice….

Kitchen Floors

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The kitchen in our house was originally in the back of the house, with a room next to it that I imagine was used for a dining room.  However, when I went to lay out the kitchen plan in the existing space, I found that there was no way to put a kitchen in the space when it had the back door, pantry door, and basement door in it.  So, we flipped the spaces and put the kitchen in what was the dining room.  Since we were running all new plumbing and electric, this wasn’t that big of a deal. 

There was a step up to a new subfloor in the old kitchen which we had to pull out when we knocked out the wall between the kitchen and dining room.  When we pulled up the subfloor we found it had been installed to cover up a big sag in the floor.  A bunch of Amish guys and I trudged into the basement holding our cell phone flashlights in front of us to find out why the floor was sagging.  Hello, rotted floor joists.  We replaced the floor joists, but some of the sag remained, along with a hump where the pantry starts.  A few gallons of floor leveler fixed most, but not all of the problem.  I had wanted to lay tile in the kitchen/dining area but I really worried about the tile cracking because the floor wasn’t totally level.  Sheet vinyl flooring is the answer for old floors but I couldn’t find a pattern I liked. 

Soft wood, like pine, is very forgiving of uneven floors, and when the house was built in 1860 it is likely that 6 inch pine floors would have been used in the kitchen.  Whatever the original floor was, it is long gone, so off to Lumber Liquidators I went to order new wood floors.  Their unfinished pine was on sale for 89 cents a square foot, which can’t be beat.  Mark and I laid the floors, which took about a day and a half for the kitchen, dining area and large pantry/laundry room.  IMG_4646

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IMG_4648Then I filled all the knots and cracks with wood filler and sanded the floor with my hand sander.

Pine doesn’t like to take stain and while it is a very light yellow when it is new, over the years it will darken as it ages.IMG_4649That’s great, but I didn’t have years for the floor to look good and a bright new wood floor looked really out of place.  For years I have wanted to do a large checkerboard floor in a kitchen so I decided this was my chance!  First I whitewashed the floor using half water and half of the light cream paint we used on the walls.  This was time consuming as I put the paint down with a roller and then had to go over it with a paintbrush.  After the floor was dry I started taping off my squares.  IMG_20140104_153106_327
I cut 26 inch squares out of floor paper and laid them out and taped around them.  For the three spaces this took approximately forever.  Then it was onto the painting using half black paint and half water. 

Today I drove through Snowpocalypse to finish painting the floor in the pantry and to take up all of the tape.  All in all, I thing the floor turned out pretty well!  My cabinets are off white and my island is black so when everything is in, I think the floor will look pretty cool.  IMG_20140105_125300_373

I still have to put a few coats of poly on the floor which I will do next weekend. 

   The huge amounts of snow we are getting definitely improve the look of the house as it hides all of the construction debris all over the yard! IMG_20140105_130547_955

Painting, painting and more painting…..

Mark and I both have off work between Christmas and New Year’s and our vacation has been spent painting.  And painting.  Followed by more painting…..The house has 10 foot ceilings on the first floor and 9 foot on the second floor so priming and painting the walls and ceilings is a real workout.  Since the entire house has new drywall we need to prime every wall and ceiling before painting, so it is a seemingly endless process.   Luckily, there is a hardware store a block from the house so when we run out of primer or painting supplies, it’s a quick run to get more.  I think living that close to a hardware store will be incredible for me, especially as they also sell chocolates there 🙂   

Emma picked lavender for her bedroom and there are actually three shades of lavender in her room: a light shade on 3 walls, a darker shade on the wall her bed will be on, and a very pale shade on the ceiling.  IMG_4630 When she saw the painted room I asked her if she liked it and she said, “No…. I love it!”  Well, really, what 7 year-old girl wouldn’t love a lavender bedroom?   

The hall bath was painted a light blue

IMG_4642the master bath a sage green

IMG_4640 and the boys rooms are being painted a pale blue/gray. 
IMG_4654 My oldest son Josh has been helping at the house painting primer on the new drywall and pulling out the floors in the boys bedrooms. 
IMG_4651The original hard wood in those rooms is under a layer of linoleum and subfloor.  Whoever laid the subfloor was kind enough to put nails literally every 3 inches so the floor comes up in tiny chunks.   It’s about 8 hours of labor in each room to get up all the subfloor.  Josh asked why they put so many nails in the floor and I told him, “Clearly the floor was laid by an asshole who hated the people of the future.”   It’s really the only explanation.

The kitchen area has been painted a very pale cream color.  IMG_4645
That area was originally two rooms and was so dark when we bought the house that it seemed like a depressing area for a kitchen.  We opened the wall between the two areas and installed a six foot French door to the back porch.  Now it’s very light and welcoming and will be even better when the new cabinets  come in three weeks!  We are laying new wood floors in the kitchen, dining room and pantry.  IMG_4646
There was no original wood in that area, just old subfloors, which had to be replaced.  I originally wanted to lay tile but the floors, even after floor leveler, just aren’t level enough and I thought the tile might crack.  I like the look of wood in a kitchen, and will make a separate post when the floors are finished. Here are some original kitchen pics, hard to imagine we could have bought a house with a kitchen this scary looking!  IMG_3192

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IMG_3194It has been a real process to get those floors installed and finished.  Then it’s on to laying tile in the bathrooms so we can finish the plumbing.  The fun never ends…..

 

 

The Saga of the Porch Columns…..

When you are renovating a house right on Main Street in a small town, it will generate a lot of interest. A LOT of interest. I love this, because renovating a house is very stressful and tons of work, so it’s nice to feel like people are cheering you along. Sometimes the interest is from someone who wants to work on the house. Back in the late summer, when we were having the concrete on the porch done, my concrete contractor gave me the name of a local woodworker who said he was interested in working on the house. I gave him a call, specifically about the columns on the front porch.

The front porch, and those huge columns, were one of the things I liked the most about the house when we bought it. Unfortunately though, when we bought the house, one of the columns on the front porch was missing (see picture above). Judging from the rotted wood on the porch, the column had been too damaged and was removed. I held out hope that we might find the column in the basement or the garage, but it was not to be. I looked into replacing the columns, but they don’t make them that wide anymore. The thought of replacing those big columns with skinny new columns was not all that appealing.

The sunporch had a half column at each corner so I came up with the idea that when we tore out the sunporch to re-do the foundation and windows, we could take the two half columns and make them into one column to replace the missing one. The remaining columns also had rotted wood at their bases and some other damaged areas and I wanted to repair those to make them structurally sound. Let’s just say my contractor was not excited about that idea. So when I got the name of a woodworker, I was hopeful that he might be able to save my columns. Alex came out and took all my columns with him, since they had already been removed from the porch for the concrete work, and returned my old rotted columns, with renovated sturdy columns! He also gave me these great pictures of the work he did. After seeing all he had to do, I can see why my contractor didn’t want to take this job on…..

Here is what the porch looked like without columns….not good.
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When my contractor took out the posts we were surprised to find that unlike today’s columns, which are decorative and have a support post up the middle, these columns were structural and were supporting the entire weight of the porch. That was a little scary since they had so much rot at the bottom. In this picture you can see how the columns were assembled.
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Now the two halves have been joined together to make my new column!
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This shows how rotted the base of the columns were. Alex had to recreate these pieces to make our columns sound. Although they were built to support the weight of the porch, because they had been repaired we decided to run a support post up the middle of the columns. I don’t want to hear a crashing sound in the night and discover the porch has fallen off!
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Aaaah, the columns are back! Next spring I will sand them down and repaint them. Alex raised the bases so rain water will flow under them and not rot out the bottoms again. These columns would be nearly impossible to recreate so I am happy we were able to save them.
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The search for the perfect paint color…..

I have been reminded by a few people that I have been negligent in my blogging duties, but I have been BUSY!  In addition to the regular duties of being a mom and working full time, I have been traveling a lot for work and had to finish up a statistics class.  Statistics does not come easy to me so the final involved much studying and panicking. 

Plus, the house is at a fairly non-interesting stage.  We did have some excitement when the pillars were put back on the front porch, but the past few weeks have just involved mudding and sanding drywall.  Unfortunately, all that work doesn’t really look any different from the way the drywall looked when it went up.  However, the drywall downstairs, and on most of the second floor, is ready to paint so last weekend and this weekend were spent painting.  Most of the finished walls now have a coat of white primer on them.

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Here are the master bedroom (currently housing the bathtub for the hall bath) and the master bedroom bath with the new door leading out to the porch roof. I can tell you that rooms with 10 foot ceilings are a bear to paint. 

 
For the color in the living room I went with Revere Pewter by Benjamin Moore, voted the best paint color by several blogs whose names I cannot remember.  These blogs claimed it was the best neutral ever and it matches everything.  After looking at a zillion little paint samples, I  decided real professional decorators probably know far more about picking paint colors than non-profit administrators.  I discovered that you can buy Benjamin Moore paint at the Connelly’s Do It Best on Dupont where there is never a line at the paint counter and they put all of your info in the computer so you don’t even need to remember your paint color when you come in for more!  Amazing.  Clearly created for people like me who can never remember what paint colors they chose. 
 
When I was waiting for the paint to mix, the woman working at the paint counter asked me about my project.  As soon as I told her I was renovating an old house on Main Street in Churubusco, she said, “The big house with the pillars and wrap around porch?  I love that house!”  Turns put she drives through Churubusco regularly and has been watching the progress of the renovation.   She told me that years ago she gave a ride home to a  woman who lived in the house and she was dying to ask her if she could come inside and look around.  Another name to add to the invite list for the open house….       
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After two straight days of painting and climbing up and down scaffolding, every muscle in my body hurts. Every. Single. One.  I am covered head to toe in primer and Revere Pewter.  On the plus side, I match everything now. 

We have walls!

IMG_4400 I was in Chicago all last week and could not WAIT to see the house with drywall on the walls! I was not disappointed – in one week the house has gone from looking like a disaster to looking like a real house! Even James was amazed and said, “This house is beautiful!”. Which is a long way from the early days when he refused to even go in the house because it was, “yucky and stinky”.

The gas and water have been turned on so we can run the heat for the drywall mud to dry. Unfortunately, drywall goes up in a few days, but the mudding and sanding are where the real time is spent. This gives me time to get my paint colors picked out, so I am all ready to paint when the drywall is finished. Next weekend is our family Thanksgiving, and my children who live out of town will be home, so I will get my daughter Hope to help me with paint colors. I made this offer to my oldest daughter too and got a lukewarm response. If she didn’t look just like me I might think she had been switched at birth, because what could be more fun than choosing paint colors??

Here is the same section of wall before, during and after:

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One of the biggest surprises that came with the drywall is that when the morning sun comes in the kitchen window, the old stained glass makes a beautiful pattern on the walls. You can’t tell in this picture, but the light makes rainbows on the wall – amazing.
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Drywall…..in the HOUSE!

IMG_4383The building inspector scribbled his signature at the bottom of the paper and then held it up for me to see. “You are cleared to drywall,” he said, and then broke into a smile. “How long have you been waiting to hear those words?” I laughed, “Since the day we bought the house.”

Ok, so when I write the novel of the renovation (which will never happen), that’s how the scene will go. Which actually is how it all went down – our building inspector has quite the sense of humor! Those words were probably some of the happiest words I have had said to me since the project began, since drywall marks us starting to put the house back together, rather than tearing it apart. My house is full of drywall stacked against the walls waiting for Monday when it can actually be put up. I would be at the house every day this week checking on the progress, but of course this momentous week falls when I have to go to Chicago for 4 days to present at a conference. Luckily, my Amish contractor is very good at texting me pictures.

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Our insulation is finished and we went to check the work, and James (age 5), who has been very against moving to the “scary, old house” is actually seeing that the house may come together and look good at some point. Quite a relief to me, since he has been very opposed to us moving there.

In other news, you may remember Russel Downey, the young man who received the letters from the wanton strumpet Gertrude in 1914. I have been in correspondence with his great-grandson, who emailed me to tell me he had traced his family geneology back to Martin Luther. THE Martin Luther, as in founder of the Lutheran church. (I did have a rather confusing conversation with my husband who thought I told him he had traced his geneology back to Martin Luther King….) So now I own a house that was owned by direct descendants of Martin Luther – I feel like I should nail a manifesto to the front door. In my case it would most likely be a grant report or an annual fund letter….I will leave you with a quote by Martin Luther that I find particularly applicable to this house reno, “Everything in the world is done by hope.” IMG_4384

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Insulation!

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We have hit a snag in our movement on the reno with the installation of the insulation (say that 3 times fast!). My mornings have gone like this: 1. Text contractor (who is working on the siding) and ask him if anyone has shown up to start insulating. 2. When he texts back a “no” call insulation salesman who assures me they will be there tomorrow. 3. Do this for about 10 mornings in a row.

Finally, today there was success and two stories of the house have sprayed foam insulation! We went with the spray foam because it’s a more reliable product with all of the nooks and crannies and cracks of an old house. It’s also expensive….very, very expensive. But, if we live to be about 150, we will have realized all of our investment back on heating savings.

On the way home from seeing the excitement of the spray foam on the walls of the house, I get a call from my husband who has come home from work to find a disturbingly large box in the foyer. I talk to a lot of people each day and sometimes I forget what I have said to whom. Usually my husband is the person to whom I have forgotten to tell something. For example, I realized we would need a new couch for the living room in the new old house (ok, maybe need is too strong a word, but whatever). So I had lengthy discussions with my oldest daughters and found an incredible couch online at Joss and Main for only $500! Clearly, I could not miss out on a bargain like this so I ordered it, feeling safe because the estimated delivery was 10 weeks away and we would be in the house by then. Today I get a call at work from a delivery person who informs me he is IN MY DRIVEWAY with the couch! After a mere two weeks from ordering, during which time I realize I may have neglected to tell my husband about said couch. That’s ok I think, I will get home before he does so I can explain the huge box in the foyer. Only I don’t. So I walk in the door to my husband pointing at the huge box. Ooops. Luckily, I have a very easy going husband. And a gorgeous new couch, which I am not allowed to take out of the box until we move….I did poke a hole in the top of the box and Emma and I oohed and aahed at the new couch. coach

The Sunroom

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When we first looked at the house, I thought one of the best features (aside from the huge front porch) was the sunroom.  The sunroom was added on in the big 1917 renovation and, of course, turned out to be expensive to re-do.  The first problem was that all of the old windows were rotted out.  This fix involved $2,400 worth of new windows.  But before we could install the new windows we had to deal with the concrete foundation under the sunroom, which was collapsing.  We had to pull the floor out of the sunroom so they could prop it up, tear out the old concrete foundation, and pour a new one.  Sounds expensive, right?  Yep…..   

But now, with the new windows and floor in, I can see how wonderful the sunroom is going to be.  I have plans for it to be my office and to line the wall against the house with bookshelves.  This will give a place for all the textbooks and binders of research I have accumulated in the last year and a half of working on my doctorate.  Considering these now live in piles beside our bed, the sunroom bookshelves will be a huge improvement! 

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