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.
holli 2

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.
holli 16before5

Now the two halves have been joined together to make my new column!
holli 17 after

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!

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.


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.

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….       
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:

living room



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.

Drywall… 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.


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



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





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! 



We’re back!

england 1Taking a two week vacation to England in the middle of a major reno is probably not advisable. However, our vacation happened to coincide with our contractor’s knee replacement operation, so it worked out. Monday he is back to work on the house, less than three weeks after his surgery. Those Amish are tough.

While we were gone the electrician and the plumber/heat contractor kept working away. There were a few minor mishaps – the electrician ran some wires across the open loft area in the boys bedroom, and accidentally drilled through some new pipes. The plumber put the drain in for the free standing bathtub so it sits against the wall, instead of coming out into the room, but after moving the tub into place and looking at it I decided it looked just fine. This prompted the plumber to say, “Boy, are you easy to work with.” I told him if having 7 kids hadn’t taught me to just accept things and move on, this house reno certainly had!

While we were gone I decided to put a skylight in the attic – let’s just say I am way more excited about that than Jonas (my contractor) is! I have my eye on the attic apartment as my own personal work space if kids aren’t staying there, so I want it to be nice.

First thing Monday morning I will be stopping by the house to connect with Jonas – we are very close to being ready to put the insulation in and after that comes drywall. Once the drywall is up, we will go from looking like a disaster to looking like something that resembles an actual house – can’t wait!