The windowboxes of doom

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When we bought our old house, my favorite part was the big front porch, and the windowboxes on the front windows. Of course, like everything else, the windowboxes were rotted through and had to be thrown away. This summer I built new windowboxes – they are nearly 10 feet long and very heavy. Over Mother’s Day weekend my oldest daughter and I planted tons of flowers in the windowboxes, and the other planters on the front porch.
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The huge windowboxes are insanely heavy, but getting the bottom windowbox up was no problem. However, the second floor windowbox posed a slight problem. At nearly 10 feet long, there was no was it would make it up the interior stairs, and around the corner to the master bedroom. That meant it need to be installed from the outside. Many plans were put forward and rejected, leading my husband to name them “the windowboxes of doom” since he was convinced someone was going to get killed getting the second floor windowbox installed. I finally decided that when my oldest daughter and son-in-law visited for Turtle Days that we would all work together to get the windowbox installed. Be careful if you visit me, because there is a very good chance you will be put to work!

The plan I decided on was to tie rope around two sections of the windowbox and have my husband and son-in-law hanging out the upstairs windows pulling the rope. My 15 year old son and I would lift the windowbox up as high as we could, the men above would start pulling it up, and I would run upstairs and take my place in the middle window and guide the windowbox into place. This was slightly tricky as the supports really got in the way, and pulling a large, extremely heavy object straight up with a small rope, is a whole lot harder than it looks. Even my hugely pregnant daughter was put to work, taking pictures. I figured either the pictures would be used for this blog, or to show the surgeon who was trying to put one of us back together. My plan did work, although for a few tense seconds, it did seem possible that the entire windowbox would go crashing onto the ground. Luckily, my son-in-law is a lot stronger than he looks and manhandled the thing up and into place.

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The good news is that the windowbox was in place for the Turtle Days parade that went right by the house! Now I just need to get the shutters made…..

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Finished! The Upstairs Bathroom

When we bought this house I was pretty confident I could make it livable, but the one and only full bathroom gave me, well…nightmares. It was a 50s monstrosity that looked like it belonged in a horror movie. It was so bad, few people would actually enter it, they just looked on in shock from the hallway. Aside from being a general disaster area, the bathroom had a bad layout and no room for both a shower unit and a freestanding tub.

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After we gutted the bathroom, along with the rest of the house, we knocked out a closet to expand the bathroom and make room for two sinks, along with a shower and tub. I found a vintage looking tile for the floor, and in doing so discovered the joy ride that is black grout. I thought about doing a vanity with two sinks, but I really wanted the bathroom to look like it could have when the house was nice. Plus, I love the look of furniture in an old bathroom, instead of a modern vanity. Luckily, at the Wood Shack I found a small dresser that fit perfectly. The shelf above the tub and the wood with the hooks for the towels are also from the Wood Shack.

I showed my husband the “after” pictures and said, “Now, if you saw these pictures, wouldn’t you want to live in this house?” “Sure,” he said, “until you told me it was the ONLY finished room in the house.” Sigh…..

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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

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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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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