Bringing the house back to life…one baseboard at a time

One of the things that made me fall in love with this house – and ultimately go along with Joe’s hair-brained scheme to buy it – was the woodwork. It is beautiful, mostly unpainted, and full of character. Much of it is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. When we bought the house, we knew we wanted to save as much of it as possible (chips and all).  We also knew it would take a special kind of trim carpenter to “get” our vision for the project, and have the skill to bring the old woodwork back to life while creating new pieces that look like they could have been there all along. We found that in Keith, a retired wood shop teacher from a neighboring small town.

After Keith basically worked magic when he refinished our doors, we knew he was the one we wanted to do the rest of the woodwork and trim. Although he doesn’t fancy himself a “trim carpenter” per se, he agreed to become ours (with a little coaxing).

Once the walls went back up at the house, I was extremely excited. But I was also a little anxious that in gutting the house, we had also gutted the character. As much as I love some of our new finishes, I didn’t want a new house (as I’ve said at least a thousand times, if I wanted a new house I would have built one…and it would have been faster and cheaper). But once Keith started putting the old trim back up – and even creating new pieces – that anxiety went away. We have been so lucky to find so many talented folks to help us with this house, but Keith is the one who brought it back to life.

First the old stuff.  This all got pulled off the wall during demo. Keith has cleaned it back up and pieced it back together and figured out how to fill in strange gaps and weird angles. It’s almost 140 years old, and it is chippy and full of character and I just love it all. As usual, you can just click on any pic below to view it larger.

 

And the new stuff. Most of the bedrooms either had no trim (or rotted, totally not-full-of-character boards nailed to the wall). There was a piece that needed to be replaced in the dining room and a bar cabinet that needed to be trimmed out and stained to look as built-in as possible. And, of course, we added two bathrooms and a large opening to the kitchen. So there was lots of trim that needed to be created. Two of the most “WOW” moments for me were:

  1. When I saw the trim Keith created for the large opening between the dining rom and kitchen. That was totally his idea, and I think it looks like it could have been here 134 years ago.
  2. When I saw how he trimmed out the bay window in our bedroom. It is simple white trim and may not look like a “WOW” moment to you, but that window was an ugly MESS when he started…and he made it beautiful.

So, in addition to being a heck of a nice guy and extremely skilled, I’m now convinced Keith is an artist.

Cheers to you, Keith.

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Off Center Anniversary

Exactly one year ago today, Joe and I signed the papers to buy a very old (and VERY abandoned) house on a tiny piece of earth in the middle of the USA.

We might have been a little bit crazy…but we’re not afraid to bite off way more than we can chew.

It’s probably not the most financially sound decision we’ve ever made…but it’s one of the most fun.

To be sure, there have been highs and lows, stress and excitement, weeks of monotony and several unexpected surprises… But I can honestly say I haven’t spent even a second of the last year feeling sorry that we took on this project. And I’m happy to say that we are getting pretty close to the finish line (at least on the inside).

In honor of our very first Off Center Anniversary, I dragged the fam over to the house today to recreate some of the photos that we took during those very first days after it became ours. I created a little “before & after” mosaic below, with all the “before” images in the left column and the “one year later” images in the right column.

As always, you can always click on a photo to open the full image and to to see it larger & in more detail.

Lights, cabinets, action!

There has been a LOT going on at the Off Center Revival this week…


This shot was taken on Thursday, when we had crews working on cabinets, exterior painting, front porch, trim, wood floors, and electrical. 

The garage is now a gorgeous red with a maple-colored trim, which will match the red & beige trim on the exterior of the house.

All Star Floor Hardwood Flooring delivered the new hardwood so that it can “acclimate” for a week or so before they actually lay it.

This is just part of the wood they brought. Although it took us awhile to accept this fact…the majority of the downstairs floors cannot be saved and will be replaced. So it’s a lot of wood.

Remember the front porch that we uncovered last year? The one that was falling away from the house but we desperately wanted to save?

Happily, it can be saved. They finished shoring it up this week. It will be re-coated with a stucco-like finish, then painted to (hopefully) look like new.

Some poor guy had to spend most of his day in this little space placing and securing these piers about every two feet. Sadly, there was not a suitcase of cash or gold bars under there…but we did think for a minute that we found a human bone. I’ll save that little story for another day… 

Our electrician and his crew have been busy putting together putting up fixtures. I have to say…the night we were able to walk in and flip on a light may have been the biggest “wow” moment in the house so far.


As far as these guys are concerned, having lights in the “haunted mansion” is nothing short of a miracle.

Scroll through the slideshow below for a peek at some of our lighting. They are still working upstairs and there’s one more big fixture that goes in the kitchen, so I’ll post more on lights when they finish.

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Another pretty big “wow” factor this week was cabinet installation.


Jake and his team from Wilson Custom Cabinets are installing kitchen cabinets, as well as the bar cabinet and upstairs master vanity. 

Scroll through the “before” and “after” slideshow below to see the beautiful work they’ve done in the kitchen (minus the master vanity – there still aren’t lights in there so it’s impossible to photograph). The cabinets will be painted, and they still need to install upper open shelving between the back door and window.

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Trim work is in progress, and we have the following folks lined up over the next month or so:

  1. Exterior painting and trim
  2. Hardwood floors
  3. Tile
  4. Plumbing
  5. Landscaping

Don’t look now, but it looks like we may actually get to live in this thing someday!

Panoramas

As I mentioned in my previous post, over the last week or so I’ve been getting some panoramic shots of our naked, pre-sheetrock rooms. We’re still on track for sheetrock to start on Monday. And, despite a bit of a fear of jinxing myself, I have decided present to you our last set of “before” pics…because once we have walls, everything else goes in the “after” category. Right?

So here’s a little tour through the house as it is this week, with a little preview of our design vision for each room. I should mention that choosing colors and finishes had me completely paralyzed, so I want to give a huge shout out to our designer, Erin McKenna. Four short meetings with her (3 at the house, 1 at the tile showroom) got me completely un-paralyzed and focused. She did an incredible job of helping us select design elements that matched our style and our budget. 

Remember – panoramic view totally screws up proportions…so rooms may be larger or smaller than they appear…

The important one(s): the master bedroom and bathroom

Standing on the west wall, looking toward the east bay window. This big, old mantle is just sitting in the middle of the room right now. It isn’t original to the house and I’m not sure where it came from. But it will have to go…

Standing in the east bay window, looking toward the (new) west wall. The door on the right leads to the master bathroom, which is about 6 x 12. The door on the left leads to our walk-in closet, which is about 6×8. There is a south-facing window to the left, which we would love to eventually replace with a door and a small balcony. To the right is the doorway leading to the upstairs landing.

Exposed brick on the east wall of the master bedroom. The bottom color will be on the adjacent sheetrock walls.

The master bedroom walls will be a combination of exposed brick and sheetrock painted Whale Gray (the bottom, darkest color on this paint chip in the pic above). We’ve already purchased our bedding – it is the stonewashed belgian linen duvet from RH in dune (in the center of the design board below). The head of the bed will be in the bay window, with a small brushed brass swing-arm sconce mounted on either side of the bed.

Design elements for master bedroom & bathroom

In the master bath (which I couldn’t really get a good picture of – it’s about 6 x 12, so long and skinny), the walls will also be gray. But we are planning to go with a light gray, probably a shade or two lighter on the chip than the Whale Gray. We’ll have a 72-inch double vanity, painted white dove with two mirrored medicine cabinets (one above each sink) and 3 tube sconces (one on either side of the mirrors and one in between them). I prefer brushed bronze fixtures in here, but Joe wins this one with his preference for chrome. The floor will be 12 x 24 marble tiles in “candid heather” (the left-most rectangular tile above). The shower floor will be a mix of the 3 marble hex tiles in the pic above – they are all the same color but have different finishes (polished, scraped, and sandblasted).  The shower walls will be a large 4 x 10 white beveled subway tile.

The work zone: the upstairs landing

Standing in the doorway of the master bedroom, looking north. This will primarily serve as an office/work space for me and Joe and the boys (in that order). 

Light fixture and paint color for the upstairs landing.

The plaster walls will be painted Revere Pewter and the brick wall will remain exposed. We have a really fun, funky light fixture picked out here. I think we’ll probably use an industrial-style table or two to serve as desks, with probably at least one adjustable or counter-height table as a standing desk. I might even get crazy and do a treadmill desk. We’ll also have our bookshelf and probably some comfy chairs, chaises, or beanbags. This space is really kind of huge and has great natural light. It’s honestly one of my favorite spaces in the house, but also one that may sort of come together after we live there a bit.

The one that can’t show dirt: the boys’ bathroom

Standing in the boys’ bathroom doorway, looking in.

Immediately to the right will be a wall-mount vanity with a double-trough sink (we went with this IKEA model), with the toilet on the other side (next to the brick wall). The large closet-like space is going to be the laundry closet with bifold doors. On the left edge of this pic is the stand-up shower.

Design elements for the boys’ room. Note the black on gray on gray on gray color scheme… Our designer had one directive on this room – it needs to hide dirt at ALL costs.

The boys’ bathroom floor will be these white and black patterned hex tiles with dark gray grout. The brick wall will be painted White Dove (to give it a subway-tile look) and the rest will be Galveston Gray. The tube sconce will be mounted horizontally over the mirror.

The least of our concerns: the boys’ bedrooms

Standing in the doorway of Max’s room, looking in.

We’ll leave the brick wall exposed in Max’s room and paint the others “Clay Beige.” Max will have a simple ceiling fan light and wants to do his room in a sports/baseball/Royals theme (shocking!). We’ll need to get new bedroom furniture for him, and we’ll probably do a bit loft bed from IKEA, with a desk underneath. The doorway on the left edge of the picture leads to a large shared closet, which connects to his brothers’ room. This will either be a really cool secret passage or an annoying way for his little brothers to spy on him…or both!

The little boys’ room, standing in the doorway facing south.

Some of the brick is really rough here, so it will likely be mostly painted (Clay Beige, like in Max’s room). They only have two sheetrock walls – one pretty big and one pretty small. The small one will probably be painted with chalkboard paint. They want a Star Wars room and are obsessed with a fathead they saw of Han Solo in carbonite and this Wampa Rug. So we’ll probably buy those and call it a day.  Whatever.

Downstairs bedroom/playroom, facing the northwest corner. 

Downstairs bedroom/playroom, facing the southwest corner. 

The downstairs bedroom will be a playroom for now…but we are imagining this as a little more grown-up space than our boys’ current playroom. We will mount a TV to the wall and have their movies and gaming system in there, and will also store board games and legos in this space. The “little boy” toys will probably be stored in the little boys’ room. We hope this becomes a space where everyone can kind of hang out and have fun. This room will probably be Revere Pewter or Clay Beige…

The boys’ bedroom & playroom design elements basically consist of a paint color for the wall (Clay Beige), and one for the trim (White Dove).

The big one: the living/dining/entry

Standing in the living room bay window, looking west through the living room and dining room, into the kitchen.

Living room, facing south.

Design elements for the living/dining/entry

The brick wall will stay exposed, and the rest will be painted Revere Pewter. The original mustard-brown tiles will stay on the mantle, and there are also some original large marble tiles that lay in front of it. We’ll put a large mirror over the fireplace and the TV to the right. We haven’t purchased living room furniture yet, but I’m eyeing a light brown leather sectional, emerald green chair, and brown & white cowhide rug. We’re also planning to have an industrial-style table on the north wall to serve as a little desk/work area, with the big 1950s map we found in the house hanging over it.
Living room, facing the northeast corner of the living room. We’ll put some sort of little seating in the bay window…but not sure what yet.

Dining room. 

All the dining room walls with be sheetrock or plaster, and all will be painted Revere Pewter. Our dining table will be fully extended (to seat 8-10) and situated toward the bay window half of the room, leaving the doorway into the kitchen mostly open. We have two large crystal chandeliers to hang over the dining table. We’ll get some kind of big sideboard to go along the west wall…I’d love to find something vintage or restored. I plan to display the old wallpaper remnants from the house in brass frames over the sideboard. On the curved walls (on the right), we want to find a cool piece of art (we have a directional can light there) and maybe a fun chair…

Front entry.

The entry will also be Revere Pewter. We have a large French-style chandelier to hang and there will be a built-in bar under the stairs (cabinetry to match the stairs with a quartz countertop in Frosted Wind, that looks like marble).

The really, really tricky one: the kitchen

Standing in the dining room door, facing west.

The kitchen is the room that keeps me up at night. This one has been a challenge.  It’s not very big (about 12 x 12) and has so many weird windows and doors that it is hard to configure. Plus, the back door will be a primary entrance for the family and this will be a main thoroughfare through the house. We’ve settled on an L-shape design (counters along the west and south walls) with upper cabinets on the south wall and no uppers on the west wall.  There will be a wall of pantry cabinets on the north wall, between the mudroom and bathroom doors. We are planning on a small island, but it’s going to be tight so not sure if we’ll have an overhang for bar stools or if it will be more of a prep & perch area (rather than a seating area).

Kitchen design elements

We are going with large charcoal gray tiles on the kitchen floor – they aren’t slate, but have a very slate-like look.  The cabinets will be painted Coventry Gray and the walls will be painted White Dove. We’ll have a white apron-front farmhouse sink and brushed bronze fixtures (our faucet is from Delta). Our countertops will be quartz with a marble look. I really love our island light, the Bistro Globe chandelier – it’s probably my second-favorite light…after the explosion chandelier upstairs.

The small but fierce one: the downstairs bath

Downstairs bath. Standing in the doorway looking in.

The downstairs bath is 5 x 8, so just *barely* big enough to be a full bath. The tub/shower is to the far left in this picture. The room had a large window that started at the floor, so we had to frame that in and glass block it for the shower. There will be a pedestal sink on the right with an oval mirror hanging over it, and the toilet in the middle.

Design elements for the downstairs bath. This room is tiny, but it is probably the one for which I have the clearest vision for the final design.

The downstairs bathroom floor will be the same slate-like floor as is in the kitchen. We’re also going with brushed bronze fixtures in this room with a single sconce hanging next to the mirror, marble-look tile on the shower wall, and Delta Cassidy shower fixtures.

So there you have it…one last “before” tour of the house and the design vision for each room.

We’ll regroup in a few months and see what came true.

Inspection-ready

I know, I know…it’s been a few weeks since I posted. But I’ve spent the better part of February traveling (some work, some play), so I just haven’t had time to post an update.

This is us…just one week ago…somewhere in Mexico. *Sigh*

But fear not, while I was showing off my spray tan on a Mexican beach, things were moving along at the Off Center Revival. I’m happy to report…

[drumroll please]

…that we are INSPECTION READY!

What that means is that all the “systems” (HVAC, electric, plumbing) are installed and ready for the city to come in to give us approval (or not) to keep moving forward.

I never thought I’d be so happy to see an electrical panel!


Wires, pipes, conduit, and ductwork…all running happily through the basement!

The electrician is all finished. And, because of the age of the house and the mix of plaster, brick, and sheet rock; some of the electrical will actually become cool, industrial design elements.


Downstairs bathroom. It’s a little tough to photograph because it is somewhat small (approximately 5 x 8). But you can see the edge of the tub at the bottom left, with the glass block window (recently done) over it. This will be tiled in as a tub/shower. The toilet will be in the center of the pic. Just out of frame, to the right, will be a pedestal sink. The electrical box you see here will be a wall sconce next to the bathroom mirror (over the pedestal sink). The brick will remain exposed here.

FullSizeRender.jpgSoutheast corner of the master bedroom. The head of our bed will be situated in the bay window, so this will be an outlet (bottom box), switch (middle box), and wall sconce (top box) for task lighting. There is one on the other side of the bay as well, so these will function as bedside lamps.  The brick here will stay exposed.

Kitchen door. These boxes will be outlets/light switches for the kitchen, and also service the exterior light and outlet (next to the back door). This brick will be painted, so the conduit/boxes will likely be painted to match.. 

Box for exterior light, next to side door (leading into the dining room).

In addition to inspection, we are hoping to get the insulation blown in the next week or two. We are still finishing up the work cleaning and prepping the brick walls and have our sheet rock crew ready to go.

Since we’re in our last few weeks of NOT having walls, I’m taking the opportunity to snap some last shots of our wall-less house. I kind of can’t wait until it doesn’t look like this anymore…but it is cool to get to see your house totally “naked.”

Electrical work in the downstairs entry.

Standing in the upstairs landing, looking through the master bathroom (foreground) and master closet (background).

Dining room ceiling. That green rod runs all the way across the house, north to south, and was probably put in about 1900-ish in an attempt to sort of hold the house together. It will stay, and will be exterior to the sheetrock…so will probably be painted to match the ceiling.

Standing on the staircase, looking down and into the living room. Our mason’s completed the brick work, including re-assembling the living room fireplace with original mantle and so-old-and-ugly-it’s-cool tile. Swoon.

And all the while, there’s been a lot of other not-so-small projects wrapping up…including finishing window and door installation and the roof over the downstairs bath/kitchen.

Kitchen windows. Alan did a beautiful job finishing them. He is already brainstorming how to trim out the space underneath them (currently just board) to match the rest of the house.

Downstairs bathroom window with Alan in action. These windows weren’t easy to finish, especially given the curved exterior. I’m telling you…this guy’s an artist. I told him I was going to name this window after him.

Kitchen windows, interior view.

Roofs over the kitchen and south bay window…complete!

Dining room door. Still needs trim & hardware…but fits like a glove.

Gratuitous pic of Bobby and Charlie in their bedroom. Just because they’re cute. And I don’t really know how to end this post. Other than to say…

Onward.

Brick and headers

So demolition is done, the basement is cleaned up and shored up, and we’ve got a garage and a floor plan.

What’s next?

Brick work and headers.

We’ve got an incredible brick guy* who’s been working with his crew since last week. There’s a lot of brick work to be done, on both the exterior and interior. The brick was probably what intimidated us most about buying the house initially, but consultation with an engineer and another brick guy (not the one repairing our house) reassured us that – while it needs to be fixed and wasn’t super-safe (no one wants a brick to fall on their head), it is mostly cosmetic and not structural.

So they have been steadily working on repairing and replacing bricks, and filling gaps and cracks all around the house.

IMG_0402You can see some of the still-wet repair work here, in the cracks around the master bedroom window.

More repair work, before (left) and after (right). Look above the door, below the window.

The south side of the house has always been particularly problematic, and when the basement guy* took 5 inches of “swag” out of the house, the problem areas really started crumbling. No matter – it needed to be deconstructed anyway, so the crumbling walls just meant that some of the demo work was done naturally. So this particular section is being rebuilt to some degree. It won’t look perfect when it’s done, but it will look good and old. If we wanted a perfect house, we’d build it.

Top left: Bedroom window before demo. Top right, middle left, and middle right: bedroom window after the house was jacked up and reinforced, bricks falling everywhere (including through the window pane). Bottom left & right: Bedroom windows now, as they work to repair and rebuild it. As always, click on an image to make it larger.

Brick repair, exterior view. These guys* are my heroes right now!

While all that brick work is happening, our trusty basement guy,* Alan, has worked his way up to the first floor and is installing some new headers. One in the large doorway between the living and dining rooms, another over the living room bay window.

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Super back-lit (sorry!) pic of the header going in over the living room bay window.

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Getting ready to put in the header between the living room and dining room.

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Remember this?

And then there’s the brick wall between the kitchen and dining room that we thought we couldn’t remove, then uncovered and decided we needed to remove. So Alan and his crew are carefully deconstructing this wall – including taking down a chimney – and placing a steel header to create a (roughly) 9-foot opening between the dining and kitchen. Once this is done, the brick guys* will come back in and finish the brick work in the kitchen. Then the demo guys* can come in and finish taking down the framing in the ceiling of the kitchen, which they left up because they were seriously worried the whole kitchen might collapse if they took it down before the brick repair.

The start of the work on the wall between the kitchen and dining room. You can see the new header where the opening will be. Right now, it seems a bit…perilous.

Does your head hurt yet?

Yep. Mine, too.

But if we can get through this part, we’re hoping mostly sure the house won’t fall down.

*I’m sure there are actual, official names for these professions, but I don’t know them. So I affectionately refer to our people as the “basement guy,” “brick guy,” “garage guy”… You get the idea. The feminist in me is not-so-secretly hoping for a construction “girl” of some sort to come along at some point… At any rate, all the “guys” and “girls” will be invited to the first Off Center Party and I hope they will drink heavily. They deserve it.