Thursday, March 6, 2014

An Example of the Graphic Reality of Living in an Old House Renovation

As I sat in the recliner in the corner of our living room the other day, I looked around the room without my usual mental blinders on.  Those of us who have lived in an old house renovation develop an ability to see only part of the picture, like tunnel vision.  I think this is the only way to remain sane and survive in a house that is at all stages of disrepair, demolition, renovated, and nearly finished.  

Our living room is the room that almost held up work on the rest of the house in the early years.  It has the most wrong with it, and was going to require more time and mess and money than any of the other rooms, so The Husband and I made the decision to put off work in there and come back to it later ... when time, money, and emotional energy would permit.  That was some time back in 2004 or 2005.  Because we don't use our living room on a daily basis, things get 'put' in there.  We try to keep it so the room is still at least somewhat usable, though.

(Here's a little bit of background, for those of you who may be unfamiliar with the beginning of our story here.  We bought this house in October 2002.  For five years, I was the general contractor and its renovation was my full time job, until we were finally finished to the point where we could move here in October 2007 ... five full years of commuting 20 miles to work here while living elsewhere, doing most of the work myself, but hiring things like roofing, masonry, plaster, plumbing and floors.)

Now, back to our story ...

Winnie and I sat there, in our corner of the living room, and this was the scene immediately to our left.  The ladder is one that I picked up at an antique shop.  That's the door to our office leaning against the wall ... I took it down because I needed its hinges to reinstall the living room door.  (more on this in a minute)  Notice the two colors of green paint.  The room will eventually be painted the color in the smaller swatch, 'Silver Sage' by Restoration Hardware.

There's so much going on in this next photo!  End table, trunk, sewing cabinet used as end table, old shutters, reproduction pie safe TV cabinet that holds quilts, folk art house, banjo clock, and crib that we are supposed to take to my brother's house ... oh my!

Those are the slipcovers for the sofa cushions that you see tossed over the crib.  I washed them the other day, and I haven't put them back on yet.  That chest that we are using as a coffee table is one of my favorites ... it's all original except for the hinges, including the beautiful original paint.  In the lower right corner, you can see a sliver of a drop-leaf coffee table that I recently finished.  It's going to the Lucketts Spring Market with me in May.  The mirrored hall tree in the bay window is an antique.

The grey hutch is another piece that's destined to go to Lucketts.  Here is the rest of the door story:  There wasn't a door on the doorway to the living room when we bought this house.  We found it later, stored with a bunch of random crap in the loft of our barn ... fortunately, it was still in usable condition.  In order to hang it, I had to  'borrow' the hinges from a door in the office.  The front door and its sidelights and transom have been a big job.  One day I will finish stripping off the last bits of paint and get them sanded and repainted.

What you see in this photo is a good example of the challenges that we have to overcome in this room.  The mottled pinkish color on the walls is the old plaster surface.  I stripped all the paint off the walls as best I could so we could repair them, and this is what I was left with.  Most of the plaster is solid and just needs to be skim coated.  The little bump-out with the light switch had loose plaster on the bottom (which was easy to remove because it fell off), and vinyl spackle elsewhere (which is stuck like glue I can't remove).  The exposed brick that you see shows that all of the walls of our house on this level and in the basement are solid brick ... no lath ... plaster directly applied to brick.

I love the chair in this next photo ... I had it reupholstered years ago, and Maggie promptly set to ruining it by clawing on it.  The painting you see was done by The Husband a couple of years ago, working from a photo that I took of our son-in-law's fire gear on the bumper of a fire truck.  The blue rocking chair is another item that's destined for Lucketts.  The plywood has been leaning against the wall for as long as I can remember.  In front of it is an awesome old radio/phonograph cabinet that I hope to convert into a TV console.

The door leads to the office, but we keep it closed.  On it you can see a peek of the door's original surface ... faux mahogany grain painting that was ruined when a previous owner painted over it with that awful color gold.  I carefully scraped off as much of the gold paint as I could, to preserve the grain painting as an example so I can, perhaps, one day recreate it.

This is the ceiling ... the item that caused the renovation of this room to come to a screeching halt.  The plaster is cracked, and the lath has separated from the framing in places.  We have reattached lath and repaired plaster in an upstairs ceiling, but this one is much more damaged than that one was.  With this one, we have been debating whether to keep the original plaster or remove it.  We installed the wiring and recessed lights with the idea that we were going to keep the ceiling.  After further consideration, and a lot of head scratching and soul searching, we now think that we will probably remove it.  I'm not sure that we can safely reattach the lath (loose plaster ceilings are heavy and can be dangerous), and removing the ceiling gives us the opportunity to hide the wiring in the ceiling itself (instead of tucking it behind crown molding... which this room is not supposed to have) and to install a chandelier.

This final photo is the view from the recliner as I looked straight up.  The gold shelf you see is part of a bookcase that was added by a previous owner, who removed the wall and borrowed space from the closet in the office to do it.  We have gone round and round, trying to decide whether to restore the bookcase or to remove it and return to the original configuration of a wall and a deeper closet.  As of now, we are leaning toward removing what's left of the bookcase and building a new, nicer one in its place.

It's this time of year, as we get toward the end of being cooped up in the house all winter, that gets my mind wandering and I scheme and dream about various projects that we have left in this place.  The living room, with so many things in there to do, is a project that we will continue to put off.  I figured that I would share it with you, to give a real-life view into what DIY old house renovation is REALLY like.


  1. Holy cow, your projects make mine look like nothing! I'd be crawling back under that quilt with Winnie and taking a nice long nap.

  2. oooooh, Connie... is see the work.. and am still in so much awe of what you've already accomplished. You are AMAZING!... I leave all that old house renovation stuff to my husband, and that's just the truth of it.

  3. Ah, reality. It all just takes time. That's why I've shared beginnings of projects, but never the finished piece. I've discovered I don't like to paint in a closed house, so I'm waiting for the warmer weather in order to open windows.♥♫

  4. What a exquisitely fabulous house you have, even with the still needed renovations. We have renovated 2 homes, are still working on the one we currently live in, and I am so done with it! I'd like my next home to be traveling across country on 4 wheels, lol.

    Thanks for sharing! Pam

  5. I know that you like to (lovingly) have a hand on everything done in your home, but have you ever considered having someone come in and do it? Bet Karen could hook you up with someone that could do it right and also keep the historical aspects intact.

  6. Wow - what a lot you have left to do. And I thought I had a lot on my plate. It made me tired just to read all the work you have left to do. I tend to not work on the inside of my house as spring arrives. I'm sure with your rose business you have even more than I do to keep up with outside. Good luck.

  7. This is why when I drool over old homes I am quickly snapped back into reality by the magnitude of the work and money it requires to bring them back to their former glory! Heck, I still don't have a backsplash in my kitchen, so what you've accomplished everywhere on your large property is amazing!

    xo Kat

  8. One or two small renovation tasks often stump me for months. I'm not sure I'd have the guts to take on this room! You have your work cut out for you!

  9. Yep. You do have a full plate with renovating this beautiful old house, Connie. But you know what??? I LOVE your walls just the way they are!!!! The mottling. The pale pink. The brick showing through in spots. It's absolute perfection!!!!! Yeah, you're probably thinking I've lost my marbles, but I just had to tell you that. lolol!

    xoxo laurie

  10. What a great post, seeing and reading about your restoration of your lovely old home. It's a LOT of work and takes time and thought.

    I love the mottled pink walls even though they still need restoration.

    It makes my small restoration projects, look small.

    I'm sure Winnie is helping you a lot. :-)

    I like the painting done by your husband too. Good details.

    Have a great weekend dreaming of and planning more work on restoring your wonderful old home.


  11. Excellent Post. I am a preservationist at heart, but then there's reality, practicality and safety. It is perfect that you have taken your time and thought through your decisions as to replace or restore. Job well well 'doing'!

  12. Art and I hear ya, with one exception....along with the reno we have too much stuff! Good luck at Lucketts♥

  13. All pat ya on back comments aside, I am loving how Winnie goes everywhere with you now. Just tiptoe out and close the door til springtime, Connie.

  14. You know I understand exactly how you live, it's my life also. One day, I dream of a finished house. But I wouldn't trade this old house for anything, well, maybe another old house. ;) Donna


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