Thomas and Zilpah Ludlam House (ca. 1790)

Thomas and Zilpah Ludlam House (ca. 1790)
Thomas + Zilpah Ludlam House, ca. 1790

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Finished, finally.

We got our "certificate of occupancy" (CO) on Monday July 17th after the building inspector looked closely at the wiring, plumbing, and fixtures now that the walls are up and the addition is done.  We really thought we'd have our CO about a month ago, but in June when we had our 4-year old well tested (a requirement since we put in a new septic system) it tested positive for bacteria.  Not e-coli, thankfully, but ordinary everyday bacteria like that found in plants and animals which often suggests a problem with the well.  The well guys discovered that the wiring into the submersible pump had not been sealed, which caused the problem. We had to chlorinate our well to destroy the bacteria, the missing seal was put in place, and then the well tested negative.   Phew!

It is a dream come true to have so much new space to fill and then decorate.  I finally got to use so many of the things I had packed away in our storage unit waiting for this.

The full bath, with its copper bowl, faucets, and sconces, is a nice size and was so convenient to have when my cousin, her husband, and two children visited two weeks ago.  They enjoyed the enclosed corner shower stall, which I discovered--too late--that I'd forgotten to caulk, causing leaks on the bathroom floor!  It's fixed now, though.

The laundry room is a pleasure and why wouldn't it be after 3 years of using the laundromat??  It's got a folding table, lots of hooks for mops & brooms, a slop sink, and we took the hanging cabinet that Scott made out the old kitchen and hung it in there for more storage.  You just cannot have enough storage, particularly in an old house.

The screened-in back porch gets a lot of use.  Scott built it out of red cedar that resists rot and will never need to be painted.  I expect it will weather beautifully.  The ceiling fan provides much-needed air flow on hot days and the brick floor (laid with antique brick) is beautiful.  We eat every meal out there when the temperatures allow.

The kitchen is spacious, well-organized, and has lots of storage.  We bought an antique dough trough that we use like a kitchen island and it works well for that purpose.  Again, more storage!  The table, placed in front of the bay window, offers views of the patio with its container flowers and our many hummingbird feeders.

The wood chest below the painting hides our recycling bins for paper and plastic.  Scott made it from recycled pine boards that had weathered to perfection.

My husband, Scott, did a phenomenal job framing and finishing the stairs.  It took him almost a week.  I hung a small, Civil War era quilt on the large blank white wall at the landing and I'm really pleased with how it looks.  It's from my mom's side of the family.   At the top of the stairs, an early 19th-century milk bench (bought on Ebay) topped with a decoy, stands under the small window that lights the hallway here.

Of the two rooms upstairs, the larger (over the kitchen) is my attic and is filled with "stuff" like Christmas decorations and business files moved out of our storage unit a month ago.  The smaller room, 7' wide, is a spare bedroom.  We installed a small antique mantel for decoration, brought in a ca. 1850 bed that my mom had false grained back in the '70s, and purchased an antique chest of drawers along with an antique chest to complete the room.  I love it!

We turned the former kitchen into our dining room and filled it with family pieces that had languished in storage for three years.  A 2-piece hutch, cut down by my paternal grandmother in the 1930s to fit in her house, was built about 1860 by my great-grandfather Berkey who was a carpenter in western Pennsylvania.  A hanging cupboard and a side board were built by my dad William Berkey in the 1960s and painted and decorated by my mom Ruth Berkey, who was an Early American decorator.  These two pieces are very special.  We eat on a ca. 1850 cherry drop leaf, gate leg table that my maternal grandmother used in her basement as a laundry folding table before my mother discovered it and had it refinished.  For seating, we bought four hoop back Windsor chairs and bartered for two reproduction sack-back Windsors.

Over a very hot Memorial Day weekend, I planted a cottage garden that welcomes visitors to the addition.  Thanks to several friends who are avid gardeners willing to share their plants, I've got a stunning variety of perennials.  I added the impatients as quick fillers, knowing that my perennials will eventually spread in the years to come.  The clam shell path provides an interesting accent and leads to the garbage and recycling cans that we store on the back side of the addition.

Although I'm glad the project is done, I'm already missing the creativity that comes with painting and decorating a new space.  I think I'll write one more post--a retrospective one--that will share what we would do differently and what we did right.  That will be in a month two!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Some days I think it will never be done....

I'm embarassed to see that I haven't posted anything since January, but once the insulation guys and sheetrockers left in mid-February we really kicked it into high gear.  Scott's first task was to frame the doors and windows, then lay the baseboards.  Once the baseboards were in place in the two upstairs rooms, I started painting.  I quickly realized that if I ever wanted to get the addition finished this year, I had to paint full time so I decided to take a few weeks off from work.  I wound up taking 5 weeks off (and I'm still not done!!)

The boxed bay window gives us a great view of the garden.  I just don't know when I'll have time to get things planted out there!  At least the hummingbird feeders are up.

The same view as above, showing the wood wainscott in place.  Stacked in the hallway are more boards to be used on the walls in the hallway and laundry room.

Painted walls and wainscott, finally!!  I still have the back door to prime and paint (seen here on its strap hinges), and this view shows the varnished floor in the laundry room.

This kitchen view shows the cabinets (upper and lower) that Scott made over a year ago!  The floor is varnished, but I still have to paint the front door.  Progress at last.

While I was painting upstairs, Scott and his son Scotty started putting up the board walls on the first floor and in the stairway.  In some places it was easy to do; in others it required some finesse not only to get the boards to fit tightly (Scott put a tongue and groove on them) but to lay them level.  I spent hours and hours priming the boards before they put them up, figuring it would be so much easier to do on sawhorses than on the wall.  I'm so glad I did it that way.  The pine boards had plenty of knots so I used a shellac-based primer, hitting the knots twice on the saw horses, and then again on the walls before I painted them.  I wonder how long it will take the knots to bleed through the paint?

I think I spent $100 alone in masking tape and discovered that some brands work better than others depending on the situation.  The kind made for sensitive (read freshly-painted) surfaces is great and comes off easily, but it is thin and twisty and requires some practice to get it on just the right way.  In other cases, I found the heavier tape easier to put in place.  Sometimes it didn't work as well as I hoped, but I think I probably needed to run my finger along the bottom edge to seal it better. 

Our hopes to have antique flooring for the kitchen and first floor were dashed when we realized that the antique flooring Scott bought a while ago was too soft and when finished (we did a sample board) turned way too dark.  So, we went with the same new hard pine we were using upstairs.  Scott bought several hundred antique cut nails and nailed the floor boards down  like they used to do in the 1700s and 1800s.  I stained the boards (Minwax Special Walnut), then antiqued them a bit with some oil-based glaze mixed with Rustoleum flat black.  I rubbed the glaze into the cracks, blemishes, and around the nails to add some character.  That took more than a few hours, but it really helped their appearance.  I wish now we'd let all of the contractors trample over the floors during the first part of the construction as that certainly would have given them more dents, dings, and scratches.

We went with a water-born varnish made by Benjamin Moore and I'm anxious to see how durable it is.  The varnish was a dream to work with; we rolled it on and brushed it smooth with a natural bristle brush.  No mask needed, although we did have the windows cracked for ventilation.  We re-coated after 4 hours (first sanding, then vacuuming, then wiping with a damp cloth) and let it sit until the next day when we laid the final coat.  The varnish takes 7 days to cure, so as of tomorrow we can walk on it.  I inter-mixed satin finish with semi-gloss, 50-50.

Scott made a heart pine countertop from two joists he had re-sawn; the joists were out of an old school in Lancaster County, PA.  I need to put one more coat of Tung oil on it and I'm really pleased with how it looks. 

Bottom line, the painting is almost done and the varnishing is completely done.  I still have some doors to strip and/or paint, and more than a few touch-ups to do all over the place.

So, we're getting close.  Now we're waiting for the plumber and HVAC guys to come back and finish up their jobs.  The electrician has another 2 days or so hanging the fixtures and it is so rewarding to see it all come together. 

I've ordered the washer and dryer and cannot wait for them to be delivered.   I wonder if my day at the laundromat next week will be my last? 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Pipes and Wires

This view looking west from the kitchen shows the entry hall with the side door to the left, the stairs to the right and the full bath straight ahead.  Lots of pipes and wiring exposed!  The corner shower is visible against the back wall; the doors aren't installed on it yet.
Just after the HVAC guys finished up, the plumbers came and spent a few days running the pipes for our bathroom, kitchen, and laundry room.  In most new construction, the plumbing vent is run up straight through a wall and emerges from the roof.  Because of our timber framing, this was going to be problematic, so we got permission from the building inspector to place a vent on the side of the house.  The plumbers are going to run dirty water from the washer and the laundry tub into the existing septic system, while the kitchen and bathrooms will drain into the new septic system.

We found the old septic tank, finally......but not by choice!  One Saturday two weeks before Christmas, the downstairs toilet barely flushed.  I also discovered that the kitchen drain didn't work either; it wouldn't drain.  When I opened the outside Bilco doors to the basement I discovered a few inches of water on the floor and promptly panicked.  We had a major problem!!  Of course, these calamaties never happen on a week day.  Thankfully, the folks we rent our porta-potty from also pump out septic tanks, so a quick phone call put us on their rounds for the day.  I guess we weren't the only ones with a problem and we sure were thankful for the porta-potty until they arrived.

The ground was saturated, making it easy for Scott to take a metal probe and locate the tank.  Turns out it is about 5 feet from the northwest corner of the addition.  The septic guys discovered not only tree roots (very fine ones that had crept in under the concrete cover), but a whole bunch of sand in the bottom of the tank.  In retrospect, we should've had the tank inspected before we bought the house.  That way we would've known (a) where it was, and (b) if it needed to be cleaned out!  Live and learn.

The electrician:  After the plumbers left, our electician Dan began work.  Although I'd indicated the location of outlets and light fixtures on the floor plans, I decided to revisit my original thoughts and I'm glad I did.  I wanted to make sure I had plenty of outlets and I wound up adding quite a few, particularly in the kitchen and the laundry room.  I also added two light fixtures, knowing that the older I get the more light I need to do tasks, read the paper, etc.  The electrical panel is going in the laundry room where it will be easy to access if we trip something.  It would've been easier, from a wiring perspective, to have put it in the storage bedroom, but Scott & I agreed that if the power went out 20 years from now, the last thing we'd want at 80 years old is to navigate the stairs with a flashlight!!  The alarm for the septic mascerator tank pump is also going in the laundry room, where I can see/hear it if that pump stops working.

It's so rewarding to see it all taking shape.  We're now getting quotes on insulation and dry wall.  I'm hoping it will only be another few months before we're done.  Wishful thinking??

Sunday, December 11, 2011

our new Unico heat/AC system

Grace Energy's installers have been here two weeks now, running the duct work, installing the air handlers, and putting the Unichiller, a heat pump made by Unico, in place.  It's been fascinating to watch them fit into often-tight spots (in the very short attic under the original house particularly) to get everything where it needs to be.  Placing the outlets is don't want one over a bed, under an electric outlet, or in any other inconvient place.  For example, on the first floor you have to decide if you might ever want to place a piece of furniture later where the outlet is going today.  On the first floor, they drill holes in the flooring and insert 5" wide outlets (with a 2" wide hole in the center); on the second floor, the outlets are placed in the ceiling.

All of the outlets provided by Unico are a high-quality white plastic.  Now white works just fine on the second floor where the ceilings are painted white.  But white just doesn't make it against our antique pumpkin pine floor boards.  What to do??  I priced unfinished wood outlets on-line and they range from $37 to $78 each depending on the choice of wood.  That gets real pricey when you consider we have 18 floor outlets between the addition and the existing house.

I was told the outlets are paintable, so the guys gave me one to tinker with.  I've done false graining before, so I put down a base coat of yellow ochre (oil-based paint) and waited for it to dry.  Over that I used a  raw umber glaze, adding some streaks of Van Dyke brown and some Venetian Red since our pine floors have some red in them.  I worked these in with a dry brush, smudging and streaking as needed to create a wood-grain look.  This was done out in our workshop.  I'm really pleased with how it turned out and will be painting the rest once I'm sure the guys are done fussing with them.  I'll be able to match them more closely than the sample because I'll be painting them in place.

My false-grained cover looks a whole lot better than the white one against our pumpkin pine flooring!

This outlet is in the new kitchen and shows how the outlet tube is wrapped in insulation.  It will be pushed down into the crawl space and topped with an outlet cover.  The discs to the right are the holes cut out of the plywood on the first floor of the addition and the old floors in the existing house.  I guess they kept them in case we decide we need to move an outlet.

They can't finish until we move the existing kitchen into the addition because the new outlets need to go in places now covered by the refrigerator and the stove!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Enclosed (finally) and ready for Ole Man Winter

The frame was raised July 25th and now, some four months later (Nov. 30th), the addition is enclosed and totally weatherproof.  The cedar siding, its beaded edge planed board-by-board by my carpenter extraordinaire-husband Scott, is finished on both the addition and that part of the original house that was disturbed when the addition was framed.  The cedar shake roof was the first thing we did after the frame went up, for obvious reasons.  The windows are in, as are the front and back doors.  Scott made the doors--nothing in this house (except for building materials like nails, caulk, plywood, etc.) is from either of the "big box" home improvement stores--and the doors are both hung on their antique, wrought iron strap hinges.  The standing seam metal roof over what-will-be the screened porch is in place and the gutters (most of them) are up.  In short, the addition is ready for winter.
The back of the addition has a lot going on, with the bay window, the larger porch (which will be screened in next spring) and a smaller open porch that shelters the basement entry and the back door in the ca. 1975 addition.

The landscaper has begun extending the gravel driveway and will leave me plenty of room to plant (an herb garden? boxwood?) in front of the addition.  Once the new clapboard ages to match that on the main block, the brown gutters will disappear.

Before we can get the framing approved by the building inspector, we need to have the plumber, HVAC folks, and the electrician do their work.  The plumber, who is out west deer hunting, will start in a few weeks.  He came by last week to look over the job and decided he wanted to personally help with the lay-out.  I like to hear that.  One of the few things we thought we would buy from a "big box" store was a corner shower for the bathroom.  I looked them over on-line and picked out the one I thought would be the best for us.  I mentioned our choice to the plumber and he let me know that a local plumbing supply store carried a better-quality brand that could be purchased (through him, at a discount) for about the same price. We checked out his suggestion, liked it a whole lot more, and purchased it through him.  It was about the same price as he said it would be.

The HVAC folks--Grace Energy in Rio Grande--started yesterday.  They're putting in a Unico high-velocity air system with a Unichiller to supply both heat and air conditioning.  They were very happy to see deep crawlspaces and a small (but dry) basement that give them plenty of room in which to work.  We will be so happy to disconnect the electric baseboard heaters when the time comes!

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Joy of Stripping (doors that is)

A house not far from here, one-half of it built about the same time (ca. 1790) as ours, was torn down 10 years ago with the promise to local officials of better things to come.  Of course, the vacant lot is still vacant and the promise to build something new on it was just as vacant.  The older half of the house was built in the early 1700s and I'm really wishing I'd seen both halves before the bulldozer arrived.

A friend of ours had either bought or rescued some paneling and several raised panel doors from the ca. 1790 half.  He put them in storage, thinking he'd use them one day.  Learning of our addition, he agreed to sell us three of the doors and we were thrilled.  They fit perfectly; one for the bathroom, one for the laundry room, and the shortest for the coat closet under the stairs.  All three were coated with multiple layers of paint, the most recent a nice, colonial blue latex that did not complement our color scheme at all.

I'd stripped all of the doors in the main house so I knew I was in for a long, laborious process with these three.  With the weather still hitting the 60s, and chillier stuff coming any day, I decided to start now and get as much done as I could.

The blue came off easily.  So did a flesh-colored coat followed by a white coat underneath.  Below the white was a faux-grained layer that probably dated to the mid-1800s when the wood-look became popular.  As I scraped that off, I was astounded to find a polychrome scheme that sures looks original underneath.  The photo doesn't do it justice.  The raised panels are a lovely yellow ochre, highlighted by a frame of barn red.  The largest raised panels are decorated with a stylized tree/leaf pattern done in the barn red.  The frame around the panels appears to be a lovely off-white.  The smaller raised panels have a random barn red pattern, somewhat swirled.  All three doors have the same decoration and color scheme.

I had planned to paint the doors a nice historic off-white, all over.  But seeing the design, I know now that I have to recreate it, at least on two of the doors.

I should point out that I used the smelly, harsh chemical stripper since I was working outside.  I've used the SoyGel stripper with great success, but decided to use the quicker stuff because I was working with plenty of fresh air.  I have half of a gallon of SoyGel (which is very expensive, but very eco-friendly and very effective) left from our restoration a few years back, and I'm saving that for the wainscot I need to strip in the dining room later this winter.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Honey, could you make me something that looks like this?

Our progress is steady, but slow.  With just me painting and Scott doing everything else (with some intermittent help from his son, Scotty, who is as good a carpenter as his father!), we have started to embrace the idea that the addition will be done in the spring.  We originally thought maybe Christmas.  Sure, we could hire several carpenters and have it knocked out in a few weeks, but the cost goes up exponentially and with Scott retired, what's the point?  It's not like we don't have a kitchen or a bathroom.  Really, we're just missing the laundry room, and I can survive the laundromat indefinitely.

The weather has not cooperated with the outside painting....way too much rain, or the threat of rain, or it's humid and hot, so I've been working on several pieces of cabinetry that Scott made for the addition.  Carpenter that he is, he loves the challenge of making anything out of wood.  All I have to do is find a picture of a piece of furniture I adore and ask him, "Honey, could you make me something that looks like this?"  I am so lucky that he is so talented.

We found a pair of old raised panel shutters in the workshop when we bought the house, so Scott used them--and some old wood in his stockpile--to make a jelly cupboard for the kitchen.  But it's not just any jelly cupboard.  Open the doors and there are three shelves (one designated for my cookbooks) along with 4 drawers to keep batteries, rubber bands, coupons, tissues, and paperwork out of sight.  I decided to paint the cupboard with milk paint (Salem Red) and then give it a crackle finish.  I'll finish up with a raw umber glaze to fill in the cracks and give it an antiqued look.   Right now, it's been coated with the crackle glaze and is ready for the final coat of milk paint.

Scott also made a hanging cabinet for the kitchen with glass doors using old pine that was recycled from a 100-year bridge being replaced.  Its design is based on an early 19th-century piece we saw in an on-line auction catalogue and fell in love with (but knew we couldn't afford!)  The heart pine is beautiful and I knew instantly that this piece would NOT be painted.  I also knew I didn't want a traditional brushed-on varnish finish either.  After much research and poking around online I found the Sam Maloof finishes offered by Rockler.  They're pricey, but are applied by hand and contain a mix of linseed oil, tung oil, and varnish.  With rave customer reviews (five out of five stars), I decided to try it. 

Four coats are recommended and it does take time. A lot of time.  You have to wipe it on generously with a rag, then wipe as much off as you possibly can, changing rags frequently.  This might seem counter-productive, but after four coats, the piece has a patina that is gorgeous.  It's then followed up with one or two coats of a tung oil + carnuba wax mixture (applied/wiped off the same way), also by Maloof.  Everyone who sees the piece raves about the finish.  Definitely time well spent.

I've been finishing this up-side down, so I turned the photo upside down so you can see what it will look like hanging up.

Last, but not least....Scott used the same recycled heart pine to make a "dry sink" base cabinet for the bathroom.  We bought a hammered copper vessel bowl and a copper faucet/fixture to go on top.  Again, the design is based on an antique dry sink we saw in a country decorating book.  I've stained the piece and have one coat of traditional, polyurethane varnish on it thinking that its use in the bathroom warrants a waterproof finish.

Money tree update:  The dollar bill fell off the tree a few days ago.  Scott found it on the lawn, still tied with what looks like the cellophane opener from a pack of cigarettes.  It's tattered, bleached from the summer sun, and has a bite out of it, probably from a squirrel who thought it might be edible.

I've done some thinking about this money tree.  True, we didn't hit the lottery, win the Acme sweepstakes, inherit a windfall, or buy/sell the right stock.  But we haven't gone over our budget (yet) and that's pretty remarkable.  Some things have cost less, others more, but right now it's pretty much a wash.  So maybe the money tree was more about hanging on to what we have, than spending what we don't have.  I'm good with that.  Should I tie it back up?