Restoring an old house is a process. Which is why a lot of people don’t do it. But we LOVE the process, even when it’s driving us mad. I haven’t posted in a while, not because we aren’t doing anything, but because we’re in the Land of Tedium.
Here’s the process of restoration. It’s MY process of restoration, but I can’t believe it’s any different for anyone else restoring a house. It’s probably in a different order if you’re doing the WHOLE house at once, and not room-by-room like we are. Sometimes people ask me what restoring a house is like. Here’s what happens! (And, I swear on a stack of Old House Magazines, I didn’t try to make it twelve steps. It just happened that way.)
1. The Vision
This is the first step – going into the room, sitting in it for a bit, and knowing EXACTLY what it’s going to look like when it’s done. And I mean, exactly. I do this myself, but other people hire out. But the step is still there. This is when I get REALLY excited because all I can see at this point is the finished product. And I start talking IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS.
2. The Pitch
This might be to a contractor. For me, it’s saying to Doug, “So, I have an idea.” And then telling him what it’s going to look like, and saying “Make it go!” and leaving the room before he can say no. Or, if I don’t think my idea is going to be taken well, I’ll just wait until he’s out of sight and yell things like, “I think I’m going to paint the front bedroom black. Does that sound good?”
3. The Lists
What do we need? When do we need it? What will it cost? What do we own already? What’s the timeline? ALL THE LISTS GET MADE.
4. The Deconstruction
I like saying deconstruction instead of demo. Because we need to preserve and save what we can. There will be a few rooms of this house that will need gutting, no doubt, but ironically, they are the rooms that were reconfigured in the 1950s and 60s and 90s. The original rooms will have VERY little taken out, and usually only to update electrical or fix damage. This is where wallpaper and other oddities come down and move OUT.
5. The Problem*
Up until now, most of the steps are easy to budget and timeline. This step is where you get your delays and extra costs. And it ALWAYS happens. This is where you hit your snags, you find something that was done incorrectly, you have to fix something, or you have to research doing something a different way because of what you found. This can be a really fun puzzle, or it can completely derail or deflate you. For us, 90% of the time it’s the former. Thank goodness. This is where if you’re an in-the-box thinker (Doug) you can get frustrated, or if you’re an out-of-the-box thinker (Me) you come up with really crazy solutions that usually work but sometimes are awful. Many times the solutions to the problems make the room SO much better in the end. For example, when we discovered the writing on the walls from the Beidlers, I was derailed, because there was NO WAY I was going to paint over that. So now, wallpaper is going back up, which will smooth the texture of the wall, and it’s a wallpaper meant to be painted, so my original vision will happen, with smoother walls, and history preserved. HOORAY!
*Note : This step can occur at any time throughout all other steps
6. The Infrastructure
Bringing lighting to code, fixing walls, fixing floors, fixing rotted wood…. you know, the nuts and bolts.
7. The Land of Tedium
This is usually when steps 4, 5, and 6 do a little waltz with each other. They repeat, they get mixed up, you go crazy….. 4, 5, 6, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 4, 5, 4, 6, 6, 4, 5……..This is also where you go through the Stages of Grief – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Those stage work for home restoration. For real. You never, EVER feel like you’re going to get out of this stage. So much, in fact, that you begin planning the next project, because you’re CONVINCED that you could actually finish an entire bathroom renovation before you finish this stage. I mean, the clawfoot tub is just SITTING IN THE LIBRARY waiting to have a bathroom to live in. Seriously. Let’s just start that project and knock it out because this bedroom is never getting finished. You get through steps 1-3 of the next project before you finally have to come back and finish this one. This is the stage that couples probably fight the most in. We don’t fight (really, we don’t) but I could see how this would be the stage that makes people never want to renovate. And since we enjoy the struggle of solutions, it’s why we love it so much. Thank goodness.
8. “While We’re At It….”*
This is where you decide to do things you never were planning to do, but since things are destroyed anyway, you might as well add twelve things to the lists because it’ll be easier to do it now, then it will be to do it later. This step is fraught with danger.
**Note : This step can occur at any time throughout all other steps
9. The Light
At this stage, you can finally begin to see that the room is going to be finished. And some of that excitement from step one comes back into your heart. This is where the you can start putting the room back together. Walls are fixed, mouldings can go up (or back up), and it becomes a room again.
10. The ACTUAL LIGHT
Maybe not a step for everyone, but lighting is my favorite. And there aren’t ANY original lighting fixtures in this house. So when I find the perfect piece for each room and finally get it up, it is the moment I can breathe again. And I LOVE IT. This step occurs for everyone, it just might not be lighting. Whenever your favorite thing about a room goes in, you’re at this step.
11. The Pretty
Paint. Wallpaper. Color. Rugs. Furniture. Curtains. Pattern. Texture. All of that.
12. Back to The Vision
Only this time, it’s real and you can sit in it live in it and share pictures of it and read a book in it and call it home. And it’s always my favorite room until the next room is finished. Always.
Okay, so where are we now?
We are in the Land of Tedium. To fully understand where we are, we have to go back in time. My thought was that this bedroom would be easy – take down the wallpaper, re-construct the turret, paint, pretty, done. And you KNOW that’s not how it works, because you know Step Five is going to happen, but part of Step One is the belief that everything will be wonderful. That’s part of the process, so you just have to accept it.
Here’s the bedroom when we bought the house. The house has a lot of crazy things in it. Things that we’ve scratched our head, questioned, and finally moved on. Do you see what’s wrong with this picture?
WHY is JUST the baseboard in this room painted? Who would do that? When the rest of the wood is so crazy gorgeous? We thought it odd, but we just added it to the list. Let’s continue. But REMEMBER THIS.
We knew the house’s exterior was completely compromised due to the lack of a roof when it was abandoned and foreclosed. But you can’t blame all of it on being empty. Some of the repairs made in the last 20 years were just pure incompetence.
This is the turret, directly above the bedroom we’re currently working in. Raise your hand if you think this probably didn’t help matters any. This gets me so frustrated.
We didn’t do the exterior restoration – we hired out, because the house is SO TALL and interiors are our forte. And really, with as bad of shape that the exterior was in, the restoration went really smoothly. We didn’t hit Step Five until they got to the turret, which was one of the last things. And then we got the phone call. “The turret is rotted all the way through to the interior. About a third of the turret, up all three stories. We’ve got to fix this.” Okay, cool. So the turret (yes, I know, technically it’s a tower and not a turret, but I can’t help myself) got all fixed and snuggly under this tarp for a month or so, and the interior of the turret was taken apart as well, so repairs could be made, and we would put the inside back together ourselves.
You can see more of this process (including a fun video) HERE.
And then she was healed. Shiny, pretty, beautiful. STEP TWELVE EVERYONE.
Back inside, two years later, we’re working on the front bedroom, which looks like this after the exterior restoration. Not bad, right?
Once you dig a little deeper, it is still pretty awful.
Here’s a video to show you what we’ve got, including my newfound understanding of why that single baseboard was painted white.
Neat, huh? Seriously. Look at how this crumbles! Honestly, the sad part for me is not that we have to deal with it. It’s that the original wood is gone, and we have to replicate it. I’m actually really grateful that we’ve been able to save this house, and this is just another reminder that this house was close to being too far gone before we stepped in. That part makes me crazy happy.
On the plus side, deconstruction was REALLY EASY.
We needed to be able to add drywall and do plaster repair, but all the lath had rotted. Luckily, the longer pieces of lath were bendy enough to make the curve pretty easily.
The mid-sized pieces needed some hot water to help them curve. Steam works, too!
Doug did all this, and did a stellar job with it!
We needed to update the wiring in the room. It wasn’t ancient, but it was old enough to warrant changing it out “while we’re at it.” Ridiculously, it meant we had to move this whole wall of boxes from my adjoining future studio, so we could access the electrical it was tied into. DUMB.
And, if we were going to update electrical, we might as well just add some new outlets. There were only two to begin with, and it’s a large room. So we upped it to four. This bedroom will eventually be a guest room, but we’ll move out of the third floor into it when it’s done until we get to the master bedroom restoration (which, at current count, has 10 rooms or projects in front of it).
Doug is so good at electrical. He only had to make these two holes in the plaster to get all the new wiring to work.
I started removing the picture rail from the room. It was not installed properly, some of it was missing, so it’s going. But MAN did someone want it to stay. I swear, these nails are at least 17 inches long. This is what we call “overkill,” kids.
Our friend Jason moved back to the states after being stationed in the Navy Band in Japan. I made him help take mouldings down. And work my band camp. But I fed him well, so don’t feel too badly for him. Things like this build character.
There were carpet tack strips under the quarter round, so Doug carefully removed the quarter round to get them out. It will be coming back! (The quarter round. NOT the carpet.)
“That floor looks gross and rotted.”
I’m so glad you noticed! Here’s the plan : Nothing right now. The floors upstairs, like most of the house, are MOSTLY in good shape, but what isn’t good, is TERRIBLE due to water damage. We want to refinish the floors all at the same time, which makes sense, but we have a long list to do before we get there. The room attached to the future master bedroom is going to become a master bathroom, with a tile floor. We’re doing that, so we can rip the wood floor up in that room, and use it to repair the rotted wood elsewhere on the second floor. This floor, while needing repair, is strong enough to walk on until we get to the point of patching it.
Marina likes to help. Or cower in a corner.
Rare pictures of BOTH of us working! Thanks, Jason!
The Land of Tedium. Fully ensconced. But that’s okay.
But seriously. I’m ready to get this tub in the downstairs bathroom.
…and when you are done, nobody will know that you did all this work!
They will say: “Oh! The house was in such good shape when you purchased it!”
So, STEP 13: Do NOT smack people who totally devalue your brilliance & hard work!
Ha! Yes! That’s why we do all this documentation, though, right?
This is so very very true. How much of my plan A did I scrap? But your solution to the writing on the wall is perfect. you and Doug should sign too!
Oh, we will!
You can really see it taking shape! Courage!
Thank you! Of course it’s taking much longer than I’d like, but I’m excited to see rays of hope!
I love, love, love this post! One can only really understand if you’ve gone through it. I’ve been there with our kitchen and am finally on “the pretty”! It got interrupted by a million other projects and of course outside summer things. Then it will be on to the downstairs bath which I’m sure will take months longer than I think it should. Like you, I have a clawfoot tub. It’s in my garage and for the upstairs bath….if we ever get to it!
I’m so glad you liked it! It is such a journey, isn’t it? Good luck with yours – I can’t wait until your clawfoot goes in! I’d love to hear more about your house!
We only commenced our house renovations 2-3 months ago. This post made me chuckle, and made me feel a lot better!
Yay! I love making people feel better. Nothing is ever simple, but it’s so worth it!