Monday, April 30, 2012

A Little TLC

This week's Sunday real estate listing had lots of old houses to flip through. So, I decided to keep it local. Here's a house I spotted when walking Gilligan this week. This home is a good example of American Foursquare architecture. Plus, it has great views of Furnace Brook Golf Course.

Foursquares were a reaction against the ornate cookie-cutter Victorians of the late 1800's. Though simple, they can really be quite stunning. Here's one I found on Flickr. With a little TLC, the listing above could look just as good. 

American Foursquare style House, Fairmount, Ft. Worth

Click here to see the rest of the pictures. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Putting Billy in the Corner

As part of our kitchen/dining room remodel, we lost the space where my wife's cookbooks used to be stored. She's a great cook and probably has more cookbooks than most town libraries. Needless to say, it was in my best interest to get this plethora of palatable print back into easily-accessible circulation. So, I began looking for bookcases to fill a 24 inch wide section of wall in our dining room.

What I quickly discovered: built-in bookcases are ridiculously expensive and tall store-bought bookcases are usually 30-plus inches wide. After spending so much time, energy, and money making our new rooms look fantastic, I was reluctant to investigate lower end products. When I say I was hesitant to go to Ikea, despite the wonderful smell of cinnamon buns and my desire to eat myself into a Swedish-meatball-induced coma, I mean I was really, really hesitant.  At one point, I think I noted that under no circumstances would Ikea be part of this project. Well, I lied.

It turns out that Ikea is the only place that sells at 95 inch tall bookcase - the Billy with an extensions - that would fit in the space I wanted. After reading Ikea Hackers for years, I knew I could somehow work with this. My solution? The Built-In-Billy hack.

Here's a step-by-step of the project.

First: Assembly Billy. A subset of this step would be to create fictional arguments with the Ikea directions caricatures when you can't tell the difference between part 6780943 and 6780942, both of which are screws that look exactly the same in the picture but in reality are an inch apart in length.

Second: Mind the gap. In this space, I had baseboard that I did not want to pull out because it went below the original hardwood flooring. Instead, I took a piece of 1x2 strapping to fill the gap that would be created between the bookcase and the wall.

Third: Secure Billy to the wall. Since this is a corner, I secured both the back and the side of the bookcase, ignoring the holes for now.

Fourth: Size and install crown and baseboard. I'm not going to lie: this took a really long time, especially the crown molding. After a number of attempts, I was able to use by miter saw to come up with the 4 corner joints this project required.

Fifth: Plaster. Here's the fun part. I used drywall plaster to fill the joints between the bookcase and the wall, as well as between the regular bookcase and the extension unit. I then used plaster to fill in all of the adjustment holes and the underside shelf mounting bolts.

Sixth: Sand. I used sanding pads to smooth the plaster.

Seventh: Paint and repeat. I applied two coats of high-gloss white paint (the same as on the molding in the rest of the room) to the entire bookcase, baseboard, and crown. The end result is a bookcase that looks like it was custom built for the space. The cost $59 using wood, paint, and plaster I had left over from the rest of the project.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Now You See It

When space is at a premium, rooms should only contain what's essential for look and function. That means making every attempt to get rid of furniture and other items that clutter a room. For me, that meant getting rid of a door leading to nowhere.

In my last post, I removed an old door and casing from a closet that was transformed into a fridge nook in the neighboring kitchen. Generally, I would never remove a closet from a bedroom. Luckily, this one had two, and it gave the opportunity to add a lot of space in the kitchen. Now that the old door casing is gone, it's time to make that spot look like just any old wall. That's right: this is a case of "now you see it, now you don't."

Step one is to put in some soundproofing/insulation (blocking out the refrigerator noise on the other side of the wall). Then it's time to put in some 2x4's in order to hang the drywall. I used a miter saw to cut the stud.

Hanging the drywall was pretty easy because, after all, we're only dealing with rectangles here. One small issue: the width from the stud to the outside of the wall. Like many old houses, our walls are made of horsehair plaster. Today, this is obviously no longer used. In addition, I have not been able to find drywall that matches the width of our walls. The solution? Add 1/4 wood strips over the existing wall studs to bridge the gap. This is a trick I've used on a number of projects.

With the drywall up, it's time for plaster. The process: plaster, sand; plaster, sand; and plaster, sand. The third time is the charm. One thing to note: add more mud (width and thickness) than you think you need.

By now you can see we're shifting from red to yellow. I'm still wondering what it was the drove us to pick this terrible color red, but that a topic for another blog. Repainting is a good time to review the walls for imperfections and fill them with plaster. 

And now the old door is gone! (Admittedly, you can see it a little bit in this image, but that's only because I didn't prime!).

Here's the before on the same spot:

Monday, April 23, 2012

Door to Nowhere

When we first moved into our house, the kitchen left us a bit perplexed. It appeared that for the previous 83 years, the refrigerator - it whatever form it came - lived in the middle of the kitchen floor. Due respect to history, this wasn't going to work for us.

Our solution was to break down the wall between the small mudroom beside the kitchen and the second closet in the extra bedroom. Out new fridge nook was the perfect solution to gain space. However, I never really got around to the other side of the wall.

I give you the door to nowhere:

With the baby on the way, it was time to remodel the back bedroom. This meant getting rid of the door to nowhere. It's time to break some stuff!

Great stress relief after a day of work.

Down comes the door.

The door to nowhere is replaced with a big ol' hole.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Oh, Drywall

Installing drywall is pretty easy, but the plastering that comes after is something that I've always struggled with. I can never quite seem to get a smooth finish.

What type of plastering have you done?

Here's a great article on Drywall 101 over at DIY Diva.

A Little TLC

I love browsing the Sunday real estate listings. I especially love the old house listed that have the potential to be restored to their former glory with a little TLC. Okay, the one I picked this week need a lot of TLC.

It's a 10 bedroom, 7 fireplace home in Milton. Sure, it's missing some walls, needs a new roof, and has water damage, but imagine the possibilities.
Check out the rest of the pictures here.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

What to Buy

Not that we're super sticklers about, but we try to make each piece of furniture and hardware we put into the house have at least some suggestion of this historic period in which it was built. Recently, I started looking for table to put in the addition.

Can you tell the difference between the $600 designer end table and the $55 Target end table?

Option 1:

Option 2:

Friday, April 20, 2012

If These Walls Could Talk

Officially, the City of Quincy has our house listed as being built in 1923. It's the same year that Roy and Walt Disney founded the Walt Disney Company. Ireland joined the league of nations that year and Calvin Coolidge, former Governor of Massachusetts, became President of the United States.

I've never really questioned the construction date until our recent kitchen remodel. That's when I found the November 23, 1915 issue of The Boston Post stuck in the wall above the basement stairs. Do people really save a perfectly intact 8 year old newspaper in their wall, or is our house older than I thought? More research in definitely needed.

For now, we'll just have to look back on history and reflect on images of sunken German warships, $.98 women's hats, racist pancake mix, and the lost promise of rubber coats.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


With the kitchen done (well, except for a few odds and ends), it was time to start working in the addition. Originally, we thought that putting in wall-to-wall carpeting would be a good option and provide added installation. But once we saw how well the new kitchen floor blended with the
original hardwood in the dining room, we decided to continue to flow.

I used Armstrong prefinished hardwood flooring. It matches almost exactly to the 100 year old flooring in the dining room and living room.

I did skip the recommended floor nailing gun rental/purchase, opting to do it by hand. This, I
think, went slower, but was cheaper and in the end looks great.

I used a piece of scrap flooring as a buffer when banging the boards in place. Most of the time, this didn't need more than a tap. There was some warping in the boards the did require more substantial manipulation.

A pry bar tightened the end joints.

Not too bad for a day's work.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Kitchen Remodel

I admit it: I'm not a very good blogger. While many people knew I was remodeling out kitchen over the last month, I did not post a single entry to share the process. Between work, school, and remodeling, the chances to blog have been few and far between. So, without further adieu, here is our new kitchen. Completion time: 6 weeks.

In the beginning.....

When we first moved in, the kitchen wasn't much to look at. Okay, it was terribly ugly.

With some TLC (read paint and cheap flooring), we were able to fix it up into something a little more charming; however, our budget remodel from a few years ago didn't solve our floor plan issues.

As with most old houses of the era, it was built with privacy in mind. Guests were not supposed to wander into the kitchen: that was the cook's space. The kitchen also included a pantry between the kitchen and dining room. This left us with a 10x12 dining room, a 3x6 pantry, and a 7x10 kitchen. With a little one on the way, there was no room for even a high chair in our kitchen.

What to do? Open it up.

I took of the week between Christmas and New Years to demo, then worked nights and weekends to finish the rest, with various helpers along the way. We now have a 10 x 25 kitchen/dining room combo with over 18 feet of counter space and more storage than we know what to do with. Here's the view from the dining room.

For perspective, here's the old view from the dining room.

As you can see, we kept the rainbow trout. We also kept the look of the tin tile back splash.

The wood floor in the kitchen is actually a pretty good match to the rest of the house. Better yet, it's pre-finished: no-need for sanding!

Because of the chimney, we did end up with some empty space behind one of the new walls. This was nothing compared to the almost 4x5 empty chamber I found between the kitchen and dining room, but I wanted to maximize every inch. So, I ordered a 95" tall cabinet with drawers and shelves that fit perfectly in the space.

We also added stained glass lighting for some color.

In review:

Hardest part: Ripping up the old kitchen floor. Seriously, there were like five layers of flooring. Unless you know with certainty that you hate the people you are selling your house to, please remove the old floor before putting down the new one.

Biggest splurge: Leaded glass doors on the end cabinets. I felt bad ripping out the old china cabinet. Originally, its character was one of the selling points of the house for use. The new glass doors seemed like an appropriate trade in terms of historical character.

Favorite part: The openness. When I walk in the front door the house seems huge!

Best buy: 42 inch wall cabinets. Though more expensive, these basically add another shelf to the inside of the wall cabinets. Not only is this good for extra storage, they make the kitchen seem super tall!