Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Window Seat House summary page

For those who arrive late, a chronological list of all the posts in the project (kept updated):
  1. Introduction
  2. Before I: exterior and living room
  3. Before II: kitchen and bedrooms
  4. Before III: upstairs bath
  5. Before IV: basement
  6. Closing day: floors
  7. Planning: window seat room
  8. Demo I: basement chaos
  9. Demo II: miscellaneous bits
  10. Forward progress: drywall and HVAC
  11. Kitchen developments
  12. Kitchen II: cabinets!
  13. Kitchen counters: Quest for granite
  14. 1=new_frontshot_firstQuick snack: front door
  15. Other developments: patio, basement carpet, and more
  16. Unveiling of the floors (and closets)
  17. Listing pics 1: first floor
  18. Listing pics 2: basement and upstairs
  19. Final wrap-up: before-and-after composites

More demo, just for the fun of it

A few more photos I hate to skip:
  • Here's a chunk of new and old wiring in the basement, waiting to have a wall to cling to again. This is an amusing mass of switches controlling two different rooms -- entertains me every time I grab one to flip it on (but only one of many reasons my kid isn't making many visits to the house right now!)...

  • This is more detritus from basement demo -- pieces of chimney pipe (the whole chimney needed to be cleared of debris and relined by chimney guys), some radiator piping, et al. I think that orange machine might have played a key role in grinding up the crazy plaster/wire ceiling.

  • Here's a victory shot of all the red carpet once it was removed from the living room floor and stairs, along with the tired green underpad. I guess I took this picture pretty early -- the radiator grille is still visible back there, where now is only a gaping hole...

  • Speaking of holes, here's a sample of the post-radiator look. These aren't the classical windy pipe radiators of my own youth (like this), but the kind that use a dense row of metal flaps to disperse the heat (like this), all set into large metal boxes within the walls (to varying degrees).

  • I also quite like this photo from the middle bedroom after we pulled out the offending closet.


    You really get a sense of the many lives of old houses, as this archaeology uncovers multiple layers of wallpaper and room layout. The oldest stuff in this house is lathe-and-plaster; other parts are drywall, and still others are just smoothed-over exterior wall material. (Nobody wants to sacrifice living space for the luxury of unnecessary framing!) Fun.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Demo-mania! Chaos in the basement

Because we're not doing that much with the walls in the living room, there's not much to see there in terms of chaos and destruction (although there is a *ton* of stuff being stored up for use elsewhere) other than a few holes for A/C ducts.

However, the basement is another thing entirely!


The walls have been ripped out, the ceiling torn down, crazy (and sometime illegal) wiring replaced with rational modern cabling, and more. The ceiling was a particular trial, as white acoustic tiles were glued to this dark over-ceiling, which appears to have been made of plaster reinforced with a wire mesh -- it had to be cut to bits with a saw before it could be pulled down. Luckily, there are healthy wooden joists underneath, and getting that ceiling down has made it easier to sort out the electrical mess, upgrade the lights and so forth. Glad my guys were willing to do it!

As for the walls, everything behind the paneling looks fine, but the framing is basically flush against the foundation walls -- a set of old-school shims are all that keeps it all plumb. basement_right Basically, just enough room for some wiring and not a lot else, but luckily we don't need much else! The pipes to the kitchen run in a small soffit, ducts can fit between the joists, and the rest of this will seal up with drywall into a nice swath of civilized living space -- you just have to project your imagination a bit right now to see it.

Lesse, what other adventures? Well, we took out the furnace and all the radiator last week during one of the coldest stretches I've ever experienced in Philadelphia. (Water was turned off anyway, but still, hard not to be a little nervous! Our pipes at home froze that week.) Demo went fine (see old furnace at left), but the contractors had to bring in big space-heaters to keep themselves warm while they continued their work (at right).

furnace heater2

Anyway, the HVAC guys are cutting holes and running ducts, and I see big boxes in the living room that appear to contain a furnace and an A/C condenser, so presumably we'll be back to some level of climate control soon. Then it should be time to finish framing around this stuff (other framing is already underway, which I'll discuss soon) and then we'll head into rebuilding and beautifying, instead of destruction and chaos. Can't wait!

Window seat room sketch

Just got around to scanning this and thought it would help in visualizing the transformation underway in the middle bedroom:
Look at that top drawing! You could barely wedge a twin bed in there if you didn't need to use the closet and didn't have a door to the hallway (which the room, in fact, didn't have when I bought it). The red line shows the ridiculous bottle neck closing off the window.

Bottom picture is the rearrangement, with a smaller closet in the lower right corner, window seat in the nook, and I've sketched in a perfectly pleasant arrangement of furniture -- just like a real room! yay!!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Happy news on closing day: Under the rugs!

Most older South Philly houses can be assumed to have started their lives with wood floors, but their current states, when the house is carpeted, are unknowable. There could be rough historic floors, or more refined floors, or completely ruined or removed floors. Thus, you have to be prepared for either refinishing a floor or laying a new one, if your goal is the polished hardwoods that seem to be universally desired.

So, holding my breath, on the afternoon of closing (as various servicefolks wandered here and there), my contractor and I pulled up a corner of the carpet to see what we had. And the news is good!!


The floors are in great shape (a little paint splatter will sand off in the first second), nice oak, and even have a decorative inlay. I've seen this kind of floor before, but it's so much more than I was hoping for here!

BR3_floorsEven the back bedroom, which seems to be a later addition to the house (it's a shed over the kitchen, with siding), has a matching floor, although you can see a worn/damaged spot that will justify the refinishing plan (there's a similar spot that was under the bed in the master bedroom, presumably from a pet accident), and the hallway and stairs are all on board. So a savings and a win as well!

I will admit that I wish I'd seen all this a bit sooner. I tend toward the modern in picking my finish, and somehow that inlaid wood seems to ask for something else. Am considering putting an oiled bronze fixture in the dining room, just to bridge the stair railing and this somewhat historic floor style to the nickel I use everywhere else, but haven't yet decided. You gotta stay flexible in your vision when there are always so many unknowns in a house!

Last chunk of Before?

4: Basement

basement_stairsThis house has a finished basement, a relative rarity in Philadelphia. However, it was finished sometime in the mid-60s or 70s, and has remained locked in its vintage swinger glory. Already, looking down the steps you can see the dated paneling and dropped ceiling, all of which is continuous throughout the basement, and all of which has to go.

The basement is made up of two rooms, the first of which was being used for storage, and which includes a full bath (with stall shower) and laundry area, as well as a closet with the furnace et al. Large space, but continuous paneling + grim vinyl flooring mean this place needs an overhaul. The washer and dryer still worked just fine, but as you can see in the second photo, they're a little dated and beat up and need replacing to bring this zone up to date.

basement_front washer_dryer

gas_pipe_messWe're going to run rubber-backed carpet all through this part of the house, starting with the stairs, which will warm it up and civilize it quite a bit. The bathroom down here is lined with a kind of plastic wallboard, probably practical but pretty limiting in terms of look, and that will come out and be replaced with drywall. The washer-dryer area will stay cement, but just getting some of those crazy pipes out of the working space and into the walls will make it all look (and be!) a little less jury-rigged. I don't know what buyers might use the remaining open space for, but it could easily be an office or a playroom, so I might stage it in one of those ways, although obviously it's a great zone for storing stuff too.

basement_backThe other room down here was used as Party Central, complete with a bar with bottle rack on the wall and specialized sink, a bunch of high-top tables, saloon doors at the entrance, and a special vent for all the cigar smoke, I guess. I hope to find a nice hipster home for the vintage bar set, but otherwise this room is going to become a nice family room, with lots of space for a sectional and entertainment center (which will be helped by updating all the wiring and getting rid of all the illegal splices in the ceiling! yow). I love cozy spaces like this, and also hope that the basement will be a selling point for husbands in the way that kitchens and baths often are for wives -- will be inclining the decor a bit masculine to favor that interpretation. The soffit lighting has already been replaced with recessed cans, and all that lacy trim has moved along as well.

basement_bathThe bathroom will get an almost complete gut. Was going to just replace the toilet seat, but the color will hold me back and it's a little wobbly, so out it goes. Tiny vanity will go, and since this is really a secondary bathroom (and also has a large storage closet), I'm going to try a pedestal down here for a striking look -- somehow I have a dramatic vision for this little space, which has really gotten me enthusiastic as the parts have come together. I don't expect the stall shower to get much use so am going to leave it (as well as the pleasant white floor tile), with just a new showerhead to replace the rusty old one, but everything else will be modern and new. The images that captured my vision were these:


and they led to the selection of finishes shown below. basement_bath I'm disproportionately in love with the mirror shown here, which has a kind of mesh-metal look that seems to pull the rest of the room together. Picking the final color for the walls will be a bit nerve-wracking, as I'm much more inclined toward sunny neutrals on the whole, but I think the effect is going to be great (that black bathroom on the inspiration board blows me away!), so I'll just have to steel my nerve and plunge ahead.

And yes, in case you're wondering, I do put together idea boards like this for other rooms -- in fact, I have them for bathrooms and kitchens I started imagining for houses I never got under contract; they turn out to be useful as sources of ideas going forward, as well as in off-loading the brain buzz when I'm in high gear. Should be ordering most of these finishes this weekend, so we're off to the races!