Sneak Preview: Living Room

Not “done” yet, but here’s a sneak peek at the living room.

“Before” pictures (when house was fully occupied and in its prime). Note the sorry condition of the wood floor:

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Room emptied out by landlord and painted white (poorly):

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In the middle of floor refinishing.  A day of belt sanding, staining, and 4 coats of polyurethane:

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Today.  Still needs decorating, window treatments, pictures/art hung, etc. but it’s a living room.  The floor came out pretty well if I may say so myself:

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Ad-Hoc Engineering?

Got a few more updates in the queue. We’ve been spending lots of time priming, painting, refinishing floors and moving in and unpacking lately, and not so much time updating the blog. In the mean time here are some pictures of janky rigs found in the house. In an earlier entry I posted the picture of the 4×4 spanning a few tiles in the drop ceiling grid and constituting “support” for the front room ceiling fan. These are a couple more things along those lines.

It appears that the basement stairs are held up by whatever random scraps of lumber were found at some point and nailed/screwed together:

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The second floor bathroom is right above the first floor bathroom but shifted a little bit and with part of a staircase in between. As a result, the path for the water supply and waste from the 2nd floor had to go through a bump-out under the stairs and overhead in the 1st floor bathroom at a weird angle. As you can see, they got a little creative with the pipe path (the water supply zig-zag is particularly lovely). I had to open up the wall and do some repair because the pipe had a slow drip leak (easily fixed):

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Some demolition

Lots of sawzalling, dust, and debris over the past few days.

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Knocking down the wall/doorway on the 2nd floor blocking off the overlook down the stairs really opens it up and makes it seem like a single family home again.  No more dark and foreboding cramped upstairs hallway!

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Tearing out the useless closet in what was a bedroom, but will be the dining room, will allow us to open up the space to the kitchen so you can actually walk in when the refrigerator is open.  Unfortunately it technically subtracts one bedroom from the overall count of the house (no closet = can’t be counted as a bedroom).

Brief update: Lead abatement, exterior light fixture, interior electrical work

Nothing particularly glamorous or picture-worthy going on, but we are hard at work still.  The first order of business is preparing the living spaces we are going to be living in initially.  These are the living room, temporary master bedroom (beautiful large sun-drenched room with a bay-window on the second floor), dining room, and to some extent the 2nd-floor kitchen we will be using while we remodel the 1st floor kitchen.

Before the fun stuff like painting, and knocking down walls, and refinishing floors, the first two tasks have been lead paint abatement and some basic electrical work.  The previous owner(s) replaced all window and door casings throughout the house, so lead paint was not a problem there.  However, all of the baseboards, and any exposed original wood (the entire stairway, two rather ugly mantlepieces, some closet interiors) tested positive for lead paint.  This is about what we expected when buying the house.

The mantlepieces are just getting ripped out (exposing multiple layers of vintage, but hideous and stained wallpaper underneath):

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The baseboards (initially just in the living room and bedroom before we move in next week) are getting stripped down to the wood with much paint stripper and manual labor:

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The stairway reconstruction is an “after-move-in” project, and the only parts we plan to keep of the existing stairway are the stringers (maybe), so we’ll tackle that lead abatement then.

One of my pet peeves about this house was the lack of any exterior light fixtures (certainly makes coming and going out the back door tricky at night), and the janky installation of fixtures and fans inside in boxes not designed to support weight.  When I carved out some siding to install the new rear motion-sensing light I found some wacky fibrous fake-brick siding underneath the vinyl:

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And when I removed the ceiling fan from the bedroom (which was destroying the plaster ceiling and medallion) to put in a new light fixture, I found a type of old electrical box/fitting that I’d never seen before:

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Instead of a box, it just has a center threaded post that goes all the way down.  I was able to rig up something with bolts and a bracket that’s enough to hold the basic light that’s there now.  I do need to spruce it up with some more plaster and possibly a decorative box / collar between the ceiling and the fixture.

Also of note, in areas where we are painting and moving in immediately, I’m replacing all wall outlets with plastic receptacle boxes and new tamper-resistant plugs, and rewiring any remaining cloth wiring.  Here’s a great example of some of the previous retrofit electrical work in the house.  This certainly is one way to run a new outlet on the first floor from a junction box in the basement.  Why couldn’t they have just drilled literally one inch further to the left and fished through the wall (which is what I did last night to fix it?):

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So, all in all not the most exciting update.  Paint stripping and electrical work might finish today.  More exciting things coming soon:

  • Tearing out the closet from the corner of the dining room (was being used as a bedroom)
  • Tearing out a wall on the second floor overhanging the stairwell (was there so an exterior door could be installed separating the duplex into two units)
  • Painting
  • Floor finishing
  • Moving (a week from Tuesday)!

Hidden Gems

So here are a couple of “hidden gems” we’ve found already in the new (old) house.

 

First of all, check out this monstrous plaster ceiling medallion in the downstairs front room.  It has one huge crack in it, but is otherwise in decent shape.  Of course, the rest of that ceiling is completely falling apart due to the fact that the drop ceiling was just tied up to the lathe and the celing fan was hanging from a 4×4 sitting on top of the drop ceiling.  It’s going to take a lot of work to re-construct and replaster that room, but the medallion will be a nice reward.

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And here is a groovy looking push-button switch on the way down to the basement.  I shudder to think what type of crusty wiring awaits when I pull that plate off the wall, but these buttons make the most satisfying click you could imagine.  I hope to find some place/way to incorporate the switch into the house (just with some more modern wiring) eventually.

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And this gem is more of a turd, actually.  I’m not sure how you could fail worse to install siding, there’s actually a large horizontal gap underneath the first floor kitchen window that’s probably been letting water, ice, and snow in between the siding and the structure for years.  I’m sure there will be all sorts of unpleasantness underneath there when the siding and exterior work commences next year.  For now though, there is no water damage on the sill there, the foundation is good, and the inside of that wall is ok.  So a bottle of “great stuff” foam has sealed it up until we hire the siding and exterior work contractors after winter.

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First Post And Before Pictures

Before going into too many details, I figured it’s time to post some before pictures.  Lots more to come, but here are some “before pictures” of the great old dame that we just bought on Columbia St. in Cambridge, MA.

The full story will be coming up in the next blog post, but the absentee landlord had died, and it was being rented out some friends and acquaintances of mine when I first found out about the property.  Most of them eventually moved out, leaving some more unsatisfied tenants.

As you can see by the fire damage, it turned into a classic story of the “wealthy” moving in and removing “affordable” housing for a bunch of people barely paying any rent to live in a house that was falling apart by that point — and that’s unfortunate.  But, as I said, more on that later.

We’ve got our work cut out for us, but this house built in 1891, with 1991 sq. ft. (not counting the finished attic) is officially ours August 20th.

Front Hallway

Front Hallway

Front Entry / Stairs

Front Entry / Stairs

1st Floor Front Room (occupied)

1st Floor Front Room (occupied)

Living Room (bike on ceiling)

Living Room (bike on ceiling)

First Floor Kitchen

First Floor Kitchen

Living Room (occupied)

Living Room (occupied)

Upstairs Hallway

Upstairs Hallway

View Down The Stairs

View Down The Stairs

Dining Room

Dining Room

First Floor Bathroom

First Floor Bathroom

Dining Room (occupied)

Dining Room (occupied)

2nd Floor Front Bedroom (occupied)

2nd Floor Front Bedroom (occupied)

2nd Floor bathroom

2nd Floor bathroom

2nd Floor rear bedroom fire damage

2nd Floor rear bedroom fire damage

2nd Floor Rear Bedroom

2nd Floor Rear Bedroom

2nd Floor Rear Bedroom (smoke damage)

2nd Floor Rear Bedroom (smoke damage)

2nd Floor Front Bedroom (unoccupied)

2nd Floor Front Bedroom (unoccupied)

2nd Floor Front "closet"

2nd Floor Front “closet”

Attic Left Room

Attic Left Room

Attic Right Room

Attic Right Room

2nd Floor "dining room" (occupied)

2nd Floor “dining room” (occupied)

2nd Floor Kitchen (and rear stairs and bathroom)

2nd Floor Kitchen (and rear stairs and bathroom)

Down Attic Stairs

Down Attic Stairs

Up Attic Stairs (with skylight)

Up Attic Stairs (with skylight)

Basement (occupied)

Basement (occupied)

Back Yard (occupied)

Back Yard (occupied)

Rear Basement

Rear Basement

House From Street

House From Street