Above picture is from 1938.

P and I have taken on a project that many have labeled as crazy. This c. 1920's Spanish Revival was a foreclosure that had been vacant for about 2 years. This blog is my attempt to document our renovations of what was once a grand old house. Maybe someday it will be again. Someday.

17 September 2011

The butler's pantry - better than we could have imagined!

When redesigning the kitchen, the only thing that remained (and I mean the ONLY thing) was the original butler's pantry cabinet that was located in what used to be the butler's pantry or breakfast room.  We took down the wall between the kitchen and the original butler's pantry room to make the kitchen larger and more usable.  We both agreed that the butler's pantry cabinet was a keeper.  It is a huge floor to ceiling cabinet with solid doors on the bottom and what we think were glass doors on the top.  However, the glass that was in the middle was gone when we bought the house.  In it's place was chicken wire. 
Our dream from the beginning was to have leaded glass panels made for each of the four doors.  We, however, are not gifted in that area of leaded glass.  We thought this dream would have to wait indefinitely.  Our friend J was helping us paint one day and reminded us that her mom was a leaded glass artist and she said she would see if she might be willing to help.  J said her mom would love to help and to send her a pattern we liked.  We sent Mrs. B a picture of a pattern we liked and she and Mr. B spent weeks building the doors.  Here is the cabinet ready for the doors:
And here is a leaded glass panel in Mr. and Mrs. B's shop:
And here is a panel in a door:
P and I would like to say a special thanks to Mr. and Mrs. B for their incredible work for us on this project.  If I remember right, there are 408 pieces of cut glass between the four doors.  We are so thankful for them and their help!  Thanks guys!
Stay tuned for the finished product.  I'm in the process of sanding and painting the door frames now so that we can add the leaded glass.  Hopefully soon... I have two sanded.

08 September 2011

We've moved in!

I am aware that it has been several months since my last post.  But here is an update.  At the end of July, P and I moved into what we lovingly call the haunted mansion.  We decided to hire movers and we were moved in a day.  It was a long day, but it feels great to finally be living here.  We've got a long way to go and a lot of projects on the list, but we're stepping back from this project for a while and back to paying work.  Here are some pictures of rooms that are mostly there.
Kitchen with P's food ready to cook!

P's favorite appliance (and mine too)

Fireplace (with portable a/c) in living room

Living room

26 May 2011

Sheetrock, tornadoes and crazy schedules

It's been a long time since my last post.  Things in our world have been crazy the last two months.  After the April 27 tornadoes, P and I (mostly P) have been involved with Grace's Kitchen (www.graceskitchen.org) in serving meals to folks in Pleasant Grove and Cordova, AL. That has slowed down progress somewhat as our time has been split between serving meals and working on the house.  However, since my last post many good things have happened.  Sheetrock has been hung, finished, and painted (mostly).  It's amazing how much difference finishing the walls and ceilings makes.


The kitchen has come along way.  The walls and ceilings are mostly done (with the exception of some trim), the hardwood floors are installed, the cabinets are installed and the countertops are in!  This all seemed to happen so quickly.  The floors are engineered hardwood glued down on the concrete/tile subfloor.  This was my first experience with gluing hardwoods and it is a messy and slow process.  It came together well and it looks great.

I bought the cabinets online as ready-to-assemble (RTA) cabinets.  Basically, you get a major reduction in cost when you buy standard sized cabinets and assemble them yourself.  Much of traditional cabinet cost are in shipping/assembly/installation.  With the RTA cabinets, I was able to save enough money to get P's dream countertops.  The cabinets are espresso stained shaker-style and are surprisingly well constructed.  I did order a sample door before I bought the set to be sure we would be happy with the look.  We went with no upper cabinets as there is very little wall space for upper cabinets because of all the windows.  This made the installation easier.  We also modified the refrigerator cabinet to add a shelf for P's cookbooks. 

Since we started the project P has dreamed of Alabama white marble countertops.  I was very skeptical about marble based on all I read about it - expensive, stains easily, chips easily, etc.  P has always wanted marble and it is really good looking.  It also fits well with the age and style of the house.  I agreed to at least price it out and see how much it would cost.  We set a budget prior to looking and when we priced it out, it came out to almost exactly to what we'd budgeted.  P assures me that it will change color with use, but that is the charm and look that marble is supposed to have.  We'll see how it ages, but right now it looks great. 

04 April 2011

Cover charge

When we bought the house, the floors in the living room and dining room were laminate hardwoods.  These were obviously not original and were beginning to buckle in several areas.  When we removed the laminate we found quarter inch plywood.  Under that was the original hardwoods, or should I say, what was left of the original hardwoods.  They had been completely destroyed by termites.  Ugh.  In fact, they were still feasting on them when we began to pull them up.  They had eaten the hardwoods, the subfloor and the floor supports that the subfloor was attached to. 
Laminate floor          

Subfloor destroyed by termites  
Under the subfloor were 2x4s laid on end on the ground. The termites then made their way into the 2x4s, the subfloor and then the hardwoods. 
Channels in the dirt where 2x4s were laid.

We decided to remove all the wood that was touching ground and pour a new concrete slab in the living room and dining room.  This is the best way to prevent the termites from feasting on the new flooring.  I decided to pay a professional concrete finisher to handle this job.  It was nice to watch other people work...

New concrete slab just after pouring.
 We are going to put engineered hardwood floors on the concrete.  The new concrete and an active termite bond should help prevent these little creatures from causing more damage.

26 March 2011

Filling the hole

In the former butler's pantry (now part of the new kitchen) there was a hole in the wall  We were told that the the hole was made by the former owner for a window air conditioner.  The old casement windows have openings that are too small for an A/C unit to fit, so they tore out a 2'x2' hole in the the 14" thick concrete wall.  When we bought the house the hole was covered with plywood on the inside and outside. 

We removed the plywood to do a permanent repair of the hole.  When we removed the plywood we found this:
We decided to fill it back in with concrete block.  The challenge was that the concrete block made in 1925 is sized different than today's typical 8" or 12" block.  We had to trim 8" block to fit the opening.  It took a little time and trial and error, but we ended up with a pretty good fix.  We're going to have to add a layer of brick to the inside to make up the difference in width, but it came out pretty well.  A nice layer of stucco on the outside will make it perfect.

16 March 2011

P finds a mural

In preparing for new paint in the master bedroom, P began to chip away some peeling paint from above the fireplace.  She found some strange colors behind the peach/tan wall color.  She kept peeling and chipping away and look what she began to uncover....

It appears to be a tropical scene with palm trees and water.  Picture Panama City spring break 1986 airbrush tee shirt.  She has since uncovered a sailing ship and additional trees.  We have no idea when this mural was painted or by whom.  We are continuing to chip away to see what else we can find.  It looks like it may have been painted to be a window looking out onto the "beach."  We are hopeful that there might be a signature. 

12 March 2011

Flat Roof? Seriously?

When we first saw her back in the Summer of 2010, one of the first things I noticed was that much of the roof was flat.  I have often wondered why in the world a flat roof was ever considered a good idea.  After this experience, I have concluded that it isn't.  The flat portion is about 20' x 20' and appeared to be in marginal shape.  I hoped that we could limp it along for a few years before replacement.  After observing during the first rain, that was clearly not an option.  So we waited for a extended dry (and warm) spell so we could remove and reroof.  Thankfully, February arrived with an extended warm and dry period.  Dad and I came up with a plan to add slope to the formerly flat roof.  Our plan required a complete removal of the old roof and decking.  That seemed easy.  We began removal on Monday morning.  We quickly found out that there were 6-7 layers of roofing!  We spent the next two days (planned for a couple of hours) removing the layers and the decking.  The decking, strangely, was made of cedar boards of various shapes and sizes.  It appeared to be made out of scrap wood from other projects.  The house does have three cedar closets, so perhaps they had some leftovers.  We then split the 20' length in half and installed a 2"x6" ridge board.  We then ripped 10' 2x6's at a taper, with the 51/2" (for those who may not know, a 2"x6" board is actually 11/2"x51/2") end at the ridge board and the tapered end at the roof edge.  This is to add some slope to the roof and prevent water from standing (standing water + old 7 layer roof = leaks).  We then decked the roof with plywood decking (not cedar), #30 tar paper, rolled asphalt roofing and lots of sticky black tar.  We chose to use white rolled asphalt roofing to help keep the attic cooler.  You can't see the flat part of the roof from anywhere on the ground, so the color didn't matter.  Six days after starting and 5,000 lbs of debris later, we have a new roof!  Two days after finishing we had some strong storms with 60+ mph winds.  I was a little concerned going back the next morning to see how the roof survived, but I was excited to see that the roof was still there and there were no signs of leaks!  Now we can move toward drywall...

Old roof
Old roof from hatch

Roof removal

Dad adding decking over new tapered roof rafters

Mom ripping out old decking

26 February 2011

Trash or Treasure? Answer: Treasure

I put one of the Strobl tiles on Ebay just to see what would happen.  It sold for $20.50.  Not quite the $275.00 that I've seen, but I also didn't try hard.  There were several people watching the auction and I had quite a few inquiries.  When I get more time, I'm going to put a little more into research and see if I can do even better.  The good news is I have alot of them, so even at $20 a pop, it's not too bad!

$20.50 tile

11 February 2011

Trash or Treasure?

Strobl tile rescued from the trash

Strobl name on back of tile    

P and I have thought since the first time we saw our house that somebody really loved tile and not in a good way.  It turns out that what we thought of as a bad use of random tile turns out to be a bad use of random tile including some Strobl art tile manufactured somewhere between 1910-1920 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  While that probably means nothing to you (or me, until the internet- thanks Al), it turns out that some Strobl tiles are actually valuable.  The one pictured above was where the search began.  While at the dump unloading yet another 3,000 lbs load of trash (we're up to ~25k lbs so far), I saw this tile in the trailer.  I noticed it was in one piece so I picked it up.  Then I noticed it had a name on the back.  When I got home I looked it up and this is what I found...

 This is picture two of the same tiles that I found in the trash.  They sold in 2008 (2 tiles in frame) for $275.00!  Now I know that doesn't mean they are worth that now, but I have ALOT of them.  I took down at least 10 just like these today from the master bathroom. 

Of course with this new information, our demo methods have changed dramatically.  Unfortunately, we've lost some of the tiles in the demo before we knew what we had, but we are being much more careful from this point on.  With that being said, we are still not able to save all tiles because of the way they are attached.  I've worked the last two days with a diamond blade on a side-wheel grinder and have managed to save many more tiles than with our previous sledge hammer method. It is dusty, loud, and labor intensive work to save these tiles, but it is worth it whether or not they have a high dollar value.  I'm enjoying saving these handcrafted pieces of art.
Me with the grinder in a dust cloud (master bath)

So I know I said that the bad use of random tile was prolific and it was, but now I have a greater appreciation for the actual tiles.  Not saying that now I think they look good in their present configuration, just that I have a greater appreciation for what they are as individual pieces. Our plans now are to frame some of the tiles as artwork and maybe use some of the broken pieces to make a tile mosaic in the fountain.  And of course, if there is a market, sell some to finance this project.

Master Bath treasures

Work on the demo of the master bath is ongoing.  Tiles are coming off the walls and walls are coming down.  We've also made some interesting and helpful discoveries.  When removing the wall between the original bathroom and the closet, we found some old newspapers and burlap bags wrapped around the water pipes for the sink!  The newspaper was a portion of the Birmingham News from April 1, 1926 and April 6, 1926.  It included the sports section and the classified section.  Some parts were not readable and in bad condition due to the fact that they had been wadded up and stuck in the wall for the last 85 years.  Some parts were in surprisingly good condition.  I hope to get some pictures of them soon.  The best part of the paper is that is helps us date the house.  There are alot of discrepancies with the date of the house.  The tax records say c. 1935, but our neighbor says that she heard 1913 from some research done by the previous owners.  We now know that c. 1926 is a possibility too.  Much more research is in my future, but finding buried treasure makes all the physical work fun. 

When removing the wall behind the toilet, we found some more newspapers!  This one was a paper from Jackson, MS c. 1926.  I haven't gone through it yet, but it appears to be in good condition and actually has a Birmingham mailing label on it.  More research....

The two burlap bags were in almost perfect condition.  They appear to be the bags that the original interior plaster came in.  They are printed with the words "USG Co."  I think it stands for U.S. Gypsum Company (still in existence), maker of plaster and now drywall.

31 January 2011

Wall repair

During our renovations, we found some old termite damage.  While repairing this damage, we were able to open up the existing 24" door opening to a 32" door opening.  This should add some light and easier access from the hall to the kitchen.

new wall after repair

new wall in progress

view from hallway into kitchen with newly expanded doorway

30 January 2011

Hall ceiling removal

Due to water damage from years of roof leaks, the ceiling plaster in the downstairs hallway and stairwell needed to be removed.  This allowed us to check for damage to the upstairs floor joists and evaluate the plumbing situation in the master bath from underneath.  The removal process was dusty and exhausting, but we're hopeful that this is the last of the plaster removal.  We'll now be able to more easily update the master bath plumbing and more easily gain access to the wiring for the upstairs.

View of hallway from outside

plaster removal

floor joists

a dusty job

cutting out the wire lath holding plaster

N.H. in her personal protective equipment

21 January 2011

New Windows

There are 25 windows in the house.  They are 85 year old steel, casement windows that, while cool with their wavy glass and historic appeal, are inefficient and drafty and are difficult to open.  We knew when we bought that new windows would be a necessity.  In round one of new windows, we replaced seven of the 25.  We replaced all the front windows and the windows in the kitchen.  We now have to save up for round two and three (and possibly four...).  The new windows are great.  We decided to go back with casement windows in order to stay with the character of the house.  They cost a bit more, but we both think they will be worth it in the long run.  We also splurged and got the double pane, low-e glass to hopefully help with the utility bills.  Perhaps the best feature of the new windows is how much quieter the house is.  The interstate is just a low rumble.
upper windows removed
 front windows removed
upper window
Amityville Horror
kitchen windows removed
new kitchen windows
new front windows