For a house from 1875, this place is extremely lacking in charm.
Publish date:
October 23, 2012

By mid-March, things began lightening up some (weather-wise at least), which meant we could get some much-needed work done outside. Like a pair of old leather boots, a house can crack and even earn itself some holes. I don’t know if that seems weird to anyone else, but it’s, like, really? Holes in brick? And, to my surprise, also like worn leather, you just patch it up.

You know, after whipping up some cement in the ol’ mixing pan, by hand.

This was something I actually had experience doing. I once found myself in Cuba doing masonry. It was a surreal two weeks.

The brickpointers we hired were supposed to take care of all these little brick holes, but as time lagged on, D got annoyed and took on the leftover masonry, while ranting about slipping work ethics.

And then he tore down the chimney out of boredom.

Just kidding. Much like everything else around here, it was rotting and still stuffed with old soot and ash. It didn’t actually end in a fireplace, so ripping it down didn’t take away any "charm" -- it just resulted in a mess of bricks. By the way, and I’m just going to say it, for a house from 1875, this place is extremely lacking in charm.

Beyond creating a brick pile that needed to be cleaned up, we also now had a chimney that needed to be bricked back up. Which D did simply using cinderblock. It could have been done again with brick, but that’s more time consuming.

By now we had pretty much turned every crevice of the house inside out except the vinyl cornice. This was a small overhang that was mostly for looks, although it was helpful in rain so it didn’t dump right onto you when standing at the front door.

We wanted to rip it off because the vinyl was ugly, to put it simply. We knew the original cornice underneath would be wood, but its condition would be impossible to know unless we took it off. We’d been imaging it would be wonderful and preserved and elaborate and a slice of that charm we had been seeking.

Then we ripped it off. And we stopped wondering. And we stopped hoping.

It was rotted out.

Not only was it a bummer to find a bunch of rotted wood atop our house, it also added another project to the ever-expanding to-do list. Speaking of which, around this time a sledgehammer was taken to a strong majority of the concrete in the front and back yards, resulting in dirty patches (which persist today, gottogetonthat).

We did this because the existing concrete was cracked, sloped and generally busted up. It may have been a tad perfectionist to do this, but we felt like we were working so hard to get everything just right, and it felt cheap to overlook it. Which is sort of funny, because it damn well indeed would have been CHEAPER TO JUST LEAVE IT ALONE.

Also, our backyard became the dumping/holding ground for whatever leftover wood we took out of the house. We aimed to reuse as much as possible as we continued building. Have I mentioned that? Beyond just trying to make this house livable, we were gunning to make it as green as possible on our budget, which included reusing anything we could.

We did use a bit of that wood to block off the path between our front and back yard to ward of any potential revisiting thieves. We iced the cake with a bit of barbed wire. Coincidence or not, we didn’t experience any more break-in troubles after this door and sign went up. I guess if you’re a thief in the night, it’s better not to take chances on things like potential pit bulls.

So while the exterior was busy getting all cracked up, there was actually the beginnings of a, gasp, actual building inside. For starts, the joists were replaced so we could lay down a floor on the second story. It was a true thrill to be able to walk upstairs again without hopping gaping holes.

With the subflooring laid, it meant we could actually get to work proper up there. Like framing and installing windows (neither of which I personally did). I cannot express how annoying, not to mention heavy, it was to unscrew and then screw back in the giant pieces of wood that covered all 14 windows in the house -- which were our main source of light -- every day.

When we ripped off the kitchen, we realized the entire downstairs would have to remain open. The house wasn’t big enough to warrant space-taking walls that would divide it into pint-sized rooms. We do have really high ceilings though, and keeping everything open down there seemed like the best way to maximize space (or at least the illusion of it) and light, which we were missing because of winter weather. Another plus to this decision was saving of time and cost. It meant we didn’t need to build any additional framing or walls, but rather just line the perimeter of the downstairs.

We opted to use metal for framing downstairs. Wood is a more traditional framing material, and cheaper. BUT, I guess we were scarred by all the rotting and mold in the house. Metal doesn’t rot and bow the way wood can. It’s also a lot lighter than wood framing, which makes it easier to carry and work with.

When framing went in upstairs, it actually felt like real progress, as it officially mapped out the rooms, and I don’t know, started to feel like a house?

New windows followed the flooring and framing. It was almost bizarre feeling. Four and a half months in, and we still had a boarded up house with no electricity or plumbing. Everything was covered in tools, sawdust and dirt. I peed in a bucket. This place was rudimentary, at best. But then, it was like the Earth seemed to shift and things started to come together. Like we had a shot of actually building a real, live house.

The light that came bursting through the new windows was nearly magical. Truly, it had been so dark, had felt so dark leading up to this. There are seven large windows downstairs, and the light kind of mesmerized us, like coming up from a cave all pale faced and thirsty.

It was a rosy lapse in a swirl of chaos, because once these items were in place, we were able to keep going with building: electricity, plumbing, insulation, heating -- a bunch of things that need to be done before walls can even go up. And, let’s be serious, a house just doesn’t feel like a house without some walls. I was anxious to have real rooms and things to paint.

But of course, we had to fire the electrician/plumber, pretend the black-market permits never happened, and find a contractor to do the heating system (you need a permit for this). So while all the activity leading up to this was exciting, it was also a launching pad into even more chaos.