June 05, 2009

Return of the Prodigal Blogger

OK, once again it has been months and months since I updated the blog. But, here I am, so I will pick up the "power update" of the work that we did during the first few years in the house. After moving in to the house and finally obtaining luxurious amenities like heat and a water-tight roof, our contractor excavated around the patio off the back of the house, and poured a concrete lip to protect the sills (below grade). I can't recall why we didn't just drop the grade of the patio at that point (which we still need to do at some point), but I think it was just a matter of being cheaper and more expedient. Not good reasons, but what can you do?

The early years also saw lots more painting of rooms, but thankfully not any major structural issues. There were a few cool projects along the way. Jenny's favorite story about our house restoration was one of these.

In our second or third year in the house, I found myself with some free time in early December. Having been unhappy with the water-stained drywall that made up our living room ceiling, I had, for some time, speculated to Jenny that there might be some nice beams underneath, like the ones that were exposed in the den. Eventually, with speculation turning to obsession, I had to take a look, and secured Jenny's permission to open a small hole in the ceiling. As Jenny describes it, she returned to our house that day to find me elated that there were, indeed, beautiful beams in the ceiling. She also found my definition of small to be approximately 6'x6'. I maintain that that was the smallest hole that would let me get a good view given the dim lighting, but I don't think that Jenny bought my story. Anyway, the entire ceiling was down within a few hours.

While I maintain that the project was well worth it, I will concede that my timing was less than perfect. This all took place about a week before we were due to have 100 or so of our closest friends descend on the house for our annual Christmas party. Happily, Jud, our contractor, managed to squeeze in the time to sheetrock and skim coat between the beams, leaving is with a ceiling that, I believe, only enhanced the festivity of our party. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Another key project during this time period was the restoration of our front door. The door is a beautiful, slightly squat, dutch door with eight raised panels. A beautiful hand wrought thumb latch was still in place, as were the original (I believe) strap hinges and pintles When we moved in, the door and its hardware were layered in paint, and the door had cracks in two of the panels that I could slide my hand through. Neither aesthetically pleasing, nor energy efficient. Despite the recommendation of one of my father-in-laws carpenters that we should toss it into a dumpster and buy a nice new aluminum door (Aaaaack!), we decided to have it restored to its original condition. After removing the door and having it stripped at a local establishment, we took the door to Paul Marlowe of Marlowe Restorations in Northford, CT. Paul disassembled the door, cleaned out two centuries of paint and dirt that were embedded around the panels, repaired the cracks with epoxy, and repaired a major splintered crack on one of the rails. The door was then reassembled and re-pegged. The door was primed and painted and I stripped and oiled all of the hardware (including the latch, which we left in place on the door as it was still attached by the original period nails, which we did not want to disturb). Hung back up, it looks amazing, and is a real focal point for the front of the house.

Other interior projects during this time included removing the mid-20th century built-ins in the living room to expose the original beaded wall behind it, and reglazing the old door at the back of our living room with 18th century glass panes purchased from Fairview Glass in Maryland.

Outside, we removed a large amount of rotting firewood from various locations around the property, created a perennial garden alongside the driveway and in a small area outside the dining room, and began the arduous process of reclaiming the property from overgrowth that had consumed much of the property in the preceding two decades. This entailed removing huge amounts of forsythia, poison ivy and vines that had grown unchecked under the not so watchful eye of the previous homeowners. By pushing back the forsythia in the backyard by about 40 feet, I was able to re-expose beautiful stone walls, and give some breathing room to the cherry and horse chestnut trees in the yard that had been largely obscured by the overgrowth. I also uncovered an old well of some sort about 15 feet from the back door. Although it was capped by concrete, there is a small plug that can be removed and inspection showed beautiful fieldstone masonry ringing the well form ground level down approximately eight feet. Definitely something that I want to explore at some point in search of artifacts.

For the most part, that is all of the work that made up Phase 1 of the restoration process, which was basically just an effort to stop the deterioration that appeared to have been taking place for the preceding 20 years, ensure that the house was structurally sound, and make the necessary upgrades to the systems that would let us live comfortably. In total, this took about four years, with the work occurring in fits and starts, as time, inspiration and money allowed. Hopefulyl, i will post an update on Phase 2, the bathroom addition, as well as some pictures in the near future.

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