Anyone who has ever attempted to live in, love, and repair an old house, or has seen movies such as The Money Pit, will appreciate this post, and other ones to come about old house restoration / preservation.
This year has been the year of the kitchen renovation at our 1840’s Federal style brick home. When we started the project in March, we thought it would take a month-or-two. Ha! 15 years into working on this house and we’re still optimists! Now, 9 months later, we’re just rounding the bend on the ‘few more things’ that need to be done. My husband and I have agreed that finishing this project will be the best Christmas gift we could give to each other.
I’m going to put up a lot of pictures, because this story is best told visually. I wish I had a really great picture or two of what the kitchen looked like for all the years we lived and cooked in the house, but alas, what I have is not digital, and my photo boxes are buried somewhere in the house.
Yes, that is my stove/oven. It is a 1929 New Process that my husband rescued from his grandmother’s house back in the 1970’s, put in storage, and was thankful when he had an old house to put it in, and a young wife naive enough to agree to use it to cook. Kidding aside, it’s always worked great, and I look forward to using it again when the kitchen is back together.
But what you should really be looking at in the picture are the plaster walls that had been covered with vinyl flooring behind the sink and Cinnamon MDF wood paneling everywhere else. The squiggly lines on the wall are the glue marks from the paneling. Also, look down at the floor to see the vinyl self-stick squares stuck down to sheet linoleum, stuck down to hardwood floor.
A plaster ceiling covered a Cyprus wood ceiling that had been painted. This is the third wood ceiling we’ve uncovered. There are two reasons these wood ceilings were covered: (1) fashions changed and wood ceilings went out of style around the turn of the century and (2) with good reason because soot and debris easily filters down from the space above the ceiling, then in between the boards, and down into the room. How do I know this second for a fact? Wood ceiling #1. After uncovering it we spent years vacuuming up coal dust and debris from our carpet and bed (yeah!) until we got into the attic above, completely cleaned it out, then laid down plastic and insulation.
Something we noticed when we bought the house was that the window and door frames were recessed into the walls. Why would this be? Because, and I hope I don’t crush anyone’s rose colored glasses, not everyone in the ‘olden days’ had a good work ethic.
In this picture what you see are the layers of brick wall, original plaster, wall paper, wood lathe strips, and ‘new’ plaster (which is on the floor at this point). What it means is that the original plaster got into bad shape, and instead of repairing this plaster (which BTW helps hold the mortar and bricks together) they took the easy way out and simply nailed in new lath strips and covered them with a new coat of plaster. The trouble with this method of ‘fixing’ the walls is that the old plaster is still turning to sand behind the new plaster. Cover the new plaster with non-breathable MDF panels and/or vinyl flooring, and you’ve got a moisture trap speeding the decay.
Beauty shot of the wall paper under the ‘false’ plaster wall. We do our best to document these types of discoveries with photographs, and save pieces when possible.
Above and below pictures of one of the two windows in this kitchen. There was no ‘original’ plaster left under the false wall in this section of the room. The mortar had turned to sand, and the bricks under the window were just dry stacked on top of eachother.
I should also mention that this window is on the back wall of the house, and it is the only wall to have ever been stuccoed on the outside, which was another clue when we bought the house that a problem had been ‘covered over’ instead of fixed right. The external stucco was the only thing holding this wall together. We felt very lucky that the wall had not collapsed.
But, on the bright side, in the top photo, just above the curtain rod, you can see a hand hewn beam. Hand hewn beam!!!! Its days of service as part of the wall’s structure are over, but we reused it elsewhere and you’ll see it again.
My husband contemplating the near disaster we’d avoided by being the type of restorationists/preservationists with enough curiosity to go deeper than simply redecorating the surfaces that showed. In this picture note the door, especially above the door. Looks fine, right?
So, this picture shows you two things: (1) We took down the Cyprus wood ceiling. With the sad state of the brick below the ceiling line, we had to see what it was like above. I’d always told my husband my vision for this kitchen included a vaulted ceiling, something to which he’d never agreed until we started the tear out, and saw how bad everything was. So, hey – the silver lining to needing to repair all the brick was I got my wish with the vaulted ceiling! Wait till you see how sweet it looks!
Do you remember how above the door looked fine a picture up? Here it is again, with the slumping brick and header exposed.
Take away the slumping brick and what do you have? Daylight! The board was put there to keep birds and bats out until we could get the wood header and brick back in place.
Just a good long shot of one of the temporary support beams put in place to hold up the joists. Here you can also see the roof rafters – the 12″ wide boards would be original to the structure, and above them are the pressed wood sheeting the roofing shingles are attached to. An interesting side note is that my husband and his helper figured out is that this ‘room’ was a entirely separate building at some point in time.
We’d discovered earlier that the basement under this kitchen had a cooking fireplace, and so determined it must have been the summer kitchen, but can only guess what the room above was used for. Our best guess? Slave quarters. According to the abstract we received with the house, just before the start of the civil war, the owner, Beverly Lee, went bankrupt, loosing the house, farm land, a carriage and team of horses, and nine slaves to settle his debts. His name is carved into a closet door under the house’s main staircase.
Last picture for this post. This shows the brick above the ceiling line. This is the only internal wall, so while it did need some tuck-pointing, and was very dirty and covered in wasp nests, it was the best wall in the room.
Next post will show the rebuilding.