No Guts, No Glory

Oh what a week it's been! On Saturday we had the Taper walk through the house with us to talk about what in the world we could do with our beyond-cracked ceilings and walls.  We were pretty certain that the upstairs was beyond help (the ceiling in our bedroom resembled the state lines in a map of of the USA) but we were uncertain about what to do with the now acoustic-tileless ceilings downstairs. Plus where the old roof had ostensibly been leaking its freaking face off there was more of that adorable mold on the plaster on the north side of the house under each window.  Oh! And the giant holes in the two smaller bedrooms.  And the crumbly plaster over the fireplace...So yeah, we had a few questions.  As predicted, the Taper's advice was simple: gut it.

I happen to quite like plaster- I think it has character that drywall can't imitate,  plus it's great for sound insulation.  When we bought the house my strong inclination was to try to save as much plaster as feasibly possible to keep the integrity of the house's aesthetic.  But a funny thing happens when you sign on the dotted line and take ownership of a place- you start thinking about the stuff you can't see. You think about it A LOT. You think about termites and rusty pipes and asbestos and creeping crawling lurking issues that are just waiting until you and your babies are all snuggly moved into the place and you've spent your last 2k on a fancy fridge to rear their ugly heads.  Long story short, after the overwhelming impression we've reached that this house has been neglected for at least 30 years, we needed to know what was going on in there.  And since they don't make an MRI machine big enough, that meant getting the old walls off so's we could see what we could see.  Plus once the walls were open we could re-wire the seriously scary outlets and insulate and all that good stuff.

So we made a compromise- instead of gutting the whole thing stem to stern as the Taper suggested, we kept the foyer intact -the plaster in there is in the best shape and I truly feel like it's the part of the house with the most innate character. Oh, and then there's the fact that it's one less place for us to spend money. Yeah- that might have something to do with it too.  We also left the upstairs hallway, and, if you can believe it, the back room of hideous blue and brown flowers and stripes.  Wait- I haven't showed you the famous blue room? How could I have left it off??! Here you go:
To quote my brother, "Dang.  That is so ugly it's almost back in style."
That room has, if you can believe it, the most current reno on it- it's got modern wiring and the walls are very much intact.  Also, it's current life will be as my work-from-home office, so it frankly doesn't warrant the money to love it up.

But everything else is out, baby.  The next step was figuring out just how to make said gut-job happen. Gavin was more than willing to do most of the filthy job himself, but he only has 2 weeks off coming from work, and he is only one man.  I have next to no time what with the kids and work, and even if the two of us worked 12 hours a day I don't think we could even begin to make a dent in two measly weeks.  So we decided to call for some quotes to see if we couldn't get a crew of guys in to knock the whole job out and cart away the resulting garbage while they were at it.  

We called a few guys and got demoralizingly expensive estimates- literally all of our budget's worth of money just to destroy the house we were trying to fix.  We were just resolving ourselves to doing the work as best we could with whatever friends and family we could bamboozle into helping us when the sky parted, a perfect shaft of sunlight broke through the clouds, and standing in that light was a wee man named Israel.

He was recommended to us from friends of my Mom who swore by him; we had little faith at this point that we could afford anyone but figured it couldn't hurt to have one more guy take a look. He's a small, soft-spoken man of very few words.  He listened patiently while I told him how I wanted to save as much of the molding as I could, and unlike the men who came before him, he didn't tell me it wasn't worth saving and I should just "buy some new molding at Home Depot". He agreed that the foyer was fine to save and just needed a little polish coat to fix some minor cracks. He walked around the place with me for about 15 minutes, took notes in a little spiral notebook, and then proceeded to quote us a quarter of the price of all the other contractors. He told me he knew we were on a budget, and he could also see we had plenty of projects for him in the future, so essentially, he was giving us a break(!).  I almost couldn't shake his hand fast enough, and by THE NEXT DAY,  he had a crew of guys and a dumpster in our driveway, and the great gut began (forgot my camera so excuse crappy cell-phone pics):

Our scary-full dumpster.  Almost 6 TONS of plaster and lathe.

Dining Room- they pulled the mantle off and saved it! :)
Notice the window INSIDE the living room wall from when it was part of the porch.  
Dining Room Some More- that's all molding they saved.
Some will be re-usable, some won't, but we'll find a purpose for all of it...
Pocket Door.  Still in Pocket. :)
Wesley's (?) Room
The Bathroom.  It actually looks better this way...
Really, if you have never experienced demo-ing plaster and lathe, it is one of the most backbreaking, dirty jobs imaginable- dust, heavy lifting (plaster weighs 85lbs a cubic foot, btw), lead paint- you name it.  Israel's crew worked like freaking machines and in just a couple of days accomplished more than we could have in a month.  Amazing.  Suffice it to say, if you need a good reccommendation for work on your house, drop me a line- I have a guy.

In other news (cause, like, taking the guts out of the entire house isn't enough for one week) the guys came back to do the aforementioned tar-job on the chimney.  They climbed up there and then called to Gavin who was standing on the ground below.  One guy took his pinky finger and with it pushed over one whole corner of bricks on our chimney.  Basically, the whole bloody thing is shot.  New chimney must be built.  For a fireplace that, as it turns out, was coal-burning and so will not be able to be used for wood any damn way(maybe gas one day?). There goes another 2.5k out the window.  Awesomesauce.

But! On a happier note! We actually completed something! You may recall that our prior cellar door was an experiment in rust and debris covered over by a tarp and bug larvae? Yes? Well, with the help of my wonderful Uncle Andrew, Gavin replaced it with a strong, clean new door.  One thing can be officially checked off the master list.  We'll take small satisfactions where we can get them:
Old Crap Doors!

New Wonder-Doors!

Uncle Emerging Like Handy Bear From Cave!
Yeah, so it's been a pricey, exhausting week.  But we have a certain sense of peace now, knowing everything there is to know about what our house's inside's look like.  Some of it aint pretty (is that asbestos I see wrapped around our ductwork???) but now we know what we are dealing with.  We are not naive enough to think this means there will be no more surprises (I'm looking at you, plumbing) but at least we can make our list of priorities based on reality and not assumptions.  Or something.  Anywho, next week- Gavin is off! His folks come to see our crazy house! We may put up a wall or two! Huzzah!


Luck of the Irish

Into the Breach

There is knowing that your house is going to need "a lot of work" and then there is living it.  This house, friends and neighbors, needs A. Lot. Of. Work. If there was a movie made about this house, it would be called "A Lot of Work: The Blue Elephant Story." Or just "Fright Night".  It is not like one of those shows on HGTV where the couple debates buying a house and they say "There is just too much work!" because the paint is an ugly color or the bathroom fixtures are outdated.  This is like an HGTV show where the couple walks in and then runs out screaming, because zombies are coming up from the basement and mutant Termite Monsters are swinging from the chandeliers, and that same couple end up rocking on the floor sucking their thumbs and humming, just trying to forget...

Let's recap.  This week I kicked off the festivities by coming to the house at night the day after we closed and began tearing out the carpets and curtains upstairs.  We knew for sure that the worst of the visible damage was upstairs (with the exception of Hell Bathroom downstairs- but that's another story for another day) but had no idea just how awful things were with the condition of the walls.  In one bedroom there is an entire wall being held up by the tenacity of the dingy floral wallpaper.  In the bedroom next door, I pulled back the colorless rug (I think in another life it was sea-foam green?) to find that the padding beneath was so old it had literally disintegrated into orange dust- I was able to fill a shop vac sucking up a room's worth of foam-dust.  I filled 5 contractor bags with stick-em tiles from under the rugs and tossed curtains that were so old and dirty they could stand straight up off the rods.  But! The good news! Under the horror of the rugs were unfinished pine floors- so no wall-to-wall carpet will be needed! Hoorah for unspent money!!
Vacuuming up The Orange Carpet "Padding" Note the artfully placed hole in the plaster.

Next Mom, my grandmother and I went on a quick tour of the house (Grammy hadn't seen it) and couldn't help but tear down some wallpaper while we were there (yes, my 87 year old grandmother was put to work. We do not age-discriminate at the Elephant).  We found a weird/cool Chinese-style mural under one wall's worth of paper in the living room (see pic left) and a lifetime's worth of MOLD under another in the kitchen. NOOOOO!!! It seems like it was part of some bathroomtastrophe from the past- there was clear warping from water damage in the stick-em tiles outside the bathroom door and in an entire house of plaster the only new sheetrock is in the kitchen ceiling below said bathroom (which by the way has a lovely painted plywood panel in place of tile in the tub, ostensibly for quick access to whatever pipe-demon had caused the flood I deduce caused all this damage).  I guess that was where repairs stopped because some seriously scary beardy-black mold was practically flipping me off once we got rid of a big swatch of (mustard and green plaid- my hand to God) wallpaper. Ok house.  You win.  For NOW.

So let's see- that was day 3.  On day four Gavin began by spraying some bleach water on the mold (we will tear out the wall later). He also tore out the big sheets of brown faux-wood panelling in the kitchen.  Yes, the same kitchen with the green and mustard wallpaper.  I'll give you a moment to process how pretty it was.  Oh, and sea-foam green painted cabinets. Yeah....now you're there.
Current color-scheme of our kitchen.  It is the full spectrum of colors found in infant diapers.

At some point he went down to the basement to get a tool or something and BOO-YAH- a giant puddle of water.  I had turned the water on the night before so I guess it served me right.  I should have known better than to just assume basic plumbing is, like, a thing.  Thank God turns out it was a simple fix of tightening a couple of pipe joints but just the Elephant's way of reminding us who's the boss (It's Tony Danza. That's who).

On this same day we got the first quote from a roofing company to flash our chimney.  You see one of the selling points (hah!) of the Elephant was that there is a very well-done brand new roof.  There apparantly was not, however, any attempt made to seal around the chimney (usually done with metal "flashing" which is kind of layered like fish scales at the base to keep water out).  So a van rolls up and all these bizarre little men come pouring out.  My brother Joe wondered out loud if they had been bred for chimney maintenance over the generations- they were all tiny and had weirdly large teeth and beedy eyes and were clearly related.  Any-who, they walked up to our attic to look and point at where the sunlight glints in around the chimney gaps, said something to each other in Chimnese and then quoted us $1850.00.  Har.  De har har.  When I actually laughed out loud in their faces they immediately dropped it to $1400 but at that point I was already dialing another company for another quote.

Which brings us to day 4.  I forgot to mention that our cellar doors (the double sided hatch-type ones like they use for tornado shelters in movies) are literally rusted through with giant decroded holes all over and blue tarp and logs on top to keep the elements out.  Really, this was the solution someone came to. So we had to order a new set, and because God has a sense of humor the only place that carried our size was a Lowes about an hour and a half drive from where we live. The other option was to order a different brand at nearly twice the price so of course we loaded an infant and a toddler into our Santa Fe and away we went.  I had thought to ask over the phone how big the box was and I felt confident it would fit in the car.  What they neglected to mention was that this box weighed about 300 pounds.  Oh, and once Gavin had given himself a near-hernia getting it into the back of the car it rattled the whole way home like a box car full of ball bearings, causing the baby to endlessly howl in annoyed rage.  Goodtimes.

But we got it to the house.  Gavin then began ripping the acoustic tile off the downstairs ceiling (while I wrangled the babies and worked from Mom's local and lead paint dust-free house) to reveal how bad the plaster was under there; the plan is to reveal as much as we can throughout the house so we can make an educated decision this weekend as to what our game plan is re: ripping out walls, etc.  The good news- the bowing we saw above the mantle in the dining room fireplace was not from bricks crumbling in on us as we initially feared but just some manky plaster falling behind a piece of plasterboard that had been slapped up as a quick fix. The bad news- chimney guy number two informed us, after walking our roof, that if he really wanted to he "could kick the whole sonofabitch chimney right over.  It's shot." Awesome.  Well, we weren't under the impression that the fireplace worked, so not the end of the world I guess.  Plus turns out that until we are ready to rebuild the chimney, it would be stupid to do metal flashing (like putting a nice new brass bell on a sinking ship) and he suggested meshing and tarring the whole thing and doing a rain barrier. Long story short- half the price and they guarantee their work not to leak.  Works for me.
Above Our Mantle (Hey, the chimney's not collapsing- just the wall! Yay?)

And finally, as we were packing in day four, a wee winged insect landed on my hand.  Gavin said "That's not a termite, is it?"  "No babe!" says I.  "Termites look like this..." I whip out my trusty iPhone, do a quick search, and proceed to pull up a photo that Mr. Bug-on-my-hand could have posed for. So yeah, turns out termites "swarm in spring" and they are swarming their asses off all over our porch.  There is a termite contract on the house so our bug man will be there next week to well and truly kill the little bastards, but the idea that creatures are actively eating his house has Gavin freaking the freak out. This morning he said to me "I just feel like I'm gonna open a wall and there will be a million termites in there, doing cartwheels and eating and crapping all at the same time..."

Tomorrow we meet with my uncle Joe (who hereafter shall be referred to as "the Taper" since there are no less than three "Joe"s involved in the rehab of this house) for walk through.  He is a professional drywaller (you didn't think we were doing this completely unarmed, did you??) and he will give us his opinion as to what we should do with our walls. I can hear the words "Gut it!" in my very near future.....

So that was the first week.  Wow.  But....Onward and upward!  Into the fray! Fight the good fight! A bunch of other uplifting platitudes! Wheee!


The First Day

So here we go.  About 2 1/2 months ago, on Gavin's birthday, in fact, we went to see a certain sprawling blue house. From the moment we walked in one word was forefront in our silly, starstruck minds: potential.  Po-freakin-tential.  Sure, the plaster was cracking or gone in many all places, and the kitchen hadn't been updated since the Nixon administration, and a certain bathroom seemed to not only have been designed by Sunoco but to actually be slowly falling off the back of the house, but underneath all of this, we couldn't shake the feeling that this house could really be something special.  Oh, and it was going for a song (because, quel surprise, not very many people seemed to see all that raging potential under the mountain of dirty sweaty LABOR that was also in very much in evidence).  

After a long bout of doubts, and inspections, and price reductions, and more inspections, we decided that we did in fact want to see what we could do about knocking some of the "rough" off this old diamond.  And today, we signed an absolutely insane amount of paperwork to legally make it ours.  Going forward on this blog I will show you plenty of the hideously ugly features of our Blue Elephant as we chisel through the Bad and the Ugly to get to the Good.  But for today, the first day, let's just enjoy a bit of that lovely potential, shall we?

Opening the door for the very first time!

A bit of champagne....

The foyer

It is impossible to tell from this photo how incredibly monstrous this wallpaper looks in real life...

Pocket doors!

Dining Room fireplace.  

Lots of light!

In the attic we found a bunch of Playbills from the 1950s...

And someone's stamp collection as well.

Carving our initials in the "locust post"...

An Irishman goes through a pair of French doors...stop me if you've heard this one...

Found this leather-bound copy of Euripedes in the attic as well- dated 1928. I take it for a sign!