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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Renovation pride

In June of 2006, Matt and I bought a house.

We wanted something low-cost, since it was our first. I was gung ho about fixing it up myself, since I pretty much grew up renovating and I'm handy like that. So we ended up buying the cheapest house in the area. $82,000 for a two-bedroom semi-detached. And ohhh boy was it a fixer upper. When we walked in, the walls were yellow from decades of indoor tobacco use; they were literally coated in nicotine. I knew everything needed to be gutted and redone. But I was keen. And somehow, I managed to convince Matt to go along with it.

Our real estate agent and our housing inspector thought we were completely insane and advised us not to buy every step of the way.

Five years later, after the expected helpings of blood, sweat and tears, the interior is finished, and we're (more than) ready to rent the place out - after we show it off a little online, because GODDAMN we are proud. I've blogged our progress occasionally along the way, but here are some specific before/after shots to give you a small idea of our work.



The basement stairs were rickety and a little worm eaten, so we replaced them with treated wood. The foundation wall itself, being made of mortared field stones and more than 100 years old, was in terrible need of tuck pointing - I'm glad I finally plucked up the courage to tackle that this summer and probably saved us about $8,000. We still have to install a handrail, but it's pretty much complete.



For a period of about ten days, we didn't even have a working toilet. The local McDonald's saw us regularly at all hours. Matt embraced his inner redneck and shaved with a hose in the backyard. Understandably, we tackled this room first. The brand new bathroom cost us a total of about $500 in materials, mostly spent on the glass blocks, as we got some killer deals on the toilet and bathtub. Perhaps the only thing more baffling than the sash windows in the original bathroom is the chair-rail strip of wallpaper depicting the heads of big cats (there is a better shot of this monstrosity in one of the slideshow photos below).



Next we finished the kitchen, which was quite a job. Above you see it as we bought it. All the electrical appliances were connected to a power strip from the 1960's that you can see fastened to the wall below a window that was missing a pane of glass. The sink was from 1947 and leaked. We know the year of manufacture because there were a bunch of 1947 newspapers beneath the "rug" in the main bedroom, and we found an advertisement for the exact sink within.



First we took down the kitchen wall. At the time, I was napping upstairs when I was awoken by the most horrendous noise; it sounded like a war had broken out. I ran into the kitchen to find Matt, Jordan (pictured above) and four or five neighborhood boys I didn't know blithely laying into the wall with hammers. As I recall, I was extremely freaked out. Especially when I saw that there was about three cubic feet of wasp nest insulating the outer wall (we had not yet discovered this in the above photo). Luckily the wasps were not resident.



Not satisfied with the walls, we also set to demolishing the floor, which had been rotted out by the leaking 1947 sink. The rot had spread to the joists, so we sistered those to treated wood beams and replaced the subfloor completely before tiling.

I should also mention here that I learned during the process of building the kitchen that staining cabinets is my absolute least favorite job of all time. I think I hate it even more than sanding ceiling drywall. I built the plate rack you can see above the sink with some dowel and scrap wood after I saw one in a cabinetry display with a repulsively high price tag - it seriously looks exactly the same as the one in that showroom.



The main living area (look at that beautiful wallpaper) was almost a breeze compared to the cramped rooms with all the complicated plumbing and rot problems. I impulsively decided to take down the stupid arch wall, and I'm so glad we did. Combined dining/living rooms are where it's at, especially in a house this small.

Progress on the exposed brick wall was documented here.



Here's the view from the arch (or where it used to be) to the front door. New door, new window, new walls, new ceiling, new lighting fixture, new molding, new floor ... it's all new.
Except that HVAC grate. It was a non-standard size, so we had to keep the old one and refinish it.



This is probably my favorite feature of the living room. The original rooms had these exposed pipes and ductwork running floor to ceiling. When I say "exposed," what I mean is that they were actually covered in wallpaper and then painted. Yeah. We decided to box them in, and because I hate wasted space, I recessed some built-in shelving into the covering wall. The column you see was necessary because the ceiling beam above the arch was poorly supported at that end.



Stairs: original, in progress, and complete. The door you see in the first photo was dismantled and the wall to its right taken down so the basement entrance is now right at the top of the basement stairs.



This is the view from the top of the stairs, in progress and complete.





And finally, the bedrooms. The master bedroom was the only room in the house where the plaster was in decent enough shape to patch and keep. I'm very happy with the closets we built in both rooms. They're better than the closets in two of the bedrooms of our Philly house.

Here are some occasionally hilariously horrifying shots of the renovation in progress. Looking back at them, I can't believe we lived like that for so long. But I'm laughing, so I guess it was worth it.



And here is a pretty slideshow of higher-res photos Matt took today. I present our masterpiece of home improvement:



So. Who wants to rent a nice new house in Downingtown?
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