1902 Victorian

Bringing our old house out of the disco era and back into the Victorian.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Greetings from Kentucky

Just so you don't wonder if I fell off the planet, I'm in Louisville, Kentucky, this week at a work convention. I'll be back Saturday and have one blissful day of rest before I return to the daily grind.

I'll leave you with a photo of the most celebrated old house in Eutaw:

This is Kirkwood. Construction on it began in 1860 but got held up by the Civil War. The planned cupola wasn't completed, but the 1970s restorers built it as it was planned. I think I got all that straight. It has amazing carved marble mantels, and it's a B&B now.


Monday, March 28, 2005

Warm Weather Work

Our fig tree is beginning to sprout leaves. At the first hint of winter it dropped all its leaves so fast, we wondered if it might be dead. Now it is sprouting and unfurling new leaves equally quickly.

The weather warming up means the time is approaching for several outdoor projects. Finishing the gutter fix. Installing insulation under the floors on the parts that don't have it yet. Repairing a broken shutter. Replacing torn screens on the storm windows.

And the biggie - repairing and painting the ever-worsening front porch.

Then there's the garden - aka unkempt, buzzing-with-beelife jungle. We want to tear out/cut down some hollies that were unsympathetically pruned by POs and never recovered. And we desperately need to prune back (or get rid of altogether) a heap of overgrown holly, seedlings of various trees and climbing vines.

But it's not all destruction. In addition to the dear fig tree outside our bathroom window, Darwin wants to plant a peach tree and a pear tree and some tomatoes. I eat none of those foods (including figs), but I think it is fun to produce something technically edible from our own yard.

And I am starting to feel some primal stirrings to work in the garden. My plants of choice are all frothy, flowery, yummy-smelling things. Miss Judy offered to share any of her plants with us, and maybe I will take her up on it ... and soak up some of her wealth of knowledge about Southern gardening.

I have this vision of planting a little flowerbed under the back window on each of the two back wings of the house, with roses climbing up a trellis on either side of each window. For someone who has never planted anything, that is quite an undertaking.

So for now I'm just daydreaming, and that may be all I do on the project this year.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Minds on the Gutter

It was sunny and 75 degrees out by 9 o'clock this morning. Ah, Alabama.

Before lunch, we headed out for a stroll around town. You've got to take advantage of the spring while it lasts; in a couple of months the endless, dripping-humid, mosquito-filled summer will arrive in full force.

We got waylaid early on when we saw our sort-of-aunt Judy working in her yard. Miss Judy is a very cool lady. She gave us a tour of her 1904 house, and we turned as green as her carpet with envy. A whole house full of beautiful antiques, a 1917 stencil on the wall in the dining room, a never-painted heart pine entry hall and stairway, all original plaster in mostly-stunning condition. A garden full of ivy, camellias, azaleas and confederate roses, with yellow jasmine creeping over the white picket fence.

But Miss Judy has been doing this old-house thing for 17 years, and we are beginners. One day our house will look like that. I hope!

Miss Judy also lent us one of three extension ladders she had hanging around the place, so Darwin could finally work on the leaky gutter over the back door. When it rains, the gutter pours water down beside the back steps and the foundation. Not good.

When Darwin got up on the roof, he was not surprised to discover who knows how many years worth of leaves and pine straw, solidified into wet, black muck. He scooped all he could out with his hands and then sprayed the rest out with a hose.

I held the ladder. Hey, that's an important job.

The holes in the gutter - it turned out there were two - will have to wait until another day, but at least we're on our way.


Thursday, March 24, 2005

I Have Issues

Oh boy, now I'm more conflicted than ever. Old house people do have strong opinions about their floors, and I appreciate all the insights and suggestions.

I want to address some of the issues the discussion brought to light.

Issue #1: Linoleum vs. VCT:
I like the idea of linoleum. I do prefer to use environment-friendly products, and someone said they found linoleum tiles cheap at Home Depot, so I decided to do more research. Maybe I am looking in the wrong places, but I can't seem to find any places that sell lino tiles. I can find the manufacturers but very few places to see an actual price or buy them. And I'm getting ready to tear my hair out!

The only options I found cost more than $5/square foot compared with $0.64/square foot for VCT.

Is there something I'm missing here?

I still like the way VCT looks, maybe even more than the more marbelized-looking patterns of lino or marmoleum. Just take a look at Beth and Meredith's awesome kitchen if you want proof VCT can be beautiful.

Issue #2: The Pine Floor
The original plan was to remove the current vinyl and particleboard that is on top of the pine, sand the old paint off the pine (we saw a patch of it when we were installing the dishwasher, and it had been painted red, then brown), fill the holes already made by the nails in the particleboard, then paint a checkerboard. The folks at Enon Hall did it and wrote an article about it for Old House Web. In my opinion, theirs looks great.

And I just re-read my blog entry from the day we found the pine floors. I was so giddy with delight at our find, so happy to have the option to restore something in the kitchen.

But then we're talking about a LOT of sanding and painting in our most high-traffic 600 square feet of the house.

Issue #3: Continous Flooring vs. Various Bits
Most of our house is heart pine ... three of the bedrooms, the front two-thirds of the center hall, the living room, the dining room. The rest either has '70s green carpet, '70s fake brick vinyl or '70s ceramic tile (in the bathrooms).

I don't want to try to match the back half to the front because it just won't ever work. If we tried to refinish the pine under that vinyl to look like the rest, it would never have the same dark, aged patina and it would never be as blemish-free. Besides, we have enough. No need for more.

I don't think I like the idea of doing painted checkerboard in the kitchen and then VCT checkerboard in the adjoining hall and office. I think it would look kinda freak-ay, like we were trying to match but didn't quite make it. And yet there is no other type of flooring - other than expensive reclaimed pine or mosaic tile - that I like for the hall and office.

So that leaves me with two options: paint it all - kitchen, office and hall - or cover it all with VCT (or lino) tile.

But you know what? That brings us back to where we started. *sigh* And here I thought I'd have a decision made today.

Which brings me to ...
Issue #4: Why are Kitchens so Difficult?
Maybe it's because the kitchen sets the tone for the whole house. Because it's our first major project. Because when guests see your house for the first time, they pay the most attention to the kitchen. Because the changes are expensive, and you don't want to waste money on a bad choice.

Because if you have cheapo cabinets circa 1969 and an avacado-colored oven, you have to work extra hard to make this place look good.


Wednesday, March 23, 2005


I've been seeing vinyl checkerboard kitchen floors right and left lately, and it's making me wonder.

We could remove the brick-print vinyl and leave the particleboard underneath. Then put the new tile on top (I like 12 x 12 industrial vinyl composition tile and marmoleum tile, but the marmoleum costs five times as much).

We'd do the same through the kitchen, office and back hall, so everything would look continuous (remember the discussion about what to do with the back hall floor?).

But then I saw on the oft-mentioned Sanborn maps that the office and enclosed back hall were already in place by 1925, so I pulled up the floor vent to see a hint of what's under the office vinyl. Looky-loo, we've got pine under there, too. Hmmm.

So now I'm having a quandary. Are you surprised? I feel like I'm always wringing my hands about one house decision or other. Please help me!

Pros of industrial vinyl composition tiles:
  • Darwin and his dad have laid this kind of floor many times before and would do an excellent job.
  • The project would be less labor intensive.
  • We don't know what condition the pine floor is in; we might get the particleboard torn out to discover the pine is too damaged to be attractive.
  • Ooh, what if the floor had splinters? I am a big baby about splinters.
  • Vinyl is easier on the feet and dropped dishes.
  • Painted pine would be easily scratched by chairs pushing back, etc.
  • Industrial tile costs only about $1 per square foot.
  • The tile and particleboard would keep the house warmer than if we went down to the pine (there's no subfloor).
  • The vinyl checkerboard would have kind of a '30s-50s look, which would be nice with my Fiestaware.

    Pros of painted pine:
  • We would be restoring something original to the kitchen; very little else in there is original.
  • Putting down tile would mean adding a layer of glued-down stuff, which wouldn't be fun to remove if we changed our minds later.
  • I would feel guilty about not utilizing an original resource in the house; would I always wonder?
  • Would industrial tile make our house look like an elementary school?
  • We could paint the floor all one color instead of a checkerboard and make some of those cool painted canvas floor cloths to solve the hard/cold/paint-scratched-by-chairs problem.

    As you can see, there are good points for both options. Every time I see a photo of a vinyl/lino checkerboard floor or see one on TV, I think how great it looks. But then I saw a photo in the March Old House Journal from a 1930 ad for congoleum ... it showed a pine floor covered with a congoleum rug, and it looked so like what our kitchen must have then.

    So what do you think? I know a lot of old house people are anti-vinyl of any kind. I think I want permission to go with the vinyl. Or maybe I won't be able to make a decision and feel comfortable with it until we rip out at least one sheet of particleboard and evaluate the condition of the pine floor and how much work it will require to look good.

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  • Monday, March 21, 2005

    The Secret of the Old Outbuilding

    Just call me Nancy Drew. Gary suggested I look for evidence of a wood stove in/around the workshop to support the theory that it was once a residence or was built on the spot where a residence once was.

    Armed with my digital camera and a flashlight, I went hunting for clues. I found an area of the brick patio with lots of charred wood chips in the crevices and extending under the lattice. Nearby is an area with sort of baked-on black char. This photo turned out blurry, but you can get the idea:

    To the right of the workshop is a brick something that looks like it might've been part of a foundation once.

    Near this thing, I found a long metal tool of some sort sticking out of the lattice. It is rusted to death, but it looks like it is made very similarly to the wood stove tool I found in the attic. Anybody know what this is?

    I tried to peer under the building with the flashlight for more clues, but the lattice got in the way too much. I couldn't even get a good look at the underside of the floor.

    But based on the evidence I have so far, I think the workshop is not the same building as the outbuilding labeled as a single family residence on the Sanborn maps. I think it was built on almost the exact same spot, probably even using some of the same materials. Two of the doors in the workshop are old, and the patio bricks are definitely old.

    I'm still not sure whether the brick patio is 1. an original part of the old building or 2. constructed from old bricks that once made up the building's foundation.

    Evidence for Conjecture #1:
  • Charred wood chips between the bricks right up next to the side of the building ... surely not done by someone grilling out because you wouldn't put your grill that close to the vinyl siding, would you?
  • Sanborn map showed the building had a porch across the front.

    Evidence for Conjecture #2:
  • Under the workshop steps is a concrete slab laid into the brick patio. The concrete has the date '74 (as in 1974) written in it.
  • Many of the bricks have leftover concrete/mortar stuff on the tops, making them look as if they've been assembled as something else before.

    Evidence that could go either way:
  • That bit of leftover foundation to the right has the same type of bricks as the patio.

    Friday at work I was regaling a co-worker with my troubles in figuring out the age of various parts of my house. He looked confused and said, "Why do you care?"

    The question surprised me. I guess people who don't live in old houses don't care how their houses got the way they are or what they looked like before. I, on the other hand, can't imagine NOT caring.


  • Friday, March 18, 2005

    We're on the Map

    Oh boy, oh boy! I finally accessed the Sanborn fire insurance maps and found our little casa! Our house was built in 1902 (duh), so I expected our house to be on the 1903 and 1909 maps of Eutaw. Unfortunately, the early maps cut off directly across the street from our house. How sucky is that?

    I found the house on the 1925 and 1943 maps, looking pretty much the same on both. But what I really needed to see was the early versions, so we could figure out when the back part of the house was added. Our house is kind of a jumbled mystery ... all signs indicate the house was originally only 4-5 rooms with a center hall. But we don't know if the kitchen is original, when the third bedroom was built (a 4th bedroom was enclosed in the '70s), when the office was added, or when the laundry room was added.

    On the left is the map from 1925, and on the right is the layout of our house and property today (click for larger versions):

    Notice how today's house fits almost exactly into the footprint of the 1925 house.

    Frankly, I am more confused than ever.

    Every week a new mystery pops up. We have found two transom windows in the attic now. They match the window over the master bedroom door. But we're not sure where they went because the wood trim around whichever doors have been altered to look like there was never a transom.

    A new mystery has developed from the Sanborn maps. They showed three outbuildings in our back yard. Two no longer exist, but one is the same size and shape - and in the same location - as our workshop. We had assumed this workshop was a 1970s creation because it had fake wood paneling on the walls, plywood on the floors and vinyl siding on the exterior. Oh yeah, and the brick patio on front includes a concrete paver with a '70s date written in it.

    But perhaps it was built from parts of an old building, or maybe it is even a dressed-up (yeah) version of the original outbuilding. On the map, the building is marked with a D, which indicates it was a single-family residence, if I'm interpreting the map correctly. Hmmm, a servant's house? Or maybe MJ's son James and his family lived there. In the 1930 census, James and family was living next door to his mom in a rented place.

    We need to talk to some more people around town, track down Mrs. Jackson, whose late husband was MJ's grandson, and see if we can get some of these pesky details nailed down. I'm a reporter (sometimes, anyway), so I should be able to find this stuff out. I feel a bit like Nancy Drew ... all I need now is some "titian" hair dye.

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    Wednesday, March 16, 2005

    God Bless Sherwin-Williams

    Our local Sherwin-Williams paint store had a huge 50-percent off sale for three hours Tuesday night. Thank goodness we got a flyer in the mail about it, or we would've missed this bit of good luck.

    I spent an hour and $187 there. Everything I bought was 50 percent off, including 4 gallons of primer, 1 gallon of glaze, 1 gallon of pale yellow paint, 1 quart of a darker shade of yellow, sponge rolling kit, 12-foot extension pole for paint roller, 1 can Dover white Krylon spray paint (to experiment with painting the avacado oven door), 2 sanding sponges, erasing pad, 3 rolls of blue painter's tape, a painter's pail with handle, paint roller, 6-inch drywall spatula, tube of caulk, sea sponge, drop cloths, and more.

    I could've easily bought out the store if Darwin had been with me, but he had to work late, so I just got everything I could think of at the time. I should've bought more primer, but I was worried about getting everything out to my car and fitting it all in. The salesdude helped me, though.

    Thank you, salesdude. Thank you, Sherwin-Williams!

    In less pleasant news, I had a dream last night that I found a beautiful antique gas chandelier in our house, and I was very disappointed when I woke up and realized it wasn't true.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2005

    Poor Man's Victorian

    I made an interesting discovery yesterday at the Tuscaloosa Public Library. I went there to look up the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps (as mentioned on Fixer Upper) but got distracted looking at books about Greene County.

    As I was browsing a book I've already looked through, I noticed something I had overlooked before because it didn't mention my house directly.

    It turns out that the first owners of my house also built the house across the street that I discovered on my neighborhood tour. You know ... the one I totally drooled over and have done the slow-drive by many many (many) times since.

    MJ lived there when she was married to a banker. When the banker died, she built our house to live in with her new hubby, a farmer.

    Our neighbors gave us a tour of the house across the street (which is empty and for sale), and we noticed it shared many of the same elements as our house. Similar woodwork, similar fireplace tile. But everything was like a fancier version of what's in our house.

    Now I see why. MJ's first house was built on a banker's salary. Our house was built on a farmer's. No wonder ours looks like the poor man's version of the house across the street.


    Monday, March 14, 2005

    Road Trip

    We took a Sunday afternoon drive to tour the ring of small towns surrounding ours. South to Demopolis, east to Uniontown, north to Marion, west through Greensboro and back home. These towns are all known for their old houses, too, and we got an eyeful.

    Of the towns, Darwin was most charmed by Demopolis, the largest of them all with such luxuries as Wal-mart, KFC and Captain D's. It has a cute little historic district and a "theater district."

    Uniontown is closer to the size of Eutaw, maybe even a little smaller. We were unimpressed. It had some beautiful houses, like this one:

    But it was mostly run down, and there was no sense that the town and its residents were working to preserve its historic houses. We saw so many houses falling down and only one that was truly well cared for.

    I liked Marion the best. It is a little college town with a military institute and a college for women. Each of the old houses in town has a little black sign in front that states the name and date in scrolling white. The majority of the old houses there are 1830s through 1850s, most of them stark white with columns and magnolias in front.

    But my favorite was a crumbling Victorian. We just about had a throw-down when I wanted to stroll around it and peek in the windows, but Darwin finally gave in and came with me.

    Then I climbed in through a broken window.

    This house is a real tragedy. It had a beautiful wraparound porch at one time, but now most of the spindles and columns are lying about on what's left of the porch floor and inside the house. The roof is falling in, and the entire floor of one room has been ripped out. Several of the windows - huge single panes on the bottom and multiple tiny panes on the top - are broken. Much of the woodwork is missing - including the mantels and the staircase.

    But the saddest part isn't what's ruined but what is not. The floors - heart pine like ours but with a redder tint - are in beautiful shape. A cute built-in cabinet on the back porch is perfect. The two bathrooms - one tiled in '50s pink - are unspeakably dirty but otherwise OK. The parlor has push-button light switches.

    It's sad because it's unlikely that anyone will ever fix this house. People might strip all the beautiful things out of it, might put the woodwork or floors or windows to good use in another house.

    But this house has missed its chance to live again.


    Saturday, March 12, 2005

    Beautiful Saturday

    Another weekend, another day of work on the house.

    This morning we cleaned out and organized the main room of the workshop in the backyard. When we moved, we basically just chunked all our stuff from the old workshop in there and forgot about it.

    But I've been thinking about getting back to work on my dollhouse soon, and I need an organized space to work on it. We found junk we used when working on our first house, an old shack we fixed up and rented from Darwin's great aunt.

    Now everything is put away and neat - though not necessarily clean - and we still have plenty of room to spare.

    We didn't tackle the back room of the workshop yet because it's gross and stinky in there. All that's in there are these weird glass things Darwin says used to be on top of power poles.

    Darwin worked on the bottom half of the cabinets again and installed trim until we ran out of nails for the nail gun.

    While he did that, I put together the two white rocking chairs my mom bought for us a month ago. They look great on the porch, and we enjoyed some very pleasant moments rocking and enjoying the beautiful weather.

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    Friday, March 11, 2005

    House Cat

    Lately, Henry has been expressing his love for old houses by napping on the latest issue of Old House Journal.

    Admittedly, this cat seeks out anything paper or plastic to nap on, but I prefer to believe he has a special affinity for old house publications.

    The cats do love this house. It is more than twice the size of our former house (a 1967 ranch), and we don't keep all the bedrooms closed off like we did there. For kitties who are not allowed outside, this feels like a whole new universe.


    Wednesday, March 09, 2005

    The Best Things in Life are Free*

    I came up with another slogan for the T-shirts in my little shop. "Save our history. Love an old house." That's on the back of the shirts, and the front pocket design says, "I love my old house."

    I'm not trying to be a profit whore here, just thought I'd share. I ordered a T-shirt and tote bag myself, and they really look great in person, if I do say so myself. I've priced the items cheap, so I'm only making $1-$2 from the sale of each to go toward the cost of maintaining this site.

    *But you can give 'em to the birds and bees. I want money. That's what I want.

    Tuesday, March 08, 2005

    The Joys of Aunthood

    Don't they look fun to hang out with?

    I colored with A, and she informed me that zebras are black and white, not magenta and turquoise, as I colored them; at almost 6, she is an expert.

    I watched A Cinderella Story with N curled up under my arm on the couch fighting sleep half the time and blowing a piercingly loud whistle the other half; at 3.5, he is part heathen boy and part baby.

    It's nice to be an aunt.

    Monday, March 07, 2005

    Self Reproach

    Has it really been five whole months? Working on my house scrapbook this weekend, I realized we've got very little accomplished.

    Here's what we've done:
  • Move and unpack.
  • Pull up hideous green rug in master bedroom and wax part of the floor.
  • Demolish ugly '70s built-in desk in kitchen.
  • Remove old stove vent and install microwave.
  • Install dishwasher.
  • Remove old sink and faucet and install new.
  • Prime and paint most of the cabinets.
  • Add trim to a few cabinets and paint more trim.

    In five months, an entire house could be built.

    Then again, an entire crew works to build a house. It's just me and Darwin - with some minor help thrown in from our parents here and there - and just our weekends.

    And Christmas interrupted.

    And ... and ... I'm sure I can come up with some more excuses if I try.

    I read about a million other house blogs (check out Houseblogs.net if you haven't yet), and it seems everybody is making more progress than us. Are we just lazy bums? Are we too busy with other things? Are we making things difficult for ourselves in some way? Or is it because we picked a massive project for our first one?

    This weekend we spent half of Saturday working on the kitchen. I primed and painted trim, while Darwin worked on the hinges for the lower half of the kitchen.

    Then we went to Darwin's brothers house, where he worked on his truck with his brother, and I hung out with my sister-in-law, niece and nephew.

    On Sunday we slept incredibly late (for us) and laid around the house ALL DAY watching poltergeist movies and Office Space. Then I worked on my scrapbook some more.

    I am torn. Half of me feels guilty for taking a break, but the other half of me says, "It's OK to take it at your own pace. You'll burn out if you spend every spare moment working on the house." I do not want to burn out because there is a LOT of work left to do.

    Maybe I'm just getting impatient. I want my neat, pretty, finished kitchen. And I'm eager to move on to something else - painting the hallway maybe, or the guest bathroom, or the living room or the dining room. There are so many pretty colors waiting to be chosen.

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  • Friday, March 04, 2005

    Nerdy Scrapbooking Post

    Darwin bought 15 more strips of trim Tuesday, so we're all set to resume work on the kitchen this weekend. But it will have to wait till Saturday. Tonight is a long overdue Scrapbook Party/Girls' Night, so I'll be up into the wee hours drinking Coke, eating chocolate chip muffins, scrapbooking and gossiping. Pretty mild, but it does take place at a Church Lady's house, so what can you expect?

    I'm starting on my new house-oriented scrapbook. It will probably feel like déjà vu because I've already written about everything on this blog. But I have way more photos than I've shared on here. And most of our family members are still computer illiterate.

    The Darwin-installing-the-microwave page should be riveting. ;)


    Thursday, March 03, 2005

    Do the Can-Can-Can

    The blog readers have spoken! The consensus is that we should use task lighting - can lights in the ceiling or under-cabinet lights - for the majority of the actual light-giving and our pretty pendant lights for mainly decorative purposes.

    How many times can a person say the word "light" in one sentence before her head explodes?

    Tuesday, March 01, 2005

    Lighting Guidance

    We have chosen a new pendant light fixture for the kitchen, but we need some help figuring out how many of these we'll need and where we should put them.

    Right now, we have three light fixtures in the kitchen: the ubiquitous fluorescent light over the sink, a particularly hideous "chandelier" (I hesitate to use such an attractive word on this thing) over the table, and a flush-mount fixture with three regular light bulbs near the center of the room.

    In the daytime, the overhead lights aren't necessary because of the windows taking up nearly one whole wall. At night, these fixtures provide a reasonable - if a bit dank and orangey - amount of light.

    The new fixtures we've chosen each have a single bulb.

    So we'd need more than one of them to equal the current amount of light. Then again, they extend down two feet further than the flush-mount fixture does (the ceiling is 10 feet).

    I want plenty of light, but the room is not huge (14.5 x 14 feet), and I don't want the ceiling to look crowded.

    I've played around with the layout in Photoshop and come up with these options:

    The yellow circles represent the actual scale of the shades (12 inches wide) but not how far the light will spread. (Suddenly, I'm feeling a strange urge to play dominoes.)

    Some of these layouts would require considerable rewiring and patching on the ceiling. The work is within Darwin's range, and the ceiling is easily accessible from the attic, but it would still be a pain in the you-know-what.

    There's also the possibility of installing under-cabinet lighting to illuminate the work space.

    Beth and Meredith at House Made recently put up a similar pendant light over their sink, and they advise that you can never have too much light in the kitchen. Does anyone else out there have firsthand experience with this type of light fixture? How much area does one light cover?

    Or just opinions?