1902 Victorian

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

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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Excuse to Buy a Table Runner

It's official. We can now have dinner parties. Expect your invitations in the mail any day ... I just hope you like frozen pizza.



When we bought the table a couple weeks ago, it had a few little problems. The legs were a bit wobbly, but a little screw tightening fixed that.

Four of the screws holding on the tongue-and-groove boards that let the table expand for the leaf were missing and had been replaced with screws an inch too long. When Darwin started to tighten them down, he realized just in time that they would poke through the tabletop. He bought new 1.5-inch screws and removed the assembly and turned it around so he would have fresh wood for the holes. He also fixed a piece of the table edge that had come loose from its curve and been screwed down in the wrong place.

On Sunday we set the table upright in the room for the first time. It is just the right size for the space, with enough room to add another leaf (we'll probably have one made or maybe Darwin the handyman can make it himself). We've gotten so used to having a big open space in the dining room that I was worried having all this furniture in there would restrict traffic flow into the living room. Fortunately, that's not the case.

We bought a rug at the last auction that fits with the colors of the room but may be too small for the table. We haven't tried it out yet. For the moment, the paint-stained carpet gets to stay.

I'm still not sure how I like the Eastlake parlor furniture next to the Queen Anne dining table and chairs, but for now it's OK. How can I complain about that when I have a $10 dingy yellow thrift store armchair sitting in the corner?

Now that I'm looking at the picture again, I think it needs something. A table runner, I think, to break up all the almost-black of that table. Yes, I've seen some lovely ones at Pottery Barn via eBay ...

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Monday, February 27, 2006

Hope He Doesn't Notice the Subscription to Swank

Last week, I finally bought a new welcome mat for the front door. Until now, we never remembered to dispose of the green fake-grass mat the POs left. Every time I went outside to get the mail, I'd see it and think, "Ugh" ... and also wonder about what the postman and UPS person must think of us.

If you think about it, your postman/woman must know a lot about you. Imagine each piece of mail as a clue. The catalogs, the magazines, the forms requesting donations for the local fireman's association. Your postman knows if you are a member of The National Arbor Day Foundation, if you receive a lot of Christmas cards, if you like to shop at Granny Panties R Us.

Because of my eBay habit and general love of online shopping, we receive a lot of packages. Some teeny tiny, some enormous, some light, some heavy (the ones containing the world's heaviest tp holder, for example).

We get the same catalogs as all our local old-house fiends friends - Rejuvenation, Van Dykes, Renovation Supply. Plus Anthropologie (and its universe), Hobby Builders Supply (dollhouse stuff) and Pottery Barn.

The postman must know that we have gas heat and satellite TV. If he wanted, he could even know the exact amount of our water bill each month and mentally label us frequent or infrequent bathers.

Also, several times a week, he finds the little red flag up on our mailbox and a Priority Mail envelope inside, addressed to someone living in someplace exotic like Delaware or Texas. He must know I sell on eBay. Then I wonder if postal workers love eBayers or hate them.

Maybe postal workers have no opinion about eBayers or water bills or green welcome mats. Maybe the post office is required to hire only non-nosy humans, in which case I'd better steer clear.

But I still want to make a good impression on the postman. I hope he sees this pretty new welcome mat while he's struggling to heft a gigantic package up onto the porch and thinks, "Hey, these *&@$ lazy @$$holes finally did something right."

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

All I Need is Titian Hair

Our attic is an endless fount of delights. Last weekend, we finally took the last of the Christmas decorations up there, and for once I remembered to bring a flashlight. I've been meaning to investigate a heap of wood in the corner for a while now.

Actually, I made Darwin investigate it. He's not afraid to hop from board to board, while I am paranoid even on the floored parts.

We spent probably 20 minutes up there (freezing half to death, by the way), and in that short time we found way more than we bargained for.

I suspected the wood lying in the shadows was part of a mantel taken down at some point. Turns out it is ... and it's painted seafoam green.



Yech. Still, very cool. But, we wondered, where did it come from? We suspected the guest bedroom, since the mantel in there is very plain and doesn't match the others in the house.

Soon the mystery would be solved. While Darwin was hopping around investigating some extra pieces of beadboard, he noticed a cardboard box with a plastic bag poking out of the top.

"Hmm, I've never looked in this box," he said. I watched him open the flaps, not expecting much. Probably more 1980s newspapers or maybe some trash.

"It's just some mortar from when they concreted the bathroom," he said.

I shrugged. No big deal, like I thought.

But wait! What's that nestled down in the plastic? Why, it's a hunk of majolica tile!

Darwin brought the box over to more stable ground, so we could get a better look. On top of the plastic bag of cement stuff were a few tiles, some a mottled dark green that looked familiar and some bright turquoise like the dining room fireplace tiles, which is odd since none of those tiles are missing.

We took them out, dusted them off. Admired them. Wow! Darwin assumed that underneath the tiles the little box was full of concrete stuff. No need to look farther. But I was pinballing around, giggling like a crazy person, and I said, "Check, check, you have to check!"

He pulled out the plastic bag, and I gasped. Such a wonderful sight! The box was half full of tiles! Lovely, lovely, wonderful tiles! Original tiles!



Because by now I'd remembered where I'd seen that color tile before ... the living room fireplace is missing its tile surround, but the hearth is still tiled - in this color!

So now we knew their origin. Many of the tiles were broken, but most were whole, and as we fished out each whole one and dusted it off on our pants, I noticed something more. On the edges of some was seafoam green paint! Now we knew the origin of the mantel top, too.

Why anyone would combine seafoam green paint with moss green tiles is beyond me, but that was clearly the case. Also, why anyone would REMOVE the mantel and tiles is beyond me, but at least they saved it all. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Previous Owners!

We still don't know where the turquoise tiles came from - maybe the guest bedroom? It's the only room left in the house without a surround, but the turquoise tiles are nearly all broken and all in terrible shape. Plus, there aren't very many of them. I don't know what happened there.

As for the mantel top, we found filled holes on the current top of the living room mantel that correspond with it. There are no similar holes on the matching dining room fireplace, though. Maybe only the living room had an overmantel?

As usual, with every question you answer, a new one pops up. But that's okay. The mystery is half the fun. I always wanted to be Nancy Drew.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

So Tired of Talking About the Bathroom

The changes taking place in the master bathroom are like water whittling stone, wind weathering rock - in other words, S-L-O-W.

We spent a lot of time Saturday standing around in the demolished bathroom, leaning against the grungy walls and debating the following issues:

Leave the beadboard as is, replacing one broken spot and patching/bondo-ing the rest.
vs.
Take down beadboard and use the best pieces to create a wainscot up to chair rail or shoulder height.

Ding-ding-ding - "Leave the beadboard" emerged victorious.

Replace window with original size window
vs.
Leave the window the way it is

"Leave the window" won but only just barely. I may call for a rematch later.

Sink by the window, tub by the closet
vs.
Tub by the window, sink by the closet

Um, no answer yet. As soon as we think we've made a decision, something else comes along to change our minds. Either way, plumbing will have to be moved. Either way, something is inconvenient.

Finally, we gave up and got out the trusty TSP. We washed 60 some-odd years of grime off the beadboard walls. They still look mottled and discolored, but the formerly clear water and formerly white washcloths were charcoal gray in the end. We must've made some difference.

So now the place is prepped. What next?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Black Beauty

We've had a turning-point event at 1902 Victorian. An event that will change the way we work on our house - what we can do and how fast we can do it. An event that will affect our lives and our finances for a long time to come.

Darwin bought a truck.



It's a black 2002 Ford Ranger with 29,000 miles. Darwin is a Ford man; as anyone from Alabama knows, a man must swear allegiance to one American-made vehicle brand at birth and never veer from his chosen course.

Darwin did swerve a bit 18 months ago. Before we moved to this house and this commute, he traded in his gas-guzzling Ford F150 for a compact Mazda car. We thought this was a fabulous idea at the time, since Darwin has a 1988 Ranger that's been his ongoing project (besides the house) for the past four years. We thought he might finish up that truck one day this century, and we'd have a truck. Ha. Silly, naive fools!

Finally, we decided we couldn't live without a truck any longer. Without one, we had to rely upon the kindness of strangers (or our beleaguered friends) to transport auction purchases, cast iron bathtubs and the like.

Now, we can transport the cement backerboard to tile the kitchen countertops, wood to build a corner hutch in the kitchen, the TV to the repair shop, insulation for under the house, and about a million other projects put on hold around here because of this very reason.

The truck will also help us financially because, though it has less miles than Darwin's 2004 car (yeah, that commute puts a lot of miles on 'em), it is considerably cheaper and will eliminate a car payment. Also, since it's a little truck, the gas mileage is only slightly worse than the car's.

So this is an exciting development. This means no more excuses!

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Friday, February 17, 2006

The Heaviest TP Holder in the World

I bought this old toilet paper holder from eBay, along with some other bathroom stuff:



It looks pretty ordinary, but no. This toilet paper holder doubles as an arm-strengthening device. Just sit on the toilet and while you, um ... do your business, just lift the toilet paper roll, HOLD, squeeze that tricep. Feel the burn!

This is the only explanation that comes to mind for a toilet paper holder that weighs probably 6 pounds.

Update: Ok, so it only weighs 2 pounds 10 ounces. That's still really heavy for a TP holder!

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

How to Triumph Over the Gas Company

After the painful blow of the tax bill, I needed some good financial news. Yesterday the gas bill came. I tore into the envelope with the kind of excitement usually reserved for birthday cards potentially containing cash. The bill could have been more bad news - that in spite of all our shivering under piles of blankets and layers of clothing, we still had to pay some crazy-high number.

But hurray! The bill was only $118! That's a savings of $230 over this month last year. It's proof that our frigid living is paying off!

In honor of our success, I'll share my favorite tips for staying warm in a cold, old house and I hope you'll share yours, too.

  • Wear warm, fuzzy slippers at ALL times ... with socks if you can stand it.
  • Buy electric space heaters with thermostats (though we haven't found timers necessary). Our cheapie heaters work better than the expensive one!
  • Leave the oven door open after you turn it off and stand in front of it, toasting yourself in the leftover heat.
  • Get some cats, preferably one for each human. Encourage the cats to nap on your lap while you watch TV.
  • Get a space heater for the bathroom and turn it on a few minutes before your shower. Shut the doors, and the room (and those wretched cold tiles) will heat up in no time.
  • Invest in good flannel sheets. They're not as cold as regular sheets when you first get in the bed, and they warm up faster.

    And my favorite:
  • Work vigorously on the house, so you're too busy (and sweaty and dirty) to get cold!

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  • Tuesday, February 14, 2006

    Rebels With a Cause

    Last night we attended a meeting of the Greene County Historical Society. We've lived in Eutaw for 16 months now, which means we are considered newbies. We sat at a table with the other newbs - all of whom moved here around the same time as us - and joked that we are the rebels of the historical society crowd.

    The veteran members of the GCHS seemed glad to see us. New blood in a room where the average age skewed toward 70.

    The keynote speaker was the architect in charge of the Greene County Courthouse Square restoration. He was a fascinating guy, obviously dedicated to accuracy and faithfulness. The properties must be stabilized first. A moisture problem with the 1840s probate building must be fixed. A separating roof support in the 1869 courthouse must be fixed.

    Then for the fun stuff. He wants to get a paint analysis done on the exterior of the courthouse (interior, too, if possible). Now it's "monolithic white," which the architect said wasn't even an available paint color when the building was constructed. He says the stucco was most likely scored to look like stone blocks and faux painted like stone. I could tell he freaked some people out with that talk, but I thought it sounded fabulous.

    Inside, the upstairs courtroom floor was changed years ago to a stadium-style slant, which eliminated the original fireplaces that were the only heat in 1869. This guy wants to restore the courtroom floor to flat and put mantels back in.

    I love all his ideas. I just wish we could raise enough money to do them. We have $700,000 of grant money available, but we can only use as much as we can match. Yeah, can't do much with $20,000.

    So for now, the drainage system and the roof. It's a start.

    I wish I could help, but I don't know how. Being a newbie (and a rebel), I'm waaaay outside the loop on GCHS goings-on. Good news, though - donations are tax deductible. Maybe I've found a way to ward off a high tax bill next year ...



    The Greene County Courthouse in 1936, courtesy The Library of Congress

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    Monday, February 13, 2006

    Happy Little Sink

    I searched Froogle (which I've never really used before but now love) to find some options in vessel sinks. I also read up about them and the "splashback" issue, and I'm being won over. After all, is using a vessel sink really any different than using a normal sink? As someone at Apartment Therapy says, it should be called a "recessed counter" sink, since that's really the only difference.

    Also, a vessel sink would solve the problem of the washstand being a little lower than we'd like. It would put the sink at just the right height.

    The only issue with vessel sinks is their trendiness and the fact that some predict they will be on the downswing soon. But others predict they will become so mainstream that they'll be like normal sinks - trend-resistant and ordinary.

    I found a few I like. My favorites are the first two, particularly the second one because it has a rolled lip, which would match the tub.

    Elizabethan Classics vessel sink, $169
    Bon Evier vessel sink, $109 (nice but won't be available until July, though knowing us, that might not matter)
    Bates & Bates vessel sink, $243
    Decolav vessel sink, $133.25
    St. Thomas oval vessel sink, $225
    Handpainted vessel sink, $99 from Van Dykes
    Oh geez, another vessel sink, $149

    What do you think?

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    Friday, February 10, 2006

    Broketastic

    Arrrrgggh. I did our taxes yesterday, and we have to pay nearly $2,000! How did this happen? We've had to pay the last two years, but I thought we had everything straightened out this year. *sigh* I'm still desperately searching for some deduction I'm missing. I was hoping to at least break even this year, maybe even get a little back. It really pains me to think what that $2,000 could do around Casa 1902.

    Wednesday, February 08, 2006

    The Washstand is Insecure About his Size

    Okay, it's harder to find a sink to fit the washstand than I thought. The top of the washstand is barely 17 inches deep. The narrowest reasonable sinks I found were 12 7/8 inches, undermounted. Then you have to include at least 2 inches for the faucet and handles.

    That only leaves about maybe 1.5 inches of counterspace to be divided between the front and the back of the sink. Is that enough? I don't want the sink looking crowded or forced into the space, and we need room to actually turn the handles.

    One thing I considered was the wall-mounted faucets intended for vessel sinks. See examples here. If you had a long enough faucet (like this one), would it be possible to use a wall-mounted faucet with an undermount or drop-in sink?

    Also, is a 17.5 x 13-inch sink (like this one) or 16.75 x 13-inch sink (like this one) big enough? It will be used for tooth-brushing, shaving, and hand-washing.

    Monday, February 06, 2006

    Auction Madness

    This weekend was 50 percent awesome. I won't go into detail about Saturday, but it involved some food poisoning and many many trips to the bathroom. Sunday, needless to say, was much better. We went to an antique auction in Moundville (the same place I bought our Eastlake bedroom suite).

    At first glance, the place looked sort of empty and depressing, more like a garage sale than an "antique" auction. But we actually had a wonderful time and got some good bargains. So did our friends S&B. Wish you all could've been there - no wait, that would mean more competition for me.

    The largest purchase of the day is the one I'm least certain about. It's a Queen Anne repro dining room table (with leaf) and six matching chairs. The pieces have a very dark - almost black - finish, which looks nice with the pumpkin-colored walls, and I got it all at a bargain price ($460 for table and chairs) because the underneath needs some screws replaced. The chairs have some grandma-ish green fabric that's actually sort of cute.

    But the Queen Anne stuff looks totally INSANE next to the Eastlake parlor set I adore so much. Oh well, I guess the parlor set will have to relocate. We've been needing a dining room table for a while now. We are quickly approaching mooch status, since we're always visiting our neighbors for dinner and never being able to return the favor.



    Another important purchase was a washstand that we plan to convert to a bathroom vanity. That's right - we're taking your advice, people. I love this little washstand. It's got a nice, weathered color and is banged up and pathetic enough that I don't feel too bad about slicing and dicing it. This was also a bargain (in my opinion) at $105. It's a little narrow front to back, so we'll have to buy just the right sink to fit it. We'll probably remove the top part and hang a mirror/medicine cabinet on the wall behind it.



    The rest was just fun stuff. Darwin bought a mandolin for $50. I bought a vintage glass refrigerator set and three wooden RC Cola boxes. Also, last weekend at that antique mall with the sink, I bought a fan with teenage Shirley Temple advertising RC Cola. Note her Hitler-esque staple mustache.

    I'm not sure what the recent RC Cola fetish is about, but it might have something to do with the Moon Pies I've been eating lately.

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    Friday, February 03, 2006

    What's Your Favorite Spot?

    Reading Minor Adjustments' post the other day on the Flickr group Corners of My Home, I started thinking about my own home in terms of snapshots. The things your eye captures in one glance. What other people would infer about me if they saw just my kitchen table - half-covered with catalogs and opened Priority Mail boxes - or my little semi-circle nightstand - piled high with three unfinished books, a flashlight, my obligatory tube of lip balm, and a photo frame album full of our engagement photos.

    It's so easy to get used to things; my eyes travel right past the junk on the table until I don't see it anymore. But as I searched for a pretty corner to take a photo of, I found myself looking at my house the way a stranger would, or any first-time visitor. I noticed a pile of paint cans by the back door and tried to think how long they'd been there. I noticed the dust on the music cabinet and the cat hair dustballs lurking in the corners. I noticed the Christmas tree still up in February - yes, again - and the way the vinyl in the kitchen is peeling up at the seams.

    There wasn't much in the house I could show off yet. There was detritus of some kind in every frame.

    And yet, looking at all the house's little flaws - many of them caused by my own laziness - I thought less about ways to improve it and more about how I love it. So I decided that instead of posting pictures of pretty corners that will make you sigh with envy, I will tell you about my favorite spot in the house.

    I think it is our bedroom. There's a window right behind my nightstand, so when I open my eyes in the morning, the first thing I do is look outside. Somehow, seeing the sun shining and pretty green things and the white rails of my porch is so refreshing. It helps that right now, the bedroom is the warmest room in the house. And that I love sleeping. And other things. ;-)

    The bedroom is just as much of a junk heap as the rest of the house - maybe more - but it is bright, warm, and - like all the best parts of our house - chock full of potential.

    So now I want to know - what's your favorite spot?

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    Wednesday, February 01, 2006

    Rah, Rah, America

    Look, somebody on eBay is selling our porch sconces!



    Well, they're just like them anyway. I've always assumed these sconces were added along with most of the light fixtures in the house in the late '60s/early '70s when the Parkins renovated. I've planned to replace them with something more appropriate - though I find that appropriate sconces for a Victorian house are difficult to find. Arts & Crafts and Mission sconces are all over the place, but Victorian? Not so much.

    Of course, Rejuvenation came through for me with such pretties as this and this, for once at prices I can actually afford without selling off excess body parts.

    Anyway, now I'm wondering if these Colonial Revival-ish sconces might be older than I thought. Not original exactly but maybe not too far off. Or maybe they really are 1960s vintage.

    Am I wrong to want to get rid of them either way? What with the American flag on the front porch, too, I don't want to give off jingoist vibes.

    Besides, maybe they will be just the thing for some Colonial Revival homeowner/eBay shopper.

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