Thursday, December 31, 2009

Perhaps I Did Not Make Myself Clear

DISCLAIMER - We are extremely happy with all our contractors and the work that they have done at the Einsel House. This post was born from my own rather eccentric sense of humor, and not from any anger or dissatisfaction regarding work done at the house. Keep this in mind as you read, and please do not take this post literally.

Explanation - One morning during the week before Christmas I was listening to the soundtrack from my favorite movie as I drove in to work, and I had a brilliant idea for a post here. But before I could write this post, I would need one of the contractors at the Einsel House to make some kind of mistake. Fortunately (or unfortunately) I didn't have to wait too long. Because when I stopped by the house on Christmas Eve I found this:

Mr. Contractor: You wish to see me, ma’am?

Homeowner: [Homeowner nods and sighs; there is a short pause] It is the opinion of some... excellent people that you have let us all down.

Mr. Contractor: [angry at the slight to his skill] Ms. Homeowner, ma’am, if you will please tell me who these people are...

Homeowner: There will be none of that. There is no time.

Mr. Contractor: Ma’am, I only ask that I be allowed to defend my...

Homeowner: [raising her voice slightly] There is no time.
[Contractor looks stunned]

Homeowner: Mr. Contractor... your mission was to restore the parts of this home that have been damaged by age or neglect and to maintain the home’s historic integrity while doing so. That mission was not fulfilled. You were told to order and install replacement six-over-six double hung windows. Meanwhile, we were all sick with the flu, therefore absent from the Einsel House and without adequate time to double check the materials you had ordered. So we did not discover until too late that you installed a nine-over-nine window in the dining room instead of six-over-six.

Mr. Contractor: Ms. Homeowner, there were reasons...

Homeowner: [Homeowner holds up her hand to silence Contractor] Perhaps you misunderstood my orders? Perhaps I did not make myself clear. Well, sir... this must be made *very* clear. You, sir, with your tools, are responsible for maintaining the historic integrity of this home. Without your careful attention to detail, this house is in danger of being remuddled. That has already happened once. It must never, *never* happen again.

Mr. Contractor: [Contractor stares at the floor, then slowly draws his hammer from his toolbelt in token of his resignation] Ma’am... since I no longer hold the Homeowner's...

Homeowner: [suddenly upset, Homeowner pounds a sawhorse with her fist] I have *told* you, there is no time for that! There is no time!
[she pauses, takes a deep breath, and calms down again]

Homeowner: There is a refinance coming soon, and we need you. We need all the help we can get, God knows. You must take what I have told you, and learn from it, as a man does.
[she takes Contractor's hammer and gently replaces it in his toolbelt]

Homeowner: There has been a mistake. It will not happen again; I know your quality. You are one of the finest general contractors I have ever known, and your service to the Einsel House has been invaluable. Now... let us speak no more of this.
[she turns and slowly walks away, then turns back to Contractor]

Homeowner: The matter is concluded. Good night, Mr. Contractor.
[not knowing what to think of this show of mercy, Contractor holds out his hand, and Homeowner grasps it for a firm handshake.]

(Charles says I should have titled this post "Things That Are Only Funny to Me". I'll admit I have sometimes strange sense of humor. So for anyone who is thoroughly confused right now I'll include the following - particularly 1:14 to the end. The movie is Gettysburg, and if you've ever had the pleasure/torture of watching it with me then you're aware that I can quote 90% of the movie verbatim. It's based on Michael Shaara's novel The Killer Angels, which also comes highly recommended.)

(And again, if any of our contractors ever read this, I repeat that this is just me having fun. I'm not really suggesting that the flub here was as serious as Stuart's belated appearance at the Battle of Gettysburg. At least, I really hope it's not that serious. Because the consequences for Stuart, et al. ended up pretty grim indeed, and our little problem is already in the process of being made right - another six-over-six window will be arriving in mid January.)

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Family Affair

I'm quite anxious to get back to the Einsel House. When I got home from work today my sister-in-law greeted me with the news that she and my brother, my Aunt D & Uncle D and my mom had all been at the house most of the day. Working together, they got our daughter's bedroom insulated. A & my uncle D took the unenviable jobs of crawling behind the knee-walls to insulate. And Uncle D took a staple to a finger, which may be the most serious injury incurred at the Einsel House to date. Uncle D stoically claimed he didn't need a bandaid, but my mom got him to take one by saying, "Kimberly won't want blood all over the house, so you'd better put one on." She was right.

Pictures will follow as soon as I get to the house to take them. For now, here's some visible progress outside of Cecilia's bedroom - the old windows followed by the new windows.

(More painting and repointing will obviously be coming next spring.)

To D, D, A, B & of course mom - Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I'm so sorry to have missed today. A good group of people working together can make for such a fun day, and it makes me smile just to imagine the five of you working and laughing together today. : )

Friday, December 25, 2009

Waiting for the Kidlets to Wake

It's after 7am Christmas morn, but there's no pitter patter of little feet yet, so, I have to share the pictures I took at the Einsel House yesterday. Visiting the house yesterday was a bit like Christmas a day early for me. (Actually, every day I visit the Einsel House still feels a bit like Christmas to me!) I'll start again with the kitchen ceiling. The contractors are doing an excellent job bracing and strengthening the roof here. The two large black tubes are ductwork for the heating system. Since we are losing the cathedral ceiling we will now be able to heat this end of the room. It's at least a silver lining to a cloud.

The picture below I find very interesting. (Have you noticed yet that whenever I say that the next pictures has stone in it?) This is the wall in a corner of the dining room. This corner will be boxed out for more ductwork, but they uncovered the original stone wall first. I love this because the chisel marks in the stone are so obvious. As I explained in a post earlier this fall these same chisel marks can be found on many of the stones on the Einsel House's exterior (albeit they are much more faded there due to 160 plus years of exposure to the elements). According to our masonry contractor, each chisel mark represents a hammer blow to a chisel back when the stone was quarried. As I try to count the number of lines on these stones I am again left in awe at the amount of work that went into the construction of this house.

And, as I mentioned at the end of the last post, we have replacment windows installed! Here's Cecilia's future bedroom - ceiling and knee walls gutted, with two new windows facing east:

That covered up window at the end of the last post? Here she is today:

And to tie this all together, here is a picture taken through one of the new windows looking out over our stronger, straighter roof at the north end of the kitchen:

But stay tuned, folks, I have another post coming regarding our new windows.....

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Catching Up - In Pictures

This post will be picture-heavy. But those are the best kinds of posts, right?

First, the current state of the ceiling at the north end of the addition:

As I mentioned in the last post, jacking up the roof over this section began to go haywire, so we're now going to Plan B. This means a half dropped ceiling like what is over the south end of the kitchen. In the meantime, it was quite neat to see the ceiling opened up to the original construction.

Moving upstairs, here's what will be Charles and I's bedroom:

I made it back to the house for a few hours on Saturday and went to work cleaning baseboards in our bedroom. When I started the baseboards all looked pretty much like this:

After some scrubbing, scraping and sanding, they looked like this:

And then, because I'm impatient, I took a little mineral spirits and rubbed it into the baseboard and a small section of the floor. This should be a pretty accurate representation of what they will look like refinished:

My Uncle J has also been busy in the bedrooms upstairs. Both bedrooms had outlets boxes installed on top of the plaster walls. As you can see below, J has been busy installing these outlets and their associated wiring in the wall rather than on top of it.

And the back bedroom has been in on the actions as well. Remember that knee-wall with the frightening settlement issues? Here's a recent shot of that same wall:
Yes, I know it's still rather frightening. But! Take a look at the pictures below. At left is a beginning close up of the support in the middle of the two doubled up supports. At right is a current close up of that same support. Even with the grainy photo quality it is obvious that the post is going up. It actually is touching the horizontal beam again! (Of course, if I had pictures of the dining room wall below this you could see the cracks and crooked bathroom door that we have now as well - but, I don't have those pictures, so for now we'll just ignore those problems....)
The picture below I think is really neat. I stuck the camera through the posts along the knee wall to get this shot. The stone here was never covered with plaster:
More pictures from the back bedroom. Here's the other knee wall, which Charles gutted on Saturday. Hardly any settling on this wall, thank goodness!
And a closeup of the wallpaper which went half-way up the ceiling. It's about 1920's I've been told. Well, it *was* about 1920's. Charles finished gutting the room (ceiling and all) on Sunday so this wallpaper is no more:

Just a couple more pictures to wrap this up. First, here's back in the parlor where we took out the closet. This will be drywalled over, but for now every time I walk by I have to stop and marvel at the stone construction.

And - our contractor called us today to let us know our windows are in. So we shouldn't have anything like this to look at for too much longer:

If we can all stay healthy, it just might be a kind of Merry Christmas after all!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Jonah Month

I'm still here. Wrapped in blankets and nursing a mug of chicken noodle soup, but here.

First, if you're wondering about the title of this post you're obviously not familiar with the lovely Lucy Maud Montgomery. "A Jonah Day" is the title of a chapter in Anne of Avonlea. Basically, a Jonah Day is a day in which everything goes wrong. A day in which you feel as though you are in the belly of the whale. Anne's Jonah Day culminated when she confiscated a package from one of her students and threw it in the school woodburner, only to find out shortly thereafter that said package was full of fireworks. Fun, fun.

But right now I say, "Anne, you had it lucky. Because if there's anything worse than a Jonah Day, it's a Jonah Month." Which is what December has been around here.

-I started the month out with a visit to the doctor for a wicked sinus infection.

-Our son started the month out by dropping his Great Great Grandma Glick's antique glass milk jug onto his grandparents' glass-top stove. Great Great Grandma Glick's antique glass milk jug survived intact; his grandparents' glass-top stove did not.

-Our truck has been in the shop three times already in December.

-Our daughter visited the doctor for pink eye last week (and missed her preschool Christmas concert because of the same).

-Our son visited the doctor this week for a persistent, nagging cough which has been keeping him (and everyone else around here) up at night.

-Last week I discovered a giant mistake I made at work. Somehow back in October I completely spaced out and put the wrong defendant's name on a complaint. And didn't notice until the judgment entry came back. Not good.

-This giant "whoops" has also been coupled with more than a few other moments at work where my internal monologue says, "You've been in this position for more than 6 months now, Kimberly, shouldn't you have known that by now?" To which I reply, sheepishly, "yes".

-Last week our computer began randomly freezing. It will now only run for 5 minutes before everything locks up. (I'm on my parents' computer to type this.)(Oh, and don't expect any pictures here until this problem is fixed. Assuming I ever get back to the Einsel House to take more pictures.)

-Yesterday I gave in and went back to the doctor's office with classic flu symptoms. The doctor sent me home telling me to rest and drink lots of fluids. (Apparently Tamiflu only works if you start it at the beginning of flu symptoms.)

-Because of the above I'm missing the office Christmas party tonight, which has me feeling both disappointed and guilty.

-Because of all of the above, I have spent all of ONE day at the Einsel House so far this month. One.

But, thankfully, work at the Einsel House hasn't stopped because of Jonah's extended visit. There have been three contractors at the house. B has been patching plaster and skimcoating some bedroom walls. My Uncle J has been doing electrical work, cleaning up unnecessary lines in the basement, and taking outlets in the bedroom that were installed on top of the walls and sinking them into the walls. And C and J have been continuing work on the structural issues. This is moving forward but not without complications. The rotating beam in the basement is rising nicely, and the vertical supports in the back bedroom upstairs are already raised enough that they are once again touching the horizontal roof beam. However, with this is coming some expected cracking of the plaster walls and ceilings in the dining room. We will also have to take down the bathroom door soon. It still closes, but no longer latches, and we have a lot more shifting still to come.

The bigger complications are in the north end of the kitchen. At first, the beam along the roof peak was rising nicely, but this week when they attempted to raise the jacks it began to basically crumble. So, C and J began dismantling what was there and realized the current beam was basically just a hollow plywood box. They gave us a few options, but told us that the cheapest option (which would also provide the most structural stability) would be to drop the ceiling in the north end of the room to the same height it is over the kitchen. This is obviously disappointing, but we clearly cannot leave it the way it is. We are also hoping that this will allow more options for heating the room.

And finally, there's my mom. She's a good one. After her own round of sitting on the couch wrapped in blankets and nursing a mug of chicken noodle soup, she has been back at the house the past couple of days. She's working today on the transom and sidelights from the front door.

I think that brings all up to date. Sorry for the rather bah humbug nature of the post, but frankly, it's been a rather bah humbug month. It's not much fun being in the belly of the whale.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Old Winchester - Part 3

Part 1

Part 2

I've got to start this with one of those typical late-night TV warnings - This post contains material that may be disturbing to some old house lovers. Reader discretion is advised.

There, consider yourself warned.

So we made an offer on Old Winchester. And we waited to hear back from the bank. And we waited. And we waited.

And we waited.

While we waited I finally gave in and visited the library to do some research on Old Win. And I found the following:

And I was over-the-top. In shock. Somehow, I drove the van from the library back to the babysitters to pick up the kids. I scared Miss Nicole a bit, because she took one look at me and said, "Are you okay?!? I mean, you're shaking!" I just held out the picture and stammered, "Isn't it beautiful? Just...... beautiful......"

And we could bring it back. I knew it. The shutters, the porches, that adorable boxed out window, the fish-scale shingles and the leaded glass attic windows.

I had paint colors selected, fabric samples collected in a binder. I spent hours tinkering with Old Win's floor plan, trying to find the best way to make the layout work for our family. The plans below show both Old Winchester's original layout and how we planned to change it. In the first floor, we planned to remove the current bathroom and relocate it and a laundry room in the original kitchen, moving the kitchen to the adjoining room. The biggest change upstairs would be the conversion of a closet into a bathroom.

And meanwhile we waited. In the end, there was more drama involved with the bank than I care to type out here, but (nearly two months after our initial offer) we learned that the bank had sold the house to another buyer (for an amount $5,000 less than our initial offer). We still had a standing offer on the house at the time it was sold.

My only question for the listing agent was, "Are they going to tear the house down?". She assured me that the buyers were going to fix the house up and live in it. And that was enough for me. Were we disappointed - of course. Very much so. But we still had not sold our current home, so at least financially, losing Old Winchester was actually a relief. I was primarily concerned about Old Winchester herself, but I told myself that anyone willing to buy a house in Old Win's condition must surely see the same potential that we saw.

So I watched the county auditor's website, and about a month later the property transfer was recorded. But if I was looking for reassurance it wasn't forthcoming. A search of the new owners' names brought up multiple properties in a nearby town. None of those properties was valued at over $50,000. Several had delinquent property taxes. One was in foreclosure. And with a sickening realization I knew - Old Win was going to continue her life as a cheap rental property.

I should have left it go at that, but I didn't. It wasn't like Old Winchester was in a location that we drove by often. But 10 days after the closing was recorded I went out of my way to drive by Old Win and check out the new owner's progress. There was definately a visible change.

I pulled in the drive, sat there in the van and cried. They had owned the place for ten days. This is a small town county and of course I asked questions. I was told that the fire marshal investigated, but could not prove arson. Old Win's owners collected their well earned insurance money and then, since her role was done, they let Old Winchester sit. More than 6 months later they milked another $8,000 out of Old Win by selling her burned out shell to the neighboring farmer who cut down all the trees, finished pulling the house down, and plowed the entire property under as farmland.

The End.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Give It To Me Straight

alternately titled, "Yes, We're Aware Our House Has Issues".

Compare these two pictures:

Much better, yes, but I every time I pull in the drive and see this part of the house my eye goes to the same area. Not the pile of junk (which has been cleaned up, by the way. This picture is about a month old. The door is also red now, and the storm door and outdoor light fixture are installed as well.) Not even that irksome casement window which should never have been allowed within 100 yards of a nineteenth century house. Nope, my eyes go straight to the roof.

When we bought the Einsel House we thought the roofline looked a little droopy in that area, but like anyone in love with an old house we downplayed it. The roof at that time was such a Joseph's coat of materials it was difficult to tell what was straight and what was just illusion. We also knew that this roof used to have a bell cupola on it right where the roofline sags and we thought this might be part of the issue.

But alas, putting on new shingles only made the issue more obvious. And while painting we realized that the problem wasn't limited to the roof. I've done a bit more playing with pictures to
explain what was happening at the north end of the addition.

As I have explained before, the kitchen used to be two separate rooms. The previous owners took down the wall dividing the rooms and opened the ceiling on the north end of the room. It makes a wonderful open space, but the old walls obviously needed a bit more help than they were left with. So to address the problem we have a new contractor on the job. This is what the north end of the kitchen currently looks like:

The jacks and cables were put in place early last week. The walls and roof look better already, but they are not straight yet. The contractor is letting everything sit for a few days before tighting the cables and raising the jacks again. Although the jacks will eventually come down, the cables pulling the walls back together are permanent. We will have them cased in wood to match the beams along the ceiling. These new beams will also have vertical supports to the roof peak as well as supports at 45 degree angles to the left and right of the vertical support. (Obviously the ceiling fan will need to be moved.)

According to our contractor, the kitchen was considered an area of active settlement. The wall removal and cathedral ceiling were both done within the past 10 years, so presumably the sag in the roof and bow in the walls had all developed within the past decade. But the Einsel House has another area of "middle aged sag" that started much more than a decade ago. To explain this I will need to start in the basement of our 160-odd-year old house, where there are more temporary jacks in place, with a concrete base poured for the permanent support.

To explain what comes next I put together a very simplistic diagram of the floor joists in the back room of the basement. The two dark lines represent large beams. At both ends of the room the floor joists run parallel to these beams and are anchored in the foundation walls. But the middle of the room has floor joists running between these beams. Something like this:

The point of this drawing is to show that the two beams in this section of the basement have joists joined to them only on one side each. So for the past 160-odd-years, these beams have carried more weight and pressure on only one side each. The result it that both beams are essentially rotating in place, with the bottom of each rotating away from the center of the room. The picture to the right is of the beam at the north end of the basement. There is not supposed to be any gap where the floor joists meet the beam. Theoretically, if the beams continue their rotation the floor joists would eventually pop completely out of the beams and the entire middle of the dining room floor would drop into the basement. We would obviously like to avoid that scenario.

So, what's the plan, you ask. Well, Mr. New Contractor has two more steel cables ordered. He will use these between the two beams and basically try to pull the bottoms of each beam back to center. He freely admits he has no idea if he will be able to get the beams to move at all. But even if the movement cannot be corrected, we can at least stop the rotation at its current point. After that, permanent supports will be added under each beam.

And as we continue I want you to start humming to yourself, "The footbone's connected to the ankle-bone. The ankle-bone's connected to the leg-bone...." Because when you have settlement issues in the basement you can about guarantee they'll continue as you move up....

Here we have the dining room. This wall is basically right above the south beam discussed above. Check out the ceiling line.

And moving on up we have the back bedroom. It ain't pretty. (And I'm not talking about that carpet.)

The vertical supports have dropped so far that the ones in the center of the wall are no longer connected to the top beam at all. The good news is that the top beam has both ends anchored in stone walls, so there is no corresponding sag in the roof over this part of the house.

More good news, according to our contractor, is that inspite of the way it might look, these walls are actually perfectly sound. In contrast to the settling in the kitchen, the settling in the stone part of the house appears to be inactive. Scroll back up to the picture taken in the dining room and study the woodwork around the bathroom door frame and the wood chair rail. Both are perfectly straight, even though the floor and ceiling have an obvious sag. This wall was altered when the bathroom was expanded, again somewhere around a decade ago. And since the woodwork done at that time remains straight, it appears that all of the settling in this area predates the expansion of the bathroom. (This is in contrast to the kitchen, where all of the settling occured after the work done by the previous owners.)

So again, you ask, what's the plan? Truthfully, we're not exactly sure. We'll start with the steel cables in the basement and attempt to pull the two beams back in place. If that works, hopefully it will provide results that will carry all the way up to those verticle supports in the back bedroom. But our contractor has no idea if it will work. He says those beams have probably been in their current position for half a century or more, and he has no idea if it is even possible to return them to their original position. Even if they can be pulled back, he isn't sure the walls above them will correct themselves to their original positions. But we're not going to worry about a Plan B until we've given Plan A a go.

And since this post is already long, I'll finish the update quickly. I was under the weather a few days last week and not at the house (thus the Old Winchester saga in place of Einsel House news - part 3 will be coming soon). Over the weekend we did get some work done in the two front bedrooms. There are four paint samples up on a kitchen wall but no winner yet. I'm contemplating using pure tung oil on some floors and/or trim and have done a trial on a piece of walnut but again haven't made up my mind yet. And that's about where we are.

Oh - and if you've been considering a visit to the Einsel House, don't let this post scare you away. As I've been told repeatedly over the past few weeks, this old house is solid as a rock (no pun intended) just the way it is. : )

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Old Winchester - Part 2

(If you haven't already, you can read Part One here.)

The descriptions of my husband and mother were just too tempting. So the next day after work I drove back to Old Win. I pulled in the drive of the township cemetery just down the road and debated with myself briefly. Then I quickly walked to the house and opened the door. I stepped about two feet into the house and pushed the door loosely shut behind me.

It was an eerie setting, and my heart was pounding. The large picture window in the room I was in was one of the windows that had been broken and was covered by plywood, so although it was early afternoon it felt more like twilight in the house. There was a heavy, damp smell in the air and a healthy covering of dust and cobwebs everywhere. I must have stood there, completely still, for at least two minutes as my eyes adjusted to the dim light. To my left was the boarded up window. To to my right was the doorway to the front room, floor to ceiling double doors, solid wood with all their original hardware. Through them I could see into the front room, dominated by a large plaster ceiling medallion centered over a a beautiful light fixture. Hanging from three chains was a very large concave glass fixture with raised ribbing and patterns. Just to the left of the double doors was the doorway leading to the front stairway. Straight ahead of me were two more doorways into other rooms. Every door (except the floor-to-ceiling double doors) had a transom window above it.

Eventually I relaxed enough to tiptoe toward the back of the house. I walked through a room with original unpainted oak wainscoating and into the kitchen. The built in cupboard was the only painted wood in the house, a mint green color that beckoned back to the Great Depression era. It had two large pull-out bins on the bottom, two drawers in the middle with two large cupboard doors above. Back in the wainscoating room I went to the bottom of the back staircase. Clearly the servants' stairs, they went up steeply, with horizontal wood planks in place of plaster on the walls. I walked up the stairs and stood at the top. To my left was a short hall along an open balcony. There were four doors opening from this hall. To my right was a step up into another room. From Charles and my mom's descriptions, I knew walking through this room would lead to the front staircase. I was about to venture into this room when the silence was broken by the sound of something scampering in one of the front rooms upstairs. My timidity was immediately conquered by fear. I bolted back down the stairs and out the door, almost slamming it behind me. I had just enough composure to replace the lock the way we had found it before briskly walking back to the van and leaving.

It was only a couple weeks later that Old Winchester was officially listed with a realtor. We had notified our agent that we were interested in the property, so as soon as it was listed she scheduled a showing for us. For whatever reason, Charles was unable to attend the showing, but my mom and I eagerly went back into the house. Neither of us let on that this was actually our second time in the house, but honestly, our enthusiasm that day was not at all an act. After all, it was the first time for me to see the entire second floor; and for both of us it was the first chance to inspect the home closely and to realize more fully the extent to which the home retained its original features. When we left that day I told our agent to prepare an offer for us. When Charles and I met her later to sign our offer she seemed astounded that Charles would agree to make an offer on a house that he had never been in. (Hee hee! But yes, folks, he really does trust me that much!)

In the waiting game that followed I did some research on Old Winchester. I once read on another houseblog that poverty is the best preserver of old houses. Based on our experiences, there's a lot of truth in that statement. The owners of Old Winchester were not poor, far from it actually, but for many years Old Winchester saw little of the money accumulated by its owners. The couple that built the house had only one son. That son moved to Cleveland and following his parents' deaths in the early 1940s and Old Winchester began a period that would exceed 50 years as a rental property. In 1998 the original owners descendents finally sold the property. The couple that bought it did some "improvements" - wrapped the house in white vinyl siding, put in poorly installed replacment windows, and put up a couple ugly, cheap ceiling fans - but other than that the house in 2008 was very similar to the house as it was built around 1900. Every door in the house was original, with beautiful Victorian hardware, hinges, plates, doorknobs. (Think lots of stuff like this.) The floor registers were original, featuring more beautiful Victorian scrollwork. (Like this.) Most every door in the house (even interior and upstairs bedroom doors) had a transom window - all still intact and with their original hardware. There were several very early light fixtures and gobs of original unpainted woodwork. The only change in the home's original floorplan had occurred probably at least 70 years ago when a bathroom was carved out of the corner of a downstairs room. The home had seven closets, all original, and four of those closets featured built-in shelving and drawers (with more original ornate Victorian hardware). The two stairways both had open bannisters on the second floor, and the walk-up attic gave plenty of room for storage. The house was under 2000 square feet, but laid out in a way that felt much larger, especially upstairs. The setting was lovely, with plenty of trees.

But when it went on the market Old Winchester was listed at less than $30,000.00.

The reasons were numerous. None of the replacement windows had been properly installed and multiple windows were broken and boarded up. The house obviously needed insulated desparately. Every crack and crevice surrounding doors and windows was packed tight with pastel colored plastic grocery bags. Rather than the basement, the furnace was sitting in the corner of a first floor room (or at least it was sitting there until vandals broke in and stole it while our offer was pending.) The wiring was frightening. The bathroom was revolting - the toilet bashed in with a sledgehammer, the walls surrounding the bathtub black with moisture. The kitchen was, well, let's just say "primitive" and leave it at that.

When my dad was in the house at our second showing he was pretty quiet. He knew from our descriptions that the place was rough. But in a closet upstairs he began to laugh out loud. This particular closet was carved out of the sloping roofline on the back of house, beside the servant's bedroom. The roof rafters were exposed, running diagonally from the roof down to the floor. The previous owners had "insulated" by taking the cheapest black trash bags imaginable (the kind that are semi-transparent and that your fingers poke holes in as soon as you try to pick up the bag, no matter how light the contents are) and had filled these bags with loose insulation. These bags filled with insulation had then been stapled to the underside of the roof between each rafter. This system had obvious problems right from the start, but those problems had been exasterbated by the home's most recent (four-legged) inhabitants. Basically, the raccoons had had a heyday in this closet, shredding the trash bags and leaving pretty pink fluff all over the place. And running through all of this mess was a prime example of the house's "wiring" - two wires draped from rafter to rafter. Where they met, the plastic covering was stripped from each with the bare wires then twisted together. As my dad plucked a pink tuft from the tangled wires he jokingly said, "If you buy this place, you know to disconnect the whole power supply and start completely over, right?"

"Of course, Dad," I laughed, "Don't you think we know at least that much?!?"

"Just making sure," he replied before we headed toward the next bedroom. be continued (Part 3 here)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Old Winchester - Part 1

The Einsel House was not the first house we tried to buy. Technically, Old Winchester was not the first house we tried to buy, either. But it was the first house we fell in love with.

It was August of 2008. We had our house on the market, and told ourselves we wouldn't buy anything until our house sold, but then we found Old Win.

By this time I had my routine down:

(1) check the county sheriff's website for the list of past sheriff sales
(2) find properties in locations we could live with
(3) check how many of those properties had been bought back by the bank
(4) take this list of properties and go to the county auditor's website to determine if any of the remaining properties met all of the following conditions - more than 1 story in height, at least 80 years old, minimum three bedrooms
(5) if any property was still in the running I then went to Google's satellite map view to see if the property really was in the country, or if it was surrounded by 5 acre plots filled with ranch or manufactured homes

Obviously, by this point there were not many properties remaining. But there was a house on Old Winchester Road that looked like a possibility. It had been bought back by the bank in June, 2008 and as of August had not yet been listed with a realtor. According to the auditor it was a two-story, four-bedroom home, just under 2000 square feet, two porches on the south side of the house, lot just under 2 acres, surrounded by farmland. I decided to do a drive by.

She was easy to find, the only house on that stretch of road. The unmowed lawn encouraged me to pull in the drive, and what I saw brought an immediate smile. She was nestled among trees, with an old apple orchard just north of the house. The profile and lines of the house were proud and true, in spite of the obvious ravages of vandalism and neglect. I ventured from the van up to the shaky porches and pressed my face against the storm doors. And without even stepping foot inside I knew I was hooked.

That night I mentioned the place to Charles and told him I thought it looked very promising. So the next day he pulled in the drive and walked around for a look. And he noticed one thing I hadn't - the combination lock on one of the front porch doors was open. The upside-down 'U' on the lock had not been pushed down into the mechanism below it, so although it was holding the door closed it was not locked. Charles had actually opened the door and looked inside, but then closed the door and left it exactly as he had found it.

I was already in love with what I could glimpse through the windows, so the knowledge that a door was unlocked was tempting indeed.

So by dusk the very next day we were back with the kids, my mom, one of my aunts, and several flashlights in tow. Honestly, I'm not the breaking-and-entering type. (Honestly!) Charles was hesitant too, but in the end he and my mom went into the house, with our daughter riding on her grandma's shoulders. (To this day, Cecilia refers to Old Winchester as "The House With the Creepy Closets.") My aunt and I waited in the yard, terrified that a sheriff's deputy would pull in the drive at any minute. Once in a while we would see a flashlight beam reflect in a window, but finally they came back out and again closed (but didn't lock) the door behind them.

"It's rough," my mom said with a broad smile on her face, "but you would love it, Kim."

We stood in the yard while Charles and my mom tried to sketch the floorplan on a scrap of paper. They didn't have too much trouble with the first floor, but when they tried to sketch the second floor they got confused. In the end they settled on describing the upstairs as "really neat" but gave up on sketching its layout. They did agree though on the following: two staircases, original built-in cupboard in the kitchen, gorgeous original woodwork, all wood floors, lots of closets, walk-up attic. But they also agreed it was rough, rough, rough. And they agreed that there was evidence the most recent residents had been raccoons. "But you would love it, Kim," my mom repeated, still smiling. be continued (Part 2 here)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Another Weekend Outdoors

A Busy Thanksgiving updated - I've got the promised picture from the parlor. But first, here's a reminder of what we started with:

And what we ended with:

There's obviously a lot of work yet to do, but it really is amazing how much larger and brighter the room feels with the wall down. And it brings attention back to the woodwork surrounding the door. I'm anxious to get the transom and sidelights back in. (And of course to get that front door replaced as well.)

In the corner of the room we now have this pile of 2x4s, which we salvaged from the walls we took down:

We also have this five-gallon bucket filled about 3 inches deep with all the nails and screws we pulled out of the boards we salvaged (I have no idea what that aerosol can is doing in there):

Thus ends the Thanksgiving update; on to this weekend. The weather once again was wonderful. November has truly been a gift. Based on the extended forecast I suspect that our exterior work may be halted until next spring, but we have been blessed to get as far as we have.

This weekend we focused on the area outside the bathroom. Again, here's reminder of where we started:

And where we are now:

It's much better, but we're not quite done. In addition to waiting for the local home improvement store to restock hinges we have more painting to do along the eave.

The steps here clearly show the former porch which was enclosed when the bathroom was expanded. To the right is another former window. This was also closed when the bathroom was remodeled and now opens to cupboards on the interior. We finished this with "closed shutters" like we did the other closed window on the north side of the house. In this case we had to shorten the shutters to accommodate the fan vent at the top of the old window. When we bought the Einsel House, the ductwork for the bathroom fan was completely unattached. It was hanging loose, venting everything directly into the small cupboard beside the bathtub. The hole where the vent was intended to be was instead home to a large birdnest. Our weekend started with displacing the birds and reattaching the fan vent.

Finally, here's a current view of the entire stone house. It's not too bad. But if you cut the picture in two and only look at the bottom half it's downright good. :)

Meet the Supervisor

This is Maxine the Cat. She spent most of the weekend supervising our work.

Shortly after this she actually jumped up on my shoulders.

With sidekick Fluffers.
They had to be forcibly removed from the ladder before we could put it away.

(No paint was spilled in the taking of these pictures,
but Maxine's tail didn't fare quite so well.)