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.)

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Busy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving meant a day off work and of course we spent it at the Einsel House. This was our first day to focus on interior work and were we ever productive! Charles and I were both busy in the old parlor. Charles spent the day attacking the angled wall that blocked the front door. This had been put up as a temporary wall by the previous owners who used the parlor as the master bedroom.

(Pardon the tiny pictures - I'm posting from work and don't have the software to resize them.)

Angled wall before:

Charles at work (this was about the point where he grinned and said, "This is probably the closest I'll ever feel to being an abusive husband," just before busting another hole in the drywall):

No more drywall:

Yes, he got the wall frame down but somehow I forgot to take a picture. (I think it was because we all just stood and marveled at how much larger and brighter the room seems without that wall in place.) I promise to get a true after picture the next time I'm at the house.

As for me, I was busy attacking the closet at the other end of the room. Here's the closet before:

This closet had been the topic of much discussion. It was added by the previous owners both for storage space and to house ductwork to the second floor. Although it clearly was a modern addition to the room, the POs had obviously done their best to keep the closet true to the character of the room. All of the trim surrounding the closet had been reused from the window that was closed when the closet was added and the bathroom expanded. (See this earlier post for an explanation of the house's layout and how it has changed over the years.)

My opinion on the closet was mixed from the start. It did stick out like a sore thumb (mostly those purple doors) and although a closet makes perfect sense in a bedroom; not-so-much in the parlor. I had decided that although the closet wasn't ideal it could have been a lot worse. And it would make a perfect place to store DVDs, board games and the like. But when I mentioned this plan to my mom she seemed horrified. The closet had to go she said. And she seemed genuinely surprised that I hadn't come to this conclusion on my own. Every time the closet came up for discussion mom remained adament that it must go.

Then we took L through the house. (See this earlier post again.) Although L was in awe of the house overall, he found the closet most disturbing. And his opinion didn't change any upon reflection, as evidenced by this email he sent the next day (keep reading, he'll get to it):

"Hi - I thought you were a History major in College!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Why would the clock shelf be on the west wall of the parlor????
In 1840, a clock was a rare item. Something that had a place of honor.
When you were in the kitchen (now thought of as the dining room) you could look directly west and see the clock on the west wall of the parlor and could tell what time it was.
Of course, the parlor didn't have an ugly closet along the east wall. It had a window which left more light shine into the parlor, so it would be a bright and cheery room.
Pretty good idea
[emphasis added]

Outnumbered, I admitted defeat. My mom has told me repeatedly to thank L for his role in this. "You never would have given in if it was just me telling you to tear it out," mom says. She could be right. Regardless, if the closet was to go it made sense to do it now. So this morning I carefully removed all the beautiful walnut trim and then began attacking the drywall and framing. This is what it looked like by the time we left to go to Thanksgiving dinner at Charles' grandma's:

The HVAC contractor is going to run larger ductwork up the corner of the room, and we will have to box that section off again. We're also still trying to figure out what to do about baseboard. And we will probably have to dig a bit deeper into that old window so that we can mount drywall flush with the existing plaster walls. So stay tuned, folks, there's still lots to come!

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Late Night at the House

I'm back at my desk job today. And periodically I glance down at my hands on the keyboard.

What I see:
-plenty of primer splatter (on closer inspection only 1 thumb seems to have escaped)
-three stubby fingernails that didn't make it through the weekend

What I don't see:
-my wedding rings (left on the windowsill above the kitchen sink so they would avoid primer splatter [see above])

Ah well, I can stop by the house tonight to pick the rings back up. And some paint thinner too I guess.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Another Busy Day

Today was another beautiful fall day and we took full advantage. First, the guys lit the huge pile of junk we've been collecting in the back yard. You can see Charles and my dad in the background. They watched for a while to be sure the fire didn't spread.

Meanwhile, I worked on the "window" pictured below.

The previous owners added a closet on the other side of this window, so it no longer opened to any room. The white on the before picture above is just the backside of the closet's drywall. We took out the old window, framed the opening, added insulation, styrafoam backer board and some closed "shutters" to finish it off.

I also put a final coat of paint on the following area. Anyone unfamiliar with what this area looked like a month ago wouldn't give a second glance now. But - we know what it looked like a month ago, and we're pretty darn pleased with the way it looks now.

And of course my mom was at the house as well. With help from Charles' dad, they began finishing the wall outside the bathroom sinks. When we took a break for dinner they had made the following progress:

And with that I'm off to bed. Back to the house tomorrow (with an early Thanksgiving dinner in the plan too!)

Thursday, November 19, 2009


We've had a busy week. The dreaded H1N1 hit the babysitter's family, so the first half of this week we were juggling back up childcare for our youngest and dealing with hour early dismissal for her older brother because of parent teacher conferences. The only house-related task I accomplished in three days was the hour and a half I spent in Sherwin Williams getting paint samples for the kitchen walls.

But work at the house has continued - thanks to my mom. Check out her progress below.

By herself my mom replaced the boards under this window and replaced all of the missing and damaged battens from this section. She also framed out the window, and has done prep work for several other jobs that are coming up on the "to do" list. But as thrilled as I was tonight to see the progress on the house, I've been even more tickled to see mom really enjoying her time at the house.

Charles and I knew going into this that we would have support from our families, but as the days pass we continue to be amazed at the level of that support. The hands-on work with saws, drills, paintbrushes and the like certainly makes for the best before and after pictures, but it is far from the only support we have received. So many have found ways to help us along this journey, each according to their own ability, and to all of them we are grateful. So to everyone who has helped us keep an eye on the kids at the house, to everyone who still acts interested when we start talking about the house for the 78th time, to everyone who has shared so willingly of time, of talent, of treasure; we say thank you. We're grateful. Truly grateful.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

House Treasures

Our work in the house has uncovered a few little treasures. First there was the bell my mother uncovered in the basement.

It didn't look quite like this when she found it, but my Uncle N sandblasted it clean and we spray painted it to match the exterior light fixtures. This thing is much heavier than it looks, and it has a very loud, full sound. I'd love to know how old it is. We're debating whether to hang it on the house right outside the kitchen door, or if we should put it on a post along the sidewalk from the driveway up to the kitchen.

Shortly after my mom found the bell, Charles uncovered this gorgeous door knob (also from the basement). This doesn't match any of the other door knobs in the house, but it is so stunningly beautiful that I'm considering using it somewhere in the house anyway.

This came with the house as well, although we only have 3 of the 5 globes. Art deco isn't a style I usually gravitate toward, but it's an interesting light fixture none-the-less.

And of course we've also inherited a bunch of complete junk - but it's exciting when you uncover a treasure admist the trash!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Little Bit of This and A Little Bit of That

Another busy weekend under our belt. The weather was wonderful again (at least on Saturday) and we had a variety of visitors as we worked on a variety of jobs.

-We started the weekend off with a visit from the "honey wagon". The septic tank is now empty and cleaned out.

-Charles spent much of the weekend along the creek bed pulling out junk. The creek was used as a dumping ground for years and it will take us years to get it completely clean again (when Charles reads this he's going to laugh and say, "Well there's an understatement!"), but he got a good start this weekend. My Aunt B joined us at the house a couple days and she and Charles worked together in the creek on Saturday.

-Charles also spent part of Saturday gutting the south wall in what will be our daughter's bedroom. No pictures of this, I'll just say that with the hole on the front of the house filled back in, Celia's room is what makes me feel faint.

-Charles' mom was also at the house on Saturday. She was a huge help by watching the kids.

-I spent much of the weekend working on the front entrance and the two front windows on the house. The picture below is not a perfect before and after, but it will at least show some progress. The transom and sidelights are currently removed to reglaze and to replace some broken glass. (And try to look at the woodwork and not that door. Leaded glass looks great on some houses, but definately not the Einsel House. A solid paneled door painted deep red is in the plans for next spring.)

-My dad came over when he was off work to repair a flat tire on the loader tractor.

-My mom spent the weekend working on the back of the addition. She built some temporary stairs for the back door, and on Sunday she removed some extremely weathered plywood that had been put up over an old doorway. The blown-in insulation underneath had several open pockets, so (with help from Uncle J & Aunt L) she filled in the holes with new insulation and replaced the plywood with boards to match the rest of the board and batten siding. This job continued well past sundown on Sunday.

-My Uncle J also spent some more time in the basement, replacing several very corroded and nasty pieces from our well pump. And speaking of Uncle J, below is a picture of him taken last weekend pulling the chopper. (The tractor originally belonged to my great grandpa. We've been a Deere family for a few generations it seems.)

Next week should be interesting as we change gears a bit. On Tuesday our HVAC contractor returns for a final walk-through before they begin replacing the ductwork in preparation for installing the permanent furnace. We should also have a new contractor start work on the house next week. He will be addressing some structural concerns (just typing that makes me nervous) as well as replacing a few windows and doing some drywall repair. And after five weeks of exterior work I'm getting anxious to head inside the house. On my list for tomorrow is picking up some paint samples for the kitchen walls. Fun, fun!!!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Listening to the House (Floor Plans Included)

The first question that new visitors to the Einsel House ask is almost always the same – when was the house built? Or, in the words of the guy who delivered our first tank of propane, "So how old is this place, anyway?" We don’t have an exact answer. I’m hoping to elaborate on this more later, but for now I can say that we have some evidence suggesting the house was built in the 1840’s and some evidence that suggests the 1850’s.

As we spend more time with the house, though, it is slowly revealing bits of its story to us. This post will describe what the house itself reveals about its own history.

I’ll start with a blueprint of the house’s current first floor layout.
The current layout shows the hand of the home’s previous owners in several areas. First, both closets were added by the last owners. They were necessary both to run ductwork to the second floor and for storage space (they are the only closets in the entire house). Second, the angled wall in the parlor was also added by the previous owners. The PO’s used the parlor as a bedroom and put up the angled wall for privacy reasons. They had intended for this to be a temporary situation until they could finish the third bedroom upstairs, and they told us the wall was put up in a very temporary manner, held in place with only two screws and without any damage made to the woodwork behind it. Someday soon we plan to take this wall down. Third, the area with the double sinks in the bathroom used to be an open porch, enclosed by the house on three sides. The former bathroom, including a sink, was crammed into the area currently housing the bathtub and toilet. The doorway to the previous bathroom was closed in when the room was enlarged. Finally, the kitchen addition used to be two rooms of roughly equal size. The northern part of the addition was technically not even living space. People familiar with the house prior to 1997 describe that area as a "workshop", and the family who lived in the house from 1995-97 said they thought it looked like livestock was once housed in this section of the addition(!). The owners before us focused much of their work on this addition, taking down the wall in the center to make this one large open room.

So, taking everything described above into account, below is a blueprint of the house’s layout as of 1997.
All the evidence suggests that this 1997 layout had remained unchanged for a long while. In fact, I am willing to state with some confidence that the home’s layout in 1997 was the exact same as it was in 1897, or even 1887. (Well, minus indoor plumbing I guess.)

But there was an earlier layout. It took a visit from a good friend, L, who has years of experience as an auctioneer and realtor, and who shares my love of all things old, to put together the pieces that reveal the Einsel House’s earliest chapter. During his first tour, this friend would stop and scratch his head at all the same areas that made us say, "hmmmm…". Finally, he stopped in the dining room and I could just see the wheels turning in his mind. And when the wheels stopped turning the light bulb came on, and he gave his guess as to the house’s earliest layout. And based on the evidence I’m pretty sure L’s best guess is correct.

He based his conclusions on a few main clues the house reveals. The first clue is that interior stone threshold that the masons shored up as one of their first jobs at the house. It is the only stone threshold that is not on an exterior door, which suggests that at the time the house was built this door had been an exterior door as well. The second clue is the dining room floorboards. These boards run east/west in most of the room, but at the north end of the room they run north/south. Where they change direction is a slightly wider board that is actually the top side of a large support beam. It had occurred to us before that perhaps the north/south boards had originally been an open porch that was later enclosed. This would explain both the stone threshold and the floorboard direction swap. However, the remaining window frame (now open shelves) seemed to refute this conclusion. Also confusing us was the fact that the baseboards in the north end of the dining room show no evidence of being pieced together or otherwise altered, which one would expect to see if two rooms had been expanded into one larger room. Finally, just a few feet into the dining room from the former window is a circular patch in the floor about 2 inches in diameter. (This is shown by the black dot in the above diagram.) The picture below shows the north end of the dining room. You can see the change in floor board direction, and the former window which is now bookshelves. The stone threshhold is in the doorway to the left in the photo.

The theory L reached borrows not only from the evidence at the north end of the dining room, but also from what we know about the original configuration of the south end of the dining room. L speculates that originally there was a wall on top of the beam where the floorboards change direction. He feels that just like the south end of the room, the north end of the room was divided between an open porch to the west and a small room to the east. He further speculates that the small room to the east included a sink with a hand-pump. Evidence supporting the presence of an early sink includes the patched circular hole in the floor, the location of an old cistern just north of this wall (literally within 10 feet of the proposed sink), and typical layouts of houses from this era. This would also explain why the woodwork around the old window opening looks so original – because it is original. So, this suggests that the Einsel House's earliest first floor layout was something similar to this:

But L believes that the home’s original layout probably did not stay intact for very long. The room with the sink was probably opened up (and the porch beside it enclosed) at the same time the frame addition to the north was built. Although we do not know when the kitchen addition was built, it was clearly in the nineteenth century. Based on the square headed nails used in its construction, and on interior pictures we have seen of the kitchen pre-1997, my guess is that the frame addition dates from the 1870’s (give or take a decade).

An early date for the kitchen addition is also supported by the woodwork back in the dining room. A careful study reveals that the doorway above the stone threshold has been altered (which would make sense if this changed from an exterior to an interior door) however, the wood used in the alteration exactly matches the wood from the original construction. If L’s theory is true this also means that the baseboard along the dining room’s northwest wall was replaced when the former porch was enclosed, but again, the wood used in this baseboard exactly matches the wood in the rest of the room.

Most of the speculation in this post came from listening to the house itself. For me this is one of the best parts of owning an old home - embracing and learning its history. In fact, months before we owned the Einsel House I was in the local library researching its history and its previous owners. But we're about to head back to the house this morning, so I'll save my introduction of John & Elizabeth Einsel for another post. : )

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"Sure, Honey"

Last night Charles was sitting at the computer. He called me over and said, "I read your last post about your missed photo opportunity. Check this out." And on the computer screen was this:

He had a mischevious grin on his face and he said, "I think that, um, your Aunt J took this picture just before she left that day."

"Sure, Honey," I replied, "Sure she did."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Evicting Templeton

I’ve been a bit remiss here, not updating on the rest of our productive weekend. Last night we took a break from the Einsel House and for the first time in a month we enjoyed a nice home-cooked dinner. Tonight will be back to the frozen pizza/canned soup routine.

But back to last weekend. Charles spent most of the weekend scraping paint from the east wall of the addition. I realized too late that I missed an excellent photo opportunity, so you’ll have to use your imaginations here readers. Picture classic MacGyver-style sunglasses (the sun was bright last weekend). Then picture those sunglasses under huge safety goggles (scraping paint above your head is a nasty job). Add an MP3 player and earphones. Finally, add a liberal dusting of white paint chips throughout hair, clothes and all skin not protected by the above-mentioned goggles. Thanks to the good weather and the good music he got the entire wall scraped, and by the end of the weekend it was completely primed as well.

We had several visitors to the house on Sunday, including my mother-in-law, two aunts, two uncles and all four of my grandparents. Grandma W even came with a pot of vegetable soup and two homemade pies (apple and cherry)! Grandma stuck around and helped with priming the east side of the addition, and even came back Monday to help for a couple more hours! My uncle J was back as well. He made one last round with the chopper, clearing weeds along the property line. He put up two exterior light fixtures on the kitchen addition. And he brought a huge spotlight that we can borrow. It is currently on the barn roof where it shines on the front of the house. Since it gets dark shortly after 5pm now this spotlight is a huge help. Thanks to it, I was able to keep working 2 hours past sunset on Monday.

Finally, I have the following update to my "Who You Gonna’ Call" post from a couple of weeks ago. Our "ghost" came back a few nights ago and gnawed through the lid of some hot cocoa mix. Given the size of the teeth marks, we had to admit whatever we were dealing with was larger than a mouse. (Somehow, I found this reality to be even more disturbing then any other-worldly explanation.) We narrowed the possibilities down to rat or raccoon, but in the end decided it was probably a rat. Based on encounters while camping, we figure a raccoon would have figured out how to pry open the plastic lid to the hot cocoa instead of chewing a hole through it. So Charles put some rat poison out, and since the poison disappeared overnight we’re hoping our guest(s) will not return. An animal was our first thought back when the muffins disappeared, but everything was so neat and undisturbed we decided against the obvious possibility. I’m still amazed that whatever it was was able to get up on the counter and take all four muffins without leaving any crumbs behind and without knocking anything over. Because believe me, those counters were piled high with a collection of plates, empty cups, screwdrivers, boxes, receipts, drills, batteries, painting supplies, scrapers, etc… So it was apparently a very careful and graceful rat, but still….getting new basement windows installed has jumped toward the top of the priority list.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

One Month In

Closing was on October 7th, so we've got one month under our belt. We've got months of work yet ahead of us, but all in all I'm pleased with the progress we've made so far.

The weather the past few days have seemed like days left over from Eden. Below was the view from our kitchen window yesterday. Farmers are out in droves taking off corn. It's nearly impossible to drive anywhere without getting caught behind at least one grain truck or combine (or both, as was my case on Friday).

On the house front, we no longer have a gaping hole above the front door! The masons completed this work on Monday. They were back on Tuesday to brace the springhouse and load up their equipment, and they've called it a year at the Einsel House. We've been thrilled with their work and look forward to having the south side of the house repointed next spring.
Although I was at work while the masons worked at filling the hole, my mom witnessed their work and told me that one of them would be up on the scaffolding and would place a stone while the other two stood back and debated if that stone's placement looked natural, or if it would work better in another spot. Because these stones came from several different locations there is some variation in color, but we think they did a wonderful job. The masons also paid very close attention to detail. Check out the picture below.

Other than the beautiful downspout (I think the color works wonderful next to the stone!) check out the only complete stone shone. This is an original stone on the front of the house. If you look closely you will notice faint vertical lines in two rows across the stone. Almost every stone on the house has these, but we had not noticed them until the masons pointed them out to us. According to our masons, each of those lines represents a hammer stroke to a chisel back when the house was built. The amount of work that went into the construction of this house is almost impossible for me to comprehend.

But - back to the area above our door. A few of the stones our masons used to fill the hole are new stones. But the masons used a hammer and chisel to etch lines into each new stone they put in the house so that they would blend with the original stones. That's attention to detail!

So the masons' work has wound to a close for the winter, but thanks to this weather we're still going strong. Below is a picture of yours truly painting the peak at the north end of the addition. Who needs a ladder when you have a loader tractor? :)

Below are my mom and her sister touching up the trim around the new storm door. We had several visitors today, and Aunt J in particular was a wonderful help. She came bearing food, drink and an eight food ladder that we can use for "a few months". (Thank you Uncle K, too!) Unfortunately, the screen door they are standing by does not get such a glowing review. Although it looks very nice and should be quite weather-tight, its installation caused my mom much grief and took her most of the day.

Some days the jobs seem to take so much longer than they should, and the list of projects still waiting can seem endless. But we're moving in the right direction. And since a picture says a thousand words, I'll emphasize this point by closing with a picture from October 19th.

Yeah. It's been a busy month.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Gutters, and Doors, and Heat - Oh My!

That's right - there are gutters on the house! And the color looks perfectly delicious next to the stones!

Charles picked up our special order storm doors tonight, so they'll be on the house soon!

And we have heat! The temporary furnace is up and running - and just in time, because there were snowflakes coming down for a bit this morning. But it's still supposed to hit 60 again over the weekend!

(And with that I think I've used up my weekly allowance of exclamation points. I'll try to be a bit more sedate with the next post.) : )

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

An Invitation

We've got wonderful help on the house. : )

But we're always open to more help! So here's an open invitation - if the current forecast for the coming weekend holds true then we'll be at the house all weekend. If you want to stop by for a tour feel free. And if you're willing to stick around and wield a scraper or a paint brush for an hour or two (or more!) we would be most appreciative! We'll provide pizza, pop, and perhaps even some pumpkin muffins for anyone who lends a hand. : )

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Finally, some more pictures. First off, here's my mom and I making some "progress".

That wall now has its second coat of paint on and the door frame is now on as well. Also, see that baseboard-type board along the bottom of the wall to the right of my mom? We added that ourselves. Below is a before and after shot.

The baseboard has a beveled upper edge so that water should run off of it. (That and we went through about 20 tubes of caulk on this wall.) The existing battens had been cut off at random heights, some 4 inches above the concrete, some up to nine inches above the concrete. We made the baseboard 7 inches tall, so we had to cut some battens shorter but then used those pieces to extend the battens that didn't reach the baseboard.

The masons have been making more progress too. Below is a picture of some of the new tuckpointing on the front of the house. The masons looked at the mortar on the springhouse (which they think is original) and did their best to match the springhouse's mortar color and joint finish on the house.
We still have a hole above the front door, but hopefully it will be filled in soon. The new lintel was finished on Friday and was set in place the same day.

The masons next step will be to fill in the rest of the hole with stones found on the property. (The stones they took out were broken and in small pieces, so they cannot simply put back up what they took down.) This will be something like putting a puzzle together. Below is a picture of some of the "puzzle pieces" they will use for this job. Some of these came from the north side of the springhouse and others were found in the creek bed.

In other news - we got a tree planted near the house.

We rescued two doors from the springhouse. (These fit the doors at the bottom of the stairs and the front entrance to what will be our temporary laundry room/family closet.)

The LP tank has been placed with lines run to the house. The temporary furnace is in place in the basement as well, but it is not functional yet. (No picture of this, sorry.)

And one last picture for this post - this was Friday's sunset with storm clouds rolling in taken over the barn.