Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Little Laundry Room that Could

Lately, I think more and more about my laundry room. It's horrifying. I want to change that. 

When we bought this house, we assumed the little room adjoining the kitchen was a dining room. Later, we came to the conclusion that it was the original kitchen, and the existing kitchen and bath were either nonexistent, or they were a porch. Because Mr. Vagabond and I have never, in our 14 years together, used a dining room, I decided to claim it for my laundry.

Sadly, I can't find a single image of the whole laundry room the way it looked when we bought it. They're probably on my other computer. The one without a monitor. Ha!  However, I did find a few that show some of the sad state of affairs.

This photo is a mess!  However, it also gives some perspective on the house layout while showing the level of insanity Mr. Vagabond and I reached by purchasing this house to begin with.  It was extraordinarily dusty inside that day because we were doing demo work. Dust and digital cameras are not best friends. What you see here is my living room facing the kitchen doorway. That is the doorway I later moved to the right because it led straight into the white wall you can see just beyond it. 

On the right wall, there is a doorway beside the nasty book shelves. That doorway led into the laundry. I later walled it up because I didn't want the laundry humming over Princess Bride in the living room.

Until today, I had forgotten just how horrible this room looked back then. I should never complain about my house not being finished. This seems like a lifetime ago.

This lovely image is of the laundry room ceiling. I was kinda heartsick when I saw all the old wallpaper hiding behind the drop ceiling. Sadly, as is often the case in very old houses, ductwork and new plumbing were installed and had to be covered somehow. Drop ceilings are an inexpensive choice that almost anyone can install. Luckily, they are just as easy to UNinstall. Don't ask me why those 2x4s were under the drop ceiling. Our only guess was that the former owners were trying to figure out a way to hang a new ceiling. *sigh*

You know you're jealous. Admit it. 

We had a big problem in here. We could install a drywall ceiling, but I wanted the ability to hang things from the ceiling (eventually). With the joists above so much higher than the level where the new ceiling would be, there wouldn't be enough support for drywall and whatever I wanted to hang. We opted to hang OSB for extra durability and to give me something to twist hanging hooks into. 

Same ceiling, but with OSB and new wiring installed. Also, Mr. Vagabond's shoulder in the left corner. :-)

OSB is not the ceiling of choice for most rooms. It's very heavy to lift, and the surface is rough. We framed out the perimeter of the ceiling with 2x4s (remember, the level is your friend!), then installed 2x4 braces across the room every 12 inches. We also installed 2x4 vertical supports that fastened to the joists in the original ceiling and the horizontal braces across the ceiling. After the new ceiling framework was in place and sturdy, we screwed the OSB to the braces and the perimeter frame, placing screws about 6 inches apart. Six-inch screw spacing is a bit of overkill, but we didn't want to risk this heavy stuff sagging. 

Now, I have a ceiling that is solid as all get-out. Unfortunately, it still looks just like this. :-(

The next thing we tackled was the floor. It was in very poor condition. Luckily, the old beaded board wainscoting, beaded door molding and even the plinth blocks were still in place and strong. The original baseboards were long gone, and replaced with plastic ones. Yuck. 

That little 3-pound sledge on the right made light work of breaking up the rotted flooring, and that allowed us to assess the damage under the floor. We were both stunned and amazed to learn that the joists under the house were rock-solid. All we had to do was replace the damaged subfloor.

I remain stunned by the way this place looked 5 years ago.

A word of warning about old vinyl flooring. It's brittle, and it can be sharp as a razorblade. There is no such thing as peeling up old flooring like the red brick vinyl we had in here. You lift, it breaks, you lift again, more breaks and so goes the rest of your day. We switched to a flat shovel for prying it up. 

Another word about vinyl. It is not the same thing as linoleum. They are completely different. Vinyl is the stuff you can buy in rolls or self-adhesive tiles. Linoleum is the old, speckled stuff that lasts forever. The color is solid all the way through and it's eco-friendly. Linoleum is made from linseed oil and a number of other things that are normally waste products like sawdust and cork dust. After helping my former landlady install a gorgeous linoleum floor in the kitchen / keeping room of her massive historic house in Knoxville, I decided I would one day use that material in my house.

Unfortunately, this is where the photos for this room end for now. After removing all the vinyl, we scabbed in plywood where the old subfloor was rotted. That leveled the floor, even though it does nothing for the appearance of the room besides covering the holes. 

After much deliberation, I have decided to lay either vinyl or linoleum in the laundry. I am not a big fan of vinyl, but it's one of the few choices we have that will actually work. Because this room is already about an inch higher than the kitchen that's through the doorway, any flooring we lay in the laundry will raise it even higher. I considered tile briefly, but after installing cement board and tile, the height difference would be significant. We'd either having a tripping hazard in the doorway, or a ridiculously thick and sloping transition strip in the doorway. 

Now that spring is teasing me with on again / off again warm weather, this room is once again at the forefront of my reno dreams. Don't ask me why spring equals laundry. I do wash clothes during the other seasons, too. I swear.

At the moment, I have major issues with the laundry. No real floor, no storage and the old, vintage stove that takes up a lot of room while we wait to have it repaired. I have plastic storage tubs stacked to the ceiling in one corner. There are cardboard boxes stacked everywhere. Tools always seem to levitate to this room, too. Basically, it's a catch-all for everything downstairs that doesn't have a home somewhere else. It's also the landing spot for out of season clothes that I can't manage to haul up to the attic on my own. 

Here are a few inspirational images I have found, and I would like to incorporate them somehow. 

Boxes over the open cabinets would really help with the storage problem

HOW cool is this? Ordinary hooks installed in pairs for the brooms and mops. 

As soon as I can find baskets that are tough enough to support heavy items, I am totally converting one wall in the laundry to pegboard. 

I heart this with a thousand hearts! Beadboard would be super-easy to install over the existing OSB. I love how bright the room looks with the beadboard ceiling painted semi-gloss white. 

I already have a closet like this in the laundry, although it's not pretty like this one. It's the back side of the original doorway leading to the living room. 

In a twist of weird, I painted the walls above the wainscoting aubergine. Not exactly a great color for the laundry. If memory serves, I dumped several cans of paint together and that's what I got. The wainscoting is white now, but I have to strip it. After repeated cleanings, stains still seep through the white paint. I'm not adding Kilz over a hundred years of paint. I'll strip it all, and start from scratch. 

I am gathering inspiration for my laundry room. Storage is the top priority. That, and a floor that I am not required to wear shoes on. 


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Inaugural Renovation Post

So you're probably thinking,  "Another blog about DIY renovations? Great. There aren't nearly enough of those."

For the most part, you're probably right. The Internet is saturated with blogs about DIY projects. The difference between those and mine, at least in my opinion, is that this renovation is me, on my own, elbows deep in a 121-year-old folk Victorian house. And I'm taking no prisoners. My husband pays for the things I need, and I do pretty much all of the work. 

Before I get into the work around here, I'd like to clear up a little confusion about Victorians. Those pretty things you see in new suburban developments? They are "like" Victorians. The Victorian architectural era began in the mid 1800s and lasted until the very early 1900s. Basically, we're talking nineteenth century architecture.

Does the image of a pointy,fancy, painted lady in San Francisco or a sprawling, white house with a rounded porch and circular towers come to mind? Those images aren't incorrect, but they're only part of the period. There are numerous Victorian styles. 

Gothic Revival is one of the earliest in the Victorian era. Gothic Revivals are often loaded with fancy gingerbread trim and have steep-pitch rooflines.

Second Empire is generally very tall with short, steep Mansard rooflines atop towers. Think: Addams Family. 

You rang?

Another Victorian style is Queen Anne. Queen Anne's appearance might be more familiar to you. Numerous modern builders copy the elements and market them as Victorian

Maybe when my house grows up, it will be a Queen Anne!

There are other Victorian styles, but these are favorites of mine.

And then we have my house, the folk Victorian. If you study the photos above you can find certain elements from each of them in my house. Folk Victorians were developed for the less-than-affluent. Homes like mine were built with simple, straight lines. Embellishments could be added if the home owner's budget allowed.

This image was taken the same year my house was built - 1890. Notice how the bones are basic, and the fancy bits are add-ons. Imagine the house without the porch and gingerbread trim. It would be your basic farm house. 

I love this porch.

My folk Victorian is just about as plain and ordinary-looking on the outside as a Victorian gets. Actually, it's less exciting than that. 

How she looked the day we bought her. Poor baby.

Over the years, it has been remuddled in so many sad ways. The minute I saw her, I knew she had to be mine. I had to fix her. I had to give her a hug. 

Our Realtor flipped, but she knew I wasn't joking. 

First, the siding is all wrong. Even if it weren't in terrible shape, it's too wide. The original siding (hidden underneath) is cedar. The porch steps are molded concrete. All of the columns, railings and balusters were replaced with plain, untreated pine boards, and they're in terrible shape, too.

Mr. Vagabond and I were excited about finding the cedar on the back of the house. Well, at least until we realized this was lurking underneath.

Nearly every board was at least partially rotted. And, yes. That is a doggie door that someone installed upside-down. *sigh*

Suffice to say, it needed work.  

We rolled up our sleeves.

Not finished when this photo was taken, but almost.

We spent a weekend chopping out and replacing the parts that couldn't be saved and reinforcing the parts that could be saved. It's hard to see in this photo, but the house is jacked up all the way across the back. Once we finished, we lowered the house back onto a repaired foundation. 

New windows for the kitchen will be a project for another day. I hope to find old windows at a flea market instead of new, modern windows. Anything would be better than this aluminum thing, though. There's another like it on the side of the kitchen, and another in the lower bathroom. I would like a much larger window here to let the morning sunshine in.


Restoring and renovating a 121-year-old house that fell into serious disrepair isn't for the delicate or easily frightened. It takes equal parts vision, patience, money and skill. When those aren't available, I hide in my bedroom, feigning ignorance and blindness. I spend lots of time imagining what my house will look like once I'm finished. But of course, if you ask anyone who has ever ventured into this kind of territory, it's never really done.  

I think about new, narrow, period-appropriate siding. A new, wider porch with fancy columns and balusters. Maybe some gingerbread trim. A nicely landscaped yard. An upstairs bathroom that works.

But those are things for another day. For now, I take it one day at a time.