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. 

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