Friday, October 5, 2012

Once Upon a Window Seat, Part I

Follow the rest of this project at the following links: Part II , Part III and Part IV.

Since I've posted a couple of photos after the fact, it’s time to go back and start from the beginning. When Mr. Vagabond and I bought this old house, I almost immediately started planning a window seat flanked by two cabinets at the front end of the living room. The space was ideal, with two 3-foot-wide, 7-foot-tall windows centered on the wall, and an equal amount of wall space on both sides of the windows. We lived here for about 5 years before we launched the project. I am nothing, if not a patient person.

At the moment, the built-in looks like this. I still have work to do, but the rest is for me to finish as I can. Hopefully before Christmas.

The first photo (below) in the series to follow shows how the project began... a full year ago. It didn't take a year to finish, just to move past the part where I committed to it and where actual construction began. When I installed the new floor in the living room, I bought flooring materials on sale and was afraid I would run short. To avoid that, I framed out the foundation for the window seat and both cabinets, and then installed the flooring up to the edge. As you can see, I had some new lumber, but I also repurposed a lot of leftover boards from other projects. It's not as if lumber has an expiration date.

The boards on the floor along the wall were much too short in pieces, but the foundation didn’t have to be pretty; it only had to function. The board fastened to the wall under the window would serve as a cleat to anchor the back side of the window seat. I fastened all of the lumber to the floor and wall with 4-inch deck screws, which seems like overkill since I didn't anticipate rain in the living room (a dangerous thing to say in a house that's over 120 years old). I used deck screws instead of common wood screws because we had a large boxful on hand, they're strong, and the heads are less likely to strip when driving them in. Four-inch screws also let me grab the studs in the wall that were buried under what I discovered were layers and layers of plaster, drywall, old furring strips and paneling, and more drywall. Probably the walls in this house are a lot different from yours.

View from the left end.

Now, this lovely assembly looked exactly like these two images for about a year before any further progress was made. I installed the living room floor, but took no steps, short or otherwise, toward completing the project. Then we learned that Mr. Vagabond’s family planned to visit us in August. Yikes! Along with everything else that had to be done, I really wanted this thing finished when they arrived. Mr. V. asked what my top priorities were, and I saddled him with this, among several other things. Good thing he’s a good sport. 

View from the right end.

In the next image, Mr. V. is doing a test fit for the front and back “walls” of the window seat. They were built, raised, leveled and fastened the same as you would frame up a wall in your house, just smaller. Each section consisted of one horizontal board across the top and bottom, and short vertical boards across the width which serve as miniature studs. You might notice that the framework at the right end of the book case is awfully short. That’s because I changed my mind (I do that), and wanted book cases instead of ceiling-to-floor cabinets. Because the foundation was much too deep for book cases, we decided on two short cabinets at each end of the window seat with a book case on top of each cabinet. 

I’m skipping past the part where he measured the foundation that I built, shook his head and told me that he loved me. Several times. He said that with a heavy sigh, and sometimes a chuckle. He also laughed at my use of salvaged lumber, but did have to agree that there was no sense to be found in buying new 2 x 4s to use where they would never be seen. 

This is day-1. Errr, night-1

While I was out of the room, he decided that he didn’t like my wall cleat, and planned a new height and configuration for the window seat. It didn’t occur to me until later (too late) that he wasn’t using my carefully-planned seat height measurements, and was instead working with his own height in mind. My feet dangle off the edge of the window seat now. I’m considering building a step.

Standard chair seat height is approximately 18 - 20 inches, by the way. Most chairs are about 18 inches deep, too, but I like to sit sideways. The finished depth became about 2 feet, which lets me do that comfortably. 

In the next photo, we had built both walls and set them upright on the foundation. We found the straightest board that we owned (which is hard to do when shopping at Lowe’s, lemme tell ya), laid the board as a bridge across the top of both walls, front to back, and set the level on top of the board. Ordinarily, you’d use a 4-foot level, but ours was in the garage, which is at the back 40 of the property, and it was dark. And there is no electricity in the garage. Because we have never found a single floor in the whole house that is level, we had to shim up the framework. Only then were we able to fasten the whole thing together. 

Never underestimate the importance of building things level, square and plumb. 

The next photo was taken at the end of the first day. We had spent most of the day at Lowe’s, so we got a late start. Day-2 held a lot more progress.

Little Sinner in the way helping.

Gypsy made her own progress, taking advantage of the fact that Mama and Dada were otherwise occupied. I caught her turning a board into toothpicks on the sofa. People think that I exaggerate when I tell them about the things that she does. By the time we’d worked all of one day, she’d torn several small holes in the sofa. Oh well. I wanted to bring my awesome old vintage sofa downstairs anyway.

Not the most normal dog on Earth.

At the end of the first day, we wondered what we'd gotten ourselves into. That's pretty much a theme around here. We also realized that our $600 budget was about to be tested. Although we purchased much more materials than we thought we'd need, things almost never go as planned. We made at least five more trips to Lowe's, and at least as many to the liquor store. 

Next week, Part II




  1. Hi,

    I have a quick question about your blog, do you think you could e-mail me?


  2. Detailed and well renovation blog, and your dogs are cute also, I bet they want to assist in renovating.