Friday, January 30, 2015

Molding, Trim and Shutters, Oh My!

Sometimes smaller projects can really enhance a room. To complete the look in our living room, David installed crown molding. This was his first time doing crown molding and it took him a while. This project was difficult because the corners aren’t 90 degree angles, but slightly off. When you have an old house, the walls aren’t going to be perfect, making things a little more complex. Also, because of the layout of our living room, he needed to make a lot of cuts.





Lots of angles








David had to make special cuts on the wall with the windows to accommodate for the curved bow front wall. This project was a learning experience. In the end it turned out good, but it took a few tries to get all of the angles correct.








Another challenge was figuring out a way to install the crown molding on the brick wall. It couldn't just be nailed into the brick like it is on drywall. David developed a clever solution and decided to install a "shoe" on the brick that the crown molding could attach to. He used 1 x 3 plywood and screwed it into the mortar right where the bottom of the crown molding would hit. Then he used a nail gun to nail the top of the crown molding to the ceiling and the bottom of the molding to the shoe.

I like the molding because it helps tie the brick wall into the other walls in the living room for a cohesive look.





To fill in the areas where there were gaps because of the cuts in the molding he added some caulk and then primed and painted all of the molding so that it would blend in.




David also replaced the trim around the door since we now had the transom that needed to be outlined. He used corner rosette and fluted molding. This look is a throw back to the Victorian era. I think the border adds some nice detail to the door.





Corner Rosettes with fluted casing.


Finished door casing.

David matched the window trim to the trim around the door. He wants to make all of the windows and doors in our house uniform eventually.


Finished window trim. Sad paper blinds.


David found used shutters from Community Forklift and installed them on the lower half of our living room windows. This allows for us to open them when we want some light (or to let Stevie peak outside) or close them for privacy. They look much nicer than the paper blinds we were using. We eventually upgraded to cordless top down, bottom up shades on the top half of the windows because, well we are real adults and needed to get real blinds.

Repurposed Shutters.



Here are some pictures of the finished window trim, crown molding and door trim. These elements add some dimension to our living room.

New Adult Blinds.


Finished transom and door trim.



Finished crown molding.


Brick wall with crown molding added.



Friday, January 23, 2015

Installing a Transom


Back in the day, old houses had transoms which are windows above doors. These were often in every doorway in the house and the transom could open out. This allowed for air ventilation. Transoms look aesthetically pleasing and bring more light into a room.

David proposed that we put a transom above our front door. He was sure that there used to be one, since all of our neighbors have them, but we had different ways to go about creating the transom.

Transom underneath the drywall.


Other houses on our block have vestibules. Basically, it's a little “mud room” as you enter the house where you can remove your boots and coat. Then you open another door and need to take a step up to enter the living room.  Our house was originally built with a vestibule, but it was removed at some point. Now, you have to take a step up to enter the living room directly from the porch. Because our door is raised above the porch, the space above our door that would allow for the transom is smaller than our neighbors. 

Our options for the creating the transom were:
  1. Leave the living room and door as is and have a small transom.
  2. Create a vestibule and lower the door so we can install a higher transom like the house used to  have.
  3. Lower the door so we can install a higher transom, but do not create a vestibule


I don’t like the idea of having a vestibule, because although it is what the house historically had, it would take up some space in our already modest sized living room. We could lower the door, but then without a vestibule, we would just have a section of our living room that is lower than the rest.  I don’t like this idea either as it just seems unnecessary to me.

For now, we decided on option one; we created a smaller transom. Our transom is 7 inches high, as opposed to our neighbors which have transoms that are about one foot high. Lowering the entrance is something we will have to re-visit again when we attempt to refinish the original floors. The flooring by where the entrance is will be lower and it would be difficult to replace and make it level with the rest of the floor.

7 inch high transom. 


Eventually, we want to put stained glass in, but we can't find one the is the right size for our smaller transom. They are pretty expensive as well. Most antique stores sell stained glass transoms from $250 and up. Also, a lot of ones we have found have house numbers on them, so they wouldn't be practical. A custom made stained glass transom would be even more expensive.

Since there used to be a transom above the door, it wasn't very difficult to turn it back into a transom. David made a hole in the wall above the door. There was no insulation inside and it was essentially an empty box that was just covered with drywall on the inside of the house and a piece of plywood on the outside of the house. David straighten the box to make it level and then installed a stop to hold the glass in place. David cut the glass from an old frame to the size of the hole. He put the glass up in the box above the door but it wasn't fastened yet and it ended up falling and breaking over his head! Scary. Luckily it didn't hurt him. The mishaps of home renovation...

We decided to just purchase a new piece of glass from a hardware store down the street. It only cost $4 and they cut it to the size we needed.  The glass was cut an eighth of an inch short so silicone could be added to make sure the window was air tight in order to prevent drafts. The silicone allows the wood to contract a bit so that it won't crack the glass.

David researched different ways to add house numbers on the transom. To purchase custom gold leaf numbers it would cost at least $40 per digit. The installation would need to be done by a restoration specialist, adding to the cost. David decided to just add the numbers himself with a very simple method. He printed the numbers in a black outline and colored them in with a gold paint pen that cost $5 at an art store.

Numbers printed out.

He then used Elmer's glue to attached them to the glass. I would have never thought that Elmer's glue would work as an adhesive on glass, but apparently it did! And, it has held up for two years.

Adding Numbers to the glass.

Inside view.


He had to replace the door trim since now it needed to extend around the transom as well. I will discuss replacing the trim a little more in a later post.





He painted the box to finish the outside.









Adding the transom was one of those projects that wasn't very difficult but adds a lot to the living room and the outside of the house. Like many projects we do in our house, the glass will not be a permanent fixture, but rather a placeholder until we decide to upgrade it to a stained glass window. For now, we're content with our inexpensive glass transom.


We often get this cool shadow of the numbers on our ceiling.

Here's what the finished product looks like on the inside and outside. 


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Exposing Brick



Since we have already completed a lot of projects in our house, this blog won’t necessarily go in chronological order of when they were completed or what we are currently working on. I decided to start out with the project that I pushed for and helped out with the most…exposing the brick wall in our living room.

I’ve always loved exposed brick. It just adds that old Baltimore City rowhouse vibe. I suppose that this project does not align with our goal to restore our home, because David tells me Victorians would never have exposed brick. Which makes sense…people would think they were too poor to cover up the brick. Regardless, I love the look of brick walls inside houses. So I lobbied for David to undertake this project. He was game, but explained that it would be difficult work. Not mentally, but physically.

Before: Boring white wall.

Before: On the left you can see the box that covered the radiator pipes which we also exposed.

David checked a small area to make sure that there was indeed brick behind the drywall in the living room. Can you imagine if there weren’t? But alas, we saw red brick underneath, so the project was a go!


First sign of brick, under drywall and a lot of stucco.

In April 2013, David, myself and David’s brother, Daniel started the demolition of the exterior drywall. We used this handy tool that David and his brother refer to as a “Pata de Cabra” which is a Spanish name for the tool and I do not know what it's actually called, but essentially it's a long crow bar. You wedge it behind a slab of drywall and pull it towards you to get the wall to break away. The drywall came off in sheets, oh hey, is that what drywall looks like before it's installed?

Next up was to remove the stucco. And man, was David right, this was going to be tough work. As someone growing up with three older brothers, I have done very little manual labor like that in my day. I was using muscles that I didn’t know existed. But, I pulled my weight. Little by little, I hammered away at the stucco. Essentially beating the cement until chucks would fall to the ground.

When you have an old home you often find some interesting things. We found horse hair in the wall! Fun fact: Back in the day people used horse hair to help bind plaster together.

Half-way through, I get to the middle of the wall and notice after a piece of stucco is removed, that there isn’t brick behind it, but something else. Umm, “What’s that?” I ask. After removing more stucco, we were able to tell that it was a large 4 inch diameter pipe running from the ceiling to the ground. Well, this is great. Turns out that the pipe was an old exhaust pipe for an oil heater and it was smack dab in the middle of my beloved brick wall. I guess you can’t really plan these things. We would just have to make do. So in addition to our exposed brick wall, we would have an exposed pipe. Maybe that gives it character? We also found two sections where a brick was missing and it had been replaced with some wood.


Pipe in the middle.


Did I mention how messy this project was? Dust everywhere! We had put up a plastic tarp to enclose in that section of the living room so the plaster wouldn’t fly everywhere, but it still did. I looked like someone out of an Ebola lab with a huge gas mask and goggles on to prevent the dust from going into my lungs and eyes. We ran a humidifier to help with the dust.



After a few hours of hammering away, the stucco was no longer on the wall, but there was a ton of it on the ground. We filled up industrial size trash bags about a third of the way because we didn’t want the bags to be too heavy to carry. Man, is that stuff heavy! I don’t remember how many bags we used, but it took two trips to the dump to get rid of what was once the outer-wall in our living room. It seemed like we were making some real progress here! The next step was to scrub the remaining pieces of plaster off of the brick with wire brushes. What a great bicep workout!

Brick all cleaned up.


Later, David and his brother decided to investigate the pipe and confirmed that there was no need for the old exhaust pipe and so they yanked it out of the wall. Now, instead of a big pipe in the middle, we have a big hole. We decided that we could fill the hole with some reclaimed wood to match the coffee table and shelf we have. This seemed like the best option, so I tried to focus on the positive…it gives it character!

After that, my role in the project was pretty much over, except for continuing to sweep, vacuum and clean up. We were finished for the day and the exposed wall was looking good (minus the stupid hole).


Lining up wood to fit in the hole. Radiator pipes exposed on the left. 


Solution to the hole in the wall.

The next few days, David used a sealer to brighten up the brick and then re-pointed the brick in some spots (filled in the mortar). The final touches were to fix up the drywall edges on both sides of the brick so that it was straight and installing baseboard on the brick to match the other walls.

Putting the baseboard on.


Wall that David patched to be straight.
Wall patched and radiator pipes painted.




I think the wall turned out nicely and have grown to not mind the piece of wood in the middle of the brick. Though I always wonder what potential renters/buyers will think when we are ready to move out of the house. An additional benefit to the look of the brick is that we gained a little extra space because the wall and stucco were a few inches thick.

This project taught me that with an old home you never know what you’re gonna get, but I guess that keeps it interesting!




What the brick wall looks like today.

You can view a time lapse of some of the work here. The video gets difficult to see because of all of the dust.





Next week, I'll discuss more changes we made to our living room.


Would the random wood in the middle of the wall be a turn off to anyone?