My Old House (Part One)

In 2004, after nearly a year of searching, we bought an old house.

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This is a bad shot of the entrance way, but you can see the wall to
wall carpet, which covered the house. Sniff that? Yes, it's cat pee in
the corners. See that closet? It's covering up a window and part
of the stairway. And that 50s door? Yes, it's beautiful, isn't it?

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Here are some shots of the original kitchen. Betty Draper uses that oven in Mad Men. Totally serious.

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The previous owner had favored dirty, lacy curtains and fake flowers. It all went in the trash, the minute we took possession of the house.

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So, we signed the paperwork and they gave us our lovely, overpriced Money Pit. My mom and dad came over with a bottle of champagne and a thoughtful gift — a crow bar.

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We then brought in every sucker friend and family member that owed us a favor and put them to work pulling out carpet.

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Here's dear old Dad pulling out carpeting on the stairs. I actually grew to like pulling out the tacks that covered the floors. It's sort of like extracting rotten teeth from a mouth. Not that I've ever done that. When we pulled out the closet that some idiot put in the 1950s, we found the original wallpaper from the 1910s.

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This is Steve pulling down a brick wall. The brick wall had been put in behind a cast iron stove, probably part of a oil saving measure in the 1970s. The brick wall was not secured to the wall. It was just a swaying tower. You can sort of see the hole where the pipe for the cast iron stove attached to the chimney. We brought in someone to plug up the chimney hole, but we left the gaping hole in the plaster there. We have some bookshelves covering the hole right now.

Img148 This is my brother in law, Reid. Hi Reid! When we pulled up the carpet in several rooms, we found linoleum that had been tarred to the hardwood floor. In some cases, there were several layers of linoleum. In one memorable room, the linoleum that had been tarred to the floor had a wood imprint. Why?

  Img150 During all of this, we still had to deal with children. We set them up in a corner with a movie in my laptop. There was so much dust flying around that my laptop got kind of sick after that. Don't move, kids! There are nails everywhere.

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Here's how the floors came out. Much better, right?

14 thoughts on “My Old House (Part One)

  1. When we bought our house, every room except one bathroom and one bedroom was Pepto-Bismal pink. We over-reacted and painted everything off-white. But, we didn’t have to redo the floors.

  2. We had the opposite problem. The previous owners of our house were a young, wealthy married couple — an interior designer and a high-end furniture/appliance salesman. Everything was beyond beautiful, but half of it didn’t work or was entirely impractical. For example, the finished basement used the highest end carpeting available, but there was no waterproofing, so we had high-end wetness every time it rained.
    Had to tear out half of the beautiful and replace it with lower-end practical.

  3. The colors of the paint on our house are perfect. People actually stop and knock on our door to ask us what color our house is painted, so that they can paint their houses the same color.
    Of course, our, and their, frustration is that we have no idea. We know everything is perfect, but have no idea what color it is.
    (but, we do have undersized gas piping, and appliances chosen for their label and not their function).

  4. PS: Got to love the girls in white dresses and curls at the construction site. I guess they were invited to a party, and they didn’t care what kind?
    And, isolating the kids among a bed of nails gives new drama to the classic kids game of parts of the living room being filled with poison/water/whatever, so that you are required to step on only the carpet (or sofa, or only the green squares of linoleum).

  5. I’m a long-time reader, first time commenter. The work you’ve done is absolutely beautiful! We just moved into an old house with wood floors and have no idea how to take care of them. I have googled it, so have learned some things (take away: keep dirt off as much as possible), but if you’ve found a routine that works well for you, I would love to hear about it. Looking forward to subsequent parts in this series!

  6. People actually stop and knock on our door to ask us what color our house is painted, so that they can paint their houses the same color.
    Just give them a piece of the siding.

  7. Thanks, Kari. I’m taking pictures of the rooms right now. It’s taking me a while, because I have to clean the rooms before I take the pictures. I’ll have to post the rest of the series tomorrow.

  8. Our CT house was built in 1935, and we spent all 6 years in it doing various updates. What I didn’t realize until we moved, and bought a new house precisely because we didn’t want to spend years fixing it, was that new houses end up eating just as much money, but it’s totally unsatisfying, because you’re just trying to maintain. With an old house, every project is a bright, home-loving improvement. So much more fun to do.
    Oh, those floors! Swoon.

  9. oh, I wish I’d documented our 2003 purchase of an 1890 house with a strange 2001 kitchen renovation (the Home Depot version). Its funny how you can laugh at this now. My favorite picture is the kids in the corner. We all go through this. thanks Laura. Your money pit is so cute on the outside!

  10. We just moved into an old house with wood floors and have no idea how to take care of them.
    Lundmark flooring products. My house (2-story Craftsman) was built in 1927) has the original oak flooring throughout, with a polyurethane seal (the previous owners ripped the carpeting out and stripped the floors with denatured alcohol and sealed them—well, except under their bookcases that they installed immediately after ripping up the carpet. Schoolteachers. Lotsa books. Don’t know what my excuse is for having the same number of books!).
    Ahem. Anyway, I’ll vouch for the denatured alcohol and polyurethane—I did the areas left behind by their bookcases (before putting my bookcases up!). No effort to the floor stripping. I wouldn’t sand down the floors unless you have a lot of gouges.
    I put down two coats of floor polish designed for polyurethane floors after I wash them; I do that once a year. Other than that, I just don’t wear shoes in the house. They gleam.
    If you have cats, clean up the cat puke, but don’t panic. The cats have to repeatedly puke in the same area before it’ll take up that floor polish. Just wipe with a damp cloth if the puke is dry by the time you get home. The polish is still good; no one will know where the cat puke was!
    Congratulations on the new house. Looks like it needs rewiring from the picture of the kids watching the movie.

  11. Good call on the wiring, La Lubu, but that’s your expertise. Yes, the wiring needs to be fixed everywhere. Haven’t gotten to that yet. It must be original to the house. The upstairs bedrooms have has plugs in the walls, because the place must also set up for gas lights.
    Floor polish, huh? We should do that. We never wash the floors or wear shoes indoors. But they could use a pick-me-up.

  12. I swear, Lundmark is the bomb. Leaves a nice gleam, protects the floors from grit or the tap-tap-tap of animal claws. Warning: kids really dig sliding across the floors in heavy socks after fresh polish is down. Smooooth.
    There’s a fairly good book for homeowners on simple rewiring and getting rid of knob-and-tube; where to put your “fish holes” and how to fish wiring through the walls; that sort of thing. I mean, if you like doing that sort of thing.😉 Can’t think of the name of it offhand, but they sell it at Lowes.
    If not, get a few bids (rewiring older homes with plaster walls isn’t for the faint of heart), and if you have any low-crawl space or low attic space, make sure the contractor sends a small person to the job (most of my work has not been residential, but when it was, I was the go-to person for fitting into tight spots. Belleville, Illinois is known for its historic preservation. Underneath those early-1800’s brick houses though, is some damn near nonexistant crawl space. They didn’t build it with electricians in mind!)
    If you attempt to do some it it yourself, little by little, keep in mind one important thing—in older homes, they didn’t switch the “hot” for lighting. They switched the neutral. If you shut it off at the switch, the power will still be “live” at the ceiling fixture.

  13. La Lubu,
    You make this sound really enticing, but I’m hoping Laura goes with a pro!
    I’ve mentioned this before, but my grandpa (who did the wiring and the electric on his house in the 50s with some advice from professionals) can’t use a plumber for crawlspace work. Just as with the homes you mention, the town plumber doesn’t fit, so grandpa has to do it himself.

  14. Just as with the homes you mention, the town plumber doesn’t fit,
    That’s really no lie in some older cities. My favorite was one fairly close to the center of town in Belleville; I could shinny in on my back, but could not turn around. There was about two inches of space between my nose and the floor joists. I was called out to assist the electrician doing the rewire, because he was 6’2″ and around 200 lbs. He’d push the fishtape in from upstairs, and I’d hook the wires on. I put on a raincoat from the back of the service van before going in, so I wouldn’t get super-filthy going in and going out. It was dusty back there, too. I think the house was built back when Abraham Lincoln was still learning how to read. I’m sure no one ever went in the crawl space since it was originally wired. The cats wouldn’t go in there; the homeowner had a Maine Coon that wouldn’t have fit. The house had a partial basement that was basically a laundry room, but even that looked like it was added after the fact (probably hand-dug, too).
    I do love the satisfaction that comes from working on an old house. There’s so much to do—but when you’re done, you really have something. Unless you spend a bundle with a custom home builder, you’re just not going to have the architectural touches that were standard on older homes.

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