Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Why we're doing what we're doing

I read a lot of old home renovation blogs. In the past year it has become something of an obsession. I adore binge-reading them and as I stated in my very first post they are part of the reason I wanted to buy an old house myself.

There are certain bloggers who are complete "renovators" and then there are die-hard "preservationists" and of course my favourites tend to lie right in the middle of those two extremes.

I would like to think that Jake and I fall in the middle somewhere, but perhaps leaning a bit more toward the "renovator" side of the spectrum.

To all of the old house purists and hardcore preservationists, here are our reasons for doing what we've done (which I'm sure is very appalling to most of you).

Full Gut of the House
As you can tell from our most recent pictures (and because it's pretty much all we've been doing for the last 6 months) we are completely gutting the house down to the studs. Our rationale behind this is that this will be our home. We want to actually live in it, the way we like to live. And that means having modern conveniences.

Right to the studs.

"So Ali, why didn't you just buy a new house?!"

Because. I like the LOOK of old homes. Again, as stated in my first post, I love new houses that look old. It's the best of both worlds! Modern living standards with the beauty of a different era!

When we bought our house there was nothing inherently wrong with it. It just was not us. And I firmly believe that your house should reflect who you are. So that meant new electrical, new plumbing, and new insulation (old houses tend to be very cold. I'm actually okay with cold... it's paying for heat that doesn't stay in the house that I'm not okay with).

We got rid of the old, dated, electrical and will be updating it all to be compliant with modern laws as well as our own standards.
All of the old insulation came out and will be updated with high efficiency insulation. 

The other reason we opened up all the walls (and this was Jake's main reason) was that we wanted to know exactly what was behind them. This turned out to be a VERY good thing because we discovered all of the sections where the sills had begun to rot, and one spot where it had completely rotted away. We are now in the process of correcting this issue and because of our efforts, the house ought to be here long after we are gone. By finding and fixing issues like this we help to ensure the house is safe for us, but also secure for the future.


"You're insane! Why would you remove original flooring instead of just refinishing it?!"

To answer this fictitious question that literally no one has asked me... because we want to.

Flooring in the dining room is different than the flooring in the living room.

At some point throughout the house's history, the flooring on the main level was changed up in a few rooms. This means that a)it is not original and b) it does not all match.

So bam. Main level flooring needed to be changed. But what about the second level?

Floor in the back side of what will be our master bedroom.

The flooring on the second level was actually in pretty good condition. If we wanted to, we could likely have sanded it down and refinished it with great results. But I would never be able to replicate those results downstairs on my budget so there would be a huge disconnect between floors.

Although that disconnect is period-accurate (generally speaking, the main floor was a lot more opulent and grand than the second level because guests never saw the second level) I do not like it. I like for rooms to flow easily from one into the next. I don't like houses where one room (or floor) looks like it doesn't belong with the others.

Close-up of the flooring. This is at the top of the stairs. 

Another reason for new flooring is very, very simple. This floor squeaks. I HATE squeaky floors. They are by far my biggest pet-peeve of old house. So, since design-wise leaving the original planks didn't work, I could solve the dreaded squeaky floor issue at the same time by installing a new sub-floor and brand new wood flooring throughout the entire house.

Before you get your knickers in a twist, We plan on keeping the original flooring upstairs and re-purposing it (I'm pretty sure everything on the main floor isn't original so I'm not overly concerned with what happens to it.) For added strength and support, the master bathroom flooring is remaining where it is and we will take pieces from other rooms to patch the holes in there. And then the rest will be stored until we are ready to re-do our kitchen, where it will come back with a new life as the backsplash!

Sorry for the poor quality, I took this photo from pinterest.
But doesn't the wood backsplash look amazing!

That is many years away, but I am really excited for that when the time comes. We will be keeping the original feature, just re-purposing it in a new and beautiful way!


I actually had intended to keep all of the original trim throughout the house. A few things combined are what made me change my mind.
Beautiful, original baseboard.

When I first started removing the trim, I was adamant that I be the only one to do it because I didn't trust anyone else to do it without destroying it all. My first piece of baseboard took me over a half hour to remove... and I STILL managed to split the end a bit. I was working in the dining room and looked around the room to see that one section had split almost the whole length and two others had giant holes in them from old electrical. Out of the entire room there was only two pieces that were in tact, and I had just split the end of one of them.

The crazy nails that made removing the trim so difficult.

I then went around the house and noticed that other rooms faced the same problem, and the trim in the living room had been removed entirely (my guess was in the 70's when the previous owner renovated).

This meant that it would be crazy-expensive to get the whole house to match because I'd have to try and find trim that was the exact profile as the 130 year old stuff.

I was pretty dejected about this one and Jake could tell. He tried to convince me that we could put new stuff in the house that looked even better than the original and took me on a trip to Home Depot to piece together various trim and get the look that we were going for.

New profile we're considering.
By piecing together different pieces of trim, we'll save money and still get the grand look we want. 

So we opted to go the new route.

BUT all of the pieces that were in good condition went to our neighbours whose original trim matched ours and who also had sections where repairs were needed. I was comforted that it went to a good home and retained its value and use.

Plaster and Lath

The plaster and lath had to come down for all of the reasons I mentioned above. I feel very comforted knowing that it didn't all just go in the dumpster though. (Well... the plaster did... and good riddance! I am SO not a plaster person.. especially not after spending so much time and effort getting rid of the stuff. That has been the worst part of renovations so far)

I'm so glad the plaster is gone... 

We kept many of the original nails that held the lath in place and we intend to reuse them in a few furniture projects (and maybe in the wood backsplash!) but just as a decorative feature rather than structural.

We purposely removed everything relatively carefully so that the lath could go to people who wanted it. It took more time and effort this way but ultimately I do not regret it.

We also gave most of the lath away. It went to two different artists and to our neighbours who wanted to use it to line the ceiling in a room to give it a unique look. Some of the lath went into a pretty epic bonfire Jake and I had and some did end up in the dumpster, but a vast majority went to other people who could use it.

Things we are definitely keeping:

This is a list that will make old house purists feel a little bit better.

- Windows
Spare Oom window
I started refinishing a storm window this Fall. I broke two panes of glass, but the reason I started with a storm window was because it had more modern glass in it. So while it sucked, it wasn't a devastation.

I LOVE our original windows. The way the light plays on the slightly wavy glass, the classic beauty of the wooden frames, and how the arch at the top gives it just enough of a different look to the standard rectangle.

I will absolutely be restoring the windows, and I can't wait for them all to be beautifully cleaned and functional again.

- Front Door
I don't have a good picture of the exterior side without the storm door in the way... sorry.

I also love our front door. I am hoping to refinish that this summer if I can find the time. I am really looking forward to getting the AMAZING doorbell that we found at the Aberfoyle Antique Market installed.

- Various Door Hardware
Front door deadbolt.

Taking the layers of paint off.

Fresh coat of black paint!

This one is a bit tricky. I'm not sure if we'll keep all of the hardware, or only some. We were thrown for a loop a bit when Jake fell in love with the Bennington door knobs. And some of the door mechanisms I've got are missing components. So we'll see how much I can save.

- Original Interior Doors
We have a couple of original doors that will 100% be going back up. A fresh coat of paint and cleaned up hardware will give them a new life!

- Kitchen Cabinets
Old cabinets
We plan on doing a "lipstick" solution to the kitchen right away. This means we will make it functional and JUST pretty enough to last us for a few years while we save up to do the kitchen the way we actually want it.

So we aren't keeping the cabinets forever, but we're going to update them enough to get a few years worth of use out of them. Same goes for the counter top.

Cabinets down.

- Glass Door
This is not an original one, but nevertheless it will be moved to one of the doorways to the study. We intend to buy a second one for the other entrance. This way we can have privacy when working, but also keep the main floor open.

- Bathtub
Also not original. The tub that was upstairs is being moved to the main floor bath.

- Living Room Ceiling Fan
Obviously not original. This is going in the upstairs hallway for air circulation. We had a hard time finding one with a light that we liked and then when we took another look at the one we took down from the living room we realized it would work well.

- Layout
We aren't moving any original walls and there are only a few subtle changes to the framing of the house and the layout.

We are changing the purpose of many of the rooms, and adjusting a few things (removing a non-original wall between two bedrooms to make our master bedroom, moving a non-original wall a few inches because it wasn't attached right anyway, and raising the height of the door frames in the front vestibule to make it feel a little less claustrophobic), but the overall wall layout is remaining original.

- Stairs
Stairs on the day we took possession. 
The stairs are in incredible condition considering the age of them. This makes me VERY happy. I will be refinishing them and we will be taking a cue from Old Town Home for our railing, but the stairs themselves are staying put. Amazingly, only one step has any kind of squeak and it's not even that bad.

The stairs are in amazing condition for their age.

- Floor Grates
Gorgeous cast iron floor grates.
 All of these will remain in some capacity. Either for its intended purpose, or a new one devised by me. I will not under any circumstances get rid of these things. They are amazing.

The stunner in the dining room. 

So, now that you have read this insanely long post of my justifying our actions I would love to know what your opinion on the subject is.

And I'm being completely serious here. If you had bought our house, what would you have done? Please share in the comments below :)

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