Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Claremont House Part 2 !!

Before we moved to the exterior of this wonderful home, we had to make sure all the windows were operable! I never counted just how many there where in total, but there were many, and in those days, some of them where the size of today's doors. To give you an example of how times have changed with respect to workmanship and maintenance, each window unit had removable window stops. They were held in place with brass screws and washers, so when it came time to service the sashes, there was easy access. In those days the window sashes operated by counter balance weights, each being unique to the size and weight of the upper and lower sections. These weights where hung by either chain or rope; many times the chains where copper. So, we serviced each and every unit so we could enjoy the fresh air when needed. Another great feature was that each sash had an individual number making it really easy to identify.

Well, now we go to the exterior. First, a new roof, new siding on both sides and the rear, also the upper three dormers. We decided to stucco the front giving the front of this home a real crisp and classy look. We had to knock down the garage. (This is very difficult for me to say, but it was too far gone.) All of it's structural integrity had given way to years of neglect. We landscaped and planted new shrubbery, added a fence, and built a huge retaining wall at the rear property line. Now, we could sit back and enjoy the fruits of our labor. A beautiful home with a nice income each month. We picked our tenants carefully and were blessed because of that. We always treated them with respect and consideration, and they did the same for us. Yours, Till the Next Rehab!!!!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Claremont House!!! Part 1

This was a massive home, 4.500 square feet, three floors in height, not counting the full basement. The home was built in the 1920's. Somewhere along the line it became a Nursing Home. We stumbled upon this home and immediately realized it's value. We bought this 15-room Nursing Home at a great price. The plan was to return it back to a residence, and to make rental units in the upper floors. This house needed everything. We gutted all the interior walls, which were plaster with wood lathe. As I recall, we filled about twelve 40-yard containers with all the debris from this project. We completely re-wired this home, all three floors. We turned a hallway window on one side of the home to an entrance leading to the upper levels. It was the perfect location because there was a set of stairs to the upper floors directly behind the window, so all we had to do was add outside steps going down from the new entry.

Every piece of woodwork on the first level was oak. Back then, painting over wood was very popular, so all this beautiful wood was covered with a horrible green paint. After many gallons of industrial strength paint remover and endless man hours, all the beauty was unveiled. The transformation was incredible! The beamed ceiling, the fireplace, the turned staircase -- all were golden oak. This staircase to the second level was too beautiful to give up, and not practical for the tenants to use, so we lined the staircase walls with an antique clock collection and created a library in the nook where the staircase turned to continue to the second floor.

The huge full basement housed the heating unit, a humongous commercial dryer left by the Nursing Home, and tons of extra extra room. The really cool part of this home was that there was literally plumbing set up in every room, which made it a snap to set the rental units up with both kitchens and baths. The first floor had solid white oak floors; unfortunately, before we could enjoy them, we had to remove the three layers of asbestos floor tiles that covered them over the years. The blessing was, that although it was brutal labor-wise to remove these tiles, they had kept the floor in great shape, and they were perfect after sanding, staining, and finishing where completed. Each day and every day, we worked hard and long to restore this old giant. To Be Continued!

Friday, March 13, 2009

1823 Landmark part 3!!!

After the necessary structural work was done, we decided to increase the square footage by adding a family room with a free-standing fire place. This was a great addition for the winter months and holidays. We made the ceiling cathedral style and added two skylights. This room also carried out the wood look that we enjoyed. We completely refurbished the exterior, from new siding to fancy cut cedar wood shingles on the cable ends. We found two old antique carved columns that we utilized at the front porch entry. We installed a real cobblestone walk from the driveway to the entry. As work on the house came to a completion, we turned our attention to the barn, installing a new electrical system, as we planned to convert the barn into living space at a future date. Outside, I made a real heavy duty club house/swing set for the children, which they totally enjoyed along with their friends. I found a genuine antique oak pool table at a tag sale, which I completely restored, and it found its home in the upper level of the barn. This provided many enjoyable times for friends and guests, as well as myself. Of all the homes I have restored, this was one of the smallest; however, it posed some of the biggest challenges and, yet, some of the greatest rewards. Till the next reno!! ''Reface, don't replace."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

1823 Landmark Part 2!!

Now that I had direction as to how to remedy the problem, I began to re-frame all the exterior walls from the interior. Using 2"x6"s, I built new walls directly behind each and every exterior wall. This meant that the total depth of each exterior wall was approximately 10 inches. This allowed for a great insulating factor, which resulted in very low heating and cooling costs. The windows we used where top-shelf insulated windows, which looked fantastic with the new deep wells. We lined all the ceilings with bead board, natural wood. All the trim was natural wood. We installed all new raised panel Pondarosa Pine doors. The floors where all random plank, screwed and plugged, then stained and finished. We installed a new set of stairs to the upper floor, with new rail and balusters, also stained and finished.

The kitchen was a real beauty, with recessed panel doors, and oak icebox hardware, solid brass, quite costly I might add. The crowning glory of the kitchen was the antique white enamel gas stove we found. It had two ovens, a broiler, a warmer, and six burners, and was trimmed in dark green enamel. It was a real beauty! The bathrooms where done with bead board on the lower portion of the walls. All fixtures where new, old style type, to carry out that old time look. All the door knobs where glass with brass back plates. This was truly a labor of love.

Everyone who came into this home absolutely loved it. You won't find another like it anywhere. We made separate bedrooms for the children, with their own little closets; the doors where made especially to accommodate the angles that the roof had made. This added a cozy feel for the children. This home had all new wiring, plumbing, heat/air. As you can see, we truly built a home within this home. To Be continued!!

Monday, March 9, 2009

1823 Landmark!!!

It was in the mid-1980's, when we decided to move the family away from the hustle and bustle of big city life. After quite a search for our new home, and with the help of a very kind and patient Realtor, we found our home, and it was within our budget. This particular Sunday, the phone rang, and it was our faithful realtor. She informed us that we'd better get up to this site pronto, and with cash in hand! So, we did. This soon-to-be home was in a great location, with the best schools for our children, and plenty of land for them to play and enjoy the outdoors.

This structure was built in 1823 as a church. As the parishioners grew, the building became inadequate to accommodate the growth. It was decided to move the structure and to use it as the Parrish House. This was accomplished by rolling the structure on wooden logs, just a few feet a day, till it was placed on the land that it sits on to this day. I learned all this because it was all documented in the Historic Landmark records, made available to the general public. Later, the building was sold as a private residence. There was also a Big Old Barn on this land; the barn was actually bigger than the house. Well, we sure had our work cut out for us, as we planned to transform this neglected, run-down building into our dream home.

The first thing I did was to gut the entire interior, right down to the original framing. This home was framed with chestnut timbers, and I mean timbers, right from the forest, and each piece had been hand axed to be used for its specific purpose. All joints where halved, lapped, and pegged with locust pegs, to hold them together, NO nails where used. This was how some furniture was constructed in the past. Japanese furniture makers, for example, made use of this peg construction. This wood was aged and hard as a rock. A drill refused to pass through these timbers.

Well, in the late evening I stood just about in the mid-section of this building, and as I was studying its condition and integrity, I realized that the exterior walls had tilted outwards approximately 1" to 2''. This ran along the entire length of both front and rear walls. After close observation and studying the structure carefully, I concluded that some of the intricate components tying this building together had been removed during the transporting and rolling process that I spoke about earlier. If any of you are familiar with what is called uni-body construction, then you know that each component part adds to the overall strength of its predecessor, therefore making the entire unit strong. I can't begin to express the wave of emotions that came over me, as this became more and more clear. WHAT NOW?

As a carpenter, I have learned that when you don't know just what to do, PRAY, PRAY, PRAY!! And so I did. I asked GOD to tell me, show me, help me, as to just what to do. This was a short prayer, with a swift answer. This is what the still small voice said. "Build A House Within This House." And so I did exactly that! To Be Continued!!!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Historic Home Damaged By Hurricane! Part 4!!!

This project must have caught the attention of the local media, as one day a newsman showed up and took pictures and interviewed me. It was published in the local paper, and I hope to post the article soon. This restoration would have caused concern for any carpenter, however, I was very fortunate to have the background necessary to execute this project.

I grew up in a city where all the homes had this kind of construction and details; some, even far greater on the detail end. Many people look at a project such as this and really question whether it is worthwhile. This is understandable. You could probably build a new home on this same lot in a lot less time, and it would possibly be less costly. I never look at it like that. My first question always is, does this home still have its structural capacity and to what degree has it lost its integrity, building-wise? Most of the time, it is worth restoring, as the old time carpenters and the materials they used where far longer-lasting than those we have at our disposal today. As they say, it was a different world then, a totally different time, different values and ideas as to what is worth fixing and what should be trashed. Being a sentimentalist by nature, I try my best always to save that which is worth saving. It is quite sad in a way, how easy it is to just discard something and replace it with the new, which many times pales in comparison with the old. I guess it's just a mind set.

Well, my mind has been set and will remain set on preserving as much of the old and worthwhile as is practical and possible. This project was another great joy and blessing to all who participated. One of the biggest blessings was that I gained a friendship with a very intelligent and kind-hearted man and his wife. It was funny how all those NaySayers told me what an unreasonable person the owner of this home was, and that he was a real Meano. I sure thank God I didn't listen to their gossip!

One of the great privileges of being self-employed is you get to walk the roads and paths of your choosing; this, I will never regret. So, when I do fail or fall short, I simply look in the nearest mirror, directly at the one to blame. Well, may your next renovation project be a joy and a wonderful experience, and most importantly, money well spent. Till then... Happy Rehab!!!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Historic Home damaged by Hurricane!! Part 3!!

We used railroad ties (and I mean REAL railroad ties!) laid directly to the earth's surface, to displace the pressures we were about to apply in jacking up the two stacked porches. With reinforced header members carefully placed, and heavy duty house screw jacks placed, we were able to slowly control the lifting process. It is critical to note that all timbers have fibers, and once they get accustomed to staying in a certain position, changing that position must be a very thoughtful and careful process. If one tries to raise too much, it can cause stress and cracking, which will result in failure of the timbers to withstand the pressures and stresses that were intended to bear. A very common mistake, and a costly one I might add, is to over raise the structure to get it to perfect level. This is not what you want.

As you are lifting your loads, you must listen very closely to the sounds of the timbers; they will let you know when to stop, and you'd better listen. We did!! When we get older, things will begin to sag and settle. We can slow down the process with exercise and good diet; however, we inevitably will age noticeably. What I'm saying here is you must respect the age and conditions of the structure as a whole to do a successful rehab, restoring things in a way that will be pleasing to the eye, but not damaging to the structure. This a true restoration. In short, if you want a new house, build one. If you want an old house, restore it; work with what you have.

Well, we did. We removed all the support columns, then reworked all their damaged components, put them back where they were, and essentially reworked the entire framing and finished look of the two porches. We removed the brick support columns and aligned them as they needed to be, leveling and squaring them up in a way that made it appear that nothing had been done to them. The sign of a good restoration is, when you're done, it looks like nothing has been done. Everything looks old, but good. Thus, "an Oldie but Goodie!!" Each day we drew closer to preparing this beauty for a good paint job! To Be Continued!!