Progress on Our List

By on 8 June, 2015 in Historic Midtown, Kate and Stephen with 0 Comments

Last month, we wrote about our plan to go ahead and fix up our house the way we would if we were selling it. We aren’t selling our Cloverdale-Idlewild home (built in 1930), but it was just kind of a fun exercise. The idea was to go ahead and make repairs, repaint, etc., so that we could enjoy the fruits of our investment, instead of letting the next owner have all the fun. After several weeks of living in a construction zone, we’re happy to show some of the results, which will hopefully be of interest to anyone living in (or considering buying) one of the many fantastic historic homes available in Midtown’s great neighborhoods.

There was some stuff we could do ourselves: trim the azaleas, rake leaves, wash windows, etc. For just about everything else, having limited skills and wanting to do the jobs right, we brought in the pros. We knew our contractors, Aspinwall & Associates, could do the work faster and better than we could do on our own.

Part of the front of the house

Part of the front of the house

They started in the kitchen. We’ve heard everyone’s stories about what a pain a kitchen remodel is, and now we get it. You never really miss your kitchen sink until you don’t have one. But really, we got off easy. We decided to keep our existing wooden cabinets and make them white. This involved cleaning everything out of every part of the kitchen and stacking it precariously in the adjoining breakfast room. I was astonished by the sheer volume of stuff that came out of our cabinets – and super annoyed with my lack of planning for the next two kitchen-less weeks, when I found myself rummaging for knives and washing dishes in the bathroom sink. The cabinets were sprayed outside and in with some kind of super-toxic mega-primer, causing the work crew to wear Breaking Bad-type respirators and me to get terrible headaches.

The horrible formica-like countertop had to go, as did the fake backsplash ending at a weirdly-placed piece of brown trim. Also, we learned the reason why the oven fan and hood did such a poor job of pulling smoke away from the stovetop. The fan didn’t lead anywhere! We decided to install a proper ventilation system above our stove.

I picked out some slate tile from that weird place on the Boulevard across from Lowe’s that sells every conceivable kind of flooring and also, for some reason, mattresses. Although I chose square tiles, Bryant Aspinwall found a rectangular size that was much more visually interesting and would mirror the new backsplash of white subway tile. We’d keep our stainless steel sink, get a better faucet, and paint the walls grey — a modern version of a period restoration. Finally, on a wall without shelving options (we brought in a bookcase, a baker’s rack, a rolling island-type thing), the crew made it look like we had a nice built-in shelf, perfect for extra storage and a streamlined look. Wine bottles and cookbooks now had a proper place to live. Some pictures of the process along with some of the finished product:

We also had a big, old crack in the hallway plaster that needed fixing. This involved pulling plaster out until you could see the wood behind and installing new sheetrock. One puzzle that our crew solved was how to match the texture of the other walls in the hallway without tearing everything out. They were able to put a little sand in the paint, adding a little three dimensional texture, and now you really can’t tell the difference. Plus, the mustard color is gone and the hallway’s a nice stately grey now. Obviously, we kept the cool built-in phone nook as a nod to the era when phones were appliances and didn’t fit in pockets.

You may remember that our house boasts a “yard toilet,” an unusual door facing our back yard that opens to a single tiny room containing only a toilet. This was designed so someone working in the yard could use the restroom without actually having to enter the house. We’re still planning to have the rear toilet removed, but this turned out to be a little more complicated than it seemed – it’ll wait for another day, but meanwhile the crew re-framed that door. They also scraped about a hundred years worth of caulk out from around our front door. In the process, they found some insulation that seemed homemade. I wish I’d taken a picture of it. At first, we thought it might have been made from human hair (um, gross) but the Internet came to our rescue – it’s oakum, a product often used in shipbuilding, maybe when our house was shiny and new in the 1930s. And it’s not human hair, it’s hemp sealed with pine tar. In any case, it’s all gone.

We’re waiting on finishing the back room – that’s a story for another day. But when we start that work up again, the toilet will come out and our “punch list” will be complete. All in all, we’re thrilled that we went ahead and made a start on the home repairs. We hope that someday soon, the whole house will be grey instead of the dated yellow-beige we’d come to dislike, and a few weeks of living in a construction zone are well worth the time and money.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with two cats, a dog, ten fish, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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