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cottage renovation: taking down the walls and ceiling

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When we last left off on our Cottage Renovation saga, we were filling you in on the messy, but necessary work we had to do on the sill beam and the support of the house. As that work was being completed by our contractor, Chad decide to tackle another dirty job: the tear down of almost all of our walls and ceiling.

Once we started working to strengthen the outside of the house, we realized how wonky the interior was. Some of our walls were supremely messed up — especially those on the back of the house where most of the water damage had occurred. The ceiling had a bizarre, 70s-popcorn texture all over it, and the walls weren’t much better. We had often dreamed of taking the main part of the house — the kitchen, living room and dining area — and making it one big open space. We also fantasized about raising the ceiling to give us more height. After weighing the cost vs the benefits, we decided to take it all down.

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Chad crowned himself deconstructor-in-chief and hit everything with a crowbar. This video below shows a little bit of what that was like.

What exactly did we find under our walls and above our ceiling? Nothing you would ever want in your house! The insulation in the ceiling was layers deep – some of it was grey and moldy. In between that was decades-worth of mouse nests filled with droppings. As someone who suffers from allergies, it’s a wonder my head didn’t explode every time I walked into the house. In between the walls was the dusty remains of some powdery substance that once was insulation, and of course, more mouse poop.

We also discovered that our roof wasn’t being supported properly. Also, in the attic space was the remnants of an old chimney. Some brilliant person had removed the bottom half, but left the top half, unsupported and made of bricks, just hanging out in our attic and resting the ceiling. That had to come out, too. After the whole space was clear and open, our contractor calculated the highest height we could raise the ceiling and laid down new beams.

After this main living/dining space was done, we decided to tackle the bedroom, too. The difference in air quality was so remarkable, we knew we couldn’t leave the bedroom as it was (i.e. also filled with mold and mouse poop). Here’s a peak at what the finished space looked like. I’ll do a separate post to fill you in on the insulation we chose — and how awesome the new space is going to be!

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From our partners

back to school groove with grovemade wooden desk accessories

Admit it. You feel pangs of jealousy as watching kids go back to school. No, not about the anxiety of grades or making new friends, but of the gear. Why don’t they make a freshly sharpened pencil room freshener? Just thinking about it is enough to make you feel like studying.

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Well, we’ve found some grown up desk accessories that will spruce up your office and inspire your next great great project. Grovemade – the company that makes exceedingly cool device cases — has expanded into making more traditional gadgets sing with their new desk collection. Made with materials that beg to touched, like smooth walnut and handcrafted leather, the items are both gorgeous and practical. The monitor stand raises your work up higher and prevents slouching. The keyboard tray has matching wrist and mouse pads. And since we still appreciate the tactile, there’s a pen and paperclip holder and groovy succulent planter.

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Finish things off with a walnut desk lamp, $99, a modern take on an Edison bulb.

Visit Grovemade to see the whole desk collection.

From our partners

cottage renovation: replacing the sill beam is not sexy work

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Our upstate cottage renovation is moving along at a rapid clip! Before we can start talking about any of the fun stuff (house and door color, ceiling height, kitchen planning), I need to tell you about some of the down and dirty work that had to be done. Warning: It ain’t pretty — but I think our woes are a valuable cautionary tale for all future home buyers. The lesson being — beware what you can’t see!

As I wrote in this previous post, during the winter our pipes and radiators froze and burst. This lead us to having to replace those, along with most of the interior floor. This circumstance forced us to address some issues the house had that we had been avoiding for years: namely, poor drainage was causing the sill beam to rot. The house does not have a foundation, but rather cement footers and wooden sill or support beams. The house is built on a slope, which means the back of the house has been hitting dirt for years — or I should say decades! The previous owner had disclosed that she had found and repaired termite damage, but it was under the house in an area we couldn’t see or access. Cement stucco covered the houses exterior, so we couldn’t really tell how bad the sill damage was. But we knew it was there. Along the ground in back of the house, parts of the sill were exposed to the elements — and didn’t look good.

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So off comes the stucco to see what’s underneath, and the damage on the sill beam is even worse than we expected. In some places nothing remains of the old beam, in others what’s there crumbles in your hand like Styrofoam. it runs the entire length of the house and that damage is like a virus. In the worst spot, the back corner shown here, it infected the exterior wood panels above it and some of the floor it was attached to. It all had to come out.

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The weak support had been causing the whole house to sag. We had to lift it up 8 inches to where it was meant to be. Lifting up the floor meant that we had to remove anything that was attached to it on the interior — which meant we ended up tearing out the kitchen cabinets (which were buil-in after the floor had sagged). It was a crappy little kitchen, so we didn’t cry for it’s loss — but we did cry thinking about how much a new one would cost us!

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As you can see from these photos, our contractor placed the new beams on the existing pillars, which were still solid. In replacing the beam, our contractor (Eric Carlson) had to secure multiple boards together to create a strong support. It is made from pressure-treated wood that is more durable and less susceptible to future water and as tasty to termites down the road. In addition to all this house repair work, we also dug a deep French drain around the back of the house and filled it with stones. Now the water will drain around to the side yard, rather than hitting the house.


See the first post about our renovation here.

From our partners

river cottage renovation begins!

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Seven and half years ago, when we were still living in New York City and before our little girl was even an idea in our minds, we bought a small cottage close to the Hudson River. During the house inspection, several issues were pointed out to us — poor drainage around the house which caused damage to the sill beam, old termite damage that had been haphazardly fixed, patchy concrete stucco that covered the house. “Everything’s fixable,” our inspector had told us. In love the little patch of land and the quaintness of the place, we naively plunged forward thinking, we’ll take care of that, one day. Then life happened, as it does, and the big plans for our little house took a back seat.

This winter, we were served a twist of fate that plunged us into action. You may recall that especially harsh blizzard back in February? Well our furnace took that opportunity to stop working. Four or five days passed before we discovered the malfunction, and during that time all of our six of our radiators burst (yes, burst!), pipes under the house had split and the hard wood floors got water logged. We wouldn’t be able to use the house again until all that was fixed.

Fortunately, we got a bit of insurance money to help us pay for this work. But immediately we started asking ourselves — should we be installing new floors and radiators when we know that what’s under the floor, the sill beam, needs to be repaired. We didn’t want to just fix the cosmetics — as the previous owner we bought it from did. We decided to wait until the weather warmed up so we tackle the drainage, stucco and sill beam as well. Once that work is done, then perhaps we could have some fun on the interior, and bring some of my country kitchen fantasies to life. (You can see some of them here on this Pinboard.)

We found an amazing local contractor to help us with our project and set a plan. First we’d remove the floors and the old radiators. Then we’d take down the stucco, add a french drain and repair the sill be beam. None of that is especially fun or sexy work, but it had to be done. Little did we know that we would be pulling the string on a sweater ready to unravel.

Coming up next: The surprise under the floor!

From our partners

we did it: making a garden trellis from old knob-and-tube wiring

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marytrellis3There’s nothing I love more than gardening, but our narrow side yard was pretty challenging. Houses in our 1940s development are just a few feet apart, so while a six-foot fence gave us much needed privacy, I was stumped on how to put it to use without going broke buying trellises. Then I saw this video by Organic123 and knew that concrete reinforcing mesh (remesh) was the affordable answer! We picked up several 42”x84” panels at Home Depot for $7.20 apiece.

The next challenge was how to attach the remesh to the fence, since vines need a little space to grow up through the trellis. Fence posts work great as a natural spacer, but we were working with the flat side of the fence. But then my husband had a stroke of genius at one of our local architectural salvage places: use ceramic insulators that were once part of outdated knob-and-tube wiring. Not only did he find a whole bucket of them, the two-piece insulators were practically ready made, since they were originally designed to hold electrical wire. We used a sawzall to cut through the old bolts that held the two pieces together, used new screws to attach the insulators at even intervals to our fence, fit the remesh down between the two pieces, then tightened the screws into place.

The resulting trellis has a great, industrial chic look that the ceramic makes a little more finished. It immediately transformed the most neglected part of our yard into one of my favorite spots. And not only do we love it, but our scarlet runner beans, Virginia creeper and raspberry vines do, too.

Turns out remesh is great for all kinds of garden projects. Here are just a few: chicken coops and fences, a freestanding trellis using rebar, wire towers for tomato plants, and my favorite (maybe I’ll try this next), a charming trellis tunnel.

From our partners