We had hoped to get early access to the house to start working on the third floor. Six months wasn’t a lot of time, and if we could take a week or two to patch and paint while having a clean & construction free zone to move into – well all the better. Our first renovation taught us a hard lesson in the value of working your way from the top of the house down. Carrying buckets of plaster and concrete out of your bathroom through your newly finished living room floors & walls is less than ideal.
Our request was denied, and the pressure was on. The first week in the house was spent cleaning up years of dust and getting ourselves organized. I’d probably like to have that first week back to do over. Even the best intentions to keep clean and organized in small renovations are cute. But this project was big. Way too big to be worried about arranging kitchen gear and installing screen doors. We also talked a lot about how we were going to keep going to the gym and make food at home so we could maintain our fitness. That went out the window within the first week or two as well. Our kitchen – so to speak – was a toaster, electric kettle, and camp stove on the back porch. And, we were half afraid the porch was going to fall off, so that added a nice element of risk to every meal.
Our first weekend in the house the in-laws came in from out of town. We barely had a working bathroom and the walls were crumbling, but they were excited for us and were willing to sleep on an air mattress in the guest bedroom. Welcome to our new home! A low point was sending my mother-in-law to the dining room to blow-dry her hair as that was the only available outlet for such a device. Despite our extreme lack of accommodations, they were great sports and got us rolling.
It was a challenge to get reasonable insurance on the house. We ended up going with Allstate knowing that they didn’t require an interior inspection. However, their evaluation of the outside alone put us into a high-risk policy, and we had 60 days to repair and paint the entire house. So, we spent the first weekend tackling the jungle of a backyard. We had the trifecta: ivy, grape vine, and wisteria, which had been left to grow wild for some time. I can’t begin to guess for how long, but we found newspapers in our cleanup under a massive pile of leaves dated 2004. That pile of leaves and debris had been so high we thought there was only a few feet of space under the back porch roof and wondered what we would ever do with that space. Our family spent an afternoon raking away the pile and uncovered a beautiful herringbone patio!
By day we waged an ongoing battle against the vines, and by night spent time on the third floor patching the future family room. A week or two later we were still prepping. At the recommendation of our paint vendor, we tested the walls with a little denatured alcohol and discovered we were dealing with oil based paint. To switch over to latex we proceeded with caution by both washing the walls with TSP and using fresh start primer.
Early on we were so ambitious, and strived for perfection. That was a big mistake. Everything looked great… for a few months. We’re dealing with 130 year old plaster in the eaves of the house. Even the work in the center hallway ceiling our plasterer did months later is starting to crack. I used to be determined to not have even a single hairline crack in the walls. I’ve since thrown in the towel. Maybe someday I’ll finally fix all the moisture and temperature regulation issues for the house, but until then I’ll just chalk it up as character.
In case you’re curious, we opted to use Benjamin Moore paints for both interior and exterior. We used fresh start primer and colors were done in Super Spec. We had a ton of painting to do so for us the Spec product lines struck the balance of quality, affordability, and eco-friendly. I nearly had a panic attack this fall when Westmoreland Supply announced the PPG takeover. But, we found an even better vendor in Pennwood paint and supplies in Wilkinsburg. John runs a great independent shop and is seriously just a great guy. I encourage anyone in the market for ben moore or pratt & lambert to check him out.
The floors and woodwork on the third floor were already painted. We opted to keep that look partly because of time, but mostly because it was a space in the house where we could have a little more fun and lighten things up. So much of the house is beautiful woodwork and marble fireplaces which can come across as a bit stuffy. We wanted to create a family room space that was a less serious, relaxing, and a little whimsical. At some point we’ll stencil the stair risers in the Orla Kiely leaf pattern, but that’s still pretty low on the priority list.
before: family room
family room prep
after: family room