Red House demolition DIY to the max

Will and I have owned the red house and white cottage since June of 2013. This past January we began working on the white cottage for a few reasons; it was condemned and in an appalling state of disrepair. The cottage was also very small in scale so we thought it would be a good way to cut our teeth before we tackled the big project ahead in the red house. And most important of all, the red house had tenants so we had a modicum of income until the Spring; at least we thought we did.

The origins of the red house are a bit of a mystery but we know parts of it date back to the mid 1700s. The clues are in the hardware, the joists and nails. It has been altered and adapted several times over the past two hundreds plus years and is now a complex mix of hair brained ideas, scotched taped and gerry-rigged solutions to hold it together. It lacks insulation in the downstairs, and is in need of all new plumbing and electrical wiring. It’s in pretty sad shape. No wonder it took us a while to get the plans drawn for the red house and just last month get to the point where we could hang the building permit in the window.

Will, crow bar and all ready to begin the demolition in the red house. Dining room and kitchen go first
Will, crow bar and all ready to begin the demolition in the red house. Dining room and kitchen go first

Let the fun begin. Here is our plan: Start with the kitchen and the dining room. These are the original two rooms of the house.

Another view of the kitchen, bead board wall and island
Another view of the kitchen, bead board wall and island
The Kitchen and tiny hallway leading into dining room
The Kitchen and tiny hallway leading into dining room
Kitchen cabinet- this piece is actually pretty cool and in line with the look we are going after- I wonder if we will keep it
Kitchen cabinet- this piece is actually pretty cool and in line with the look we are going after- I wonder if we will keep it
The kitchen holds a surprise. Behind the stove we discover a door which leads into the dining room.
The kitchen holds a surprise. Behind the stove we discover a door which leads into the dining room.
This is the dining room before- notice the door to the left which leads into the kitchen. This was one of the first things Will took down
This is the dining room before- notice the door to the left which leads into the kitchen. This was one of the first things Will took down

Step one, put on respirator and protective eye wear. Get crowbar and hammer. Tear down the plaster walls, remove the lathe, rip down the ceiling. Then the floors in these rooms will have to be removed to sister (along the lines of learn something new every day , yes, sister can be a verb ) existing framing in the basement and add additional floor joists to levels the floors. Right now they are far from level, and pretty springy, not to mention kind of beat up. We plan to restore them- we shall see if we get there.

DSCN0657The demolition work is hard and dirty. It is also gratifying to make progress and even more fun when we stumble upon the unexpected.

Discovery one- Will removes the kitchen range and discovers a hidden door connecting to the dining room.

Behind the stove we discover a door- the lock on the other side dates to early 1800s
Behind the stove we discover a door- the lock on the other side dates to early 1800s
The lock dates back to early 1800s
The lock dates back to early 1800s

 

The door as seen from the dining room, hidden into a makeshift closet
The door as seen from the dining room, hidden into a makeshift closet

 

Progress…the fruits of our hard labor

The walls and ceiling come down in the kitchen
The walls and ceiling come down in the kitchen

Can I tell you this not only contains 200 plus years of dirt and dust, but it is also REALLY heavy. Plaster weighs a ton which makes for a slow clean up. There were days when I told Will I just couldn’t lift and empty another bucket full of debris into the dumpster. I felt like Marcel the Shell…wanna see me lift this? I can’t, I cant. Honestly, all this heavy work and progress is gratifying but I prefer conventional weight training in the gym.

We make our second discovery in the kitchen…an original corner post.

We discover an original post in the corner of the kitchen. This has been covered with molding and trim and then painted.
We discover an original post in the corner of the kitchen. This has been covered with molding and trim and then painted.

 We have a treasure on our hands. Just how old is this house?

Once the kitchen is stripped we move into the dining room. Will removes the makeshift closet, along with the walls built around the chimney while I continue to empty small trash cans of debris into the dumpster.

 

photo 3-4

The dinning room, now stripped. Original planks exposed on the right.
The dinning room, now stripped. Original planks exposed on the right.

He pokes at the plaster walls, trying to see what lurks underneath and we make our next discovery. Wallpaper!

Buried under the Under the plaster and lathe we discover wall paper which had been applied directly onto the wall planks
Buried under the Under the plaster and lathe we discover wall paper which had been applied directly onto the wall planks

The plaster and lathe are pried off, strip-by-strip, landing on the ply wood creating great heaps of dust. It is hard to breath. My respirator fogs my glasses. I bend down to scoop up an armful of lather to take to the dumpster. The nails intrigue me. The nails are square and many appear to be hand made, not machine made. I make a mental note- research the history of nails. How old could they be?

Next down comes the ceiling. Tiny corncobs, like mini Indian corn, and fossilized walnuts drop from the ceiling. How the heck did they get there? Primitive insulation? Mouse droppings cover the floor.

What was I thinking? Be careful what you wish for…those words continue to haunt me. We have embarked on a DIY project of enormous scale.

I can’t wait to take a shower.

 

Time Traveler- Square nails, Ikea and Fannie Farmer

I am a time traveler.

Square hand made nails and all, the dining room walls now fill the first dumspter
these nails  hold the clues, they tell the story of the red house

I stand in the present while I search to learn the history of the red house we have begun renovation on. As we rip down the lathe and plaster I wonder about this house and it’s inhabitants spanning over the past 260 plus years, distinguished by their simple square nails, their low ceilings and narrow doors ways and the clues that lie in the repurposed timbers and bricks, or their complex wallpaper.

Our new mattress from Ikea
Our new mattress from Ikea

I make my bed, shaking the four down pillows back into shape and flapping my new white cotton duvet across the mattress. It is piped in grey. I like the way it looks. The entire bed making process takes maybe 60 seconds. The mattress is new. It is from Ikea. It is packaged, rolled up like an oversized duffle bag, and shrink-wrapped in plastic with two black straps for handles. It cost $199. I located in in aisle 32, bin 26.

The mattress sits on a series of wooden slats that fit into a platform frame. The headboard is birch. The lines of the bed are clean, stark and Scandinavian, with room to store things underneath. I found that in aisle 28 bin 25 a week later, on another trip to Ikea. It cost $329 including the slates and the mid beam support bar. It came in two boxes. Will assembled it last week during Brian Williams and cocktail hour. Brian wore a tie I had selected for him. I miss that brush w fame.

I knelt down on the floor to pull out the white nylon box that stored my clothes and picked out what I would wear today. My wardrobe has been reduced to bare necessities. The choice was simple. Jeans and grey cashmere turtleneck, boots. Utilitarian. Practical.

As I brushed my teeth is thought how so very different my life is from that of either parent. I wondered as I pulled my sweater from this box, $5.99 – Ikea, what my father would think of all this, my stark simplified Ikea life and all? Would he call it adventure and folly or jingle the change in his pocket and clear his throat in disappointment.

My grandfather graduated from Harvard Business School in the early 1900s. He balked at the idea of heading to Wall Street and headed instead to the Orient to work for the Rockefellers, selling kerosene, which then led to an executive position with Standard Oil. My father and his brother were born in Canton, China and their family eventually found their way to Saigon in the 1920s. Their world was global. French schools, British rule, colleagues of all continents and more.

My grandmother kept marvelous records of their opulent life in China and Vietnam gluing black and white photos meticulously into heavy black leather albums of thick black paper and wrote captions in white ink in her long cursive handwriting. Her albums documented dinner parties and stylish dignitaries, rides on elephants with the Rockefellers, the boys amahs. Men in white shoes, triple pleated silk twill trousers. There are even portraits, silhouettes of their drivers and butlers. My uncle, fond of them all, hangs them in his house.

Eva May Lafferty never learned to speak French, or either of the dialogs, Cantonese or Mandarin, during the 20 years she lived there. She never had to assimilate into another culture. She was surrounded by a staff of dozens, and lived in a culture where women were socialites. She saw her children on Sundays.

After my grandmother died I inherited her extensive wardrobe of slips, robes and nightgowns. They filled several large trunks. Ivory, peach, pale green, chiffons and silk. Some embroidered, others clean and simple underpinnings. Expensive, sexy and elegant. She had them made by a dressmaker in the French quarter of Saigon. She brought her twelve-year-old son, my father, along to translate to her seamstress.

His translation skills were also put to use in the kitchen- armed with a copy of the The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Fannie Farmer, marked with the recipes his mother had chosen to dine on, he spoke to the four cooks, translating roast beef into Cantonese. She never once ate anything that was not from Fannie Farmer’s cookbook, at least not in her own home.

My grandmother’s life, a century ago, certainly a far fry from my mattress, rolled in plastic, located in aisle 32, bin 26.