Monday, March 19, 2012

Last Fall In This Old Farmhouse...

Wow, it has been a while since I posted anything! I've been so busy with writing and other projects, the days just go flying by. I wonder if this blog will ever catch up with the current season, now that it's almost spring again. 

So much going on around here, about the only thing that is dragging along is the renovation. We've been picking away at that, because we had a big tax bill we were worried about, and so didn't want to overextend ourselves either in building supplies or in hiring someone. Happily, it turned out to be no bigger that we expected (WHEW!!!!) and with some creative financing and continued good luck, it shouldn't hinder us from continuing to work on this place, albeit at a slow pace. But things are getting done and the demolition part of the renovations goes on. 

To give you an idea of the scope of this project, here are some pictures from late last summer into early fall. The three main bedrooms here face the road, and they very much needed updating. No heat in two of them, old windows, old substandard wiring, and plaster walls that really weren't walls at all. It's been interesting to watch it come out, and dream of how it will look when it's done. I had been living here off and one since June but made it my permanent residence in October, and just recently changed my mailing address. For Ariel The Wonder Dog and me, the farm is home.

So here we go!

Ariel says hello and welcome to our new home. She is sitting in one of the stripped out bedrooms in this photo. The wooden floor is not painted, but stained with lime plaster dust from ripping out walls. Yes, they are using respirators and face protection, and a fan blowing out the window too.

For some reason my pictures did not upload in order, so we'll be all over the house in these.

You can see what a mess that room was before it got cleaned out. Plaster as old as this crumbles when you touch it. That was what started this project, trying to get a rough opening measurement on that window to the left. The wall below it started to fall apart. But with all that out, you can see the original Colonial era post and beam construction. The wall paper that was in there refused to release from those old corner beams.

Above those ceiling joists is the attic and we do have space up there for a long narrow room, with plenty of storage against those eaves. That is going to get finished off, wired and insulated too. Lots of heat loss in this house even with the low ceilings, so we shut the bedrooms off for the winter. No plumbing in there to freeze.

OK, for some reason we are now looking at my kitchen door and the entrance to the living room. The kitchen and dining room comprise the ell, and they are perfectly usable as is, if a bit desperately in need of paint, some trim, and new windows. We're getting to things as we can. For now I am living with what I must.

The previous owners put in the cabinets and slate flooring in the kitchen and raised the ceiling in the entire ell. There is one inch foam insulation underneath that sheet rock, and it holds heat well. The husband built that door BTW, it has an old fashioned tongue latch which gets balky but I find it charming anyway. Sometimes it blows open in heavy wind if I don't lock it. I was getting some of my old thrifting finds up on the wall at this point for 'atmosphere'. It makes it feel more like my home. Boy was it HOT in there this summer though! I sat outdoors a lot during the day and ran fans when I had to be inside.

Cobwebs, soot and all, I had to show you those old chestnut beams. You can see some of the pegs that were left when they took out the cross ties that these beams were notched to hold. Not to worry, it is properly supported elsewhere. I look at this work with amazement because this was done with hand tools and grunt labor, and not by a specialist carpenter either. People built their own houses in those days, and they built them to last. And this one sure has, since 1770. This place makes me even prouder to be an American.

Everyone who steps through that door for the first time remarks about those beams.

Once I was living here on a more full time basis, I started using the kitchen for cooking. Had to buy a few new small appliances, but no biggie. That lovely wicker and metal bakers rack was part of the purchase deal where we bought certain contents. I had it moved from a bedroom to this spot in the kitchen where a small refrigerator used to be. It fills that gap nicely. Around this time I started pulling things out of storage I hadn't been able to use for years—like that dehydrator—and finding new uses for them. I did dry some herbs, mostly basil and parsley from the garden.

One of three bed frames left here, so I got a new mattress and boxspring set and borrowed sheets and pillows from the old homestead. That comforter was a thrifting find, more beat up than I wanted but serviceable once washed. My bed is in the livingroom because we weren't going to do anything with that this year, and we haven't. I'm still sleeping there. There is a window that opens to the right and at night I can hear the pond life and crickets... and coyotes too. The birds would wake me up in the AM, singing as soon as it was light out.

This is the livingroom fireplace, which basically takes up one entire wall. Isn't it gorgeous? No, we haven't used it because a whole bunch of stuff is piled in front of it now, since the other rooms are being cleared. But I foresee many a fall and winter family gathering or raw, rainy days where that will be a focal point. That was designed and built by the last owner, a mason by trade, and the hearth is made of a granite piece from a building in a local city. I love the feeling of homeyness and history that is blended here. As I've found out through the winter holidays and birthdays, the family does love to gather here.

This is the little hallway that runs from the living room to the other door outside, which for some reason also faces the driveway. I'd like to change that someday, and have a door leading out of the opposite side of the house, and make this a garden window. Someday... The furniture you see was part of my buyout deal. I love rustic stuff and it belongs here. The little primitive coffee table is back in the living room now, but it is holding my stuff for now alongside the bed. That bench goes to the maple kitchen trestle table and so we cleaned it up and shoved it in the back against the wall, in case we need more seating room. The rocking chair is in storage but we will eventually bring that back out when we have the room. I also kept another, smaller rocker that has a wicker seat. That one goes back and forth between the kitchen and dining room. My mother loves that chair when she is here.

This shelving unit was in one of the unheated bedrooms and held the last home owner's canned goods. We moved it to what we call the 'utility room' and then out to the barn. It'll still get used for something. That foot board you can see is part of another complete bed frame that was left to me. It is a full size, like the one I am sleeping on. We have it in storage too. Wooden beds that well made are hard to come by. Even the slats were still with it. As the family grows, they may need another bed.

This is the middle bedroom, and the smallest of the three. One wall is the brick back of the fireplace, so it will be warm, and it is the only bedroom with a single window. This will be my mother's room, because the passive heat will make it nice and cozy in the winter. We will use that fireplace! At this point, this room had not been demolished yet, and so that wall behind the shelf is what is left of the plaster and lath between this and the first room we tore out. That double door hiding back there looks Victorian Era to me. This room used to have the front entrance to the house, but the last homeowners changed that. It opens to a steep bank over a busy country highway, so it made no sense to leave it there.

Remember I mentioned storage stuff...? We've moved tools and things we've brought over from our other house all over creation. This end bedroom faces the driveway and road. The window you see here faces the highway, and when we removed the blinds, the entire interior across the top was one massive wasp nest! You can see bits of a dark stained pine four poster cannonball waterbed frame, which is complete. It is queen size and in very good shape, and that sucker is MINE. I am getting a conventional mattress set for it once we have bedrooms again, and it will go in the bedroom at the other end. I love the waterbed frames because they are low to the floor, so easy for short, arthritic, bad back prone me to get on and off of. I think Ariel, who also sleeps with me, will like that too. This room is warm and sunny, and goes to another family member who really feels the cold. It was the only bedroom that was ducted for heat. That too will change.

Another look at that bedroom as it was. It's all torn out now, in fact there are no walls between any of the bedrooms on the front part of the house. That will all get rebuilt properly. The town has been super in working with us on this, no complaints. You can see that waterbed foot board here, that is now also in storage. That 'rod' is actually a banister rail, and it was taken down in one piece and be used somewhere else. This window faces the end of the driveway. This is by far the sunniest bedroom. It's not a bad sized room for an old house. We are going to have to find armoires though, because none of these rooms have closets and the walls aren't set up for them.

Water damage from what was a bad leaking roof was worst in this bedroom. Once the paper was off, it was obvious this beam is fairly rotted. It can be patched or studded alongside, and I have been told they make a resin compound to firm up old wood like this. One way or another, it will get fixed. The core is solid and it's still holding up the house. After 241 years, I am impressed! The slanted casings over these beams was something that the Victorian Era folks liked.

OK, we're back to that first bedroom, the one on the north side of the house. This one will likely be mine. At this point it was the only room torn out. That is the double door I was talking about, and I'm betting at one point, this was a parlor. It bifolds back toward the camera. I think we saved it, I honestly can't recall. If you look to the immediate right, you can see the plaster and lath construction of those 'walls' which weren't framed at all, but just had boards standing up between them. Yet they lasted for 200 years that way... I will show you later how we know when they went up. You find things in old walls like this. This is an amazing old house and it's far sturdier than it looks.

This is the utility room. It was once used as a bedroom too, though it is pretty small and has a door to the attic stairs in one wall. It is across the hall from the other bedrooms, and so far we haven't touched it as far as renovating. The other rooms were in far worst shape, in this one I think that gawdawful wallpaper has a protective force field or something, LOL We'll eventually get to it. A lot of this clutter is gone right now, and we have a spare fridge, shelves, and buckets for birdseed and whatnot in there. Eventually this might become the laundry room. We'll see. That single window faces the driveway, and the wall beyond that corner borders the walkway to my kitchen door. I left the ratty curtains up because they provide privacy and I don't want to put anything decent in these rooms until we get rid of the dust and mess.

Another shot of the utility room, across the room from the window. Don't stare at the wall paper, or you will see things that aren't there. LOL That white door you see goes to the attic stairs which are very narrow and steep. We'd like to open that up so heat will rise up there. Someday...

OK, hopping around again, standing by the kitchen door looking into the kitchen toward the dining room. I'm amazed by how many little things we've changed since then. Those buckets are for hauling out plaster and lath. Lime plaster is not hazardous to the environment as long as you're not dumping it in a waterway or on your well. It's been going up back, spread in an old gravel pit area where the rain washes it into the soil. The lath, minus the old hand forged nails, gets burned as kindling.

The windows are low with wide sills here. Ariel loves that one behind the buckets because it is right near the door and she put her paws on the sill to see who is coming or bark at the birds at the feeder and the deer in the field. I have filled most of the other windows with plants now. While the house is dark and this kitchen needs better lighting, it is sunny all day all around, and so houseplants thrive here. The brickwork you can see is a divider between kitchen and dining room, which I am told was originally the farm house's wood shed. There is a chimney in the midst of it, and the furnace is below that in the ell part of the cellar. That desk you can see behind the table is what I am typing this on, but it is now across that room, turned around against the opposite wall. That desk was built by the last owner too.

This is the bypass window over the kitchen table and it was broken when we moved in. There was a pane between the broken panel and the great outdoors. And YUCK it was full of dead bugs. I was glad to see that get replaced and the only reason that didn't happen immediately is I had to special order the opening size and it was over a very hard spot to work on a ladder from. The knoll the house is built on drops off severely there and so it was a precarious job.

Even with the new window, the opening had to be recut just a bit. Nice view huh? The wasps and flies were tormenting everyone that day. Dunno why I didn't get a picture of the finished window. We never got any trim around it anyway, so oh well... Like I said, priorities. It was wonderful to have another window to open and close, the house got so hot and stuffy without any cross breeze. Most of these old wooden windows are shot, so I went with vinyl. Yeah, I know, not traditional, but I'm not young and I don't want to paint, stain, or replace them again.

Ok, for some reason we now have a close up of the back of a plaster and lath 'wall'. There would have been the same thing on the side facing us, only it was coated with plaster and wallpaper. These big boards all look like rough cut chestnut and we saved every one we could. It's a rare wood these days but was plentiful in Connecticut until the 1940s blight wiped out the native trees. These might have even been cut on this property when it was first cleared. My other house has woods behind it full of old chestnut stumps and tops from being logged out when the trees died. Some of the heartwood on those pieces is still relatively solid, I have sent Roger some for wood turning.

You can see this is not a real wall, and yet it stood the test of time. But it was far from plumb or square and wavered down the line. I'm still impressed!

Here is how we know when the plaster went up. Newspaper was used for insulation and backing, and this was stuck fast to one of the interior wall surfaces that is not being touched right now. We don't dare remove it, the paper is so old and crumbly. Look at that date—that is history! This paper was a local one which ceased publication in 1816. 

this is my laundry room, which faces the living room. It's the size of a small pantry or walk in closet. It had a door, but my machines are bigger than what was in there, and now it doesn't fit. We can get one of those bi-fold louvered things eventually. For now, I am just thrilled to have a first floor laundry room, because my other house had the hookup in the cellar, and once we added a second floor, I always had to get help lugging laundry around. That first bedroom we tore out is behind that right side wall, and so is that newspaper header I showed you.

Eventually I'd like to move the laundry to the utility room, and make this a combination coat and mudroom, with some pantry storage. I'd put the other door to go outside where that window is, and maybe build a little deck out there on the lawn. There is a beautiful magnolia bush and a couple of fruit trees on that side and the view up the road is pleasant. Having doors on each side of the house makes more sense to me. It would be far easier to have a small run for Ariel on that lawn too, so I don't have to tromp over ice and snow to get her to the ladies room in winter. Someday...

This is the part of the bathroom you can see from the living room, to the left of the laundry room, It is sort of a long room, so you can't get it all in one shot. The fixtures are old and decrepit, and we had to replace the toilet, and the tile on the floor is lifting. It's usable for now. Long term I want to replace the sink and counter, might have to do the cabinets too, because the interior shows water leak damage from the sink. I want sheet linoleum for the floor. I'm not crazy about ceramic tile floors, they are cold and slippery when wet. The grout on this one is gross and I have no love for excess scrubbing. The upper walls were textured to look like adobe, an experiment I am told that wasn't quite successful.

I was using this as my clothing storage and dressing room at the time. That window was the only other one in the house I could open besides the living room one until we replaced the kitchen one. The towel kept the bugs out, as the pull screen doesn't fit. Eventually that window will be vinyl too, because the wood is impossible to open when wet. No storm windows on this place.

Gee, that's not much of a picture, though that is a thrifted shower curtain that was brand new in the package for $2.99. The tub here is low and narrow, easy to get in and out of, and safe with my mat inside and that nubby carpet on the floor. Just using what I had spare at the time but the aqua and beige pink doesn't look too bad together. The toilet is to the left of that end of the tub, nothing fancy and plain jane white porcelain, so I didn't bother snapping that. The floor tile next to it is slowly lifting and I've been sweeping it up for months. It's eventually all coming out; we'll live with it for now. Priorities...

OK, back to the kitchen, you dizzy yet? This is looking from the sink toward my range, the chimney, and the dining room beyond. That pot rack is the very first thing I negotiated for, the kitchen table was the second, and the fireplace tools the third. I know what I like. I was just starting to cook here at this time, because we had the gas installed, and so started hauling my pots and pans over. I have a lot more on that rack now, and boy does that save cupboard space. I love to cook.

That ugly dirty brick enclosure in the foreground used to hold the last homeowner's gas range but it quit working and he stopped cooking very much. My range is longer, so it wouldn't fit in there. That brick thing is one of the worst features of the kitchen as there is no slate flooring beneath it so we can't just tear it out. Right now I am using it to corral my garbage, compost, and recycling buckets, and we've talked about knocking it down a level or two and putting a work surface on top. I'm not sure what I'm going to do there, but a prep area would be great, if we had some additional overhead lighting. A small florescent fixture over the sink and that ceiling fan way up there are the only lights in here so the kitchen is far too dark. It's all on the to-do list for... yeah, someday.

You can just see the chimney where the wood cook stove was in here, right where my range is now. The rest of the brick supports the hardwood butcher block serving counter, a nice feature for holiday dining.

The working end. I do enjoy cooking, when I have the time. My range is 40" which is quite a bit bigger than the standard size. It has a 5 burner gas cooktop and double electric ovens, the big one has the convection fan. It was an affordable compromise on the ex$pen$ive Viking or Wolf stoves I was drooling over, and I'm not sorry I got it. At 1/3 the price, it is a very well built stove and it cooks beautifully. I've had it several years and I have been happy with it.

The fridge was supposed to end up out in the garage, which is why we got a black one. It is far smaller than we have now, but was adequate at the time, with just me living here. It is NOISY and makes the most horrific 'monsters eating zombies' sounds at night. We now have it in the utility room, and upgraded the kitchen to a bigger, 
stainless steel French door job with a bottom freezer. It has water and ice dispensers in the door, modern LED lights inside, and it only clicks and runs quietly. I have louder wall clocks. This black one is great for extra stuff like cases of beer and soda, veggies from the garden, holiday overflow, meat sales, or platters of food. When it became obvious the family likes to gather here, we decided we had to have something big enough to hold tons of food. These people love to eat!

I was just moving over small appliances and gadgets at the time, so things are here and there. Utility room rack storage helped clear those counters. You can't really see it, but between the stove and fridge in that brickwork is the house woodbin, which we now have crates of canned goods in. We're all about food here. *S*

Well, that was the late summer tour, and things have changed since then, but you get the idea. I really don't mind 'roughing it' here, it's been kind of fun in fact, though it has its moments. 
As Ariel can tell you, sniffing out the history of this place has been pretty fascinating for us, as little pieces of the puzzle of this old farm fall into place. Now some folks have asked us, why aren't we keeping it more historical as we go through and renovate? Well, for one thing, that is expensive to do, as well as time consuming, and we're no longer young. And since we're all older adults that will be living here, I want things easy to care for and clean, and comfortable too.

But most of all, I look at this place, with its long history of use, and I have to smile at the myriad of changes that successive generations and owners have brought to it. I'm sure that long before the original Colonial builder started a house on this land, Native Americans roamed the woodlands that must have been here, and their lives were far different than that of the man clearing the land and building his home with the lumber. Besides those upgraded plaster walls, I know this was a working dairy farm for many years, and then it was a hobby farm, construction and then trucking business base. We're just the latest in a very long line of innovative new owners who love this land and are going to leave our stamp on it. 

So if I don't put in the right windows or keep the old buckled floors, can you blame me? My predecessors wanted a more modern and up to date home too. I write my stories here now, and make holiday dinners and birthday meals. My youngest son and his fiancee are getting married on this land next month, the first of my two boys to tie the knot. My 78 year old mother just celebrated her birthday here, and when she moves in this year, it will likely be her last home. My grandson fishes in our pond and he can come and learn to ride his bike safely here. So yeah, this old farmhouse might be showing the passage of time, but it's all new again. Another family is filling the rooms with love and laughter, and really that's all the history any house needs. The rest is just window dressing. 

A house becomes a home when a happy family occupies it. Happiness isn't something you can buy or hang up. It comes from how you feel about your life, and what you chose to do with your time. Let the environment around you reflect that, and don't worry too much about the cobwebs, dust, and crud that shows. You can always deal with that tomorrow. Make the most of today, while you still have it. 

Now go do some amazing things with someone you love, 

No comments: