Old House Restoration

A real family makes an old house their home...for the 2nd time
The Splendido's renovate, restore and rejuvenate their home with their own hands - all while living in the house
and balancing their family needs...you know...like most families have to do it!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

My Little Helper

Restoring the Splendor is truly a family affair in the Splendido House. Sure Karen & I lead the charge, but whenever I am about to get dirty or use a power tool - I usually hear a chorus of "Can I help?" from my 3 little elves. With that said - if one of my offspring is going to be a future home restoration expert - it would be Lily. Long after the other two have gotten bored, Lily is standing by my side pitching in.

The day I removed all the wallpaper from the kitchen in March was less than fun. 8 hours of prep including paper tiger-ing, spraying the walls, scraping, scrubbing adhesive and washing and re-washing. After-all a good paint job starts with good prep work. Lily (6 y.o.) was by my side for at least 6 hours of it asking, "Is it my turn yet?" She was very excited to learn how to spray the walls with the pressure sprayer and then scrape the wallpaper off.

She quickly realized it was a wet job and disappeared and then returned with this work uniform.


Sweet Helper Lily...
...and Silly Lily
Even though their help usually makes the work a little more slow going in real time, enjoying our time together and watching them learn is a trade off I will gladly make.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Twinkle, Twinkle Little...

Up till now I have only posted about the outside of the house. In keeping with my promise from my last entry - here is the first tidbit of inside restoration. I chose to write about this mini-restoration because I had never repaired/converted a light before and am happy and proud of the results.

The first time we walked through the house with our realtor, Glenda Lewis of Coldwell Banker (btw - she also helped us buy, and then 8 years later sell, our first house too), Karen and I noticed a little treasure in the basement. It was a Moravian Star 'light.' I put quotes around 'light' because I really had never seen a set-up like this before. I'm not positive if it was really ever intended to be used as a ceiling fixture.
It was screwed into a light bulb receptacle and was rigged with an old-time adapter that was falling apart. The light was literally dangling from the wires. It was suppose to be fixed in location, but would wobble and sway if you touched it. It was so dirty you could not see through the glass. It goes without saying...it did not work...and needless to say...Karen and I wanted it!...and hoped it would be there if/when we closed. The day we closed I went downstairs and removed this dangerous future beauty from the receptacle. It made me nervous to  have it in the kids playroom. I had plans for the light!

This pretty fluorescent light can be yours just for asking
...really if you want it just leave a comment
Our breakfast nook had a hideous fluorescent light fixture. The type with a metallic plastic square grid diffuser. You know the type you find in a doctor's office or in a school. I can understand it being there since the previous longtime owners utilized the room as a second office. However for us it was a MUST go! In its place I wanted to clean up and repair the Moravian Light and covert it to a hanging chained pendant light.

You can see the holes left by the florescent fixture
and a little bit of the original wallpaper in the nook

It honestly took longer to clean the light than to convert it. I probably spent 2 hours cleaning all the various glass surfaces inside and out. As for the conversion to a pendant lamp - that was simple. I purchased a clear lamp cord, some satin nickel linked chain, a ceiling light canopy and a black light bulb socket at my local hardware store. I spray painted the canopy satin nickel. I then slipped the lamp cord through the top hole of the star and spliced the cord to the socket. I secured the socket into one of the points of the star. The rest of the process of hanging the light was similar to any other light fixture change out. Weaving the cord through the chain, connecting the cord to the wires in the ceiling, attaching the canapy to the ceiling light box, etc. I finished it with a clear bulb. I really do have tons of CFL's in my house - almost every possible light, but this light had to have a clear 60 watts.  The CFL's - even the ones that have a bulb shape - just looked too out of place.

After Picture - Part 1 - Pre Breakfast Nook Renovation

The light has a great old look to it when off, but is in all its glory when you turn on the light. the shadows cast on the walls and ceilings from the light are fantastic.

Original After Picture - Straight chain
Pre Breakfast Nook Renovation - more wallpaper

After Pictures - Part 2 - Post Breakfast Nook Renovation

As part of the Breakfast Nook Renovation I took the light fully apart and used a longer lamp cord and longer chain in order to center the light over the table with a little swooping dip and a simple screw-in hook into the ceiling. I'll probably change the hook with something decorative or older looking when I find what I am looking for.

Moravian Light - How to fix - how to convert to pendant light

What a tease! Sorry but this is the only portion of the breakfast nook renovation you get to see...in this post...at least you can see we repaired the holes in the ceiling, removed the wallpaper and painted! The Breakfast Nook is now complete and waiting to be unveiled so look for more posts in the future.

Prior to us there have been two families that have lived in this house for decades each. This house is still known in the neighborhood as their house. No problem since from all accounts they were a wonderful family, however, hopefully we are working on it becoming the Splendido's House. With that said, one of their sons came by the house with his family to drop off some very old papers (some very cool old facts about the house...I'll share in a future post). He saw the work we were doing in the nook and noticed the light. He was so glad to see the light being used as a main component of the house again. It turns out the light used to be in his grandmother's house originally and then his parents used it in in this house. We still do not know exactly how old the light is, but it is safe to say it is over 50 years old...perhaps much more.
Moravian Light - How to fix - how to convert to pendant light
So cool
I really love the shadows the Moravian Star casts on the ceiling and walls. I was worried it would be annoying when eating at the table, but you really do not notice the shadow effect when sitting below the light.

The nice thing about this little project is I could have bought similar Moravian light online for $100-$500. This one cost under $15 in parts and it doesn't just look old, it really is an antique...and best yet...I did the work myself.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Priority #1 - Making the Backyard Fun

Note - Many of you have expressed interest in seeing the inside changes and they are coming - I promise - but for now this will have to do!

The kids were excited for the new house - well really for their new bedrooms and the bigger yard. The twins were especially excited because they would have their "own big kid rooms," rather than sharing a room. It was nice to have the kids excited, because as everyone knows moving can be a tad stressful. Even more so if you the kids are not happy about the move.

All was good until we actually moved. Then the happy-happy-joy-joy quickly turned into tears. The twins realized having their own room meant actually sleeping in separate rooms! It was sad hearing "I miss Lily" and "I miss Luke."  Easy fix. Let them have sleepovers in each others rooms.  10 months later - instead of having their own beds in a room they shared like in the old house - they now have their own rooms, but share a bed - every night! We don't care. They are so cute!

At least that complaint had an easy resolution. This next one would not be as easy to correct. We started hearing whines about "how our backyard at the other house was so much more fun." I tried a simple solution - showing them how to take advantage of the bigger yard. We bought some simple and fun yard games - a volleyball set, played some wiffleball, badminton, etc. Those would work, but only when daddy or mommy could actually play with them. As soon as we stopped the "old yard more fun" chants returned. To be fair - it was understandable because the previous house did have a school yard grade swing set with monkey bars and other acrobatic attachments. In their eyes, this yard would not be as fun until they had a playground too. That is what was missing. And since being able to answer to their satisfaction the age old question "What are we doing that is fun today?" is of utmost importance to me - I was going to make it happen!

Before - hill, trees, falling apart green fence
Ideally we wanted the playground to be in an area where we could sit in our porch or in the house and still see the kids playing and keep the kids away from the road. The backyard had the location, but not the ideal landscape. It was overgrown with thick 5 foot high weeds, was on a steep hill and loaded with large trees. A regular play set would never work in-between all the trees. Also all those weeds harvested misquitos the size of the Clock family from The Secret World of Arrietty. 4 inches may be small for people, but huge for a mosquito! So first things first - I removed all the weeds so we could see what we were working with.

Before - hill of yard debris - unfortunately no pics of the 5 foot high weeds
Karen and I then came up with a plan if we could only find what we were looking for. In our original plan we needed a slide, a tree fort, a rope swing and a zip line (we already owned a zip line that we never installed at the old house). So I started looking for a slide on Craigslist (Note 1: flexibility is key when looking for used items). My first V8 moment was when I searched slide and came upon a wooden play set in Craigslist. They had Forts. They had slides. No rope swings, but they had swings. They even had monkey bars and rock walls and a place to hang out underneath. But they would never fit on the landscape...unless I could take them apart?. I wasn't sure, but with some ingenuity I thought they could be made "sectional."

After - Slide and steps built into hill...and the ugly green fence is gone
The first few I found were too small. But after about two weeks I found one in Guilderland. It was big, made of wood, was in good shape and already weathered looking (which would look great in our setting). It was mine - if I could come and take it apart and get it home. Easy peasy lemon squeezy?!...not! My brother-in-law and I went there early one Saturday - tools in hand and my company's 24 foot box truck (overkill...so I thought). Note to anybody else that has the idea of buying a used play set...expect most of the screws to be corroded closed for all of eternity! So it was not going to come apart into small pieces for easy travel like I had hoped.

Time to rethink. Luckily all the main sections were held together with nylon coated nuts and bolts that could still be removed. We were able to remove enough bolts to take the system apart into 5 large sections - the slide, the rock wall, the swings & monkey bars, the roof and then the main body of the fort. Because of the bulkiness of the large sections - we needed to beg the neighbors to help us load the sections - mind you it was before 9am on a Saturday...and I had never met any of these people in my life! The nice people of Guilderland did come through and after some loading, unloading and reloading we were able to get all the pieces to fit in the truck - without an inch to spare.

After - Tree Fort and separate swing/monkey bars getting put to good use
When I got it home I cleared an area for the body of the fort next to a tree that would support it. Keep in mind the sections were not going back together as they were originally engineered so they needed to be stabilized differently. Then I gathered some of my great new neighbors and they helped me get the fort in place and the roof back up...and then low and behold we had a fort under a tree - so in a sense it is a Tree Fort! 

Next Karen and I installed the swings and money bars against another tree. We dug the slide and some very simple railroad tie steps into the steep hill and then put the long zip line in-between two of the larger trees. Karen also painted an old wooden A-frame shrub protector with some chalkboard paint for some added fun. Then the final step was spreading out 9 yards of playground mulch (my back aches me just to write that again). All in all it took the better part of two weekends to complete the whole project.

Notice the two sets of 3 logs screwed
together used as short-run and long-run
platforms to reach the zip line.
More natural looking than step stools.
Landing area has 6 inches of mulch
and an old crib mattress up against
the tree. The mattress has since been
covered to help blend in.
Guess what?
The kids and their friends love the new playground...
 ...and I haven't heard anything about the old backyard again :-)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Rehab Addicts...here we go again

We must be addicted to rehabbing old homes. What other word can explain the reason why we are putting ourselves through this again!? We are a real family with real lives. We have three young children (and the sports that go along with them), 2 careers (one of them our own business), two long distance running schedules and lots of friends and family we adore. Basically we already have enough to keep any family busy 24/7.

We will always love this home
In February 2013 we had finally finished painting the last room to complete the inside restoration of the fantastic 1920 cottage we owned since 2005. We loved (and still love) that home. It was our dream house. It was old, it was charming, it was old, it had wavy glass windows, it was old, it had a big front porch, it was old, it had nooks and crannies, it was old, it had ornate door knobs, it was old, it had beautiful woodwork...did I mention it was old? It had everything you buy an old house for - it was chocked full of character. It was also close to friends, close to school, close to the best pizza this side of NYC.

We lovingly rejuvenated, restored and/or renovated every room, porch and closet of that house for 8 years...with our own two hands. Admittedly there was a long break from 2007-2009 where not much happened...except for the births of our twins! That's enough to derail any and all of the best of intentions. However, once we felt ready again - the wallpaper removal, plaster repair, priming and painting became the obsession again. Late nights, early mornings, in between playing with the kids - whenever we could fit it a few minutes or hours - we were "working on the house."

Some may call it fate...I just called it insanity! How else could I explain my feelings when in the very same month I uttered the words "well I think we are finally finished with the inside of the house," Karen's other dream house hit the market...again? Really! I don't even think my paint brushes were dry yet! However, it was one of those houses that Karen would mention every time we took a drive on St. Davids Lane. She would even make me take the scenic route just so we could drive by the beautiful homes along St Davids Lane and the surrounding neighborhoods. So many nice homes, but this one was always the one.

1938 Adirondack Style home built by Paul Scheafer in Niskayuna, NY
I still pinch myself when I pull into our driveway.
A stone and clapboard house built by master builder, Paul Shaefer in 1938. He built and restored over 300 Dutch inspired homes and Adirondack camps, but is even more famous for being the foremost wilderness leader and conservationist for the Adirondacks in the 20th century...but more on him in future entries.

The house blends seamlessly into its natural setting on its wooded lot overlooking a beautiful Niskayuna neighborhood. It is another great old house! It had come on the market in 2012, but we were not ready and missed it. As luck would have it, the new owners decided to move back to the tri-state area and put the house on the market again in 2013. This time - once again -  we were not ready. However that mattered little to Karen. She knew what she wanted and as the old saying goes - happy wife, happy life...so we fought for the house (literally!!!). We fought with time, stress, the market, the seller and each other. Pretty much the only person we did not have to fight was the buyer for our first house - who is now one of our friends :-). I have to admit, if it was not for Karen we would not have this house. There were many times I was tired of the fight. But Karen would not give up. She kept saying "this is our forever house.

The kids are happy too
Now our family wakes up in this beautiful house with plenty of room for the 6 of us. I have to include our 105 lb. black lab, Carly, too. After all she is our furry child and takes up more space than any of our non-furry kids. Our last house was large too, but the real reason we needed the extra space was for Karen's Splendid Stems Floral Designs business. Now she can have her own office, a room for her inventory and a separate designing studio, not just an unfinished basement crammed with all her stuff. As for the kids - after some initial complaints about how our backyard at the old house was more fun - which I made a level one priority (and thus our first renovation) - they are really happy here too. As I look out one of the multi-paned windows Paul Shaefer used in all his homes - overlooking our yard with a view of the sunrise every morning...I have to admit - she was right. This is our forever home.

Sunrise over Niskayuna
Morning coffee with a view
As with any old home that hadn't changed hands in decades (except for the recent 9 month temporary owners) this house needs lots of updating and TLC. Don't get me wrong - the house is in great shape overall - but it does need a lot of fine tuning and fixing. As any other real family can attest to - struggling to find the time to do the work has been the biggest obstacle. However, we have made the time - sometimes at the expenses of our other hobbies. Hey something had to give! Over the last 10 months we have made some great improvements, but we still have a very long ways to go.

I hope to use this blog to share our past projects at both this house and the last house (why not? I loved that house too and learned so much about old house restoration there). We finished some great renovations at that house that I think you will enjoy. Also I will keep you up-to-date with the present and future restorations we have in mind as we turn this house into our home...once again.

Here's a sneak peek at some before pictures of projects we have tackled and will share in future posts:

making a useless backyard fun
A useless backyard hill of weeds
renovation a dated breakfast nook and butlers pantry
Dated Breakfast Nook & Butlers Pantry
fixing a slate patio
Slate patio mess
Karen has a great vision for this house (no surprise there - have you seen her wedding flowers?) and as it turns out I am a bit handy with the tools. As she likes to say - she dreams it and I make it happen.