Monthly Archives: July 2013

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Kyle at work on floor

This weekend it rained. Actually, it’s rained every weekend. This has been one of the biggest changes since leaving Texas: the need to know where my umbrella actually is.

This Saturday, though, we panicked. We had plans! Big-outdoor-happening plans! So we stood on our porch at 8 am and watched the rain come down and had a moment of despair. This house will never be done. What makes this thinking funny (in retrospect) is that our house is nowhere near being done.  It’s not like we are one Saturday away from moving in; we are months away, so  much so that one day doesn’t mean much of anything. But still. Rain.

A house magazine I read had a feature where they asked designers what they like to do on a rainy day. Basically, their answers went something like: I snuggle up with my dog while drinking a (fill in warm drink of choice here) and reading the New York Times, all while watching the droplets come down.

We went inside and started pulling things down.

We lost two walls, half a floor, and the plaster over our brick chimney. We cleared out ten or so (not structurally utilized) ceiling beams. And then we figured we might as well get into other things. We power-washed the bottom half of the house in between spurts of rain.* We bought our exterior paint. We made a vain attempt to clean up all the destruction we had wrought.

The picture below is of Kyle removing the floorboards from our back room. We have to do that because the guys who laid these lovely planks in 1871 ran them parallel to the joists, rather than perpendicular. This explains why our inspector described the flooring in that room as “squishy.” Most of the boards weren’t supported by anything other than flimsy shims. Fun!

Kyle at work on floor

We’re saving the floorboards and hoping to re-lay them in the other direction. In the meantime, some photos of the room “before”:

Blue room

This was the room when we first made our way in. That happened about a week after getting to Dayton–the door was locked and there was no key to be found. We were hoping for gold doubloons behind the door, but instead we found two dressers,  several questionable chairs, an even more questionable mattress, and an old phonograph table. Also, a bunch of curtain rods and an old carpet. Then we emptied it out and I took down the (several layers of) wallpaper and we ended up with this:

Before we ruined it

Look at that old linoleum! As I explained to Joe, who is working on the house with us: Kyle does not respect this piece of fine old linoleum. Neither, it turns out, does Joe. But all of the women who have come through have cooed at it.

If there is one thing our back room proves, it is this: progress doesn’t look pretty. Also, panic may be underrated. By the time we left we had 12 productive hours in. And the rain had stopped, and the next day we had a picnic with our neighbors, and Godiva frolicked in a park that looks like this:

Godiva in the garden

It was a good weekend.

*Um, what about the top half, you ask? If I ever mention anything that involves a tall ladder, it was all Joe, the handyman who works with. I remain unconvinced of my coordination and Kyle remains afraid of heights.

Front of house

Insulbrick. It’s been called “the brick that is not a brick.” It’s a thick siding made of asphalt that was popular in the early/mid-1900’s. It purportedly could go up in a day, provide insulation and keep a house fire-resistant, and would last forever.

I can’t guarantee it really did go up quickly, or that it worked like it was supposed to against the ravages of cold and heat. I can tell you this: it does last forever.

No one knows when the insulbrick was put on our house. We spoke with the granddaughter of the woman who last owned our house, and she said it was already there when her grandmother bought it. That was in the 50s. In all likelihood, the insulbrick was on our house for a solid 60-something years. More likely it went up in the 30s, which means that it was dressing our house for a good 80+ years. And against all the odds, that stuff was pretty much still in place when we bought it. I actually thought our house was a brick house when we bought it. Again, dangers of buying a house sight unseen. And not having very good eyesight.

The house looked like this:

Front of house

One of the first contractors that came by eyed the house sadly. “Yeah,” he said, “I don’t think we’ll be able to patch the missing insulbrick.” That’s when I knew we had different definitions of renovating. The insulbrick had to go.

Luckily, it’s not incredibly hard to get rid of. There are about six nails holding each board of insulbrick in place; you yank them out, pull off the board, and move on with your day. And you know what makes it even easier? Hiring someone unafraid of heights to pull off the boards up high.

Also, we had our neighbors. One neighbor brought us fresh apricots and beer. Lots of neighbors came by to encourage us. Another neighbor lent us a ladder. Another neighbor came on a Sunday ready to roll up his sleeves and get to work.

So, it’s really not taking insulbrick off that is the problem. The bigger issue is that you never know what you’ll end up with once the insulbrick is gone. Insulbrick is notorious for trapping water and rotting the boards underneath. We ended up with this:

Naked House

Dirty siding. Gloriously whole, dirty siding. That now needs a ton of work.

Our neighbors are still coming by. They stop on the sidewalk and stare at the house. “Wow,” they say. “It looks great. It’s going to be beautiful.”

It’s nice to live around visionaries.


Once upon a time, Kyle and I thought we might actually live in the house as we renovated it (spoiler alert: we were crazy). I headed to Dayton a couple of weeks before we moved, with the idea that I’d “clean things up” and set up a living space in the best-looking room.


What actually happened was that I didn’t just see our house for the first time. I smelled it, too, the special aroma of cigarettes/shag carpet/dampness. And felt it: touching the curtains still hanging on the window left my fingers black with dust. I’ve been told by a friend that nothing I told her about the house before showing her pictures really prepared her for it. I get it. And looking at pictures didn’t begin to prepare me for the actual house.

I called Kyle and told him to buy me a new house. He declined.

So here we are. Before I start showing what we’ve been working on, I think it’s important to see what we started with.

This is the kitchen:


And the future master bedroom:

Future master

And (just a little bit of) the dirt:

Dirt, dirt everywhere

And the dining room–with carpet. Of course.

Dining room

It doesn’t look like this anymore. It doesn’t look good. It just doesn’t look like this. Our mantra of remodeling has become: it’s going to get worse before it gets better. We’re sure about the worse part, hopeful about the better.