Half the House Part II by Robbie Rhur


Half the House, Part II


I started thinking about the exterior work while JW built cabinets and he and Paul tackled the dining room sheet rock. This whole time is a bit of a blur. It was one day after another taking the next step to pull the kitchen and dining room back together. Even several years later, I can still feel the overwhelm of living in a house that was incredibly dusty and in such chaos! I felt like Mr. Filch in the final movie of the Harry Potter films. Just after Hogwarts has been blown to smithereens by the Voldemort’s army, rubble and dust everywhere, you can see Mr. Filch in the back ground with his push-broom attempting to restore some order to the badly damaged castle. Each day I came home from work, emptied trash barrels, organized tools, and swept up dust and rubble. Each weekend I ran to Lowes, worked on the exterior trim, emptied trash barrels and organized tools at days end. JW made it clear that this was my part in the sweat equity equation.


By this time JW and I were getting pretty surly with each other. The fun of a new project had worn off and all we could see was the huge amount of work still left to do. It became clear that we had undertaken an enormous task while being woefully undermanned. Had I been able to afford an experienced crew to help JW, it would have been a different scenario entirely. Paul and Alex had a little experience but they were not carpenters and could not run the project while JW started planning for the next phase, plus I didn’t have the funds to use them as much as JW would have liked. I was starting to realize that I was heading way past my budget and JW was realizing that he had underestimated what he should have charged. Things were quite strained between the two of us.


Still, we soldiered on each day and chipped away at completing the kitchen. I decided that I did not want granite counter tops and found an amazing product at Ecosupply Center called Richlite, it’s a solid surface recycled paper product that works well for counter tops. It looks like soap-stone but can tooled like wood, plus it’s half the price of granite, with my budget problems it was a fantastic find. I found the floor ceramics at Home Depot and the backsplash tiles at Lowes. Once all that was decided upon, the kitchen really started to come together. Electric and sheet rock was done; the floor cabinet boxes were complete and in place, and JW had installed the ceramic floor (he had become very good at tile work). It was time for me to paint the walls; I wanted the painting complete before we installed the upper cabinets, cabinet faces, cabinet doors, and the backsplash. Luckily I had already selected wall colors so that the colors flowed from room to room, sadly I had not realized how expensive paint had become; I had failed to budget for paint.

With both the dining room and kitchen ready for paint, I decided to write inspiring quotes onto the sheet rock before I primed it, just a whimsical idea that would help lift my spirits and, I reasoned, bring some happiness back into the spirit of the house. I believe, while he did not say it, JW thought this was a ridiculous idea. The snark-fest between the two of us continued unabated, one morning I was preparing to prime the dining room, both Paul and JW were standing there reading my happy prose on the walls while I was telling JW that I wanted him to re-do something or another – I don’t recall what. The atmosphere between us was tense and we were heading towards an all out shouting match, when JW bit out this little gem with as much venom as any one man can muster, “This house had better SHIT happiness when I’m done with it!” Paul and I laughed until we cried but sadly JW was still pissed and not able to see the humor. Paul would not let up, every time he came over that quote was uttered to giggles, JW eventually came around and started to chuckle himself.

FINALLY, the kitchen was done, I could move the whole cooking operation back to the proper room and we could gut the living room. The dining room was painted too – all that was left was installing the trim and the crown molding. This was when another unexpected experience presented itself, the trim: buy new or strip and re-use the old? For sake of time we had bought new trim for the kitchen but the boys had kept all the trim from the dining room, JW suspected that I would want to salvage and re-use what I could. Especially after he pointed out how much bolder and heavier the old trim was when compared to the trim you could buy at Lowes. I could have bought matching trim at Sewers but the price, OUCH! I did decide on some beautiful cove crown molding from Sewers for the entire down stairs (less the living room- which was getting a coffered ceiling). The price was not that much higher than the standard crown you could buy at Lowes and the cove crown accented all the custom work that had been done. I had never stripped old trim, so JW suggested that I use a small blow torch rather than liquid stripper. I bought a respirator and went to work. The late summer weather was warm and I had a huge pile of base board and window trim to work through – the boys pulls all the trim out of the living room too and my pile just kept getting bigger. Word of advice – I do recommend re-using the old trim but for God’s sake – write on the back where it goes, so when it’s time to put it back up, you’re not spending a bunch of time figuring it out!


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Old Kitchen looking towards the dining room New Kitchen looking toward the dining room I took some time off work to be part of the crew for the living room gut, trim stripping and painting once it was back together.


The living room ceiling all had to come down to finish the electrical and all the plaster off the exterior walls was taken down to allow for insulation. Once this was done we noticed a couple alarming facts. Termites, the exterior sheathing was riddled with termite damage – especially around the doors. After my termite guy inspected the house he said that it didn’t appear to be an active issue but I was lucky it wasn’t worse because he doubted the house had been treated in 20 – 30 years. We did the repairs needed but soon noticed the second issue. The ceiling was 20 foot span from end to end; today’s code requires ceiling joists to be 10 inches thick if there’s an upstairs. The Tudor was not designed to have an upstairs; the upstairs was supposed to be attic space but it had been converted to a living space…… Well, the living room 20 foot span only had 6 inch joists, plus they had never been blocked into place on the end plate. Each joist had a coupled nails in them. Once the upstairs weight had been added, the ceiling started to bow and joists had started to twist. They looked like dominos headed for a fall. They were past 45 degrees and almost to failure; had failure occurred the house would have been toast. One afternoon after the gutting was done, I was out back and JW was having a beer looking at our handy work – he shouted for me – I came running. He pointed out the problem then explained what was happening and what could happen to the house if this was not corrected, I was suddenly very grateful we had done all that messy gutting. We got busy the next morning putting eye bolts through the joist and using a come-along to winch the joists back into vertical position. JW cut blocks of 2 X4 and hammered them into the cavity space between the joists to assure that they stayed upright! Now the ceiling could go back up and the room could be sheet rocked. Paul had been working on the leaded windows and they were ready to be put into the sashes JW had built, that did not go as smoothly as I had hoped. I think we all learned a lesson about redoing old stained glass windows. While today they look fine, they leak like a sieve when it rains, no amount of glazing seems to be able to stop the rain. I will have to hire a professional stained glass person to redo them all in the next couple years. Live and learn. JW did some of his finest work in that coffered ceiling; it is just lovely, as is the entire room. To help accent the dining room, we added another piece of picture mold trim 4 inches below the cove crown and painted the whole thing white. It creates the illusion that I installed big bold (expensive) crown in the dining room. The kitchen is just amazing, the custom hickory cabinets are beautiful, as is the natural stone & glass backsplash; the room is sumptuous and inviting. I am very pleased with this half of the house – now we JUST had to complete the rest of it……. 

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Then These are the colors that greeted me that first day!!


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Now: dining room looking into the living room new living room


One response »

  1. Pingback: Half the House Part II by Robbie Rhur | estuartbickford

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