The first anniversary of the Old Rowhouse; lessons and pictures

Rachel reminded me this morning that today was our closing date, one year ago. Happy Anniversary to homeownership and the Old Rowhouse! I can’t believe a year has already gone by.

(Read Rachel’s post about the Rowhouseaversary here. And don’t believe her for a minute: she’s done far more work than she’s letting on.)

We didn’t take possession and start working until November 3rd, and we didn’t move in until December 10th, but at about this time on October 28th, 2010, we were on our way to the bank and then the title office for closing. After that, we went to the house to finish signing the papers and negotiate with the previous owner on some of his furniture we wanted to buy. We ended up renting back to him for 4-5 days while he sorted out his housing situation and moved the rest of his stuff out of the house. Demolition on the kitchen started Wednesday, November 3rd and work for Rachel and I started that Friday, November 5th. I think we went over to the house after work that Friday night and started pulling up the old carpet and nails from the floors in the bedroom upstairs.

By that next full week, I was over at the house every day after work, scraping wallpaper and paint off the walls in our bedroom and the stairway, demolishing plaster in the bedroom, and by the next Saturday, patching cracks and learning how to skim the plaster walls for paint. According to the rough calculations I kept from this time, I worked about 160 hours on the house between November 5th and December 10th. That’s 30 hours a week while also working my usual full-time job.

The year feels like it’s gone by oh-so quick, but when I think back on specific jobs and all the work we did in the last year, it begins to feel longer, if that makes sense.

Before I look back on the year in pictures, here’s a few lessons I learned in the last year, in no particular order.

  1. Every job will almost always be more complex, take more time, and involve more money than you think at the outset. Things that seem simple almost never are in an old house. (And especially when you’re learning on the go.)
  2. Before starting on any project, have a) a really good conceptual plan for what you want to do, and b) get everything that you’ll need in hand at the ready. There’s nothing more draining than going from the upstairs to the basement 5 times for tools that you forgot.
  3. Take the time to do things right. There are half a dozen little things that I did in a rush so that we could move in, and the quality of those things irk me to this day. It’s not worth it. Take your time, do it right, and re-do it if you did it wrong.
  4. Make a list and check things off. Include ridiculously easy tasks so that you can check things off even when you’re not getting much done. A classic procrastinator’s trick, trust me.
  5. It makes a huge difference to have at least one room that’s finished that you can live in and relax in without dust and mess all over you. This is why we focused 90% of our energy on finishing our bedroom before we moved in.
  6. Related to the previous item: if you’re planning on renovating the kitchen in the first year or so, try and do it before you move in, even if you have to stretch to make that happen before you were planning to. I can’t describe how much it helped to move into a house with a finished bedroom and a finished kitchen we could unpack and use.
  7. If you’re doing a sprawling renovation job that hits on several rooms or parts of the house, try to just hit one at a time so you don’t have 10 projects in progress at once. I still have 5 half-finished things because I got a wild hair and started some new project without finishing the last. (The story of my life, unfortunately. It’s why I can sort of play 5 different instruments instead of playing one very well.)
  8. Working with others almost always is more enjoyable than working solo. But when you do work solo, good music is a must. The Avett Brothers, Idlewild, Muse, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Matthew Perryman Jones got me through some late nights in November.
  9. Frustration is part of the job, but the rewards when things are completed are better than I could’ve imagined.

I’m sure there’s more we could add, but let’s take look back in pictures on just how far the house has come in the last year. A few highlights:

The kitchen. We took out the wall between the dining room and kitchen, demolished the entire kitchen, moved the location of all the appliances and the sink, and put in all new cabinets and counters. And restored the old wood floors underneath the gross linoleum.

Day 0: Dining room southeast
Dining room & kitchen southeast

Back of the house. We pulled off the old metal siding, discovered that there was no proper framing underneath; only the old, thin sleeping porch exterior, replaced that with framing and insulation, put in 8 new windows and a door, built new porch steps, and installed new HardiePlank siding. And painted the door red, of course.

Pre-closing: porch windowsDSC_0016

Front yard and porch. We ripped out the old chain-link fence in the front yard and all the ivy covering it, and pretty much everything in the ground. I stripped the blue paint off of the concrete steps and caps. We repainted the lattice under the porch and the front edge of the porch, all the beige trim, and the underside of the porch ceiling. Rachel planted new gorgeous plants that made the front yard look fantastic all spring and summer long. Curb appeal went way up.

Pre-closing: ExteriorDSC_0092

Back sleeping porch rooms. Only the downstairs is done at this point, but we did a good bit on both of ’em. The inside back walls of both was redone when we pulled the siding off and put the new windows in in November 2010. Downstairs, we put in new lighting, built a new stud wall to cover the bricks on the north side, put in new trim and painted the whole thing white. Upstairs, we built a new stud wall on the south wall, put in the new windows and framing, and have made it as far as painting the walls the same blue as our bedroom. Still miles to go upstairs, though.

Pre-closing: 1st floor porch northSleeping porch north - after
Pre-closing: sleeping porchFinished wall

Guest bedroom. We just unveiled this one on the blog this week. Short version: we stripped the walls, smoothed and repainted, put in new trim, installed new drywall on the ceiling and a wall, and put in a new ceiling fan and sockets.

Pre-closing: guest bedroom2nd bedroom finished north

Skylight. When we got a new roof to replace the 90-year-old original roof, we put in a skylight.

Pre-closing: front entry westRachel after skylight install

Here’s a few other notable before/afters from the rest of the house that don’t quite merit a whole writeup about what we did. Among them: we pulled the ceiling down in the den, fixed the walls and put in a new ceiling and painted. We had the floors refinished in the whole house. We scraped off a cubic mile of wallpaper and paint in the entryway all the way up the stairs, we repainted the dining room and we put in new lighting. And a dozen other little things I can’t remember right now, like painting the front door red and getting the transoms unstuck and working.

Kitchen floor. Pine?kitchen floors after
Entry wall southwestDSC_0002
Pre-closing: living room eastDSC_0012

All in all, it’s been an incredible year with the house. It’s been busy and exhausting at times, but so very worth it. We can’t wait to have Rachel’s family back for Thanksgiving in a few weeks and let them enjoy the house that they worked on so hard with us a year ago. Thanks for reading all of our long posts and going through all of this with us.

And thanks especially to my dear bride for going on this journey with me. And always with a smile.


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