130 year-old attics are scary. If you have to spend any amount of time in the area above your normal living space, you could pretty easily fall through the ceiling or find yourself face-to-facemask with a sparkly spaceman. And in our case, (in addition to the latter), our attic is especially haunting (maybe literally?) with it’s crumbling wallpapered ceilings, tumbleweeds and miscellaneous items from the decades before us.
And that’s after a good cleaning. Round 1.
Other than acting as a(n inter)stellar spaceman hangout, our particular attic was pretty unusable until a few short days ago. With the demise of our disgustingly dangerous floor-standing space heater thingies, we were in serious need of a second floor heating solution – enter Adrian and his team from Adi’s Heating and Cooling to find a use for our peaked third story space. (After collecting a handful of quotes, we were happy with not only their price, but their crew is fast and friendly, too. We’re now 4 digits lighter in the wallet, but we took this into account when we signed that stack of papers on closing day. Side note: Their Yelp page has an incorrectly listed phone number, so if you’re interested in their services, let us know!)
Adrian took our spooky, (mostly) empty attic and turned it into the model of modern HVAC efficiency. Rather than give up floor space somewhere on the second floor with a big bulky furnace, he installed a horizontally-oriented furnace above our kitchen-turned-bedroom. He then carefully cut about a dozen or so holes in our ceiling and ran insulated ductwork to every room on the second floor to keep things toasty through our brisk Chicago winters.
Goodbye sad, old space heaters. Hello modern ceiling ducts! Yup, this is how we spend our money these days. We’re so grown up.
We took this one step further and opted to pay a nominal fee to have his team return; yesterday, Adrian combined two of our three (!) current gas meters, which will get the first and second floor onto the same billing statement.* The minimal cost of this last step will not only pay for itself in less than a year, but it also brings us one step closer to restoring this place to its former single-family glory.
Not to mention, how cool does that shiny new machine look?
*We later found out – after confirming with the gas company that they, under no circumstances, could do this themselves – that they could, indeed, do this themselves. For next to nothing. (No third party needed.) The helpful rep from the gas company said that if you’re ever unsure about the extent of their services, ask for a supervisor. After feeling slightly ragey about this revelation, we thought, you live, you learn.
Big strides were made over the weekend, starting with our home’s garden unit! You might remember that we’re turning our former two-flat into a single family home, but we also have a finished basement that we’ve been avoiding since our July move-in… until recently. We’re working with the city on some zoning restructuring (and once we can share more details on that learning process, we definitely will!), and in the meantime, we logged many, many man hours – these two! – on Saturday. We’ve been cleaning, spackling, de-bugging and replacing closet doors. We vacuumed bread crumbs from the cabinets and somehow filled an entire trash bin. We stared at the former owner’s shortcuts and cursed, loudly and often.
It was trying at times, and there may have been tears shed (me) followed by we can do this! speeches (him).
As a reward for our hard work, we hit the sack by 10PM like the two, old aching back DIY-ers we are, because at 5AM on Sunday morning our alarm would go off – but for good reason! Sunday morning, we packed our camera, fueled up on pancakes (in our usually bustling neighborhood diner) and hit the road for Wisconsin. We were going to the Elhorn Flea Market!
It was the last one of their summer season, and we’d been meaning to go all year – but then we bought a house, and well, the crumbling walls and ceilings took priority. Because we’re in the limbo stage of construction – and because we craved a much needed change of scenery – we took to Elkhorn like kids on Christmas. Held at the Walworth County Fairgrounds, this flea is unlike any we’ve ever been to. It was huge. The sun was in full force, booths of stuff abound, happy people bustled, and the smell of coffee, bratwursts, and fried foods came from every direction.
You guys, I wore a fanny pack with nothing in it but cash and lip gloss. (It promise it was not your mother’s fanny pack, although I realize that’s up for debate.) We meant business; I had to keep these arms free for browsing.
It’s frightening how much can happen before noon when you wake up early enough; by 11:30, we’d been at the flea for over 3 hours. While we had been on the lookout for light fixtures, a rug and some living room chairs (none of which we found), we did load the car with other loot (we’ve been doing that a lot lately!) – all of which was found in the first 30 minutes of our time at the fairgrounds.
By noon, we stopped for cheap fuel, a couple cases of our favorite beer, and a pumpkin patch! When we passed it – Wisconsin is magical, we tell you – Scott half-jokingly asked if I wanted to pick a pumpkin or two. Um, yes, please!
By early afternoon (and a cat nap later for this girl), we had finally made it home. And if you’re wondering, well, what did you get, what did you get? Here’s a better look at what was on that cart:
Those dining chairs! It’s so hard to think that far ahead, but after publicly announcing to our friends that we’d host the annual Friendsgiving dinner, we knew we’d need somewhere to seat them. (Now, where to find the table?) They’ll need a quick wood refresh, but other than that, they’re golden. To say we’re obsessed with them is an understatement. Even after we spent the rest of our day in the garden unit (again), we’d randomly say to each other, remember when we bought those chairs? Ah, good times.
Scott had been on the hunt for the just-right vintage fan (they’re a dime a dozen at most flea markets), but this one fit the bill perfectly. And when the same vendor had an antique “lap desk,” Scott insisted this was just the thing for painting my mini portraits; I had been resisting an easel for years, because I prefer a more reclined surface. This guy, though? It’s changing my life already. It slides up and down in almost any direction, or it can lay completely flat and boost up, if all I needed was a little lift. (You know?)
We also scooped a Paul Simon record that had been on Scott’s wishlist for a while (man, we are seriously missing our turntable), a Thin Lizzy album (because why not?), and a vintage Coach purse (that I can’t stop staring at).
I’m thinking half-day trips should be on the agenda more often. Scott?
Okay, first: The contractors. Let’s just put this out there – this waiting game is no fun. We’ve talked about our feelings on being stunted, and every day is a new wave of emotions; sometimes we’re all yeah, we’re going to kick so much ass this weekend!, whereas other days we’d rather sleep in, curse our blind-less windows and curl up with Netflix. When there’s so little we can actually do until the contractor’s have completed their work, our motivation goes up and down (and up and down), and right now, we’re still waiting. Their job in the queue before ours has gone weeks past schedule, which in turn does the same for us. (Although word on the street is that they’ll be back next week.)
And so, we wait.
However! We were able to get Mike, our head contractor out for a quick visit, if only to discuss a few more questions we had for him (and while he was there, Q: Is there anything else we can do? A: Not really, no. Boo!). The biggest question? Our front door. Oddly enough, this was no where near as difficult as the Great Door Hunt for the foyer coat closet, although there was still a lot of juggling numbers, measurements and finishes. (Are you sick of all this door talk yet?) Currently, you’re greeted with this:
The door itself might not seem like the worst thing (although it’s far from anything we’d choose on our own), but the door jamb wasn’t properly installed (big surprise, right?), it’s full of dents and so much air can pass under it that little Miss Maddie actually crouches by the door all day long. Staring. Chirping back at the birds.
The door is a pretty standard 36″w x 80″h, but Mike suggested opening the height to a more substantial 84,” which we soon found out meant dollar dollar bills. We loved the suggestion (and it would match the height of the vintage 5-panel that’ll be sharing the same foyer), but it just wasn’t in the budget. Sadly, a new door isn’t something we can put off – there’s a Chicago winter around the corner! – so we had to reassess our options.
And what happens next is why we love you guys. (You all are so helpful. The best! Can we just all sip wine together and hang out in a big circle and braid each others’ hair?)
A recent comment from Cait on a past post quickly evolved into a more private email exchange about entry doors after she linked to a door that we really liked. Not to mention, she had just gone through the front-door-buying-process herself, so she was full of information. The style was non-offensive, clean and just our speed. Oh, hey, new door:
Whether Cait liked it or not (hi, Cait!), she turned into our Door Guru. Throughout the relatively easy hunt, I would email her a question or two, she’d reply, we’d gain insight, and we’d have a happy evening knowing that we’d been blessed by the Guru herself. But when I told Cait that we were bummed about not being able to afford the taller door (We’re going to loose the impressive height! I thought. We’re… settling!), she suggested the most magical answer of all: A transom window!
For a few days after this revelation, Scott and I Googled, pinned and researched transom windows. It’ll add the height we want!, we said. And we’ll get more natural light, too! The good news is that the cost of the transom + the door is still less expensive than custom ordering an 84″ door. Then I found this image that was almost identical to the door we liked with a transom. Done. Sold.
Because Mike will be installing the door and creating a proper jamb himself, we confirmed our plans with him, and he assured us we could buy the door off the shelf at the standard jamb depth (which comes in around 4″ or so). As for the transom, we’re leaning towards this one, but we could go with a single glass pane as well (thoughts?). Here’s how my rough Photoshop calculations predict it’ll look in Hague Blue:
The door was already purchased over the weekend, but we’ll buy the transom window once Mike has had a chance to look at the ordering options. As for the finish, it’s currently primed and (mostly) ready for paint, although we did have an internal debate between steel, fiberglass and real wood. While fiberglass would have been nice, cost reared its ugly head again (since the price can easily double!), and we didn’t want the maintenance of a solid wood exterior door. Side note: In regards to the price tag, we kept in mind the cost of not only the door itself, but new locks and installation. Because we needed a whole new jamb built – and properly! – it was important for us to not skimp on the build-out.
In the meantime, we’re still deciding on a door handleset, which is turning out to be the real question: Will a matte black handle blend in too much with the door? (And if so, is that a bad thing?) Or should we go with bronze/brass for contrast? And dare I mention those exterior lights? It’ll get there…
Have you ever heard the term blockormore? (Or as Kim would call it, the Monet?) Looks good from far, but far from good? We’re trying to avoid that syndrome as much as possible around the new digs, but there are certain projects where looking good from street-level is all we’re striving for.
Let me explain.
When we had our big, beautiful new windows installed a few weeks back, the first thing I noticed when I pulled up to the house was how disgustingly horrible they made the remaining two front windows look. Yuck. The third window there on the left is scheduled for a proper replacement, but that little octagonal guy at the peak of the attic was a whole different story.
Enter the blockormore…
From the beginning, I knew that this window didn’t have to look perfect since no one will ever see it up close, but replacing the few rotten planks seemed like a pretty pesky undertaking at this point in our remodel. (You know, since we don’t have a ceiling and all.)
So wandering the aisles one day at the orange toy store, I spotted Elmer’s Structural Wood Repair – a two-part epoxy putty specifically formulated for repairing rotten, cracked wood. I got started by sanding and scraping away all of the loose bits then just followed the instructions from there.
Here’s the stuff. We used the plastic top of a foil carry-out bread stick pan to mix the two parts, which, FYI: John’s Pizza in Chicago has the best garlic breadsticks known to man – and arguably the best non-deep dish ‘za (think: thin, floppy squares). This is a fact. Also, is it just me, or can you judge how great a pizza place will be by how terrible their website is?
The combined mixture is actually pretty difficult to work with, but be patient. It’s a little too thick and crumbly to apply easily with a putty knife like you would with spackle or wood putty, but is pretty easy to smoosh into gaps with your fingers. I found that a pair of latex gloves worked well to protect my mitts as I rolled it into little balls and worms and pressed it into the gaps of the rotten boards.
It looked like this after… super-ugly, right? I wasn’t too worried about the appearance of the epoxy, since I knew I’d ultimately sand it down to a smooth finish.
The box wanted us to let the epoxy cure over night, so we let things sit and got back after it the following morning. The putty cured to a very dense, almost cement-like consistency, and I was really happy with the results after the difficulty applying it the day before. It seemed as strong, if not stronger than the wood around it.
After a lot of sanding with a course grit paper on our electric mouse sander, we were ready for paint. (Side note: If you’re not planning on using an electric sander for finishing, I’d highly recommend taking the time to make things as perfect as possible while the putty is still flexible. Or you could just skip working your arms at the gym that week, because this stuff is dense and will require quite a bit of finish work – but your guns will be super buff, so take it as you will.)
This sparkly little spaceman was holding down the fort up in the attic (I found it while clearing some junk for our new furnace – which we’re getting this week!), so I figured he’d be a perfect neighborhood watch-dog from his lofty perch. Also, how great will it be to put an old Jason-esque goalie mask up there in a month?
So, our little blockormore project is complete. The window looks great from the street, and we were done with all of the actual work in an hour or two (if you take out the set-up and dry time). We’ll still probably rebuild the whole structure in a couple of years, but the epoxy definitely bought us some much needed time.
The front of the house obviously has a ton of work in store for us, but every little bit helps. Oddly enough, Jack and the spaceman don’t seem to mind that a lot of this work will end up happening next spring. One small step for our house, one giant step for our sparkly new buddy.