Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Return to Light and Life

"Summer afternoon, summer afternoon; to me those words have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language."
- Henry James

Dear friends and readers... where to begin? How is it possible that SEVEN months have passed since I last updated you all on our farmhouse progress? I could say that our new jobs have been keeping us busy (they have) or that the farmhouse in general has been keeping us busy (it has) but truth be told, the updates you would have been receiving would have been, well... boring!

Do you know what's exciting about running electrical? Not much. Nor are photos of electrical wires being hung in wall bays particularly thrilling to behold. After our November updates, the Endless Winter of 2015 swept in, hunkering down and taking hold of Jamaica, Vermont until late April. Our exciting visual storytelling was reserved for interior household shots only, as all of our lovely trees and shrubs shed their color in anticipation of the long slog ahead. As the cold set in, Tony and I were faced with a familiar yet difficult decision: hook up the heat before all electrical and drywall was finished, which would then require draining and moving all radiators this summer in order to get our electrician's approval and then drywall behind each radiator before putting it back in place, or... that more reasonable of options - wait.

As you can imagine after owning this house for four winters, the prospect of choosing not to turn on the heat when it was finally within reach was not a welcome one. Yet, after having moved 14 radiators to every far flung corner of this home, the idea of having to move them twice to accommodate for drywall seemed unthinkable. In the end the choice actually wasn't so difficult - a loss for winter heating was a win for my back and joint health. So, to sum things up, our winter months looked a little something like this:

Imagine running unruly electrical wires while wearing two pairs of gloves and a scowl frozen on your face, and you've accurately updated yourself on our progress from January to May ;) We of course took photos and attempted to make them as exciting as possible... cool angles? Different color wires?... so brace yourself as we head into our first update.


Walls and wires, wires and walls :)

When we made the decision to forego turning on the heat for the winter, one point was glaringly clear. There was no way John, our very kind and very sane electrician, was going to opt to work for days upon days in an icebox fronting as a house. Instead, we asked John to show us the ropes, and with his guidance and a handy how-to electrical book for backup Tony and I managed to run wiring for every room in this rambling home. Two-way switches vs three-way switches, receptacles, and wire gauges are now part of our vernacular. Need to hook up seven kitchen pendants to two light switches? What about three dimmable sconces? Look no further, the Dynamic Dallaryan Duo is here to help!

Don't let that sticker fool you, it definitely wasn't a balmy 72 in this home

We can't believe just how much we've learned in running the electrical for the whole house. For one, I've learned that my upper body strength is decent but pales in comparison to that of the electrician who has to spend the day drilling holes in ceiling beams and wall studs. Right-angle drill, you have humbled me. I've also learned that smaller gauge wiring is the devil, and that the gauge-to-width labeling system is counterintuitive. 14 is my best friend, but I fear what 8 will do to my arms when we run it for the kitchen. If there is a 4 I never want to meet it.

Thanks to my ever-talented father, we're learning a thing or two about running sound speaker wires as well. That is an entirely different ballgame, and I've volunteered to take the bench on this one so far. Tony and my dad have finished wiring up the majority of the first floor speaker system, and we'll be moving up to the second floor over the coming 4th of July weekend! Maybe I'll take a break from painting to see what I can do to help my husband out on this last electrical task ;)

Music speakers are the last to be wired up

Once the speakers are done, we'll basically be done with all electrical work! The only room to remain unfinished is the kitchen, which we plan on wiring once we get final specs on where the stove, refrigerator, etc will sit. All of those kitchen appliances need to be on their own breakers anyway, so all wiring will be run up directly from the basement. It won't hold anything else up by waiting on that room. We hope to bring John in for final approval by the end of July, and with that done we can move on to running any additional insulation where needed and drywalling behind every radiator.

Lighting rehab!

To keep myself out of trouble, I've also been working on restoring our antique lighting fixtures during the more inclement months. Between our friends at Twitchell House Antiques and the wonderful world of eBay, we've been able to collect period-appropriate fixtures for every room. Also added to my random list of acquired DIY skills: the ability to disassemble, convert and wire former gas lamp fixtures. I should have quite the future ahead of me should I ever start an online antique lighting business.

And with electrical updates done, Bailey and I bid farewell to those winter days cooped up indoors and move on to more visually appealing updates.

Winter weather was cramping our style

Now, onto my favorite (and always ongoing) topic... 


Interior color of the bay window panes

When we last left off, I had retired my handy Wooster paint brushes for the winter and sent all of our paint cans off to vacation in a warmer climate. Well, the gang is back together and we're outside working with the sunshine and these perfect VT summer temperatures. Thankfully, after hauling arse for three years, the majority of the exterior paint job is done! A few 'problem spots' remain along the roofline where Tony has to do some carpentry fixes, but otherwise things are looking pretty good from the outside! The back of the house is all that remains, but before I finish off that side I am attempting to finish all of our windows for good this summer. What does that entail?

Hungry mice are jerky mice

With the exception of the occasional window pane that provided a winter meal to our never-ending mice population, most windows have been glazed, sanded, and primed for paint. Also, all of the windows on the first floor were painted with the exterior black color before winter, but still required the interior color to be finished before they can be put back securely in place in time for heat this winter. Enter: me.

Behr's Powdered Snow 

We had already chosen a warm white by Behr for all of the interior windows and upstairs trim, which had been painted white when the house was built. All that was left to do (haha) was take out 72 windows, paint the interior color, clean and scrape the glass on both sides, and reinstall the windows the proper way, with locks and siding in place. Piece of cake. It's definitely going to take me a few months to complete this task, but the two rooms finished thus far are looking pretty incredible. Also, I've realized that Windex is a miracle product, and I want to hug the person who invented it. A properly cleaned farmhouse window free of blue painters tape is one of the most beautiful sights on this planet.

The bay window room will actually be enjoying some special, colonial-style paint thanks to the plainness of the trim in that room. Oddly enough, the parlor room trimwork has the least adornment out of every room in the house. I was incredibly inspired by the photo below, and so we're going with Valspar's "La Fonda Villa Fountain" from their National Trust Historic Colors collection to bring a little refinement and life to this trim. 

Calming, comfortable & classic

My mother and I will be taking a mini-vacation next week up at the farmhouse, and plan on plowing through all of the downstairs windows in 5 days time. If all of the first floor windows can be painted and securely in place by the first week in July, we're well on our way to finishing all of these darn things by the end of the summer season. Call me crazy, but I think I'll be finished with windows and moving onto painting the back of the farmhouse by September! At least a girl can dream.

The Yard and Odds & Ends

Reaching for the sun

Even though "downtime" is a nonexistent concept at the farmhouse, I do occasionally set aside some time to get some new shrubs in place in the side gardens, and try to maintain things when possible! Miraculously, most of our fruit trees survived the winter, but a few took a hit with the late season frosts. Also, I discovered that deer had been helping themselves to the lowest branches of the trees, but a little organic (and incredibly stinky) deer repellant spray seems to have helped control that situation. Thanks to the changing winds out in the meadow, I am pretty sure deer will be avoiding Bailey and I for some months to come as well. 

Watching these plants spring back to life with the warming temperatures and May rains is nothing short of extraordinary. These simple pleasures of gardening continue to bring me endless joy, day after day. I'm looking forward to the day that I can change out my paint brushes for pruning shears without feeling quite so guilty.

Last-minute strategy for transporting a few heavenly lilacs to Brooklyn

Finally, our good friend and all around powerhouse Steve came up and helped us take on some massive landscaping challenges over Memorial Day weekend. Together, Steve and I mulched the entire pile of lathe that had been sitting on the side of the house for two years (although we recently realized we may have needed the majority of that for drywall) and a bunch of fallen trees. 

Man and machine in action

Steve also brought me epic amounts of joy by finally addressing one of the biggest thorns in my side - the large pile of sand and rocks to the left of the house that used to support the former owner's trailer. Though Tony had leveled the area two summers ago, the large rocks he tried to push around have continued to sit on top of the ground, making it impossible to mow. By July that area usually looks like a no man's land of weeds and Jurassic-sized thorny plants. After finishing two straight days of mulching, Steve went through and further evened out the area, digging up rock after rock along the way to make the area passable for the mower.

So fresh and so clean clean!

Thanks to a bunch of last year's leaves which have since broken down, we now have a layer of soil laying over most of this area. Steve, along with our other dear friend Meredith, spread out the remaining mulch pile from that side of the house and gave the entire area a good mow. We'll be laying down grass seed soon, so there's a good chance to this area will be looking like a proper yard by this time next year :)

If you still have a hankering for more photos, check out our slideshows of electrical, the thawing of winter, the return of warm weather, and my journey into window painting

Well, dear friends, it seems as though this update has reached its end! We'll be up at the farmhouse every other weekend this summer, so you know tons of photos and stories are to come. Here's hoping I don't kick another can of paint down the roof this 4th of July weekend!

Wishing you sunny, happy, and healthy summer days, and thank you for reading! Please check back soon!
- Melissa

Saturday, November 1, 2014

From Hitched to Honeymooning and Beyond...

Dear Readers and Friends,

After a year of planning, with a fairly insane rush in the last few weeks and days, this renovation couple finally tied the knot on Sept. 6th at the 1811 House in Manchester, VT. It was an epic and beautiful weekend that was overflowing with friendship, fun and goodwill in one of the most beautiful towns in all of Vermont. It was our hope to bring the people that we love to a place that we have also come to adore, and watch as friends and family fell in love with this beautiful and humble corner of Vermont. Our wedding (and the epic partying that ensued) was partially a Thank You gift to all of the amazing folks in our lives, and a bit of a love letter to all that Vermont has come to represent to us: a home in every sense of the word.

Handmade entrance sign courtesy of my dear friend Lisa

We were farmhouse representing all over the 1811 House for the weekend, and so I feel that it is only right to share a few photos from this event! While there are countless photos that deserve their moment in the sun, I'm going to put up just a few that showcase the ingenuity and hard work of our friends as they helped bring together our vision in the wee hours before the wedding using a handful of farmhouse finds: from scrap wood for signs to the antique furniture collecting dust in our attic to slate shingles that were repurposed for signs and a guestbook, everything came together in a way that shocked even Tony and I. Flower arrangements, table settings, and the coolest arrangement of wedding favors I've ever seen... it all came together beautifully, thanks to our amazing friends and their ability to share in our artistic vision for this day.

The decorations came together perfectly :)

Visions of a very happy day... 

With antiques up the wazoo!

While I could gush about this wedding for days on end, that is of course not why you are here reading this blog! So we can move on to the farmhouse now, and recap all of the work we scrambled to get done before the wedding and everything we accomplished on our 'honeymoon' and beyond. But first, if there is one final point to be made about the wedding, it is this: Tony and I witnessed all of our random antique finds come together so beautifully under the tent, leaving us all the more excited to finish this house and finally get to decorating :) I'm quite confident the end product is going to be a stunner.

With that said... to the farmhouse we go!


With snow in the forecast for this coming Sunday (and with water sitting in all of our pipes on the first floor) one thought is running through our minds constantly, and that is… we need heat, stat! All of our fun side projects have been put on hold as Tony and I scramble to finish prepping the first floor for heat. Of course, readying the house for heat would be wonderfully simple if all it required was us putting the radiators in place and waiting for the plumbers to come and hook up the lines. Alas, when you are juggling 5 different renovation tasks at once, all of these things must miraculously come together at the same time to reach the end goal successfully. So getting heat up and running really breaks down to… paint radiators, haul radiators inside, secure flooring underneath radiators, run electrical for thermostats, run electrical in first floor, insulate and drywall behind radiators, and finally, put radiators in place. Here's where we're at with all of that nonsense…

Don't be deceived… it took a neighbor's forklift to get this beast into the house!

The week after the wedding, Tony and I pulled some moves that defied the human body and introduced us to muscles we had yet to discover, as we hauled one of our 12 fin radiators into the house by ourselves. The monstrosity you see above actually required a neighbor's forklift just to lift from the ground outside onto the porch. It took four of us and some ingenuity to then lift it onto a dolly, strap it down and wheel it into the house. I quickly realized that moving this radiator over the 1 inch high threshold at the front door was about as easy as being asked to toss the entire thing up and over the Great Wall. Never has a 1 inch piece of wood been so intimidating, or brought so much grief to a group of young, able-bodied individuals. Getting this thing in the front door was both an epic accomplishment and somewhat pathetic at the same time haha. The ups and downs of renovation often go hand in hand.

Getting highly creative with a dolly and a handcart for the smaller radiator.

Tony and I achieved the impossible by getting the smaller of the two radiators up an impromptu ramp and onto the porch. I really wish I could have seen our Herculean efforts as a bystander driving by, because the scene must have been absolutely ludicrous to watch. It was either pull/push that radiator up the ramp, or have it roll back down and crush me to bits. Losing this battle was not an option.

With the radiator on the porch, we tried quite a few MacGyver tricks, finally strapping a dolly onto the side of the radiator, slowly lowering the radiator onto its back, and then pushing it back up on its side. The end product is the photo you see above. It was far from the normal approach to getting a radiator through a narrow doorway, but dammit it worked! One less thing on the to-do list ;)

Electrical run and labeled!

With our radiators finally painted and inside, it was time to move on to bigger and better things. We've been working with our electrician John to get as much of the first floor wired as possible. This past weekend John hooked up the thermostat for Zone 1 (the north side of the first floor), which includes the bathroom, library and living room. We also began running additional wiring in the bay window room and library, and plan to finish running the wiring ourselves in the coming weeks. When John returns to review our work and give the final ok, we will then place some additional Pink Panther insulation over the wiring and close up the walls! Drywall, here we come. Our rooms will actually look like rooms again!

We kicked off drywall this weekend by closing up the bathroom and drywalling in the exposed basement staircase. We will probably do all of the taping, spackling and sanding for the first floor at the same time, so for now we get to enjoy the much faster process of hanging the drywall. You don't know how beautiful walls in a house can be until you've spent 3 years living without them.

Chimney is looking fancy against that clean backdrop

We have some very high hopes that we can finish running the electrical in the library and living room so we can drywall behind the radiators before they are hooked up in two weeks. This is a lofty goal, but the thought of disconnecting and emptying those radiators down the line is a scary prospect and therefore motivating us to haul ass ;) Let's see how fast we can work to beat the clock before the blessed event that is getting HEAT IN THE HOUSE!

Late Season Painting

Touch-ups to the front porch... cover those nailheads!

My friend that just refuses to go away… painting! There is never a shortage of weekend painting missions, and while I'm rounding the bend on finishing this house, working to fix and paint the windows to help prevent heat loss and helping with electrical and drywall needs in the house has definitely eaten into my painting time. The back of the house will be my big to-do for next summer, and unfortunately I bring with me into the winter season what I like to call "problem areas" on the other 3 sides of the house. These aren't very big projects - painting a bit of roofline that still needs repairing, painting some new trim along the bottom sill of the house - but these areas require Tony's woodworking skills and so have gotten pushed to the back of the line as we prep for heat.

This is what happens when your paint doesn't dry before nightfall...

It's really just a few weekends worth of work to paint these small fixes, so hopefully I'll be focusing on finishing up the back of the house by June or so. I know I've probably said that exact sentence the past two years, but this time I actually mean it! The end of painting lies within my grasp, I can see it!

Our painted lady gets a painted porch :)

If we luck out and get a few more warm weekends coming up, I might continue to try and tackle a few more of these "problem areas", but realistically I envision only having time for windows coming up. It's a less than exciting process but getting the black windows in place really cleans the house up nicely :) Windows are certainly my nemesis, but I have to remind myself that I am the one who was so mesmerized by their wavy glass and charm and fought to keep them, so… nary a window painting complaint shall be made on this blog ;)

Odds and Ends

And of course, a brief recap of all of the little tiny projects that keep us busy in-between:

Master Carpenter Tony tackles the basement steps for the bulkhead doors.

Finished steps within 24 hours ;)

A little landscaping work results in a serious pile of firewood for next winter.

The fall garden is looking a bit unkempt but our perennial plants are going strong :)

Wedding bouquet hangs over our newest amazing find - an antique Standard Oakland stove which will be converted to our kitchen cooktop!

Well, dear readers, I do believe we've come to the end of another update! I'm looking forward to sharing more photos of our electrical and drywall progress over the coming weeks and months, and will definitely include a picture of me hugging a searing hot radiator soon ;) Until then, please check out our slideshows and check back in with the blog soon!

We have quite a few photo albums to share with you since our last post, so enjoy watching us add a little Victorian flare back into the houseprep the house for wedding visitorshoneymoon (aka renovate), defy gravity and haul the remaining radiators insidesnap some Autumn foliage while we can, and make headway with electrical and drywall!

Thanks for reading, all, and enjoy the last of these fleeting Autumn days! Happy November!
- Melissa

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Grand Dame

Lawn tennis. Wildflower fields. Cascading flower boxes and the juiciest blueberries in town. A living room full of friends and fresh cut lilacs from the yard, set out on the table when guests would stop in. This is the picture painted to us when friends and family of the Crowninshield or Cheney clans stop by to share their stories of our home from days gone by.  A neighbor who reached out to Tony a few weeks back via email described the farmhouse as a Grand Old Dame and was so happy to see her being fixed up again. As we remove layer after layer of chipping paint, repair rotten siding, fix broken windows, and restore all of the ornate exterior trim, we’re starting to see through the fog of neglect, discovering that a proper Victorian lady lies beneath. 

Nothing beats a fancy bay window

While this house may have always been an operating farmhouse and dairy, Wales Cheney cleared spared no expense when he built this home. It’s been described to us as the prettiest house in the Valley, and darnit we’re going to earn that title again! With an intricately painted bay window, done in the style of a San Francisco Painted Lady, and a few native flower gardens starting to take root, we’re on our way to owning not just a house but an entire property that will (hopefully) delight every passerby.

Beautiful day lilies make a happy statement in the back garden

Of course, the process of getting this home from 'haunted' to 'beautiful' is always far less pretty. We’ve been getting down and dirty-and possibly spilling a can of paint or two along the way-for the last month, and things are shaping up nicely outside the home! We’ve also started taking some significant steps inside, so let’s do a quick midsummer recap and take a look at our new stash of photos!

Paint, Paint, Paint and Away!
I've always hated this spider-filled corner!

As our luck continues to hold and we enjoy one sunshine-filled weekend after another, it feels like we're really flying through the final stages of our exterior paint job! With only small touch-ups left here and there (well, except for the back of the house of course), we're finally starting to class this place up. Fourth of July weekend proved to be a bit death defying as I wrapped a rope around my waist and prayed for a good grip while sanding, priming, and painting the dirty corner above the 1st floor bathroom. My rubber boots did their job (most of the time) as I held onto whatever I could find and attempted to do a fairly clean and exact paint job... all the while sliding down to the edge of the roof ever so slowly, only to have to stop myself and clamber back up again. 

The score was Melissa – 1, Gravity – 0, until a slight slip on the roof and a swift kick of a boot to steady myself unleashed epic, slow-moving chaos.


All of those tiny paint drips I was making suddenly paled in comparison to the river of Behr's exterior satin-finish paint running oh-so-slowly down the first floor roof. As I screamed wildly and attempted to push the flowing paint back into the now-empty paint can with my tiny paintbrush (why doesn't a video of this exist somewhere?!), Tony attempted to catch the dripping paint from below with a giant garbage bag (to little avail). The end result was, well... messy. Fortunately, I was able to get the majority of the paint off of the roof the next day using a paint scraper (that was a fun experience), but if anyone has a few hours to spare and enjoys sitting on hot metal roofs with Goof-Off paint remover and a rag, please let me know! Boy do we have a job for you haha.

Nothing a little Pinedale Shores & pink trim can't fix!

Obscene paint spill aside, this creepy back corner was looking pretty fabulous come Sunday afternoon!
Tony still has to repair the missing roof trim, as you can see from the photo above, but otherwise the corner is finally done. No more giant nesting spiders and wasps, and most importantly, no more flaking mustard-yellow paint! This past weekend, with the help of our dear friends Meredith and Lisa, we basically finished off this side of the house and made sure we touched up all of those annoying drips that resulted from my mega-mishap. It's like it never happened... as long as you don't look at the roof haha.

In just a day Lisa, Mere and I sanded all of Tony's trim repairs, primed everything and got the first coat down on everything! Finishing it up with a second coat of paint should go fairly quickly during my next visit, and then we can actually put work on this side of the house completely to rest. Thank the heavens. 

They don't call it backbreaking work for nothing...

The final big painting challenge that remains before the wedding in September is redoing the first floor and porch area of the front of the house. While it breaks my heart to admit this, I began painting the front of the house before I realized we needed to use an oil-based primer and zinc paint to cover the nailheads. Without it, the nails are rusting through the paint and the paint itself is peeling off. It was a dark day when I realized the entire front of the house needed to be redone. The area above the porch was done correctly, and I sanded and repainted the 2nd floor last summer. All that remains is the first floor and front porch area. 

Sanding away all of my hard work :(

The front is looking a bit pathetic compared to everything else at the moment, but I'm hoping to at least get it all primed when I head up again in early August. A final paint job should be completed before Labor Day! And with the front finally painted the correct way, I can officially declare that three sides of the house are DONE! Tackling that narrow little strip of yellow paint that remains in the back of the house should be smooth sailing come September :)

We're coming for you, back of the house!

Other Happenings...

In addition to plumbing and heating, which is reaching a big turning point over the next few weeks, we have a million other small jobs happening all at once. It's probably easiest to review these with a quick photo recap, so here goes!

Old mason jars, originally dug up in the basement, provide some refuge to a few rescued wildflowers 

Tony, Bailey and Alastair recently teamed up to build the cement landing for the basement bulkhead stairs. Bailey clearly took a keen interest in learning the ins and outs of the cement mixing process.

Windows! They'll never end, ever. Mairim was a window-glazing machine over 4th of July weekend and glazed nearly half of the windows upstairs. Now, who gets to be the lucky person who paints them all?

All of the radiators (save two behemoths currently sitting outside the house) are painted and sitting in their future spots! I can assure you right now, it was no fun transporting, painting and carrying 5 cast iron radiators upstairs to the second floor. Those things are never coming down, ever. (Unless they fall through the floor, of course, which I sincerely hope I'm not alive to see.)

Landscaping! While it's not a priority right now, we're trying to maintain our orchard, shrub wall and also get a few perennial shrubs growing for the long-term. It's going to take a few years to achieve the cascading, cottage-style gardens of my dreams so it's best to get a jump on things. So proud to see my Phlox has survived the winter and is finally in bloom!

And finally...

As I mentioned earlier, we've made some great headway with plumbing and heating! We faced a minor financial setback a few weeks back when, in Money Pit fashion, we discovered that our well pump was D.O.A. Just another major repair that needed to happen before we could have water and heat! We got the name of a reliable 'well guy,' and he lived up to his reputation. Before we could blink he'd come to the house, replaced the well pump and hooked up the electric to the pump itself.

Tony was able to dig a channel and run PVC conduit from the well into the house, feeding our electric wiring along the way, so our electrician can safely hook up the pump to our system in the basement during his next visit. 

Tony's PVC channel seems endless

The final obstacle in this years long race to heat and hot water is the chimney, which needs to be lined and the lining must be connected to the boiler. Finding a chimney guy willing to take on our crooked, narrow chimney and steep, slate roof was no easy task, but we have finally booked someone for next Monday!

Therefore, once the chimney is lined, the only thing holding us back from hot water is just a couple of clamps to connect the lines. Finally, we are CLOSE to actually getting running water and heat in this house. Is it possible... will we see heat this winter???

In the meantime, please enjoy our ongoing collection of slideshows! Click here to see our last four visits to the farmhouse, when we turned the bay window into a Victorian beauty, tackled some landscaping and exterior challenges, enjoyed a little R & R (rooftops and radiators), and verrrry nearly completed painting the north side of the house!

Thanks again for reading, dear friends, and hope you are all having a happy, sunny summer :) We'll be back soon with more updates, but in the meantime... pray to the renovation gods that be for running water and a completed paint job soon! I know I sure am haha.

Happy July,
Melissa :)