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 :)


  1. It's great to see you taking on the challenge of restoring this beauty! And while a paint job does take care of how the facade looks, it's the electricity, plumbing, heating and other utilities that would make this house livable again. I presume the fixtures are old, which means upgrading them is a priority. I see that the neighborhood is encouraging you to keep up with this, so good luck!

    Laverne Knight @ Midland Mechanical

  2. Living in an 1853 Victorian farmhouse I can commiserate. I smiled through the entire blog, enjoying reading your story and deep affection for your home. Just beautiful.