Still Below Grade

Over the past month, there hasn’t been a lot of visual progress at the site, but here is a quick update.  The basement work is a “go slow and get it right” affair, and since we’ve been planning this project for years, we aren’t in any rush – especially where waterproofing is concerned!  The Cliff’s Notes are the we still have a big hole (“No go down there, not safe!”, as Cora would say), but our basement is taking shape.

The black forms that you see below are a product called Form-A-Drain, which combines concrete forms and drainage in one nice package.  They will stay in place for good as one element of our waterproofing plan for this basement space.


The concrete footers were poured and then work began to form up the walls of the basement.  This work took time, as the forms are heavy and must be buttressed (see below on the left) and the rebar must be installed prior to the pour.  Below on the right you can see the intersection of the new basement with the foundation of the original Summer Kitchen.  There have been several conversations about getting this right, as it will be a key weak point in making the basement water-tight.

The kitchen pavilion will feature an entryway that curves inward, and below in the center you can see that foundation wall beginning to take its “U” shape:




And . . . drumroll please . . . the forms are down!:


Climbing down in the hole and finally experiencing the scale of the basement gave great perspective; we are so glad we added the windows to bring in some natural light.

On the exterior you can see the green spray-applied waterproofing membrane, as well as the insulation which will help climatize the space:


This picture is taken from the “true front” of the house – you can see the summer kitchen, smoke house, and the Little House in the background.

Also, we had our first real “change order” after our builder suggested we could easily add a 10×10 storage room under a future porch that will run along the Summer Kitchen’s north wall.  Below, about half of the space you see with the new footers was in the original plan, as that is where the exterior stairs go down into the basement (that big gap will be double french doors).  The back half of the space was originally just going to be back filled and under a porch with some foundation work, but for less than $1,000.00 we decided make it a useable exterior storage room.  That’s our kind of change order!


So . . . still below grade, but the flooring system is on order, and over the next month we can’t wait to see our plans rise above grade!




After commenting enviously on a friend’s post showing off a beautifully completed kitchen addition, she responded that at least we had #started . . . and so we have!

The selective demolition discussed in our last post progressed for about a week as the crew carefully detached the addition from the Big House and Summer Kitchen in preparation for teardown.  Here you can see the kitchen in the Big House, in which we so excitedly prepared our first hotplate-and-toaster oven meal at Edge Hill, now fully detached from the original portion of the Big House:



Above, you can see the original peak of the roof and then the addition with it’s nonconforming brick.  This addition housed the added downstairs bathroom at Edge Hill.  Of note is the door you can see at the bottom of the picture under that bathroom addition, which leads down into the creepy-crawly crawl space (SO MANY WOLF SPIDERS).  You’ll see that space a little later on!

Finally, the Summer Kitchen was fully detached as well, which revealed the full extent of decay in that structure.  One portion of the solid brick interior wall collapsed during demolition, and the remainder and a portion of the exterior wall has been removed as well:


Time for the big toys to do some heavy lifting.  Cora and Caroline were particular fans of this excitement (from a distance).  Digger Digger Digger!

Our project at Edge Hill has always been a family affair, and thanks to some skilled cousins manning that equipment, those now-separated structures came down fast!  Debris cleanup also went quickly and soon we were down to the dirt (see below: the Little House on the far left, the smoke house in the middle, and the separated Summer Kitchen on the right):


…and it was time to start digging all the way down:


Immediately in our path was one of the house’s old cisterns (there are two!), which had to be fully excavated (see the pit at the bottom of the above picture).  It was hand dug, lined with brick, and parged.  What a monumental task building it must have been.   Now that it is removed, we will have to fill the resulting hole with some concrete slurry, so it is an actual money pit!  Haha!


What a great perspective!  On the right, you can see the foundation of that creepy crawly crawl space, day-lit and home to thousands of spiders no more!  The cistern went down below our final basement grade (in the far right in this corner) . . . man, that sucker was DEEP!  Cora and Caroline have had so much fun playing in the dirt of their future playroom!  They are particular fans of the “muddy puddles”.

In the demolition process, we were left with a cross section of the Summer Kitchen, which we will tie back into our new addition.  I’ve been so impressed at the work of the selective demolition in safely separating the portion of the structure that will be saved from the portion that had to come down.

The basement level of the Summer Kitchen, originally a root cellar, then a boiler room, will be repurposed as a wine cellar (one day).  The kitchen space on the main level of the Summer Kitchen will be a multipurpose room and will physically look much the same as it did upon construction, minus the kitchen furnishings.  We are still deciding if we will maintain the board ceiling above the kitchen space, or if we will remove the board sheeting (leaving the beams) so that when you stand in the space you can see all the way up to the ceiling.  Decisions. Decisions.

And now, a teaser of things to come . . . Footers have been formed up!


We’ve officially #started !

…and We’re Back

Y’all.  We know we haven’t posted in over a year.  We know you have missed our ramblings and photographs of mostly-destroyed things.  We know many of you have wondered if we are throwing in the towel. We. Know.

So, without further ado, feast your eyes upon a sight that made ours well up with tears:

See that big gaping hole on the left?!  Let’s look at that from yesterday’s viewpoint:

For the last year we’ve been waiting for this day.  Rachel and I set out to find a contractor who we felt could appreciate our scope of work, priorities, and who wouldn’t be afraid to question our decisions when he/she felt their experience was leading them to a decision contrary to our initial plans.  Enter Jim Herr.  We met some really great folks in bidding process, but in the end we chose Jim because from the start he offered insight and a perspective on our project that seemed to be the best fit for us.  This meant at one point “going back to the drawing board” and making some changes to our proposed plans to accommodate what Jim had determined we wanted…and we are grateful that his thoughtful consideration of our plans lead him to suggest changes we know will make this project all the better for us in the long term.  And that he made those suggestions before lifting a hammer (or drafting a change order)!

Today was Jim’s first day on the job, and this phase is being termed “selective demolition”.  This is the process of physically detaching the house portion of the Big House and Summer Kitchen structure from the addition that was built to connect those two original buildings.  We know as far back as the 1940s there was an open-air breeze way that connected the Big House to the Summer Kitchen, and we suspect it had been there all along.  In this picture from circa February 1965, you can see an arial shot of the Edge Hill from the front, complete with breezeway (below, it is the one-story portion that extends off the right of the house):

…and in the following picture of the rear of the house, you can catch a glimpse of the breezeway to the left:

Over the years, the breezeway was expanded by our predecessors into a precursor of the modern “open concept” living, kitchen, and dining area:

Here and below, you can see how the breezeway was enclosed and expanded. Today’s demolition provided a great cross-section, showing how they merged the old with the new:

On the right of the picture above is the roof of the original breezeway, and then shedding off to the left is the expansion that roofed over the living and dining space.  Here is a close up of that original breezeway roof structure:

Unfortunately there were some structural problems developing in this area and our plans called for a complete re-design of this transitional space.

This choice was one of our big struggles.  We loved the classic look of the simple breeze way connecting the Big House to the Summer Kitchen.  As you likely remember from history class, early kitchens were housed in separate buildings to minimize the risk of fire in the main house, and often a breezeway such as ours served as a somewhat sheltered path from the kitchen to the house. We thought about reverting back to this open-air walkway for aesthetics, but we couldn’t imagine ourselves cooking and eating in a building that is so removed from the rest of our living area (not to mention trucking over there in all seasons and weather).  Even if we climatized it, we felt it would still be too removed from where the rest of our living will happen – we’d need an intercom to call the kids to dinner.  We explored the idea of not having the kitchen over there, but we couldn’t imagine trying to fit a modern kitchen into the historic Big House.  So, at the end of the day, we decided to re-imagine this liminal space into our dream kitchen “pavilion”, which will connect to the Big House and to the Summer Kitchen by two hyphen structures that resemble the small dependency on the south side of the house.

Here is a view of the enclosed breezeway from the back side (looking through the screen you can catch a glimpse of the portico on the Big House that faces the river) where the previous owners tied the expanded breezeway (through the gap in the middle of the picture), Summer Kitchen (on the right), and a large screened-in area all together, anchored around a large chimney:


And this is a shot from the front, looking through the expanded breezeway to the screened in porch (waaaay in the back).  That chimney is going to shake the ground when it comes down!

Opening this area up also re-opened a space long inaccessible at Edge Hill.  The Summer Kitchen has an attic/loft and the access to that space was closed in by the addition of the screened-in porch area:

Re-opening that space yielded a treasure trove of stored items, including 4 screen doors, an original full-size interior door complete with hardware, half of a missing closet door pair with hardware, completing a set we had thought lost, and some great lengths of baseboard.  Jack. Pot.  Below you can see an closet door pair in the Big House that was missing its “other half”.  All of the built-ins in the house came in quartets, and one of the other doors in the quartet was also repurposed in that very room, so we knew we were likely missing a small door: 

And below you an see a lonely repurposed door, which can now be reunited with its long-lost match!  We plan to reincorporate those doors into a built-in in this very room, getting them as close as we can guess to back to where they were originally installed.

Today was the first step in our next big adventure, and we hope you are able to enjoy the ride with us!

Helllloooo World! Meet the Little House’s Kitchen.

Over the past year, you may have thought that we had raised the white flag of surrender on our project at Edge Hill.  We left you with two babies on the way, busy careers, and a glimpse at a finished bathroom.  In the midst of the chaos of becoming parents to two beautiful girls, we did let a few things slide, like laundry (thanks for the help, Mom!), exercise (we’ll get plenty chasing the girls, right?), and, unfortunately, blogging.  We have, however, taken the past year to make the Little House our home, and we couldn’t be more happy with the result.

The next series of blog posts will go in-depth, room-by-room, to detail our design choices and give those of you enjoying the blog from afar a good idea of how we have set the place up.  Without further ado, the kitchen, in all of it’s panoramic glory:



As you may recall, the main existing design feature of the kitchen is the massive, 5ft x 5ft fireplace with working swing arm.  After some intense restoration, see the full transformation:




Let’s see that process in slow-motion.  First, repair the physical structure of the fireplace, replace the deteriorated brick with firebrick, install dampeners:



Then, excavate the old hearth so a new hearth can be poured.



Frame up the house.  IMG_0392

Add some paint, logs, open the dampers and light a match.  Bam.  Jackson approved.




A shout out to local weather forecasters, the Columbia Furnace Storm Team, who we track with great fervor during the winter so we can ensure a full rack of wood is in, dry, and ready to warm our quiet snow days at home.

We’ve already detailed the decisions of using pine salvaged from the original floor joists for our cabinets and soapstone for the countertops. The main run of cabinets is all function, featuring a built in butcher block, efficient gas range and hood (bought used), large farm sink, dish drawer, and fridge.


Looking closer, for the range we installed a simple and relatively cheap sheet of stainless steel as a backsplash, and added a stainless shelf to arrange our collection of measuring cups and stash the salt and pepper so it is always close at hand.


At the top of the open shelves we added an electrical outlet so we can blast the tunes during marathon cooking sessions, and the shelves to the left of the range hold our most-used pots and cookbooks.  Ina Garten features heavily, and right now we are also trying out some of the recipes from the Smitten Kitchen by Deb Perelman.  Our go-to for all things classic and comforting is the America’s Test Kitchen New Best Recipe cookbook.  A pot filler was not a “must” for our kitchen, as the range is pretty close to the sink, but we did spring for it and it is great to have a second water source in the kitchen, especially on busy weeknights when one of us is busy washing up the day’s bottles and the other is trying to cook some pasta.


A concession to a lack of drawer storage, we have two crocks divided into wood and stainless that hold our go-to utensils. To the right of the range, we installed a pull-out solution for our smaller skillets and pots, as we hate digging through drawers or shelves to find what we want.  Conveniently, large cutting boards also fit nicely to either side of the pullout.


For the kitchen faucet, we found a fixture that resembled an old water pump reimagined in chrome.  A hand sprayer came with this model, and it is a great accompanyment to washing up in the extra large sink.


We went with a smaller dishwashing drawer to maximize space in the kitchen, and reserved the shelves just above the dishwasher to store our everyday dishes.  For our pantry, we found a wonderful old cabinet at Burt Long’s Antiques.


It dates from about the 1820s and was our big splurge.  It is the perfect size for the space, and for overflow we have another set of shelves in our utility closet.  IMG_0657

Rounding out the kitchen, our secondary bank of cabinets holds the remainder.  Baking, Mixing, Appliances, dish towels, etc. We designed this station with integrated power and for the microwave and with a pull out shelf for our coffee machine and toaster, as we prefer not to have those appliances hanging out on our very limited counter space.



With some careful planning, we have our dream kitchen.  I bet you thought we couldn’t cram anything else in, but we still have one last detail on the way.


See that large blank spot on the wall to the right of the doorway?  Rachel’s Uncle Skip, recently retired, has taken up woodworking and has custom built us the perfect addition to our kitchen: a platter rack!


Skip recently finished this project, and just this weekend it will make the trek from Texas to Virginia.  We can’t wait to get it installed!

We know we’ve left you hanging over the past year, so here are some pics of us enjoying our kitchen.  It won’t be another year for the next post, we promise!







Until next time, enjoy the view!



Mastering the Bath

All-  We feel like we owe a little explanation or two for the belated nature of this update.  Our loyal readers have been patiently (or not so patiently) waiting for the next blog update, and we’ve been a bit delinquent!  Well, let’s cut to the chase. Edge Hill is about to go from sheltering a family of two to sheltering a family of four!  That’s right, Rachel is pregnant, and not being ones to do anything the easy way, it just so happens to be twin girls!


This is a shot from our first ultrasound way back in March, and it’s the one we keep showing to anyone who will take a gander.  We are now over halfway through our term, and are looking forward to meeting the girls in late August! 




Due to the pregnancy, we were stopped in our tracks with the last of the major efforts left to wrap up the Little House:  painting.  With the fumes, it is recommended to steer clear of this chore for the first trimester at least, and to be honest, we were ready for a convenient excuse to take a break!  The break, however, is over. Time to get back to work. The next series of posts will hopefully walk you through the finished rooms of the Little House, detailing our choices.  We are starting with the Master Bath, the only full bath in the house.  In our past decade or so of life, living through college rooming situations and our first house with its TINY (but nevertheless en suite) master bath, we may have gone a bit overboard on square footage this time. After living with it, however, we can say we have absolutely no regrets!  If you recall from our Sketch-Up designs, the master bath takes up about 1/5 of the upstairs square footage, and is accessed via the closets that adjoin each bedroom (bottom, center):



This is a far cry from the “original” bath-and-kitchen combo that was part of the 1940s first-floor addition to the Little House:




Yes.  Just under the sink you can see a little patch of green grass.  That is where the water and septic leaked and the floor and wall had completely deteriorated.  There was no shower or bathtub.  Full. Demo. Required.

We moved the full bath to the new upstairs addition, and designed a spacious room with two independent vanities.  We also incorporated the restored clawfoot tub that we discussed in the last post, a large walk-in shower, linen closet, and water closet.  Everything in its place.

We started with five feet of bead board and then painted the upper walls and ceiling in Washington Blue from Benjamin Moore’s Williamsburg Collection.  The deep navy blends the walls into the ceiling and gives the room a great feel.


The floors are a ceramic tile we found at a surplus auction, and just so happen to be LEED certified.  We really liked the color so we bought a whole skid and used that tile in the downstairs mudroom, powder room, and utility closet, as well!  We went with a mushroom-grey grout, which provides a nice contrast and will also hopefully age well.

For the vanities, we used porcelain tops that we found dirt cheap at the contractor’s auction, and commissioned custom-designed bases after doing some serious Pinterest research.  The bases are constructed from old pine that was salvaged from the house when we did the demo.   We matched the vanity with a medicine cabinet we found TWO Black Fridays ago (that’s right folks, we’ve been sourcing since 2013), also dirt cheap, at the Restoration Hardware Outlet: $75.00 for the pair!



The vanities are nice and simple, and great for hiding all the crap that would usually live out on the sink deck:



Luckily we thought to measure the clearance of the vanity door in relation to the sconce, but we still cut it close!

As you saw before, the tub is a great shade of Tucker Orange from Benjamin Moore’s Williamsburg Collection, which we paired with some custom-painted oars and full length curtains and sheers that emphasize the high ceiling height of the bathroom:


For the tub, we are very excited to have incorporated a hand shower; it is as if fate knew we would need an extra-efficient baby washing station:


The interior wall of the bathroom starts on the left with our shower, the linen closet in the center, and the water closet on the right.  The access hatch to the attic HVAC is located above the linen closet and painted the same shade of blue to blend in with the walls and ceilings.



One priority for the shower was to incorporate a LARGE area to organize all of the bottles that seem to multiply in the shower as time goes on.  We were also contemplating adding a bench, but found a great garden stool online in our orange that fit the bill nicely, so we saved a bit of money and axed the bench.  Down the road we would really like to add a seamless glass door, but as a feature that was entirely discretionary, we decided to save our pennies and spend them elsewhere at the outset.



Because the shower stall is large and we like the subway-tile look, we used large-format subway tile, which was economical and “easy” to install (easy, that is, for our contractors – we have not yet tried our hand at tiling).  The floors and back of the niche are tiled in small stone, and we did spring for the anti-microbial grouting on the floor so hopefully we will be mold-free for years to come.

The linen closet might not be magazine-ready, but it is oh-so useful!  The key feature of this closet is the laundry shoot that you can see right in the middle of the back wall.  With our very small interior staircases, we have found no end to our happiness in having this simple solution for lugging our laundry down the stairs.  For the return trip, we got small cloth totes that are easier to manage on the stairs than a regular laundry basket. We lined the rest of the linen closet’s available wall space with shelves and incorporated automatic lighting so the lights are only on when the doors are open, a nice energy-saving feature.



Moving to the right, the water closet was the one bit of the bathroom where we were able to save the exposed brick walls:IMG_3195

We also used a motion sensing light/fan combo, as this means the lights stay on when the doors close.  The unit runs on a timer, so the lights and fan shut down automatically after the space is vented to save power.  IMG_3197

Finally, one of Chad’s favorite features is the magazine/TP combo rack he found on Amazon.  The water closet doesn’t have a lot of extra room, so this was the perfect solution for a back-up roll and some storage.

The bath is accented with a few nautical touches, including a whimsical octopus towel holder by the shower and cheap boat cleat towel hooks that Chad painted to match the tub:


The bathroom is now a relaxing sanctuary where we start and end our days, and though we still have some plans for finishing touches we couldn’t be happier with the finished product!







Rub a Dub Dub

The thought of soaking in a tub is something that hasn’t occurred to me in about ten years.  Obviously there is no “with soaker tub” option in dorms, and college apartments that do have a shower/tub combination are usually not the kind of tubs you’d want to touch with any part of your body except your feet.  When we lived in Richmond, our master bath only had a shower.  The idea of a bath in the Old House is, as you might expect, simply laughable.  The only bathtub in the house had to be gutted (as you may remember from one of our prior posts),


and was replaced with a Bath Fitter-type shower insert.

As a result, the thought of sinking into a tub full of bubbles (possibly with a glass of champagne, a perfect mani/pedi, and some Frank Sinatra over the speakers) has been the thing of dreams.  Until now.

Last year, we were lucky enough to obtain an amazing claw foot tub for our Little House bathroom.  Here it is still hooked up in its original bathroom, with just a little antique dirt inside as a special bonus:


We transported it back to our house and it has been living in a barn out back ever since, awaiting its great makeover.  Although the tub was actually in great shape after a power wash and could have been used as-is, we were hoping to have it refinished eventually for aesthetics.  It had bit of discoloration and a few areas of wear in the ceramic:



Once we had the bathroom painted, we used the telehandler to move the unfinished tub out of the barn and lift it up to the second floor entrance so we could put it in the bathroom to try it on for size:


We love it under the windows (and will love it even more when the paint is removed from the glass and there’s a little more natural light).

Graciously, my parents offered to give us the refinishing as our housewarming gift.  How lucky are we??  The tub refinisher did his work on site by moving the tub into our unfinished closet room and tenting the entire area off with plastic sheeting.

IMG_0260We’ve been told any areas of wear and pitting are filled with a putty-like material to fill the gaps.  Then a spray technique is used to recoat the interior of the tub and the feet.  It looks brand-spanking new!   IMG_0259

For dramatic effect, see the before and the after:




Now, that looks like something I could soak in!  The visions of rubber duckies are dancing in my head…

The last step is to paint the exterior of the tub.  You can purchase a special paint designed to adhere to metal at Benjamin Moore or your other paint store.


We hemmed and hawed about what color to choose – classic all white?  Traditional black with white feet?  Or something a little…bolder?  Our color scheme in the bathroom has evolved into navy and white with hints of coral, so we decided to upgrade that from a hint to a pop by choosing “Tucker Orange” from Benjamin Moore’s Williamsburg collection for the outside of the tub.

Chad slaved away at this one day while I was out of town.  What a trooper – it turned out to be a bit more of a project than just slapping on a new coat of paint.  First, he needed to remove the original paint, as it was peeled and cracked in places.  Those old paint manufacturers did not mess around.  Chad ultimately used a wire brush attachment for his drill and the electric sander to strip the old paint off, and then replaced it with two coats of Tucker Orange.  The result is stunning – we couldn’t be more thrilled!





We learned from the gurus at the salvage store in Front Royal that the removable feet are imprinted on the back with either an “L” or an “S” – this means “long” or “short”.  The idea is to put the short feet on the side with the drain so that the gravity will assist the water in flowing out of the tub.  We certainly would have overlooked this without their insight.  Luckily, our feet are in the right positions and our tub is at just the right angle for optimum flow.  IMG_2839

And here to the tub is back in place and ready to be plumbed in.  What do you think?  It’s bold and a little funky, but we’re loving it.


And the good news is the tub can always be repainted as trends and tastes change!

Add a little hardware, and the tub was ready for its return to glory!  Spoiler alert: I have used the tub already, and it has certainly lived up to everything I dreamed about!


Big Finishes

We aren’t going to sugar coat it: for as much fun as this project has been, some of the big decisions for the Little House have caused some anxiety. When I call it our dream house, in no small part am I referring to the countless times I’ve dreamed of things NOT coming together. Luckily, we have recently gotten some major hurdles out of the way!

The first of these has been the spiral staircase. We mentioned in a previous post that we had ordered one from a manufacturer in Tennessee, and it arrived last month as the ultimate DIY. Our craftsmen love a challenge, and they had the project almost finished up before we could even take any progress pics.  I think they were just as excited about it as we are!




It is quite narrow; thank goodness our variance was approved! Our contractor then installed the remaining spindles, and it was a wrap:


Another point of stress was our kitchen countertop. In a prior post we mentioned that we wanted to go with soapstone, and to help defray the costs of this choice we did our own “shipping”. We first sourced the sink we wanted: a farmhouse style, extra-wide, single-basin MONSTER. Internet searching revealed several stone shops specializing in soapstone sink construction outside of Philadelphia, PA. After sharking for the best price, last fall we took a day trip up through the Amish Country and collected our treasure, which fit perfectly in our salvaged cabinetry:


For the countertops themselves we already had one piece of soapstone that we recycled from its former life in a Shenandoah County public school that we used to match with the sink. We knew that there was an old soapstone quarry outside of Charlottesville, Virginia, and using a daring leap of logic, we assumed that the public schools of the 1940s and 1950s would have sourced their materials as closely (read: cheaply) as possible. I dialed up the quarry, Alberene Soapstone Company, and they informed me that they are happy to sell their stone by the rectangle slab, but any custom cuts would be up to our installer. Luckily, our craftsmen had worked with soapstone before and felt up to the challenge! One day a few weeks ago I got the call that our slab was ready.  I hopped in one of the big farm trucks and headed to the quarry.


After donning safety attire, we headed to pick up the slab.



Unfortunately it was wrapped up to protect it from road debris during transit, and the anticipation of waiting to see the slab was killer, but well worth it!


The craftsmen then were able to cut it down so our single solid slab extends out into the window sill and accommodates our sink:


The recycled piece was also installed – a perfect match!


Have Yourself a Whitewashed Christmas

We are still very much in a painting phase in the Little House.  As you’ve seen in prior posts, we’ve put quite a few layers of white primer and white paint throughout the house (it feels like we’ve been painting for years), and as clean and crisp as it looks, we’ve been thrilled to finally graduate to more creative applications.

The Little House addition has two closet rooms, both of which are 3/4 barn board.  Many people have expressed a strong preference to see us leave the beauty of the natural wood uncovered; however, we have a bit of an aversion to the 1970s faux-wood paneled look:


Instead, Chad and I decided to strike a happy medium.  We opted for a white-washed look that would sooth the wood tones but leave the beautiful grain and knots visible.  Whitewashing is typically achieved by applying a white stain to raw wood.  Here’s what we started with in the closets:



Sarah Richardson of HGTV did a lot of whitewashing in her adorable little island cottage, which was featured on her show, “Sarah’s Cottage”.  Luckily for us, after filming the show Sarah undertook a thorough explanation of her whitewashing technique.  We have always loved Sarah’s shows because she does not shy away from highlighting her debacles, and whitewashing proved no different.  On her show, Sarah found that her whitewashed pine turned a shade of white-ish pink instead of an idyllic, misty white after applying a pure white stain.  Uh oh.  This is not good, because once raw wood is stained, there’s no going back.  Long story short, Sarah recommends a gray shade of stain instead of straight white to solve this problem.

Dutifully, Chad and I agreed to take Sarah’s advice and set our minds on gray stain.  It turns out that the paint store can mix an infinite number of shades of gray, and it was up to us to decide which shade would suit.  It also turns out that there are two different products: Pickling white and tint.  So, we grabbed a variety of samples and tested away:

White Wash Trial

As you can see, we tried a number of variations on the theme.  With the pickling white alone, we weren’t able to get the color we wanted.  With the gray tint, we got the right color, but couldn’t get the coverage we were looking for.   Ultimately, we decided that the most complicated application looked best (of course): one coat of pure pickling white and a second coat of gray tint.  We used Old masters Penetrating Stain for the gray tint.

IMG_2477And with that decision made, we set to work.  We thought white washing sounded a lot faster than regular paint, so against our better judgment, we set some lofty goals for how quickly we would finish the closets.  As you can predict, we underestimated this by a long shot (yet again).




Both the pickling white and the tint apply like very, very runny paint.  Because the products go on so thin, we ended up needing one coat of pickling white to cover the grain sufficiently, topped with two coats of gray tint to get the right color.  Below you can see the differences between the different coats:

White Wash Applicatoin

We have the first coat on both closets and have finished all of the whitewashing on the western closet.  As Christmas approached and other house projects took precedence, the second closet stands by unfinished, but we are hoping to get that wrapped up soon.  As with so many of the other house projects, the extra time was worth the effort.  The white wash looks stunning and will contribute to the rustic vibe we’re going for throughout the Little House.


Compare with the pinker eastern closet, which still needs to be topped off with the gray tint:


IMG_0186(I promise it is pinker, even if these photos don’t seem quite as dramatic as real life!).  Next time, we’ll share some of the beautiful Benjamin Moore Williamsburg Collection shades we’ve splashed on other parts of the house!  In the meantime, happy holidays from Edge Hill!

P.S.  The blog is currently lagging a bit behind our real-life progress (we’ve been working our butts off without much sleep computer time).  We are going to try and update a couple of times over the holidays, and wanted to note for our loyal readers that this post is our first official post from the Little House. WOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Winter Won.

We were competing against the weather to try and get into the Little House before heat became a living necessity, and we have had to go ahead and call the race. At 14 degrees this morning waking up in the Big House, winter has won.   But we are still hard at it in the Little House!   Over the past few weeks, the craftsmen have been finishing the trim, laying floors, and generally tying up loose ends.  Here you can see the trim details where the skim-coat walls meet drywall and exposed brick:


We knew that when the finish work began, the end would be in sight, so coming home to this scene last week made our little hearts sing:



The original floors in the little house were beyond salvage due to the extensive water and rot damage that made the house such a gut-job to begin with:


To get an aged look, we stumbled upon some distressed cherry flooring at one of our favorite building-supply auctions, and thought it would be perfect:


The cherry will darken a bit as it absorbs sunlight, giving a nice rich hue. Our craftsmen have been carefully laying the floors so that our random-width boards in one room match their partners the parallel room; this allows us to have continuous runs at doorways where the two rooms meet.  As you can imagine, this is a bit of a time consuming process.  Once we had floors down in the kitchen, some of our cabinets got to finally come home!  As we mentioned previously, when we demolished the interior of the Little House, we salvaged as much of the structural lumber we could knowing that ultimately we wanted to somehow incorporate it into the new building.   Mr. Henry, our carpenter, was able to painstakingly transform those 180-year-old rough-hewn boards into our beautiful cabinets. Here is a sneak peak!


We had to go ahead and install this run of cabinets to get a measurement for our soapstone counter tops. In sourcing the soapstone, we knew of a local quarry in Virginia outside Charlottesville and we wanted to use the stone from that close source, if possible. Luckily, the quarry price is about half that of a finish retailer, but it means we are going to have to make the sink cut for our undermount soapstone sink ourselves. While you may be scratching your heads as to how we are going to manage this, the good news is that soapstone is much easier to work with than granite or marble, and our craftsman feels like he is up to the challenge (he already had some practice in Chad’s mom’s kitchen)! The slab should be ready sometime next week, so we are crossing our fingers and our toes that the cut goes well!

On the DIY front, Rachel and I have donned our old clothes and have started painting.  We started in the upstairs bedrooms, where we are leaving the exposed-beam ceilings untouched but we are painting the concrete skim coat on the walls white. The first step in this process was to run the vacuum over the walls to clean off the mortar that has loosened since the walls have cured.



Once debris-free, we began to notice some wet patches along the walls when it rained, and after some research we decided to seal the exterior bricks and interior walls to prevent future water damage.   The sealing process was pretty easy. We used Lasti-Seal and applied with a backpack sprayer, and it went very quickly.


After the sealant had dried (no color change noted!) we began with the primer, applying liberally. We started out attempting to use a paint sprayer,


but the porous and textured concrete skim made full coverage difficult.  We eventually resorted to hand-rolling with a very high-nap roller, and after 2 coats (or three!) we were happy with the coverage.





We moved downstairs and repeated the process, and we now have half of the walls in the house done.  First we started in the kitchen:

IMG_2404  IMG_2403


And here is a view halfway through, from the painted kitchen to the unpainted living room:


We will be painting the trim and some of the other rooms with historic Williamsburg colors, and can’t wait to do something other than white!

In the kitchen there are two walls where our need of modern utilities necessitated framing out the walls to allow pipes, etc., to pass through. Those framed walls are clad in barn board, and we are painting that white, too; we are having exposed shelving and didn’t want the room to look too busy.   As for the kitchen fireplace, the rough-sawn mantle is on site and ready to be trimmed and fitted.   We had to replace some of the kitchen fireplace’s original brick with firebrick to protect the integrity of the structure and allow for future use, but since the firebrick is white, we have been debating painting the firebox solid black. We haven’t made a final decision, but solid black seems to be winning at this point.   Anything, however, is better than this:


On the skilled-labor front, the HVAC equipment is now fully installed INSIDE our house, and we are waiting for a final exterior grading to install the outdoor components.   Our gas line is almost hooked up to the tanks, but the plumber still needs to set our tankless hot water heater and determine what level of water treatment our well water will require.   The electrical is almost finished, with outlets and light fixtures getting mounted this week.   The farm is also undergoing a massive electric infrastructure upgrade (because, apparently, the Little House would have been the straw to break the camel’s back and cause Dad’s grain operation to come to a deafening halt) and Dominion has a completion date for that project of late December. Lucky for us, Dad was able to get the corn off in the field where the power lines must be upgraded, so we are hopefully still on track.

One of our biggest holdouts finish-wise has been our interior set of spiral stairs that will go from the master bedroom closet/sitting room to the downstairs rear living room. When we designed this feature we needed a way for each of the upstairs bedroom occupants to get downstairs without going through someone else’s bedroom (AWK-WARD).


I modeled the stairs after a small set that my parents installed in their home in the ’90s. We left a four-foot rough-in (i.e., a huge hole in the ceiling), and decided to figure out the stairs later. What we wound up figuring out was that Code now requires a FIVE-FOOT diameter stair. Oh. Crap.  After some analysis, we decided that our best bet was to apply for a building variance to allow for the smaller stair. Luckily, our upstairs master bedroom came with a pre-existing exterior door we can use for egress purposes.


We are pretty sure that there would have been exterior stairs up to that door originally, but we know there haven’t been any for over 80 years, so we just planned a small deck and wide stair for that door so we could move furniture up without dealing with the spiral or the original, TINY, stair. Based on our addition of the exterior stair, our variance was approved! This was a huge relief, but we still had to figure out what spiral stair to use.

As we were searching, our initial thought was to go with metal like my parents, but we soon discovered that most of cheaper metal stairs are sold in kits and are made out of country and include a lot of plastic, exposed screw heads, and PVC. The good options similar to mom and dad’s all called for a three-month custom lead-time, and a $5,000 premium. Changing gears, I was able to find a reasonably priced wooden spiral stair manufacturer not only from good ole’ U-S-A but from our friends down I-81 in Knoxville Tennessee! Maybe one day I’ll get to a post on the enviro-friendly choices we made for the house, but for the stairs we were very happy to have an option from just one state away!  I mentioned to the receptionist that we could install as soon as they were ready, and I don’t know if it was my southern charm or just good luck but she called a few days later and said they had a cancellation and our job went to the workshop last week and should deliver a week early!

Meanwhile, outside the house, our addition is now clad in hardi-plank siding and ready for a coat of paint. Our footers are approved for our exterior staircase and that should go up soon too.

As you can read, we are on the cusp. In just “a few more weeks” this darn thing will be liveable! The bettin’ money is on how many a “few” is, and whether we get our Christmas wish of waking up December 25th to stockings hung on our kitchen mantle with care, or frost on the INSIDE of the windows as we found this morning in the Big House.