Bare Bones

Work continues on the renovation of the Little House, and although to the outsider it might not appear that much progress has been made (“have Chad and Rachel actually made things worse?  Was that even possible?  Looks like it was…”), we promise that, to us, things are looking amazing.  Please keep in mind that it’s all relative, but we’re pretty excited with the progress that’s been made in the last month.

To bring everyone back up to speed, see the picture of the entire property, below:


The main house is the farthest on the right.  It has a 1970s addition coming off the left/south side, which attaches the main house to the summer kitchen.  The building in the middle of the picture with the gray roof is the smokehouse, and the building on the far right is the Little House – its nakedness in the roof area should make it especially recognizable.

Our last post left off with a house that had no roof and no second-story floors.  Below, we’re standing between the first and second floors.  No big deal.   Please also note the original nails protruding from the beams – a.k.a., the Tetanus Delivery Team.







For a complete gut job, we needed to remove the floors on the first floor, as well, including the floor boards, the deteriorating floor joists, and all of the junk that had fallen from the second floor, above.  We thought we were so clever when we just pushed that stuff down below…until we had to shovel it all out by hand, later…[insert forehead slap, here].


But before we talk any more about the house, first, I would like everyone to note an important life event: I have officially overtaken Chad for the most degrees in the household.  With all of those letters after my name, they were also able to brainwash me into wearing a graduation hat that is even more ridiculous than normal (a “tam” rather than your standard mortar board – it is questionable whether anyone with curly hair should be allowed to wear these things) – and I LOVED it!  Embrace the nerd.  I was also very honored that Chad’s dad, who is also an alum of the University of Richmond School of Law, was able to present me with my diploma.



Once I crossed that stage, my first full time job as an “esquire” became preparing for the bar examination, while also moonlighting as a house flipper.  You’ve got to take study breaks, right?


As we began pulling the floor boards up with crow bars, we realized that there were two generations of flooring.  The most recent floor consisted of narrow boards running north and south, which much wider boards running east and west underneath.


In one downstairs room, the two layers of floor were separated by newspaper dating from the early 1940s.  The headlines concerned the war updates from Europe, and there were advertisements for Sealtest milk,  sweat-resistant women’s stockings, and the critically acclaimed “Pabst Blue Ribbon.”  Greatness never dies!

Once all of the floorboards were removed, we found floor joists in a wide array of conditions.  Those exposed to weather were obviously suffering from rot, but some that had remained protected were in near-perfect condition.


The joists are actually notched into the brick wall; the masons built up to the level of the joists, omitted a brick to leave room for the end of a joist to rest, and then continued to build the wall around and above the joist.


We removed all of the flooring and joists, loaded them on pallets, and have stashed them away for future use.


Anyone with suggestions on neat ways to repurpose these, let us know!

While the newer flooring went all the way to the walls in the room with the fireplace, we made a fun discovery when we pulled up that top layer.  The older floor boards stopped short just before the fireplace, where we assume there may have been an over-sized hearth.  Instead of flooring, there was a jumbled pile of broken limestone (possibly pieces of the hearth?) and they appeared to be resting on a stacked-brick foundation (no mortar).  Brick Jackpot!!!

This picture is taken head-on, showing the “course” of brick from eye-level with the hearth, in the background.


We removed the brick by hand and are hoping to use it as the hearth for the restored fireplace.  And thanks again to Gina for all her help, to whom we owe a lifetime of favors and manual labor!



There was also a lovely groundhog den, complete with a straw-lined nest, tucked behind the brick in one corner.  We’ve spared you the pictures of this rodent mansion.

Finally, credit to the professionals who came in and put the most exciting touches on the last month of work.  First, a COMPLETELY RESTORED FIREPLACE in the small house!  The brick masons found the fireplace like this:


The original swing arm is still in there, but the lintel spanning the top of the fire box was frighteningly bowed and the bricks around the bottom had crumbled away.  Also, it appeared that at some point in time, the fire box was used as a waste receptacle.  There was work to be done.

And voila:



To complete this feat, the masons carefully removed the swing arm and any deteriorated brick in the fire box.  They then replaced the removed brick with fire brick (the white bricks, shown above, which are designed to withstand the high temperatures of our future roaring fires).  Next, they removed all of the brick above the lintel, which was essential, due to the deterioration and obvious stress.  To the masons’ surprise, with the weight of the brick removed, the cast iron lintel sprang back into its original straight line.  The masons were also able to install an abnormally large five-foot damper and reinstalled the swing arm.  Finally, they installed cast iron supports into the masonry above the fire box, which will hold our future mantel.

Here’s the team of masons installing the damper under the supervision of Chad’s dad:


The damper (this shot is taken from underneath, looking up into the chimney at the damper):


The finished product, minus floorboards and joists.  Notice the supports for the mantel just above the fire box to the right and left:


Original brick, laid in an alternating pattern, contrasted with the new fire brick:


Look, it works!


Holy. Cow.  I’m not sure there are many other 20-somethings that get excited about swing arms and lintels, but we definitely are!

Last, the smokehouse has had an update, too.  The masons have begun parging the walls, a process which entails layering the exposed (and in our case, deteriorating) brick with layers of concrete.  This was common in the 17th and 18th century and will protect the brick from the elements and further deterioration.  The scoring on the cement, seen below, is used on the first layer so that subsequent layers will attach more securely when applied.





Ultimately, the walls will be whitewashed, as would have been traditional.

Things are moving right along!  Next, we will tackle dirt removal – getting all of the silty dirt out from under the joists so that trenches can be dug for modern footers.  Check your gym pass at the door folks, this will be true heavy lifting!