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.