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.


The Final Stretch

Hey guys!  We have been waiting to write a post with some substance, because a lot of the current progress at the Little House is tedious detail work that doesn’t photograph well.  After our last post, our craftsman have been hard at work on the windows, doors, and trim of the Little House.  I think we’ve talked enough about windows, so take a gander at this:


That’s right, all of the windows are now in!! This is a huge step forward, as we are now able to make progress on the finish work of the interior.  Also, as I’m sure you’ve noted, we have doors!  The doors have a little story of their own.  When we were demoing the little house, we found a variety of exterior doors on the house.  Thus, in deciding what to keep, we got to do a little picking and choosing!  While assessing our options, we were trying to pick something with a good bit of character, and we were also concerned with boosting our natural light given the small existing windows on the house.  With those considerations, we had an easy winner (sorry for the poor photo, we are currently doing this post while out of town!):


We also liked this door because it continues a three-or-one fenestration theme we’ve inherited with the little house.  In the existing windows, the sashes are three lights over one light:


For the door we chose, there is one large pane of glass, and then three panels, one of which is also divided into thirds.  We like the symmetry there, so we saw that as our sign.  We took the original door to a cabinetry craftsman, and he quadrupled it for us.  The first shot shows the two front doors (stacked) beside our inspiration door, and the second shows the slightly larger two rear doors (also stacked):



We got some insulated glass panes for the glazing, some Ebay salvaged hinges from the same maker of the hardware that was used on the main houses, knobs and deadbolts to keep out unwanted guests, a little weatherstripping, and BAM:


We have exterior doors!

We also have an exterior door from our master bedroom that will lead out to a small deck for fire egress purposes, and for that spot we didn’t want such a large window as we used on the first floor doors.  Hunting with Mom through an excellent architectural salvage shop in Front Royal, I stumbled across this beauty!


I was immediately drawn to this guy because of the three light upper window, which keeps with the three-or-one theme and will let some morning sun into the master bedroom without sacrificing privacy.  Salvaged doors are reasonably priced, and after double checking the measurements we sealed the deal:


After stripping off most of the old paint, our craftsman hung the door.  Now to finish restoration and glaze the upper windows…


As for the trim, we picked a style that we really liked from a home we visited this past summer:


This trim is a bit more ornate than the plain board trim that would have certainly existed originally, but we justified this change as reflecting the changed use of the house in its present function.  We liked the clean lines, and our craftsmen Colon and Dustin are using rough-sawn pine lumber to custom-fit each window and door:


(Future Laundry Room)


(Future Kitchen)

The craftsmen have also been hard at work hanging interior doors and finishing our interior wall cladding in our closets:



(Guest Closet)

We also have made some progress in the full bathroom!


Outside the house, several other projects have come to completion, and we now have an approved septic field!  This involved a great amount of digging across a decades-old farm area with multiple hidden utilities just waiting to be found by the excavator, but he did a great job.  Here is where the septic comes into the house, passing under an existing power line:


And here is the settling tank, all ready to be hooked up:


The septic line travels about 150 feet over to the distribution box system:



And once it was all approved we backfilled, and moved on to the next project!


Which, it turns out, was another DIY endeavor and turned out to be our least favorite task thus far.  Of course, it involved MORE HAND DIGGING.  About two months ago, we found out that the crawl space under the addition required a french weeping drainage system to meet code requirements and prevent flooding.  As we plan to install several mechanical systems in the crawl space, we didn’t object, but here is where a little prior planning would have made a world of difference.  When the pad for the crawl space was formed, we did not clean around the edges or use cement forms along the rear of the house.  Instead, we poured the concrete right against the dirt of the hole that had been dug, which was perfectly fine.  Until, as it turned out, we had to dig down beside that concrete and install the drainage system.  This entailed us crawling down into the foundation trench and hand digging a channel for the drain tile.  As this earth was previously undisturbed, it was incredibly compacted and filled with river rock.  The progress was slow, back breaking, and tedious (we felt like Jean Valjean), and we were lucky to be able to trench 8 feet in an hour.  For future reference to other diggers, dig a bigger hole, use concrete forms, and install the drain right away!!

IMG_0022 IMG_0025

Here you can see the sill of the footer, and I am using a pick axe to trench down beside it so any water drains into the trench drain tile and not our crawl space:

IMG_0024 IMG_0023

The following day, we painted the foundation with a water sealant coating, just in case the french drain doesn’t 100% solve the problem.  Belts and Suspenders, Folks.


This stuff wound up getting pretty much all over us, and for future reference, this is a job you want to do in a hat, long sleeves, and pants.  The scrubbing required to remove the tar sealant from skin is brutal.  Don’t even ask about what you have to do to get it out of hair.  At last, we had our drain trench dug and foundation prepped!


We then laid some landscaping fabric and ran our drain tile with a slight decline to our sump pit (also hand dug):


Dad found a remnant four-foot piece of large plastic culvert for our sump pit, and we were so grateful!



We dug down so the drains would be well above the level of the sump:


And set the pit into place, drilling 4 and 1/8 inch openings in for the drain tile.  IMG_0032After watching several YouTube videos on the subject (this house couldn’t have been done without YouTube), I found a great how-to on DIY sump pump installation from Apple Drains in North Carolina.  The dude who narrates is hilarious, and he fully explains the all aspects of the project and tells you why you are taking different steps.  I added two lines going into the crawl space, one for the pumps power supply and one for a garden hose that I can hook into a dehumidifyer for the crawl space.  It took me about two hours of measuring PVC and gluing the whole thing together.  Here you can see the white PVC lines running into the pit:


And here you can just see the drain tile poking into the pit on the edges, covered with filtration fabric, and the green device at the bottom of the pit is our pump:


Despite how labor-intensive this task turned out to be, we are hopeful that our crawl space will be moisture free for life, and I have some confidence in knowing how the whole thing works!  After reading all of this, I’m sure you will share in my excitement when I came home to this inspection result:


Each day we are getting closer, and for our interior design fans, we are nearing the phase where Rachel will take the helm and detail our choices room-by-room.  So exciting we can hardly wait!

Coming Together!

We hope everyone has enjoyed their summer!  With the last few weeks left, you are probably wondering if we are going to make our goal of a fall move-in.  At least, that is the question we keep asking ourselves!  We are at the stage now where so much in the Little House has come together that it seems like we could be just days away from the big move (I mean, it is not exactly like life in the Big House has our standards too high), but in reality, there are still a number of steps to go.  Here is what has been done:

Walls are in! We already discussed the re-parged brick walls, and those won’t change; they will just be painted.  The rest of the house is a 50/50 mix of wooden wall covering and drywall:


We are using a five-foot bead board wainscoting for our bathrooms and laundry, and here is Rachel in the future water closet in the middle of the drywall process :)


The tub will go in front of this double window:


And here is the upstairs bathroom all primed and ready!  From left to right:  Shower, linen closet with laundry chute rough-in, and water closet (the green square is the access to our HVAC):


The laundry chute leads down to our utility closet, which is just beside our future laundry room.  You can see some of our extra insulation hiding in the chute, which will eventually get a door made out of bead board.


Back upstairs, our added matching bedroom closets each feature an exposed brick wall that used to be on the exterior of the house.  The new exterior walls and ceiling are dressed up in horizontal barn board, which we ambitiously plan to whitewash based on the methods of HGTV all-star Sarah Richardson:



All this hard work has been courtesy of our contractors, and meanwhile Rachel and I have returned to our nemesis:  Windows.  We salvaged the original windows from the Little House, and magically (I kid you not) found extra matching three-light over one-light windows in a building on the property.  All of these were old-school, solid wood sash construction, and we couldn’t bear to pass them up.  Our contractor even custom-made the window jams out of some of our salvaged lumber! Here is a window before restoration in its new frame:


Of course, the restoration process has meant a couple of stressful nights of paint stripping, wood repair, sanding, priming, and glazing…



And  restoring the original window frames:



But now we have the first round in and ready for a final coat of paint!


And here are several windows restored and back home in freshly primed frames:


Speaking of salvaged lumber, Rachel and I had one of our best days this summer when the first round of furniture we commissioned for the Little House showed up early.  After working so hard to salvage any lumber we could from the demolition of the Little House, these beauties validated all of our efforts.  We hope these pieces never leave the Little House, and are doubly special to us, as the craftsman, Ernest Henry, was a good friend of my late Grandfather French.  It really doesn’t get much more local and meaningful than this!

Mr. Henry started with a rough pile of lumber filled with nails:




He takes all of this to his workshop, removes the nails, then cuts and planes the wood down:



And transforms it into beautiful furniture.  I think even Mr. Henry was a little excited when he dropped off our new kitchen table – he said bringing the finished furniture to the house was like a family reunion for all of the old wood:


Here it is getting a test run:


We have an odd nook in our downstairs living room, so we designed this writing desk to tuck into it:


And Mr. Henry also made three matching bathroom vanities which we designed around some great sink tops that mom and dad found for a song at a local surplus builders auction (Jackson the Dog approved!):


We are so pumped with the final product!  Mr. Henry also gave us a sneak peak at our future kitchen cabinets, which will be made out of the same salvaged pine.  Here are some of the front frames:


We can’t wait until it is time to install the kitchen!

Call in the Pros

Over the last two months, the work on the Little House has been going forward with minimal efforts from yours truly.  With our lives in the Valley now ramping up with various commitments, we are glad to report on some great news.

Our last posts filled you in on the roof and and some electrical progress, bringing us to the step where we needed to finish up the framing and plumbing.  While we are rather proud of our past d0-it-yourself capabilities, we draw the line at potential future fire/water damage.  Luckily, we have had some great help with the basic electrical and have contractors handling the HVAC and plumbing.  Unfortunately, the photos from this phase aren’t the most exciting (so the writing has to be extra good, right?).


You might remember the old, winding staircase that was original to the house.  Its width and stair height do not meet modern building code requirements, and the staircase had a few structural difficulties . . . The below picture is after we had excavated over two feet of soil from under the floor joists.  Due to the giant crater we created, the stairs were floating approximately three feet above the ground.


Luckily, if an existing component of the house pre-dates the building code, it is grandfathered in so long as the structure is repaired and not completed replaced.  Thank goodness our craftsmen are the best – they were able to shore up the stairs and now they are sturdy, safe, and gorgeous.  Renewed to their original, narrow-but-charming glory!



The little hidey hole under the stairs was also a component the craftsmen were able to save.


This has been one of our favorite parts of the renovation so far.  Here are the stairs from the top down.  We are finally using them for the first time (without risking life and limb, that is)!


Downstairs, we also have an electrical panel,


plumbing for the mudroom laundry,


plumbing for the downstairs powder room,


the height of the kitchen window has been adjusted and the plumbing is ready for the sink, dish drawer, pot filler, and refrigerator,


and we are wired for a chandelier above the kitchen table!

IMG_1336 Upstairs:

Things are moving right along on the second floor, as well.  The brick masons removed the remaining plaster from the walls and cut channels for the electrician to run wires.  The masons then filled the channels with mortar:


The channel above the door will be for wall sconces (to add a little ambiance), and the lower channels are for light switches and outlets.


The masons then covered all of the brick with two coats of mortar.  They add score marks to the first layer, as shown below, so that the second layer will adhere to the first more securely.


And the second coat – voila!


We plan to paint over the mortar for a finished but rustic look.  We are also really excited about the vaulted ceilings and exposed roof in the bedrooms (we may have mentioned that once or twice).  When the HVAC infrastructure was added, ducts were inserted into the walls and ceiling.



We obviously need to find covers for these, but we are so thrilled with the thought of central A/C!

What was once a maze of framing and subfloor is now starting to materialize into a bathroom.  We now have a toilet stall,


the framing for two medicine cabinets and vanities,



and closets that connect to the bathroom!


Most exciting of all is the claw-foot tub!


What, you can’t see it?  That’s probably because the tub is still out in a barn :)  We went on an excursion to Walton & Smoot Pharmacy in downtown Woodstock. The pharmacy is still a family-owned business, and is still a social hub right in the heart of town; however, before it was a pharmacy, the building housed Woodstock’s hotel.  The second floor of the building is still the ghost of the old hotel, and sinks, toilets, and tubs are still plumbed in for the skeleton of each room. 


We were able to find a tub that wasn’t in bad condition, and with the help of a little muscle (a.k.a. Chad’s brother, Daniel, and his friend, Matt), we got the tub back to Edge Hill.  Once the floors are in, we’ll get that baby into place – until then, we are dreaming of the first soak.




Once this baby is all hooked up we are going to refinish and paint it to match the room. We are also jazzed to have the framing up for our shower…


…which holds water!  (see lower left corner, below).


Whew.  And to top it all off, last week the building inspector paid one of his merry visits and informed us that our rough in was good to go after we add in a few more electrical outlets (luckily none need to be cut into brick walls!).  WHAT GREAT NEWS!

After we add those outlets, the next step is to add copious quantities of insulation.  After this very cold winter in a non-climate controlled Big House, we are HUGE believers in insulation.


And, more good news: our drywall installation is booked for the end of June/beginning of July!  Things will really start taking shape over the next weeks, and a fall move-in date is looking to be within the realm of possibility.  Fingers crossed, and, of course, we’ll keep you posted!


The County Farm

We were very sad today to wake to the news that one of Shenandoah County’s most recognizable historic farm structures had succumb to fire early this morning.  The County Farm and its historic Alms House were ravaged by fire, and we understand that it is a near total loss.  The Alms House began its mission of providing a home for those in need in 1798, and has continued that mission in various forms up until today.  Fire is well known to be one of the greatest threats that our historic structures have to continually face, from the days of roaring cooking fires and candles to the modern era of outdated electrical workings that can prove prohibitively expensive to upgrade and maintain. The Northern Virginia Daily did a piece last year about the farm with a shot of it’s past condition, and the Shenandoah County Historic Society has an article detailing the County Farm’s long history.  For those unfamiliar, I was able to find this uncredited rendering of the farm (and if anyone can tell me who to credit I will gladly add that information to this post!):


Our wonderfully talented cousin, Marty French, captured the loss of the Alms House this morning:



While we don’t yet know what caused the fire at the Alms House, here at Edge Hill we are still utilizing wiring installed in the 1940s, and not without a great deal of trepidation.  None of our outlets are grounded, and countless dinner preparations have been interrupted by a breaker switching when we use our microwave and hotplate at the same time.  The process for updating the electrical systems in these old brick and plaster homes, however, is labor intensive.  As our Little House was a total gut job from the beginning, we can show you in detail what this process entails.  First, you must remove the old wiring:


When we began working on the Little House, this rat’s nest was still live (this picture is post shut-off)!  We didn’t actually think it was active given its state, but of course we double-checked before messing with any wires and found that power was still going to the Little House.


This gem was one of the connections we found in the house.  Yes, it is a mess of exposed wires that was just taped over with black electrical tape, and was in close proximity to the shredded newspaper that inhabitants from the 1940s used as insulation.  To remove the wiring, we had to literally rip it from behind the paster in the walls.  Next, we had to come up with our replacement plan, noting the modern code requirements for spacing of electrical outlets.  Since we are keeping the same plaster-over-brick finish in a number of the original walls, this meant calling in the brick masons to bury the new outdoor-rated wiring in our walls:


The masons had to saw channels into the brick to run the wiring and install the receptacle boxes.  As you might imagine, this is an incredibly dusty and difficult task.



From there, the lines are cemented into place with mortar:



In our case, the ends of the electrical lines are then fed through the floors and routed to the new panel box in our utility closet:


Needless to say, this already tricky task would be greatly compounded if you weren’t also working with open floors and crawl spaces to run the wiring.  We cringe to think of how difficult this will be to accomplish in the main house were we have detailed woodworking and original hand-painted walls that are over one-foot thick and solid brick.

Historic structures require their owners to be constantly endeavoring to update and maintain (read: Spend money!).  This process isn’t cheap and, on balance, requires owners to place an intrinsic value on the experience of preservation and the opportunity to share in a space that has sheltered generations through life’s trials.  I can’t count how many times we’ve questioned the sheer scale and timeline of our project here at Edge Hill, and each time we come to the same conclusion.  We want to be part of the history of this place.  We want to care for it and steward it so that future generations can contemplate the experiences of those who have gone before, and so that they too can leave their mark.

In closing, we ask you to think of the mission of the County Farm and Alms House.  For over 200 years the farm gave shelter and sustenance to those in need.  Those passing through its walls were facing some of life’s toughest struggles, and they took refuge in knowing that our community was dedicated to ensuring a safe place for all.  While we have lost a wonderful structure, that mission remains in our community.  The only question is what we will do going forward.

Houston, We Have a Roof!

It’s been one heck of a year to have an extreme and extended winter season.  Of course it would be the year that our living situation could be considered glorified camping.  When we last posted, it was snowy, cold, and not much progress was being made.  Until last week, it was STILL SNOWY, COLD, AND NOT MUCH PROGRESS WAS BEING MADE.


Luckily, we have had a turn in the weather, and thus an upturn in the level of progress around Edge Hill.  Once the roof on the Little House was framed,


then we needed the expertise of our roofer.  The next step was to put on a layer of roofing boards and top it with a layer of spray foam insulation.  Our craftsman, Colon, had been communicating with the roofers, and we didn’t even realize that progress on the roof had been scheduled.  We came home to find a glorious sight:


After the foam was installed, we still had to remove that pesky power line that was running through the second story of the addition.


Remember the DIGGING Chad did to create a trench for this step?


 The weather held, and the line was buried just in time to keep the roofing project on schedule.  It was one of those tasks that I thought might never happen – I thought we might just have a thick, black power line humming through our closet, which might not have been the safest idea.  The house looks much better without it!


With that last obstacle removed, and with amazing weather (in reality, I think it was only 50 degrees and overcast, but it was dry and above freezing – it’s all relative), the metal roof was finally put in place.




One of the truck drivers even commented that it was starting to look like a building again.

Once the roof was on, Colon got busy installing our salvaged windows.  First, he framed for the windows and cut holes in the exterior plywood according to our grand design.


(The two holes on the top are the last traces of the power line’s old route).  Next, Colon created new window frames.  Many of the original frames were either missing or too rotten to be saved.


One by one, Colon is now installing the windows into their respective holes.  Here you can see the top two windows have been installed – minus the lower pane in the left window:

IMG_0020This is a close up of the new upper right window set in place:


And here is the view from inside!


We still need to restore each of these windows with new paint and putty, but just getting them into place is a great feeling.

Today, we got more good news.  The building inspector was on site and he approved the framing!  We’ve heard building inspectors are usually wary of saw mill lumber because it does not come certified, but in our case, the engineer’s plans were more than enough to carry the day.

In addition to the house updates, a lot of our readers said they loved hearing about our chickens, and you’re in luck, because that saga has continued.  One of the truck company employees enlightened us about the chickens’ origins; evidently, they were deported!  One of the truck company’s livestock trucks returned to the farm empty and ready to be cleaned out.  When the driver opened the trailer to spray it down, out marched THREE chickens!  As you have probably surmised, Chad and I never laid eyes on Chicken #3 . . . (cue “The Circle of Life”).

The bad news is that, shortly after the last post, Chicken #2 vanished into thin air, as well.  This caused a noticeable change in Blizzard’s morale, and we were resolved to find him some friends before the depression really set in.  We purchased four hens over the phone, and then realized they would probably suffer the same fate as Chicken #2 and #3 if we didn’t build them a coop (as if we didn’t have enough to do).  Chad immediately seized an opportunity to develop a new Google Sketchup masterpiece.

Two weekends ago, we had a surprise visit from some law school friends and we enlisted the cheap labor for the first half of the construction project.  Thanks, Becky and Mark!




IMG_0025We built a floor that slides out so we can clean the coop more easily:



(New respect for our roofers – cutting these angles is no easy work!)


  We ultimately moved the whole structure using the skidloader and placed it around the side of the house near our garden and water spigot.  We had a close call unloading it, but all’s well that ends well:


We obviously still need to paint it, and we had an – ahem – temporary roof of black vapor barrier on just to get started.  Our girls arrived before our roofers did!  When the roofers came to put the big roof on the Little House, they also put a little roof on our chicken coop (apologies for the goofiness of the following candid):

IMG_0009The coop has two side doors – one for refilling water and one for refilling food.


The coop also has two perches and eight nesting boxes where the hens lay their eggs (of course all five of them use only one of the eight boxes):

IMG_0021 The nesting boxes are on a slight angle so that a) the hens don’t get too comfortable in there, and b) so the eggs will roll to be back of the boxes for retrieval and avoid being pecked by the hens.  There are also doors on the backs of the nesting boxes so we can snatch the eggs more easily:


We came home with four black copper French marans (black with red crests), which lay dark brown eggs that are supposedly great for cooking (they taste great to us!).  The chicken man also threw in a mixed breed brown leghorn (pronounced “leggern” if you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about) for free, who is our spunky girl.  She escaped within the first twenty-four hours and Chad had to seal crawl under the screened-in porch to rescue her.  Good thing we found her in time – it turns out the crawl space under the screened-in porch is like the Elephant Graveyard in the Lion King . . . lots of bones down there . . .

Status update: Blizzard has made a full recovery and is loving his harem.