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 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.



Raise the Roof

This winter has been an interesting winter to be without heat.  Like so many on the East Coast, we were caught in the “Polar Vortex” and figured out quickly that our pipes all freeze at 25 degrees or colder.  As a reminder, we are currently living in the Big House while the construction on the Small House continues, and the Big House currently does not have operational central heat.  Slippers, thermal underwear, and space heaters are key investments!  We should buy stock in the electric mattress pad company.  If anyone has any insight as to why our cold and hot taps suddenly switched when the pipes froze, we would be glad to learn about this plumbing miracle.

Not only does the water in our pipes freeze, but so does progress on outdoor construction projects…not surprising, but also not great for our very optimistic timeline.  Back around Thanksgiving, we put in a lumber order for the white pine that would form our roof.  Because our house is, well, atypical, we were not candidates for pre-made roof trusses.  We also wanted our craftsman to use the original wooden peg construction, so we were in need of a custom job.  Due to the long wait list, the freezing temperatures, snow, epic mud caused by the snow melt, and then more snow, the lumber order was two weeks late…and then another two weeks late…and then two more weeks late…well, you get the picture.

You can understand our sheer glee when these two deliveries showed up in our driveway:


Our craftsman, Colon, wasted no time in getting started on the project.  Hallelujah.  These gems were the preview of what was to come:


Just before our big snow day about ten days ago, Colon had enough of these bad boys to form the skeleton of the roof over the original structure.

photo 2

photo 3

Although our little snow storm wasn’t great for progress, the project did look beautiful in 15″ of snow.





These roof trusses then get covered with rows of 6″ roof boards.  We were able to scheme with Colon about the roof boards to make a really exciting change to our planned aesthetic.  Instead of insulating under the roof boards and then dry walling the ceilings of the bedrooms between each beam, leaving the beams exposed but the insulation covered, Colon will be able to insulate on the OUTSIDE of the roof boards (between the roof boards and the sheet metal that will form the exterior of the roof).  That way, we can have a COMPLETELY exposed roofing structure on the inside.  Minus some whitewash or paint, the ceilings of our bedrooms will look like this:



The change in roof design left us needing more lumber (of course).  Fortunately, at this point, we knew exactly how many beams the project would take, and we had a few more than we needed on hand.  However, we were short roofing boards.  Luckily, we were able to find a local who owned just the right saw and he was able to convert our surplus beams into roofing boards.  The project forged ahead.  What a relief after so many other lumber setbacks in the last few months!

After the Great Thaw, Colon was able to finish nearly all of the trusses and (hopefully) will be able to finish putting on roof boards this week.  Chad was able to climb Colon’s scaffolding for some pretty phenomenal shots that we likely will never have the opportunity to get again.  The burgeoning roof and the winter view are gorgeous.









What you’re seeing is the convergence of the roof over the original structure, which runs east and west, meeting the roof over the addition, which runs north and south.



What you may also have noticed is a poorly placed power line running through the second floor of the addition.  We promise that is NOT part of the final plan.  This is the power line that runs electricity to the main house.  Clearly, this needs to be moved.  The idea was to bury the power line, splitting off one portion to the Big House, one portion to the smokehouse, and one portion to the Little House.  Since we already have an idea of the Big House’s power needs, we are hoping to kill two birds with one stone – or one trench.

Unfortunately, this, too, became a little bit of an ordeal.  Sadly, the first trench was dug in the wrong place and was too shallow.  0-1.  Then, it was either frozen or muddy, making it difficult to re-dig.  0-2.  Finally, with a little more digging (didn’t we say we were DONE WITH DIGGING???), we got a trench in the correct place.  The conduit has been run, and as soon as the electric team can get back out, the line will get buried.  We’d do it ourselves, but electrocution might not be worth saving a couple of extra days.





In addition to running the conduit, the electric team has already installed our panel box, which is located in our future utility room/pantry.



Lastly, we’ve brought new meaning to the phrase, “meanwhile, back on the ranch…”  Just before the snowstorm, I went outside with the dogs and noticed an unusual rustling in our 15-foot boxwood.  After a few moments, out popped a ROOSTER.  Just to be clear, we do not own a rooster, nor have we ever seen one near our house.  We don’t have particularly close neighbors, so it is a little bit of a mystery where the rooster wandered away from.  The next day was the big snow, and we found the poor guy stranded in a snowbank:


Chad half carried, half herded him into our worse-for-wear screened-in porch.  Currently, we are using the porch to store insulated concrete forms, or ICFs, that will one day form the foundation for our addition on the Big House.  They are adult-sized, styrofoam legos into which you poor concrete, providing both stability and insulation.  As it turns out, they also make a great playground for roosters.




The rooster, or Blizzard as he has become known more fondly, decided to stick around.  Not only has he taken to a diet of corn from the grain bins and “layer” feed we purchased at the store, but after about a week, he enticed a lady friend to immigrate with him.  They are a little shy and don’t like to pose for pictures, but here are the best shots we’ve been able to get:



Since they are now a struggling, young couple like ourselves, we decided to upgrade them from the ICF coop to something a little more comfortable.  Today, we cleaned out the porch, threw away a bunch of stuff, and organized the ICF blocks.  We had originally tried to craft a coop for Blizzard out of an old file cabinet that we found on the porch…



…and today, we turned it on its side to make it more accommodating for a companion.


I think this chicken coop is very symbolic of our current living situation.  Not beautiful, but we’re working with what we’ve got.  And, hopefully next week, “what we’ve got” will include a roof on the Little House!  Hurray!






Little House, Big Question

Loyal Blog Readers-  Thanks for your patience!  We’ve had to exercise some patience ourselves as our fears of a winter slow-down have come true.  But nevertheless, we have made SOME progress.  When we last left off, we had gotten the house exterior walls all framed up, and were hoping to plow forward with framing the roof with yellow pine.  Unfortunately, the weather these last couple of months have been difficult for harvesting the timber we need for the roof.  We are currently exploring our options on that front, so, in other news…

In taking apart the last bits of the little house for the framing, we made some interesting discoveries.  If you recall the original layout of the little house, there were two rooms on the first floor, and two rooms on the second.  In the rendering below, the original structure is the two rooms to the north.  Our new kitchen will be on the left, and the living room with the original stairs in the corner is the room to the right.

Downstairs Floor Plan

Those two rooms connect via a doorway to the north of the fireplace in the rending above, shown below:


We have always assumed that this doorway was original, connecting the two rooms of the downstairs.  However, when we got to demoing, we began seeing ghosts!  Architectural ghosts, that is.  We actually found our first clues from the other doorways in the structure.  By examining the brickwork around a door frame or window, we can clearly see where a door was in the original design of the building.  The bricks that form the door openings are all smooth, and there are distinct notch outs where a brick is missing:


During demo, we found wooden, brick-shaped blocks wedged into those notches, and then the frames of the doors were nailed into those wooden blocks; nails into brick and mortar tend to fail quickly.  This wood block system was also used on the downstairs baseboard.  You can see the perfectly missing brick voids below in the course just below where the plaster ends (the wooden blocks came out with the baseboard when we removed them for storage and restoration).


In moving to the other doors and windows in the house, it became clear that the two doors that connected the original brick structure to its 1940s addition (shown in an older photo, below):


And here is a shot of one of the connecting doorways, sans door frame and 1940s addition:


And here is where the distinction between original and added-later becomes clear:


As noted above, the bricks along the top portion of this doorframe are smooth-edged, indicating that they were part of the plan from the start.  The lower half of the doorway has bricks that were clearly broken out.  Thus, it is our theory that there were originally windows on the back walls of the downstairs rooms, and that when the 1940s addition was constructed, those windows were expanded into doors!  Also, the wood used on those later door frames is about 1/2 inch thick, whereas the wood on the original doors is at least 1 inch thick (shown below):


Now, returning to the door connecting the two original downstairs rooms, the edges of those brick are ALL roughly hacked.


Thus, our theory is that this interior connecting door was added later.  This theory is also supported by the fact that the little house has two original front doors, which would provide independent access to each downstairs room:


Also interesting: during our demo, we discovered that the stairs are physically built right into the baseboard of the downstairs living room, and their upstairs railing and pine paneling attach directly to the upstairs floor joists, above where the lath and plaster ceiling originally hung, having never been painted!


Thus, we have a high degree of confidence that the stairs are also original to the structure.  So, here is the big mystery, what was the little house originally used for?!?

Our current theory is that it was a combination of a laundry/kitchen and sleeping/living quarters.  This seems to fit with the general description of laundries as being close to the main house.  This need for proximity might also explain why this structure, partially used for housing workers, is made out of brick rather than timber.  It seems that the builders of Edge Hill, having already gone to the luxury of building a brick smoke house, may have similarly spared no expense on this structure that needed to be close to the main house.

What do you think?

In closing, I want to thank all of our readers who have followed our progress!  There is so much more to come in 2014 and beyond, and in times when it seems that the going is slow, I look at these few pictures:


Chad & Rachel DA-108



We have already come so far!

up Up UP!

At the end of our last post we had gotten the first floor joists installed in the addition and and some of the exterior walls framed up.   IMG_0093

Over the next couple of weekends the framing crew continued hard at work, with rather dramatic results.  During this phase it was so satisfying to see all of our hard planning realized in a physical structure!

The weekend following our last post we continued pushing forward, expanding into the original structure and up!  First, we added the last wall on the first floor addition, which abuts the original structure to carry the floor joists of the second story of the addition.  IMG_0088

Once all four walls were erected, we then had to make sure the structure was plumb and square.  Luckily one of our crew has a bit of experience, and he strung up a line along the rear of the wall with this temporary two by four block.  IMG_0090We then lined up another two by four using the string as a guide, and began adding the temporary braces, keeping everything square.


This part involved a lot of hammering into position.



Finally we were able to begin adding our second story floor joists!




The next step was to put down the sub flooring of the second story.  Luckily, a few of the farm tools come in quite handy during the construction phase:


The flooring was installed using nails and glue to make sure we got a good tight fit.


As we neared completion on the sub flooring, we left Dan a “Go-For” hole so he could get the tools up to the second story:

IMG_0126The area around Dan is where our spiral staircase will eventually be installed.  After we got the subfloor down for the second story, we went back to the first story and installed plywood sheeting on the exterior walls. We then moved into the house, installing the first floor joists on the new poured concrete and cement block foundation that the masons had previously installed.  In the photos below, you can see the framing around the fireplace in what will be our future kitchen:


After we installed the floor joists in the main house we went back with vapor barrier, and installed the sheeting underneath the crawl space, stapling everything to the framing:



Once the vapor barrier was down, we debated whether we wanted to frame any interior walls, but ultimately decided to so we can conveniently run wiring and utilities in the few necessary areas. First, we had to install a portion of sub flooring to rest the framed walls upon.  We did not install wall to wall sub flooring in the original first floor rooms yet, we still need to run HVAC, plumbing and electric, as we won’t have crawl access to that area once the floors are complete.


Also, you can see how the brick walls have been roughly parged for strength.  The exposed walls will get a finish coat of the parging cement, and will be white washed.


After the interior framing was complete, the second story floor joists were installed inside the main structure:


In the picture below, you can just make out the course of cinder block peaking out from behind the framed wall.  During the planning phase we decided to steal five inches of ceiling high from the second story and give ourselves some extra head room on the first floor.  With the perspective we now have with the framing, we are so happy we took this extra step!  We are planning exposed vaulted ceilings in the second story, so the head room we stole won’t be missed upstairs.



With the floor joists in, we then installed the sub flooring in the second story of the main house.





IMG_0171Next, we framed up the second story exterior walls and faced them with plywood.  Here you can see us making sure the walls are square as they went up: IMG_0129


And last, but certainly not least, we framed the interior walls.  Well, two walls, a powder room, and a utility room.  Everything else is open!

Our upstairs bathroom will go between these two walls, the extra-wide opening is for the installation of pocket doors.


Utility room on the left, downstairs half bath on the right:



Our next post will focus on some of the logistical considerations we have been juggling, and some interesting architectural finds.



The Great Frame-Up

As you know, our forward progress this summer was . . . a little slow, to say the least.  Between studying for the bar and the scheduling delays of some of our professionals, things were moving at a snail’s pace.  Our optimism took a minor hit, as well – we quickly realized that our goal of moving into the Little House by the time the weather got chilly had been a little ambitious.  In the last week or two, however, the pace has really picked up and we are feeling really motivated once again!

After the footers were framed in, we had a few things we needed to get done:

1) Get the concrete footers poured

2) Pour gravel

3) Build a radon vent (Surprise!  We didn’t know we need this until the building inspector came out and failed our site)

4) Lay cinder block on top of the footers

5) Install foundation vents

6) Add a vapor barrier over the gravel, pour the crawl space floor

Here’s what the poured footers looked like:


Once the footers were poured, we got our DIY hats back on.  Chad’s brother helped get the gravel into the hole, and we used gravel rakes to spread it evenly around the foundation space.



The concrete footers then got topped off with a wall of cinder block.


Please note the very fancy RED cinder block – bought for pennies on the dollar from Dollar General after it purchased too many signature red blocks for building a new location down the road.  Score!  Four courses of cinder block sit on top of the footers to make up the wall:

IMG_0061And voila, with a little help from our masons, we had a wall!



We also built a radon vent – this is nestled into the ground when the gravel is put in, and helps flush the radon out without poisoning the house.  The radon system wasn’t something we were warned about during our initial building permit approval; however, when we had our foundation walls inspected, the inspector kindly noted our absence of radon vent.  Of course, this head’s up came 24 hours before the concrete foundation was scheduled to be poured . . . and the vent needs to be installed BEFORE the concrete.  Luckily, it turns out this portion of the radon vent is just PVC pipe, so we used the same bonding agent we had used for the smokehouse conduit.  And yes, I am wielding a sledge hammer.



After hearing “radon vent” and “we’re going to do this ourselves,” I was a little skeptical, but after we were done, I was almost underwhelmed with how easy it was.  Wham, bam, two PVC pipes, and thank you, ma’am.  As you can see, the gravel also got covered with vapor barrier as the final step.

One of the last steps before framing was to buy and “install” foundation vents.  I say “install” because after opening the box, there’s not much to it.  The mason’s left holes in the cinder block wall periodically, and we just slid the vents into the hole.  Chad splurged on these and spent an extra $10/vent to get the temperature sensing auto open and close models.  No need to remember twice a year openings and closings!  You can see one of the vents in the bottom left-hand corner of the picture, below.


Finally, after all these steps were complete, the concrete company came and poured our crawl space floor!  It’s a little hard to see in the picture below, but we swear that’s concrete.


After all this was done, we called in the big guns for THE day – framing, part 1.  It is hard to explain our joy when we woke up around 6 a.m. last Saturday to see this next to our house:


We had a crew of 4-6 through the day helping us get the job done.  We figured everyone works a little better with a full stomach, so we started with a breakfast spread:


And then we got to work.  First, a layer of vapor barrier went on top of the cinder block wall, topped with pressure treated wood (“plate”).  The masons filled the cinder blocks with concrete and left a bolt sticking out periodically; this allowed us to tie the plate into the wall.  Here’s Chad with the roll of blue vapor barrier:




Here’s an aerial shot of the bolt that ties into the cinder block:


Once the plate was bolted in around the entire wall, then we could set our floor joists at regular intervals.


You can see in the above picture that they’ve left a square hole; this will be a trap door in our utility closet that will allow access to the crawl space under the house.  Here’s a shot from in the crawl space up at the newly laid floor joists:


The guys covered the floor joists with glue and then laid down sheets of sub-floor.


Just in time for us to set up lunch in our brand-new addition (even if it’s a little exposed to the elements right now):


Chad literally danced a jig on the new sub-floor.  Finally, the crew framed the walls.  They constructed them on the floor and once they were finished they lifted them up into place – like a small-scale barn raising.


Then, up, up, and away!



And, a panoramic:


Hooray!  We even walked off the rooms to get a feel for how big the spaces would be.  Here’s the 3D model we posted a couple of posts ago:

Downstairs Floor Plan

The white block at the top is the front porch, so the large rectangular space across the bottom is the new addition.  It’s got a mud room on the right, a powder room, and a living room on the left.  The utility closet with the trap door is the small, square room right in the middle of the addition.  It’s a little breezy now, but some day (hopefully soon), this will be quite a comfortable space.

Sadly, our building inspector had more bad news than just the radon vent.  He also said that the dirt floors inside the existing brick structure (the front rooms on the 3D model, above) need to be 18″ below the floor joists.  We had originally thought it needed to be 18″ below the FLOOR – as you can tell from the process described above, the floor height and the bottom of the floor joists are a good 14″-16″ difference.  And you may have picked up by now that shoveling dirt ranks as one of my least favorite chores in the whole world.  It is really, really not fun.  Luckily, we were able to help recruit Chad’s brother, Daniel, to lend his strong muscles to the cause.

This is my “oh my gosh, we’re shoveling again” picture.  This is before the shoveling began.


Look, Daniel found a groundhog hole!  How gross is that??


And inside the hole: a beautiful crafted nest of shredded paper.  Ugh.


And, the beautiful, beautiful final product.  In most places, we shoveled down the full 14″-18″.


You can see we had to dig so far down that we hit the bottom of of the hearth.  We’re going to have to ask the masons about how we make sure that’s not a structural problem . . .


This is an example of what one of the next steps will be: the same thing as outside.  We will lay vapor barrier and plate, then floor joists, and then sub-floor.

IMG_0055We’ve always been impressed by the good work our masons do – you can see that they laid the cinder block footers perfectly.  It might be the first time this old house has had level floors!


At the end of the day we were exhausted, but so excited.  If the rain ever ends, we will frame the second floor of the addition and lay the floor joists inside the original structure.  We’re moving in the right direction!

Strong Foundations

As you saw in our last post, we were prepping for our foundations to be poured in the renovation of the Little House.  We also had some concrete work scheduled for the smoke house, which will bring us even closer to putting the finishing touches on our first official renovation project at Edge Hill.  Hard to believe!

If you recall, when we moved in the smoke house was the structure that was in greatest need of some immediate TLC.   Over the last year, the structure has been gutted, repaired, repointed, excavated, re-timbered, roofed, and the first layer of interior parging has been applied.  To get the building ready for its lifetime use as our workroom/tool shed/staging area for other rehab projects (think windows!), we wanted to upgrade from a dirt to a concrete floor.

We had already excavated the floor in the smoke house over twelve inches to make room for the concrete, and the next step was prepping the space for the future utilities (electric and water).  Rachel and I got crafty, and went to Lowe’s to pick up some conduit and pipe glue:


We excavated even further down, fully under the brick foundation of the structure, in order to run our conduit pipes from the inside to the outside.  Then we glued everything – straight pieces of conduit and conduit elbow joints – together:


Next, we put down a sheet of vapor barrier to protect the concrete, and then topped that with gravel.


Enter the big guns!  Dad showed up with a bucket loader that could JUST fit through the opening of the smoke house door.  He brought the gravel into the smoke house this way, saving our backs from hours of wheelbarrow work.  Look at how close he was on the clearance – just about two inches – AFTER we took the door frames out!




We carefully covered the vapor barrier with about four inches of stone to form a nice, solid base for the concrete, and then the guys from the concrete company came and leveled and prepped the space with a rebar grid:


About a week after everything was prepped, we awoke one morning to a glorious sight backing down our driveway!



They made short work of pouring the floor:


*Better pictures of the concrete floor will be added ASAP!

…and in almost no time they were on to the next project: the foundations for the Little House’s addition!  They set up the forms for the new footers:


IMG_0023   IMG_0024

Now that the forms are in, we are waiting on the county building inspector to come give the stamp of approval, and then the concrete guys will be back to actually pour the footers.   Once the concrete has dried, the whole project gets turned back over to the masons, who will lay the masonry for the crawl space.  Our cinder blocks arrived on site last week and are poised and ready!


Can’t wait for the Little House to officially exit the demolition stage and enter the this-is-finally-starting-to-look-better stage!

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!