Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Framing in the Master Bath

Framing in the master bath.  I suppose now it has to happen, which is exciting!
I also bought a gorgeous double console vanity sink to go in front of those big windows.

Meanwhile, I am stenciling the front sunroom floor and prepping for total kitchen withdrawal.  Something is always happening here!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Chimneys! Chimneys everywhere!

Today we discovered a fireplace!  

Well, not exactly, I knew based on the floor patching that one had been there at some point, and then it had been walled in.  I assumed that any remnant of it was walled in at the same time that the chimney had been taken down, but I was wrong!  Our electricians discovered it while wiring the living room sconces, and today Ben decided to tear down the wall so we could see what it looks like!

If you are not as mesmerized as I am by Ben tearing down walls, feel free to skip to 1:20-- I don't know how to edit videos.



Also, we discovered that there is another chimney.  One that I had no idea about!

The dining room on both floors has an arch, which you can kind of see in the picture below.  I always thought someone must have wanted an arch here and imagined that it was hollow.  However, the right hand side, which is against an exterior wall, encases another chimney!  Now we know that our house has a coal room and a coal chute, so of course it would have a coal chimney as well coming from the basement, so it was silly of me not to realize the purpose of the arch.  Now I know!

The brick of the chimney means we have to re-work our master bathroom plans for the eleventh time, but I really do love finding out the historic placement of everything.

And another little piece of history that we found inside the walls today.
It reads "Lathe Carried by Members of the Lathe Carrier's Union of Chicago"


Preserving / Adding Historic Character

Our first apartment as newlyweds had a cinderblock walls and half-size windows, as it was sunken into the ground.  It was a new-build: small, poorly ventilated (the fire alarms went off if we used a wok, the bathroom was always humid), and had but one tiny closet to share. I think the large fridge was the only thing to like about that apartment.

When we first moved to Evanston, we moved into the most gorgeous, historic apartment anyone could ask for.  It was huge and spacious, with 17 large windows, tall ceilings, wainscoting, mirrored French doors, original doors and knobs, and it was one block from the lake.  It was a perfect example of untouched historic character, but the kitchen was dated, the bathroom was in disrepair, and lead paint flaked onto windowsills and corners.  I also wasn't quite sure that I trusted the roof of the building, but we were on first floor.  I don't know that I would have bought that apartment as a condo, although beautiful, it really showed its age in some expensive areas.

Now we have a historic house that's been kept in good repair throughout the years.  Part of that "good repair" entails some design elements that I would not have chosen, and that I wish were a little less "budget" and a bit more in keeping with the style of the house, but that's why we're here!  Here is an estimated timeline of when things were "fixed" in the house:

1919: House is built

1920's: Front porch is walled in to create a front sunroom on both floors
              Seems a bit early, but either that or they found some 1920s windows somewhere.

1950's: Pastel tile is added to the walls of both kitchens.  
              Radiator covers are added
              Literally everything is painted aqua, I uncover this paint color everywhere

1970's: Massive renovations are done in 70's (unfortunately).
              -Vinyl tile is added to both bathrooms
              -Vinyl tile is added over kitchen hardwood (thank goodness they put a layer of    plywood between)
              -Rust-colored shag carpeting! long gone by the time we moved in, found traces
              -Caned ceiling fans, everywhere
              -Back porch is enclosed with dark wood paneling
              -Kitchen cabinets are replaced / added

2011: Downstairs is made limited-mobility accessible:
              -1919 swinging door between kitchen and dining room is removed
              -Pantry shelves are cut out downstairs to inset fridge

2013: Rowhouses are sold en masse to a developer who fixes them up for individual sale
              -Original bedroom doors on both floors are replaced with hollow-core
              -Walls are given an expert skim coat and painted with a sprayer
              -Floors don't fare well with the paint sprayer, new cheap carpet installed
              -Electric line from city to house is re-done
              -Sink vanities are replaced
              -One closet door is replaced with a folding closet door
              
We got a few good things and a lot of nasty things out of the years of other owners and inhabitants.  I like the radiator covers for certain rooms, and I really appreciate the awesome state of our lovely walls, with the historic molding still maintained in most rooms.  But there's a lot to reverse, hopefully with the help of some architectural reclamation projects!


  1. Rip up tile on kitchen walls (check) and re-plaster
  2. Remove carpeting and refinish hardwood (one floor down, one to re-finish)
  3. Replace kitchen cabinets (soon!)
  4. Rebuild downstairs pantry
  5. Move upstairs swinging door to downstairs
  6. Replace hollow core bedroom doors with salvaged, solid wood doors with nice knobs
  7. Replace oddball folding closet door
  8. Put a fireplace mantel (non-functioning for now) back into living room
A nice article I've been referencing on adding historic character here.
              -Use old doors and knobs
              -Open up shelves
              -Use vintage hardware on cabinets in kitchen and bath
              -Crown molding
              -Antique-inspired plumbing fixtures and lighting
              -Roller shades and curtains instead of blinds
              -Beadboard to cover ceilings
              -Replace plastic lightswitch plates
              

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Boring, Hard Stuff

Although watching Ben tear things apart with his bare hands is really awe-inducing, and despite the fact that the house has all these amazing historic features, there are some things that are just not so amazing about renovating a house that's almost 100 years old.

#1: 95-year-old electricity...  Now of course you know it's NOT up to code.  When we bought it, we were pleased to learn at the inspection that the most expensive wiring on the outside of the house had been replaced very recently.  That's good.  But the whole inside does need to be replaced.  Ugh.  Of course, it's survived 95 years without doing any harm, but might as well tear up everything all at the same time.  Hence, here we are, ripping up our perfectly fine ceilings to replace scary wires.  These wires are so old that they have CERAMIC FUSES.

Here's our ceiling with a giant track of disaster cut into it.


If this were a hand-written letter, it would have a teardrop on it.

Unfortunately, this is the way it is supposed to look.  And every room will have something like it to patch up!!  

Now, there's a really easy way to do wiring that doesn't involve chopping your ceilings to bits.  Super easy: you just take a certain kind of new, flexible wire and tie the end of it to your 1919 wiring, and pull on the old wiring.  The old wiring pulls through your ceilings and walls, and drags the new wiring into the place where it used to be.  Wonderfully simple, right?

Well, it's illegal in Illinois.

The only kind of wiring that's allowed is inflexible- meaning giant holes everywhere and hiring an electrician.

So, there's that.  [Commence escapism, where I scour Craigslist for antiques and make entire Pinterest boards of kitchen cabinet hinges]

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse

My new favorite place? Salvage warehouses!  I went, expecting a few plasticky sink vanities, some unidentifiable twisted wires, and maybe an unusable clawfoot tub - well, all those things were there, but it was huge and amazing and filled with good finds!  

After a delicious breakfast of pasta tossed in toasted chili oil, yogurt, and fresh herbs, we set out to the salvage warehouse.  Being a traditionalist with a penchant for both classical and Victorian eras, I gravitated towards the marble.  I pretended to be a casual browser, but my brain was in total hoarder mode and it was all I could do not to collapse and sob tears of gratefulness onto a giant, stained slab of public restroom marble.  It was natural stone, and antique!  WITH STORIES!  But I stepped away eventually, marble is a very absorbent stone after all.  When I finally looked up, I met the purpose of my visit, a  marble sink vanity, in great condition, with elaborate beveling and gray streaks running through.  No stains.  It was lovely, and this one I actually felt comfortable touching!  So I held on to it like my inner-hoarder demanded until Ben came to lift it.  








Next we went over to the hardwood flooring.  We have on the lookout for minimal amounts of similar era hardwood to patch flooring problems on the first floor, which has some damage under the radiators that we want to patch.  We found some good flooring at a very good price, and they even offered to hold it for us until we could come back for it with a truck.





I also stumbled across some gorgeous, black-and-white marble basketweave tile that I couldn't resist at $30 for *almost* enough to do one of the bathrooms.  (I'm a horrible person, I know, now I have to track down tile that matches it).  It looks just like this, in fact I think it is the same tile.  I need just 5 or 6 more.  I'm pretty sure that this is the tile.  If it is, I definitely got a deal on it.  I paid $30 for $400 of tile.
I'm done with shopping for the weekend, and back to my weekend to-do list:
  1. Vacuum sawdust from sunroom floor
  2. Prime sunroom
  3. Paint sunroom
  4. Stop storing construction stuff upstairs, move it all downstairs
  5. Organize the pantry
  6. Finish off and seal sunporch floor


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Decanting Shampoo

Decanting: Either people love it or they think that you're crazy for doing it.  For awhile now, I have been decanting pantry staples into glass containers.  For most pantry items, this makes perfect sense - a large, thin plastic bag of rice is just waiting to spill.  Also, with just two people to feed, we go through food rather slowly, so it really does need an airtight container to keep for months.

With our new house, we got this lovely window in the shower.  It's glass brick so it's private but lets through lovely eastern exposure sunlight in the morning.  We have all this morning sunlight streaming in... onto a mess of mismatched shampoo bottles.  

I decided last week to decant the shampoo into matching bottles.  I ordered amber plastic bottles from SKS, and I designed and printed some black and white labels for them today.  Now everything matches nicely!




Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Mulford History


In September of 1836, one of Evanston's first permanent settlers arrived, traveling along the Green Bay Trail. The Green Bay Trail started from what is now Rush Street and ran along the ridge (now known as Ridge Avenue in Evanston).  His name was Mr. Edward Mulford. Mulford had come west at the age of 42 to engage in the jewelry business with his sons.  He had planned to continue further westward but as he stood on the ridge and looked down onto the land surrounding Lake Michigan he decided to settle on top of the “ridge”. 


Copy of the land grant to Mulford signed by President John Tyler


Edward Mulford bought his two sections of government land (160 acres) at the usual price of $1.25 an acre and named this area Ridgeville. Mulford built a log house on the west side of the ridge opposite of where Calvary Cemetery now stands. At that time, there was nothing located between these two areas; although, they were some distance away, and most of the land between was a swamp.  After a few years, the Mulfords built a larger house across the street on the east side where St. Francis Hospital now stands. This was called the Ten-Mile House and Tavern because it was located ten miles from the Chicago courthouse on the Green Bay Trail. The Ten-Mile House was a stage stop and it was there that Mulford started Ridgeville’s first Post Office, which carried mail by foot until 1836 when the Green Bay Trail Stagecoach Line was established. Later the Post Office was moved to approximately where the main Post Office now stands. Pioneers from all over stopped at Mulford’s Ten-Mile House. Mulford had the foresight to see that people would be attracted to the area he called Ridgeville and that it would become an important settlement and stopping place. Mulford would stand by his front door and point out to his neighbors the probable route of a train that he felt would soon come to Ridgeville. People often laughed at his prediction because he had pointed to the swamp; yet this is almost precisely where the first railway was placed. Although the town grew up alongside the railroad, during the wet season, the swamp expanded and after the first school was built on the corner of Ridge and Greenleaf in 1842, children often had to use rafts and boats to get to school during the wet parts of the year. 

Ridgeville was the first name given to the station by the railway company. Mulford was Ridgeville’s first white settler, first post master, first justice of the peace, first Deacon of the Baptist Church, and the first to call the ridge “Ridgeville”, and make the name stick. Mulford lived in his second house for ten years during which time he began construction of his third and final house. His third house was located on the west side of Ridge Avenue just slightly south of where he built his first house and it housed three generations of Mulfords. It was Evanston’s first two-story frame house, and he called his estate Oakton.  Mulford sold his Ten-Mile House to James Kirk and it later became the James Kirk Mansion, which became Saint Francis Hospital. Mulford’s house at 250 Ridge Avenue stood until 1963. In 1963, this historic Evanston landmark was torn down by the Dunbar Builders Company to enable them to build Evanston’s first condominium. Parts of this house were saved and given to the Evanston Historical Society, but the house itself, Evanston’s first frame house and the home of Ridgeville’s, and subsequently Evanston’s, founder, was destroyed. 

In 1857, the General Assembly of Illinois, by special act, incorporated Ridgeville into Evanston and the name of the Post Office was changed from Ridgeville to Evanston. In 1939, the Ridgeville Park District was formed to serve the needs of the people of South Evanston, taking the name of Ridgeville in commemoration to Evanston’s first and oldest community. 


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Choosing Kitchen Hardware

I really like the finish on this sink.  It should also be easy to install and clean because of the sink base.  With the light grey cabinets, I think brass hardware looks warmer.  
It seems like it might be tricky to match perfectly to cabinet hardware, but here are my ideas so far.

Cabinet knobs-- these would go on the all cabinets with doors, except for the very top cabinets.

Matchbox Latches - these would go on the little square, topmost upper cabinets

Drawer Pulls: I am still undecided on these, but I like the shape.  They are similar to the nickel ones that I bought for the upstairs kitchen cabinets, which I like.  But I am not sure they match the finish of the rest of it.  I might order samples of each of these, and take them home and see how they look together in the right light.
There's also these cup pulls [below], but I'm getting just a little tired of seeing cup pulls in kitchens.  These are nicer than the usual because they're a little bit more boxy, but I'm just tired of cup pulls in general.




Monday, July 21, 2014

Restoring a House in the City

Restoring a House in the City, by Ingrid Abramovitch.  I love this book-- it's such a huge resource of information from people who have done this whole process before.  All of the houses are so lovely, and I really like that this book is organized by "Most Historically Accurate" to "Most Modern".  There are also little sections on key areas of trouble: hardwood floors, entryways, woodwork, masonry, etc.