Obviously re-constructing is a slower process than demolition. But we had a small milestone yesterday – our new, larger window, presented here side-by-side with what was there before.
You can se that it’s about the same width, but taller, with the extra transom panel on top.
The kitchen is along the north side of the house. It has always been dark. The new window is already bringing in considerably more light. And being on the north side, it will never be a conduit for the direct blast of the summer sun’s heat.
Not sure what’s on tap today, but it’s fun to come home and see the progress each evening.
OK. The kitchen rehab enters the beginning of the “we’ve taken it all away – now we put it back” phase.
As I reported on FaceBook, those remaining walls and ceiling bits had to go. The previous homeowner, in a typical fit of doing things in the cheapest, and most stupid way, used a low grade of plain old wallboard underneath the skim coat plaster when he ripped out the original lath and plaster during his redo of the room in the early ‘80s. That means that they were not salvageable. We had not planned on taking down the parts that were not going to be modded, but we were forced to because the walls were crumbling. Oh well… There’s no such thing as a renovation of a vintage house that does not involve an Unexpected Surprise.
What’s there right now looks more or less like it did when this picture was taken on Friday.
All the way back to the studs that used to support the lath and plaster, everywhere (with the previous stage picture provided for comparison.
Monday the crews came back, and removed the last bit of flooring underneath the radiant heater where the sink used to be, the room radiator and washing machine/dryer – disconnecting the water lines to do so.
They also roughed in the main plumbing lines. We are moving the sink from underneath the window to the other side of the room. While it’s nice to have the window view, moving the sink gives us a large span of prep counter adjacent to the rangetop, and allows us to put the dishwasher on the right hand side – much more convenient for us right-handed folk. But to do this, they had to relocate the main water and waste lines, and remove the unused components from the old location.
So progress towards reconstruction has officially started. From now on in, things should start to appear, rather than disappear.
Aside from the continuing drama of living in a construction zone, I did get to peel off this weekend and have some fun. I went to an SCA event – the Hrim Schola held in Barony Beyond the Mountain, on Saturday. For my non SCAdian friends, the day was a roster of classes in technique and history, focused on needlework, weaving, knotting, knitting, and allied techniques and tools. It was held in southern Connecticut.
First of all, I have to thank Needlework Pal Mistress Kathryn Goodwyn (she of “too many centuries, too little time”) for providing me with a suitable dress. I have been an SCA recluse for many years, and really and truly had nothing to wear. Since the day is done in historical dress, I could not have gone without her assistance. Sad to say, although I promised to take a photo of her Anne of Brittany dress and hood, I forgot… Still, many people admired it and gave me compliments on it, and were delighted to find out that it came from her hand, so many years ago.
Second I want to thank Lady Eadgyth for prodding me to attend, and to Aaradyn, Lady Ysane, and the rest of the Occasional Weekend Sewing Circle for helping me mend the gown and dress me in it (it takes a committee to do this).
I had a ton of fun, learning how to do Elizabethan-era plaited braid stitch in metal thread, seven or eight variants of lucet cord (I lost track of how many we covered), and swinging a hammer to dish out a small copper thimble from a disc of copper. While I can’t swear to the efficiency of metalworking while wearing a corset, I did produce a result. The teachers of these classes also deserve copious thanks for making the day worthwhile – respectively, the talented Elaine Howys, Lady Eadgyth, and the very patient Anton Leflamme. (Apologies if honors or names are mangled).
And one thing made the day even more special. I finally met my Stealth Apprentice. This green belt, when finished, will be for her:
Yes, it’s more conventional to give an actual green belt rather than a representation of one, but I’ve always been unconventional. And this way she can choose the style of her belt herself, to match whatever period garb she prefers.
Her name? Well, she is a Stealth Apprentice, after all. I’ll let her chime in if she so desires. 🙂
Progress! The soffits we worried about two days ago turned out to be improvised and totally non-structural. And the walls we wanted gone were similarly non-load-bearing. So they are now all gone. Our kitchen has been reduced to a bare-bones box.
The awful pink tile is also gone. It had been affixed to plywood, which was mounted on top of the original oak flooring. That turned out to be too damaged to salvage, but we anticipated that – our new design includes new tile. With the old tile and underlayments gone, the new tile can be installed flush with the existing floors on the rest of the downstairs. No more 3/4-inch “trip me” strips at the doorways!
In terms of house archaeology, a few things have been revealed. I get a big smile from the wide-board underfloor, now exposed. You just don’t find slabs of tree like that in a new house.
You can see the footprint of the old butler’s pantry pass-through on either side of the door to the dining room. Those cabinets and dry sink were long gone before we moved in, although the butler’s pass-through still exists in the sister house next door to us.
Also harder to see, is the framing for the heat grille that brought kitchen warmth up to the bedroom that’s now Elder Daughter’s – which must have been the nursery at one time. The grille is gone from upstairs, and the floor is patched in there, but looking up at the ceiling now exposed below, you can see the frame in which the vent used to sit.
On the far wall are remnants of old knob and tube wiring. My contractor is VERY happy we have written certification that all knob and tube in the house is dead, a victim of the general house re-wire we had done when we first moved in.
Another thing that isn’t shown well here is the framing for two windows in the kitchen, both larger than the remaining old over-sink window. We know they existed from faint scars in the stucco outside, but we still have framing for them inside. This turns out to be a good thing.
The last bit of interest revealed are marks on the overhead joists, which show where the original lath and plaster ceiling existed. It was full-height – the same as in the rest of the downstairs. Having that room overhead again will make the kitchen feel much larger, and will keep it cooler in the summer.
Now having almost maxed out on the Destruction Phase, we begin Reconstruction.
First up today – the new windows. Four to be exact. The two in the dinette area replace the existing ones, with no change in dimension (I would have liked to make one of those bigger, but budget realism manifested). The other two replace the smaller window that is over where the sink used to be. We will be re-using some of the old window framing to put in a new window plus a transom panel above it, to bring more light into the north-facing room, and to use up some of the awkward space between the window area and the now significantly higher ceiling.
Demolition begins. Goodbye trashy counters and sink. That one square of green plastic backsplash remains to taunt me…
Now to find out if Hidden Horrors lurk below the surface. With luck, the structure revealed by the removal of the soffits existed purely to form the soffits. It doesn’t appear to be weight-bearing, but The Experts will advise us tomorrow.
(Yes, the active laundry was removed long before the crew arrived.)
More updates as things develop further. Photo credits and thanks to the Resident Male, for documenting today’s progress.
Things here at String Central are about to be totally up-ended. We’ve now lived in the New House for about 10 years, which makes it not so new any more. In truth it hasn’t been new for quite a while, having been built in 1911 or so.
When we bought it we looked around and fell in love with the place. Some parts more than others: the large, open layout, the abundance of surviving original woodwork and detail, the high coffered ceilings in the living and dining rooms, having a tiny library(!) plus sufficient space for all of the bedrooms, office areas, and workrooms a family with a wide variety of solitary pursuit interests needs.
On the problem areas, we’ve gone through a long list of improvements over the years, most having to do with systems: heat, insulation, wiring; or structure. New plumbing, a full-house rewire to get rid of (barely) functioning knob-and-tube, secure/weather-tight basement windows, a new heating system with a separate upstairs heat zone, insulation, a new roof, and a new driveway are just a few. Other than rehabbing the poorly functional upstairs bath, we haven’t done much in the way of aesthetics or livability, beyond addressing basic needs.
But no longer.
After 10 years we are about to begin a major kitchen rehab, and FINALLY be rid of the sagging mint Formica countertops, the droopy cabinets, the dismally scratched (and hideously pink) floor tile, plastic sheet backsplashes; and the outdated, poor functionality of our layout. I can hardly wait!
Here’s the official set of Before Pictures:
In the shots above you can see the partial wall between the prep and dinette areas, that breaks up the space without adding value. They are remnants of what had originally been a full wall, separating a back day-room for maid’s work from the kitchen proper. This is now our eat-in area and will remain so, but the partial wall is going.
In this one you can see the patched- in wasted space above the cabinets in between them and the equally useless dropped soffits above the cabinets themselves. That overhead space will be put to far better use.
And here are the mint green counters and plastic backsplash of the inconveniently far from everything Other Counter. It’s the clutter-magnet area where we stash recycling, and although absent in this shot, where pantry overflow usually sits. This space will also no longer sit idle.
Although we do have an pantry, it is of very little use, with narrow shelves too shallow to accommodate most cans, boxes, or jars. The front part is a hinged armature that is very difficult to move if you want to access similarly shallow dead shelf space behind. We are in sore need of effective pantry space. The new design will address this, too.
The rusted, creaky round-abouts (lazy susans) are an invitation for stuff to fall behind and jam the mechanism, with center poles that preclude larger items. The gadget garage isn’t bad, but tends to be another clutter-magnet area, and uses up more useful space than it provides in return. Technology for corner cabinetry has vastly improved since the ‘80s. I’m looking forward to the new solution.
On overall design, the current kitchen/dinette area, although it looks large, is not wide enough to add an island or peninsula without serious bottleneck or access issues, so we are not going to radically change the footprint. However, the current arrangement of appliances and countertops isn’t very efficient. We end up doing 90% of our prep work in the two foot space between the sink and the stove. The stove itself does not have a vent to the outside, which doesn’t add to ease of keeping the room clean. And the kitchen is dark, with too many lights that don’t manage to provide illumination of the actual work areas.
So it’s time for all of it to go.
In the mean time, we’ve moved out of the kitchen, so the crew can come in tomorrow to start demolition. We’ve crammed everything into the living and dining rooms, and will live without stove, oven or microwave, dishwasher or useful kitchen sink for the time being:
We plan to address all of these issues. Stay tuned to see how!
For my knitting and stitching pals – don’t worry. This isn’t going to turn into a home-improvement blog. I continue to plug away on the wavy infinity scarf/cowl, plus progress on a pair of socks. I always have a pair going, as “briefcase knitting” to do while waiting for appointments, on line, or in other away-from-home-base moments of idleness.
It’s slow going. As I’ve said before, I spend as much time untangling as I do knitting. And I still need to pay attention to the pattern. I haven’t memorized the thing yet. So it’s difficult to do when I’m watching TV in the evenings – my favorite time to do handwork. Especially so because we’re re-watching our set of Lone Wolf and Cub TV series DVDs, which are in Japanese with subtitles, and on Netflix, the Norwegian series, Occupied, similarly subtitled from Norwegian.
So there you have it. Chaos is about to descend. But at least I can knit my way through it, while nibbling sandwiches in the dining room.
It’s been lonely here at String. So few posts over such a long period of time. I apologize for that. Life has been hectic, with work deadlines, the close of Younger Daughter’s school year, and house projects just getting under way.
For a start, here’s Younger Daughter, decked out for Junior Prom.
No copycat column dress for her, she took inspiration from decades past, and found a bargain repro-1950s dress on line. Much child/parent conspiring took place to round out the outfit. The rhinestones for example are excavated from my jewelry box, and ultimately belonged to my grandmother and great-aunt. Younger Daughter looked great, and had a wonderful time. And not a bit of envy for dance-able comfort from some of her more elaborately dressed peers.
On the Trifles sampler, I ran into a roadblock. I tried drafting and tracing meshed gears, which I intend to use as a background, filling each one with a different counted blackwork-style filling. But I wasn’t finding a great amount of success. So I caved in and bought a plastic stencil. I’ll use selected bits of it, tracing the precision cut cams onto the cloth and tiling the thing where needed (it’s calculated to do that!). More on this once I get going.
I’m also working on a two-person knit-along with Friend Kim – a mesh-knit three-quarter sleeve pullover from a Kate Bellando pattern. I think we’re both at about the same mid-sleeve point:
For the record, we’re both using SMC Select Reflect, a light DK/heavy sport yarn in rayon/cotton blend. I can say that both of us have had extreme problems making gauge and have had to adjust needle size and move down in selected garment size to compensate.
And I’ve done a ton of socks as I noodled out the various problems and challenges, above. This pair was knit up from a hand-painted sock blank – Plymouth Happy Choices, in the Fiesta color.
In essence, a sock blank is a long scarf-like machine knitted strip that a dyer then paints with her or his chosen colors. When the scarf is unraveled for use, its patterns knit up in unexpected ways. I knit mine straight from the blank rather than re-winding, working my standard figure-8 toe, short-rowed heel sock. The crinkle made no difference in the finished product, and the convenience of working from something that wouldn’t escape and skitter down six rows was perfect for airplane knitting. The lace pattern on the ankle is from Walker’s fourth treasury.
And on larger, family projects – we start to consider redoing our kitchen. The floor tiles are worn past their surface color, the cabinets and countertops are sagging beyond simple repair or re-use, and the layout/look is inefficient and dated. The room was spruced up around 1980, as a peace offering between the warring couple that sold the house to us. I have detested the shell pink/mint green/faux Colonial cabinet combo from the day we moved in. Before pix in next post, for sure. Ten years is enough, and it’s time!
Some of each to report.
First, goodbye, this year’s crop of giant grass:
I cut it down with our hand-sickle. Younger Daughter is stripping leaves from the longest stalks. Elder Daughter and she bagged the remains for yard waste recycling, setting aside the best canes for use in next year’s bean trellis. Resident Male took a heavy maul and split the clumps, which after two years unsupervised, were threatening a massive campaign of lawn-conquest. So goodbye grass! Hello, next year’s beans!
Second, Swirly is finished!
I like the way the mitering worked, even on the very narrow green strips. I also used a sawtooth with a ten-row repeat, so I was able to easily fit it around corners, letting the natural splits between the teeth accommodate the direction change. Swirly now goes to Elder Daughter, to replace the last blanket I knit for her, back when she was born.
Third, I can’t just sit. Especially when I am thinking or listening. I have to have something going. So, as a think piece, to keep my fingers occupied, and because I haven’t knit a pair of socks for me in so long my own sock drawer is looking more like a darn-me convention, I finished a quick pair for me.
This was done in Plymouth Happy Choices – a yarn that comes pre-knitted into a long scarf strip, then dyed. The idea is to unravel the thing and re-knit it. Depending on what you make the resulting pattern will be different, and always a surprise. These are standard 72-stitch toe-ups on US #00 needles, with figure-8 toes and short-rowed heels. I started at the same place in the color cycle repeat for both, but you can see that slight variations in dyeing produce fraternal instead of identical twins. I happen to love it, but others may be more fastidious. And yes – there’s a simple double YO diamond detail on the ankles, just for fun.
And another beginning – this time a stitching project.
I begin my Trifles sampler. This is a promised/bespoken piece. I made a sampler for Elder Daughter for her to take with her to her university dorm room. It bore a motto, as a subtle bit of parental nagging, embedded in a loving-hands-from-home wrapper:
Younger daughter is now in 11th grade, and wants one, too.
Here is the materials set – the remainder of the 30-count linen I used for her sister’s, plus a pile of autumn colors chosen from the stash of silk floss I bought in India:
In addition to Amy Schilling’s Dalek (chart at link above), I am using several alphabets from Ramzi’s collection of vintage Sajou and Alexandre leaflets, available at his Free Easy Cross and Pattern Maker website – a fantastic resource that should be better known. You’ll note that for once I’ve actually laid out the motto ahead of time, rather than trust to luck and eyeballing. This is because Younger Daughter is a creature of logic and symmetry. I accommodate her preferences with a bit more precision than I usually use.
More on this project as it develops. This time I’ll try to document what goes into my rather ad-hoc pattern selection decisions, and any tech tips I can.
Fall is after all, a time of endings and beginnings, and my favorite time of year.
Where have I been?
Since the last post, admittedly almost two months ago, we’ve been re-nesting here in Arlington. The Resident Male returned from India, having done the final closeout of our apartment there, shipped our goods home, and said his goodbyes to friends and co-workers. He and I ran away for a second week on Cape Cod. We re-enrolled Younger Daughter in high school. Elder Daughter and I embarked on job searches. Our household shipment from India arrived, and we started the Great Unpacking. I landed in a great job at CyPhy Works, and have embraced again the daily commute, this time with an added morning detour to the gym.
Now the school year has begun, and we’re almost back on normal routine. There are still pockets of disorder in our living and dining rooms that we are slowly addressing. Our India-bought rugs are back from being cleaned, and are now laid out in their new home. Our kitchen goods have been sorted, with some stowed against future need, and others (like the rolling pin and round cutting/rolling platform hand-made by Driver Rupesh’s father) installed for immediate use. And the chair is back, with the seat cushion redone.
You may remember the chair, with its shoddy seat of fraying satin over a cheese-like block of squishy foam, purchased from Just Antiques in Pune:
Arlington furniture specialists Upholstery on Broadway took the wool tambour embroidered cushion cover I bought in Pune for this purpose, edged it out in brown ultrasuede and crafted this look:
I’m very happy with the result. The curves of the stitched leaves echo the curves of the repurposed carved window treatment that makes up the chair’s back and sides. And it’s quite comfy, too.
What’s on tap now? Dealing with that remaining disorder, craftily kept just off camera in the shot above; settling into the new routine; finishing Swirly – the big lap blanket; and finishing up The Second Carolingian Modelbook. More on all of this in future posts. And I promise you won’t wait two months to hear from me again.
Now that we’ve been home for a few weeks, I can say that there are things I miss about India. One of them is our friend and driver Rupesh. We had lots of occasion to chat with him as we sat in traffic. He was our guide and intermediary to a new culture; his questions and his answers to our own questions made us think.
One conversation we had early on was about our “native place.” Most Indians have one – an ancestral village or neighborhood where their relatives still live, and to which they return. Having a native place is a vital link beyond kinship to its residents – it’s an attachment to the actual area and the land itself. People are intensely proud of their native places, and follow everything that affects those places with great interest, even if they themselves are living in a city, far away.
Rupesh spoke with great affection about his native place, describing the house he grew up in, the retirement house his parents were building there, village life,his family, and the crops grown in his family’s various small fields. Then he asked me about mine. Where was it? What was it like? What grew there?
I admit I was at a loss. Like many rootless urban Americans, we have no single place for the family to call home.
I suppose technically speaking, an avenue row house in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn New York would be my native place. We lived there until I was a teen, around the corner from one grandparents’ house and about 10 minutes away from the other.
The shot at right is as it looks now on Google Maps – not quite the same as I remember, but even digitally, one can’t turn back time. Rupesh would be disappointed to know that very little grew there, at least not by the time my family lived there. Truck garden farms and horse stables for the local race track had long since been paved over and subdivided into attached houses.
While I have deep memories of Brooklyn, walking to school and the neighborhood in which I lived, I have no particular attachment to it. I barely remember the people I went to school with, and have not been back there in a good 30 years.
Next we lived in Teaneck, New Jersey. That lasted from middle school through high school. Again, an inner suburb, not quite as dense as Brooklyn, but long divorced from being anything other than a bedroom community. I do have fond memories of several school friends, and am debating attending an upcoming high school reunion. For agriculture, I did once try to grow carrots in the back yard. I got leafy tops, but no roots. So both I and the vegetables have no special ties to that little plot, either. My mom no longer lives there, so there’s no compelling reason to return.
After that I went off to college, and a wild array of ever-changing dorm rooms. Nothing much settled down in the immediate post-college years, either. I bounced from one Boston area entry level apartment to another, sharing the places with roommates or roaches. Usually both.
I wouldn’t call any of these residences home, let alone my special native place.
Eventually I ended up in Washington D.C., jobs being more plentiful there than in Boston in the early 1980s. I will be forever grateful to the friends who let me couch surf in their tiny apartment for five months before I established myself and could afford to move to my own flat. Fernando and I married and he joined me in my war against vermin in this College Park, Maryland building.
Getting closer, but still no nostalgia. We moved to get away from the Roach Motel, and resettled in Washington, D.C. itself, in a small apartment village in Takoma Park. It was pleasant, although not air conditioned in the D.C. heat, and an easy walk to the subway, the dojo and many of our friends. The best part was the low rent, which allowed us to save up to buy our first non-apartment home.
We are now inching up on Rupesh’s concept of attachment. We worked hard on the house in Lanham, Maryland, and made very good friends with a neighbor, with whom we remain in touch to this day. Our elder daughter was born here. Through hard work, we tamed the muddy back yard and grew lots of flowers – cannas, mums, day lilies, Asian lilies, hollyhocks, marigolds, and others. I’d consider this to be our first real home.
Better jobs beckoned, and we returned to Massachusetts.
We did a lot of research and ended up buying our next home in Arlington – a tiny 1950s era ranch. Again, we did a lot of work on the house and grounds, finishing out the basement, making a garden in the back. I attempted cucumbers, garlic and herbs, with equivocal success. Younger daughter was born here, and we quickly grew out of the the place.
We liked Arlington, so we ended up staying here in town, but in a larger home – a 1912-vintage arts and crafts style stucco bungalow. We’ve been here for about 8 years now, and are still making improvements to it, slowly turning back 80 years of semi-neglect. We dabble in gardening, and have grown strawberries, climbing beans, and onions.
Now, with all of these places I’ve lived in over the years (and mind you, I’ve omitted quite a few short term spots), it’s no wonder I was cast into thought about the meaning of having a “native place.” Both Fernando’s and my parents no longer live in the houses in which we grew up. We have no links back to any of our old neighborhoods. Our siblings, friends, and distant family are similarly scattered all over the US (with a few overseas).
I had the impression that Rupesh felt slightly sorry for us and slightly confused by my answers, because we really had no geographic center of identity, attachment and affection. I am quite fond of our current home. Perhaps that may qualify as our native place now, but I prefer to think of this family as carrying our native place with us. My roots are shallow and easily transplanted. Although I love this house, if I had to go elsewhere, I would move. My identity is built more on my family’s ethical and moral legacy, what I have made myself into, what I have done, and what we as our own nuclear family have become.
So I guess my native place is my own dinner table. Wherever that may happen to be.
As you can probably tell by the off-the-end-of-the pier style of my knitting and stitching projects here, not everything is fully swatched, graphed out, or perfectly planned before it’s realized. This may horrify some readers, but it’s the way I think. I prefer to learn on the fly, and don’t mind ripping back or starting again. For me, exploration is more fun than final product.
Case in point – the latest Wingspan. Let’s critique this thing to shreds:
Things I like:
- The basic Wingspan pattern
- The larger needle size/gauge for this particular yarn
- Using dice to determine hole size and placement
Things I don’t like:
- The color progression of this particular yarn
- This yarn in garter stitch
- The overall (near) finished look
- The combo of color, stitch and technique is too busy
One thing that made the last two Wingspans so dramatic was the long and gradual shading of the Zauberball Crazy. This was achieved by Zauberball’s dual strand ragg plies each cycling independently through their color ranges. In this full strand as opposed to ply-dyed yarn, color change is abrupt and the colors themselves are high-contrast. Speckles of the next color dot each block. (Now I remember starting socks with this ball, and not liking them either). The holes look less like airy bubbles, and more like the savaging of a demented moth army. And the eyelets, which work nicely in stockinette, look sloppy in garter stitch.
In total, I was Not Pleased. So this has been totally ripped back. I may play a bit with other stitches and this yarn, but in spite of it being a looonnnnngggg repeat, I am not confident that it’s right for a garter stitch Wingspan. However, the technique of placing eyelets in a fabric using a randomizing device to determine placement is still gnawing at me, as is thinking about other possible Wingspan variants. As a single project, this is a failure, but as a learning experience, it was valuable.
In other news, I’ve added to our house arsenal:
It’s a Korean-made sickle, sharp and sturdy. Similar ones have been used in Japan for centuries. They often figure in Anime, Samurai (and gangster) movies, both in their agricultural context and as weapons. We are close-in suburban here at String Central, and not out in the land of gentrified sprawl, so why do we need such a thing?
I cut the patches on the side and front of the house each fall, just after they bloom but before they scatter seed. I don’t want to be responsible for colonizing the neighborhood with the stuff, and I don’t want it to sit looking forlorn and frowzy through the winter. To date I’ve been clipping each stalk with a pruner, but that’s painful and time consuming. I am hoping that this tool will allow a swifter handful by handful harvest.
For those concerned with possible waste – I strip the leaves off the stems and re-use the stalks to build my bean trellis each spring. The leaves go to town composting. I also post about availability of (free) plant stakes each year on the local mailing list, and put them out on the curb for other gardeners to take.