New Old Floors

This house lacks for many things (a functioning shower comes to mind quickly) but one thing it does not lack for is copious amounts of very old wood flooring. For many of you that probably brings to mind images of wide plank boards with enough character that each plank could tell a story, and it's true, we have that. What we also have in a couple areas is vertical grain or "quarter sawn" heart pine flooring dating to the turn of the century. It is a much narrower plank, about 3" and so a very different look. We had high hopes for these floors, tempered by the fact that they have been heavily abused, stained, sanded, pummeled, dented, scraped, cut and painted….but they do tell stories. The TV room floor which does happen to be wide plank for the most part is a great example of story telling. If you walk into the room it looks just like that, a room. BUT, if you look at the flooring you will see a very clear history of the combination of two separate rooms and patching of what must have been plumbing holes in the smaller room. We went back and forth for months as to how to deal with them. Are they good enough to hand scrape? Do we have time to hand scrape? Is there enough to sand? Will we lose character? Should we just paint them? In the end the decision was to sand the floors in the kitchen (heart pine) and the TV room (wide plank old growth pine) and stain. We found a great local floor finisher who was reasonable and professional and who followed our request of "sanding without losing character", flawlessly. This sanding request is most evidenced by a step from the kitchen down to the pantry area, it has been worn down in the center by 100 years of use and he preserved that while bringing the grain back to life. With the floors sanded they looked 1000 times better than we expected, no, they aren't perfect, but they are exactly what we dared hope for. The heart pine turned out to have such beautiful natural color that we just sealed it and left it at that. The TV room floors would have also looked beautiful with a similar treatment but we wanted something dark and rich to go with the furnishings and rugs we have planned for that room. After much back and forth and custom stain attempts we ended up settling on a standard Minwax color, "Provencial" and then a satin topcoat for protection and sheen. The staining was arduous, first Carol and Semi (Ermela's mom) had to vacuum the entire room, then go over all the surfaces with tac cloths to make sure it was all clean as possible. Then they worked their way down the planks with one applying the stain and the other wiping it off with a rag. Because of the three different types/cuts of wood used in this one room they had to play with the application to wiping time for each one to keep the colors as consistent as possible. This is an example of when it is good to know what type of wood you are working with. The heart pine (yes there was some in this room used as a patch) being very dense and cut in a "quarter sawn" or rift cut was much less absorbent than the wide plank old growth pine which was plain sawn (the type of cut where you see more squiggles and patterns). Once the staining was done it was allowed to cure for a day and then the oil based satin top coat was applied. Normally we would use a two part water based sealer but we were not able to source it in the timeframe we were working with.

So, judge for yourself, what do you think of the end results?   

Unfortunately, we only got a couple days to enjoy the new floors. Construction waits for no man so we had to cover them up with builders board and tape the seems (for those of you who haven't guessed, we did this work on Easter). The trick now is to remember that the floors are done under the protection and that we have to be careful while moving drywall, appliances and equipment around.


In our slow march towards TV room completion we tackled drywall most recently. Fortunately we had three things going for us. #1, Ermela is a very quick study and after a day she had the measuring and cutting down. Not an easy task in this room since we kept as much trim in place as possible; including the wonderful arch right in the middle of the room. #2, Graham got a new toy (shocking) in the form of a drywall hoist, truly a gift from the heavens. #3, our friend Oren was up and threw himself enthusiastically into the project with Ermela as his sheetrock instructor. By the end of the weekend they were a team to be reckoned with; working in tandem to put some very intricate pieces up.  

Overall drywall is really about learning rules and being able to keep a flexible mind. Most mistakes seem to be in reversing measurements from the floor to the wall, and in not planning ahead. With this house one of our biggest hurdles is that the blocking in the walls was set up for plaster, which is very different in application to drywall so we occasionally ad to add extra blocking in the walls to have something to attach the sheets to. The other headache is that the drywall is thinner than the plaster that used to be there so we will have to go around all the trim in the room and add a layer of wood to blend it all in.

With the drywall in and the walls sealed up and insulated this is now the warmest room in the house, it's really amazing considering it is the north side of the house and only has one heat register. Proof that some demolition headaches are worth it, at least that is what we will tell ourselves while watching movies curled on the couch this coming winter.

The Making of a TV Room

A TV room....what makes a TV room? The obvious answer would be "a TV" but here at the farm we take our small modern pleasures seriously. So, what makes OUR tv room a tv room? The answer is... copious amounts of thermal insulation to make it warm and cozy, huge sheets of rubber acoustic insulation to make it quiet, enough data cables and lines to make it look like we have a nest of skinny snakes in the walls and of course, a free standing popcorn maker. We may have jumped the gun on the popcorn maker, but seeing it's box offers incentive to finish the room. The TV room has been one of the most complicated spaces for us because it has lots of architectural detail to work around, and with the walls and ceiling open it provided opportunity to upgrade and run wiring, heat ducts and plumbing lines to several areas.... Never fail to take advantage of an open wall or ceiling. This past weekend as the snow was falling outside and the car was getting harder and harder to see under the drifts, we decided it was time to start closing things back up.    

The view from the TV room while we were working. Our mini orchard will probably go in this area in the spring.

So while mother nature provided ample incentive to stay indoors, we got to work. The first thing to do was make sure all the wiring was clearly labeled so that once the drywall is in we will still know what goes to what. With that done we got down to insulation. Normally when insulating a ceiling the joist spacing is standard and you can just use pre-cut wires that spring in between the joists and hold the insulation up. Our framing is anything but standard so we had to custom cut every single wire, (think thick hard to cut wire) about 200 of them. So the room is split by a beautiful old arch, the outside side of the arch has roof above it, so requires insulation similar to an attic. The inside side of the arch has the second floor above it so requires an interior level of insulation. We used an R-38 fiberglass batt with vapor barrier for the exterior exposed side and an R-13 without vapor barrier for the interior side. We cut the batts to fit snugly (Carol does this with scissors and affords each batt the same level of attention as she would were she making a dress). Graham pretty much stood on the ladder cursing most of the day, not unusual behavior for him. The trick with insulation batts is to get a tight fit so that air cant pass around them, but not to compress them so that they lose insulating ability... not hard, just time consuming, and if you are using the yellow contractor grade stuff, make sure you wear a mask and glasses.  

If you look closely at the pics you can see some of the IC rated high hats, they will provide even lighting, but the intent is to put them on a dimmer so that we can get that little theatre experience of the lights going down before the show. With the room insulated and immediately warmer and more comfortable to work in, it was time to run the data lines. Things are moving more and more wireless, but we still wanted to have enough HDMI/composite/Cat6/optical cables to be able to put things in the tech closet and not have to have visible wires hanging down from the TV. It was not too hard, just a matter of ordering a bunch of 10' cables and running them through the wall so that eventually they can be hooked to boxes which will be behind the TV and behind the cabinet where the electronics will be stored. A little planning here should (fingers crossed) save us trouble down the road.

Now for the fun part, the acoustic matting. This stuff is dense, and heavy and it does not want to unroll. It really just takes some practice, and thankfully it cuts easily. Our system was to unroll it up the wall and staple the top edge and then work our way down. We used 1/2" staples, anything shorter just ripped out under the weight. Once the matts were up we went over the seems with high quality duct tape. The drywall will go right over it just like a normal installation.

So, what makes a tv room a tv room??? A whole lot of advance planning. Can't wait till we can kick back and watch a movie in here.

Women of Patience

"Women of Patience" is the nickname for Ermela and Carol's "crew" (we still need to get the shirts made). Over the winter break the crew made significant progress in the very careful deconstruction of a door frame/molding in the TV room and the de-fenestration of many many old windows (can you de-fenestrate a window?...taking the glass out, let's keep it simple here). The future TV room is graced with not one nor two, but three different entrances. The largest of which had a temporary cover of drywall and leads to the central living room, the second goes to what will be the downstairs full bath, and the third comes off the front entry hall. After tinkering with imaginary couches and TV's on floor plans we decided that door number one makes the most sense for furniture layout and flow. The problem with door number one is that it lacks trim, shocking because trim is not something this house generally lacks, but there you have it, we were at a trim deficit. To make matters more problematic, the trim in the future TV room is perhaps some of the most beautiful and hard to replicate in the house. We noodled on it for a while and finally decided to remove the trim from around the closet which will be re-worked as a media niche and move it door number one. Easier said than done. Our predecessors on this house going as far back as the beginning had no concept of task appropriate nails. Every bit of that beautiful trim is held together with big hand cut framing nails. The only solution was for the Women of Patience to spend hours with thin chisels, hammers and scrapers carefully cutting the paint at joints and opening small gaps to allow the chisels in to cut the nails. It is important to cut the paint first as it prevents splintering of the delicate edges. It really was amazing to see how these massive moldings were put together, true skill and artistry from another era.

With the individual pieces out the next step was to repair any damage, and clamp the pieces back together to prepare them to re-installation and finishing.

The next trick will be mounting the trim we just removed to the inside of the door to the living room, the inside trim is for a slightly smaller door so we will have to create some sort of step down that looks appropriate to the trim style visible on the living room side of the door which is completely different. It is the little differences and clues like this that help us piece the story of the house together.

Future TV Room Demolition

Removing plaster and lath is fun, oh so much fun. The future TV room has not been used in a decade by our best estimate. Unlike the rest of the house the floors still sport a thick coat of paint and the walls are done in a very thick layer of a color that has not been in vogue during our lifetimes. The demolition is pretty straightforward, break, pull, break, pull, clean up, start again. Despite respirators being a real annoyance we found that when dealing with plaster dust they really are a must use item. Also, don't be fooled into thinking that all crowbars are the same, we used three different styles on this room and each had a particular place to shine (a cat's paw is indispensable for the removal of little stuff around the edges).

Every room has its surprises and this one was no different. We found two old chimney thimbles that have not been in use in decades, a galvanized metal duct which does not go anywhere and was apparently never attached to anything, many chipmunk nests, clapboard siding which marks the west wall as having been exterior at some point and a door that used to go to the hidden room. Before we can close the walls back up we need to address the plumbing to the pink bathroom above, duct work to provide heat to the upstairs north east bedroom, wiring to that same bedroom and insulation to the space above Ermela's room which is accessible via a small crawl space near the chimney. We also need to set this room up for TV use which means sound insulation and special wiring for speakers and though it is gutted, it will be a while before we can put it back together and start enjoying it.