My To Do List

I realize the to-do-list here will always be a pretty fluid list.  There will be things that get added because of emergencies, things that we add as we notice them and projects that time and budget allow us to complete.  Parts of it will really be more of a “wish list.”  After the Christmas decorations came down, I walked through the first floor and made a list.  I decided to focus just on the first floor for now since that is what people see.  Or at least that is what we want people to see!  Some of these are things that we can handle ourselves.   It is nice to finally be in a position where many of the projects are things we can do ourselves.  It was part of the appeal in owning an older home.

Here is what I hope to get finished.  I haven’t put a time frame on it but none of them appears to be overwhelming or too costly.  Time will tell.

Find new wallpaper for the study.  I hate this wallpaper but haven’t been able to find one that I really like.  I thought about painting the walls but the ceiling has the oak bema’s and is painted red, which I don’t think would look right with painted walls.  I have been looking at using fabric but the installation seems challenging.


Finally decide what to do with the carpet on the staircase.  I am still considering leaving the stairs bare.  It is so much easier to clean them.  If I do that, I need to varnish them.  The last time they were refinished the center of the stairs were left unvarnished.  That is just another thing that makes me shake my head and ask “why?”

  • Refinish the kitchen cabinets.  I am really happy with the new (temporary) counter tops and the lay out with the island turned into a peninsula.  I know a total kitchen remodel is somewhere in our future but not in the immediate future.  I can live with it as it is now but think refinishing the cabinets will make the kitchen look and feel new.  The doors are solid oak and in good shape.  The hardware is rusted or missing.  I would like to paint the doors and add new hardware.  I know this is something I can do myself.  Maybe I will tackle this next.  The hard part is weather to paint the cabinets a fun bright color, stain them a darker color or paint them white.  It is not my forever kitchen so I am leaning towards doing something fun with them.  Plus it is just paint and I can always change it if I hate it!


Find some fun things and actually decorate some of this house.  I know the house needs some “stuff.”  All the design books, magazines, shows have beautifully arranged furniture and accessories in their rooms.  I have always been clutter adverse.  I don’t want to move stuff to dust.  I have kids and pets and I don’t want to worry stuff will get broken.   But this house seems to need stuff to fill up the spaces and make the rooms feel more complete.  I know we need more furniture too but I don’t have the budget to bring in all new furniture pieces. So I need some “stuff” and some smaller furniture pieces.  The problem is I don’t know what I am really looking for. I don’t want stuff just to have stuff.  I don’t necessarily want all old or antique pieces.  It is time to start figuring out what I want/need.  I think it could be fun but worry it will be frustrating.  If anyone has any ideas on how to do that I am open to suggestions.


Call the plumber.  We need to have the toilet in the powder room replaced.  We have tried repairing it and it still runs all the time.  We also need to get water to the hand sink in the powder room.  I hope these will be two inexpensive fixes but having the plumber in never ends without a shockingly high bill.  Besides, George is probably wondering what happened to his buddy.


Patch and paint the butlers pantry.  The butlers pantry has some weird things going on right now.  There is a spot on the ceiling that has been patched many times before and is currently falling off the ceiling.  It doesn’t appear to be wet and we can’t tell what is going on exactly but it needs to be repaired.  The paint in this room also is a problem.  It seems the paint that was used before was not good paint or maybe they applied it badly but it is pulling off the wall.  the kids are having trouble not picking at it which isn’t helping.  Fortunately it seems to be a problem with the paint and not caused by an underlying problem.  Like water.  Then there is the giant crack over the cabinets.  This is more of a mystery.  If you follow this wall up, it is the stairwell wall.  There does not appear to be any plumbing behind it and it is an inside wall so probably not a leak somewhere above that is causing the plaster to crack.  Matt found a plaster repair technique he has wanted to try and this might be just the place.


None of these are overwhelming and hopefully nothing too costly.  They will help make the house more functional, look nicer and feel more like ours.  Maybe we can get most of these things done before summer when will need to do some serious work on the landscaping/exterior of the house.

15 Lessons Learned, part two

7.  We live in an eclectic neighborhood.  We had been told that before we moved but now that we have been here a few months we have first hand knowledge.  Just a few of the people we see on a daily basis:

  • Very elderly gentleman who lives in the apartments across the street.  He wears a trench coat, a suit and tie and carries a brief case and umbrella.  He leaves home about the same time every morning and heads out for about 90 minutes.  Not sure where he goes but it must be important work he is doing.
  • The man who goes everywhere on his unicycle.  Something I see every day but you probably don’t.  Unless you also live near me.  He also sings while he is riding past.
  • Dog people.  There are a lot of people with dogs in the neighborhood and they all walk them.  There is a three legged dog.  There are great Danes,  Saint Bernards, tiny yippy dogs, people walking three dogs at once.  They are all friendly and George (our dog) used to bark at all of them.  Now there are just a few that he clearly doesn’t trust.
  • Extremely heavy set man in electric wheelchair who “walks” his tiny dog every day.  The dog is always in the lead so I am not sure who is walking who.
  • Lots of kids on bikes
  • Families with toddlers on bikes and babies in strollers
  • Michael, the friendly neighborhood odd job guy.  He is always on his way to a job and is happy to do any work you might need a hand with for a very fair price.
  • Occasionally there is a homeless man sleeping in the park across the street
  • The lady with the pom-pom hat and purple coat (even in the summer.)  She heads to the burger place and will ask for change or a dollar as she walks by.

8. We expected to have guests in our house and we have actually done far less entertaining than we did before we moved.  Partly this was due to the fact that we were getting settled and it is difficult to entertain when there are holes in your ceiling, walls torn out, no water in your powder room and you are without a functioning oven. This didn’t detour the overnight guests though.  I would estimate that we used a guest room over 90 times.  There were times when we had several overnight guests here at the same time so we didn’t have 90 nights with guests but it was still a lot.  More than we had expected but great to have so many family and friends spend time with us.

9. We learned that the budget for any project should be $10,000.  Or in increments of $10,000.  New shower $10,000.  Plumbing $10,000.  Bathroom $10,000.  Furnace $10,000 times two.  All the big projects that are on our wish list require $10,000.  A fence for the yard, a pool, a new garage, tree removal, additional plumbing repairs, flat roof repairs, kitchen remodel.  All big expenses.

10.  The house is about 25 minutes from our old house and we felt like we were pretty centrally located and close to all the places we needed to get to at the other house.  We have found that for the most part we are a lot closer to everything here except a good grocery store.  It takes less time to get to school, work, church and practices for the girls.  The boys are farther from school but not so much that they want to live closer to campus yet.

11. We found that even after the exterminator comes and inspects and treats your house, a house this old that hasn’t been occupied for a long time still has pests.  We have had a few mice try to take up residence.  The cats took care of them.  There are a lot of weird creepy crawly bugs that I hadn’t ever seen.  Many only come out at night.  We also have had two bats in the house.  I didn’t know before but have now decided I am not a fan of bats inside the house.

12. It is impossible to even attempt to keep a house clean when there are holes in the ceiling and contractors coming in every day.  Don’t even try.  Just get used to the dust and know that eventually the holes will get covered.  Of course there will also be new holes but don’t think about that!

13. No matter how carefully you inspect an historic home and how much you think you know about what needs to be done to restore it and what you think needs repairs you will be wrong.  The list will change and the scope of the project may be more or less than you anticipate but there will always be a to do list that doesn’t get shorter.

14.  We learned that a house that is 115 years old does not have enough electric outlets to adequately support a family of six in 2015.  For example, there is ONE outlet in the master bedroom.  Bedside lamps and alarm clocks are a challenge we still haven’t managed to overcome.  The outlet is under the windows and not behind the bed.  Try to make that work!

15. Finally, we have learned that this historic house is much improved since we got here but has many challenges ahead.  It has turned out to be  a great place for our family to live.  It has been a real blessing to have all four kids here with us on this crazy journey.  There are many hurdles remaining and I am sure I will shed more than a few more tears in frustration at the challenges that we will face but in the end I don’t think any of us has any regrets about making this move.  Our historic house is now our family home.


15 Lessons Learned in 2015, part one

I must say we have learned a lot about purchasing, living and owning an historic home this year.  Here are some of them in no particular order:

  1. Just because a house is for sale does not mean the owners want to sell it.  Even if they had moved out three years ago.  Even if they only lived in the house for a few months.  Even is they are moving to another country.  Even if they failed to maintain the house while they owned it.  Purchasing this house was the most difficult thing we have done.  Ever.  The sellers were delusional and unreasonable nearly every step of the way.  I am still surprised that we were able to buy this house.  In fact, we had walked away from it several times and the sellers kept coming back to us to see what needed to happen to complete the sale.  Even then they put up road blocks.cropped-thf130irc4.jpg
  2. Homeowners insurance is a whole different prospect when you purchase an historic home.  Nobody told us this before hand.  Finding someone to insure our house was nearly impossible.  In fact we really only had one choice and the premiums varied quite a bit for the same insurance company through different agents.  The insurance for our house is crazy.  I think my parents beach house is cheaper to insure.  We have to carry insurance to cover the replacement value of our home.  That is laughable for several reasons.  No amount of money can replace this home.  The materials and craftsmen needed to rebuild just do not exist.  If something should happen to this house it would be foolish to even attempt to spend that kind of money putting a house up in this neighborhood.DSC_0195
  3. When you live in a historic house people will feel they have the right to judge the decisions you will make.  The very first neighbor who stopped by commented that we had removed the wallpaper in the entry.  Before he even introduced himself he felt it necessary to comment on this.  It wasn’t original, although people seemed to think it was.  There were two other papers under it.  Plus it was UGLY!  This is my house and it had to go.  I am not sorry I am making changes.  We will maintain whatever original features we can and restore what is possible to restore.  We know it is a piece of history but please don’t feel that gives you a right to pass judgment on our decisions.DSC_0198
  4. Besides feeling like people are judging our decisions, we learned several things about privacy.  First, people will feel it is perfectly OK to take pictures of your home.  I can understand that to a degree but some people are doing way more than just taking a quick picture.  A few weeks ago, a women was outside taking pictures for over an hour.  She was on the sidewalk and across the street.  That is OK.  Not much I can do but then she was in the driveway and in the yard.  She took pictures of the kids as they came home from school.  This is not OK people!  I don’t know you.  I don’t know what you are doing with these pictures and it is never OK to take pictures of my children without permission or to be trespassing in my yard.  To make matters worse, she came back the next day with another person and they both were taking pictures for several hours.  There are a lot of pictures of this house on line.  How many more do you need?
  5. Our purchasing this home was well publicized.  The local newspaper did a follow up piece and interviewed us after we got the house. Because of this everyone we know, everyone who knows people we know and complete strangers have asked to see inside our house.  This includes random people at school and church, the road construction workers, the gas line repair crew, customers and co-workers and even the check out lady at the grocery store.  It has been crazy and I never expected this.  Hopefully since we opened the house for the Christmas tour and had 1,000 visitors there aren’t that many people left who still want to get inside!DSC_0375 - Copy - Copy - Copy - Copy - Copy
  6. Hand in hand with this notion is what happens when we do have people in.  We had an open house for friends, family and coworkers last month to celebrate the holidays and our new home.  We had a lot of discussion before hand about how much of the house we wanted people to see.  We agreed that the second floor which is all our bedrooms and bathrooms did not need to be on display.  Our kids deserve to have their bedrooms be private spaces.   The house was not designed with the intention that this floor would ever be on public display.  Unfortunately we had guests who decided that a closed door and requests not to go upstairs didn’t apply to them.  My oldest son was sick and had to put up with these inconsiderate people coming into his room all evening.  You would never go to a friend or co-workers house and feel free to walk through every room and closet in a regular house.  I can not understand why these people (who will not be coming back to my house!) felt this was OK here.  I am sure they would be horrified to have people going through their closets, bedrooms and bathrooms.  It made me angry and made me feel like a horrible parent that my children’s privacy was invaded.DSC_0241
  7. During the Christmas tour we had several neighbors comment about our electronics on the first floor.  They made a point of telling us that these are historic home and the first floor of the home should be historically accurate.  That is what they believe people expect.  We have a different view.  This is a historic home but it is first and foremost OUR HOME!  We are going to watch television in our living room and the kids are going to do their homework and use the computer in the study.  Just because there weren’t electronics when the house was built doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be electronics in them now.  The people who built these houses spared no expense.  They put in the finest things money could buy and included the latest innovations, like electric lights.  If they were building them now, the houses would include state of the art home theaters and all the modern conveniences they could imagine.  I really wanted to ask these people if that was how they feel then why did they have refrigerators, microwaves, coffee makers, washers/dryers and a multitude of small appliances on the first floor of their homes.  Not having a computer or television does not make your first floor “historically accurate” unless you are willing to forgo all those other things that were invented in the last 125 years.  Don’t judge us because we enjoy watching a movie with our kids in our living room and want to keep an eye on their computer use.  The kids shouldn’t be banished to their bedrooms to watch TV or use their electronics.  This is our family’s HOME!

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Master shower, finally!

The week before Christmas finally brought the master bathroom renovation to its conclusion. Almost.  The shower is finished and beautiful and we now have a master bathroom that we can use.  The ceiling is new, the sink works but only has cold water and the toilet functions.  The walls have primer and I need to pick a color, we need to find new handles for the sink or replace the existing one.  This is a hard call as the current sink is original.  Matt doesn’t care for it.  It is really low especially for him.  The mirror above the sink is really high and I am not short but I am having trouble using the mirror.  I can only see my forehead! The whole set up is very odd.  I can’t believe in 115 years that nobody has changed either of these things.


The bathroom had a hallway and door from the dressing room, a door from the master bedroom and a door from the center hall.  It is the only bathroom accessible on the second floor from the hallway.  All the other bathrooms can only be reached by going through the kids bedrooms. It appears that the access from the center hallway was added by reducing oldest daughters bedroom to create the little back hall to the bathroom.  We are guessing this was done when the Oblates were here.  We removed the access from the dressing room to create a larger shower and gained a little linen closet.  We still have the old knob and tube wiring in the house.  Moving things is a big deal so the hallway light switch and the new switch for the shower are in the linen closet.  A little weird but it was the simplest solution.  The next owners I am sure will ask themselves “what were they thinking?” but it works fine for us. Although I am not sure how to put shelves in here without limiting access to the light switches!



new linen closet

The bathroom has the original bathtub which is huge and fills from the bottom.  There is no overflow precaution so you can fill this tub and actually have the water go over the edges!  I don’t think we will use it much since we have the hot tub outside but it is great that it is still here.


Finally, the new master shower. 

It has a very modern feel to it with nods to the past.  We had hoped to use the original marble in the design but it was not feasible due to our budget constraints.  In the end we were able to use the old marble as the trim for the new shower and it does a nice job of tying in the old subway tiles and the new shower tiles. There is another story that goes with this part of the project but I will save that for another time!  We intentionally chose the shower finishes to be modern.  We didn’t want it to look like we tried to match the original tiles but couldn’t quite match them.  We are very pleased with the new shower.

Here are some before pictures from various points along the way just to give you a feel of what really went on.

I am sure there will be people who criticize us for not maintaining the original but when our only option was remove everything down to the studs to repair the damage it seemed clear to us that a modern shower was the way to go.  Our realtor for this home kept reminding us that the people who built these houses put in the most modern and expensive finishes available.  They wouldn’t want the house to be a museum stuck in a time warp.  Of course we fell in love with those original elements and plan to maintain and restore  them wherever possible but this is also our family home and it has to function in a way that makes sense to us.  In the end, we are both pleased with this major project and it was worth the wait.


Finally, The twelfth day of Christmas

The Tour de Noel was a great success.  It is estimated that over 1000 people went through our home.  My twelve days of Christmas posts have shown you most of what was seen on the tour.  We only showed the first floor.  I have a hard time imagining people going through the bedrooms and bathrooms on the second floor as those are very personal spaces.  Nobody needs to see where we sleep and brush our teeth.  At our open house party a lot of guests took it upon themselves to open the closed doors and go into those spaces.  I was surprised that our friends and coworkers forgot that this is a family’s home.  Closed doors are closed for a reason.  It is one of the aspects of living in an historic home that is difficult for me.  Where do you draw the line sharing this piece of history while still maintaining your privacy.

In case you were wondering. I have a lot of Christmas trees.  Every room had a tree and I have a collection of small trees as well.  People always ask how many trees there are.  If you count everything, big and small there are over 120.  Of course that number is open to interpretation on what qualifies as a Christmas tree.  But that is the number the kids came up with.

Here are some more of the pictures of the spaces that were on the tour:

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The Christmas decorations will start coming down tomorrow. (The kids tree did decide Epiphany Sunday was the last day it wanted to be up and promptly fell over at midnight!)  The house will feel a little bare without the decorations.  It was nice to have so many familiar things out that held so many family memories for us.  It made the house feel more like our home.  With the home projects behind us for the moment, I hope to start some of the fun things about having a new house, putting up pictures and finding the right furniture and accent pieces to make the space our own.

Did I mention that I am sitting here now waiting for the plumber?

On the eleventh day of Christmas…

We have the entryway.

We are also now caught up since tomorrow is Epiphany and the twelfth day of Christmas!

The entry is large and impressive.  With the quarter-sawn tiger oak wainscoting, beams and pillars it feels almost church-like.  One story says the wood for the entry (and study) were brought here from England. That doesn’t seem likely to me.  I would think the huge oak trees required would have more likely been found in the United States.  The ceiling still has the original gold leaf mostly intact.  There are a few places where there was damage and the gold leaf was repaired.  One spot near the front door is actually spray painted to match the original.  I found that a little horrifying and hope to be able to replace the spray paint with gold leaf some day.

We did buy a new tree for the entryway as all of ours felt a little small.  Oldest daughter made the tulle tree skirt after seeing something similar on line.  She had a hard time leaving it on the tree at first and often picked it up and put it on.  We decided the mercury glass ornaments we have which are mostly red and silver would be great on this tree and compliment the colors in the garland on the stairs.  We started with light strings that are red and white.  Oldest son and oldest daughter did the decorating and it might be my favorite tree this year.

The piano belonged to Matt’s grandmother.  None of us play but we like having something from her in the house.  Apparently (unbeknown to us when we placed it here) both Mr. Bell and the Oblates had a piano located in this same spot.  We were told a story about the Oblates being woken up in the middle of the night once by a loud racket in the entry.  Apparently a very tipsy Mr. Bell used his key and came in to play the piano before he went to bed!  The lesson here-change the locks when moving to a new house.


The card tree now displays a collection of vintage Christmas cards that belonged to my grandmother.  I don’t know why she had kept these so long but I am glad to have them.


 Our grandmother clock has been moved a lot since we got here.  It was a wedding gift (25 years ago last week!) from my parents and my dad made it for us.  It feels a little small for the space in this house but I love it and finally think we found a spot where it looks nice.  We had trouble getting it to keep time since we moved and this space is the first place I put it that it has accurately kept time.  I guess the clock likes this spot too.


On the tenth day of Christmas…

The Living Room

The woodwork in the living room is mahogany, the same as we have in the music room.  It might be my favorite wood in the house.  I love the way it shines and reflects the light.  The living room fireplace is the largest of the four we have in the house.  It was originally wood burning but was converted to gas at some point.  (I would prefer to switch this back to wood.  I love a wood fire.)  The tiles on the hearth are original and are from Rookwood Pottery in Cincinnati.  The fireplace screen, andirons and sconces are also original.

The wallpaper in this room is staying.  It is the only paper in the house that I can say I like.  There is another crazy bird pattern under this paper and I am glad that isn’t the one we were left with.  I love the built in window seat in the bay window.  Our dog (George Bailey) loves it too.  He can see everything going on in the front and side yards from this vantage point.

I put some of my many small trees on the mantle.  I especially like the mercury glass ones.  I decided to decorate the tree with my collection of old ornaments.  Many are Shiny Brite ornaments from the 50’s and 60’s and some other similar vintage brands.  I pick them up whenever I come across them, many from Goodwill!  They remind me of the ornaments we had on our tree growing up and seemed the perfect addition to the living room tree here.

The story shared at the Christmas tour and that we had heard from the owner who bought the house from the Oblates of Mary Immaculate:  The nine or eleven priests (we have heard both numbers mentioned as the number of priests in residence here) each had a lazy boy chair and a stand ashtray that were arranged in a circle around the room.  They had enclosed the living room from the entry and the woodwork had to be stripped of the accumulated pipe and cigarette smoke that had accumulated during the 40 years the Oblates lived here.



The Ninth Day of Christmas-The Study

It is unclear what the original use was for this room.  Some research says it was a library but that doesn’t seem likely to me.  If this room was originally a library, Mr. Tillinghast would certainly have had built in bookcases here.  The room is the same quarter sawn oak as the entryway with wainscoting that matches the staircase. There are repeats in miniature of the pillars from the entry and a beautiful beamed ceiling that is similar to that in the dining room.  There is a large closet that was clearly original and a hole in the floor that once had a maid call button. (The living room, dining room and music room also have these.)  The door hardware has the trefoil design found throughout the first floor.  Perhaps this was originally an office or study or just a more intimate sitting room.  The closet is the feature that confuses the issue.  Maybe it was a first floor bedroom?  Many of the home listings prior to when we purchased the house list eleven bedrooms.  This room with its closet would have to be included as bedroom to get to that count of 11.

In any case, this was the last room on the first floor that we put together.  It was an easy place on the first floor to leave the odd boxes that were still unpacked and were filled with items I just wasn’t sure where to put.  We could close the door and not see them.  This room also has horrible wallpaper (who picked the paper in this house and what were they thinking!!?) that needs to go.  The ceiling has been redone at some point and is painted red between the beams.  I like the way it looks and have decided to repaper this room instead of painting.  I haven’t found anything yet that I am willing to commit to.  I have been thinking about maybe finding a paper with a trefoil incorporated into the design or maybe a toil with a red that picks up the ceiling color.

We put up new lights and washed the woodwork and windows.  That is the extent of the transformation so far.  It looked cute with the Santa theme and was a great place to put my little Santa collection.



The eighth day of Christmas-The music room

The music room is the room that has had the biggest transformation.  This room was a mess when we moved in.  The ceiling was crumbling, the walls were held up by the horrible metallic gold/orange wallpaper and the floor had a very dramatic dip.  As you know, we had to remove all of the ceiling and most of the walls to repair the plumbing and the damage caused by the leaking master shower.  We were able to return the ceiling to its original height and added recessed lighting in place of the art deco chandelier that was added in the late 90’s-very pretty but doesn’t fit.  The room has a very modern feel with a nod to the original room.

For the Christmas tour we put up this artificial tree (that is now in the upstairs hall)


It is a pretty artificial tree but we wanted a fresh cut tree that we could put all the kids ornaments on.  We didn’t have time to get one before the tour and this looked fine there.

We did manage to get our fresh tree.  It is as wide as it is tall.  The kids decorated it with all their special ornaments and this was the tree Santa placed the gifts for the kids under.

The tree completely fills the room!  Even our 6 foot tall kids look small next to the tree.  I was having a hard time being in a new house for Christmas.  Having this tree up with all these familiar ornaments that mark the many shared Christmas memories helped this feel like home and not a house.

I was still having trouble figuring out what to do with the cabinets in this room when it occurred to me that I still had a lot of glass ornaments that I hadn’t used anywhere yet.  We got ornament stands and filled the cabinets with an assortment of Christmas items.  I like it so much that I may keep the glass ornaments on display inside the cabinets.

The confessional window also got a little Christmas decorating.  Which was a good thing as we filled the house with priests, a deacon and a seminarian at our holiday open house warming party and all the guests were fascinated or amused with our little window.


Day Seven

Powder Room

Our little half on the first floor is tucked under the staircase.  It has the original hand sink and a cute window.  The wallpaper will probably be replaced eventually but I don’t hate it so it can stay for now.  Youngest daughter decorated this room with little felt flowers we had made for our banister at the old house several years ago.  She has a good eye and they were just right for this little space.