The Sky is Falling

We are in the process of switching the kids rooms around.  Oldest daughter is away at camp so we want to finish getting her things moved to her new room and put away before she returns tomorrow.  Matt finished painting her room and I moved everything out of her old room.  Matt is finishing the hall closet which she will use in place of the very large closet she had in her current bedroom.  As soon as the painting is finished I can try to put all her things away.

2016-07-13 09.48.28

Matt has made progress on the closets.  The bedroom one is finished:


Closet before

2016-07-13 09.48.42

Closet after










The problem now is getting all the stuff from her old closet:


Into the new closet!

2016-07-13 09.48.42

The old closet is 6 feet long with built in cupboards above the clothes rod and built in drawers, cupboards and shoe holders on the end that are 18 inches deep.  We know that won’t all fit in the room she is moving to where there is one shelf and a hanging rod which is only two feet long.

The solution is letting her use the hall closet next to her bedroom to keep a lot of her stuff in.  I lined the drawers, shelves and the back walls of the cupboards.  I scraped off most of the green paint.  Matt has painted the green walls and I hope he can finish the cabinets and drawers today.  It is a big improvement and will be a great use of this space.

2016-07-13 09.49.18

We painted the walls the same color as the hallway outside.

The next step in getting all this rearranging done is to get oldest daughters old room painted so oldest son can move his things in. This room had some damage done to the ceiling from one of the flat roofs on the third floor.  Looking at it, we knew there had been a problem but the sellers assured us the leaking had been taken care of.  Turns out that that wasn’t true.  Oldest daughter had all her friends here for a sleepover shortly after we moved in.  We had a big storm and there was rain water pouring out of her bedroom ceiling fixture!  When the ceiling dried out, part of it actually fell off.  We had the drywall guy come and repair it.

2016-07-13 09.49.51

You can see the part of the ceiling where the drywall was fixed and the crown molding that was damaged and needs to be painted.


There were still some spots on the ceiling that were damaged and some loose paint up there.  Oldest son decided he could handle scraping off the loose paint and prepping it for Matt to paint.

2016-07-13 09.50.11

He got way more than he bargained for when he started to scrape the loose paint, and an entire section of the ceiling came down!  I received a text message that read “the sky is falling.”  I knew that could not be good!

Apparently the ceilings in our house are all canvas with plaster skim coat over them.  The whole section of the plaster covered canvas fell.  The interesting part, is it tore away from the plaster decorative border that is on the ceiling in this room.  It is the only room in the house with this border so we were happy not to lose it!

Matt thinks we can (carefully) remove the remainder of the canvas and leave the border intact.  He can skim the ceiling and paint and we will be good to go.  This will delay the project of course.  We moved all the things out of the ‘cowboy” room into the hall except the two twin bed frames.  Once oldest son moves his things into oldest daughters old room, the guest room things can move into his old room and become the new guest room- with a bathroom!  It will be a much nicer configuration for guests.

In the meantime, our upstairs hallway looks like this:

2016-07-13 09.48.57

It feels like we just moved in all over again!


It’s Not Easy Being Green

Kermit was right about that.  We have a lot of green paint left in the house.  The hall closet outside oldest daughter’s new room is actually three different colors of green.  I suspect at least one of these colors was done when the priests lived here.  It certainly has an institutional feel.  I don’t know that they are to blame for all of the greens though.  I think they would have only used one color.  Whoever painted the cabinets green (why they painted the cabinets green is a whole different topic!) used a flat paint over the cream colored oil based paint.  The good thing about that is the green came off easily.  There are still two coats of cream under the green.  I think we will brighten it up by painting everything off white.  Once the cabinets are sanded, I might be able to live with the cream color especially when the green walls go away.  I can’t believe that the green is actually still here.  I believe we are the 6th owners since the priests have left.  I guess since it was a closet it was easy to look past it.  The linen closet has the same thing going on.  The linoleum floor tiles are pulling up and I am hoping to find original hardwoods under there.


The cabinet is one shade of green and the top and bottom of the wall is two different greens.  The flash makes the top of the wall appear creamy but it is green. 

Here are the cabinets after I started scraping off the paint.



The paint under the cabinets is very creamy and the linoleum tiled  floor is not orange.  Again, the camera flash changes the coloring in here a lot.


The drawers are giant.  They have nice brass rollers under then that make them slide really easily.  Most old drawers I have seen are just sliding in a wooden slot.


We have a giant walk in linen closet at the top of the back stairwell.  It is really more a long room than a closet.  I am not sure what this additional walk in closet would have been used for originally.  We have been told that when the priests lived here it housed the only phone in the house.  There is a little Formica table that pops up that could be used as a little desk when you were on the phone. There is a mailbox.  I would guess the priests left their outgoing mail here and it would be someone’s job to get it to the postman.  I doubt the mail got delivered to the second floor closet!  The phone jack has a glow in the dark nightlight included.  Very convenient if you answer the phone at night without turning on the light?  There is also a bulletin board with a very old phone list with all the local Catholic churches, schools, hospitals, institutions and religious orders numbers listed.  Many of these are no longer here.  We plan to keep that.  It is a nice reminder of the history of the house.  I may frame it though just to help preserve it.

The walls in here are in rough shape.  Matt is going to need to do some repair before we paint.  Inside the cabinets, the same shelving system used in the butler and maid pantries is found.  Looking at the lower cabinet I suspect it may have once had a glass front also.  The center seems to be different than the framing and doesn’t quite match up.


Since we are going to paint this room a neutral color but oldest daughter is using it as an extension of her room, she picked a nice beach themed fabric to line the walls behind the glass doors.  We will look for some ribbon to put on the shelf fronts.


It certainly brightens things up in here and ties into the theme she has in her room.  I just couldn’t imagine painting this  closet the same bright colors as her room. This was a nice compromise.  I scrubbed everything in here before we moved in.  What magic eraser  couldn’t get rid of, I covered with contact paper.  It knew it was clean but it didn’t look clean.  The contact paper helps.



Our holiday weekend is filled with painting and home projects.

It will be nice to be rid of the green!

Farewell Cowboy Room, Hello Beach!

Oldest daughter has not slept well since we moved.  A year ago!

Her bedroom adventure reminds me of The Princess and the Pea!  First, we tried getting her a king size bed because her double felt like doll house furniture in her very large room.  Next we tried the bed in several different places.  Still not sleeping well.  We got new curtains.  Didn’t help.  Tried several different fans for white noise.  No difference.  Since she stopped using her bathroom when it got cold and uses our master/hall bathroom instead she decided to try some different bedroom options.  She tried the blue room on the third floor.  She did better there for a little while but not a huge improvement.  A few  weeks ago, her room was really hot and she couldn’t fall asleep so I put her in the cowboy room.  She slept great. I thought it might be because she was so exhausted but she tried it for a few more nights  and decided she really liked it.

DSC_0457 - Copy

The “cowboy” room was a guest room.

We never got around to actually painting and decorating her room here.  Honestly, I have never been good about doing the kids room.  We switched them around a lot.  I never did a nursery with a theme.  I could blame the kids early arrivals on that but I probably wouldn’t have done the whole theme room either way.  We promised the girls as part of moving here that we would actually “do” their rooms.  Youngest is very persistent and knew what she wanted so hers did get done.  Older daughter is the opposite in every way.  She is our go along girl.  She never made a decision about her room colors.  She never complained about her room.  We didn’t give her room much thought.  Apparently she has been unhappy in her partially done room and sure if she switched rooms, we wouldn’t get the new one done either.  I told her if she made some choices we would gladly get her room done.  It has been about 10 days and she FINALLY picked color .  I think she wanted something brighter but I managed to talk her into these colors:

Rushing Stream


Burning Coals


The room looks a lot different now!  The mural was on the wall where she has placed the bed.

The closet in the room she is moving from is the best one in the house.  It is big with tons of built ins.  The closet in this new room has a sink and then a very small closet space with one shelf and a short bar for hanging clothes. The sink works but the water flow is inadequate.  Time to get the plumber back.  The sink in the closet is a bit of a mystery.  All the other bedrooms on the second floor have a full bath.  We can’t figure out why this one has only a sink and the sink appears to be original to the home.  There was a sink in the room off the master that we use as our walk in closet.  We know that sink was put in when that room was converted to a bedroom when the priests resided here.  The purpose of this sink is a mystery but since oldest daughter has been sing our shower, the sink gives her a place to brush her teeth and wash her face so it is going to work for her.

There is not enough storage in their for a teenage girl.  Even one who isn’t really concerned with having a lot of clothes and dresses more for comfort than style.  As part of moving her into this smaller room, we agreed to clean up the hall closet next to this room for her to store things in.

More on that project soon.  It has proven to be more work than getting the bedroom ready! Here is a peek at the closet…


Yes, there are three different colors of green paint in here! None of them is a good green color.


We still need to finish painting the closet and move all her things in here.  I will look for some “beachy” décor to complete the look and make new curtains but we are getting close and she is certainly sleeping better which was the best part.








Time to rip off the band-aid.


The view out the window clearly confirms that spring has arrived!



Well, time to rip off the plastic really.  Some of our windows have fairly decent storm windows while others are missing or in such bad shape that you might as well leave the window open.  In the master, the pull down shades would blow into the room about 5-6 inches whenever it was windy outside.  The living room also had a couple of really bad drafts particularly behind the couch.  In early December I got tired of freezing and got some plastic window insulator kits.  It made a big difference.  In the master it was tricky to figure out how to get the plastic up and I ended up sealing the blinds behind the plastic.  It feels like winter is behind us so I went ahead and removed the plastic.  The tape did take some of the paint off on the master windows but they needed scraping and painting anyway so I wasn’t too surprised.

In the fall, youngest daughter and I were at the big box store (yes, I am sure that is not news.)  There was a woman looking at plastic window film that you can apply to give your windows the look of stained glass.  We commented that we were lucky to have actual stained glass windows at our house.  When we got home I started to think that the stained glass in the living room looked awfully similar to the stick on film at the store.  Surely my historic mansion has ACTUAL stained glass in the living room!  It was one of the things I really liked when we viewed the house.  I had always been intrigued as to why the front window and the bay were the only living room windows with stained glass transoms.  Mr. Tillinghast had a great eye for detail and symmetry.  It seemed odd to me that all the living room windows were not the same.  Perhaps the stained glass transoms were not original and added by another owner.  Turns out that was true.  The stained glass was just plastic from the big box store! Imagine my disappointment…

I kept them up all winter but when I took down the winter insulating I decided it was time to get rid of the “stained glass” as well.

Now all the living room transoms match.  I feel good because we have restored the windows back to their original appearance.  Really, that is my story.  It is disappointing to realize there isn’t stained glass in the living room but I have to admit they look better all matched.  I am sure it won’t be the last surprise or disappointment we deal with.  Just another adventure in owning this historic home.

Fabulous Facelift

The boys are on spring break this week and somehow Matt is the one who ended up going out of town. I decided to tackle the kitchen while he is gone.  I asked oldest son for some help and he pretty much completed the project on his own.  I did some of the prep and all of the clean up but he took on the painting. Here are my before and after pictures!

We took off the rusted and nasty brass hardware and replaced them with an eclectic mix of hand painted pumpkin knobs I found on Amazon.  We removed the gold decorative piece from the center and I am really pleased with how they look.  The cobalt blue is similar to the blue in my sunflower tiles.  I had actually painted the cabinets in our house on Craigwood this same color. Even though the color is darker than the oak, the kitchen feels brighter.

The old cabinets had a latch that kept the doors closed.  They were rusted and some were missing.  We solved the problem of how to keep the doors shut by adding a little magnet latch inside.


I know we will eventually do a complete remodel in the kitchen but for now it looks and feels new and I  LOVE this new look.

A Step in the Right Direction

After much back and forth discussion, I finally got Matt to agree to let me remove the rest of the 1981 carpet from the main staircase.  It was threadbare and worn and impossible to clean.


The cat loved it and used it for sleeping and claw sharpening on occasion.

Laura's iphone 2 2016 176

When we took the carpet off from the top part of the landing we found that the last time the stairs were refinished, the centers did not get polyurethane applied.  When we removed the rest of the carpet the same held true.  They looked like this:


The centers that were untreated were really dry.  I thought maybe using the lemon oil I had used on all the wood work when we first moved in might help.  (All our woodwork was dry and lacked shine when we got here.)  The steps still lack a shine but they look a lot better (I think) and have some protection.

The girls have a date dance on Saturday (Dancing with the Star Wars, isn’t that a cute theme?) and youngest daughter is going with a big group consisting of most of her swim team.  One of her friends wanted to do pictures at our house because she thinks we can get all 30 plus kids on the stairs.  That was my big push to clean them up now.  They aren’t perfect and we will need to put a clear coat on them.  I still prefer the bare wood to carpet.  I think the wood is beautiful.  I am sure we can get all the kids on the stairs for a picture and having the carpet removed is a step in the right direction!


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.


Not a remodel, just a face lift

I have HATED the kitchen since the first walk through of this house.  We had done a total kitchen remodel that included an addition at the last house so I walked away from my dream kitchen.  It was hard to leave something that I had designed to fit the way I cook and entertain.

Just a reminder of what I got when we moved here:


In the picture it doesn’t look bad but it is TINY.  The realtor used a lens that made all the rooms like brighter and larger than they were.  This kitchen was done in the late 70’s/early 80’s. The kitchen counters are dark green floor tile with black grout.  Much of the grout is missing. Scrubbing with a toothbrush only added to the problems.  The counters always feel dirty.  The oak cabinets were built to match the original ones in the pantries.  The hardware is all rusted, much of it doesn’t work, sticks or is missing.  The double wall oven was dated 1979.  In the top oven only the top heating element worked and in the bottom oven, only the bottom heating element worked.  Baking was impossible, roasting impossible and everything else required double the time and often switching from one oven to the other to get things cooked evenly.  The cooktop was newer but the pilot tried to light continuously so I had to keep it unplugged.  I would plug it on to light the gas burner and then unplug it again.

We had planned to do a total kitchen remodel right away and had plans drawn up.  The plumbing and heating surprises put that plan on hold.  I could not get by with the oven as it was and it was not worth the money to repair it even if we could find parts.  I decided to replace it with a dual fuel double oven stand alone range, similar to what I had left at the old house.  It required removing the cabinets near the back door, taking out the ovens and moving the gas line.  This was done in early October but it left me with a non functioning cook top on my limited counter space.

DSC_0202 - Copy

Did I mention the door would fall off?

DSC_0203 - Copy

After the cabinets came out

DSC_0204 - Copy

Wasn’t this a lovely color? It was EGGPLANT at some point also.

After a lot of consideration I told Matt I could live with the kitchen as is for now if I could replace the counter tops with something inexpensive and I got a new sink an a faucet that didn’t drip. We didn’t want fancy because we still plan to rip everything out as soon as we have the budget for that.  I plan to paint the cabinets and replace the hardware after the holidays.  Even without that change now, I am much happier with the “new” kitchen.  There is actually space to prepare holiday meals and BAKE!


cooktop gone, loads more counter space


So much brighter, even this late in the day


A cozy rug for my feet. Still no heat in the kitchen.


More open without the cabinets by the back door.


A faucet that shuts off and a deep sink.

It isn’t my dream kitchen but I can live with this and be happy for awhile.

Two Steps Forward

All summer I felt like we were taking one step forward and two steps back.  After five months in our house it finally feels like we are taking two steps forward and one back.  Not ideal but certainly an improvement.

Most of the plaster repairs had been finished.  The hole in the living room ceiling was patched, the music room was a room again and oldest daughters ceiling was sealed back up.

Side note:  Did I ever mention that in June we had a heavy rain storm during the night?  Water was pouring out of the ceiling fan/light fixture in oldest daughter’s room and a huge chunk of plaster from the ceiling fell during the night.  It woke me up but she slept through it.  Her room is on the second floor so the water coming in was a mystery since the third floor was dry.   Turned out the flat roof was leaking and we had it resealed.  Just another example of the unexpected in the house that feels like we take one step forward and two steps back.

Fall is upon us and we were ready to try to start the boilers to heat the second and third floors.  We filled the boiler and waited a few days to make sure the system was holding. We had done these twice before and found damaged pipes and radiators that needed replacing or removed from the closed loop system.  All seemed well until I found a puddle on the dining room floor. I was ready to blame both dogs since I wasn’t sure who the culprit was until I realized there was a trail of water that seemed to end on the other side of the fireplace.  As I wiped the floor I was hit on the head by dripping water.  Looking up, I saw the ceiling was very wet and dripping onto the wormy chestnut  onto the mantel.  We drained the boiler, opened the ceiling and called the plumber.  Turned out this was another leak from the master bath.  This time it was the tub.  We also discovered it was another spot in the house that had been leaking before.  Rather than repairing the pipes, the ceiling was patched.  Again.

I would love to know what prior owner thought this was a good idea!  The boiler was drained unnecessarily.  Another hole was in the ceiling.

dining room ceiling hole

This section of the ceiling is drywall not plaster. A sure sign there was trouble before.


Another opening in the ceiling.  Also more dust.

close up dining room ceiling hole

This has been a problem for a LONG time!

The plumber repaired the pipes.  It was a two day job.  He was shocked at how rusted and corroded the drain pipes were.  He recommended not plastering over the hole right away just to make sure the problem is solved.  That is fine but our house will be on the Christmas tour and a hole in the dining room ceiling isn’t a very good way to promote the neighborhood and the historic homes here!  We decided to put a temporary cover over the hole.  This worked in part because the dining room ceiling is coffered.


The dining room ceiling had a cloud motif that we left when we covered the murals.  I didn’t hate it and changing it will be a challenge.  We tried to match the clouds when we did the patch.  I think it came pretty close.


Hopefully we are on our way to two steps forward and one back.  Ideally no more backward steps would be great but I don’t see that in our future yet!

Fall is in the Air

Fall is definitely in the air.  A few trees are beginning to change colors, the first gallons of apple cider have arrived in the store and the evenings are getting colder.  This is one of my favorite times of year.  I love watching the changes to the trees, having warm sunny days but cool mornings and evenings that require getting out sweaters.  The only problem this year is the lack of a functioning heating system in our home.

Because the heat was left off last winter when the house was for sale we had all the heat exchangers on the first floor break.  Many of the pipes in the radiator system are also broken.  We have gone back and forth on our heating options.  You can’t replace the heat exchangers but they MIGHT be able to be rebuilt.  We could install gas forced air for the first floor (with the advantage of some day adding A/C) and maintain the boiler system for the second and third floors or replace the whole thing with gas forced air.  There are advantages and disadvantages to all three options.  None of the choices is inexpensive and all are much more costly than we had imagined.  We have decided to install two gas forced air units to heat the first floor and keep the second and third floors and the kitchen (if the radiator works) on the boiler system.  We have two boilers but only one is operational at this time.  The thought behind two furnaces for the first floor is due to higher efficiency from the smaller units rather than one very large one.  Which makes sense in a strange way.

The install will be a major project.  There is no duct work in our house.  Unlike an install on new construction, all our walls and floors are in place.  We don’t want to damage the beautiful hard woods or repair any additional plaster walls.  We haven’t finished those repairs that are already underway!  The first step was removing all the air exchangers from the basement.  In case you are unfamiliar with this, here is what little I now know.  Instead of radiators on the formal rooms of the first floor there are vents that brought heat up from the basement.  This vent system consists of  giant wooden boxes which cover the water pipes and the large metal heat exchangers. The vent system is all over the basement and encloses the piping as well as 115 years of dirt and dust.  There may or may not be lead paint.  It all had to go.  Matt had his brother and another friend offer to help and they spent three days removing everything and filled a dumpster in the process.

The wooden boxes and vents

The wooden boxes

DSC_0050 - Copy

DSC_0044 - Copy

Heat exchanger

Heat exchanger

DSC_0043 - Copy

DSC_0210 - Copy

The new furnaces have been ordered.  We are waiting for the work to begin.  The install should take about two weeks.  In the mean time I think we need to get the boiler going and get some heat on the second and third floors and unpack the sweaters and blankets.  I may even have to buy some socks!

Side note:  Since there was a little room left in the dumpster we decided now was the perfect time to gut the RV bathroom on the third floor and get all that mess out of here.  A friend of our son had come by one evening and helped with the basement demo.  He was a great help and was crazy enough to offer to do the bathroom demo for us.  Thanks D.J. for a job well done!