We’re a pair of married college teachers just out of grad school who are in the process of fixing up our first house, a 1910 center-entry Colonial Revival. It is in need of some loving attention — but aren’t we all? This blog is a place for me to articulate and chronicle the process of making this place ours.
First off, a note on the plural of the word roof. My first thought was rooves but according to the OED, the standard plural in both British and US English is roofs. So roofs it is. (Rooves is still in use and not officially incorrect, though. So that’s my fact of the day.)
So, it’s a little hard to tell, but after a long wait, two large bills, and a lot of drama, we have a new roof! And it came in two stages.
Stage One: Replacing the main shingle roof
After our paint job, this was the primary large maintenance expense we had tried to plan for. As you can see below, this is nice fresh paint (and I still love the colors) but the shingles were unfortunately starting to buckle and come apart a bit as they were a few years past their prime. When we had the house inspected before purchase in 2008, the shingles had been given a 3-5 year remaining lifespan. We pushed that all the way out until the fall of 2015, but it was definitely time. During a big rain, we had to strategically position a bucket in the back bathroom and one in the back storage room, and one wall near a bad join (which I’ll get to later) would suddenly develop random drips coming down the wall. It was especially bad near one chimney, where any really heavy rain had a way of dripping down through the edge of the attic and into one of our closets. Not great.
So, after much handwringing and saving up, we got 3 estimates and went with a reputable local roofer our home inspector had recommended. He was less expensive because he only does regular shingle roofing, not metal or thermoplastic polyolefin (membrane) roofing, and is a small business owner. He did a great job and was really nice to work with. He even built us a “cricket” which is one of these:
No more chimney drips! That raised bit where the roof meets the base of the chimney is the cricket. It basically splits the water draining down the roof surface rather than letting it pool near the side of the chimney, which had been the case before. So far it seems to be doing its job, so hooray for crickets.
He also installed a ridge vent, which helps keep air circulating in the attic and theoretically helps your shingles last longer because they don’t get quite as hot for quite as long.
Our shingle color / brand was Tamko Olde English Pewter – we picked it because it was a light grey that seemed to fit in with the old houses in our neighborhood. Obviously it’s still a modern asphalt shingle but the lighter color seemed to read well against the older roofs around us, some of which are silver-toned metal roofing or old slate – they’re all shades of grey.
Stage Two: Replacing the weird back-of-the-house low-slope roof
So the larger, main part of the house had a lovely new waterproof hat on and all seemed well, except for one minor (major) thing: the back of the house had an extension put on it in the 1980s. You can kind of see it in the upper left corner here:
We really appreciate this extension because it gives us an extra bathroom upstairs, and lets a lot of light in as well in a part of the house that is north facing and could be really dark. But the low-slope on this roof (it had once been a back porch, we think) means that it’s not a good candidate for shingle roofing. There was some rubber membrane roof up there as well, but it was getting old and starting to leak, the join between the rubber roofing and the shingles was especially bad and letting a lot of water in. Here’s the join:
Basically, from what we understand, this sort of flattish roof should probably not have been done with shingles in the first place due to the angle. But it was:
And because of the flat angle (low slope) of the roof, rain could find its way in to this space. Although the shingles were not super old or in terrible shape, the leaks were finding their way in and that was not fine.
So after another round of estimates only two companies even offered to DO the work since it was so finicky. The answer to our problems (knock on wood) is TPO roofing: thermoplastic polyolefin. It’s a thick plastic membrane roof that is heat sealed and lasts well on low-slope surfaces. Here’s a link about it! It was finally finished yesterday and a new skylight was put in the upstairs bathroom. I don’t have any “after” pics of the plastic yet, but it looks like it does in the link above. We’ve had a ton of rain this week and so far so good.
As the last worker (the skylight guy) was leaving he said “You should be all set for MANY years up there!” and I am definitely hoping he’s right.
So I was browsing through the American Radiator Company’s “Complete” catalog, which is available in full scanned version here, and it looks like our downstairs bathroom radiator may be installed sideways! Note the original ad (with my highlighting) below:
And the view in our bathroom where three large ones are installed one on top of the other:
Never even crossed my mind that they could go in a different way. I suppose it makes sense that the top pipe curves to the left though, since that would be “down” into the floor. Oh my. I had a moment of panic but then realized if they’ve made it okay for 104 years now, they’re probably alright to last a while longer.
You can see a few before and afters of this bathroom, including the mirror glass we put in the old window to cover old wallpaper, here.
Thanks to Anna of the amazing blog Door Sixteen for posting the radiator catalog link in her awesome post about having old radiators powdercoated – my dream to do throughout this house one day!
So when I left things at the end of part one, we had a dark blue painted front door (no more flower mural), which was a step in the right direction.
But although I was glad to be done with the flower painting, and liked the color (Sherwin Williams Naval) it was still a little unfinished feeling, with sort of a “blank” look to me because of that big wood panel in the middle:
Whenever I’m lucky enough to travel someplace with pretty architecture, I like to take photos of my favorite doors and doorways. One of the loveliest cities in the world for pretty doorways is Bath, near where my husband grew up in England. There are so many gorgeous doors there in all that beautiful Georgian architecture.
Here’s are a few I fell in love with this summer in Bath and Oxford:
Look at the history! The glassy paint! The great mail-slots and knockers and hand-crank doorbells. In fact, when I couldn’t find anything particularly inspiring in our local hardware stores, my sister in law mentioned a place in Bath called The Knob Connection which specializes in “door furniture” which sounded like a place that took things seriously. And they even have a website! I was thrilled.
Since our house had many years of ownership by a prominent medical family in town, and I think the style is really beautiful and timeless, I was very interested in a “doctor’s knocker” – like on the white door above – these were used to mark the doors of physicians long ago so that in an emergency you could tell where a doctor lived even in a strange town. I love historical quirky things like that, so when my sister-in-law offered to visit the shop for me, I asked her to check out this one in person.
Another one caught my eye too, though, and it’s the one she said was much nicer in person: this “English rose” round knocker. The provided photo really isn’t doing it any favors there, which is why I had initially been looking at the other one more seriously. But my sister-in-law visited the shop and decided to buy it then and there and send it over as my Christmas present, since my husband’s parents were coming over for Christmas, she asked them to pack it and bring it over – it definitely weighed down their luggage, but I’m so glad they brought it!
Although the bolts to mount it are too long for our door, so I really need to shorten them (or buy shorter ones) I went ahead and mounted it right after Christmas. I just laid a piece of paper against the back of it and used a pencil to mark the two places I would need to drill for bolts. Since I really REALLY did not want to mess up the placement of the knocker, I made a color copy of it (just laid it on the scanner bed of our printer/scanner/copier and hit “Color Copy”) for a 1:1 model of it I could reposition lots of times on the front door with tape.
When we got it where we wanted it, and had the holes marked well, it was just a matter of drilling through the door. Again, since this door has a dumb plywood panel as its middle, rather than some gorgeous piece of antique wood, I wasn’t too worried about going through the door.
And drill I did! I really need to get some larger drill bits for our drill, because as it was our largest wasn’t quite large enough and I had to keep wiggling it around to make the hole bigger, which took forever and seemed like a pretty inexact way of doing it.
Nonetheless, I was happy with the results!
When my sister in law bought it the knob-store owner told her that it was cast from a mold of an old Tudor-era door knocker, and that’s why the bottom rose looks worn, because the original one was worn down from years of use. Who knows, but I liked the story. Best Christmas present ever!
The door almost felt done, but when we removed our storm door our mail carrier became concerned because our old mail-slot was very small – about a 4.5″ opening – and he was worried about leaving larger mail outside without the storm door to hold it in. So, because I didn’t want to reattach the ratty storm door, or buy and hang another one, I decided to look for what our options might be for ordering a larger mail slot.
After a little internet research and Pinterest window shopping, I ended up looking at the selection from Signature Hardware. They had at least a few options in various styles for old houses, and the prices were fairly reasonable for solid brass door “furniture.” Since our goal was to have a LARGER opening, the styles were a bit more limited, but we ended up liking this one quite a bit:
It had the larger dimensions we needed and the color seemed somewhat close to the knocker we already had. I noticed in the comments that it was somewhat confusing to install but thought I could probably handle it.
Ha, ha, ha.
While this is a very PRETTY mail slot, and there were instructions available to print from the website, the installation process was incredibly difficult.
You have to cut a hole for the mail to go through, so using our jigsaw I enlarged the current hole. This part was pretty nerve-wracking because it was in the thick, old, wood part of the door rather than the thin plywood part. However, what REALLY made it hard was that the hole had to be WIDER at the top so that the post-flap had clearance to fold in, but narrower in the middle so that the mounting bolts could grab into it. It was NOT well or simply designed at all. Because I was worried about accidentally making the hole too LARGE, I ended up slowly, slowly chipping away at it, holding up the mail slot, chipping away a bit more, holding up the slot again, etc. I ended up hand chiseling quite a bit of the part around the top, which took SO much longer than I had imagined. But finally it was up, albeit in the middle of a big mess of 103-year-old sawdust everywhere.
I still feel like it could be a slightly better fit, and would like to get a larger drill bit to counter sink the spots where the plate screws in just a bit better, but it’s very stable as is and sometimes good enough is good enough for now. Additionally, the big inner flap is a nice bonus over our old one, which only had a flap inside the front door. This one is large enough for even wide manila envelopes and slim packages to go through. A big change, and we haven’t had any complaints from the mail carrier yet. (Phew.)
The added weight of the brass mail slot even holds outgoing mail, which was never an option before. Kind of neat.
So here’s the door now, knocker and mail slot in place:
Note that strong afternoon sun, the reason the original wood frame was so damaged. Hopefully this new look will last us a long time.
This is the story of a door. Part One.
So here’s my confession. During our recent house exterior repainting, we painted over an old wood door. We painted over wood sidelights, and a wood transom.
That’s right, we painted wood. Old wood. Some of it was even pretty wood.
You see, our front door is objectively not great. At one point, we think it must have had a glass panel inset into it. It might have matched the flower pattern in the sidelights and transom. That would have been pretty awesome. But by the time we got this house, the panel of glass – or whatever it was – had been replaced with a big piece of plywood. And the plywood had been painted with a mural of flowers.
Like most people who buy old houses, I love the look of gorgeous old wood. And believe me when I say that I love how our house is full of old wood – the floors, the furniture, the piano. If it were a door like this, you can bet we wouldn’t have been painting over it. I think there’s very little that beats the look of a gorgeous wood door surrounded by painted sidelights and a painted transom. I also really like the look of a painted door with painted sidelights and a painted transom. But the one look I’m not a big fan of is the missing combination above: a painted door with wooden sidelights and a wooden transom.
And that’s what we inherited.
Here are the issues above, as I saw them:
1) Sun damage to the wood sidelights and door, getting progressively worse from top to bottom. The top third was pretty okay – if it had all been like that we would not have painted it. But compare the wood from the top to bottom:
2) Mural on front door. Again, this is a matter of personal preference, and I’m sure it probably looked nicer 20 years ago when it was first painted, but the sun fading had not been kind to it, and to be honest we just ended up hanging a wreath over it as a cunning disguise 99% of the time.
Mural? What mural?
3) Ugly old storm door missing paint in areas due to bird poo from many years ago, also causing uneven amounts of sun damage to the door (see above image). Closed at a slight angle which caused scratching to the frame, and was not securely lockable against toddler escape.
4) Lack of interesting brass door knocker.
5) Very small mail slot that caused our mail carrier significant amounts of annoyance.
So our options were:
1) Replace the front door with one that was wholly wood and the right era/design for the house. Strip and refinish the wood sidelights and transom, and commit to an annual re-coat with UV protectant to protect them from damage from the strong sunlight on our south-facing porch.
2) Paint it all.
Guess which one won in the budgeting department?
Let’s talk about wood purists for a second. There are people – and I mean a LOT of people – who think that under no circumstances should anyone paint over wood, ever. We even heard cautionary tales from neighbors about that one house where they painted over a wood front door and people are still talking about it fifteen years later. And we were both raised by wood purists. So even though it was a pretty obvious decision from a budgeting perspective, and there are TONS of beautiful painted doors we love and have photographed on our travels, we actually took FOREVER making up our minds about it. It was by far the longest part of the decision making for the entire house, and the thing the two of us went back and forth about the most. We even had the painter paint it halfway and then made him stop so we could be sure that we were sure that we were sure. One of us may have been 39 weeks pregnant at this point – I won’t say who – and perhaps used that as a slight leverage for her (or his) perspective. But it’s all done now.
We decided to paint it.
Based on the popular photo we saw from this post at On Sutton Place, our first color choice was pretty easy: Sherwin Williams Naval. And just four coats later (next time I would definitely go with a TINTED primer to help reduce that number)… here we were:
Coming soon in Part Two (who would ever have guessed the front door would need 2 posts?): the storm door dilemma, the search for an interesting door knocker, and the soul-trying saga of installing the new mail slot.
One great moment I almost forgot about from the house painting process:
The side supports for our front steps had been coming apart for years and were in pretty terrible shape:
Eventually, of course, we’d love to redo the front steps in a beautiful way, and also redo the sloping path to the sidewalk to match. I have a Pinterest board full of inspiration ideas like this one for that project, but unfortunately ours was a budget of realism already stretched, rather than Pinterest dreams.
So, since this poor beat-up little side support and its twin are actually not at all load-bearing or important to the house’s structure, we were thrilled when our painter offered to just clear out the rotted bits, frame up a little piece of wood inside, and patch it all back together so at least things looked whole again.
Aside from the dead February landscaping, much better I think! Thank you, enterprising painter!
But the great discovery was what he pulled out when he was rebuilding it: a piece of the original trim boards, painted a vivid emerald green!
We even joked about its similarity of the Pantone 2013 color of the year, Emerald.
It’s fun to imagine what this house must have looked like, long ago, before the stucco, with its pea green siding (discovered during the chimney rebuild in 2008) and this emerald green trim. Maybe something like this? Oh for a crystal ball.
Other house colors we discovered along the way were mostly in the white-cream-tan-yellow-orange family one would traditionally expect with stucco around here. Here are a few shots we got along the way:
Trim colors through the years:
House body colors (on top of the stucco – the green was all under it) through the years:
And just as a reminder, here’s what it all looked like before and after our most recent paint job.
As I wrote about last time, as the painting process was getting underway, we have been looking forward to having our house repainted for years now.
We are so grateful to say it is now completed!
Final color choices were:
Main body of house (stucco exterior): Benjamin Moore Mesa Verde Tan (AC-33)
Trim (white): Benjamin Moore Bavarian Cream (OC-123)
Foundation / Porch floor: Benjamin Moore Clinton Brown (HC-67)
Porch Ceiling: Benjamin Moore Blue Hydrangea (2062-60)
Front Door: Sherwin Williams Naval (SW 6244)