Sunday, July 24, 2011

The beginning of the window project

Still moving. Boxes everywhere at the apartment. Today, we went over to Pugsley to work on two projects: taking up the existing dining room rug and trying an experiment on the existing wooden storm windows.

Much of the house still has its original single-page glass windows. There are six along the front of the house on the ground floor, and two on the living room side. They don't seem to have been opened in a while, with one exception of a living room window that seems to have held an air conditioner.

The windows are sash windows, six-pane divided lights above and below. They're so old they don't even have ropes and weights. They're in excellent condition, in the front of the house, anyway, in part because the front windows have always been sheltered by the porch that runs the length of the house. On the exterior, there is a storm window for each, the old wooden type held on at the top by a traditional steel storm window hanger, which is a different kind of hook and eye fastener, at the top of the window. The fasteners had been painted over. Last weekend, Capel and I tried to get one loose. We could get a window up (oh, yes, those seem to have swelled shut too over the winter), and we could even get the storm loose at the bottom and push it out a bit. But the storm wasn't going to budge off the hook and so couldn't be removed. So after some (slightly heated) conversation, we put the storm back where it came from. At that moment, the window project became mine.

I thought about it all week and did a little research online. There are companies that make reproduction wooden storms, and a few that also make wooden screen inserts. Ultimately, we'll need the screens, because we have a cat. I'm of a mind to try making the screens ourselves. Don't know if this is a foolhardy gesture.

There are a bunch of old wooden screens in the basement, none of which seems to be the right dimension for any of the existing windows. My presupposition is that they were gathered together randomly from nearby houses. The windows in this house are primarily of two sizes. The screens are every size but.

But the screens have given us some ideas about how to make screens ourselves. They're a very simple construction. That is for another post -- after we've had a chance to photograph them and think more about making them.

Today, my job was to get out a chisel and hammer and see if I could loosen the paint on the fastener hardware enough to free the storms. I started on a back window, slightly more inconspicuous. With my first hammer, though, I knew I was home free. The paint curled up and a slightly rusty steel fastener glinted cleanly underneath. It took a little patience to carve away the paint and get down to steel, but it was possible, and not even very difficult.

Capel found a rasp in the basement, and I used it to get along the top of the hook, where the chisel didn't reach very well. After some appropriate bragging and crowing, we moved the ladder around to the front porch, and Capel went in to work on the dining room rug.

It was contemplative work. Six windows, two hooks per window. Maybe 10 minutes each, probably less. I'd found the chisel, slightly the worse for neglect these 10 or 15 years, in the bottom of my toolbox. It's got a lemon yellow transparent plastic handle. The blade is a bit rusty now. I bought it when I was 17 or 18, an art student in a Christian school, for my sculpture class. It falls neatly into my hand, and the hand, hammer, chisel machine has a mind of its own. It has a familiar way of working that doesn't require any thought. Tap, turn, tap, turn, tap, turn. All along the angles of the hook and it's counterpart mechanism. I think about how little that 18 year-old self of mine might have guessed that the sculpture skills would be used to chisel paint off of window hardware a century or more old.

It's 10 a.m. and 90 degrees in the shade of the porch. I drink a bottle and a half of water, and the sweat pours off my forehead and down my back. Finally, the job is done. I go inside and use the rubber mallet to tap at a few windows, rubbing the frame above the windows with a candle, to give them a bit of glide. Most of them open -- and promptly fall down again.

Mental note. We will need sticks to use as props, as well as temporary expandable screens. That's for next weekend.

I look around. Capel is long gone -- out to run errands and to bring back the vacuum from the apartment. The dining room rug has left little piles of brown dust, the disintegrated rug pad that has clearly been in place for 60 years. The rug was incredible. A handmade round braided rug the entire size of the dining room, which is 15x16 feet. It was made locally, by a friend or neighbor, for the room. The outer edges have been demolished by the thousands of footsteps on it over the years though, and is unsalvageable. The sellers' agent, who knows the family, suggested we try to salvage the center of the rug. So out it goes to the garage, until we get a chance to look at it more closely.

While I'm surveying the dust, I notice a small box marked fragile in the corner. I'd forgotten that I brought this box up during the week. It is my tea things, for the glass-doored built-in in the breakfast nook. I tiptoe through the dust gingerly and go out to survey the built-in. One pass of the hand tells me yes, it needs to be cleaned. So out I go for the bucket, murphy's oil soap and a rag.

But before that, there is a third window in the breakfast nook that I thought might have a screen. The windows out here are newer, perhaps from the 50's or 60's. Casement windows with gerry-rigged storms on the inside. Last weekend, Capel and I found screens for the smaller casement windows on either side of the picture window. And then I found a box the sellers had left, with their father's handwriting on it. "These are the parts for the kitchen windows." It was a crank. How we put that together is another story. But on the side of the nook is a third casement window. I thought I had seen a screen downstairs that would match. These are a dark piney color, nothing like the whitewashed screens to the rest of the house. So after hunting up the tape measure, trudging down to the basement to measure and bringing up the find, sure enough, it was a screen. No sign of the crank mechanism though, to open the window on the outside of the screen. But never matter. I slip the screen in, and secure it with a nail slipped into a well-worn hole at the top of the window frame, a fastener of the previous owner's devising.

It started to rain, softly. And as I ran the tap water, filled the bucket with Murphy's Oil soap suds and started pulling out contact paper and wiping down years of dust, the soft rain shelled down around me. Quiet and peaceful.

An hour later, the blue built in piece is cleaned, along with a small bit of the wallpaper, which turns out to be washable in the kitchen. The built in is ancient. Seems to have been moved here from somewhere else, and then customized for this space. Because the chest of drawers below has a little side-panel that seems to have been added onto an existing piece. But the mahogany board on top pulls it all together, and it looks like it grew here, like a tree. There is a bread board and the pull on that is amazingly beautiful. The rest of the hardware is replacement, I'm guessing, and matches most of the existing hardware in the house.

It washes up nicely. As I wash it, I notice the layers of paint. It was originally varnished, oak, perhaps. Above that 3 layers of paint, yellow, then green, then blue. I recall a magazine article where a woman painted new cabinets in two layers and then sanded, hammered and otherwise distressed the cabinets to reveal both layers of paint and make the cabinets look old. Mine already look old. I wonder if I lightly sand the places where the paint is chipping away, whether I'll get a cooler, more finished look. Yellow, blue and green are a nice color combination, and the cabinets and woodwork don't really need to be repainted, but they just seem a bit faded. Maybe some purposeful distressing would bring them back to life. It occurs to me to wonder if my callous remover, which is made of some sort of volcanic rock, would do the trick.

But at the moment, I'm beat. That's all for another day. I dump out the murphy's oil soap. Then comes the best part. Some unpacking. The first thing to come to light is an ancient children's tea set that my sisters and I found up in the attic in our home in Ohio when I was maybe in 4th grade. It's not complete. Just four blue glass eight-sided plates, two smaller yellow eight-sided plates, a green cup and a blue top, driftwood from an unsurviving sugar bowl most likely. They've always felt a bit mysterious, from another time. Whose were they. How did they come to be left in the attic. Did some girl leave them behind unintentionally, or did she grow up, left home without them, and her parents moved, leaving them behind for us to find and play with. I place them in the place of honor -- where a normal sized plate would be, behind the plate rim. Then I unpack my great-grandmother's tea service, carefully arranging it a few shelves up. Then my little harum-scarum collection of tea cups, tea pots and espresso cups.

Now I'm exhausted, hot and sweaty and trembling. I carry my rocking chair out to the porch and sit there, resting my head back.

Capel returns and vacuums up the dust in the dining room. Underneath is a beautiful, red maple colored floor. Much lighter than the part of the floor that was not covered all these years.

We go around closing windows and doors and drawing shades. And just before we leave, I take out Capel's handmade toy elephant, complete with umbrella, and other curiosities for which I don't know the names. All I know is that this little creature has followed me around now for 3 years, and takes the first perch available. This one happens to be a little nook next to the fireplace.

I haul Capel back in to see. He smiles. It is a good day for us and Pugsley.

Friday, July 15, 2011

We DID it!!!!

Today we  bought the Pugsley house. I'm so excited, I can't sleep. Up with a pot of warm milk. We closed at 3 this afternoon. It was simple and relatively painless. During the closing we learned that the previous owners bought the house from a family named Long -- that was some 60 years ago. Originally, the house was part of the Ryder Farm, something I don't know much about yet. Exactly how the Pugsleys fit in is yet to be determined.

Tomorrow, early, 8 a.m., we meet the first contractors to do a bit of work on the house. That should be interesting.

But today was sweet, and a long time coming. After the closing, we drove over to the house. It was the first time we'd been in the house alone.  I'll have to dig back and figure out the date we first saw it, but for months, whenever we've seen it, other people have been with us -- always helpful, kind, in fact. But still. I wanted to rattle around in it for a little while without an object, without company.

It's such an amazing house. Built sometime in the early 19th century, a farmhouse with a well beside it. I see climbing roses whenever I see the well, and I have a potted climbing rose, pink, that has survived two winters in a pot -- so it occurred to me a few minutes ago, lying sleepless in bed, that I don't have to wait to move in to plant that rose next to the well. I need to learn more about climbing roses. How to put it in, in such a way that when we have to paint, we don't kill the rose to paint the house ... ?

So, perhaps a tour is in order. The photos can come later -- first a description. It sits on a corner on the outskirts of a small town in Westchester County, north of New York City. The lot is about a third of an acre. The road beside it is a short dead-end. The street running in front of the house is a feeder road, running to a four-lane parkway behind the house maybe 500 yards or more.

The house sits relatively near the front of the lot, and is long and low. There is a porch along the entire front of the house, situated low to the ground, so low that there is no need for a railing. At regular intervals along the porch, there are 6 windows, probably original to the house, single-paned glass, wavy, with old-fashioned wooden storm windows hung from brackets at the top of each window. It's a porch made for a porch swing and rockers or wicker.

Entering the front door from the porch puts you in the dining room, which originally was probably the living room of the house. It's a large, square room with a built-in hutch, a low ceiling, a giant hand-made circular rag rug on the floor, and wallpaper that dates back to the 40's or 50's. A geometrical pattern in gold and green.

To the left of the dining room is a room that was originally the dining room. It has a fireplace. It's a charming room, with windows overlooking the porch and on either side of the fireplace, looking out the southern gable end of the house. This will be my writing studio.

Going back through the dining room and all the way across it, you enter the addition to the house, which seems to be nearly contemporaneous with the house itself. On the first floor, the addition is a single room, the current living room, which runs the entire gable end of the home. Two of its windows overlook the porch. The other two frame another entrance, this one to Pugsley Place, the dead end. The room is large and painted a dark, colonial blue. It has a somewhat modern fireplace and a few built-ins around the fireplace. The doors (to the dining room and to the outdoors) bisect the living room into two equal halves, presenting a design issue that we will have to solve, after we move our couches in.

Just off the living room at the back of the house is a late addition (paperboard, not plaster, walls). A slanting roofed unheated lean-to. This may have been the original summer kitchen. It will be my husband's painting studio, and one of the first things we'll have done to the house is to have two windows put in on the left wall, to open the view out over the backyard and let in more light.

The kitchen entrance is off the dining room, running along the back of the house behind my writing studio. There is a small addition off the kitchen--a fabulous, slightly woody breakfast room, with windows on all three walls overlooking the yard. The kitchen will take some major work sometime in the next five years. The existing cabinets are a charming hodge-podge of original wood upper cabinets, probably from the 1910's or 1920's, and stand-alone lower cabinets added at various points from the 30's to the 70's. The sink is a standalone metal piece, topped with an enamel sink and drainboard, and integrated into the oldest dishwasher I have ever seen -- made in the 60's perhaps? Needless to say, it does not work (though to be precise, we have not actually tried to turn it on). Fearsome things would result, I am sure.

From the kitchen, there are backstairs up to the second floor, which is something of a half floor. The walls of the house are only about shoulder-height here (my shoulder, which is only about 4' tall). The windows are plentiful, but knee height, except on the gable ends, where the windows are a more normal size. From the half-wall, the ceilings follow the roofline for a distance, sloping up until they reach normal height, two or three feet into each room. The overall feel is that of a dusty attic, charming but very light. The light that filters in from the knee windows is incredible. Absolutely impossible to describe the kind of light it creates, something like the depths of a pine wood in mid-summer.

There are four bedrooms upstairs and one bath. We are told that originally (after the addition) there were eight bedrooms, with a very large farmers' family and assorted farmworkers and family members living in the house. At some point, the upper floor was renovated into four bedrooms and a bath. Three of the bedrooms are generously sized. The master bedroom, directly above the living room, runs the entire width of the house, and is the same size as the living room. That room will be our son's room. It is wallpapered in a floral wallpaper from the same era as the dining room. At the other end of the house, there are two smaller bedrooms on either side of the hall, both longer than they are wide. One has the original wide-plank pine floors --as does the living room-- the others have wood floors or floors covered with wall-to-wall carpet and are yet to be discovered. The fourth bedroom is in the middle of the house and will be used for storage.

The bath will need some work. The shower is under the eaves, and I am the only member of the family who will be able to take a shower standing up. Next to the shower is the toilet, in a lovely square space that will make an excellent separate shower. The room is big enough to move the toilet across the room, next to the sink and vanity, once we put in a smaller vanity. That will be some work.

Today, we only got so far as to gingerly peel up the lime green shag carpet in the bathroom, to explore what is underneath. Ninety-year-old linoleum is what seems to be underneath. So old that it has no shine, no waterproofing capability. And it curls up brown and crumbling as an old wavery manuscript next to the bath, where water has seeped down over the years.  I'm hoping there might be wood, underneath that.

So anyway, that was our first day. My new husband carried me over the lintel, after I made a few delicate coughs to remind him that I was still out on the stoop ...

It was a sweet moment.