October 29, 2009

When Tubs fly...

Tuesday October 27th dawned on 227 North Street with a monstrous crane parked on the property on the Fitch Street side. Roof trusses were the name of the game, for both the two story master section and the one story Breakfast room. While the crane and her crew were there we asked for a huge favor... The clawfoot tub that had been stored in the basement for years needed to be moved to the third floor guest bathroom. It is extremely heavy, and the concept of walking it up the two flights of very narrow stairs was inconceivable. So with a laugh at the concept, the crane crew lassoed that elusive tub and hoisted it forty some feet in the air so it could settle into its new home three stories up. So tubs, apparently, do have wings.


The rumors are true! There is not a single solitary, tiny morsel of plaster or wooden lathe left in the house. Between Garry and Fabian (Garry's daytime help), and the two of us on the weekends, the house is now a blank slate. Nothing but studs, rafters, and flooring. It is very strange and kind of creepy in the way an empty barn is dark and mysterious.
Garry and Fabian worked their butts off the last two weeks, first carefully removing and labeling woodwork for refinishing and reuse, and then tearing plaster, lathe, and gazillion nails off of the walls and ceilings. They built a chute from the second floor, down the old chimney chase, to the first floor, so plaster could be poured from the higher levels and be piled in the middle of the Living room for later removal to a dumpster via wheel barrel.
Tons of plaster was poured down this chute creating a mountain of broken plaster in the middle of the Living room floor. All of the lathe was tied into bundles and thrown out of the second and third story windows to await the final dumpster toss. Two thirty foot long dumpsters were filled with the debris, who would have thought there could possibly be that much. After the plaster and lathe was removed came the cleaning. Sweeping, sweeping, and more sweeping, followed by hours of vacuuming, and then a good blow with a yard blower. The house now sounds open and hollow, with just a moment of its former self here and there.  The staircase still stands all trimmed and railed waiting for the day when it surfaces will be refinished.
The old Hippies in town have been dancing naked in the streets to hold the rains away, and we ask that they keep dancing! at least for another eight days. By the end of next week we should finally have a water tight roof, lots of gaping holes waiting for windows, but a beautiful new roof nonetheless. The roof trusses were lifted into place last Tuesday as the cap for the modern construction, and when compared to the 140 year old construction techniques, the difference is astounding. It is so hard to imagine how the builders managed back then without pneumatic nail guns, air compressors, computerized pre-building,  laser levels, power saws, and building codes. How could you have possibly built a house back then, without umpteen million pages of do's and don'ts? Without super thick concrete walls and the ever important "Simpson Strong Tie" catalog? Without round nails? The nails in the original house are all cut nails, or four sided square nails. They are actually quite beautiful in their own right, and Phillip has been collecting them from the work site as they are pulled from old lumber, and will eventually have enough to fill a large jar. This coming weekend we will be reframing areas of the old part of the house that are getting some reconfiguration, in preparation for the arrival of Phillips Father. Ed Engel arrives the day after Halloween to begin the installation of electric and plumbing. Very exciting times ahead! Real power that is inside the walls, who would have thought.

October 27, 2009

Poop and Porn

So much has been happening at the house over the last two weeks that it is hard to keep up with it everyday. New rooms are forming on the back of the house. The Kitchen, the Breakfast room, the Gallery, the Powder room, the Master Bedroom and Bathroom, the 3rd story attic space and Bathroom. It is amazing to watch the rooms form and take shape. What was once a vision in our minds and on paper is becoming reality. I now understand the excitement that people feel when they build a house from the ground up. With the addition of each new room there seems to exist what I call the daily panic. Little surprises that catch you off guard and make you question everything you are doing. The Dining Room opening is not centered on the wall due to the placement of new tie-downs for earthquake safety. Oh My God!!! Panic!!! The room is ruined, one wall is longer than the other, and you have to walk 18 inches further to get to the kitchen! Halt all work! So then we spend an hour or so discussing the ups and downs of an asymmetrical Dining Room opening, and all of the options available. Can we move it to the right? can we move it the left? can we make it smaller? can we move the tie down? I vote for walling the whole thing shut just to make the problem go away. But in the end we come to the conclusion that it might not be too bad to have a bit of asymmetry in the Dining Room and we move on. Restart building! The very next day we show up to find an exposed beam running across the new Kitchen opening, visually bisecting it from the Breakfast Room. Oh My God!!! Panic!!! The room is ruined! Stop building! There was such a lovely flow from the Gallery Hall into the Kitchen and on into the Breakfast room. The whole house is destroyed. Forget it all, we don't want to continue, sell the whole damn place. And again we spend an hour or so talking about the pros and cons of the beam, the options, or the lack there of, and come to the conclusion that maybe it's not so bad to have a bit of visual separation and the beam does allow for a nice ending point for cabinets and crown molding. Restart building! My favorite so far was the evening, just a few days ago, when the shape of the new Breakfast room and the new Powder room made their appearance.

I was looking for a picture of a Victorian Toilet
when I came across images of Thomas Crappers 
plumbing creations from the late 1800's. 
I remember the stories of Thomas Crapper from 
my childhood visits to the Seattle Underground
where they claimed to have an original Crapper 
invented by Thomas P. 

The panic set in when it was suggested that perhaps the Powder room was too large and took up space that could be devoted to the Breakfast room.  Over to the house we went with Stewart and Thomas in tow. Phillip, and Thomas both walked through the new space and examined the powder room from this angle and that angle, circled around the area, pretended to maneuver beside the soon to be sink and then sit upon an imaginary toilet. Perching in the position, leaning left, then right, pulling nonexistent toilet paper from a nonexistent toilet paper holder, and finally standing to proclaim the space was sufficient and just fine for pooping. Hmmmm, I always wonder about folks who poop at someone elses home when they are invited over for dinner to begin with... But in case you absolutely must, apparently we have fine space to do it in.

Tying in new construction to a 140 year old home is not always the easiest and smoothest form of building. But we move onward. More and more of the house is being stripped of its plaster and lathe. The house is practically bear bones, a clean slate from which to create. As the last of the plaster has come down more and more treasure has been unearthed. So far six different stashes tucked under floorboards. Porn! That is all this house has had to offer. Late Sixties and early Seventies porn. You really have to wonder what was going on in this city over the years to have this big, vacant, spooky old house in town full of Men's magazines, and other sorts of adult periodicals...


For a city as small as Healdsburg there are an awful lot of churches in town so perhaps our house was the polar opposite, the local den of iniquity, a place for the Men folk to gather on a Sunday afternoon and do men things, like drink, smoke cee-gars, and look at naked women. I guess we shall never know, but I am thinking perhaps we should take advantage of all the churches and exorcise the house right away to expel all the ghosts of "Dirty Nurses", and "Super Bad Maids", and "Spanking Nannies".

October 14, 2009


The rains have really done us in. The new construction is an absolute soaked mess, but worse than that is the 3 inches of water sitting in the basement. We spent last weekend, with house guests in tow, cleaning the last of the construction debris from under the house. There are 2 large rooms down there, one, that is 15 by 15 feet will be a wine cellar, the other which is 17 by 27 feet, we have yet to determine its use. We chiseled away extra concrete, and raked and vacuumed as best we could. We laid huge sheets of really thick black plastic down, and moved all of the old furniture that was left in the house, the remains of the front porch and the exterior, lower, fascia boards down to the cellar rooms to make space in the house for plaster demolition. Our builder assured me that the new floor over the wine cellar would be water tight, and he would cover it with plastic to be sure. I had real trepidation, and tried to get someone, anyone to take my concerns about the impending rain seriously, to no avail. In my twisted little brain I envisioned a huge plastic tarping, very tent like, attached to the house at the old roof line and draping to the left and to the right, so as to shed all the water safely away. But, no!
Our close friend Garry, who has come here from Los Angeles to help us for a couple of weeks, arrived at the house Monday morning to find the entire basement area sporting 3 inches of standing water. The trim, the front porch pieces, the fascia boards, were floating in a swimming pool of water. The antique furniture in the wine cellar was soaking wet and every little turned leg was sitting in water. Water was cascading down the new foundation walls like the lower decks of a sinking ship. Water was pouring onto the new subfloors above and finding the nearest place to vacate the area, headed south into the basement through every hole, crack, and crevice.  I went quickly to the house to join Garry, and I did the best we could. We wiped down the furniture and put all of the legs on bricks to get them up above the water. We covered everything we could with what plastic we had and stapled it down. It was pointless to try to get any water out as new water poured down to take its place. The water found its way under the plastic sheeting in the basement and walking on it is like a carnival fun house. I'm not quite sure how we will get it dry, but we will figure it out. I know there are a bunch of old hippies that live in this area, and we sure would appreciate it if you would get those clothes off and get out there and do your naked "here comes the sun" dance.

October 06, 2009

Floored with ghosts of Vermin

We spent the weekend getting our feet wet with the removal of plaster and lathe from the former and soon to be dining room. Nasty, nasty work! The plaster, worse, its scratch coat (the first layer of mortar like plaster applied to the lathe), is full of nasty ancient horse hair and fibers, and is so disintegrated from years of abuse and neglect, that it just dissolves into a sand like powder. Masks and goggles were the name of the game but even they could not combat the dust and dirt. As each wall was opened up to the light we found, to our horror, every pocket between the wall studs had been home to a furry critter at some point. Nice soft little nests, enormous amounts of walnut shells, droppings, miniature grand staircases, tiny crystal chandeliers, fringe, tassels, and floral wallpapers, all abandoned and rotting as if the Yankees had booted them out long ago and looted all of the silver and jewels. Well good riddance! For now our internal civil war seems to have ended, with no signs of vermin anywhere. Well, accept the darn Pigeons that is. Last week as the ceiling was removed from the dining room we had to battle the Mother pigeon and her two young. The Mother had taken up residence months ago and decided that under the floor boards was a great place to hatch and raise two babies. Ugly little featherless things they were too. We decided to let them stay until the foundation was complete and it was time to raise the new walls. As the ceiling was finally removed it was discovered that not only were the babies still there, albeit they were now much older and seemed ready to fly, the Mother had gone and laid two more eggs. Has she never heard of birth control? Pigeon condoms, Planned Pigeonhood? We were completely at a loss as what to do. So for the next three hours we went off to the hardware store, purchased a window flower box, mounted it to the house nearby, moved the eggs, and then with the intention of drawing the Mother to the make shift nest we captured one of the babies, and moved it to the flower box with the eggs.  We followed that with the capture of the second baby, and moved it to the flower box as well, only to have him take his first flight leaving the other baby crying in the box next to the eggs, and the darn Mother sitting on the roof the whole time trying to figure out what in the hell these stupid humans were doing. I suppose the end of the story is a bit sad, but we tried, and did all we could. The first baby finally took off from the window box to join it's Mother and sibling on the ground. The Mother never did find where we moved the eggs, or if she did, she did not like their new home, however she and the two babies are just fine and refuse to vacate the area.


Today I ordered floor samples. Now it may not sound very exciting to all of you, but for us it is very exciting! We have known for quite some time that the floors in house would have to be replaced, or covered actually. The floors are wide plank redwood, and it sounds exotic and potentially pretty, however... They are in very rough shape. A large number of the planks are what is called flat grain, meaning that the layers of the grain of the wood are lying perpendicular to the surface. What happens with flat grain flooring is that it flakes off in large sections over time, and the more you sand, the more it flakes away. It is definitely strange that the original floors would be made of such an inferior cut of wood, but a discovery has been made that explains it clearly. Wall to wall carpet. When the house was built a carpet company was hired to come in and carpet the floors. Borders were laid around the outside edges of every room and then the centers were filled with a field carpet. All of this was done by hand. The photo below is an interior shot of the house, and appears to be approximately 1895,  notice the carpet on the floor. It looks like it was quite stunning.

 But not exactly our style. So wood it shall be. Walnut to be exact. We have looked at so many possibilities. Hard pine, too rustic, Fir, too soft, Oak, too pedestrian, Bamboo, too green, Hickory, too expensive, Wide plank Walnut, just right. Walnut will dress the house up a little, match the banister, and by using a nail down installation, look as if its always been there. A lovely medium dark glow.

The other samples that I ordered today are the tile samples for the center hall. Encaustic tile, is an inlaid pattern tile that is generally speaking, cloisonne in tile form. The effect will be of a tiled Persian carpet from the front door to the dining room door.

October 02, 2009

And the Playmate of the year is.....

More and more of the old section of our house is being exposed to day light. Timbers and lumber that have not seen the light of day in over a century are squinting at the blazing sun and searching desperately for sunglasses. This picture was taken in the dining room looking up the chimney chase which used to be encased in brick, and now awaits a new liner of wood for gas fire chimneys. Its fun and exciting to open up the dark recesses and search for hidden treasures. Just two days ago Chuck and Brent, our builders demo and construction artists, discovered an ancient treasure buried under the floor boards of the second floor attic room. Lying tucked away and buried there for forty two years was a 1967 issue of Playboy. We handled the artifact with white gloves and carefully swept the dust away with soft brushes so as to do no harm. As the beautifully preserved remnant of times gone by was gently tucked into a large plastic ziplock bag, Miss August tried to unfold and free herself from her prison, but we managed to coerce her back inside with promises of full exposure once this piece of history has been delivered to the Healdsburg Museum to be put on display with other small finds from the 1870 John Marshall House.

A truly amazing, antique specimen, note the .75 cent cover price... 
Ahhh, the old days!

I find the vintage clothing and hairstyle to be quite fascinating,
hard to believe people actually dressed like that, can you imagine?


As more of the house prepares to go up a story, it seems more is torn down. The wall that separates the dining room from the kitchen area was never meant to be replaced, but upon opening it up it was discovered that it was built with two by three inch studs instead of two by four. So down she came. Even the framed in wall in the picture will mostly be removed as it is to have an eight foot opening in it that leads from the dining room into the new hallway. So down it will come. But, I promise that new construction will start one week from today, and the tear down will stop. Instead the back of the house will fill in and rise up to its new finish height.

Choices are being made left and right. Its great fun and very exciting to search and research, and search some more, to find craftsmen who can do the types of work you need, and are willing to do them for a reasonable cost. We will have windows to add to the existing ones and new exterior doors in about a month. The original windows are being kept in place where they are and restored, but any missing windows for the new construction are being handmade to be exactly like the windows from 1870, weights, ropes, pulleys and all. Doors on the other hand are tough. There is not a single photograph of the house that shows a door. They are either in shadow or open. All we can do is guess as to their original design, and guess we have. But I think they will be beautiful! My next post, unless we have another visit from the Crank on the Crankscoot x5000, will be about floors and tile. Sounds kind of dry but I am sure I can find a way to put a twist on it!

October 01, 2009

Bitter party of one, your table is ready

Image created in a collage style based on artwork by B.K. Taylor

I may get in trouble for this one folks....
Tuesday morning, as we waited patiently for the house to be lowered down onto the ground, nerves were tight, tension and excitement were in the air, the house was so ready to come down. The monstrous beams holding the house aloft were starting to bow downward on the ends, and consequently the living room and the library had developed horrible humps in their floors as the outside perimeter walls headed south leaving the center in the upward position. We stood watching and waiting when down North street he came. One of those folks you see around town in those electric wheel chairs. Hunched over, head pushed forward, eyes wide, and definitely on a mission. He rode that chair as fast as its engine would go, hold onto your hats ladies because I think he may have managed a whopping two miles per hour. With that electric motor whining like a dying sewing machine he came barreling down the sidewalk, westward on North street.
Now, there is not an access ramp at our corner, so it necessary for a wheelchair to cross North street at Fitch to be able to maneuver back onto the sidewalk and continue toward town. Well he didn't, he came down the ramp at Fitch and instead of crossing to the other side, he headed down the middle of the street passing beside us as we all stood on the sidewalk. I saw him coming and tried to catch his eye with an inviting smile, but he didn't look up, didn't look sideways at all the commotion, just simply kept driving his machine forward with all guns blaring. As he past me he uttered one sentence...
"Looks like a million dollar pile of kindling to me!"
And on he went, as fast as his chair would carry him. Ok, so its kinda funny, but I was tired, excited, worried, and little bit crabby all at the same time, and it pissed me off! Here we are with everything on the line, playing like we know what we are doing and what we have gotten ourselves into, and some cranky old guy rides by, with a holier than tho attitude, and throws out pot shots. All I could think in my head was... "Bitter party for one, your table is ready!"
I wanted to run after him and just push him over... but I didn't, I am better than that, and besides, by that point he was too far down the road anyway, so I bit my tongue, kept my feet planted where they were, and just stared in astonishment, desperately hoping he was one of the few and not the many, and remembered my mantra.... Acceptance, not tolerance!