Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Back Porch/Playroom-Schoolroom: BEFORE

 Oh, it is such fun to tear off something old and discover something even OLDER underneath.  Goodbye, strange pre-drywall wood-shaving-composite panels... hello, old beadboard and original exterior siding.  (This room used to be a back porch, probably added in the 1920's or 30's, before the exterior siding was covered by stucco.)

Part of me hates to lose the vintage clown wallpaper, but it's faded and stained and torn in spots.  Time to move on.

A coat of off-white paint (Behr's Elegant Ivory, which is on the trim throughout the house and still available in Home Depot's computers although no longer on the paint samples) has already fixed up this beadboard nicely... just one wall (the siding) and the ceiling left.  I'm going to try to leave the old, weathered turquoise up on the trim.  Hope it doesn't contrast in a nasty way with the brand new paint.  We'll see.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Joining the club.

Sharon, is it too late to join?  This could be a picture of my own hands in the spring!

...I've been silent here all winter, but there's been plenty going on in the house... I'll take some photos tomorrow.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Chairs from the Home Place

When our first child was just six weeks old, my grandmother died unexpectedly of heart failure.  She was 88, so it wasn't as tragic as that might sound, but I still miss her greatly.  I still remember trying to get to central Arkansas from Orlando, where we lived back then, and hoping I could introduce her to Gracie before she was gone.  We didn't quite make it.

She and my grandfather were married for half a century, and she lived on almost 20 years after a heart attack took him from her as he tended to an Angus bull on their cattle farm.  They built every bit of that farm themselves-- cedar post fences strung with barbed wire, an enormous pole barn, a one-room cabin later replaced by a 1950s ranch that she lived in until the weekend she died.  Granddaddy's family had owned the land since the 1850s, but they started their life together penniless and turned their piece of the land into a beautiful little farm, bisected by a creek, rolling with hills and good pasture.  None of us wanted to farm cattle, though, and so when she passed away, we knew we'd have to sell it.  It was a difficult decision.  It's a bit ironic that their success with the farm led to college educations for the rest of their descendants, and therefore the end of the family's long history in Dardanelle, Arkansas.

A few months after her death, I was at her farm with my parents, trying to sort through the accumulation of 88 years of belongings (of a couple who'd survived the Depression and therefore hated to throw away anything remotely useful-- including items as mundane as ketchup packets and used envelopes).  I chose just a few big pieces to welcome into our home:  her secretary desk, a full size bed for the guest room, and-- best of all-- two old green metal lawn chairs that had sat in her backyard throughout my childhood.

They're big, sturdy chairs, simply made and slightly bouncy to sit in.  I can't count the number of times I saw her or Granddaddy sitting in those chairs while we played in the yard.  As I loaded them up, though, I saw some rust and signs of deterioration.  The bolts that held them together were crusted with rust and corrosion.  I knew that someday, I'd have to fix them up if I wanted to save them.  I'd seen how metal lawn furniture of this vintage can quickly chip and flake if carelessly spray painted, so I wanted to find a more permanent solution.

We moved back to Arkansas and bought the beloved but time-sucking house.  Another baby showed up.  Life began to get impossibly busy.  Four years pass.

This summer, I found myself promised to host a women's brunch and was a little embarrassed about all our home's "rough edges."  When you get pregnant unexpectedly a month after moving into a restoration/renovation project, plans tend to get delayed a bit... and we'd let that excuse ride a little too long.  I spent a couple of weeks before the brunch doing a number of other little projects around the house.

...This project is my favorite, though.  Grandma's chairs had been sitting on the front porch since we moved in, and once the house was painted, they started to look really out of place and shabby.  (You can just spot their two backs behind the shrub in this photo from last October.)  One day in June, I loaded them up and visited an auto body shop down the road, one owned by an older gentleman whose eyes lit up when I told him why I wanted them refinished well.  He charged me $100 to repaint both chairs and the little side table-- and I consider that a great bargain.  These chairs are now custom-painted to match our house and coated with nearly indestructible automobile paint.  New steel bolts, nuts, and washers completed their transformation, and I put them back together myself. 

It's surprisingly satisfying to see them on my front porch as we enter and exit each day, or to sip a cup of coffee in them with my husband in the morning before the kids wake up.  I feel like a piece of the Fulton Angus Farm lives on, right here on my porch.  The chairs from the Old Home Place have found a new life at what we hope to be our family's Home Place; perhaps someday my daughter or granddaughter will be hauling them off to her house, just as determined to save them as I was four years ago.

It's a tad silly, but I hope Grandmother and Granddaddy have a chance to see them somehow, and that they make them smile.

(If God let Grandmother see me writing the check to the autobody shop, though, I'm gonna hear an earful someday.  She'd be horrified that anyone spent $100 on those old chairs.)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Fencing research.

We've decided that it's time to get serious about building a fence.  Our toddlers are at that perfect age when they love to be in the yard with us, and I'm dying for some extended time working on our garden and flowerbeds.  I can't really do that, though, with a steep slope out back and a street out front and two little ones to keep an eye on.  But with a fence... ah!  Outdoor bliss!

It's hard to know how to fence a historic home.  My husband's too busy for massive handyman construction projects, so a uniquely creative artsy handmade fence is rather out of the question.  However, your standard Home Depot privacy or picket fences (or worse, the white plastic ones) won't exactly fit the bill either.  I see them on older homes, and I always think, "hmm.  someone recently did that."  When you're trying to be true to the house's history, that just looks too out of place.

I've had an idea for ages, and no idea whether it was even doable:  I wanted some of the old wire fencing that I've seen in the backyards of older neighborhoods-- loopy wire stuff that was closer together on the bottom (the better to block those pesky garden-eating rabbits) and fairly inobtrusive visually.  Problem was, I'd never seen it for sale, and had no idea what to call it.

After a lot (and I mean a LOT) of searching, I located a very old but ongoing thread on Gardenweb's Heirloom Plants and Gardens forum that felt like the Pearl of Great Price when I stumbled upon it.  Here were other "weird old house people," like me, looking for this antiquated fence!  And it WAS still being manufactured and sold in the USA!  Fabulous.

As a result, I've found:
A name:  Double loop ornamental fencing (or, possibly, rainbow, twisted wire, ornamental loop, arch top, or scallop top).
A current online source for 100 foot rolls of the stuff, should I be unable to order it at our local farm store.  Shipping will be painful.
A recommended support (poles cut from chain link fencing's horizontal support rails) that will mimic the thinner poles used in historic versions of this fence.
Tips on installation.
Pictures and descriptions of other homeowners' projects with this fence.
Examples of shipping costs.

I'm still a little lacking on actual pictures of historic homes with this type of fencing (although this Australian site is very helpful).  This would have been all but impossible without the internet-- and Gardenweb, which has an amazing array of home and garden forums with incredibly helpful people at the ready to help me with my obsessions.  :)

I spotted some fences made with this type of wire in a historic Victorian town not far from here, but didn't have time to grab pictures of the ones I liked best- they were installed w/ rigid top bars between the fenceposts, and painted black.  But here are two simpler installations worth looking at:
Here's a house built high on a steep hill.  It's hard to tell without clicking on the photo to zoom in, but that' s my wire fence up there, strung on metal posts that look like they're embedded into concrete blocks, which have been incorporated into the retaining wall.  In the larger photo below, you can see detail of the gate and the fence.
This one's a plain little fence, set on wooden posts with larger wooden corner posts (4x4?) that look like they're doing most of the work.  The gate was neat at this house, but there was a car parked in the way and I would've have to have gotten out of the car to get a picture.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Late March snow.

We've been watching a heavy, wet snow fall outside all this Sunday morning.

"It'll turn to rain after 10 a.m.," they said.  Ha.

Six inches or more and still coming down.

"It was spring, but now it's winter again!" said Gracie.

Quite bizarre for us Southerners!

Encounter with the Grave

Boy, that sounds dramatic.

A couple of weeks ago, my family journeyed down to the Ponca area to hike Lost Valley and meet up with our family.  Cousins trooped through the woods together, but because of a mild foot injury, I was pretty sure that a long hike over uneven terrain would prove painful for me.  I backed out of the hike and explored the valley a bit instead.

First, a stop at the Elk Center in Ponca, where I found the Ernsts' book on Arkansas hikes for kids and an Audubon stuffed animal replica of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker (my favorite) with an authentic call that sounds when you press its back.  Yay!

Next, I drove through the valley, stopped for a bit to watch the elk herds and take a few (bad, long-distance) photos, then drove into the Boxley Valley Baptist church to get a better look at their historic building.  I'd read in Michael Dougherty's blog that restoration was badly needed, and boy is that ever the case.  It was a little heartbreaking to see the decay of one of Arkansas' historic landmarks.  If a restoration drive starts up, I think I'd like to help.

I decided to wander through the little graveyard at the church before I returned to Lost Valley to meet the crew.  I love old cemeteries.  People's stories fascinate me, and strolling through rows of old tombstones always gives me amazing glimpses of so many past lives (and ways of life).  I can't quite explain why, but I find it somehow centering.

So, I'm wandering through the tombstones, noting various family names from the area, when I spot one from a couple of rows away that literally sends a little jolt through me.  "PERME," reads a large and fairly recent stone.  Several around it say Perme as well.  I approach, and confirm what I can hardly believe:  I've stumbled upon the graves of Elizabeth and Joe Perme, the second owners of our home.

I only have a sketch of the Permes in my head, gleaned from what their daughters told us as we bought the house:  Joe was a World War II veteran, a Navy carpenter who was practical, resourceful, and perhaps a bit muleheaded.  He worked for the Buffalo River National Park, I believe as a maintenance supervisor.  Our home is full of his creative enhancements:  he added closets, shelves, workbenches, shelves, kitchen cabinets.  He also notched out a beam so that he wouldn't bash his head, added a chin-up bar in the basement, curved the corner of the bottom basement step so that you couldn't bruise your shin on it as you carry laundry up and down.  He once took advantage of his wife's absence to cut a hole in our kitchen/dining room wall so that he could reach through to get the phone-- although the doorway's only about six inches to the left of the hole. (His wife, they say, was livid.)  I think of him fondly as I move through our house, seeing how much love and time he obviously poured into it.

Elizabeth was his wartime wife, a German woman who was a tidy housekeeper.  Her stove, an old gas Kenmore from the 1960s or so, was in meticulous condition when we moved in (sadly, we are messier cooks then she).  They were thrifty people.  Their carpet was over 40 years old; their bathroom sink had been cracked on its installation in the 1980s and was never replaced, but still holds water perfectly due to their patching.  I know that they lost their only son while living here; he was killed in a motorcycle accident in Ponca, going to visit his newly married twin sister.  I've found a little ceramic baseball mitt and an old plastic squirtgun in the basement, and thought of the pain they must have experienced together in this house.

My affection for them (and the Wilsons, the house's first owners) is rather ardent.  So finding their resting place was a bit like seeing a ghost, or a flash of deja vu... a bit spooky, a bit startling.

After I got past my surprise, I took a moment and thanked them for their house, the love they had for it and for their family, and how much I feel blessed to be living in their home of over 40 years.

It was a lovely conclusion to my little solo excursion.  

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Why an old house?

 This is a repost of an entry I made in my Rootsome blog a while back.  I'm moving it over here as I try to separate family/personal stuff from house stuff, creating one home for each type of writing.

Why do I want to live in an old house? People ask that sometimes (or imply it with their eyes, as they see our somewhat chaotic life as we work to restore and update this home that we've chosen). I thought I'd take a little time and list some of my favorite details about this place. (I'd hoped to make it to 100, but I just don't have the stamina tonight.)

In absolutely no particular order.

1. I love the aesthetics of older rooms. Wood floors, big mullioned windows, higher ceilings. There's something peaceful about their spaces.
2. I love living WITHOUT homeowners' associations, because I'm an untidy yard person. Nobody's going to sniff at me if I leave my hose lying out in the side yard. If there's a bag of egg cartons on the front porch swing waiting to go to church (for a member's neighbor who sells eggs), nobody will be horrified. I do not have to water or weed my "lawn" or spray it with chemicals to keep the neighbors from being terrified of its dandelions. There is freedom in that for me.
3. We live on a steep hillside, but my backyard has a perfect garden-sized terrace built into it, because everyone used to grow their own vegetables. All I had to do was kill a little "grass" (see #2) and plant.
4. Our view. This was one of the first houses in the area, and we gaze over valleys in three directions. It's not a grand vista, but it's charming to have a little elbow room around us.
5. Our walls. Solid wood, 1" thick, where drywall would be in a modern house. Beat that for sound and weather insulation.
6. Our hooks and nails. Wherever I find a need to hang a robe, a cleaning brush, a picture, a plant... there's almost always a nail or hook already there to fill the need. And not just a boring modern robe hook, but a lovely patina'd wire one, full of character, or a chrome Art Deco model, sleek and striking. Makes me grin.
7. The flowers. The original owner was a hardware store owner, his wife a dedicated gardener. Come spring, our yard erupts with hundreds of pink hyacinths, daffodils, and some truly giant ancient shrubbery-- lilacs, a pink dogwood, and a giant fuschia azalea. It's gorgeous and fragrant, fodder for some truly amazing bouquets.
8. Mr. Perme's modifications. The second owner of the house was a WWII carpenter, and when something was in his way, he cheerfully altered it. The bottom stair to the basement, positioned to bang your shin terribly, has been rounded and sanded to avoid just that. A low ceiling beam in the porch's crawlspace has a notch cut out of it-- just tall enough, I imagine, for Mr. Perme to move through the space without cracking his head. Two closets were added upstairs (absolutely vital for modern life). A giant bookshelf was built in the dining room. The basement is full of wooden shelving, benches, worktables. I think Mr. Perme regularly as I move through the house-- we would never have time or attention to add all this ourselves.
9. The backyard's circular flower bed, ringed with a low wall of stones and cement, that I plan to someday make very useful (strawberries) or very beautiful (flowers).
10. Over an acre and a half.
11. The wild purple flowers that bloom in the thicket's shrubs on the side lot in the spring. I don't know what they are, but they're beautiful.
12. A neighbor who gardens and hangs out clothes on a clothesline and loves their old house like we love ours.
13. An enclosed back porch that makes a perfect playroom; the kids can play there, or bring their toys into the living areas, just a few feet from where I am in the living room or kitchen.
14. Old windows with wavy glass that we can easily repair ourselves. We've already repaired (okay, my husband has skillfully repaired) at least half a dozen of the old sashes, and the windows go from being impossibly heavy to lift to being able to raise and lower them with just a few fingers. We can replace broken glass, even repair rotten wood in the frames, easily, without having to replace entire windows. Incredibly sustainable. (Yes, they leak some heat and cold. It's worth it.)
15. The "E.P." childishly painted in a pseudo-stained glass "work of art" in the upper panes of Evelyn Perme's old bedroom. It's hidden by a valance, and I'm not sure I'll ever want it removed. It tells a story.
16. The smallest windows in the house are on the west and east sides, to shield the house from the freezing old and blazing sun. The largest windows are on the south side, to bring in light and heat in the winter, and light without heat in the summer. Every bedroom but one has windows on two walls, which makes arranging furniture a challenge but lets in wonderful breezes and air when the windows are opened. Double-hung windows will let cool air in the lower openings while letting hot air flow out the upper openings. Wonderful "green" design from 90 years ago.
17. Because of all this thoughtful design, and the fact that our living space is all downstairs and our bedrooms all upstairs, we've learned that the house is entirely livable 95% of the time without any heat or a/c on the upper floor. Enough heat rises in the winter to keep us cool, but not cold (as is good for health and good sleep); enough night air can be drawn in through the upstairs windows with fans in the summer to keep us cool enough to sleep. It's amazing, but I see no need to invest big bucks to install ductwork and a climate control system. 5% of the year, we're uncomfortable. That's a tiny amount.
18. The "J.O. Wilson, March 7, 1920" written in the concrete of the garden retaining wall. The original owner, leaving his mark. (The house was four years old by then; I think the date represents the day the concrete was poured...?)
19. The low stone wall on the south side of the house, lined with hundreds of iris plants that erupt in bloom twice a year.
20. The double-drainboard cast iron sink on its metal cabinet in the kitchen.
21. A cool basement for keeping potatoes and onions and such. (We're trying to grow our own this year and will need a place to store them.)
22. Wiring and plumbing that's simple and straightforward, and made of higher-quality materials than can now be bought at any normal price.
23. Insulation board that Mr. Perme has crammed into every imaginable crack and orifice of the basement and back porch. I'm sure it's part of why our utility bills are so reasonable-- but he was obviously obsessed.
24. The pull chains on the bare-bulb fixtures in the original closets upstairs, which turn on and off with such a smooth, flawless motion after 90 years. (I compare these to one modern one we have-- it's cheap, flimsy plastic and has to be pulled so hard that I'm afraid I'm going to break it each time I need to use it.)
25. The medicine cabinet oddly installed on the back porch, which has never been a bathroom. What on earth did they need to store there?
26. Woodwork that's heavy, thick, and elegant, on every window and baseboard and doorframe of the house.
27. The "pass-through" hole in the wall between the kitchen and the dining room, created by Mr. Perme when he got sick of bringing the telephone from one room to another via the doorway. (According to their daughter Evelyn, Mrs. Perme was NOT home when he knocked a hole in her kitchen wall, and she was NOT pleased when she returned.)
28. Mail delivered to the mailbox on our porch railing, rather than in a box out on the street.
29. A big front porch swing.
30. Big, big, big oak trees surrounding the house-- but not overhanging it. I especially appreciate the shade and privacy they provide in the summer.
31. A hook by the front door that's just right for a holiday wreath, and little cup hooks installed all along the front porch that hold a string of Christmas lights perfectly.
32. Our little one-car garage, made of local stone with the original tin tile roof still intact. (Now, I do wish we still had a door on that garage, but I guess one can't have everything...)
33. Gutters that feed directly into underground drains that dump rainwater far away from the house.
34. Concrete borders built on either side of narrow beds flanking the sidewalk leading to our front door: a perfect planting bed for hostas.
35. Old windows, hinges, window locks, panes of wavy glass, light fixtures, etc, all carefully preserved in the basement and shed.
36. A heavy old metal window fan, a gift from the Permes when we bought the house, that is strong enough to pull cool air in from every window upstairs on summer nights.
37. An old wood-handled flathead screwdriver, fished out of a window, that somehow works better for the old screws in our hardware and doorknobs.
38. Layers of linoleum and contact paper in the kitchen cabinet that tells the story of decades of decor changes. I'd never remove those.
39. Sweet pea vines that spring up, wild and crazy, and cover areas of the yard with blooms and fragrance in the summer. They're messy, but I can't bring myself to remove them yet.
40. Old glass storm windows on the playroom windows, that multiply the wavy-paned effect and make the room swim with light.
41. Rabbits that live in the thicket on the side lot and occasionally appear in our yard, nibbling clover. (I may change my mind about those rabbits now that we're trying to grow vegetables...)
42. Marbles dug up when we planted the hostas in the front yard: evidence of children playing on the sidewalk, long ago.
43. Oak floors downstairs, which refinished beautifully.
44. Original pine floors upstairs with lovely gaps between the boards because of their age. (Most of those floors are carpeted now for the childraising years, but someday, we'll refinish the rest of them too.)
45. A beautiful staircase with original dark wood on the railing and newel posts. I love how the finish on the posts is worn by the hundreds of hands that have rubbed against them as their owners traveled up and down the stairs.
46. Stairs that are markedly shallower than standard stair sizes today-- making them easier for little feet (and someday, old joints) to maneuver.
47. Funky old chrome handles on the kitchen cabinets.
48. Pocket doors on the living room and pantry doorways that still slide perfectly after all this time.
49. Old clown wallpaper on the back porch playroom's walls. I'll have to replace this soon, as it's getting fragile and discolored, but I love that it was obviously a child's place long ago, just as it is now.
50. A big, deep old cast iron tub in the bathroom, perfect for soaking.
51. A chimney that runs up the center of the house, with the perfect vent spot for a woodstove in the dining room already there. (Should we ever decide to invest in that.)
52. Flocks of bird visitors to our little feeders.
53. A front porch that's broad and deep enough for chairs and even a dining table, with broad concrete railings perfect for sitting on as well.
54. The beautiful original wallpaper still showing in my closet, and the unpainted original dark wood still visible on the trim inside the closets upstairs. Someday we WILL refinish the doors at least, to show off a bit of that beautiful wood that's underneath the paint.
55. Sturdy wooden ceilings that allowed my husband to hang my HEAVY choice of a dining room light fixture without ripping out ceilings to install additional bracing in the proper spot.
56. Soundproofing by the solid wooden doors and walls. So total, it's hard to hear my children crying from another room if their doors are closed. (Bad thing now, good thing in a few years!)
57. Windows that let in sunlight all day long, creating pools of warmth for my little old dog who loves to sleep in them. You can always find her on the east side of the house in the morning, the south in the afternoon...
58. The heavy cotton curtains decorated with Egyptians that are hanging over the utility shelving on the back porch. I wonder if they've been there since the US's Egyptian fad in the 1920s.
59. The little bars of soap I keep finding stashed in odd corners, even years after we moved in. Mrs. Perme's idea of air fresheners, I imagine... we find another one occasionally, like magic, even though we've certainly been over every inch of every closet already.
60. The giant glass bottle with pump sprayer that we found in the garage. It's perfect for spraying liquid fertilizer, and I love how it looks sitting on the old shelf in there.
61. The hilarious-but-very-useful utility shutoff valves that have been installed into the beautiful (but leaky) original exposed plumbing in our shower. It's very handy to be able to shut off the shower flow without adjusting the temperature knobs, but more than that, I love the sheer fuction-over-form ugliness of it: practical Mr. Perme strikes again, I'm sure.
62. The currently unused water cistern below the kitchen windows. It's dry and covered with concrete pavers and a birdbath right now, but should I ever get brave enough to fashion myself a rainwater catchment system, I have the perfect vessel right there to hold it.
63. A pole I just discovered this month near the garden. It probably used to support a clothesline, but will be perfect for me to mount a tall pole with my future bat house on it. (Bats eat thousands of mosquitoes every night, and that is probably my least favorite thing about this house... we are hounded by mosquitoes every evening here.

Whew, what a list. I'm sure no one is still reading at this point, and that's okay. It was lovely for my state of mind to write all this out. I'm feeling very blessed.

...those are also #27-90 of my gratitude items, because I've been grateful for each and every one of these old-house quirks as we've lived our lives in this home for the past two-plus years.

Thanks, J.O. and Mrs Wilson. Thanks, Perme family. You've prepared a lovely home for my family.

We are happy here.