August 28, 2009

Labor of Love

Peeling Off Layers

After the first mistake of purchasing 35 Thayer was behind us, we persevered through the next several blunders with our convenient rose colored glasses firmly affixed over our eyes. On second thought, perhaps it was more like a blindfold because we sure happened to disregard a slew of important barriers as we leapt over them.

Ah how I sometimes yearn for the early days when we were still smiling, laughing, no matter what type of nightmare we encountered. It makes me wistful to be that ignorant again.

Our house was located, as I mentioned at 35 Thayer Ave. Many might imagine this to be a busy street with loads of activity, just as an avenue should be. Our house however was situated at the end of what can best be described as a field of dirt; not even so much a street, let alone an Avenue.

The aforementioned field that was our street held just one house, ours. The rest of the field was conveniently the back entrances to a little shopping plaza. The plaza consisted of an urban clothing store, CD creation shop, Laundromat, church, convenience store and one storefront which went through a myriad of different shops; one of which went right through Matt and I, but that fun snippet must be saved for later.

At the time we saw nothing wrong with the odd layout of the street, just the odd layout of the interior of the home so we got right to work on changing it all.

In every room of the house, of which there were eight including the two bathrooms, there was dark wood paneling, drop ceiling, chocolate brown trim paint and at least (but usually more) 10 electrical outlets which were conveniently placed at about three feet off the ground.

It isn’t as if the home inspector did not warn us about the fact that not only was the fuse box a Federal Pacific (known for spontaneously combusting and burning down countless homes before they were shut down) but that it was less than 100 amp service and to make things even more interesting they had gone with the old ‘shove a nail in there so it will never trip off’ trick.

That small bit of information would have been enough to get out of the purchase contract. Instead we waved the inspector off as if he had never done this before and that we clearly knew exactly what we were doing.

I would like to remind you at this time of the cackling which should be taking place.

As the paneling came down we discovered the strapping used to hold it was tacked up right over the old wallpaper from the 1950’s. We had just gone back in time five decades; well, really two I suppose considering when we first walked through the door the entire house was like stepping onto the dingy and dusty set of a Quincy, M.E episode.

Even more interesting than the chosen d├ęcor were those outlets I had mentioned. Turns out the genius who lived there took the one (yes, one) original outlet in the room, attached lamp cord to it (see photo) and ran it to the additional 9 outlets through the space. Doors and windows are not exactly an issue when there is that much cord -- feel free to just go up and over!

The paneling tacks happened to miss the strapping in some areas. We counted 6 spots where fire had burned the wallpaper due to punctured wiring.

Since the paneling was coming down the drop ceiling also had to go; mostly because the paneling went to the original ceiling. Of course it did. Perhaps the second layer of ceiling should be stripped then too right? Not too many people are into puke yellow aluminum siding as a modern treatment option. At the time it was installed though I suppose it was a good sturdy base to hold the warehouse style fluorescent lights strewn about the home.

Those lights would have been perfect if we had intended to fill up the house with a whole bunch of pot plants that we would cultivate. Looking back that might have been a safer option.

Talk about scary electrical nightmares. The photo next to the charred lamp cord depicts the outlet in the ceiling mounted light box, 1 fluorescent light is plugged into that, an extension cord is plugged into the fluorescent light box, the cord was supposed to attach to the other fluorescent at the opposite end of the room but since it didn’t quite make it the mastermind of power decided to splice in another. Of course electrical tape should be good enough to hold that connection together for decades. No fear of this house burning down. She wasn’t going anywhere.

Now that the drop ceiling was going we might as well pull up that hideous, vile smelling, brown, gold and orange 1970’s shag wall to wall carpeting. Oh goodie, there is another layer of wall to wall underneath it that this one was simply tack stapled to. Why tear something out when it could simply be covered up right? Unlike our predecessors, we chose to toss it and finally reached the hardwoods.

Because we had gone this far we figured why not rip out all those hand made, wide pine, tongue in groove, crooked kitchen cabinets and the countertop that was harvest gold and cracked. Come to think of it all three harvest gold appliances that did not work could go as well. And since the kitchen was now bare, tearing up that floor would be a piece of cake.

We then discovered another layer. Then another. Then another... All told we pulled five layers out of the kitchen before reaching the subfloor.

Once everything throughout the house was stripped (thanks in very large part to great friends, some of our more helpful family, a few million enormous cups of coffee and one or two overnight hotel stays) and the final pile of horsehair dust was swept into a green contractor bag, we had taken enough out of the house to completely fill four 40 yard dumpsters.

The good news was that we estimated to have gained back over 20,000 cubic feet of space by simply peeling off layers. The onion theory does ring true when it comes to renovation of an 1850’s farmhouse however -- the more layers that are peeled the more likely some tears are eventually going to fall.


Bridgete said...

Already loving these posts, can't wait for more.

Oh, I'd help with a title, but I'm no good at titles. =P

WV: Lusylicr (loosey liquor?)

KC McAuley said...

Oh fabulous. You have seen Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House, right?? I watched it again just a few weeks ago. Love it! And I'll be sending you the saga of the Squirrel house that Bridgete and I moved into.

ginger said...! well, i hope that once you get the electricity fixed the rest will be smooth sailing...and think of how much the value of the home will increase?

Tabitha Bird said...

this is why I refuse to renovate. I would be out cold just looking at all the work to be done :)

Chris Stone said...


my first responses besides OMG! are OMG what a mess you poor people and...

*I can so relate. *sigh**

Maggie May said...

' i should remind you already of the cackling...'

haha!! this is great!

Theresa said...

Good thing I wasn't out there Jenn. I would have definitely had to "Post" that house as uninhabitable. But trust, I would have been doing it to save your life from certain death by fire.

Anyways, I think these posts on your Thayer house are really interesting and I can't wait to read the rest of them, so keep'em coming.

Audrey said...

What a lot of work!! Just think how you'll feel when it's all done and you have the house just the way you want it!
Keep those pictures coming!

Rosebud Collection said...

You know this is sounding very much like my life. Electric is frightening and amazing how people never worry about the way things are hooked up.

p.s. Have a daughter/husband in Portland. They rent in a nice area and I think someone is moving out of their apartment. Will check, just for the heck of it.

Almost Precious said...

Did you find any duct tape and chewing gum holding things together ? LOL Doubt any of that work had a proper permits, unless the codes were different back when it was done?

Jenn said...

@ Bridgete thanks, too bad Loosey Liquor wouldn't work for a title lol

@ KC Um, yes please share the squirrel house story, sounds like it will be hilarious!

@ Ginger...dare to dream eh? On all counts, especially that value part...

@ Tabitha you are smart lol

@ Chris I want to hear about your place too, you know they say misery loves company ;-]

@ Maggie heehee thanks

@ Theresa oh if only I'd known you at the time, how wonderful that would have been, condemned is such a lovely word I would have flown you out here first class.

@ Audrey oh its SO done alright, the house is gone now. This is about as scary as the pictures get but not the stories

@ Rose you did a renovation too? Would totally love to hear the story, you, Chris & I can all comiserate haha (thanks for looking into the apt, I'll check in with her & see what she's thinking / when etc :-)

@ Anna I think this place was just too old for duct tape haha! They didn't like it & just stapled a new layer over the first. We should have named the house "Code Violation"

Karen said...

Yikes! Nightmare on Thayer Ave!

Rosebud Collection said...

Apartment is vacant. Is intown Portland, very nice area. Just wanted you to know. Couldn't find your email if interested just email me.

Jenn said...

@ Karen oh that barely scratches the surface lol!

@ Rose emailed you!