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Interior Restoration

Taking a much needed break from blowing insulation into the walls. Little did we
know that this bay area would become one of the coziest spots in the house.

We were lucky. We closed on the house April 30th and our apartment lease was good through May so we had a month to tear up the house and put it back together before we moved in. Thirty days. You can achieve a lot in that amount of time when you put your body, mind and soul into it...as well as every waking moment.

Items that needed our immediate attention in the first 30 days:

  • At some point, a stained glass window in the dining room had been removed to make room for an air conditioner. Now there was only a boarded up hole in the wall.

  • For unknown reasons, the original built-in bookcases and art glass windows on both sides of the fireplace were removed, and "false" walls hiding the insets were built flush with the fireplace. We didn't even know they were hollow walls until we saw the boarded up windows from the outside of the house.

  • The small kitchen was last updated in the 1970's and was very dark. It needed an overhaul on a small budget.

  • With the exception of the boxed beams, all of the woodwork was painted white, which may have been because the wood was pine and not oak, but we were stripping them no matter what.

  • The living room, dining room, kitchen and stairwell were covered with dreary, vinyl wallpaper, which could be hiding a lot of cracks, but had to go regardless.

  • Between the wallpaper, stark white paint and dark blue carpet, there was not a lot of warmth in the house. If the floors weren't in good enough shape to refinish, we would find a nice sisal or berber carpet.

The Interior Renovations 1996-2000

Click Thumbnails to Enlarge


Nearly all of the woodwork was painted, including 7 coats of paint on the room divider, columns and window sills and moldings. Thankfully, the beamed ceilings were not painted. Woodwork was stripped using StripEz chemical stripper, as well as a heat gun, which worked really well. It wasn't fun but the results were well worth it! See the results for yourself!

Dark blue carpeting and smoke-stained curtains made the house look very dark and drab. White walls gave the rooms a cold feeling. This house was definitely in need of some TLC.

Pittsburgh Paints' Mission beige paint replaced the wallpaper, and cream sailcloth curtains from Pottery Barn were hung. Living room now furnished with Stickley settle and cocktail table, and Tiffany style floorlamp.

False walls on either side of the fireplace hid windows that originally contained art glass. The art glass, as well as the built-in bookcases, had been removed and discarded.

False walls gone, sunlight now brightens the living room. My wife created hand-stencilled cattail curtains and embroidered pine cone pillows using patterns found in old books.

Rather than direct the furniture toward the fireplace the focal point of the Craftsman home the previous owner put the TV at the front of the house with the furniture angled toward it. Notice the white woodwork, wallpaper and window covered by both a blind and curtain.

From the above photos, you can already tell that we have the sofa back toward the front door, and now we have an beautiful antique highboy against the wall. I'll add that photo soon.

Here is a composite shot of the living room with the completed windowseat and view of the fireplace with Stickley recliner. This photo was taken right after the windowseat was completed and before I began constructing the built-in bookcases and refacing the mantle and fireplace. See the latest photos for the completed living and dining rooms.

Doing the Work:

We closed at 10am and by noon we were looking the place over and deciding where to start. The great thing about moving back to Pittsburgh was that we could...and did...call on our family to help us out. What a blessing that was, for between my parents (who tackled the tedious chore of removing all of the wallpaper) and my mother-in-law (who stripped woodwork), I was able to move along on some minor demolition and construction.

In the first week, as wallpaper was coming down and woodwork was being stripped, I was hard at work removing the two walls on either side of the fireplace and the plywood that had been Liquid Nailed over the windows. It was easy to see where the bookcases had been removed (see photo). I plastered the walls and moved on to the dining room where I bought a piece of antique art glass and build a window frame where there had once been a window.

As long as we were tearing the place up, we decided we might as well blow insulation into the walls. The three-day effort and $200 cost for materials paid for itself the first winter.

Next up was the kitchen. We removed the dry, cracked linoleum and the old countertop and installed a wood laminate floor and new counter and sink. Then we rearranged the appliance locations, and painted the cabinets French Provincial yellow. Installing the Jennair stove was problematic in that it had a down draft exhaust that exited through the floor, so I had to cut a hole in the floor and run ductwork to a basement window where I could install a vent. Not a big deal, but for a novice it was frightening to cut a hole in the floor.

Little by little the place came together and within 30 days we had accomplished everything -- including all the plaster patchwork and painting. The only things left after the official move was to stain the woodwork and have the carpet installed which we did shortly thereafter (as we suspected, the floors were pretty far gone).

Over the years we've repainted all of the rooms and sanded and restained the room divider. Other renovations included adding a window seat over the hot water radiator in the living room, building new windows to fit where they had been boarded up next to the fireplace, installing new lighting in the kitchen, dining room, stairwell and upstairs hall.

Current I am building oak built-in bookcases by the fireplace, and will then reface the mantle in oak, and building an oak fireplace surround. The total cost of doing all the work myself (all oak wood plus hardware and stain) will be about $800. That's about 1/3 of what it would cost to hire a carpenter.

Further out, plans are to add oak panelling in the dining room, which should be a breeze after completing the bookcase/fireplace project using 4x8-foot quarter-inch oak plywood ($27 each at Lowes) and framing it with 4-inch oak. Total cost should be about $200. Further down the road, we plan to HIRE someone to hang wallpaper in the stairway upstairs hall to add some interest and cover several cracks that will not go away no matter how many time I spackle and paint. And, of course, once everything is done, it'll be time to get new kitchen cabinets and tile the backsplash. And then we'll do the bathroom. And as soon as everything is perfect we'll be old.

As for tools, like most home owners, I've acquired them as I've needed them. But honestly, I've skimped on tools. There are easier and faster ways to do what I am doing by buying good power tools such as an electric compound miter saw, a router and band saw among others but I've found that I can do everything with just a few basics. The most important being a table saw (which I've worked to death), a high-powered hammer drill and a basic cordless drill, a circular saw for cutting landscaping ties, a dowel template, and a mitering box to use with a hand saw.

And like Stickley's motto: Als Ik Kan (as best I can), I do the best I can and I've impressed myself and others. It's amazing what you can do if you're willing to try. :-)