Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Victorian Farmhouse - The Torso In The Woods! (Day 4)

Day 4 started off with another trip to the Habitat Re-Store. We had been several times already, but we were still looking for several items for the house (tub, toilet, vanity, counter, etc), and since they were having a sale on mouldings, we decided it might be worth it to dress-up the house a bit with some crown moulding on the main floor. The mouldings were on sale for 1$ per length. Let me repeat that for emphasis: ONE DOLLAR! That's crazy cheap! Do you know how expensive mouldings are? The drawback is that all of their mouldings are basically in 3 or 4 giant messy piles (like 4 foot high piles). Lots of it is damaged, but the bulk of it is just fine, so you really need to sift through it.

I wanted to go for a classic Roman Ogee (like the second crown in the photo below), but there wasn't enough of that profile. Instead, I saw that there was a lot of a large cove crown by Alexandria Mouldings (the first crown in the photo below). My aunt had used this in her dining room, and it's a nice looking crown moulding. The two edges look nearly the same, but there's a tiny Roman ogee on one side, and a quarter-round on the other. I've often seen people install this crown either upside down, or where they mix up the tops and bottoms (which looks really terrible). The top has the small Roman Ogee (as shown). You *CAN* put it the other way, but I'm very picky about how crown mouldings should be installed, and if I see it the other way I'll say that it was installed upside down.

This crown sells for around 25$ for an 8 foot length (about 3$/foot) at Home Depot. We spent the better part of an hour and a half sorting through enormous piles of mixed mouldings, and we pulled out about 40 lengths (varying from 8 to 12 feet long). Roughly 400-500 feet of mouldings. Angie paid 40$ for the lot. In the bunch were a few that I picked out for myself. Had we bought all this crown new, the total would have been well over 1000$ plus taxes for all the mouldings we bought.

Heading to the farmhouse after the Re-Store, I spotted something quite creepy in the woods. I spotted it on the short length of road leading towards the farmhouse. It was still morning (maybe 11am?) and there had been light rain most of the morning. You can imagine my shock when I spotted what looked like a small ghostly torso poking out of the ground among the trees! The fact that it had been raining made the contrast show up between the figure and the darkened trees. Angie said that there was supposed to be the remnants of an old graveyard in that area and that I had probably seen a tombstone. More on this later...

Demolition work continued in earnest on day 4. We focused on finishing to remove the drywall in the bathroom, as well as getting the tub out. Before I get into that, here are a few more miscellaneous photos.

Some of the floor boards in the living room will need attention. These are 1 1/8" thick tongue-and-groove pine directly over the log beams. No subfloor. The plan from the start was to cover over this with plywood and new hardwood (which made me really sad), but that could be changing! Angie and Pierre and now considering fixing and refinishing the floor, rather than spending a couple thousand on a new floor. We will see how nice we can make the floor, and whether we can patch some of the larger gaps in the wider plank section. Apparently the kitchen addition also has nice old heart pine plank floor under the linoleum.

We want to shrink down these HVAC corners as much as possible (like I did at my house), so this corner will need to be patched.

The bottom part of the old side/front door was gutted. It mostly had chunks of styrofoam and pink insulation filling the void. Not much else can come out without opening up the door opening completely (we're not quite ready for that yet, but it's coming). This will look SO GOOD once a door goes back in here. I have an old door that might work well here. The current plan is to install an antique door on the interior, and a more "weatherproof" modern door on the exterior (either a screen door or a full-glass door with a white metal surround.

Note the slight height difference between the door top and window top. I see this ALL the time in old homes, and I always wonder why they didn't either install the windows 2 inches lower, or a door 2" taller to make them equal. I suppose it really doesn't matter since there's about 5 different door and window elevations in this room already.

We're still waiting to find out if it's possible to relocate this electrical panel. We're thinking of hiding it under the staircase in the closet that's there. If we can, the plumbing and HVAC will be hidden in a shallow drywall box, and we'll continue the tongue-and-groove wainscoting, chair rail, and crown moulding across it to blend everything together seamlessly.

On day 3, we had started to remove the ugly 1970s paneling on the walls of the upstairs hallway. I was NOT expecting what we found underneath it. This is the first real "surprise" from this house for me.

All of the walls on the second floor are planks of wood, covered with wallpaper. No plaster. It's been like this since it was built.

Here (in this blurry and crappy photo) you can see where the plaster from the first floor (coming up the stairs) ends part-way into the gable window. It ends flush with the "plank walls" and the original mouldings of the window are nailed evenly on both halves. I just find this odd. Wood expands and contracts, so I can't understand how the wallpaper would have lasted very long. It's rough unfinished wood, not tongue-and-groove with a bevel detail or a bead like what I'm used to seeing as a finished wall material.

You probably missed this the first time (or I didn't photograph it), but please take just a moment to admire the lovely decorations on the bathroom door. A little girl shitting in a bucket, and a little boy peeing in a pot. *LOVELY*. (Just picture me rolling my eyes in the most dramatic fashion) Pierre and I had a brief, but hilarious conversation involving these questionable decorations. It went something along the lines of: "I can't believe someone not only went through the trouble of carving/modeling these, but then making a mold from them for mass production, but then people ACTUALLY BOUGHT them. On purpose." I think it's fair to say that we're not holding on to these. I'm not opposed to certain fun and quirky items, but these are just... no.

Here's part of the hallway with that same fruit wallpaper border (you'll see it again farther down). This is about the 7th or 8th layer of wallpaper. The sloped portion had large flakes that came free, and we could see a lot of the previous layers. Behind this is just more of the rough wood planks. Water damage was from old roof leaks. Behind this is just some 2x4 framing, more wood (roof decking) and then the metal roofing. This sloped ceiling and wallpaper continues directly into the bathroom, and all the way around into the hallway again. I believe this was originally just a decent sized landing at the top of the stairs, which was then closed-in to make a small bathroom.

This is the ceiling in the upstairs landing. The hatch leads into the attic.

This is also the upstairs landing, showing above the master bedroom door. You can see the plank walls continue everywhere upstairs. The two bedroom doorway walls have a layer of 3/8" unfinished drywall over them. We haven't decided if we want to leave everything as-is, or pull the casings and baseboards, and shim all of them so they land over the drywall. I guess I could also suggest peeling all the wallpaper layers and painting the raw wood walls. That could look cool? But soooo much work to remove all the wallpaper. It will be everywhere.

This is the light switch for the stairway light (just over the window). This is also the switch that pokes out of the wall into the master bedroom (see next photo, which is a repeat).

Mental note: take a proper photo of the box. The electrical box for the switch actually sticks out of the wall completely by about 3/4" because the plank walls are only about 2" thick.

We don't want to "thicken" the wall, so the switch will be moved to the exterior wall next to the window at the top of the stairs.

Detail of the beautiful Victorian door catch on the master bedroom closet. I assume we'll be stripping and cleaning all of the original old hardware. A latch like this is actually quite pricey. I've seen antique ones for upwards of 40$, often with the keeper missing. The door doesn't currently close, since it rubs along the bottom, but that's an easy fix.

This reminds me a lot of my house. An outlet so far into a corner that it was partially covered with the paneling. We're moving this to a better spot.

Here you can see the simple upstairs trim. It is just square stock with a small bevel on the interior edge. The tops of the side casings are actually cut with a back bevel to match, rather than just cutting mitered corners. If you look closely, you'll spot some square nails. Note the nailed-on drywall (with plank walls behind this). Also note that the door's stop mouldings are just plain rectangular stock. Very very simple. At this time, all the money was spent on nice finishes and casings for the main floor, and only basic and utilitarian casings upstairs (and in this case, no plaster upstairs either).

Matching simple baseboards.

Here we see the aftermath of the bathroom gutting. I was happy to see that all the plumbing is up-to-date ABS and copper (no ugly surprises here!)

We are waiting until the last minute to pull the toilet, since it's the only functional one we have at the farmhouse. There's just two small sections of drywall left in this corner. Note the location of the heating vent. Everything is a fairly tight squeeze, but it's also pretty well planned.

The floor in the bathroom is actually in fantastic condition, so we've opted to keep it and paint it along with the rest of the upstairs floors. So far we're going for light grey (same as the master bedroom currently). All the floors upstairs are 1 1/8" thick tongue-and-groove pine (better quality than my floors, which are only 3/4") with nice tight joints.

Note the familiar wallpaper.

This added short wall is for the plumbing and electrical. It is not structural, but helps raise the height of the wall (which is especially helpful over the vanity for the height of the mirror). Note that the vanity light was hooked into a regular rectangular box. I didn't know you could do this, but they had a light fixture tie-bar that worked just fine with this setup.

There's also a false wall on the back wall of the bathroom for the bathtub's air intake/vent.

This was full of insulation (which you can still see stuffed on the right) and lots of mouse droppings.

Note the original baseboard behind the plumbing.

The bathroom wall (with the door) is obviously newer). The house originally had an outhouse.

A better photo of the wallpaper border.

Behind the tub, more original baseboard and a thin little ribbon wallpaper border. We will probably scavenge this piece of baseboard since it's easy to access. We can use it on the "door/hallway" side of the bathroom wall.

I've never seen a tiny border like this before.

Another one of the "problem spots" in the floor of the office on the main floor. The stone foundation ends just past the furnace vent. Then the floor dips quite a bit. Also note the dramatic paint peel on the baseboard. I want to do as little paint scraping as possible, but some areas like this will need work and touch-ups.

The longer I look around in such an old house, the more little quirks I find. I noticed when I was upstairs that the casing on the window didn't seem like an exact match to the others. I had taken a tracing/pattern of the casings on the main floor, and they had a bevel on the interior. The ones on the single window upstairs (the gable window) had a Roman Ogee. I went to look around again, and then I noticed that many of the original window casings also had the ogee. It seems like there are two nearly identical mouldings, and someone at the lumber yard got confused. I soon found not only two different profiles, but doorways with a mix of the two.

Bevel on the top, ogee on the left. Door to the "under-stairs closet" on the main floor.

Doorway right next to it (front hall):

It's important that I note: the rest of the mouldings are identical, it's only the interior edge that is slightly different. Maybe they ran out of one style?

This is the old Victorian door latch on the "under-stairs closet". I neglected to photograph the other side (with a thumb latch) but I have a photo of it for the next post. This should clean up nicely.

This is yet another very old casing that was added later. It's old enough that it's also installed with square nails. This leads into the kitchen addition, and it's also 7/8" thick (same as the other original casings). We have a few extra pieces of this casing, but not much. Angie is going to see if one of the nearby mills has a cutter to reproduce the original trim. If so, we might opt to replace all the ones that don't match (and make extras for the kitchen addition). It will all depend on prices, and whether or not they already have the knives. New knives can be made, but they generally cost upwards of 300$.

Here's the keyhole escutcheon detail on the upstairs doors. We'd love to find 3 more of these in the same pattern. Check your parts drawers and contact me if you've seen these anywhere! We also need a few matching rim locks (see previous post for a detail photo of those).

Here's a view through the bathroom door. The pink room is the master bedroom, with the stairs on the right. You can see we didn't continue to remove the rest of the paneling up the staircase's ceiling.

More trees and shrubs continued to be trimmed and removed. All the cement on this corner of the foundation (and elsewhere) will be removed by our historic masonry guy to do the mortar PROPERLY on the stone foundation. This area has already been dug out a few feet for the work.

There was lots of debate over this curved tree. Half the people wanted it gone, and half the people wanted it to stay (I was in the "leave it there" camp). In the end, we decided it could stay (Angie & Pierre would love to put a swing on it), but it would get a serious pruning to make it look "sexy" (her cousin's exact words). There were a few additional large limbs weighing down the tree on the right that would have filled the rest of the photo. Behind the pile of branches you see is also a huge HUUUUUGE clump of wild raisin or Virginia Creeper vines. This thing is so big and so old that the trunk on it (yes, TRUNK) is the size of a small tree. Tangled along with the mess of vines is the remains of a steel wire fence. HEr cousin found that out while attempting to cut some of the vines.

There's lots more tree cutting and clean-up to do around the property.


On the trip back to Cornwall, Pierre and I stopped to see the creepy figure in the woods. The rain had dried up, and the eerie morning light had lifted, but the statue still looked pretty creepy. Picture just quickly catching a glimpse of this as you're driving by:

The photo above is roughly what you'd see from the edge of the road. The rest of these were closer (I walked out to grab a few photos).

No graveyard was found, just this strange and eerie looking figure.

The feet were just off to the left, but no legs could be seen. I don't know how far he's sunk into the ground. The ground seemed pretty firm, so I don't think the legs are there.

I assume this was a garden ornament, since it looks like a fairly modern cement casting. It's just not exactly... pretty, is it. He seems to be bald, and wearing a coat with a buckle around the waist. Anyhow, that's the torso in the woods.


  1. Recently I've been reading renovation blogs from all sorts of crazy countries and I think there's another option for your upstairs walls that I learned from a highly dedicated Swedish restorer. Sweden is full of old log homes and apparently they simply nailed damp paper (rather stiff) to the walls using roofing nails. Once the paper dries it stretches nicely and can be painted or wallpapered.

    If you're interested I can translate instructions for you. Advantages are that you don't need to remove the old wallpaper and as opposed to drywall you don't have to do any spackling and sanding. Plus it doesn't add much thickness to the walls. Apparently even with very little practice two people can easily do a room in one day and paint as soon as everything's dry.

  2. Totally fascinating! Thank you!