Power Aid

It dawned on me last week that one reason I wasn’t getting my projects finished (or started) is that I don’t have any power tools. One trip to Home Depot later, problem solved. Possibly need a new camera as well.


I have been working on a doozy of a post. It’s all about the predicted vs. actual energy savings and will even include numbers and graphs and charts and stuff. The energy savings was the central purpose to this whole convoluted soul-sucking enterprise. As Ed Mazria of Architecture 2030 says, “It’s the Energy, Stupid!” Did I mention I had graphs? It’s gonna be great. Stay tuned!

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The Heat is Not On

Long time no update, mostly because nothing much has changed. The leaky chimneys and resulting drywall damage have been repaired, so I am back to status quo ante bellum.

Now that our lovely summer weather is winding down I can turn my thoughts back to house projects. My neighbour in the Sixth Apostle is tackling some interesting projects himself and every time he invites me over to take a look, I am inspired all over again. His place has a lot of exposed, unpainted brick and he has a nice urban loft look going. The living room is spare and modern with well proportioned furniture. I admit that I am filled with envy. Here is a shot of his living room fireplace:

Living room fireplace at the Sixth Apostle

My living room is still coated in primer and contains unpacked boxes, mismatched furniture and unhung pictures. It is driving me crazy, but clearly not enough to do anything about it. I have been fixated on how to maximize storage space while simultaneously paring down my possessions. My main concern is the living room where I currently have a couple bookcases arranged on either side of the chimney.

My living room “fireplace”. Notice the mantel. What mantel? Exactly.

Instead, I would like some sort of built-in storage cabinet on the floor and open shelves above with room for my currently non-existent TV. In a room this small, I think the TV should be modestly sized and inconspicuous, so a 50-incher on the mantel is out of the question. I also would prefer to avoid custom cabinets that are made for a certain size TV, we have all seen how that works out five years down the line. I like this:

This is a good solution to the TV problem.

Or this:

I think a low horizontal cabinet like this will make the narrow, tall living room feel wider.

The chimney breast is sort of weird because there is no actual firebox just a small clean-out door. Given that the slate mantel was smashed off many years ago, it is not very visually interesting.

The alleged fireplace.

I have thought about rebuilding the mantel and visited a stone supply shop recently and discovered that it is not so much of a big expensive deal as I thought it might be. They told me that it is unlikely the mantel is local slate; there were no slate quarries in the area until about 30 years ago and most slate prior to that was imported from Vermont. The supplier can provide whatever I want in slate or very similar looking black granite, cut and polished. So that’s great news. Now I just have to decide what I want.

I was thinking about building out the chimney and incorporating some sort of heat source for quick warm-ups and some sexy sexy ambiance. You know what I am talking about – the three Bs of fireside seduction: bearskin, brandy and backgammon. At least that is what I learned from watching Dynasty in the 80s.

Bearskin rug not included.

Some of the apostles have little woodstoves installed and that is a nice idea but not very practical due to the clearance required, the poor condition of my chimney and the pain-in-the-ass factor.  It’s too bad, because I discovered this adorable little marine stove called The Sardine, formerly made nearby in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, now made in Washington State. A wood burning stove on a sailboat sounds like an all around Bad Idea, but it must have been the only option at one time.

The Sardine’s big brother The Little Cod installed in a cabin.

So then I thought about installing an electric fireplace. Yes, I said electric, as in fakey-fake flickering flames. I hate to admit it, but it makes sense and is not quite so appalling when you consider that the house is heated electrically already.  They make some decent looking fireboxes and until someone can shake some sense into me I haven’t discarded the idea entirely yet. I would also like to raise the hearth in order to incorporate some sort of storage bench into it so I can eliminate chair seating to save space.  The closest thing I can find to this idea is something like this:

All these ideas in one package, except for the mantel.

If you’ve followed my disjointed screed this far, it may be obvious that I am all over the place with this and no closer to making up my mind. Wikipedia describes the problem as analysis paralysis but does not offer any solutions. Maybe I need to do more research?

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11-11-11 at the 11th Apostle

Thanks for checking back after such a long dormant period. To reward you for your temerity, here is a batch of interior photos showing the state of things at the 11th apostle on this rainy Remembrance Day.

Living Room

Living Room

Living Room and Porch


Still needs work, but you get the idea.

Does this give you a sense for the unfinished-ness of it?

The new back door looks like it's been there 100 years.

The new and old back doors.

Martin made the bathroom door. It does double duty.

When the door is open it hides the laundry.

In Gaelic that's a "shnicken"

The bathroom.

The stairwell.

The upper hallway

The boxes!

The inner sanctum

More boxes!

Hallway window

I never noticed that tread marks on the stair before. I will be stripping all this wood over the winter.

Lest you think it is entirely without evidence of ongoing work. No it is not.

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Renovators Remorse

Looks like August, September and October got away from me. I am suffering from renovation burn-out which is not surprising given that this project is more than a year old. Some days my To-Do list looks more like a Wish List. It occurred to me shortly after moving in that I was never going to have that Grand Reveal moment like you see on the TV home improvement shows. You know the one where the homeowner gasps and covers her mouth with both hands, crying and hugging and squealing “I Love It!” Cue to montage of large walk-in closets, granite countertops, soaker tubs, throw pillows, tall stemmy flower arrangements, jars full of rocks, wicker balls. Yeah, so I have shabby ikea furniture, cardboard boxes and paint cans. Everywhere I look I can only see what needs to be done, not how much has been accomplished – and it’s been a lot. Everyone I know who has been through it assures me it’s all normal. Especially fleeing town at every opportunity so I don’t have to look at it anymore. So that, my friends, is why I haven’t been posting to the blog much these last few weeks.

For the sake of visual gratification (which, face it, is the only reason you keep checking back) here is a picture of some out-of-my-league inspiration. This is the home of NYC architect Diana Kellogg who is living my dream. So beautiful and timeless. “I Love It!”

Let me be clear, this is not my house.

See more pictures at Remodelista

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Movin’ on up

It’s true, I moved in last weekend. Just in time to host friends visiting from NZ. The last couple weeks have been a flurry of priming, painting, and polyurethaning. Not to mention packing, cleaning, unpacking and trying to find space for all my stuff. OMG, so much stuff. There aren’t too many interesting shots to be had at this point, what with the cardboard boxes piled everywhere. Until I get it sorted, here are a couple of things that we have been working on along the way:

The scary corner of the kitchen is all painted.

Starting to look like a kitchen.

Sink and cabinet. That is working plumbing, folks!

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Dirty Old Floor

Still not moved in.

We finally scored some beautiful weather here in Halifax this past long weekend. I celebrated by staying indoors to clean and paint like mad. Even then I feel like I did not make much headway. As I mentioned earlier, every original surface in the place is filthy. I have been up to my elbows in TSP and buckets of dirty water for the last two weeks. I think I finally understand how to wash a floor the old-fashioned way – hands and knees and a scrub brush. As I work, I keep thinking of Barbara Ehrenreich’s book on minimum wage slavery, Nickel and Dimed, where she worked as a maid for one of those franchise outfits. She was trained to wash the floors on her hands and knees, especially if the home owners were present. It gave them the sense that they were getting a better cleaning to see someone toiling on the floor beneath them. What they didn’t know was the maids were also trained to use only a half bucket of water, for everything. Yuck.

If I had unlimited time and funds, I would have all the floors refinished or even do it myself. They appear to be the original hardwood strip flooring and the condition is, uh, rustic. The upstairs floors and stairwell are painted blood red, if you recall. It looks like the paint was poured on straight from the can and slapped around with a straw broom. In the interest of DIY and saving time I decided to repaint them. I did a little googling on painting wood floors. The advice seemed to be primer, two coats of paint, and two coats of polyurethane. That would be great if I had an extra week to let everything cure. So I talked to my curmudgeonly local paint guy and he said, no way, just go with one coat of floor & porch paint. Sure the poly would protect the paint and add shine, but would have to be removed if I ever wanted to paint again. So I spent one day vacuuming, washing, rinsing, sanding, etc. and the next half day putting on the single coat of floor paint. It went on like a dream. The colour is dark grey with a hint of blue, which I am not sure I love, but once I get some other things in the room I am hoping it won’t be quite so in-yer-face.

Here’s a quick peek at the progress to date:

Before and after cleaning the living room ceiling joists. I put this cleaning job off for months. Not a fun day, but the results are good.

Front bedroom floor - before and after

Before and after of back bedroom floor

Clean vs. dirty brick. These Mr. Clean moments never lose their thrill.

Primed but not painted brick wall in stairwell.

Mirror in the shower. Turns out it doesn't looks as weird as it sounds.

New front door light. Not crazy about the glass shade, but now we know what Simulated Etruscan Glass looks like.

Butcherblock countertop with walnut stain and four coats of tung oil. I am pretty happy with how this is turning out.

Bathroom sink mock-up. Buckets not included.

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Wall of Goo

When I removed the 60-year old drywall last fall, I was rewarded with a couple more inches of space and some very dirty painted brick. Even the interior walls in this joint are made of brick. We tried sandblasting the paint and gave up without finishing the room where we started. I decided that repainting the brick was the way to go, but I also knew that solution was not going to work everywhere. Namely in the kitchen. Recall this little corner of horrors.

The paint is in very poor condition in this area. This is where the stove and part of the counter will be located and as such will be the ideal paint chip consumption delivery system. So the paint has to be removed. I looked into options and found that chemical strippers or heat ‘n’ scrape were my two best options. I settled on a chemical stripper called Peel Away. You spread the paste on like cake frosting and cover the paste in a special paper for 24+ hours. Theoretically, when you peel off the paper the goo and the dissolved paint come with it in one gooey sheet. I did a test patch and things looked promising.



I tried a larger area, and it also looked ok. Turns out there is whitewash under them layers of paint and whitewash appears to be unmoved by the goo. Surprising since they are both alkaline substances. If I paid more attention in chemistry class I might be able to explain this, but alas.

The test patch below and the larger area above.


Then I tried the rest of the area on the adjacent wall. Most of the goo came off in one go, but what was stuck-on refused to budge without the help of a wire scrub brush and a lot of elbow grease. The problem was that there was red paint under there. Partially liquified red paint + water + scrub brush = bloody mess. Seriously, it looked like the killing floor of an abattoir in there. Here is the before and after shots.

The dissolved paint shows through the paper.

This is the cleaned-up version.It represents about 12 hours of work.

Here is the slate mantel in most of its former glory.

So the lesson here is what? Don’t remove paint? No, that can’t be it. How about: things are never as simple as the instructions make them out to be.

Here are some bonus shots of the beginning of what very well may be kitchen cabinets!

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