• October 5, 2005

Living In The House

What it is like to live in a house while remodeling it

Restoration Diary

We celebrated 3 years in our house last month. When we first purchased our home I naively planned on having a house warming party within the first 8 months, you know after our house was “presentable”. That is when I was really gung-ho on the house and house restoration.

Never having owned or restored a house before, I thought I could single-handedly restore a room a month. Now here we are 3 years later with 3 completed rooms and 1 almost finished back porch and powder room. Our garage and sleeping porch are still filled with boxes that we can’t unpack until we restore the rooms where those items belong.

We never had that house warming party.

It’s a little embarrassing that we have no working sink in either of our two bathrooms. When people visit they end up washing up in our kitchen sink. At first it seemed like an adventure, then sort-of like camping and now sadly, it just seems normal. The “bathroom situation” has caused a few awkward explanations to friends and family.

The bathroom situation was never supposed to go on this long. We kind-of left each room “as-is” and intended to fix it up completely when we got to it. The problem is we haven’t gotten to the bathrooms yet. If I had known I would be brushing my teeth in the bathtub 3 years later I would have started our restoration in the bathroom! Instead, we focused on the main living areas that people see when they first walk in our house – the living room, dining room, and den.

David and several friends are working on an independent film project. Over the weekend they filmed a few scenes in our garage. For the first time our house was filled with people. Actors waiting for their scene to shoot spent time on our front porch while others congregated inside. Several people played the piano, others sat around the dining room table, people broke off into several small groups in the living room and den.

Our house filled with activity and life. It occurred to me how great our house is for entertaining, bathroom situation aside, because of the way the rooms are open and flow into each other.

It was house warming party that we never had.

Comments { 25 }
  1. Kristin

    These old houses are perfect for entertaining. We haven’t done much yet because of that impulse to wait until everything is “finished.” Ha. Finished. We recently decided to begin hosting gatherings ASAP. I can’t wait! We’ll just have to explain that at our house, a shut bathroom door=don’t come in because we have no locks!

  2. Monica

    Oh Yea! We’ve been in our house for 6 months and I had assumed that we would have a housewarming party, oh last month.

    I told everyone about it too.

    He.he.he. Silly me.

    On the bright side, we finally got the condemned garage torn down. For a villiage so excited to condemn something, they sure made it hard for us to rebuild.

  3. sean

    One of the great lessons I have learned after renovating several houses is that sometimes necessary to have temporary fixes – Something that is functional but won’t be irreversible. I used to do without until I was able to implement the “final’ plan and so consequently, I camped out in my house waiting for when I had the time/money/energy to do it. An inexpensive vanity can be bought at Home Despot for $60 complete. It certainly is not perfect, but may go a long way in making the right now more comfortable, and allow you to entertain more easily.

  4. Patricia W.

    I’m with Sean on this. My upstairs bathroom is the only funcitoning bathroom right now. It’s super ugly, but everything works (so far). The downstairs one, which has had a new tub, sink, floor and toilet installed is still waiting for the plumber to handle the pipes in the basement and it still needs to have the plaster patched, the ceiling re-finished and the wainscotting stripped and repainted/varnished not to mention baseboards installed all the way around and the doors need to be stripped and refinished. The rest of my house is a mess and I mean every single room. I have walls torn out of two of them, a third needs the wood trim stripped, painting, register cover, door, you name it. It makes me wish I had ripped into one room at a time as I had originally intended but hating the interior cedar shakes and paneling got the best of me and I ripped in to way too much. Now I get exhausted just trying to figure out where to start next. My daugher and I live like gypsies, no lie. From bedroom to living room to kitchen to bathroom and they all look like hell. But, I know that one day soon, one of the rooms will be finished just the way I want. I am so happy to hear that even without bathroom sinks your housewarming party was a great success. I sounds like it was. I’ve viewed your entire site and think your house is fabulous!

  5. ams

    it is just expected here at our house that a bathroom door shut means don’t come in, the locks don’t work yet, turn on the fan which is extra noisy to give user some privacy since there is no glass in the transom over the door. the quaterround is just going in this weekend to years after we moved in, i just cut the paint in around the master bath tile and trim. as we get stuff done since we threw the towel in long ago with waiting to have the party people notice every little thing we finish and congratulate us, don’t wait!!

  6. RPF

    HGF is it ime for Bob’s Corner to reappear? Lets see that will cost you 6 hot dogs and 12 diet dews. Let me know.

  7. DBF

    If you’re lucky I’ll come with him next time so we can get some real work done.
    You favorite red-headed little brother,

  8. Ruben

    Your home looks great. I live around the L.A coliseum and am in the process of restoring my craftman home “3 years and counting” I have a 1908 home. I think that it’s great how more homes are being restored around the Adams district. Like yourself I took a break from all of the hard work “what was to be a one month break has turned into a 6 month vacation”:) After looking at your site I have been ispired once more. thank you


  9. OA

    Boy, I can relate to this entry.

    But don’t be too hard on yourselves, as you’ve no doubt heard from everyone, you’ve done an incredible job. We all reach a restoration burnout stage — especially when it’s “GO-GO-GO” in the beginning (which you’re still at), and it never does seem to get to a point where the house is finally “there.” If it’s not $$, it’s time, or the fatigue factor…

    I’ve finally gotten to a point where our [1912] home is acceptable to be seen by people other than close friends and family. In fact, our home is going to be on this weekend’s Alhambra Historic Home Tour [11-6-05].

    There’s a nice couple in our neighborhood who have lived in their 1911 Craftsman home for over 50 years (he’s in his 90′s, she’s mid-eighties), and they’re STILL working on their home!

  10. Hay Tanning

    I purchased my 1905 west adams “foursquare craftsman*” (*per the HPOZ board) at 2810 south normandie, have been working on it since april. Please take a look when driving down the blvd — it has become a head turner! It is a total restoration of a 5 bedroom and 3 bath home. However interiorally I am having a hard time getting my new doug fir to match my old doug fir (needed to replace many jambs and trim work). I am on my 6th coat of Watco Fruitwood with 2 coats of varnish and it still doeesn’t match (new wood too orange). Should I just let it go, or do you know of a quick fix to this like a final coat using satin tinted deft varnish (hopefully). I am so tired of Danish Oil — taking way way way too much time to dry between sandings !!!!

  11. Anon

    Stumbled upon your website while surfing the net for plate rail ideas to make for our diningroom here in Maryland. We’ve been remodelling / dreaming in the dust for the past 25 years. Your home is beautiful and your website a real inspiration. Great job!

  12. Kim

    Hi Heather,
    Joel and I went the other route and had our house warming party the night that we were first given the keys to the house.

    Everyone sat on the yukky brown carpeting in the empty house with its 60′s wall paper, ugly paneling and acoustic ceiling tile and ate pizza and toasted the house with champagne. We wanted everyone to see the yuk so they could be part of the journey. I think that some of them thought we were crazy to take on that much work, but like you we thought that it would go a lot faster.

    Guess that’s a good thing. Many old houses wouldn’t get restored if it wasn’t for our lack of knowledge and idealism.

    I have finally put up some pictures of the house at the site linked with my name. Thanks again for telling us about Juan.

  13. Kim

    Oops, guess the url didn’t show. Here it is: http://mahoganyhouse.blogspot.com/

  14. heather

    Oh Kim, it looks GORGEOUS!!!! I love the outside color. Of course the interior is fabulous. So beautiful!

  15. halloweenlover

    I think you made a great choice to live in the house rather than kill yourself with nonstop renovating. Or, ummm, that is what I am telling myself too.

    We haven’t had a housewarming either, although I did finally let people come over for Halloween.

  16. Lee Polowczuk

    I am refurbishing a 1930′s bungalow kitchen.

    I have already made one mistake that shouldn’t be too difficult to rectify…. I ordered nice basalt slate Formica countertops which are 25 1/4 inches deep with a full bullnose front. My problem is my cabinets are 25″ deep. any ideas for giving me more of an overhang?

    Other question is I have to go seven, yes seven layers down to get to the 1 1/4″ wide hardwood floor. The last layer seems to be real linoleum. How do I get that gunk off? I have only taken it down seven layers in one small spot in the corner.

    If I deem this to be too difficult a project. I may just take it down two layers to a luan underlayment and lay black and white chekerboard sheet vinyl. The cabinets will be painted white. Hardware will be bin pulls and door pulls in satin nickel. Walls will likely be white, trim white. We may do a red accent wall.

    I have hardwood floors throughout the rest of the house

    I don’t care if you rip apart any of my ideas.

  17. heather


    Hi! Sorry I didn’t get back to you. I have been on a little bit of a hiatus from this site and the house.

    First of all, congratulations for tackling your kitchen. It has been 3 years and we still haven’t gotten to our kitchen – which desperately needs HELP. For your countertops, instead of going with a bullnose edge maybe you could have the the edge cut straight? If the edge was straight instead of rounded you could adda strip of wood around the counter top. I think that dresses it up.

    I feel you on excavating the kitchen floor! It is a challenge to remove linoleum. Basically, we used brute strength to get the linoleum itself off. That left us with black tar paper stuff stick to the floor and adhesive. We discovered that using very hot water and covering it with paper towels dissolved the adhesive. It is not what I would call an easy project. I LOVE the look of black and white checkerboard tiles. We had them in the kitchen of our last apartment but they were awful to keep clean. We have pets and they showed dirt terribly. I would look into going with Linoleum instead of vinyl if you go this route. They still make it and it is supposed to be easier to keep clean.

    I think your white cabinets and satin nickel hardware sounds lovely!

    Please keep in touch and let me know how your project turns out.

  18. anne fairchild

    I went through the same thing with removing old linoleum with lots of black tar underneath. We used a product called krud kutter from home depot and then scraped it lightly with a putty knife or similar.The product if I can remember correctly is mostly natural and does not smell as bad as you would think. The hot water did NOTHING in our situation. the product worked slowly but beautifully, and the harwoods where able to be restored.

  19. lee Polowczuk

    An update….. I put 5/16″ beadboard as a backsplash which moved the countertops out just enough. They look good…so does the beadboard.

    I am getting close to tackling the floor. I did a test spot and hot water dissolved the black tarish paper.

    the thing I am most proud of was turnign my flat kitchen doors into shaker style. I added a border of 1 11/16 pine (1/4″) thick around the doors… it costs 59 cents a foot at home depot. It’s time consuming, but my doors look great. I painted it with oil based satin paint. I tried semi-gloss at first, but it looks too commercial.

    Satin looks hand rubbed, if paint can look hand rubbed. New single sink and nice satin waterfall faucet. 36″ gas GE Monogram cooktop and a GE Profile retracting hood. Also GE oven and microwave. Considering a dishwasher and will get an inexpensive refrigerator.

    Went to the Arts and Crafts festival in Asheville, NC this weekend to get more ideas.

  20. lee Polowczuk

    another update…. walls are a darker sage green. Everything else is white…

  21. heather

    Oh, Lee. That sounds so nice! It is exciting to hear about all your updates and hard work. Thanks for letting me know how your project is turning out. Until we get to our kitchen, I’m living vicariously through others. :)

  22. lee polowczuk

    latest update from Greenville, SC

    Removed the seven layers of flooring…I have been piecing in new wood where needed. Have about 24 hours into that job…. 6 or so more to go.. then the floors will be sanded. I should ahve about 175 sq feet of kitchen floor that matches the rest of the house.

  23. jj


    We just closed on a 1920 Arts and Crafts Bungalow in Easthampton Ma. We are so thrilled. Any advice for an ugly big acoustical ceiling in the upstairs bedroom. Money is tight, we thought about wallpapering it. Are we crazy.

  24. Heather

    Hi J! First off congrats on the new house.

    I have never tried wallpapering over acoustical tile. My concern is that it will not adhere well or hold long term. I know this would be a short term solution to hide an eye sore, but I hate the idea of you spending your money on something that isn’t really going to solve the problem – especially since you mentioned money is tight.

    In your situation, I would try to live with the ceiling as is until I could afford to rip out the tile ceiling. Have you checked to see what is underneath the tile? Although I have no idea without actually seeing your ceiling, I am picturing a drop ceiling. Often the original plaster ceiling has been left in place. Sometimes drop ceilings were put in to hide cracks in the plaster. If the original ceiling is in place, it can be repaired an patched for a small investment of materials and a larger investment of your time.

    Best of luck!!

  25. Crystal Alexander

    We’ve only been in our house for 14 months, and I get discouraged sometimes too with the lack of progress and what the visions in my head look like compared to reality. When I get upset, I remind myself what a busy, and financially draining, year it’s been. We moved across country to Virginia, from Michigan, in January. We bought our first home in April, got married (in our home state of Michigan) in August, I lost my job in September, and we welcomed our first child in February. When I look at all of that, I kind of feel happy about what we HAVE accomplished. Since February, we’ve only painted the front porch and landscaped the front yard. Not too bad, considering the mounting diaper and formula costs!!!!

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