Saturday, December 31, 2011

At the End of the Year

December has been a busy month, and I haven't had a lot of time to write in the blog. But the work has been moving forward, even with all the holiday mishegoss going on. It's actually been great having the house as a place to go and focus, and get away from everything else. So a lot has gotten done.

One of the things we did was we went to Ohmega Salvage, and we bought a mantel for the fireplace. Of course, it was not in finished shape - we needed another project, of course - so we bought a painted mantel, with a missing mirror. When we started to strip it, we realized that the four raised panels around the missing mirror were in fact also mirrors, and that the mantle itself is mahogany. We carefully scraped the paint off the four beveled glass mirrors, and we're ordering a new mirror for the center.
The mantle being stripped in the basement on Parker Street

Now that the paint is off, we can see that much of the mantle is missing. There were clearly two columns, and probably three separate shelves, that have all been removed. So back to Tom Pedemonte we go, to get him to make us the pieces we'll need to finish the mantle. It will end up being a beautiful piece.

All the wiring is now completed, with the exception of the light switches for the back bedrooms and the WC, and the outlet for the washer/dryer. We found a wall sconce to hang at the bottom of the stairs, and it is now wired in and working. We no longer have extension cords going up and down the stairs, because there are now working outlets on both floors.
The sconce at the bottom of the stairs

The ceiling in the living room is mostly stripped, and the scrapping has commenced. We'll still be using the heat gun for the baseboards, a little more on the ceiling, and some more in the upstairs hallway - but we can see a time when we won't be using it.

And the back porch has been built - no stairs yet, but the porch is there, and so the back door can be opened, and it gives us a place in the sun to sit and have lunch on work days. We've had a lot of sun lately (of course it won't rain, now that we have a roof!)

We've been having a lot of visitors - neighbors, friends, etc - and everyone has been complementary about how fast the house is coming along. It always surprises us when someone says that, because we feel like it's moving incredibly slowly.

So in 2012 we're hoping to really move this project along. If we get our financing, we plan to put the new foundation under the Delaney House, and get the new walls built, and then really push to finish the Cheney Cottage. A happy and successful 2012 to us all!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Adding wiring, removing paint

The dining room chandelier
The project continues. More wiring going in, more paint coming off.

The living room ceiling is 90% finished, so the scrapping will commence soon. The baseboards are still not done, but all the rest of the stripping is finished. We hope to have Tom Piedemonte in to give us some estimates on helping finish the project - that should happen next week. Tom is a real artist, and will be able to make sure the finished woodwork is as beautiful as it was in 1902.
The dining room

The living room ceiling, in process
In the course of doing the stripping, I realized that we needed a natural place to stop stripping, and it's hard to find - we stripped the paint all the way up the stairs, but then it looks odd at the top to suddenly have the baseboards stripped. So we've decided to also strip all the woodwork in the second floor hallway (basically, we're stripping all the woodwork except in the bedrooms, the bathrooms and the kitchen). So stripping is now happening upstairs and down.

All the outlets are in except for one in the front bedroom and one in the hall (I ran out of plugs). So the wiring is definitely moving toward completion.
Trim replaced in the back bedroom. The trim was labelled so we would know where to put it back

And the place is looking more and more finished. Next up: more paint stripping, electrical in the kitchen and bathrooms, and plumbing.
The trim at the top of the stairs, reinstalled and ready to be stripped.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Wreckage Becomes a House Again

The Cheney Cottage is starting to feel like more than a project to us - it's starting to feel like a real house.

We have done a lot of work since the last post, and progress is being made. Almost all the trim, (including the baseboards) has been reinstalled upstairs. On the surfaces that don't have huge holes in them where the beams went through (there are a couple), the walls have a finished look to them.

There are a couple bedroom walls that are so badly damaged they have to be removed and re-plastered. Tom has been taking them down, and fortunately, they are all exterior walls - so he is taking the opportunity to insulate the walls.

The paint stripping is moving along well. The dining room is done, and we've been trying to finish all the scraping in there. Jimmy, one of our neighborhood handymen, has been working with us on this, doing a great job. The living room ceiling is probably 70% done, and most of the trim is done (except the baseboards)

The front porch is mostly done as well, with siding installed and the original handrail back in place. Since the stairs originally went down along the house, there was only one handrail, so we have to replicate it on the other side. But we have the existing one as a model, so it shouldn't be that difficult to do.
The porch and railing
One of the things that has made the house feel more together is that we spent a day cleaning. We picked up all the various piles of paster and dust, and vacuumed the floors throughout the house to remove the dust. It made a huge difference, especially when we're working.

Yesterday, Johno stopped by and we sat out on the porch steps and watched the neighborhood go by, drinking tea and eating pound cake. We've had beautiful weather, and it felt great to sit and be part of the street scene. All the neighbors stop by and ask how the project is going, when we think we'll be done, and to tell us how much they like the house. And with it back together, sitting on a foundation and with a new roof, we're liking it a lot more too!

So next weekend, the re-plastering begins.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Finishing the Porch

The porch is pretty much done. Except for the railings on the stairs, and the shingles on the roof, the porch is finished.
The mostly completed porch
We started by making the rafter tails that support the roof over the stairs. Then we made a dutchman in each to connect them to the existing rafters.

Next, we put 1x6 up to create the porch roof. We also installed the last two decorative supports (the ones under the rafter tails by the stairs). One of them was missing a piece, so we made a replacement piece and glued and nailed it on.

Then we put building paper on the roof to make it weatherproof - and the porch will now protect the stairs.

The view from the front door
We also spent some time this weekend working inside, finishing the trim in the downstairs bathroom, cleaning up, etc, Next weekend, the railings go on the porch, and the plumbing work begins in earnest. We'll also install shear walls below the porch, and start adding the last of the siding (along the crawl space).
The look of the porch, circa 1962

The porch today
With the roof done, the house is pretty much weatherproof, and we spent part of the rainy day on Saturday just listening to the rain on our new roof. Nothing like knowing the house is now safe from the weather!

We also had a visit from one of the firefighters, who told us about the fire in the apartment across the street. All three units are now empty, and the fire pretty much gutted the middle apartment. We don't know what plans the owners have for the building, but for now, it's boarded up.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

62nd Street Happenings

We spent Sunday at the Cheney Cottage, working on the porch - to mixed results.

We installed the last pieces of decking, did some work on strengthening the railings, and figured out what pieces went where. Things were moving along and we were making pretty good progress. But then, late in the day, I was putting up the pieces that support the roof on either side. They are mostly decorative, but give the porch a distinctive look. I couldn't get them to fit right, and I finally realized why: we put the horizontal pieces in at the wrong spot.

So next weekend, we have to take them out and reinstall them, then redo the support pieces. It'll make the porch look like it did originally, and will be a much cleaner look - but it's a pain in the ass to have to re-do work. I'm kicking myself for this - it is pretty clear in one of the pictures from 1962 how the support pieces connect, and we somehow missed it.

Except for the porch roof and railings, the porch is mostly done. We hope to get it all finished on Saturday.

We also had a couple visitors - blog readers who hadn't heard that the BAHA House Tour was cancelled. That was my fault, as I never posted that we weren't having the tour. When the BAHA Board came to see the house, we all agreed that the site was too rough for many of the BAHA members, and that we'd wait until the house was in more finished form. So Andus came by to bring flowers for the tour, and then Claire came by to see the house. She got a personal tour, so I hope it was still worth the trip. (Claire: I need your last name so I can add you to the guest book!)

In other news, there was a fire across the street today. Pete Alvaraz, who lives in the two story house across from us, filmed the fire in the apartment building next to him. It looks like it was a pretty bad fire, damaging both the second and third floors. Pete uploaded a video of the fire to YouTube.

We're looking forward to being back on 62nd this weekend and getting some work done. Although having a break has been nice, we're anxious to get back to work. It's supposed to rain tomorrow (Thursday) and Sunday, but since we now have a roof on the house, we're not worried about the weather. We just need to keep working!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Porch Progress

The Cheney Cottage's restored porch, sans roof and stair railings

We had a long weekend of work on the Cheney Cottage, and we got a lot done. Mostly, we worked outside on the porch.

When we took apart the Cheney Cottage back on College Avenue, we tried to save most of the pieces. We were particularly careful with the old porch, saving both posts (even though one had been damaged over the years), the railings, the roof rafters. They all rattled around inside the first floor while the house was moved to Albany and back, and we have moved them back and forth as we worked inside the house.

This weekend, we finally got them out and figured out what we had. It was all there, except for one of the railings, and all usable, except for one of the roof rafters.

Before we got to work, we got some Sculpwood System Three, an epoxy used for rebuilding missing and damaged decorative wood trim. The stuff is incredibly easy to use, and we mixed it and used it to begin patching the missing pieces on the damaged post. We have to get more to finish it, but we can already see that it will work well and make the post look undamaged.

Then we installed the tongue and groove decking on the floor of the porch. Our neighbors Tom and Monique had a flooring nailer, so we hooked it up to our compressor, and quickly installed the floor.

We then installed the post on the east side, making sure it was plumb. We attached the post to the house with the top piece, then repeated the process for the west post. We then figured out which of the decorative trim pieces went on each side, and started nailing them in place. The large beam across the front went up, and was nailed into the posts and the decorative supports.

We then figured out the railings, and how to install them. Originally, the railing went on what is now the east side, then across the front, as the stairs went down the side, in front of the living room. On 62nd Street, we changed the stairs so they come straight down from the front door. Even with this change, we could reuse the railings, so we installed them on both sides (John Stevens showed up at a particularly opportune moment to assist).
The Cheney Cottage, with the original deteriorated porch, in 2010

The Cheney Cottage today, with the original porch railings back in place
We then started installing the roof rafters. One of them was completely rotted and broken, so we made a new one, ripping down a 2x6 to make it the same size as the original.

The result is that the porch is done except for the roof and a couple more trim pieces. We still haven't put up the old stair railing, but we'll have to make a new one for the west side, since there was only one before.

We also spent some time cleaning the downstairs of the house, organizing the lumber, sweeping and cleaning up. Despite the fact that the floors are in bad shape, the walls are cracked, and the woodwork is in various stages of being stripped, the house looks good. It's feeling like it will be a home.

The next two weeks, there won't be much happening. My mother is coming for a visit on Wednesday and will be here through the weekend, and then the following weekend we are going to a wedding, and then having the BAHA House Tour. Our next work weekend probably won't be until the weekend of November 6th and 7th.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Stairs At Last

The stairs are pretty much done. Except for the riser for the bottom step, the stairs are in, and we're happy with how they turned out.

First, we finished cutting all the stringers and put them in place. We made sure they were all level, so the steps will sit evenly across all 7 stringers. (We realized that, since the steps are 6 feet wide, we needed 7 stringers, not 8).

Because the plan was to build closed tread stairs (meaning that there is an end wall on each side, instead of leaving the ends of the stairs open), we had to build two side walls to cover the ends of the stairs. These are stud walls that have siding applied on the inside, up against where the stairs will go, and then a cap put on top. We built the east one first, then the west one. We left the cap off the west one, so we could fit the stairs and risers in.

In building the side walls, we realized we needed to figure out exactly where we were cutting off the posts, so we did that as well. The posts are now caped, waiting for the porch columns to be installed (next weekend).

Then we bought a sheet of 1/2" plywood, and cut it down to make the risers. The risers were nailed in place, and then we turned to the treads. The treads we bought were 11" wide, so we cut them down to 10 1/2", and then cut them to length, to fit snugly between the two walls. The wood is incredibly pricey - the 5 treads alone were almost $500 - but we figure the stairs should last 50 years or more, so it's a good investment.
New front steps for the Cheney Cottage

The wood on the treads is really beautiful, clear fir, so we decided we wanted to stain them, instead of painting them. We bought penetrating oil in a rosewood color, and applied the first coat, wiping off the excess after 20 minutes. By this time, it was after 5 o'clock today, so we decided to wait and apply more coats during the week.

Meanwhile, Jimmy (a guy in the neighborhood who does handyman work around 62nd Street) and Jamal (the nephew of our next door neighbor Dave) had both come by and asked to do some work. They spent time cleaning up the back yard.: Jimmy used a weed whacker and cut down all the tall onion grass and weeds, and they both cleaned up the yard. Dave's son Darien also came and helped out, so between the three of them they got a lot done. It is now possible to walk around the yard again.

Next weekend, we'll put down the tongue and groove floor on the porch, and build the porch roof. Having a porch makes a huge difference - not just that we can more easily get into the house, but it completes the look of the house. We can't wait to get the porch finished, so the house really does have a good street presence.

Cheney House Tour
For blog readers who want to come see the progress on 62nd Street but who don't want to get roped into working, we're having a Cheney Cottage tour on Sunday, October 30th from 2 to 4. This is an event sponsored by BAHA (Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association) and there is no charge for the event, though you do have to be a BAHA member. More information about BAHA can be found at

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

How We Did It

Several people have asked how we knew the size of the porch, and how we calculated the stairs. It's half history and half science.

For the porch, it was pretty easy: we have the original porch posts, along with the porch railings an top pieces. So determining the size of the porch was simple: we laid out everything in the dining room, and then measured to see how long and how wide the porch should be. Andus had made detailed measurements of the house for the plans, so the original porch size was replicated on the house for its new location on 62nd Street - so the plans were another source of information. When it's done, the porch should look like it always did, with one exception: on College Avenue, the opening for the stairs was to the right, as the stairs went down in front of the bay window. On 62nd, the porch stairs will go right up to the front of the porch.

Determining the stairs takes more work. Eric and his crew put in a concrete first step as part of the foundation for the porch. Once we built the porch, we measured the distance from the porch floor to the foundation (height) and then the distance from the edge of the porch to the leading edge of the concrete step.

Then the fun begins: I had to determine how long each step could be (the "run") and how high each step could be (the "rise"). Usually, when you measure, you end up with numbers that are very difficult to divide: 62 3/8" long and 47 9/16 high. But this time, I lucked out: the height (from the concrete step to the top of the finish floor on the porch) is exactly 42 inches, and the run is exactly 54 inches. So the rise of each step (assuming 6 risers) would be 7 inches, and the run would be 9 inches. (six treads).

Each step needs a nosing, the overhang that sticks out over the next step down, which is generally 1 to 1 1/2" So I determined that the tread (the run plus the length of the overhang) for each step would be 10 1/2.

To check the math, there are three formulas to examine, to ensure the stairs are the proper dimension. Taking the rise (R) and the tread (T), the stairs must satisfy at least one of the following:

T + R = 17" to 18"
2T + R = 24" to 25"
T x R = 70" to 75"

Our stairs meet all three requirements: T+R is 17 1/2", 2T + R is 24.5", and T x R equals 72.5". It doesn't get much better than that.

So now that I was comfortable that I had the right dimensions, it was time to cut the stringers. Tom first helped by "crowning" each of the 2x12s - each board has a curve, and so we wanted to make sure that slight curve was pointed up (to make the steps as strong as possible).

Each step makes a right angle on the stringer - the angle between each riser and the step below it. So I took the framing square, and set one side at 7" (the rise) and one side at 9" (the run). I set the 7 and the 9 at the edge of the 2x12, and then I traced the right angle between the two, which made the first full step. Next, I slid the framing square down to make a new right angle just below the first one (the 7" riser being lined up right where the 9" run ends). This is repeated four times, one for each full right angle on the stairs (the top step is just the tread, as the riser is the side of the porch, and the bottom step is just the riser, the tread being the concrete).

Each treat is 1" thick, so I subtracted one inch from the bottom step, so all the finished steps would end up being exactly the same height. I also put the top step 6 1/4" down from the porch, since the tongue and groove porch flooring is 3/4" thick (so the total distance to the top of the flooring is the same as each step - 7 inches).

Once the stringers were drawn on the 2x12s, we measured to make sure the distance from the right angle (where the riser meets the tread) and the back of the stringer was more than 5" (another code requirement, to ensure the stairs are strong enough). Our stringers met this easily, so we were ready to start cutting them out.

Then using the circular saw (which is a tool I definitely can no longer use, particularly for making stringers), Tom cut along the lines I had drawn. A circular saw cannot reach the corners of each step (not without cutting into the stringer) so after he cut them most of the way, I used a draw saw to make the remainder of the cuts.

The last step was making the cut out at the bottom of the stringer for the sole plate - this prevents the stringer from sliding forward.

We put the first stringer in place, and tested to make sure it fits. It was a perfect match, so we took it off and used it as a template to trace all the other stringers. We made three more of them, and installed them on the porch.

This weekend, we'll make the remaining three stringers, and install them as a full width set of stairs. And then we'll start rebuilding the porch roof.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Almost a Porch, Almost A Set of Stairs

We spent the weekend working out front of the Cheney Cottage. It was beautiful weather, perfect for outdoor work, and we focused on rebuilding the front porch and steps.

The first thing we did was calculate how much lumber we needed: how many 2x8s for the porch floor joists, 2x12s for the stringers to support the stairs, 2x4s to frame under the porch. We decided not to buy the porch decking or the treads for the stairs yet, as they will probably get seriously damaged during the rest of the construction. We also bought a 6x6 post, as the porch roof is supported by carved 6x6 posts. Even though the porch was spec'ed to have a 4x4 post, we went with the larger size to be historically accurate.

We started by putting down the pressure treated sole plate on top of the concrete foundation. Then we put the header against the house, and built the headers for either side of the porch. We decided to run the joists parallel to the front of the house, so the decking would run perpendicular (and be more likely to shed water). We used Simpson ties on the headers, which are significantly easier to install before handing the headers.

Then we cut the 6x6 and put up the headers, making sure the posts were plumb and the headers were on a slight angle (to make sure water drains off the porch). The we put headers across the top of the stairs, to tie the two posts together, and keep the porch plumb.

Next, we turned our attention to the stairs. The code calls for a stringer every 12 inches, so we need to make 7 stringers. For once, calculating the rise and run of the stairs was not difficult - it worked out that the rise is exactly 7 inches and the run is 10 1/2 inches.

Using a framing square, we made the first stringer, and fitted it in place. It fit perfectly, so we used it to make three more stringers (as we were running out of time). Then, again using Simpson ties, we hung three of the stringers, notching them to fit on the sole plate, and nailed them in place. Finally, we put a piece of plywood down on the porch, and put 2/8 scraps on the stringers to make temporary steps.

So now, when we go work at the Cheney Cottage, we don't have to climb the ladder - we can walk up the stairs to the porch, and walk up to the door. This is definitely progress!
The usable, albeit unfinished, porch and stairs

Tomorrow, the roofers come to start installing the roof shingles over the building paper. And the house will have a good roof, one that should last 30 years or more.

Next up: working on the kitchen. Now that we have stairs, we can bring the kitchen cabinets and the appliances in. First, we have to rough in the plumbing (all the wiring is in) and then we can install the cabinets, make counters, and install the appliances.

And of course, we're still scrapping paint and stripping the beams in the living room, and still have scrapping to do in the dining room. Lisa has showed up unannounced several times to help us scrape, which has been great. It's a good job for anyone who likes to pick at things, as all the little paint chips have to be painstakingly scraped off.

The built in china cabinet has been particularly stubborn, and the heat gun barely made a dent in the orange paint. So we removed the cabinet doors to bring them back to Parker Street, to work on stripping them during the week.

And then plaster patching, the bathrooms, and the heating system. And then we'll finish the landscaping.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Singing in the Rain

The tarps are down. After two years of keeping the Cheney Cottage as dry as possible (which often was not at all possible), the house is waterproof.

We don't actually have a finished roof yet - we still have to pick shingles and have them installed, along with the drip edge. But the roof now has building paper, carefully installed and tacked down. The attic is dark: no light seeps in through the hundreds of cracks, no gaps let in the sun and the pigeons that have been roosting there.

The shingles will go up soon, in the next week or two. But for the first time in two years, we can listen to the rain, and not worry that the house is being slowly ruined. Another milestone!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Anniversaries and Injuries

Today we celebrated our 32nd anniversary by working at the Cheney Cottage. We got a lot done: Tom put up siding on the east side, and I worked on cleaning up plaster dust in the laundry, then stripped paint in the living room and all the way up the stairs.

But we had a little problem: Tom was cutting a piece of siding on the table saw, and it kicked back and hit him in the arm. It put a pretty deep hole in his arm, and he was bleeding like a stuck pig. But we remained calm, and bandaged his arm, and then he went over to Kaiser to get it checked out. (We just got the 66 Mercedes running, and since it's an automatic, he could drive himself over with no problem.)

The result: 5 stitches. He's actually feeling pretty good, even though his arm is sore, and we're still planning on going out to dinner to celebrate our anniversary.

This week, the roofers are coming to finish the roof, so by the end of the week, the house will be completely waterproof - first time in years. I also spent some time today sorting all the pieces of the front porch, and have it all figured out. Hopefully, next week we can start building the porch, and then the house will be a lot easier to get into and out of.

With the porch in place, we can bring in the kitchen cabinets and the stove, and try to get the kitchen finished. We still will need counters, some kind of finished floor, and a refrigerator, plus an 18" dishwasher - but we're making progress there.

We'll also start seriously patching plaster. Now that the house is watertight, we can hang blueboard and start plastering, without worrying about it getting ruined.

The stripping paint goes on - the living room ceiling is about the only thing left to do - but there is still plenty of scrapping to do. And then we have to finish the woodwork. And install the bathroom fixtures. And the plumbing. And the heating system.

So, two weeks.

Still no financing - the banks are being unbelievable. I'm not sure how we are ever going to have an economic recovery if people can't get access to capital. The banks are making money hand over fist and sharing none of it with the people who are trying to invest.

But we're pushing on. This project is going to take longer than we ever thought. But we're not going anyplace. We will get the Cheney Cottage and Delaney House done!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Now Get Back to Work

Tom and I bring a new meaning to the phrase "stay-cation" For us, our vacation meant working harder than we work at work. But we got a lot done.

Almost all the wiring in the house is done. We have a couple last things to do (the sconce in the downstairs bathroom, the laundry room outlet, lights outside) but everything else is done. I hope to install the fuse box next weekend, and hook up all the wiring I've been running.

All the trim on the outside of the house is back in place. The band board on the west side, and one small piece of trim, are still not there, and there is a piece of missing bandboard in the front - but everything else is in place. The house is ready to have the painting finished.

We cleaned up the house and the site. All the plaster we removed is gone, the house is mostly organized, and all the roofing debris has been either removed, or raked up into piles to be removed. And Lisa stopped by yesterday and spent some more time scrapping paint in the dining room, so the dining room woodwork is nearing the point where we can finish it.

Still no building paper on the roof, though. We brought two rolls up to the roof, and decided we just weren't up for risking our lives climbing around up there. So that is still on the "to do" list, hopefully to get done by someone other than us. We have one estimate for finishing the roofing, but as that estimate was kind of outrageous, we are going to get some others.

We need to get the new water service brought to the house, and get the gas meter installed so we can hook up the gas.

We need to do the front retaining wall and walkway, so we can fill in the front yard and do some landscaping. And we need to build the porches.

And we need to install a heating system. We're now thinking we'll do a gas fireplace in the front room to heat that space, and then radiators in the bedrooms, kitchen and dining room.

Oh, and there's lots of plaster to patch, every room needs to be painted, and the floors need to be refinished. We need to finish the stripping of the woodwork so we can shellack it.

And then we'll be done. And ready to turn our attention back to the Delaney House.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Laboring Toward Labor Day

Since we've both been on vacation this week, we've gotten a lot done. We worked on Sunday and Monday, then took Tuesday off (Tom helped Sabastian move in Davis, and I had work to catch up on here). We spent Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at the Cheney Cottage.

And a lot has gotten done. We took down the ceiling in the kitchen, I finished all the wiring in there (lights and outlets), which was a huge job. Running romex in a new house is probably not a lot of work (we've never had the pleasure) but in an old house, the problem is always getting it to go where you want it. So, for example, the light switches in the kitchen took 5 hours to run the romex - it was almost impossible to pull the romex through from the crawl space, but we finally succeeded. Opening up the kitchen ceiling also has greatly simplified the second floor wiring, so I expect to finish the upstairs bedrooms this weekend. All that is left after that is the upstairs bathroom and WC, and the downstairs bathroom, and the porch lights.

Tom has mostly been working outside, putting up trim, and there are very few pieces left to go. The band board is still missing on the west side, and one other piece of trim, and we have a couple pieces under one of the windows on the south side - but then it's all done. This weekend Tom hopes to put up more of the siding on the crawl space, and finish the watertable installation on the east and south sides.

We're also putting up the building paper on the roof this weekend, which will make the house truly watertight. We're still discussing if we're going to shingle the roof ourselves - the estimate we got for shingle installation was completely outrageous - so we may be up there roofing the place yet. But at least, after this weekend, we'll have the roof sealed and the rains can come.

And we're starting to think about plumbing. I'm hoping we can get some of the supply pipe installed so we can have a working toilet and sink in the not too distant future.

We've also started planning the landscaping. We plan to build a low retaining wall in front, with one step, and then bring in some clean fill to raise the level of the ground around the house (and give us some good dirt for plantings). The retaining wall will be concrete, so when we have that poured, we'll also pour the front path and the walkway back toward the Delaney House.

It's been a lot of work. But we're taking the day off (mostly) and relaxing. Then Sunday and Monday, we'll be back, making progress. This project will be finished, one day.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Finish Work At Last

When we bought the Cheney Cottage, there were only two of the original light fixtures left. The University had replaced all the regular lights with large florescent fixtures (probably back in the 60s, judging from the fixtures). We took them out while the house was still sitting on its original site, so they're long gone.

But two original fixtures were left in place. One was a wall sconce, on the wall directly opposite the top of the stairs. The other, a hanging pendant light, hung over the stairs. They had both been painted white (the University painted pretty much everything in the house white).

The pendant stayed in its original location throughout the moves. I remember standing under the second floor, after the first floor had been pulled out, and noticing it hanging there. I also remember seeing it through the window as the house made the turn from Bancroft to Shattuck, as the second floor moved toward Albany Village.

The sconce didn't stay in place: we took it down during the prep of the house, before we cut the second floor free of the first, and put it in the china cabinet downstairs. It stayed there until the first floor arrived on 62nd Street, and we found it waiting for us. (We also found two bags of Milanos, that had been in the house for the full year - still edible).

Once the house was reunited, we finally took down the pendant, and brought both fixtures back to Parker Street. During our free time (when we weren't working at our jobs or working on the house), we'd scrape the paint and polish the fixtures. We finally finished them on Saturday, and rewired them.

The pendant light originally had a glass globe, which was long since gone, so we went down to Ohmega Salvage to buy a new one. Ohmega is an odd place: Some of it is incredibly over priced, but there are still deals to be had, particularly if you aren't looking for things that are totally finished and in perfect shape (which is exactly what most of their customers are looking for - we're definitely in the minority).

We saw two glass fixtures that would work and were the right size. They were priced at $150 - each! Tom and I said "no". But then, out back, behind the main Ohmega building, they have lots of broken light fixtures, dirty shades and odd mismatched pieces. We found a globe there that fit. It was substantially cheaper: $5.00 plus tax. So we saved $145.

Now the two restored fixtures, plus the new globe, are back on 62nd Street. It practically brought me to tears to put them in place. Installing light fixtures definitely qualifies as "finish work" I hooked the fixtures up to the new wiring. They're done.

And if I do say so myself, they look great.
Compact florescent bulbs, natch
Today was a clean up day. As the new roof is going on, Eric's truck is sitting out front, loaded with all the layers of the old roofs. We also took the bags of broken plaster, old wiring and broken sash cord, and threw them onto the truck. Tom worked out in the yard, hacking away brambles and getting to debris piles, and sorting through them, throwing out what was unusable and salvaging the good stuff.

Tomorrow is a day off, but Wednesday we'll be back. My plan is to finish the kitchen wiring, and hopefully finish the lights on the second floor. Plumbing is next. And, with a new roof, we can start repairing plaster and refinishing the floors.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Week

So we're facing it: we're not getting anywhere doing this on Saturdays and Sundays. The Cheney Cottage, though a small house, is still a lot of work.

The house is getting a new roof, so it will be waterproof. And we've got the siding up, most of the exterior trim is back in place. But the punch list of things left to do is incredibly long.

So though we're making progress, we need some concentrated time. So this is the week. Tom and I are both taking the week off work, and we're going to put some serious concentrated time in and work on getting the place done. The wiring, the plumbing, the heating system, the plastering.

We were going to start today, but we decided to spend the day on Parker Street, a somewhat restful and quiet day before the big push. We spent the day doing some small chores for the Cheney Cottage - like finishing cleaning up the two light fixtures that were left in the house. It was mostly the calm before the work.

Still no financing in sight, but we have to just push on and get the place closer to done. Stay tuned for updates.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


I haven't been writing much on the blog, because we've only been working on two projects. They both involve scraping.

Inside, the stripping of the dining and living rooms continues. The dining room is totally stripped, but the scraping is still underway. In the living room, everything except the ceiling and the rest of the baseboards is done. On the stairs, the railings are stripped and scraped.
More progress scraping the wainscoting in the dining room

On the outside, we're working on putting back all the missing trim. All the tirim has multiple layers of paint on it, and all of it needs to be scraped. So we scrape the trim down before installing it on the house.

But we see progress being made. The trim is done on the east side, and on the front, all but one piece have been re-installed. The west side has new siding, and now all the trim, except the band board and a couple small pieces, have been replaced and are ready for paint. Even on the back, most of the trim is done.
The west side of the Cheney Cottage, with the new siding and much of the trim re-installed

Every week, when we observe Garbage Day, we've been putting out bags of paint scrapings. It's amazing to see how much paint we've removed, both inside and out. It's also still shocking to realize that, when the trim inside the dining and living rooms was originally painted, it was painted bright orange. We still can't understand why someone thought bright orange paint was more attractive than shellacked redwood.

Next weekend, we hope to complete much of the wiring, so the electrical box can be installed, and the wiring hooked up (we still have the temporary power pole and an extension cord running to the house). Then the plumbing work begins in earnest. The radiators will be re-installed, and we'll work on getting hot and cold running water.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

In the Dining Room of the Cheney Cottage

The Dining Room of the Cheney Cottage

Stripping paint is an arduous job, but ultimately, extremely rewarding.

The process involves long hours with the heat gun. I've learned that the best way to use the heat gun is to wear gloves, as the paint strips tend to be pretty hot (the heat gun has a range of 500 - 750 degrees). As you point the gun at the painted surface, the paint bubbles, and you slide a putty knife underneath it to lift ift off, while moving the gun to the adjacent painted surface. Often, I can pull off a strip of paint that is several inches long.
The wainscoting after initial paint stripping

Once the paint is removed, then the entire surface has to be scraped down to remove the last bits of the paint. On Saturday, Lisa Wahl came over and volunteered a couple hours to scrape paint with me. It's again arduous and pretty boring, but the results look even better, and you can see the woodwork returning to life. It was kind of fun doing it with Lisa, having someone to talk to. And Lisa is meticulous, so did a great job scraping all the tiny bits of paint off.
The wainscoting after most of the scraping is done

Next, we'll have to wash the woodwork with alcohol. This removes the top layer of the shellac, and will take off any haze of paint left on the surface. Then the completely stripped woodwork will be ready for shellac.

The dining room has wainscoting that is about 4 feet high, plus wood trim around the doors, plus two wood doors that need to be stripped, and the built in cabinet. All of it takes time, but all the wainscoting is stripped, one of the doors is stripped, and the trim around the doors. Between Lisa, Tom and me, we've scraped probably 1/3 of the wainscoting,
The half stripped built in china cabinet

Outside, things are happening as well. The biggest change is that the scaffolding is finally down from the front of the house, and the newly painted front can be clearly seen. Except for the bandboard (which is missing one piece), and some smaller areas that need to be touched up, the front of the house is done, and looks great. The colors are bright and vibrant - a major change from the grey facade the house presented for so many years.
A new paint job for the Cheney Cottage

Tom also has been working on replacing the siding on the west side, and he's probably about half way done. The new siding (obviously) will not need to be scraped, and it comes pre-primed, so we should be able to paint it as soon as it's up. Then we'll replace the 2nd story trim, and paint that as well.

Still no new roof, still no porches. But the place continues to come together.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mr. Home Energy

In the past week, we've made pretty good progress on the Cheney Cottage.
The west wall of the Cheney Cottage, nice and warm

Tom has put on his Home Energy hat in a big way, and spent the last three days getting the west wall to meet energy standards. With the siding off, it was the perfect time to install insulation, but Tom went beyond that. He cleaned out the debris that generally sits in stud bays, then caulked and sealed every crack he could find. Insulation came next, cut carefully to fit each stud bay. Finally, a vapor barrier covered the entire wall, carefully trimmed to fit around the windows.

So the siding is still off, but next weekend we'll be replacing the old siding with new pre-primed siding, and the west wall will be ready for paint.

Inside, the work continues. I have done about 75% of the stripping of the woodwork in the front room, and it all looks great. There's still a long way to go, however. We'll take a second pass at removing paint, going over each area and removing the small particles that remain, and trying to get the wood all clean. Then we'll use an alcohol wash to remove the top layer of the original finish, which will take with it the slight haze of paint that often remains behind. Then Tom Piedemonte will do his magic, and spray new shellac on the woodwork. The room will go from how it looked when it arrived on 62nd Street (streaked with dirt and water marks) to how it looked when it was built on College Avenue in 1902.
The opening between the living room and the front hall

The main beam and the west window

The bench seat in the living room

I also started stripping the paint in the dining room. The dining room is probably my favorite room in the house, with its cove ceiling and redwood wainscotting. As the paint has started to come off, we found that the dining room was painted orange at some point in time. Not a gentle soft orange, but 1960s psychedelic orange.
The dining room

It should take only about 8 hours to strip the rest of the dining room, and probably 3 or 4 to finish the front room. This excludes the ceiling in the front room: at present, we're thinking we might hire someone to help strip the ceiling. Holding the heat gun and stripping paint which then falls into your face and hair gets tiring quickly, and maybe this is one of the jobs that we'll hire out. Of course, we say that - then we end up doing it ourselves. But for now, as sore and stiff as we both are from working pretty solidly all weekend, it's a nice fantasy.

Once the siding is up, the breaker box can be installed, and we'll get to start hooking up all the wiring I've installed. And we're about ready to start installing plumbing in the kitchen and the two bathrooms.

Outside, the purple has gotten mixed reviews. Our neighbors mostly seem tolerant of our somewhat unorthodox choices in colors. But the house does seem to have originally been purple (although we also think that the wood was originally just stained and sealed). This matches a recollection of one of the Cheney grandchildren, who visited the Cheney's house and told researchers he remembered when it was purple. So maybe May and Warren liked purple houses as much as we do.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Question of Trim

At the Cheney Cottage, I've been painting on the outside, and stripping paint inside. Surprisingly, it's all very satisfying.

The parlor has beautiful woodwork, all of which was painted at some point in the past. We've been slowly stripping it, and most of the paint is coming off relatively easily - but it's still a big job, and going to take a long time. So I try, every time we're there, to spend at least part of the time stripping paint. I'm using the heat gun that we bought to strip paint on Wool Street in San Francisco, back in 1983.

The reason the paint is easy to remove ("easy" being a relative term - it's still hard work) is because the wood was originally shellacked. The original finish kept the paint from adhering permanently to the wood, and, once heated, the paint tends to peel away. But in places where the wood was never painted, the paint grabs and is almost impossible to remove. This is also true in places where the wood was damaged, and then painted.

Every time I strip a door frame, I come across the same thing: When I strip the top piece of trim (the lintel), there are two vertical marks directly above the side pieces. Clearly, there were two pieces of trim that at some point in the past were removed. Now that we're removing the paint, the unfinished wood refuses to give up the paint, so I can clearly see the marks left where the trim was.

See below for some pictures of what I'm talking about. We've never seen trim with this pattern before, so I'm hoping someone on the blog has a house with similar trim, and can send me a photo of what it looks like.

The door to the dining room, in process of being stripped.
Detail of door trim - note the two vertical marks above the capital

As for today: despite the fact that I'm up so early, we plan to get a lot of work done over the next two days. The exterior siding was delivered yesterday, so we plan to replace the worn out siding on the west side of the house, and then continue working on putting up the half timber trim that we removed to cut the house. Most of that trim has been replaced on the east and north sides, but we still have several pieces to put back on the south side (the back of the house) and the west side.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Paint Colors

The final colors for the Cheney Cottage are more subdued than the primer colors. At least, a little bit more subdued.

What more can I say?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Don't Freak Out

To everyone who has gone past the Cheney Cottage in the last 24 hours: trust me, it's just the primer.

The Cheney Cottage is going to be painted in bright colors: deep purple, dark green and cream. We made these choices because a) the house was originally purple and green, judging from what we found when scraping the paint, and b) the house has been grey for so long, we felt it deserves to be bright, colorful, even somewhat outrageous. We think the colors are going to work well.

So our painters have put primer on the house. Bear in mind, the primer is tinted, to make coverage with the top coats easier, but it is NOT the same color as the top coat. So the electric purple base color and the psychedelic green trim are not the colors the house will be.

Trust me on this. It's going to look much better. Be patient.
NOT the final color choice

Monday, June 20, 2011

Plodding Along

The stair railings, ready for more stripping and refinishing

The last two weekends have been good, and we've gotten a lot of work done. There is also work happening on the outside of the Cheney Cottage.

We've been working on the wiring, and have completed two of the upstairs bedrooms, the hallway light (a 30way switch), and much of the kitchen and living room lighting. We still have to run romex for the bathrooms and the dining room.
The front door, with trim being stripped and a new electrical box

We've been adding more trim on the outside of the house. The east side is mostly done, as is the north side (the front). We also fixed the trim on the west window that had no trim, and added the window in the kitchen (where the door was).
The bathroom with the wainscot and window trim replaced

We've been replacing trim inside as well. Much of the trim in the upstairs bedrooms is now back in place, and if the trim hasn't been installed, we have at least figured out what goes where and put the pieces of trim in the correct rooms.
The front bedroom door, with trim replaced and a new electrical box for the light switch

Outside, the work continues. Dale and Miles of Walker Morris Painting are starting the prep work to paint the house, so the front of the house is covered by a screen to catch the lead paint as it is scraped. The University did a lot of the lead abatement when the house was still on campus, but Dale and Miles are working to get everything ready for paint. This week, they'll put up a gallon of each of the new colors, so we can really see what the house will look like. After all these years of being grey, it's going to be pretty vibrant with the new colors.
The window on the stairs, with the trim replaced

And Eric and his crew will be back at the end of the week to pour the foundations for the front and back porches. After that, we can start rebuilding the porches on the house.

We've even begun planning the landscaping. We have plans for a front retaining wall, with some good dirt brought in for plantings and a new walkway up to the front porch steps. Since we took one of the rose bushes from 62nd Street and put it on Parker Street (where it is flourishing), we want to repay the gift by taking one of the seedling Japanese Maple trees, from our 60 year old tree, and plant that in the front yard of the Cheney Cottage. Our neighbor Mark has several growing in pots in his yard, where the seeds floated down into pots he was using for orchids.

It's going to be a busy summer, but we're feeling like we're on track. Keep watching.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Trim and Wire

It was yet another wet, chilly weekend working on the Cheney Cottage. Which is a pretty strange way to describe a June weekend in California. Once again, the lot on 62nd Street is muddy and flooded. It's a lovely place to spend the weekend.

We seem to have gotten the tarps repositioned so the roof is again not leaking, except in one or two spots. Tom went out and bought some metal pails, which are strategically positioned to catch drips, so we're doing well with preventing further damage, beyond the wet plaster where the drips are coming through.

But it's brought up the need to replace the roof, which is something we've known about but have been trying to ignore. We can't ignore it any longer, and so, even though we can't afford to have someone do the roof, Tom and I will start tearing off the old roof, and re-roofing the Cheney Cottage, probably in the next week.

In an earlier post, I talked about how we have gotten too old to do some of the work, and roofing was definitely high on the list of what we're too old to do. The roof of the Cheney Cottage, with jerkinhead gables (otherwise known as "clipped gables") on all four sides, and steep pitch, is difficult to work on. But as we have always said "Poverty is the Mother of Invention", so our lack of working capital has made us younger - or raised the age of roofers in the Bay Area.

Anyway, we'll try to do it without falling off and breaking our necks. Stay tuned for that.

In other news, the wiring is moving along, and we probably have about half of the interior wiring completed. It's a big job, and at time complex. I had to sit and again figure out how a three way light switch works, so I could wire them in correctly, but I got it done, and a lot of the outlets are now roughed in as well.

When the Cheney Cottage belonged to the University, they upgraded the wire by running conduit along the surfaces, and through the walls, and mounted electrical boxes for switches and outlets on the surface. But for the house to really be a residence again, we need to put the outlets and switches in boxes that are recessed into the wall. In many places, it's easy to do, because the plaster is missing, but we still have enough walls where we have to cut through the plaster to put new electrical boxes.

Cutting through plaster and lathe is dirty and dusty, and often cracks the surrounding plaster. But as we already have tons of plaster to patch, what's a few more holes? So now the front bedroom has a wall switch that is connected to the overhead light, and all the wiring is hidden inside the walls (or will be when the walls are patched). Doing the wiring also includes fishing the wire through the walls, so this weekend Tom spent a lot of time in the attic, drilling holes through top places and fishing the wire down for me to grab. It sounds easy, but again: dusty, dirty, and often frustrating.

The other big job that is progressing is we're continuing to work on the exterior of the house, and we have a lot of the trim up on the front and on the east side. It all looks somewhat bizarre, with the old wood trim covering the new wood siding, but once the house is painted, we hope it'll look like it did in 1902.
The Cheney Cottage, with much of the second floor trim re-attached.
So progress is being made. Next up: more wiring; starting to install the plumbing; the foundations for the front and back porches; and the new roof.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ups and Downs

The Memorial Day weekend was spent at the Cheney Cottage. It was mostly a good weekend, and we got a lot done:
  • The electrical work is proceeding. We now have outlets roughed in in the kitchen, some in the living room, and the locations for the boxes determined (and the boxes installed) in all three bedrooms. Additionally, the wiring for the hall light (with a three way light switch downstairs and up) is done.
  • The wainscoting in the bathroom has been replaced on two of the walls - we're leaving the other walls open until the plumbing and wiring is done in there. As part of replacing the wainscoting on the north wall, we insulated the wall, which should be a major upgrade.
  • The exterior trim is being replaced. We have all the trim except the band-board on the front(north side) of the house, and some of the trim on the west and east sides.
  • We also replaced one of the broken window panes in the kitchen (there are two more windows to replace, one in the laundry room and one in the back bedroom).
And yet, we've had our set backs:
  • The City of Berkeley let us know (the day before our electrical box was scheduled to be installed) that we CAN'T hook up to PG&E. Because the Cheney Cottage was moved, it is now considered "new construction" (despite the fact that it's a 109 year old structure, and designated a City Landmark) and so all the interior wiring has to be completed before any connection to the grid can be made. What this means is that we've had to pay to have a temporary power pole installed on 62nd Street, and will have to continue to use extension cords to run power where we need to work. What it also means: more expenses for us.
  • The biggest setback, however, is the weather. It's raining, and is supposed to rain all week. For bog readers outside of the Bay Area, let me say that we've lived here for 33 years, and I have never seen rain in May and June. And I'm not talking about sprinkles of rain - it's actually pouring today. So Tom and I may end up re-roofing the house ourselves in the rain.
Yet we persevere. The houses on 62nd Street are worth it. We continue to have neighbors stop by the cheer us on and tell us how much they love our project. Our nearest neighbors keep an eye on the house and let us know if there are any problems. We love the houses, and the neighborhood, so we're not going anywhere. The weather and the City Planning Department may be mostly against us, but we're pushing through to completion.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

This Old House Restorer

Things are moving along on 62nd Street, but not as rapidly as we had thought.

One of the issues that we're just starting to recognize is that we're older than we think. Tom is now 56 and I'm 53, and though many of our friends think that makes us spring chickens, the reality is that this work is harder this time than it was before. My vision is worse than it was, Tom's allergies are worse. Let's face it: we're geezers. Old coots on ladders.

Of course, except for the Old Magahey Place (otherwise known as "Cat Piss Acres"), no house we've taken on has needed quite as much as the Cheney Cottage. The process of cutting it in half, to say nothing of having it sit out in two pieces for a full year, has taken a toll on the old place, and everything needs to be done. There's not a part of the house that we won't touch and work on to bring it back to its 1902 glory.

So today was fairly typical: we replaced the broken glass in one of the kitchen windows; took out the shelves and late-addition cabinets in both the kitchen and pantry; filled in the trench where the new gas pipe has been run; cleaned up piles of plaster and broken glass. And we find that tonight, we're really tired. It's all hard work: we're making progress, but we're just not as young as we used to be.

And we're applying for a construction loan, so we can get some help with this. We've decided that we definitely don't want to do the roof or the painting ourselves, and we may get some assistance installing the rough plumbing and refinishing the floors. We also need to get the retaining wall framed and poured, so we can bring in dirt and do some landscaping and build the walkways.

We still enjoy it, and get excited by it. Today, for example, we discovered that the original tile backsplash in the kitchen was milky-white subway tile with a blue border. We're saving pieces so we can try and match it, and replicate the old backsplash in the new kitchen. We still get excited when we find out something new about our house. We still love it.

We're still planning on doing all the wiring, installing the heating system, installing the new kitchen, and repairing all the plaster. We're still stripping all the woodwork in the living room and front hall. So we'll still be there, constantly, until it's done. But maybe this time, for the first time, we'll sub out more of the work.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Passing Grade

The Cheney Cottage today

We had our final inspection for the connection of the two halves of the Cheney Cottage on Thursday, and we passed. So on Friday, the City returned the bond to us, very promptly and without any problem at all.

So now, we can breathe.

So now we start on doing, well, everything. The new electrical panel will be installed, and then PG&E will hook it up on May 26th - so we'll have power. The new gas service is being installed on Tuesday. We're talking to EBMUD about the water connection. We'll be digging the trench for the drain line, and hooking in to the existing sewer line. So we hope that, by the end of this month, we'll have light and power, and running hot and cold water.

We'll also be working outside, installing all the trim boards removed when the house was cut. We also have to build the front and back porches, but that can't happen until the footings are poured. The house needs to be repainted. And the new roof - really looking forward to having that done, but not looking forward to climbing around on the roof.

We vacillate between feeling like the work left is manageable, and feeling overwhelmed. Fortunately, Tom and I have, over the years, developed a highly honed ability to delude ourselves, so we still believe the work is all doable and can be completed in a timely manner.

We're off to start the day's work. More to follow.

Side view of the Cheney Cottage, with the Delaney House behind