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

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Cheney's Front Door

Progress continues at the Cheney Cottage, as the contractors are working to finish the attachment details and get the house finished, so we can get our bond back from the City of Berkeley. The siding will start to be patched tomorrow, and soon the house will look much as it always has.

So Tom and I have been doing our own projects, working inside. I've been stripping a lot of paint, which is exhausting and satisfying at the same time. Using the heat gun, I've uncovered the original redwood and fir of the stair railings, the front hall seat, and much of the trim in the hall and living room.

You can learn a lot about a house by using a heat gun. I've used it to determine that the extended shelves int he dining room, which we suspected were added later, are not original to the room. You can also see how the original owners used the house - the paint is much more difficult to strip in places where the original finish was worn away, so we can see where the front hall seat was kicked, where corner were gouged and where people's hands wore down the railings. We've found where the wood was damaged by the rains, and where the original contractor used multiple pieces of wood to make a single panel. It's a long term process - the first stripping is by far the most satisfying, when large sheets of paint come off. But after that is done, we have to go back with dental tools and pick out all the little bits of paint that remain behind.

We've also worked on cleaning up the site, getting trashed hauled away, recycling metal, etc. Phil's crew came by the site and picked up the last of the cribbing.

But the most visible sign of our work is the front door. When the Cheney's house was about to be demolished, back in March 2010, we asked Kevin Hufferd if we could salvage some of the house. We didn't get to do it, but I had made a special request that they save the front door - particularly since the Cheney Cottage clearly had a non-historic, inappropriate door. The door on the Cheney Cottage opened out, was meant as an interior door, and did not really suit the front of the house.
The old front door, as the house was being prepared for landing

So the day the house was demolished, Noel Stenberg went in and saved the Cheney's front door. For all the time the house was in two pieces, sitting in Albany, the front door was in the living room. Finally, we got tired of looking at the wrong door, hung the wrong way, with it's big bright "Watch Your Step" sign (which added an interesting look to the house, which, since it still does not have a front porch, has a first step of about 5 feet). So this weekend, we decided to finally hang the Cheney's door.

First we had to determine which way the door originally opened. By looking at the original doorbell and the light switches inside, we could tell the way the door opened. The original door frame had been replaced, so we had to cut new hinge mortises into the existing frame. The wood on the door was not too hard to cut, but the frame was very tough, and Tom spent some time sharpening chisels to make the cutting easier. We also had to plane the door down some to fit the opening, and we got keys made so the door could look.

Today, we finally got the front door in place, and removed the former front door. The beveled glass window illuminates the front hall, and makes the house seem more welcoming. We bought new numbers for the door, so the house now proudly displays its new address, "1632"
The Cheney Cottage today, with the Cheney's front door

We hope Eric and his crew will finish the work in the next couple days so we can pass the reconnection inspection, get our bond money back, and continue the restoration of the house. Once we get the money back, we'll get power and water to the house, and start all the finish work. We're also hoping to have an open house at the Cheney Cottage for Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, so people can see the house and hear the story of its history. An event like that would have two purposes: first, a fundraiser for BAHA, and also a deadline for us to get the house into some semblance of readiness. (We work well under pressure.....)