Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Design Difficulties at Delaney

Andus called me today and said there is a problem at the Delaney House: with the height of the new first floor, the stairs from the first to the second floor need 172 inches of run to work - and we only have 153 inches.

These kind of problems are not atypical - plans change, the actual measurements are often different from what was projected, etc. But still, this is a problem. We need to build stairs that will be comfortable to use, and will fit in the space. Basically, we are two steps short.

At first, we talked about taking away the closet in the front bedroom, which would give the stairs slightly more room - just enough to make it work. The closet would become a built in bookcase in that room, and the closet that is in the room where the stairs will be coming up could be closed up, and opened as the new closet in the front bedroom.

But a big part of what gives the Delaney House its charm is the fact that it is relatively unaltered. We are definitely altering it - opening up the floor for stairs is a pretty significant change. But the idea is to still have the rooms the size they were before the house was modified, and to keep the proportions the same. Frankly, the closet that is in what is now the back bedroom is one of the features that I really like about the house: it will become a linen closet along what will be almost a balcony at the top of the stairs. It's hard to describe in the blog, without taking pictures, but it is a nice feature, one that I want to keep.

Fortunately, Andus is rarely stymied by this stuff, and he came up with a solution: instead of having L-shaped stairs, we will end up with S shaped stairs (try saying "S shaped stairs" three times fast). Coming down from the upstairs, one will walk down toward the front of the house, then turn to the left as the stairs wind to the west, and then at the bottom, the stairs will turn to the right and again face the front of the house.

This solution seems perfect to me. I like having the bottom of the stairs facing the double front doors, and the stairs will become a true architectural feature of the house. The upstairs will retain its character, and the downstairs will be in keeping with it.

I was in the Delaney House over the weekend, and it's amazing to see how much light, and the views, that it has now that it's a full story in the air. The bedrooms will have partial bay views, the living room has views of the hills. The front windows in the front bedroom face toward the Cheney Cottage, but even that view is pleasant, and enough space has been left to let lots of light pour in to both houses, even though they are somewhat close together.

The house feels neglected, and it has been. As the focus has been on the Cheney Cottage, the Delaney House has languished. It feels dank and drafty, with cold air seeping in from a variety of places (the opening where the chimney used to be, the old vent for the floor heater, and the broken windows where Darien has hit baseballs through them). There is plaster dust and debris in the living room and the kitchen. The house has a lot of stuff in it: furniture, building materials, and other crap. It doesn't feel livable at all - and yet, you can still see what it will be. The 11 foot ceilings, the plaster walls, the beautiful redwood floors. It's all still there, still waiting for us to come back and get back to work.

This project is a major intrusion on the Delaney House. Tom and I tend to be restorers, not remodelers. On Parker Street, we brought the house back to its 1907 condition, and even our kitchen is the original 1907 design. The Cheney Cottage, though having been cut in half, hauled across town and back, and put onto a new site and new foundation, is slowly turning back into the beautiful house it was, very much unchanged. Even on Fulton Street, though we added a third floor, the original house is largely unchanged. We always like to think about the original owners: if May Cheney, The Emig Sisters and Richard Penrose Rickard came back, they would notice changes - but they would recognize their houses.

The Delaney House, which is the oldest house we own, is also the one going through the most dramatic change. The front door will become a door onto a second floor balcony. The front stairs are gone, and the house is situated in a new location and significantly taller than it ever was. But the goal is to build a new first floor that complements the second floor, and to try and use a light touch upstairs. The whole house will have updated wiring, plumbing and heating (it basically had minimal wiring, questionable plumbing and no heating). If the Delaneys came back, they would definitely see the house had changed - but they'd go in, and we hope they'd still feel at home.

Tomorrow (February 29th), there is a 90% chance of rain, so the foundation work will probably be stopped. But the chance of rain is only 10% for Thursday and almost no chance of rain for Friday, so Eric's crew will be back working on the forms and getting the place ready for the foundation pour. We're feeling very anxious to get the house settled down onto its new walls and off the cribbing.

Tom is in Austin, but he gets back Thursday night. This weekend, we hope to work on the front fence, keep scraping paint, and start installing plumbing in the Cheney Cottage. We are mobilizing the forces: Dale Morris will do more painting; Bill Rayno will start working on heating; Jeff Williams will install the electrical box and weatherhead so the power can be hooked up. Hilary will soon dig trenches for the drain lines, and Eric and his crew will continue working on the Delaney foundation. This project is moving forward.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Scrape scrape scrape

As we continue to scrape the endless amount of woodwork in the living room, dining room, stairway and upstairs hallway of the Cheney Cottage, I go back and forth on how I feel about it. Sometimes, it feels very zen: scraping each small area of wood, carefully removing all the paint chips - it gives you lots of time to think.

The living room ceiling

At other times, it feels like working in a 1902 sweat shop.

The dining room door

We've had a lot of help: Jeannot has been coming over during the week and working on the living room; Ady spent a Sunday working on the area under the stairs; Jimmy has been coming every weekend and working in the dining room.

So now a lot of the woodwork is done, ready for the last two steps: First, we will wash all the woodwork with alcohol, to remove the final "haze" of paint. Then we'll re-shellack everything.
Dining room wainscoting

We're also going to get some estimates from plasterers on getting all the plasterwork done at the Cheney Cottage. Unlike many remodelers, we don't believe in taking out plaster and putting up drywall. The plaster gives the house a very solid feel, the walls are always more interesting in plaster, and the thermal mass of the plaster helps keep the house cool in summer and warm in winter.
Underneath the stairs (scraping courtesy of Ady Torf)

But a full year with no roof, sitting out in a field in Albany, has damaged a lot of the plaster (to say nothing of two moves and cutting holes for beams). There is much to repair.

I spent some time laying out the kitchen cabinets this weekend as well, and we've started to think about what we will do in the kitchen and downstairs bathroom for a floor. We did a lot of other odd jobs: fixing the weights on the linen cabinet/laundry chute door; pulling nails out of old 4x4s to ready them for the installation of the fence (next weekend's job); fixing the one surviving overhead cabinet in the kitchen; pulling down wallpaper everywhere.

Meanwhile, at the Delaney House, the foundation is probably 80% formed, so we're hoping that the guys will finish it this week, get it inspected, and we can pour the new foundation soon.

I also spent some time beginning the repair work on the large double doors that will soon become the front entrance to the Delaney House. The doors are beautiful, but obviously at some point in the past, someone had kicked in the lefthand door. The door was cracked at the top, and much of the trim is loose. The wire glass in the windows in both door is cracked - being wire glass, however, it did not break, so we plan to leave that until after the construction is done. The doors are ready to be hung, as soon as the new walls are finished.

Once the Delaney House is sitting on its foundation, with the new walls in place, we plan to have a dance party. Check back for details - all will be invited.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Nightmare on Wall Street

Today we are signing the papers for the permanent financing for both houses on 62nd Street. It has been an incredible nightmare getting financed.

We have done this project on a shoestring, using every available dime we could come up with, and it's been stressful. Our investments really are our houses - which turns out to be a good thing, since financial investments have been doing so poorly of late. We have a proven history of being able to buy and improve real estate, and make it profitable.

But the banks have not been lending money. Each bank we approached made us jump through 312 hoops, get appraisals, talk to multiple managers - and then they'd decide not to finance us, for a variety of reasons. We talked to other real estate investors, who all were having the same problem. It became more and more difficult. Our projected debt to income ratio, even with conservative estimates, makes 62nd Street have positive cash flow - something all the banks agreed to, but still would not finance us.

But finally, the Cooperative Credit Union in South Berkeley has decided to give us the financing we need. We're getting a construction loan so we can complete all the work on both houses, which will then convert to a regular 30 year fixed mortgage. The interest rate on the mortgage is not great by today's standards (5.25%) but there is no prepayment penalty, and they said we're free to refinance it any time (even before we take it).

So now, everything can happen. The foundation is already going in under the Delaney House. Once that's done, the new walls will be built, and the house lowered down onto them. The Cheney Cottage will get plumbing and heating, and we'll do the finish work on the woodwork, and patch and paint the plaster. We'll build a driveway, do landscaping, and build the new interiors for the first floor of the Delaney House. The new staircase, connecting the second an first floor, will be built, and the house will be twice as large as it was initially.

So we're now hoping to finish the Cheney Cottage in the Spring, and the Delaney House....this summer?

Meanwhile, we're continuing inside the Cheney Cottage unassisted. Jeannot has been helping with paint scraping, and the living room is almost done. Jimmy has finished all of the dining room, except for the built in cabinet and the doors, so there are only a couple more hours of work to do in there. Last weekend, Tom and I both worked on the stairway, scraping the paint off the railings, the balusters and the newel posts. It's a very meditative work to do: focusing on the small bits of paint, and working in a finite area, it gives you the opportunity to reflect on many things. The work isn't hard, but it's repetitive and, well, dull. But the results are fabulous.

I've rehung the bathroom door upstairs, and all the light fixtures are in. We hope to get our electrician to install the box outside, so I can hook up all the romex to the new box, and then we can finally get the electrical inspection and get rid of the ugly power pole in the front yard.

Will we finish this project before the new Bay Bridge opens? Stay tuned.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The First Interior Paint in the Cheney Cottage

Today I put up a coat of the first paint inside the house. Because the bathtub is going to be hooked up soon, I decided that painting the wainscoting now (before the tub becomes fixed in place) would be significantly easier than painting it afterwards.

So, the first coat of paint inside the Cheney Cottage:
Lavender - what else?

And on to the weekend. We have lots of projects lined up - stay tuned to see which ones get done.

Moving Dirt

More progress:

The Delaney foundation is underway, and about half of it has been dug by /Hilary and his magic Bobcat.
The west side of the Delaney House, with the trench for the new foundation

The retaining wall in front of the Cheney Cottage is also in place, the forms have been stripped, and we're ready to start adding dirt to fill in the front yard.
The Retaining wall, with the opening for the stairs

And I was on the phone this morning with Dale, talking about getting the painting back on track.

More this weekend - I'm off to work on the bathroom!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Making Progress on Cheney

We had a good weekend on 62nd Street, and with the work outside that's being done by Eric's crew, things are happening.

Outside, Henry and David have gotten the retaining wall framed and ready to be poured. The new wall should be in place this week, giving us a place to put the dirt Hilary takes out when he starts using his bobcat to dig the Delaney foundation.

The stripping and scraping continues inside. On Saturday, Ady came over and brought us lunch. Then she spent the afternoon with us, scraping the wood under the stairs in the living room. It was nice having another friend there, and she and Tom scraped a lot of the wood together.

In the meantime, I finished all the interior wiring. There is no more romex to run - it's all in place, waiting for the panel to be installed outside so we can connect it all up.

Tom took Sunday off, so I was at the house alone all day, and got more stripping done. There is probably only another two or three hours worth of heatgun work to do, and then all the paint will be stripped: living room, dining room, stairwell, and upstairs hallway.

I also put the bathtub onto the dolly, and moved it into the bathroom. It's still on the dolly, so I can pull it out from the wall when we paint, but the bathroom is definitely taking on a more finished appearance, now that the fixtures are back in place.
The 2nd Floor Bathroom of the Cheney Cottage

We're talking about finish work now: plastering, painting, getting the floors refinished. We hope to start plumbing soon, and get this house done - we have another one waiting in back!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Raising Delaney

Several people, when asked what they thought we should do with the Delaney House, said "You should raise it" (Although now that I think about it, maybe they said "you should raze it".)

Today, Phil and his crew came back and lifted up the Delaney House. It was surprisingly fast and uneventful. Tom and I went by early to help clean up the yard, moving stray building materials out of the way to make sure they had a clear path to bring in the cribbing and get set up. Phil and the crew showed up around 10:30, and by 3 PM they were done.
Tom out front on 62nd Street, with our 1966 biodiesel Mercedes

The Delaney House is now about 12 feet in the air, ready for its new foundation and first floor. Now we can really see how the lot will look with the two two-story houses. We are hoping that by the end of the month, the house will be sitting on its new walls, and for the first time in two years, all our houses will be sitting on foundations.
The view from the back bedroom of the Cheney Cottage

The houses are close together, because we wanted to preserve as much back yard behind them as possible. It seems to work well - the houses can both be seen from the street, there is private yard space, and, once landscaped, the lot will look good. Seeing the Delaney House so high up makes me wish we had painted it before we lifted it, and glad that we thought to take a lot of the things we need out of it.

The foundation is next.