Sunday, March 30, 2014

Swan's End: The Hallways Before and After

This is a before and after renovations photo set of the first and second floor hallways and main staircase in my house. It was a big job, as you'll see from the length of this post (there are 84 photos in it). It proved the tipping point in my home renovations, the point at which I felt the house went from "mostly unrenovated" to "mostly renovated". One doesn't live in the hallways the same way one does the other rooms of the house, but they're the spine of the house, and so get used and seen as much or more than any room. They are also a large surface area. This section of the house was the most expensive area I have yet renovated, surpassing even the entire basement apartment, which got a brand new kitchen. This was largely because I had to hire much of it done (the front door and hardwood floor installation, and some closet drywalling and reconstruction), whereas I did the basement apartment almost entirely by myself, and labour costs are usually 60% of the total cost of any renovation one hires done. But I've no regrets about those hires. I'm usually pretty fearless about tackling a job myself even when I have never done it before, but I know when I'm in over my head and when it's time to call in a professional. And I'm good at hiring good people, so the tradesmen I hired did first class work.

I regretted having to get rid of this old door. It had some nice trim and a quaint little letter slot. I could have made it look nice by painting it and removing the blinds. But it had to be replaced for the sake of security and energy efficiency, and even aesthetically there was an argument to be made for replacement, because it meant that I could get rid of the ugly storm door.

Shot of the front door from the inside. You can see the shape the door frame is in. The quaint letter slot in the door proved to have a 2003 Canadian Tire Christmas flyer wadded and taped into it. It must have been the owner just prior to me, Lei, who did that. I remember that when I pulled it out, I muttered something along the lines of, "Lei, you have the soul of a renter."

The entry way and front door to the house. There was originally a second door here that was rendered unnecessary years ago with the addition of the sheltered porch to the exterior.

Longer shot of the entryway. Notice the ugly light fixture on the ceiling and how aggressively ill-suited it is to the moulding around it. Almost all the light fixtures in the house looked bad, but this was the worst one. The coat rack by the front door wasn't much use because its knobs were almost too small to hold a coat. I was always finding my coats and jackets on the floor.

This is what one saw when entering the house through the front door. That stair carpet runner had been in place for a good twenty years. I found a 1987 dime under it when I took it up. And I will say that, ugly as it was, it was in quite good shape still, and hadn't budged a fraction of an inch since the day it was installed. The wall-to-wall carpet under it was very worn and must have been even older. Someone decided to put the runner down over it to upgrade it.

I found this fragment of wallpaper under the old light switch plate by the front door. I'm guessing it was chosen to go with the carpet runner, as they are both in a pink and blue colourway. Maybe they looked slightly more aesthetically pleasing back in the eighties when people decorated in these pinks and blues.

This vent is just before the staircase. This house has a number of antique iron grill vents that, even in their worn-looking state, got readily noticed and admired by any visitors I had.

Another antique grill vent. I found a 1978 penny in this one. These antique grill vents only need a few coats of Tremclad to spruce them up and make them look about as good as new, and they'll outlast any new grill vents, even if I could find the right size grills for these spaces, which is doubtful.

This metal plate was on the hallway baseboard, six feet from the kitchen doorway. I didn't know what it was. It was often noticed by guests, who didn't know what it was either.

This is the metal plate, unscrewed from the baseboard and paint stripped. After some research, I have concluded that it is a remnant of a defunct heating system. Once upon a time it was probably used to secure a radiator in its place. Prongs on the side of the radiator would have slid into the sockets on this plate.

I haven't put this plate back on the baseboard, and am not sure what to do with it. It doesn't seem like something significant enough that I want to leave it where it was, and yet it's a little too interesting to throw away. I'll just hang onto it for awhile and maybe find a use for it.

The wall below the stair case, and the kitchen door frame.

Rounding the corner into the kitchen, we see the door to the pantry closet that extended under the stairs. That folding door was a wretched, rickety, greasy thing.

The pantry interior and shelves as they were when I moved into the house. As you can see, the pantry wasn't much use. Deep, narrow closets tend not to be. Closets are useless without shelving, and yet if you put adequate shelving into a closet oriented like this one, you can't walk into them and don't have access to the stuff at the back.

The floor of the pantry closet as it was. If this old linoleum could talk, it would probably tell a tale to break your heart.

The sloping and damaged ceiling of the pantry closet.

The bottom back wall of the pantry.

The upper hallway as it was. The door at the end of the hallway is the bathroom. The door on the left is the linen closet door. The three doors on the right are the guest room (next to the bathroom), the middle bedroom, and the attic door (barely visible on the left). The light fixture is actually one I installed. I didn't happen to get a picture of the old one, which was a small, round, paint-splashed, frosted glass affair. The flooring is the same butt-ugly tile that is on the first floor, and it extends into the bathroom.

This is the linen closet, which seems to have been formerly put into service as a clothes closet. It had a garment bar in it, and ill-assorted, roughly installed shelves at each end, as well as the green plastic rack installed on the door.

Shelving in the other end of the closet, and the pull string for the old closet light fixture. If you look carefully at the door frame on your left, you can see that a section of the trim has been cut out to allow for a no-longer used doorknob slot, which meant the entire piece of trim needed to be replaced.

The front of the linen closet door, with the screw from the green plastic rack that was attached to the inside piercing through to the outside.

I remember this doorknob being one of the highlights of my viewing of the house when I was house shopping — I noticed it right away and both the realtor and I admired it. You can't see it terribly well here, but it's an antique Art Nouveau doorknob. You can buy very similar ones via the internet for $100 or so. It was so clogged up with layers of old paint that you could barely see the detailing, and it wouldn't strike properly whenever I tried to shut the linen closet door.

The old attic door. A break in the bottom left side, which you can't really see here, gave me the excuse I wanted to replace it with one that matched all the other doors. You can see my bedroom door on the right, which is also a new matching door. I don't have a picture of the old bedroom door, which was a very old original door. Someone ruined it by putting a couple of extra locks in it, so it had to go.

The wall between the attic and middle bedroom doors. I'm told the patchy effect is caused by someone coming back and trying to do touch-ups when the skim coating was half-dry.

The door to the middle bedroom. Notice anything wrong with this picture? That's right, it's hung upside down. Don't ask me; I just bought the place.

Top of the stairs, with a coil of old cable. This cable had been tacked around the bathroom door and run into both the back and middle bedrooms. I spent several years tripping over the cable before I learned I could just cut it short, tuck it into the wall, and patch over the hole. The little wooden box you see hanging on the wall at the top of the photo is the doorbell. Buying it was one of the very first things I did when I bought Swan's End, because when I was up in the attic or even in my room with music playing, I couldn't hear a knock on the door. It was quite some time before I got it properly installed in the place I wanted it, though.

The reno begins. This is some of what I ripped out of the linen closet.

Here you can see that I've ripped out the trim on the left side of the door frame. It's impossible to match custom-made 100-year-old trim at Home Depot, so I sent my father, who is an accomplished woodworker, a small sample through the mail and asked him to cut me some trim as much like the old as possible.

When I ripped out the old shelving in this closet, a horizontal section of plaster running around the inside was left rather damaged. I thought, hey, no problem, I'll just cut out small, even sections and replace them with small sections of drywall. As you can tell, I'd never dealt with ripping out lath and plaster before.

I ended up ripping out most of this end of the closet wall because the plaster kept crumbling and cracking below where I wanted to, and I'd try to even it up, which would cause more crumbling and cracking below the part I was trying to cut out.

The plaster on this back wall did a LOT of crumbling and cracking.

The doorway to the pantry closet. When I first bought Swan's End my mother must have regularly stayed up all night dreaming up renovation ideas for it. She came up with a particularly inspired plan for this nearly useless pantry closet: that I ought to close up the kitchen doorway, cut a new doorway in the hallway wall, and turn the closet into a hall closet. I was quick to agree.

As is usual in a house of its age, Swan's End is not exactly flush with closets. My former condo had six closets; Swan's End had three, and they weren't as big or as well-oriented. This project would at least add one more. So, here you can see that I've duly ripped out the old, yucky kitchen entry folding door and frame. There are wires high on the right hand side that I thought might be wiring for a closet light, but that I was told was actually probably old doorbell wiring.

Here I've begun to cut the new door on the wall below the staircase. More crumbling plaster on the inside meant I had to rip out more plaster and lath.

A view of the partially cut new doorway from the outside.

More work on the new doorway. It was at this point that I realized I was in over my head, and that I needed to hire professionals to close up the old doorway, finish cutting the new one, install the new door, and drywall both the hall and linen closets.

My cat Trilby, seen here perched on the stove, is showing palpable outrage at the idea of SCARY STRANGE MEN coming to the house to cause CHAOS.

I had a ridiculous amount of trouble getting the right shade of paint for the hallways. I wanted taupe. The first coat turned out yellow.

The second shade I tried turned out pink, and a second coat of it turned it into the peach you see here. Fortunately the third shade I tried (for the fourth coat of paint, sigh), which was called "toasted almond" was just what I wanted.

I spent nearly three hours ripping out the old carpet runner, and a good two ripping out the old fitted gray carpet underneath that, and then another hour or two scraping off old padding and yanking out old staples and nails. I believe this shot shows the stairs AFTER I'd not only done all of the above but also scrubbed them, sanded them twice, and then scrubbed them again to prep them for painting.

My house was built in 1912, and while the walls and floors and ceilings have probably all been renewed several times, these stairs are probably original to the house. They look it. And sound it. My sister-in-law claims I can pass off the creakiness as "part of the house's character", and also pointed out that they'll work well as a a "kid out of bed" alarm.

A bit of old linoleum that I chipped off one of the risers. I know it's old and worn, but I can't imagine it being too attractive in its best days. I don't believe my house has ever looked nice or been all that well-cared for in the whole century of its existence.

Stairs and banister in their brave new coats of paint, and the walls in the "toasted almond" shade that I finally settled on. There is absolutely nothing like a new coat of paint for sheer transformative power. It's a modern miracle. A friend suggested that I paint strip the banister and refinish it, because it's probably made of a really good wood. And it probably is, but I had already discovered just how nasty and vile a job paint stripping was and wasn't willing to undertake such a hideous task. The railing looks nice painted anyway. It matches all the trim and doors throughout the house. I've used this same ivory throughout.

We've reached the floor replacement part of the renovation. After some research and consideration, I hired it done. I tried starting on the demo of the floors figuring I could save myself that cost, but soon realized it was going to be too hard on me physically (I have chronic fatigue issues). This is the lower hallway floor, mid-demo. I was glad I didn't try to do it myself. The whole house seemed to vibrate from the efforts of the two men who were ripping out the old flooring, and they told me they found it really gruelling work.

This was what was under those old ceramic floors. I'm told this is a hardwood floor from the 1930s or 1940s, when these narrow strips were the reigning hardwood floor style.

The upper hallway flooring. I cannot understand why anyone would put a hideous ceramic tile floor over hardwood. I would have repaired and resurfaced it. But then hardwood was out of fashion for some time in the sixties and seventies. It must have been all the LSD. My brother once found a hardwood floor (in very good condition, no less) under some green shag wall to wall.

And this is the hallway after I was done with it. I did a pretty good job, didn't I?

Just kidding. This is actually a Brussels town house built by Victor Horta for the Belgian scientist and professor Emile Tassel in 1893-1894. It is thought to be the first true Art Nouveau building. When I'm working on an area of my house I often put a related image up on my computer background for inspiration and motivation. This is the image I used for the hallway project. I could not hope to replicate such a masterpiece of interior design with my modest skills in a modest Toronto three bedroom semi-detached, but I did hope to evoke something of its warm and integrated elegance in a very humble, homely way.

The exterior of my new front door. I hired installers for this job. I can hang interior doors but a job like this was beyond my skill set, and even if I could have learned to do it, it needed to be done in one day, so my usual renovation pace of "start something, run out of time/energy and/or get frustrated, and leave it half finished for months" wasn't going to cut it. I interviewed seven contractors before I found one I wanted to do this job, and then I pored over a stack of catalogues for several hours before I selected this door. I chose one with a long panel of glass as I wanted to let as much light as possible into the hallway. Then, as I wanted a red door and the manufacturer only had a dark burgundy on offer, I paid extra for a custom colour paint job for the door. To choose this colour, I think I brought home every red paint chip card Home Depot, Rona, and Canadian Tire had and sifted through them. Once I'd narrowed it down to half a dozen or so I checked them against the paint colours at different times of day. The colour I chose had to go with both the exterior brick paint colour and the hallway paint colour, and to look right in morning, midday, evening, and electric lighting. The lock set at least was an easy decision, as it was part of the "antique Georgian" line I'd used for all the interior doorknobs throughout my part of the house.

The inside of the front door. The colour is called Cranberry Zing, which seems like a name that ought to include an exclamation point. I'm pretty pleased with it. When I come downstairs on sunny summer mornings, the door seems to glow like a ruby. The hook rail on the right is one my father cut for me, and I stained it, put on the hooks, and bolted it to the wall.

This is a light switch cover I bought at Value Village for $2. It was still in its unopened original package. But only the middle switch works. I don't know what the other two switches are for.

I primed and painted the stucco ceiling, which was a hideous job but one worth doing because it meant I was able to save the medallion moulding. Then I hung up this new light fixture. It's definitely an improvement on that former smoked glass cube-style horror.

My initial plan for the hallways was to work with the existing green tile flooring and do a green hall, but eventually I decided I just couldn't live with that ugly flooring. So I instead envisioned new hardwood flooring and a neutral colour scheme with red accents. I chose a light hardwood that would keep the hallway light and was similar in tone to the parquet flooring in the living room and two of the bedrooms (the third bedroom also got new hardwood flooring).

Years ago when I was first planning this hallway, I fell in love with a wallpaper that I was planning to use but that then got discontinued. I could not find another wallpaper I liked as much. Then it dawned on me that my favourite thing about the wallpaper that had been discontinued and what I liked best about the other wallpapers I was looking at was that they had a stencilled effect... and that, duh, one doesn't need wallpaper to achieve that stencilled effect. It would be WAY cheaper to go with paint and painted stencils. So I scoured the net for a stencil and chose the Art Nouveau-style stencil. You can see one column of stencils on the left, and there are a total of seven columns of stencils throughout the lower and upper hallways. My initial plan was to put one over each doorway as well, but when I got the seven columns done it seemed like enough.

A close up of one of the stencils. I had a lot of difficulty with these stencils and did them over several times. I'm still not thrilled with the way I did them. As you can see, this one has flaws. I don't think there's a single one that came out perfect and really bears close inspection, though they look well enough to a casual glance and I love the effect on the whole.

I love how the stencils and the light fixture look like the same design translated into different mediums. I think I bought the stencil before I bought the light fixture, but I never once thought about the stencil when I was selecting the light fixture. When you stick to a consistent theme in terms of colour and form when decorating, things just do tend to work well together.

This is the cedar chest that my father made me. It holds my Christmas decorations and collection of board games and puzzles.

This is a magnolia cross-stitch I made. It has approximately 29,000 stitches in it and took me 2.5 years to embroider. Therefore I have had it professionally framed and hung it in my front entry way where I can look at it every day of my life and think, "THAT'S RIGHT. TWENTY NINE THOUSAND STITCHES."

The antique metal grill at the foot of the stairs. A fresh coat of paint made a new thing of it.

The wall grate, which also has a good coat of cream Tremclad.

The checkerboard my father made me. I tell him that between the hook rail, the cedar chest, and this checkerboard, my front hallway is like a little gallery of his work.

A column of stencils, and a view of the very much not-renovated kitchen. My plan for the eventual kitchen renovation involves cream paint, light woods, and poppy-themed decor touches, so the hallway and the kitchen will feel in accord with each other.

The door for the new hall closet. My contractor did a wonderful job of creating a new lintel and frame that closely resembles the original lintels and door frames that adorn all the other doors in the hallway, and then I painted the door and put in the doorknob.

The inside of the closet door, with the hook I installed on it.

A shot of the new closet floor. Something of an improvement on that stained old linoleum, wouldn't you say?

The shelf, garment bar, and light fixture I installed in the new closet. My father cut the shelf to my specifications and I painted it. The light fixture has a sensor and goes on automatically when the closet door is opened.

The shelf and garment bar put to use. This is really quite a decent-sized closet, and I'm so pleased to have four closets instead of just three. I have a plan to create a broom closet in the back kitchen and to turn what is now the laundry room into a storage room, so in the end I'll have nearly as much storage as I did back in my condo.

I bought plastic boot trays to protect my beautiful new closet floor.

The freshly painted banister.

The staircase with the carpet runner. I installed this myself, then had to replace a section of it when my vacuum cleaner melted several spots of it mere weeks after it was put down. (You probably heard me screaming from wherever you live.) Now I turn the vacuum cleaner around when I do the stairs so the carpet doesn't make contact with the hot parts of it, and plan to someday replace this with a wool runner.

As we go up the stairs, we can see the mirrors and clock I've hung at the top. I had these mirrors hanging at the end of a long hallway in my former condo. It seemed like it would be cheaper to buy a collection of interestingly varied mirrors than to buy a single large mirror for that wall, and it probably was, but it turned out to be a big challenge to find a collection of mirrors that worked together. I think there was a period of six weeks when it felt like I did nothing but shop for mirrors, buy them, take them home... and then return them because they didn't work with those I already had.

The stairs viewed from the top. Trilby found the carpet runner alarming when it was first put down. He wouldn't walk on it but instead carefully made his way up the stairs using the less than three-inch wooden margin of stair along the baseboard.

A closer shot of the mirrors and clock. This is actually not my whole collection of mirrors from the condo. There were two others I just couldn't fit into the composition because the wall was narrower than the one at my condo had been and because I added the clock, which was a Christmas gift from my niece and her husband. I ended up sighing and putting the other two mirrors away, hoping to use them somewhere else.

A shot of the finished upper hallway. You can see the doorbell has found its final place on the right, where it sounds clearly to the first floor, second floor, and attic (as long as I'm not playing loud music up in the attic, that is). It plays an eight-note "Westminster chime" signal, which people have assured me "really suits my house".

The banister, freshly painted.

The staircase wall. How, may you ask, did I paint and stencil those high walls and the bulkhead and ceiling over them? The painting involved a roller brush screwed onto a broomstick, and then some MacGyver-like paint touch ups involving a 2" paint brush tied to a broom stick. The column of stencils on the right was pretty easy to do and just meant I used a chair placed at the top of the stairs for the top two stencils. For the column of stencils on the left, I was able to do the bottom three stencils by respectively sitting, then kneeling, then standing on the stairs, and the next two stencils by standing in the hallway and reaching over the banister. For the top stencil, I stood with one foot on a painting stool and the the other on the banister, made a death-defying lean towards the wall, and then braced myself against the wall with one hand while I worked with the other. It proved a good time to congratulate myself on my good head for heights and for my excellent genetic luck in inheriting my father's disproportionately long arms and legs instead of my mother's little stubby ones.

The middle bedroom door, painted, with a new doorknob, and turned right way up. One good thing about fixing up a house that's been so badly cared for is that it makes one feel like a renovation and decorating genius by comparison. I mean, I can hardly go wrong here, can I? Anything I do to this house will make it look vastly better than it did when I bought it. The light switch plate next to the door is new. I had two dark brown plates that I had bought for the living room but that didn't look right in there, so I put them aside for the hallway instead. There's another one beside the guest room door.

I ordered this hand-painted Art Nouveau antique plate online with the idea of hanging it on this wall, but when it came it was so small as to look absurd on the wall by itself. Out came the two mirrors I hadn't been able to use at the top of the stairs and the three of them got hung up together.

The linen closet door. I have replaced both the attic and mistress bedroom doors with panel doors that matched the existing bathroom, guest room, and middle bedroom doors, so now this door is the only outlier of the six. But it's an original panel door, so it still looks well with all the others.

The inside of the door with its hook. Let's just try to forget about that awful green plastic coat hanger thing that was there before, shall we?

The paint stripped Art Nouveau doorknob. I wasn't sure how this was going to look when stripped, but I decided even if it didn't look good it had to be stripped because it was too clogged up with layers of paint to work properly or to show its detailing. I immersed it in paint stripper for a day and then scrubbed it clean with a toothbrush-sized metal brush, and it turned out to have almost exactly the same patina as the antique Georgian doorknobs I've used throughout the house. It now strikes properly as well, although of course I don't have the key. It's one of my favourite details in the house.

The new closet flooring. It previously had parquet flooring which was in decent shape (if not particularly well-fitted) and could have been left, but I figured it might as well go, and tore it out. It does look so much better to have the hallway flooring continue into the closet. I had the guest room done at the same time.

The renovated closet with the shelving I installed in it. I also replaced the light fixture with another nearly identical one.

The linen closet avec contents. This is actually the largest and best-oriented closet in my house. I wish my bedroom closet was as good. However, it's not exactly going to waste as a linen closet. I can store not only my linens but my luggage set and bag of gift wrapping supplies, and my electric fans during winter. I bought woven baskets to hold supplies and made zippered cases to hold the duvets from the bedrooms in summer, when I switch to light woven bedspreads.

Trap door in the hallway ceiling. It's not actually a trap door anymore as it can no longer be pushed upwards by more than a few inches. When the house was built, the trap door was the only entrance way to the attic, and at some point someone finished the attic and put in the attic staircase which lies behind the door on the left. The trap door now has floorboards just above it.

A final shot of the finished upper hallway. Looks pretty good, doesn't it, even if it's not Hotel Tassel.

Chief Renovations Inspector Trilby on the stairs. He is fond of sitting here because it allows him to play his favourite game, which is called "Get The Person". I'll be walking along the hallway unaware that Trilby is anywhere nearby when suddenly a paw will shoot through the bars and snatch at me.