Saturday, June 16, 2018


As the guys have been doing the brickwork in the front of the house, they've brought up some concerns with the downspouts.

The existing ones weren't really working properly and would overflow causing water to cascade down the front of the house. As a result the brick would get wet and because of the need for tuckpointing, water was getting into the wall.

In typical "while you're in there" fashion, we might as well get the issues taken care of now.

Those with sharp eyes will note the fancy new temporary downspouts. They certainly ensure that the water is routed away from the foundation...

Monday, June 4, 2018


We've had various brick work done in the past and knew that we'd eventually need to do a fair amount of tuckpointing. We'd met with various contractors over the years and we're finally ready to get started. Understanding the unique aspects of doing this with old soft brick is important and that limits the number of available contractors. As a result, we've been on the list for quite a while waiting for them to complete other jobs.

Last Thursday this pile of material showed up.

And Friday it was assembled to look like this.

The plan is to do one side at a time over the next few years, depending upon funding. The chimneys need it too, so they will need to fit in somewhere.

The bits that need it the most will get priority...

Long time readers will recall that I'm not fond of heights, so this is one of the jobs I'll leave to the professionals.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Lost History

I stumbled upon this memoriam yesterday.

William Robertson was the son of the third owners of the house. We'd had some contact with him via email a few years ago, but unfortunately never had the chance to meet face-to-face.

He was acquainted with the grandson of the first owner, who kindly made the connection for us, and he shared some of his knowledge of the house with us (Fire in the Attic).

Friday, April 20, 2018


In another recent conversation with someone who was in the process of purchasing an old house, they asked, "What should I do first?"

It's typical that as a new owner you're full of energy to get started on something. I'd suggest getting the house weather tight and address any immediate structural issues. Otherwise, temper your enthusiasm and wait. Maybe for as long as a year. It's an old house; once it's weather tight another 12 months isn't a big deal.

Listen to the house.

Let it speak to you.

You will learn what it needs. It may need different things in each of the four seasons.

You will learn how you live in it. And how you'll adapt to it. Along with how it will adapt to you.

Things that you think you want to do on day one likely will not be the things you want/need on day 365. You will also figure out more about what it needs and how to structure/schedule the work so you don't have to re-do things later.

If it is a historic house you are a caretaker for future generations, not an owner.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Thoughtful Restovation

I was chatting with an acquaintance recently and, not surprisingly, the topic of the house came up. Project progress and whether we're done yet are the most common conversation starters. He didn't ask this, but every once in a while someone will ask when we're going to sell and do it again. Judging by the amount of time we've taken so far, we're obviously not in it for a "quick flip".

As you might expect, quick flippers and some  of the popular TV shows about old houses aren't terribly popular on old house websites. Mostly those sites are populated with people who have a passion for preserving old houses and their criticism is of the "remuddling" decisions that run counter to the design ethos of old houses or work that destroys the house's character.

As we prepare for the upcoming tour I've thought a bit about our approach to our house. I'd classify it as thoughtful restovation (restoration and renovation) of a historic building.

Where it makes sense, we've restored things and found period pieces of hardware to replace broken or missing pieces. If that's not possible, we've sometimes found appropriate reproductions. We've also tried to keep with the style of the house and used period colors in many cases. That doesn't mean we're fanatics about originality however.

In other cases, we've renovated using modern materials, etc. In those cases we carefully considered the house and the modern way of living. We've tried to stay in harmony with the style of the house, borrowing original design cues from elsewhere in the house while understanding that it's not a museum or a time capsule, but rather a house in which a family lives.

So far, we've received a lot of good feedback that we've successfully balanced the competing forces.

Monday, April 16, 2018


Now that the hallways are done, the art gallery can begin.

It will be a process, like any other.

The first piece we hung is called "Carriage Houses of Saint Paul - II". Our carriage house is one of those featured in the collection. This is the second in a series of photographs of carriage houses in Saint Paul.

We originally met the artist as he was creating this piece. He was riding his bike around Saint Paul looking for interesting carriage houses to photograph and he stopped by our place.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Society of Architectural Historians

I mentioned in a previous post that we had a deadline. And here is why...

The Society of Architectural Historians has their 2018 international conference in Saint Paul  April 18-22.

At this point the tour featuring our house (TR17 - Cass Gilbert in Saint Paul) is already fully booked, but space is available on other events open to the public for those who are interested. There are quite a few events for those interested in architectural history.


My last task was to use a belt sander to ease the transition between the dressing room and overflow closet.  As hard as I tried, I couldn't get subfloor that was quite the right thickness. Other than breaking three belts in the process, it went pretty well...

And I finished in time for the carpet installers who came Wednesday.

We now have carpet on the back stairs between the first and second floors.

The back stairs have always been a little slippery, so the carpet helps significantly.

The color works well with the walls and the runners in the hallways.

For continuity, it also has a pattern that's similar to the attic carpet.

After eons without, there's now carpet in my closet as well.

I couldn't have carpet until she did, naturally.

It matches the carpet in the dressing room for SWMBO.

Or the other way 'round.

OK, the reality is that the remnant from the dressing room was installed in my closet.

Now that her dressing room has carpet, her little piggies are happy.

And that means everyone is happy.

She stood there for a couple of minutes wiggling her toes and purring like a happy kitten. The dog had no idea what was going on, but at least he didn't pee on the new carpet.

And they did a great job on the transition to the master bath.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

3.29 Miles

That's how far I walked today without ever leaving the house.

All I did was finish painting the closet in the dressing room, installed the rest of its trim, and install the remaining trim in my closet.

That's a lot of trips up and down the stairs from the second floor to the saw in the basement...

Now I'm almost ready for the carpet installer.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

I Love the Smell of Impervo in the Morning

Along the way we didn't quite get to 100% completion on two of the closets in the master suite. Mostly that was due to previous deadlines. We rushed to get things "done enough" for the party or tour, but not 100%. Now is the time to finish because the carpet is coming.

In the linen closet the shelves were installed before the drywall was completely mudded. Over the past week I've been mudding so I can eventually prime and paint the walls.

Also, the base molding and door frame were never installed in the closet interior.

I saved the matching door frame moldings and needed to prep and paint them.

And my closet in the master is missing the base molding and door casing inside the closet.

All have been prepped, primed and have a first finish coat on them.