I should subtitle this post Ode to My Fair Husband or perhaps Who Can Possibly Do All These Things?! My Man, That’s Who. But I’m embarrassing him enough already. (It’s all true though, I swear.)
So we last left off in the Fall of 2002, and after a really busy spring and summer, we decided to take it easy for a few days and celebrate our second anniversary over a lovely weekend in Kansas City. We wined and dined and shopped and mostly wandered around the art museum and grounds enjoying some well earned time off the house. We probably did a few minor things on the house when we got back, little bits here and there, but there are no pictures to show it (we were still pre-digital at the time). Late, late fall we were onto bigger and better projects, and by Christmas we were surprising the extended family with the news we had held secret for awhile…we were expecting our little third-floor-dweller-to-be in August of the next year. And this is where my praises for my man step up a notch – and of course I’m talking about the house – let’s keep this family friendly please…
From the day after Christmas to the day after Easter, and then intermittently for a few months longer, I fought the daily battle to keep some type of caloric content within my body. Nothing I ate prior to 4 pm stayed with me for more than a few moments, and by 4 pm I was exhausted with the effort. After getting sick in the grocery store, I stopped doing the shopping; if I smelled it while I was making it, I couldn’t eat it, so each and every night my husband would make dinner for me while I sat as far away as possible from the kitchen. He would bring it to me, and after I finished it I immediately laid down on the couch, exhausted from a long day of operating on no nourishment. I was asleep by seven, he woke me up from the couch around ten, and I staggered up the stairs to bed. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. I know you can hear the violin strains in the background. I promise I didn’t complain too much. Being sick was just a fact, and we both did what we had to do to get through it. And as heroic as he was through the whole thing, as The Cat in the Hat liked to say “and that is not all, oh, no, that is not all…”
In the midst of this gastric catastrophe, he was also completely rebuilding the third floor of our house. In case you forgot, the only thing that was housed on the third floor of this building when we purchased it was the remains and the droppings from hundreds of resident pigeons. There was a straw filled mattress covered in ticking, a few braces in the wall that would have held clotheslines for winter laundry drying, a few newspapers dating to the month that JFK was shot, and a picture of a nude woman carved into one of the old pine boards. The front mansard roof was in really bad shape. The copper gutter, an integral part of the cornice, was in shambles, the only thing holding a good portion of the original slate roof together was a combination of paint and roofing tar. Most of the wood trim was rotted through, the majority of detail on the leaning dormer was missing. There were no windows, just plywood at all the openings. The interior brick was missing most of its mortar, and the old pine planks on the floor were cupped and bowed from all the water over the years with a missing roof. There was no interior stair to the attic, the only access was a tiny winding stair that was accessed from the second floor balcony through a door less than two feet wide. There was little to save, there was nothing to start with. It was an attic, had always been an attic, and so naturally we knew it could be, it HAD to be something more.
So he worked. He waited on me and he worked. All of the rotted pine was removed, including the entire floor. He worked very late one night, working slowly and steadily from one end of the attic to the other. I woke, and after realizing how late it was getting, I went up stairs to suggest that he call it a night and start fresh the next day. He was backed into the final corner, with only a few more boards left to pry up and he wanted to finish. As I went back down the back stairs I heard a crash, and raced into our room to discover a large chunk of the ceiling on the floor and a large boot poking through the joists. Sometimes you can just get too tired.
After cleaning out what needed to go, the new framing went in. Exterior walls were furred out like the rest of the house, only this time by him and not a large framing crew. And the other kicker was that every last piece of building material had to be hauled up 35 steps from the front sidewalk, or be hoisted 30′ up the side of the house. Every stud that was installed required a lot of effort. We had roughed in the plumbing and the mechanical unit was in place, so once the framing was done the electrician moved in to wire the place. We modified the plumbing based on a few plan changes we wanted to make. Once this was all done we had the Icenyne system blown into the walls and ceiling. We had watched it installed many times on This Old House but it’s very cool to see it first hand in your own house. Although much more expensive than traditional batt insulation, we knew it was the only way to go. We were going to have a very warm third floor with the built-up black roof and the South facing wall of windows. Plus, the Icenyne allowed us to keep the insulation thickness very small which was necessary on this floor with its lower ceiling heights than the rest of the house.
We did a few other things in the house as well. We had our railings finally installed on the stair to the second floor, and as I started feeling better towards the end of the pregnancy I started helping out again on the third floor, particularly with painting (in a well ventilated area and a mask, I swear!)
In August we welcomed our new little girl into this world and soon brought her home from the hospital to our room, because, alas, her room was still far from complete. Once we got into the swing of things with a newborn, we started up again. By October we were getting scaffolding back in place on the front of the house, and M began doing demo on the front mansard after carefully documenting the existing conditions there. We had shopped and shopped for contractors to do all the work – the rebuilding of the roof and dormer, the extensive trim work, the copper flashing and gutter, and the slate roof. We had no luck. We either got no response, or loose bids that well exceeded 30K. Yipes. We knew the copper and slate were going to be about half of that, but no one wanted to do the carpentry. So M took it on himself. Very little was left of each trim piece, but there was just enough left (one bracket out of four on the dormer, a few linear feet of this trim or that) so that he could accurately recreate it all. First the old sheathing was patched from the outside where necessary. The top of the cornice where the new gutter was to reside was rebuilt, and the individual dormer pieces were remade – routed and planed and sometimes intricately cut with a band saw. Tuckpointers came in and worked on the masonry end walls. M put the roofing paper down and then stood back for a few days.
The roofer showed up with a stack of 8″ x 16″ slate tiles and then hand cut the points on each end and installed them over the shiniest, most beautiful copper you have ever seen. M jumped back in with wood trim where required, and it was a few days of layering, a little flashing here, some wood trim here, a copper cap or drip edge there. Inside he was working to recreate the missing end brackets that I talked about in a previous story. We had spent the summer scouting out salvage yards to try to find ones that would work, but none that we found measured correctly. So he designed them based on the clues we had and prototypes in the neighborhood. He drafted them on the computer, printing out full-scale templates, each bracket being over four feet tall and composed of over 100 separate pieces between them. They are truly something. He mounted the brackets onto the masonry and the roofers came back to finish the flashing over the tops of them.
The weather had turned cold (cold like Novembers used to be) and he tented the dormer and worked with a portable heater on the scaffolding to get the whole ensemble primed and painted. We wrapped up the exterior work just before Thanksgiving, and took some time off to visit with family and relax a bit as well. By this time E was very used to the sound of hammering and sawing – she napped and slept in our room which was just below her new room, and to this day you can vacuum around this sleeping child without rousing her. So with the headaches, there were perks.
It was so satisfying to see our Second Empire shine again – we were finally complete with the restoration of what we both find most interesting and beautiful in this style of house. We had the option to do it much cheaper, with asphalt shingles and simpler trim…but for us it wasn’t an option. We had been building up to this moment for three years now, and now the three of us could stand on the sidewalk, bundled up against the winter cold, and gaze up at all that hard work and feel really and truly content. It was our little girl’s first Christmas coming up, so we didn’t gaze long, but instead hurried in to prepare for the big event. The first ice and snow were to come soon, but the house was ready for it now, and the banner at the top of this blog shows just how beautiful this crowning glory is, and just how necessary that roof is.
And as I always liked to say…our daughter has the most expensive nursery on the block…