lucky thirteen: a love story and a dining room

We’re currently celebrating our house’s thirteenth birthday (thirteen years with us) and its 128th birthday on this street.  To watch and read about the whole process in those early years (pre-blog), check out our rehab slide shows, nine of them, here.

Do you have a checklist for the dining room of your dreams?  If you went house hunting, did you list those things off in your mind?

Tall ceilings.  Check.

Hardwood floors and beautiful moldings?  Check.

Show-stopping chandelier?  Double check.

Can you just see the future dinner parties we would throw in this space?


Our dining room is the middle room on the first floor, and, much like the living room, it serves multiple purposes.  The living room plays the role of family den, entry hall, mudroom and almost library, and our dining room tries to keep up by hosting the big table, a slew of somewhat organized kidstuff, the kitchen equipment overflow, and most importantly – the central vertical circulation spine.  

It wasn’t always this way though.  Our house used to be two houses – one flat per floor, with an exterior staircase in the back up to the second floor.  The third story (and the inspiration for this blog) was just a pipe dream – if pipe dreams include dead pigeons and rain-stained rafters.
When we purchased this house thirteen years ago, we not only wanted to transform this place into a home – we wanted to change its structure to its very core.  And we didn’t want to have to don a coat just to head upstairs to bed.  So we added an interior stair, slicing through century old lumber with new beams and hangers.  Want to feel really nervous, right in the pit of your stomach?  Then watch those old joists being cut and removed while waiting for the earth to shake and the fifty foot walls to come tumbling down around you.

Lucky for us, they didn’t.

We hauled out plaster and lath by the bucket (thirteen tons of it in the house – just the two of us) over the course of two months, and then the new framing began.  We furred out all of the exterior walls – an extra luxury in an old house like this – plenty of new insulation and places to run wiring and pipes and all the rest of those unsightly things.

New drywall came in, old water damaged floors were patched…

…and refinished.

You’ll notice the datestamp on our old pre-digital camera.  (It’s day first, then month, then year.) The summer ticked onward and soon it was fall.  Because doing this sort of insane amount of work wasn’t enough… we were also planning a huge wedding.  In another state.  On September 23, 2000.

Perhaps it was the twenty hour days we were pulling each day – eight at work, eight working on the house, and another four making things for our wedding – but we certainly weren’t operating on all cylinders at that point.  I think that’s why I got the bright idea to paint the dining room eggplant.

Gross.  It’s not that the color was gross – it wasn’t, although these dust covered camera photos and one coat shots don’t really do it justice.  But the dining room has one window that sits about seven feet away from our neighbor’s forty foot high brick wall, and it’s dark, really dark.  We quickly repainted it a nice, boring taupe and moved on.

We married, ran off to Canada for our honeymoon and returned to a house with an almost functioning bathroom on the second floor.  And no stair to get there.

Our dining room housed our first ladder.  Our first bedroom.  Our closet and our workroom.  We huddled in that room for the first winter of our marriage like we were characters from a Laura Ingalls Wilder novel, tired and poor but happy.  Well, mostly happy.
We still wanted some stairs.

So we made some.

Since the house never had a stair, it seemed disingenuous to put in a stair to match the era of the house.  It felt fake.  If we were going to make this slice through the house and connect three floors for the first time in a century, then we were going to make sure that you knew it was a modern intervention.
So we added steel…

…and wood…

…and bolts…

…and giant stringers…

…and then some modern floating railings.

We furnished it with the bare minimum, and it worked just fine.  Nothing spectacular, but a good foundation.

And then we started working on the living room, so the living room temporarily moved into the dining room, and the kidstuff piled up, and kitchen stuff started to infringe, and the blinds never open…

…and the coats had to hang somewhere.  And so it’s once again in transition.  But we have big dreams.

Dreams of white (and bright walls), goodbye to the extra stuff, no more blinds, more lighting, and even big plans for a little updating to those stairs:  staining the treads a dark color like the old floors, painting the stair stringers a lighter gray.  We’ve got some artwork to hang, some new portraits to hang, and a walnut library table to use as a buffet in there once we offload all those piles of books onto the new library shelves.  We’ve kicked our one television out of the living room, and converted that TV armoire into a coat wardrobe.  
And of course I’ve got some dining room furniture dreams going on – like this Saarinen table and Cherner chairs – or something along those lines.  Lighter.  Brighter.  Simpler.  In my big dreams I’d widen the opening between the living room and dining room even more than we originally widened it, but I’m not sure how much sawdust patience I have anymore.  We shall see.  I dream of rescued pocket doors sometimes – even if I have to mount them on exposed barn door tracks.  I dream of lots of things, and often of this house.

Did I dream of newlywed days hunkered down in an eggplant colored dining room?  Maybe not.  Did I have paint under my nails when I walked down the aisle that fall?  Most likely.  

Would I trade any of it?  Not on your life.