'This Old Crack House' #41: Stair way to heaven...Day by Day...One step at a time...some times one foreward and two back

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Blog entry by Dusty posted 05-20-2007 05:28 PM 3108 reads 0 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 40: Sale or no Sale? Part 41 of 'This Old Crack House' series Part 42: The end was near...not just for the project »

As my friend, with whom I had entered the intent to purchase agreement, had indicated his unlikelihood to complete, I had no choice but to finish the remodeling and sell the house. I had already begun putting the word out with close friends and business associates that the house would more than likely be coming up for sale in early October.

Although progress had been made on several fronts of the remodeling project, there still was considerable work to be done. One major such project was the replacement and restoration of all the woodwork in the existing first floor level. The previous owners had taken most of the woodwork down and attempted to sand and begin a refinishing process.

They failed miserably.

Obviously the job turned out to be much more difficult and bigger than they imagined. They seemed to just lose interest and give up. They stored all the woodwork in the garage exposing it to the elements. They also had broken several of the trim boards when they attempted to remove them from the walls. Nails still protruded from the trim boards.

In short, I had a mess on my hands.

Most of the old trim wasn’t salvageable. The effort required to refurbish and save what trim wasn’t already ruined, was not cost effective. Efforts to match and purchase new trim failed. I was unable to match the profile . The stain color of the existing trim was a custom color and would be unlikely to match any found at salvage yards.

The original formal living-room and dining-room had been built by an owner/carpenter who used a custom bit to make the cove molding and other profiles. There was only one choice for me if I wanted to restore these rooms to as close to original as I could. I had to buy several hundred board feet of oak, and have the profiles for the trim, molding, and baseboard custom made to be used in my shaper and routers.

I wanted to restore the formal living and dining room. The balance of the rooms would be limited to replacing with less decorative woodwork. I was able to salvage a lot of the wider woodwork from the living room to be cut down and reuse in various parts of the house .

Overall, the woodwork turned out to not only balance well, it seemed to complement the other parts of the remodeling, such as the refinished of the hardwood floors. It didn’t take me long to come to the conclusion that it wasn’t remotely possible to afford to restore this house to its original condition. I had to accept this early on and do my best to make everything blend as best as I was able, with the original. This was a constant challenge. I was very careful that something didn’t look out of place, or obvious that it had been replaced in such a way that caused it to stand out to even the untrained eye.

The front porch needed a lot of work. The windows had been broken out and the rain had damaged the hard wood floor. The door was in terrible shape and wasn’t functioning. The ceiling had sheet rock that was only tacked up and never had been finished. It also had yellowed and showed all the damage from a previous roof leak. The plaster ceiling and walls had several cracks throughout, some the full length of the wall.

After repairing a number of the cracks, I certainly gained a lot of appreciation for the dieing trade of plasters. I gained an understand about just how hard doing the work of the plaster trade was. Besides repairing all the cracks and loose pieces of plaster, I had to paint and re-texture all the ceilings. This work was hard, tedious and time consuming. Because all the woodwork had been replaced, extra care had to be taken so it was protected. This meant a lot of extra time went into prep-work such as taping off the woodwork .

The front rooms that was going to be converted to a library had 7 layers of wall paper on the wall. This all had to be removed by hand before I could paint the walls.
That turned out to be a very unpleasant, time consuming job.

To this day I really don’t care for wall paper.

All the fixtures and most of the wiring had to be replaced. That meant opening up a number of walls and fishing the wire up from the basement through the stud walls and into the existing walls using remodel boxes. Again this turned into a major task. Regardless, it all had to be done to meet the current code bringing the house up to acceptable standards.

This not only was costly it was labor intensive.

The room that I planed to convert to a library or sitting parlor had a small closet that served as an access point to the plumbing for the adjoining bathroom. This was poorly utilized space and the door was missing from the closet. The decision to make this into a bookcase was easy. The only challenge was to build the bookcase so that it could be slid in and out in the event I had to gain access to the plumbing. I was able to accomplish this after building the bookcase in two sections and tweaking it to fit, as I slid it into the opening.

Refinishing the hardwood floors took time and a lot of extra effort because they had been neglected and water damaged. The expense wasn’t the culprit it was the labor intensity of the project. Time was money and the interest clock was running on the mortgage and I really didn’t have a buyer locked in at this point. Besides, all the hard work and daily mental pressures just added to the overall tension of the project.

I had all I could do to stay focused and on track. This was not a sprint I had to keep telling myself everyday it was a marathon.

Knowing this didn’t make it easier to do the work, it just helped me stay focused and better able to pace myself for the long haul.

It still was a grueling journey.

I was really tired and wore down.


It was a constant battle no to give up.

That wasn’t an option, and I knew it. There was no relief in sight but I knew if I didn’t keep working the end wouldn’t be any closer.

I had to play various mental games with my self to stay on track.

Thank god no psychologist was around during this time to hear me talking to myself or my two hounds who spent every minute with me during this remodeling project. I am sure the psychologist would have had two men in white coats and nets take me for a ride to a nice brick building that had padded walls.

At the end of the day I would stop working on the project, gather up my two basset hounds who had been my constant companions on this project, along with my business partner and go for a long walk around the neighborhood.

This not only helped to wind down from the pressures of the day it gave me a change to help get focused and bring my business partner up to date as to the progress that was being made.

The basset hounds are great ambassadors and really help break down barriers. People are drawn to them, they always look so sad and gentle.

I’m sure the sight of me pulling a red wagon with a big male basset hound nestled in the middle of a over sized comforter going by your front yard would cause you to take a second look.

He had arthritis and a bad hip, but insisted that he went on the daily walks. If I left him at home he would howl and cry like baby. I solved this problem with the little red wagon.

He rode in the red wagon like a king, thinking he was royalty and was in charge.

I let him think he was.

He knew he was regardless of what I thought.

It was surprising how many times that the various neighbors, some who lived several blocks from the house would make comments or ask questions about how the house was coming along.

Many of these same neighbors had been the ones who earlier made comments about how the house should have been tore down and how I wouldn’t ever be able to make anything out of the house. They were the same ones who had all the advise to dispense and could spend my money freely from the street.

All this time thinking they were not only dispensing invaluable advise but also being very help and contributing to the progress of the project. I just let them think what ever they wanted.

I just thought to my self, what was the harm.

I did notice that not a one of them offered to help but they all sure could tell me what to and how to do the project.

I just figured they all had bad backs and that was the reason they never got involved in the actual work.

I always thought it would have been interesting had I invited those who dispensed their advice freely and frequently what kind of aliments or excuses they would of come up with to get out of the dirty work.

I had to at times just smile and biting my tongue which was already black and blue.

Now that visible progress could be seen suddenly they all were interested in a house tour.

I simply told them when the project is done for those interested I would host a BBQ and left it at that.

I down played the whole remodel process thanked them for there advise and left it at that.

After all the walk was to unwind, and that is exactly what it did for me.

Pure entertainment.

The house exterior stucco had to be repaired and power washed before I could be repainted. I had been told that you couldn’t paint stucco by a number of different people but I never understood why you couldn’t if you did the proper prep and used a good latex paint. I researched this a lot and found no real reason other than the stucco trades wanted to preserve their business. I simply couldn’t afford to have the house redone by them. I was very pleased with the outcome of the paint job. I’m sure it will only last five to ten years, a fraction of the time had I had it tuck pointed and blended. However, my plan was to sell the house anyway.

The yard was in terrible shape. Besides being almost all weeds it need several loads of black dirt and grass seed. This would only be a start. I had a very limited budget to bye shrubs and trees. I had to do the best I could with what little I had.

By far, one of the most challenging tasks I encountered with this project was redoing the old kitchen. It wasn’t because the kitchen was complicated or large, it was trying to utilize the space to accommodate the adjoining deck. Also, being an old house, there also was a significant drop in the floor to the wall making it very difficult to level and square the kitchen cabinets. In an eight foot section the floor dropped almost an inch and one half. Not only did this take extra time, but it took some creative trim building and installing.

The space was limited, because the kitchen was long an narrow and there were doors on both ends; one that lead out to the deck and the other to a hallway . I knew the kitchen size was a potential downfall of this old house. Most people want a much larger kitchen. I had hoped to overcome some of this with the addition of the deck. The full view door that was installed to gain access to this area not only provided a practical way to add to the limited kitchen size, but it also helped bring in light. In turn, this gave the kitchen a much need lift and made it appear larger than it was.

The mother-in-law kitchen was a lot easier to build and install because I had framed up all new walls. This made all the difference in the world. I built both the counter-tops on site which gave me a considerable advantage because I could take into account the crooked walls and floors. Never-the-less, both jobs turned out to be very challenging.

Because I had a very tight budget I bought simple box cabinets, installed them, then considerably dressed them up. This was the only way I could fit the expense of two kitchens into my budget. When they were completed the kitchens seemed function they were designed. They looked good at a fraction of the price of custom-built cabinets. One other major factor was the time required to build my own cabinets. I simply didn’t have the time or space to do this.

Over all, progress was being made on all the various projects and components of the remodeling process. I was glad to be turning the corner and heading down the home stretch. I was not only tired and burned out, but I needed as much time as possible to show the house before the winter months. I knew selling the house would take time. Every month it sat was one more month of double mortgage payments. This couldn’t continue for very long, without causing a major hardship.

I also had some good news; bad news. I had sold several commissions of various pieces of furniture I had designed that both Sid and I were building. The good news was it keep Sid busy while he tried to find full time employment after being laid off. The bad news was I was still very busy with the final touches on the house remodeling project. I would help Sid with the layout design and rough cutting and anything else he need help with. This made for many fifteen to sixteen hour days for me.

To say the least, I was exhausted , but grateful for the extra money that it brought in.

I realized how hard it would be to make a living just building custom furniture. I also knew if I did that it would be more like a job or work for me and I was afraid I would lose my passion for woodworking.

The experience of building furniture on the side for over a year pretty much convinced me that I wouldn’t pursue that avenue for several reasons.

I learned a lot, needless to say, but I paid a high price for that knowledge, not only emotionally but it took a physical toll on me as well.

My hand never really recovered from all the additional work and stress that I demanded of it. My pain at times was unbearable. The hand was diminished in what little function I had to start with.

In short I had paid a very high price.

This soon would come back to haunt me, along with a very sad and untimely death.

Copyright… all rights reserved D.Jerzak 05/10/07

-- Dusty

11 comments so far

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 4174 days

#1 posted 05-20-2007 06:02 PM

Dusty, I relate to your comments about turning an enjoyable hobby into a business. I came to the same conclusion as you.

Besides, who am I kidding, my skills aren’t at the level anyone would want to pay real money for what I make.

Enjoying the story, quite a saga.

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4158 days

#2 posted 05-20-2007 06:06 PM

another tough ending to a chapter :(

Lots of production in this, though.. and that’s a good thing!
The house is looking beautiful already (lol well, I know it wasn’t “already” and that there sure was a lot of hard work in getting this far).

Well done, Dusty. Well done

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4312 days

#3 posted 05-20-2007 08:01 PM

That is a lot of work for one fellow…and a couple of hounds. I can just see the old guy being pulled in his royal carriage.
Keep em coming!

View johnt's profile


27 posts in 4033 days

#4 posted 05-20-2007 08:50 PM

Dusty, what a story. Something I learned a long time ago was that when I turned a hobby into a form of income, it very quickly became no fun – no hobby. In both instances I was never able to totally revisit my hobby and the fun it gave me. All the best, johnt

-- jft

View Diane's profile


546 posts in 4120 days

#5 posted 05-20-2007 09:46 PM

Sure am enjoying the read especially about the dog in the wagon.


View Dusty's profile


785 posts in 4153 days

#6 posted 05-21-2007 03:06 AM

Don, @ Johnt,

I want to acknowledge and would love to comment more about turning a hobby into a business, however that is a big part of the yet to be told story of this “this old crack house, the addition”.

I think you will find it amusing and I’m sure we share many of the same experiences.

Stay tuned if you will, I’m sure we can share some laughs and perhaps few lessons learned.

-- Dusty

View Dusty's profile


785 posts in 4153 days

#7 posted 05-21-2007 03:17 AM


The funny thing about my basset hound ( spike lee) the king of of bull basset hounds, if you were to see him on his thrown ( the wagon) you would start laughing, but agree he belongs there.

To this day I’m not sure if he just coned me into being his personal chaffer or his arthritis was really that bad that he needed to be pulled in the wagon.

I tend to think it’s a little of both.

Oh well, I’ve been conned before and certainly it won’t be my last time.

-- Dusty

View Dusty's profile


785 posts in 4153 days

#8 posted 05-21-2007 03:19 AM


The funny thing about my basset hound ( spike lee) the king of of bull basset hounds, if you were to see him on his thrown ( the wagon) you would start laughing, but agree he belongs there.

To this day I’m not sure if he just coned me into being his personal chaffer or his arthritis was really that bad that he needed to be pulled in the wagon.

I tend to think it’s a little of both.

Oh well, I’ve been conned before and certainly it won’t be my last time.

-- Dusty

View Diane's profile


546 posts in 4120 days

#9 posted 05-21-2007 05:10 AM

Lol. I was thinking I wonder what he is thinking while he is being pulled in that wagon. He probably just says what a nice owner he has to be so kind if dogs think that way. Either that or he just doesn’t think about it much and just enjoys the ride in the wagon. I do feel animals are a lot smarter than some people probably think. I never owned a dog and I feel I probably missed a lot not having one.


View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4324 days

#10 posted 05-21-2007 05:49 AM

You didn’t need a psychologist, if you weren’t talking to youself, then I’d be worried!

1 1/2 inch out of level in the kitchen… if only the end of my livingroom was merely that much out of level. The bedrooms above it is off 3/4” over the width of the bed – which makes for real easy shimming!

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View Karson's profile


35120 posts in 4398 days

#11 posted 05-21-2007 03:42 PM

Great story Dusty, Thanks for your sharing and bringing us along for the ride also.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

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