Saturday, January 10, 2015


Marion called me yesterday.  Without preamble or greeting, as is his usual phone manner, as soon as I answered the phone he said, "It's gonna be more like March before we can finish the front porch."

I assumed he meant because it's about 12 degrees outside and the porch floor's covered in a thin sheet of ice, and I said as much.

"Oh yeah, that too, but the big reason is that I had a little accident with the planer."

I've known Marion for 17 years.  Marion is the King of Understatement.  I had a very bad feeling about his definition of "little accident" and I sat down suddenly, my heart racing, afraid to ask him what he meant.

"Are you still there?" he asked.

"I am," I said.

"I caught my right hand in the planer.  I still have all of my thumb and index finger, my middle finger's missing the first knuckle, and my ring finger and pinky finger are about an inch long now."

Holy hell. 

"The doctor says I'm still gonna be able to use my hand, once it heals up, but I've got about eight weeks before I'll be able to do any work on your house or anybody else's," Marion said.

"I don't give a damn about the work on my house," I said.  "I just want to know that you're okay."

"Oh, I'm fine," he said, more cheerfully than I think the situation warrants.

There is some good news in this.  Marion's left-handed, mostly, in that he writes with his left hand, but like most people who work with their hands he's actually ambidextrous.  His thumb and index finger are intact, so he can still pick things up, and the doctor thinks he'll regain some limited ability to grip.  This is winter, when there's a lull in the work anyway, so what jobs he was working on for his friend Tim (who's rehabbing a three-story commercial building in downtown Lexington) can wait until he heals up and won't be bid out to another contractor.  And lastly, he has a positive attitude about his injury.  "Maybe," he said, "I'll get a cool nickname out of this, like Stubby or something." 

Sunday, December 28, 2014


Way back when I first fell in love with this house (which was eight years ago Thanksgiving week) I had the good sense to hire a house inspector before I plunked down some money and went into debt for 30 years.  The house inspector thoroughly checked out the house and gave me a binder with all the particulars about it:  type of construction, square footage, the HVAC and electrical systems, and--most important to me--a list of repairs that needed to be made, separated into categories from Minor to Critical.  All of the Critical items were taken care of years ago; what's left is a few Moderate and Minor items and one Serious item.  (We don't speak of the Serious Item because it fills me with dread and makes me hyperventilate.)  Once a year or so I review the list to see what I've accomplished and what still needs to be done.  Friday afternoon I dragged out the binder and looked through the Moderate list.  There it was:  First Bathroom, low spot in floor between toilet and tub, most likely water damage, needs repair.  And I thought, well gosh, that's probably a big ole can of worms just waiting to be opened.  So I opened it.  I figured first things first, let's get all the layers of flooring off down to the subfloor and see what's going on with that low spot.  I went in there with my blue wrecker bar and my dad's hammer and started prying up the floor.  

And then...

I found this:

I first uncovered that little red rectangle next to the toilet, and I thought it was lettering or a logo on the plywood subfloor. Then I pulled off a little more of the three layers that covered it and realized it's vintage linoleum.  Holy crow.

But wait, let's not get too excited.  It probably doesn't cover the whole floor.  Lots of stupid people lived here who did stupid things to the house.  A whole floor of vintage linoleum is too much to hope for.

So I kept prying and throwing pieces of disgusting filthy flooring into trash bags, and in a couple of hours I had this:

Okay, so it's still disgusting filthy flooring, but it's vintage disgusting filthy flooring.  I'm guessing from the 1940s.  

I cleaned it up a little bit, and now it looks like this:

I think it's salvageable.  It looks pretty icky now, I admit.  It needs a lot of work:  the baseboards and the vanity will have to be pulled to get at the rest of the floor; the nail holes need to be filled; some spots where the pattern's missing need to be painted; the toilet will have to be pulled to fix that hideous plywood patch; and the whole thing needs a few coats of poly.  

And that low spot in the floor, mentioned by the house inspector?  It's only a low spot because whoever put that plywood patch in around the toilet then covered that plywood with a thick layer of what I think is water putty.  It's a good half-inch higher than the rest of the floor--so high that the underlayment for the layer of linoleum above this one was shimmed out with little stacks of cardboard from cigar boxes.  

After I cleaned up the floor and stepped back, I realized that I have the bones of a mid-century bathroom still intact.   The floor, obviously, but also 4" square plastic tiles that are on all four walls, a shiny "chrome" toilet paper dispenser that's built-in, a matching built-in soap dish by the tub, and a pretty cool ceiling fixture. 

I didn't appreciate these details until now because they didn't fit with my Victorian house.  My friend Saralyn pointed out that leaving the 1940s/50s bathroom features and restoring the room in that style helps tell the story of my house.  An excellent point, and one I hadn't thought of. 

I think I have the first project of 2015 all lined up, y'all. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Just Two Hours

Marion:  "I'll be over tomorrow and we can finish up the front porch."

Me:  "Okay.  We don't have that much to do."

Marion:  "Nope, It'll only take a couple of hours and then we'll be done with it.
All we have to do is
put up those trim pieces where the porch ceiling meets the house
[the gap's wonky and wider in some places than others because 
although the porch is square to the house, 
the concrete pad it's set on is not square to the house]

and put up the trim pieces where
the porch ceiling meets the spandrel

and cover that diagonal corner seam in the ceiling 
with a flat piece of trim
and then you can paint everything."

We've had that conversation once or twice a week since November 8th, the day we put up the last two pieces of spandrel and then went to the lumberyard and bought the trim, thinking we'd put it up the next day.  It's been so long that I can't even remember for sure what kind of trim I bought.  (Probably quarter round and lattice strips.) Something always happens to prevent us from getting in that last two hours of work to finish the porch:  he ends up working late and it gets dark now at 5 p.m., or I have to go to work, or it's pouring rain, or he has to go back home (two hours away) to take care of an emergency there, or one of us has obligations on the day the other could do it.  Just two hours.  You wouldn't think it'd be that hard to find two hours.  But it is.  And the porch stays thiiiis close to being done, for the want of two hours.  Maybe tomorrow.