The photographs of Dignowity Hill and San Antonio used within this blog are the property of Juan A Garcia Eastlight Photography. All rights are reserved to the owner. Copy and use of these images are forbidden without written permission. Contact Juan at for permission.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Painting the Exterior

The first coat of color was painted on the house today! The colors reflect Victorian themes typically found in houses called "Painted Ladies". Victorian era houses, especially wood and stick homes, were painted in vibrant color schemes that enriched the details such as ginger bread styling typically found in folk Victorian or vernacular styled houses.
The porch decking was also painted and what a difference a little color makes. Notice the color on the porch ceiling, its a pretty sky blue. The word is that traditionally houses in the south typically would have their porch ceilings panted a sky blue color to confuse wasps from building nests underneath porches.
The skirting around the house was installed a few days ago and that also received a couple of coats of paint. Vents still need to be installed and that will be done in the coming days.
We're reaching a point in the project where most of the work is now touch ups and detail work on the structure. We are close to the finish line. We still need to get final inspections on electrical, plumbing and HVAC system. The front porch roof and work on the drive way need to be worked on but we can feel the end in sight!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

House is Primed and Ready

A big milestone in any restoration project is when you get the house coated with primer.   Of course there's a lot of prep work that goes into getting to this point.  Ideally you want to scrape off as much of the old paint and get as close as possible to bare wood. In this case most if not all of the paint had either fallen of over time or had been scraped off in previous attempts.  Lead abatement is always a consideration when working on homes built in the early 1900's however in this case there was so minimal paint on the walls that we did were allowed to use a water method to remove any existing paint. Using a gentle power wash method minimizes dust and aerosols. Any flakes that came off were collected and safely disposed according safety protocols. 
After the cleaning of the house the entire exterior of the house was coated with high grade primer. At this point the house ready for it's colors!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Kitchen Work

Kitchen counter tops and cabinets

Butler's pantry
The counters in the kitchen were given a retro look with black and white ceramic tile treatment. This was the decision of our buyers and it looks great!  The cabinets have been installed and primed for painting. The cabinets will be white which will give them a nice clean finish. Between the existing dining room and kitchen a butler's pantry of pass through was created which greatly improved the flow of the house. Cabinets and tile work on the counter tops which continues the tile done in the kitchen add continuity.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Floors Get A Second Chance!

Before we purchased the house we made sure that the floors that were underneath the nasty old carpeting, paint and linoleum were in good shape.  We discovered that the original flooring was tongue and groove long leaf pine.  Except for some rot we found along in some areas of the house, especially around the old bathroom, the flooring was in decent shape. Nothing that a good sanding could not take care of in restoring the flooring back to life!
Floors before refinishing

Sanding off the old glue!

Looking Good!

Living room floor.

Dining room floor

Finished floor with poly coat.
The entire sanding and finishing of the floors took about 10 days. What slowed the process down was that in some of the rooms the old glue used to tack down the linoleum was especially difficult to remove. Repairs to rotten pieces were also made during this time as well shoring up soft spots in the floor. We decided not to stain the floors instead we opted to put down 2 and 3 coats of clear poly urethane to bring out the grain of the wood.  You can see by the images how the floors eventually turned out....not bad for being under cover for who knows how long!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Restoring Details

One of the biggest challenges we knew we had going into this project was in trying to restore some of the architectural elements and details of the house.   Over the past 100 years the house was literally gutted of its original windows, the original wooded floors had been either painter over or covered over with carpet or linoleum and much of the original case trim around the doors of most of the interior doors was gone by time we acquired the property.  In some of the rooms there were remnants of what was once beautiful base molding that that was paint a bright yellow color!  We salvaged those pieces but because there wasn't enough molding for all the house we decide install a simple, wide base molding to at least give the floor and wall some additional profile.  We did the same for casing around the windows. All the casing had been removed when the original windows were replaced with aluminum windows.  This house was built in 1912 in an era when this types of house had lots of craftsmanship detail such rosettes and plimps around doors, so we speculated that at one time this was the case for our house.
Trim around windows

Detail on porch

Spindles add some nice detail on porch

Harvested crown molding and antique stained window in transom
Since manufacturing and recreating much of that detail would be cost prohibitive we decided to make simple case trim out of 1x 6 pine boards for the windows and interior door openings. We had the carpenters make simple block rosettes to fit at the corners of the trim. 
The porch was relatively easy in terms of finding materials.  Elements such as turned posts and spindles are readily available at either local lumber suppliers or vendors that specialize old house architectural supplies.
The crown molding that we used in the foyer and other parts of the house was actually harvested from a house that was recently demolished. This was nice find as it saved us some significant dollars. Get to know your local old house harvester!
Finally, we installed an antique stained glass piece in the transom located in the foyer. This added a nice touch to the foyer and to the hallway entry.
The point of this ramble is that you sometimes you need to get creative in finding solutions that are cost effective yet stay close to original details.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Window Installation

The first of the new windows were installed today. It was great to see the old house withe a new set of windows.  Restoration purists could take issue that we did not put in wooded windows that matched the era of when the house was built in 1912.  Windows that were typically used in the early 1900's were double hung, single pane glass with probably having a 2 over 2 or 4 over 4 lite configuration.  Typical of window construction of the era had open cavities covered by casing where iron or metal would hang.  The cavities where the weights hung are typically sources of drafts in these older homes.
Getting window ready for installation

Good Fit!

Main windows in front to house
View from inside the living room

Windows of the front porch

Window trim matched to old trim dimensions
We decided to balance this piece of the restoration on cost considerations, ascetics, and energy efficiency. The windows we chose were custom made to fit the original window openings and are double pane and well sealed. This option will significantly cut down drafts and still retains some of the profile found in older historical widows.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Window Prep Work

We've reach the point of prepping the new window spaces. As part of the project plan we made a decision early on to replace the existing aluminum framed windows with wood vinyl clad windows.  These windows were approved for installation by our local office of historic preservation. Windows in historic buildings are a key element in preservation efforts. When doing restoration or rehab projects in a historic district always check the with local historic preservation office to make sure that you're following their guidelines for window replacement. In our case we opted to replace the windows with double pane, wood and vinyl clad windows that closely matched the dimensions of the original windows. As you can see from the images the old window openings had to be re-worked in order to be able to fit the new windows which will be installed in the next few days.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Colors on the Walls!

One of the fun aspects of doing these projects are the many decisions you have to make along the way. Color choice is one them. 
But I need to back up a bit. Since the beginning of this project we've had a potential buyer for the house. This young professional couple approached us shortly after we bought the house in Oct of 2011.   We don't have a contract for the house but we decided to involve them from the start of the project for their input and ideas. Even if we don't wind up selling them the house the project will benefit from their perspectives on. However, at this point of the project I feel confident that we will be able to finalize a deal.
Looking into the living room from dining area.
Looking into the dining area from the living room.

Master bedroom
Getting back to the colors on the walls, we allowed our young buyers to choose the colors for the house. I think they made some pretty good color selection decisions. Not bad!We still have a ways to go but it sure feels good getting to this point!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Dry Wall is Installed!

The back porch converted to kitchen space
 3 weeks after the first delivery of dry wall and the rooms are starting to shape.The dry wall crew has moved a pretty quick pace to get the sheet rock in place.  We decided to convert what used to be the back porch of the house in a large kitchen space. We'll be leaving the old ceiling beams exposed to get a rustic look. Insulating the ceiling space will be a challenge but we have a plan!
Looking into the dining room
Bedroom with closet added

Back porch converted to kitchen space
Space created for "butler's pantry"
Living room
Main hall way

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Balloon Framing

Houses built in the late 1880's through the 1930's typically used a type of light weight framing called " balloon framing.  William Kibbel writes in his blog on This Old House Web: "Balloon framing is a style of wood-house building that uses long, vertical 2" x 4"s for the exterior walls. These long "studs" extend uninterrupted, from the sill on top of the foundation, all the way up to the roof. When it first came into use, well before the mid-nineteenth century, it was a radically different type of construction from the "timber frame" or "braced frame" that preceded it for centuries. The earlier style timber framing used large timbers interlocked with chiseled joints (mostly mortise and tenons) secured with wood pegs. The balloon frame relies solely on nails to secure each piece. The only chiseling is for the horizontal boards that support upper level floor joists, the diagonal boards, or for corner braces that are "let in" to the studs so as to be flush with the wall surface. Balloon" was originally intended to be a derogatory term implying a light weight structure that could be easily carried off in a breeze. I'd like to point out that there certainly are many, many balloon-framed structures, between 75 and 175 years old, that haven't floated away." (This Old House Web, 

The house that we're currently restoring was built in 1912 and is built with balloon framing. You can see from the image below how the studs are nailed directly on top of the sill that sits directly on the foundation beam.  The studs run uninterrupted the length of the wall with no stops in between the studs. The studs were typically held together with horizontal "wind bracing" pine boards. These houses may been built for their light weight structure and probably to keep costs down but there is nothing light weight in the fact these old houses are still standing after over 100 years!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Time to Dry Wall

All system go!  We passed our rough in inspections for the electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems. This is a significant milestone in the project because it means we can proceed with getting the interior walls dry walled. The first load of sheet rock was delivered and stored inside the house. It was good to get to this point.  This project is moving fast and we hope to get the interior completed by mid August.  Did I mention that we have a buyer for the house?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Front Porch Part II

This has been a hectic 3 weeks! Considerable progress has been made on getting the front porch back in shape. The porch columns were delivered a few days ago. We decided to go with a traditional Victorian style column style to complement the what we think the house is a folk Victorian example. To be honest we're not certain what the original style was of the house because of all the alterations that were made over the last 100 years! But judging from the high pitch roof, the front porch and architechtual details around the gables which gives a suggestion of some ginger bread styling common to Victorian houses of the era the house has strong indications of some Queen Anne styling.

Porch columns and harvested siding
Back to the porch columns....these are examples of turned columns which traditionally consist of three segments: the top square, the turning and the base square.When a post terminates against a wall then a "half post" was used. Turned columns are typically painted a solid color and often times the the turnings were painted a trim color to give the columns some eye appeal.

The columns in the image are resting against the front wall of the house. The only reason I mention this to point out the the boards used on this wall and around the porch are reclaimed siding from a house that was scheduled to be demolished. The house had had a fire the previous year and we obtained permission from the owners to harvest the siding. Also notice that the majority of the bead board underneath the porch is original to the house. We discovered the old bead board once we removed the sheet rock. We had to replace some of the missing boards with bead boards we harvested from the old kitchen area in the house.  

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Moving Quickly Along

After 3 days of working on demolishing the old driveway and clearing the debris, the plumbers dug a trench to the main sewer connection. At same time that the plumbers were working on the sewer line connection work was progressing on repairing the front porch. The headers had to be replaced as well as replacing some rotten joists in the porch roof.

If you're under a tight deadline like we are it really helps to have several different aspects of the project underway at the same time. So far to this point in time, a month into the project, work has moved fairly quickly.  The weather has cooperated, no rain so far to delay or stop work and the labor has been good so far. It can be a challenge to find skilled carpenters and other skilled labor that is reliable and dependable. So far so good, the crews working on the project are contentious and are showing up for work everyday!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Removing the Old Concrete Driveway

Ok, so we've gotten past the break in and theft of our copper wiring by making sure that security in and around the house is tighter. We'll be installing a security system in the house very soon!

In the meantime, work progresses!  This week sub contractors working the plumbing and electrical systems of the house have been almost tripping over each other as they quickly work to reinstall the wiring that was stolen and continue replacing all the existing plumbing with new pipe.

We also tackled the removal of the old drive way pad. This was necessary for 2 reasons. First the concrete on the old drive way was buckled and had become a trip hazard. Our insurance carrier was reluctant to provide coverage on the property unless we repaired the drive way. Secondly, we needed to remove the concrete pad to install a new drainage line to hook up to the city's sewer system. The line lay underneath the old concrete driveway.  The original pipe was made of terra cotta pipe which has a tendency to crack in shifting soils. We decided since we were removing the concrete and we were installing all new PVC pipe in the house that it would be prudent to upgrade to newer pipe for the hook up. The plan for the drive way is to grade it and lay crush granite instead of pouring a new concrete pad

Old driveway with buckled concrete pad.
Using a pneumatic hammer to break up concrete pad.

Hard work!

The big boy arrives!

Making quick work of the driveway demo!