Sippican Cottage

An Inexhaustible Supply

This will be a quick one, compared to our kitchen saga. But it actually took longer to complete this pantry porch in calendar time. We installed a bit of this, and filled a hole with a dab of that, until it was done, along with finishing the work in the kitchen this pantry porch will serve.

First thing, we demolished the steel door to your death, filled in the wall with framing, fixed the electricity, insulated, and covered the wall with drywall. That wall faces due north, so losing some sunlight won’t be a problem. Blank walls are valuable, too, a concept that seems to have escaped open-concept devotees lately. We extended the fascia board that runs around the room on that wall, too. You can espy the DWV (drain, waste, vent) pipe heading down from the bathroom upstairs, heading for the carhole basement where the Geyser of Excrement amusement park is located.

We added to the ad hoc framing overhead to get backing every 16″ or so, and put up an honest to god ceiling, one of the few in the house. The rest are like remodeling club sandwiches, with layers of plaster and plywood and nicotine and strapping and mildew and drywall added over the years.

There’s a clue in the last picture, if you look for it. That’s my spare heir, screwing up on the job. On the right, there’s a 2×4 block affixed near the top of the wall. That’s a good drywall trick for working with only a little help, or when you’re on your own. That block is located about 1″ below the firring strip (strapping to some folks, and furring to others) that the drywall will be screwed to. We made a giant t-square out of two pieces of strapping (1×3 utility grade lumber) as well. The t-square leg is slightly longer than the distance from the floor to the ceiling. The cross-piece is about three feet long. We cut the drywall to the correct length, tuck one end above the 2×4 cleat, swing the other side up into place, and then jam the t-square under the drywall sheet to hold up the end opposite the cleat. If you make the t-square a little long, you can jam it in place with a little bow in it. That way, it pins the drywall sheet tight to the ceiling framing, and it won’t move. After you screw up some more, you kick out the bottom of the t-square, and remove the cleat. Rinse and repeat.

Most of the old kitchen cabinets were in pretty rough shape, but we salvaged the best of them and installed them along the walls in an L shape. I see that fall is coming into view. We’re putting our hanging baskets inside at night to avoid the frost, and hanging them out again in the morning. I also see the jungle cat approves of this method of extending the summer a little.

The original porch had a deck made from tongue and groove fir, an excellent material. Someone eventually screwed a layer of 3/4″ thick exterior plywood over the fir deck, another excellent material. Then they stapled a layer of screaming green astroturf carpet over the floor. Not an excellent material. But the porch does get wet-ish from time to time. Wind-blown rain sometimes finds its way in, despite the overhangs outside. The floor is very stiff, and exterior ply makes a good tile underlayment. We’ll tile it so any water isn’t a problem.

My wife and I like Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. I’ve read the book the movie is base on, too, but it’s not as amusing as the movie. We often make a joke about wanting just four little pieces of flagstone somewhere in the house.

Well, we kind of found them, so we can stop joking about it now, I guess. We were at the orange place or the blue place, I forget which, and they had some tile they didn’t want to sell anymore because it wasn’t ugly enough, and they marked it down to near nothing. So we scarfed it up and layed it down, brother.

It’s slate-ish, not slate, but it looks nice and gets the job done.

We used the pantry porch as an ad hoc instant kitchen whenever the going got rough in the kitchen. The porch has a western exposure, so in the fall/early winter months, when the leaves are off the trees, it’s like a little hothouse.

We salvaged what we could of the post-formed counters from the kitchen, and used them to cap off the cabinets. We boxed in the pipe, and eventually put a shelf on top of the cabinets on the far wall. Then we painted the place to match the rest of the house.

It’s all screened in, and the windows stand open from about April to October. They’re shielded from the weather by an overhang.

I’ve read that in Asian countries, it’s traditional to build your house on the worst part of your lot, so that you don’t disturb the best part with your construction. You improve the bad parts, and keep the good parts. In the US, the house always goes on the best part of the lot. I think this concept deserves more attention. Americans could help themselves more if they simply improved the bad parts of their house, instead of adding more stuff to the good parts. Just keeping things in good repair is a prime example of the concept, one that’s usually overlooked.

I hereby promise that if I find any good parts in my house, I’ll keep well clear of them, and work on something bad. There’s an inexhaustible supply of that.

Kudzu, Carter, and Other Calamities

When we were finished demolishing everything and cleaning up, I discovered something piquant, at least to my tortured mind. Look at that circle around the electrical box where the porch light used to hold court.

Yup, it’s green. It’s very old, and discolored, but it’s a nice shade of green. Some former denizens painted around the jelly jar light and left me an older paint sample.

When we moved here, the house was painted a dreadful blue color. That scheme was fairly recent. It was white before that. It’s a Queen Anne house. There are two colors that Queen Annes don’t favor: blue, and white. We selected a color scheme with an olive color, a tawny yellow trim color, and a brick red for doors and sashes. It’s the best Victorian color scheme I’ve ever come up with. And now I’ve finally found some evidence that somewhere along the line, some former owners weren’t daft, and favored about the same color green I like, at least on part of the house.

What about the white? We have a picture of the house in the 1960s, courtesy of our neighbor, who is courteous indeed, and it was white in the pictures. I’ve found coats of a tawny yellow on the trim here and there. But if you’ve ever wondered why every house of every style was painted white with black shutters, for a good, long while, I can clue you in. It was the Centennial.

No, not the Bicentennial. I was alive for that one, in 1976. We decided to celebrate the 200-year anniversary of the founding of the country by electing a peanut farmer to the presidency, taking off our Whip Inflation Now buttons, listening to Peter Frampton records, and waving some flags. That’s about all I can remember. But a hundred years before that, they threw a proper whoop-de-doo, and decided to spruce up the whole country. The Daughters of the American Revolution and similar organizations got even more organized and they did some things on a big scale.

They had the first official world’s fair, in Philadelphia. It was a humdinger. They had the first working telephone there, with Alexander Graham Bell hisself on the other end of the line (and the exhibition hall) if you wanted to try it out. They had the first Remington typewriter. It was the first place in the country you could eat Heinz ketchup on your fries, if they had fries back then, and wash it down with that newfangled Hires root beer. On a less amusing note, someone got the bright idea to import some kudzu plants, and hand them out. They said it was handy for erosion control. I’ll leave it to my southern readers to decide if kudzu or Carter caused more trouble down there after being introduced. Other countries sent stuff. France sent the right arm of the Statue of Liberty. Germany exhibited enormous Krupp artillery pieces. I see a pattern developing there.

So everything colonial was the rage in 1876, and a lot of the towns in America went nuts turning their downtowns into colonial reproductions. I forget who made the joke, but they said they were afraid to go to the bathroom just then, because someone might paint their pecker white and hang black shutters on either side of it. They did it to everything. Including my house, even though it was built 25 years later, I’ll bet, because it became traditional.

Well, the white has got to go. First, we’ll fix the light. There’s an old rule in house carpentry that everything that sticks out of the house should have a block behind it. Hose bibb, doorbell, light fixture, whatever. I believe in that rule, so we fitted a wood block into the clapboards, and bought a new jelly jar light to paint around.

The window was painted shut, of course, but it’s easy to bash a 4″ broad knife along the seams and free it up. If you’ve never fixed a window with iron sash weights, pulleys, and sash cord (rope), it’s kinda fun. The apparatus is as simple as an Erector set. You can figure out how to fix it just by looking at it, generally. We got the sash working well again, scraped the errant paint off the glass, marveled at the perfect BB bullet hole in the glass, made by a BB heading out, of all things, replaced the loose putty, and painted it Mayflower Red.

I gave the kid a crack at painting the siding. He done good. Remember folks, top down, inside out. The underside of the clapboards is the in, and the face is the down.

As you can see in the pictures, this room was outside for many years, until it became an inside joke. We’ll turn it into something useful, I promise.

[To be continued. Thanks for reading and commenting. To support this site, tell your internet friends about Sippican Cottage]

Hey, Whaddabout That Porch?

Well, we certainly detailed our kitchen remodel to a fare-thee-well. But we kinda glossed over the porch just outside the kitchen door. So before anybody calls me on it, I’ll show you what we did out there.

The porch used to be connected by a catwalk to the front of the house. It collapsed long before we bought the place, and took a bunch of the eaves with it when it went. Way back when, I think it was an open porch with a roof over it. Later on, someone got their hands on some barn sashes, and inelegantly hinged them in all the openings. Here’s what we found when we moved in:

That door had a fifteen-foot drop to your death outside it. I screwed that red piece of wood over the frame when we moved in. Before that, whoopee! As you can see, the ceiling is sagging, with a hole in it and mildew stains all over it. It turns out there were about four hundred flying squirrels living up there. Up until now, I’ve never found a talking moose up there. But you never know.

Looking the other direction is where the view is. There’s a road, and some mountains, a grass airfield, some other fields, and a big river, currently slumbering under a thick layer of ice.

I pulled on the ceiling, and the whole thing came down on my head. The last photo is when we had almost finished cleaning up. We were up to our knees in leaf litter and pine needles. The squirrels made a giant futon out of the ceiling. They dragged all sorts of things up there. We found a bunch of McD’s happy meal toys in the rubble. I’m glad someone, er, something got some use out of them.

So we shoveled and bagged the mess, and took stock of what remained.

That’s some funky framing, y’all. The carpenters who built the house used rough and ready lumber back in the day. You can see a lot of wane, another name for barked edges on boards. For reasons that escape me some people enjoy dining tables and countertops with wane edges these days, although they call them “live edge.” Wane is considered a defect, people. I advise you to get off the euphemism train and buy a better table. Then again, if you listen to me too much, you might end up in a derelict house in an arctic wasteland. I did, and I often listen to myself.

If you inspect that last photo closely, you can see knob and tube wiring lying on top of the boards. Whatever fixture they served is long gone, and the insulation is nibbled off. It was all still live when I discovered it. For all I know, flying squirrel MDs had been using the two wires as a defibrillator for fellow rodents with hinky tickers. The wires were attached to the overhead lights in the kitchen. Right at this moment was when I decided to kill all the knob and tube wiring in the house dead, dead, dead, before I was. We didn’t have a single working overhead light in the house for a long time after.

Looking the other way, you can see daylight. Squirrels give themselves more easy outs than a T-ball team. I patched the molding on the outside, and put spray foam all along the inside of the soffits to seal out varmints and bees and drafts.

Let’s see if we can make something useful out of this place.

[To be continued]

Tag: fixing the pantry porch

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