Happy Thanksgiving from the Bonafide Farmer, who is thankful for the health and happiness of her family members and beloved friends spread near and far, her beautiful and hard-fought-for home, and safety pins and picture wire.
November 25th, 2010 § 0
November 19th, 2010 § 0
Remember this? This photo was taken last September, after I demolished the house I’d just bought. All that was left standing was the chimney.
Would you believe it if I told you I took this photo from the exact same location a bit more than a year later?
It’s true. The long saga of the chimney/fireplace/hearth/mantle/stove has finally come to an end. But just for fun, let’s revisit how we got here.
As the new house was built around the old chimney, the new floor joists raised the floor so much that the existing firebox was reduced to a tiny opening that not only didn’t look good, it also wouldn’t accommodate the stove pipe of the beautiful Jotul F3 CB wood stove that I planned to install (and that my parents gave me for Christmas). And I didn’t love the look of the boring red brick.
And when we dry fit the mantle I’d bought for the space, the old brick definitely wasn’t working. I had looked for years for an old mantle, and finally found one right in my backyard! The brother-in-law of the woman I bought the house from is a cabinet maker and does a lot of architectural salvage. He held a garage sale at the house before we closed on it, and I saw this mantle leaning against my well house. I didn’t buy it at the time, but I fell in love with it and it haunted me so much I tracked him down after construction was underway and convinced him to part with it. He did. He says it’s from an 1856 house he disassembled in Farmville, Va., and has its original coat of paint. I thought it was one of the most beautiful handmade things I had ever seen.
So, the old brick had to go, along with the previous owner’s gas logs. I had the mason remove the old red brick and rebuild the firebox to be taller using handmade brick from North Carolina. I remember showing up to the house after dark the night the masonry was completed and spending hours in the cold rubbing the hash marks out of the mortar by the light of a flashlight. I didn’t like the way they looked, and he’d done a sloppy mortar job, so with my bare hands I pushed the mortar into a state I could live with.
The mason also raised the floor of the firebox at the same time, and added several feet of chimney outside to accommodate the now-taller roofline of the house. Chimney before, deadending into the shed dormer in what is now my bedroom:
And after extension. The mason did a great job of matching the brick so the extension is hardly noticeable:
Back on the inside, the house was completed but I had a gaping hole for a hearth because I couldn’t decide how I wanted to finish it. I had the flooring guy run the hardwood up to make a border around the area I knew, based on clearance calculations for the wood stove, I would want for a hearth. But then it sat, a sad mix of subfloor and old concrete, for almost six months.
Until it started to get cold, and I got sick of such a major part of the house being unfinished. So I hired a guy to tile the hearth with black slate, my dad and I secured the mantle to the wall, and the next day I had a man come clean the chimney and install the wood stove. And I am thrilled with how it turned out.
Kitty seems to like it too.
November 10th, 2010 § 0
One of my favorite wild plants is Virginia Creeper. It’s that red plant in the photo below, which I took more than two years ago while wandering back roads in Central Virginia. I think it’s incredibly beautiful vine with an ideally shaped leaf and a gorgeous fall color range from green to gold to red.
I was lucky enough to have some creeper growing up my chimney, but in the course of taking the old house down and building this new one, I seem to have damaged my vine. On a whim I stuck a scraggly stem in a vase of water and set it in my kitchen window. I forgot about it until the other day when I looked up from washing dishes and saw a brand-new leaf, pale green and translucent. Maybe it’s not the end of my creeper!
November 8th, 2010 § 0
I don’t love this time of year, when the drive home from work in the dark is a twelve mile deer slalom with a pitch-black house at the finish line. When the moon is hiding, it’s so dark out here that I need a flashlight to find the front door. I walk unsteady up the driveway under the kind of disorienting black sky that opens wide above and makes me feel flipped upside down.
But the reward, once I am safely inside with lights a-blazing, is seeing my house in an entirely new (lack of) light. It’s so beautiful to me that I made pictures while a family of coyotes sang against the mountain.
Through my camera, I caught a glimpse of the soul of this house. Despite the darkness, it was shining.
November 3rd, 2010 § 2
Of all the fussy tasks involved with this house, the front door has been one of the most annoying. I estimate I’ve spent about 25 hours trying to get this thing right. And that doesn’t even count the numerous conversations with my builder before I moved in because he didn’t install either of my doors properly. The doors weren’t cheap—thousands of dollars each, and I’ve had nothing but trouble with them. Locks that won’t close, cheap weatherstripping, gaps between the door and jamb that let in light and cold air. Suffice it to say, I won’t be recommending Therma-Tru anytime soon.
But this post is really about aesthetics, so to that we go. The front door is a fiberglass door, and one of the reasons I bought it was it was “stainable” to approximate a wood tone. What a great challenge, I thought! How fun!
I did my research, ordered three colors of special gel stain from someplace in Iowa, made sample strips and a decision, and finally applied the stain.
And it was okay. Except for the unevenness and some weird blotchiness. The stain was ridiculously hard to work with, because it didn’t penetrate the surface and instead just sat on top and got gummy. Which meant that any attempt to “fix” bad areas just ended up making the problem worse. If I were to ever stain a fiberglass door again, and I hope never to be assigned such a horrible fate, I would quickly wipe the stain all over it and not touch it again until it dried.
I also didn’t love the dark color. Though it looked passably like wood, didn’t give me a good feeling when I approached it. Which is key! But I figured I could live with it if I could just fix the bad spots. So I tried to correct bad areas by taking off the stain, which required lacquer thinner and probably took years off my life, but no dice. I gave up and went to plan b, which was paint!
So that required a few days of playing with paint chips, and another $40 in Benjamin Moore sample pints. Luckily, among the three colors I chose to sample, I found one I thought would be okay. So back to the paint store for primer to cover the stain and a $20 quart of really nice paint.
And so I continued, dedicating an entire weekend to priming, and then last weekend to painting. The bad news is I am not thrilled with my painting skills, which require quite a bit of touch up that I’ve been doing every night after work this week. And the liberal use of my rationalizing imagination, which is protecting my sanity by telling me that my front door looks like it belongs on a 100-year old dream cottage, all banged up and caked with a century of loving paint applications.
But the good news is I love the color I picked. It is just what I wanted and what I should have just done from the start instead of messing with the stain.
In fact, before I built the house and was playing around with color combinations for siding, trim and door, this was what I came up with as my favorite. I even found an old screenshot I took of the Benjamin Moore Personal Color Viewer, where you can try paint colors on a house that vaguely resembles yours.
Pretty close, huh? Now I just have to muster up the strength to paint the inside of the front door, and then I can cross this odious project off the list.