Archive for the ‘Chicago’ Category

Delta Ramble

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

Don and I went on the AHPA Delta Ramble the end of March, and then I spent a while thinking I couldn’t upload photos so an entry about the trip was just frustrating. Now that we’re about to do two (!) house walks this weekend, I wanted to get this entry out of inventory.

Neither of us had been to the Delta in years. In 1993, I stopped in Cotton Plant, AR and did some antiquing, while on my way from Raleigh to Chicago via Magnolia, AR, but hadn’t been back, except to drive I-40 to Memphis after my grandmother’s memorial service. (Considerably cheaper to fly Chicago to Memphis than Little Rock that trip.) Don has been to Memphis (to see Graceland), but never been on the Arkansas side of the Delta.

The stretch of I-40 between Memphis and Little Rock is supposed to have the highest ratio of trucks to cars in the country, and you could feel it. The interstate felt like a washboarded gravel road. The water was (and is) still high in the White and the Mississippi. Nobody knows when it will recede.

Despite the rain, we had a great time, visiting the train depot in Brinkley (now the Central Delta Depot Museum and one of the last examples of a “union” station” in Arkansas), eating barbecue from Shadden’s Grocery* in Marvel, touring Helena, and seeing a great Italianate, Palmer’s Folly, out in the wilds near Blackton.

shaddens-bbq-marvel-ar.jpg helena-ar-cemetery.jpg palmers-folly-through-the-bus-window.jpg

We went to the Louisiana Purchase State Park and squished our way across 950 feet of board walk through a swamp to see a granite stone marking the site where the 5th Principle Meridian and a baseline intersected. This point was the basis for the surveys of Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and part of South Dakota. The actual site was ignored or lost from 1815 until the 1920s when two witness trees were found, which pointed the way to this swamp.


In Helena, we visited the Delta Cultural Center, the Moore-Hornor House, the cemetery, and shopped and toured Cherry Street (more architectural salvage — arts & crafts sconces for outside). We had a great dinner in the Pillow-Thompson House.

My camera seems to have focused on floors and finishes. I was especially excited to discover circle tiles. (Not hex, although the grout makes them look like hex.) I saw some in the Washington County [AR] courthouse, and have never seen them anywhere else. Until now. Aren’t they great? Anybody know where I can get some?




(OK, those last two are square tiles, but I like them, too.)

* Shadden’s was reviewed by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette** last spring, as part of a barbecue road trip through the Arkansas Delta. Don and I thought then it would be neat to go out that way, but we hadn’t yet. Apparently, Shadden’s is famous even farther afield since an Austin columnist knows its barbecue. And John T. Edge does, too. The internet is an interesting place, where you learn about the Southern Foodways Alliance in Oxford, MS just by following links from one place to another. (The SFA is hosting a field trip to Chicago to showcase Southern Food “up south.” Ever hear of a mother-in-law sandwich? Me, neither. And I lived in Chicago thirteen years. It seems to be a tamale in a hot dog bun, and part of Southern Food up south.)

**The Dem Gaz story doesn’t seem to be online, but this is a related piece. Note that there is a recipe for Shadden’s sauce. It reminds me that I still need to do another entry about The Band. Maybe I’ll save that for another day.

Share on Facebook

Adventures in Salvaging, Part 3: Craig’s List

Monday, November 19th, 2007

So the Little One is out of school this week, we don’t own a house (yet — maybe next week), and we need to do something, anything.  What to do, what to do? 

I started checking out Craig’s List, got bored with Fayetteville, and moved on to Chicago (and Dallas and, well, anywhere in between).  In Chicago, I found:  (1) a mess of salvaged divided glass cabinet doors  (11 doors plus for $120), (2) two Rejuvenation craftsman sconces for $120 (list $174 each), and (3) salvaged quartersawn oak hardwood flooring for $4/square foot.

An advantage of having a SAHD is that he can go to Chicago if the fancy takes him.  An advantage of the fancy taking him this week is that the Little One is out of school and can go see Grandma and cousins with him.  So, a few emails and phone calls later (plus 12 hours on the road to get there), we now possess a mess of doors and two sconces, and the promise of plainsawn oak flooring, delivered, in December, and the Little One has had a good time at Grandma’s.  Now to get them home again.  (Salvage and family, both.)

Quartersawn is sold out.   The flooring guy salvages floors for a living and has to come to Arkansas in December anyway, which would save us a trip with a trailer.  $3/square foot for plainsawn, I think, plus whatever we negotiate for delivery.  (When we pulled the quartersawn ourselves, I think we paid a dollar a square — that was hard work, and not exactly convenient to Arkansas.)  We’re thinking we’ll pull the downstairs floors out of our house, and use them upstairs, and install oak in the living room (or perhaps throughout downstairs) to cover up/resize the huge floor grate.  Anyone else in Arkansas want some salvaged hardwood flooring?  We could probably work out a deal for volume.  (And the turn-of-the-century stuff is pretty easy to work with — it’s much longer than what you get now, and the flow is so much nicer.)

I can’t wait to see the salvage — Don says the cabinet doors were rescued via dumpster diving from a condo conversion, and the un-installed (NIB!) Rejuvenation sconces came from a beautiful Victorian, whose owners are going to Thailand to do something for the Department of Justice (I think).  He says the finish is nicer on the sconces than in the picture (below).  I don’t seem to have saved the Craig’s List photo of the doors, so we will have to make a separate post later.  (The doors are destined for either our pantry or kitchen, depending.)


And the Little One was so exhausted last night that she missed me and wanted to come home.  (I miss her, too.)  She played with her cousins from 7:30 a.m. until 8:30 p.m., when they had to go home.

Share on Facebook

Chicago Gardens (Eye Candy)

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

When we lived on Howe, we liked to go to the Old Town Art Fair and Garden Walk. And the Dearborn Garden Walk. And the Sheffield Garden Walk. We loved seeing inside gardens we wouldn’t otherwise see, and we loved seeing what you could do with a small space. Here are some pictures of some of those gardens.


Flowered pot with flowers by fire escape ladder


Chicago Cow on Parade resting on balcony (aka Farm in the Zoo by Carol A. Sitzer)


Somebody’s jewel of a front yard


Front yard detail


Rooftop terrace (as seen from alley)


Gold Coast terraced backyard with neighboring wall of impatiens


Share on Facebook

Our other houses, Part 4 Ashland house (Italianate) genealogy)

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

 lp_finished_exterior_07.jpgSo this is our orphan Italianate, all dressed up and waiting for a new family.* The house genealogy I’ve done confirms my belief that it is considerably older than the 1893 date used in the listing papers.** (The town incorporated in 1893, so that may be where that date comes from.) The Italianate style is a bit uncommon for our town. We know of three in the immediate area, while there are dozens of Queen Annes, four-squares, Dutch Colonials, center entry Federals, and bungalows. I assume the relative scarcity is due to the age — by the time our inner Chicago suburb was being developed after the Chicago Fire, Italianates had gone out of style.  Also, some of the Federal style houses may be Italianates stripped of their gewgaws.

It presently sits on 1.5 lots, and in 1885, it was the only house on the block. The deed from that year refers to a number of lots [6 or 12] sold for a relatively minuscule price, which included a barn and a house. The land and house were sold at auction after the mortgagee defaulted on a loan.

The next house on our block was probably built in 1887, based on the sale of some land to Mrs. Lyon — her house is kitty-corner behind ours. (I’m working from memory because my house genealogy notebook and clippings are in storage.) Her house is a Queen Anne/farm style. Most of the other lots were sold in turn by about 1930, except that our house’s owners kept three lots until about fifty years ago.

By the turn of the last century, our Italianate was home to a stone merchant and his family and it probably occupied just those 3 lots. (There was a limestone quarry less than a mile from the house. Our study/dining room has a lovely fireplace with limestone “bricks” which I speculate came from the quarry.) After his death, his wife and children stayed in the house for quite a few more years.  He was a Christian Scientist, probably a founding member of the local church, and when he died, Avery Coonley*** of Riverside preached the funeral from the house.

His widow apparently made something of a living as a professional whistler. (Not this kind of Whistler, although I understand that his peacocks would have been noisier.) She went to Chautauquas**** and would whistle bird songs and the like. Eventually, she married a minister (Episcopal? American Baptist? I forget, but not Christian Science; it’s written down in that house notebook) and moved back East.

After that family sold the house in the 1920s, it was owned by several (4? 5?) families over the next thirty years. Often, they had a boarder. The second upstairs bathroom was there quite early as there was a clipped advertisement in our house file for a boarder, and it mentioned the private bath. At one point, a piano teacher lived there. Her student concerts were in the double parlor.

Then, in the 1950s, the owners sold 1.5 lots (the corner lot plus half a lot) to our present neighbor Caroline who built a nice ranch on it. Just before 1962, the owners remodeled a bathroom or two, installed olive green sculptured carpet throughout the downstairs, and sold it to our immediate-past POs, who lived there until 2005. Mr. PO died in the 1990s, Mrs. PO stayed there another ten years while developing dementia. When we bought the house, she had moved to a nursing facility nearby.  Several of their children still live in the area, and one lives just a few blocks from us.

* We’re hoping our orphan will soon be adopted!  We have a signed contract with people who had been waiting for their house to be adopted.  We are in the inspection, attorney review stage.  The full house inspection is today.  (Already had bugs inspection and radon inspection.  They waived lead testing.)  Will be holding breath until later in the month when/if we close.

** Our local historical society has a phenomenal set up. They have for years clipped articles from the local papers and filed them by address. So, if you want to know something about your house, you go there and ask for your house’s file. I had the file for our Italianate long before we had closed on it. (I just wish I had an ancestor who lived here so I could do some easy person genealogy.)

*** Yes, that Avery Coonley. Don and I have toured part of the Coonley estate during a Riverside house walk. Coonley had Frank Lloyd Wright design it and it was apparently Mr. Wright’s favorite Prairie style house.

**** My own great-grandmother and her father (my great-great-grandfather) used to play violin at Chautauquas.

Share on Facebook

Our other houses, Part 3 (A quick look at Kensington)

Monday, July 30th, 2007

After we decided to sell our place on Howe, we bought our house on Kensington in the inner suburbs of Chicago. It’s Stick construction, with a Queen Anne-like porch, and an Eastlake staircase. Because I can’t find most of my photos (packed up somewhere), I’ll give you more interior details later.

We fell in love with the front staircase. It was the best Eastlake one I’ve seen. (Although the Anderson mansion in Carlinville, Illinois was close.) The front stairs had a hand rail that was curved to match your hand grip (instead of being round or oval), and Jenny Lind like balusters, with trefoils along the top, just under the hand rail. (Who knew there were Jenny Lind musk melons?) A pain to dust, but beautiful with Christmas garlands. Under the stairs were built-in drawers with ornate bin pulls and a coat closet with original wallpaper. The oak pocket doors worked. The dining room was big enough. We had a stair hall. And a parlor with a bay window. The upstairs had quartersawn oak flooring. Our bedroom had a bay window and a little sitting room. The dining room and the guest room also had bay windows. Oak trim downstairs, pine up. Original hardware. Walk-up attic. And the stained glass was wonderful. We had at least four stained glass windows. It was a perfect Christmas house.

ch-ext_2-2.jpgKensington house front

ch-ext_1.jpgKensington house (rear addition)

However, the kitchen was worn out and so stupidly arranged that the fridge door opened into the stove — which had electric eyes that tilted to the extent that scrambling eggs was difficult. The downdraft exhaust didn’t.  It had approximately zero linear feet of counterspace, and it was dark to begin with, and it didn’t help that the sole light source was a tiny chandelier with blue shades on the candle lights to block any light it might manage to produce. There were 1.5 bathrooms, and the only full bathroom had a slippery slipper tub on a small ledge four inches up from the rest of the bathroom. (Nearly lost both my husband and my father when the tub threw them out. At separate times. They weren’t bathing together. I promise.) A beautiful, comfortable tub, but a horrible shower. Especially before we removed all the draperies surrounding it and shortened the shower liner that was covering half the floor of the tub. Our bedroom was the only one with a closet (although it was a walk-in closet), and had a vinyl wallpaper that had brown spatters on it. (I worried a little that they might be old blood stains.)  Our roll down shades were rotten. And, when we moved in, there was old cat poop in the draperies in the sitting room.  Ick.  We were the house nearest the tracks so we couldn’t sleep with our windows open. The back stairs were dark, steep, and without a hand rail.  All the sort of things that can come with an old house.

So we wound up putting on an addition, adding two bedrooms, a full bath, a functioning kitchen with a pantry, and making plans (with our architect) for a master suite in the walk-up attic, but we sold before we got upstairs — a story for another day.

It was allegedly built in 1893* — probably by Franklin D. Cossitt, the man responsible for developing most of La Grange. It was a rent house for much of its early life. One of its former tenants was with his family on the Eastland when it went down July 24, 1915 and 844 excursionists died. He and his family survived. (There were a lot of people from La Grange on the Eastland because Western Electric (the sponsor of the boat trip) was located in nearby Cicero.**) Even after it was no longer a rental, it had a high turnover of owners. We were the third in probably five years when we moved in.

*I suspect it was built earlier because Eastlake/Stick style was out of fashion by 1893. (1870-1890 is the usual range of dates I’ve seen.) From what I’ve seen, 1893 seems to be the default date for Realtors’ listings in the area.

** We just saw a local production of Guys and Dolls, and learned that Big Jule, the visiting gangster from Chicago, was from Cicero.  Small world.

Share on Facebook

Our other houses, Part 2C (After North Howe roof deck)

Friday, July 27th, 2007

Please click through — these are some of my favorite pictures. (Except for the last one — not too flattering of me, I’m afraid, but feeding people on our deck was something we really enjoyed. Our last summer on Howe, we had a big crowd over for the Chicago Air & Water Show, and that was FUN. Only problem with roof deck entertaining was, if you forgot something in the kitchen, you had to go down 1.5 flights of stairs. And back. Maybe I’ll be able to track down those Air Show photos some time and post them — the planes whooshed right overhead. Don shot something like 6 rolls that day, and I lost my will to put them into albums. Which means that the Little One is sorely lacking in albums of her extreme youth.)


Our roof deck from the top of our stairs (the second summer)

roof-deck-at-dusk.jpgThe view from our shed looking east (and down), the first summer

looking-sw-on-roof-deck.jpgLooking southwest on roof deck

ne-corner-of-roof-deck.jpgLooking northeast

Roof deck dianthusRoof deck dianthus

mosquito-copper-sculpture-in-columbine.jpgColumbine and copper mosquito (garden art)

pots-near-center-chimney-on-roof-deck.jpgPots near center chimney

roof-deck-with-family.jpgFamily on deck (niece, father in law, me).

Share on Facebook

Our other houses, Part 2B (Building the North Howe Roof Deck)

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

The roof deck was the thing I liked best about our townhouse. We were in the middle unit of a three-unit building, and we had the only roof deck. Very private despite being in the middle of the city. However, it was a big expanse of worn out decking surrounded by exceedingly dull benches; the roof leaked; and the sole water source was via a hose connected to a faucet 2.5 stories below in the “front yard.” (The “front yard” was maybe three feet deep by 12 feet wide. It had a pink dogwood and some tired ground cover. The dogwood was lovely, actually.)

Roof deck before

First we demolished the roof deck and replaced the roof.

This was complicated by our townhouse neighbor. He didn’t want our roofers to use the easy access side for moving roofing materials on or off the roof. He preferred that they haul the materials on the south side of the house — the side that was less than three feet from our neighbor’s house — the side that was so narrow that Don could climb up the house by placing his feet on our wall and his back on our neighbor’s house and shimmying up — chimney climbing. (He worried that they would damage the dogwood. He didn’t care so much about the three gas meters on the other side.)

He also objected to our roofers not speaking English. (In point of fact, they did speak English fairly fluently. To me. A ploy that I hope someday to be able to use somewhere, but probably won’t since I don’t have a second language.) The chief roofer called me about the problem, but I was in a meeting I couldn’t leave so I sent my secretary. (She was a good friend and tougher than I was, anyways. She was married to a cop and didn’t take any nonsense from anybody.) I’m not sure what was said, but the roofers continued to work and to use the sensible side for accessing the roof.

hanging-compressor.jpgAfter the roof was replaced, the deck guys came. They hung the air conditioning compressor from the rafters so they could install new decking. (When we bought the place, the compressor was inside a shed on the roof. Yes, inside. So, when it was blowing hot air, the hot air just stayed there. Forever. Or at least until winter. Periodically, the compressor would stop in protest. We improved the design by putting in decorative arbor-like rafters over it, which allowed it to be shaded and ventilated, and removing the front wall. Couldn’t do anything about the wall behind it or beside it.)

Roof deck with sleepers The deck guys put sleepers across the roof to nail the flooring to. (You can see the gap around the roof drain. They built a removable tile to cover the drain, yet allow us to access it for maintenance.)

Chimney framingThe deck builder was something of an artist. He suggested laying the cedar decking on an angle (or two angles so it was v-shaped). He routed the edges of each piece so they were slightly rounded. He sheathed the two chimneys in cedar, as well.

roof-deck-window-box.jpgHe was nervous about the height of the side walls, and suggested putting a fence on top of the walls. I suggested the window boxes. I think we both had good ideas.

As for the water supply, we had the handyman who did our bathrooms the next year run a supply up to the roof. Complete with a winter shut off valve, it was perfect for us. I had it split so I could have a permanent drip irrigation supplying my window boxes and pots, and still have a water source for hand washing or whatever. It was on an automatic timer, and watered the pots several times a day. (Repeated shallow watering was necessary because I was container gardening up on the exposed roof — I wouldn’t water that often if I had a reservoir of soil for the plants to hold the moisture.)

Next entry will be the after pictures.


Share on Facebook

Our other houses, Part 2A (North Howe Kitchen Storage)

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

The townhouse I bought on Howe was intended for just me, but one thing led to another, and I wound up getting married and having a husband and his two cats and his stuff move in with me. Don sold his Cape Cod in Munster 24 hours after it was listed (around Thanksgiving), and his stuff and cats joined me between Christmas and New Year’s. (He stayed with his folks for the most part until we got married President’s Day weekend. Good thing, too. I was in crying hysterics over all his stuff on New Year’s Day. Because we were having the carpet replaced in the basement before installing the Murphy wall bed, I didn’t have a single place to sit that wasn’t covered with his stuff, and he was at work, eating bagels and cream cheese due to the Y2K hullabaloo.)

The marriage resulted in us having even more stuff — Besides doubles of all the usual household goods (two vacuum cleaners, two coffee pots, two blenders, two coffee grinders, two sets of china, two sets of silverware, two sets of pots, four slow cookers, knives by the dozen, four linear feet of cookbooks, and cookie sheets and pie plates galore), we had to go back to register for additional wedding gifts because our friends cleaned out the registry. I think we had sixteen place settings of our everyday china, twenty mugs, twelve sets of crystal, not to mention an entire set of Good Grips from Oxo.  Those Grips may be Good, but they are bulky. This excess of good fortune meant that we had to get clever about storage in the kitchen.

The kitchen itself was a small galley. One long side of the galley looked into the living room and the other was the west wall of our townhouse, shared with our neighbor. The kitchen, powder room, and living room comprised the first floor. (Look-out or English basement with wall bed, fireplace, full bath and laundry down a half flight of stairs; two bedrooms and full bath upstairs. Roof deck on top.)

The south exterior wall of the townhouse was less than three feet from our next door neighbor’s house. (Don did some chimney-style climbing there once.) So, the view to the south was essentially their siding. Ummm, nothing special to say the least, but sunny. So, Don installed shelving in our living room and kitchen windows, thereby stopping the eye before reaching the siding and getting the gigantic Good Grips out of my drawers.

Kitchen window shelvingKitchen window with built-in shelving

Living room window shelvingLiving room window with built-in shelving

He also installed a place to hang our wine glasses above our east-facing cabinets. (Hint: Take the crystal down while demolishing the bathroom upstairs, or the vibrations will jiggle them loose into a zillion pieces.)

Crystal storage and wine rackCrystal rack

He even added kitchen storage to our coat closet. (Hooray for Elfa and the Container Store’s regular sales thereof! We’ve reused some of this Elfa in four houses now.)

Elfa shelving in closet just north of the kitchen.jpgCloset with Elfa storage for kitchen and coats

We also had a four-foot baker’s rack, with a butcher’s block top that kept even more pots and pans, but we don’t have a picture of it from this house. (We used it as our kitchen for eighteen months in the orphan Italianate. You can do a lot with four feet of kitchen if you don’t put your microwave on it.)

We also had a magnetic knife hanger which got the knives off our countertop and out of our drawers. (Loved it, especially after Don took a knives class from The Chopping Block – Valentine’s present from me. He also took a series of Building Block classes there. He came home most every time with a new tool or spice or both. The lemon reamer was a good addition to our tool set.) The Little One might now be old enough we can hang our knives on the wall again.

And a spice rack from Ikea, also shown in the picture below. (Loved it. Tried desperately to find one like it for our Kensington house, but didn’t succeed. It was just the right depth that spices didn’t get lost. I still had another drawer of spices, but this helped so much.)

Knive rack and spice rack (Ikea)Knife rack and spice rack (Ikea)

Getting things out of kitchen cabinets and into spaces that weren’t being used sure made being married easier.


Share on Facebook

Our other houses, Part 2 (North Howe)

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

After I sold my apartment in the Churchill (and stayed briefly in a small loft in the Cobbler Square Apartments, purportedly an old Dr. Scholl’s shoe factory), I bought a place on North Howe the week before I met Don in September. It was not an old house per se, but it was in a neighborhood of old houses (and new McMansions) and it turned out to be old enough that most of its systems needed replacing.  (Big clue:  The air conditioner quit working during the inspection.  Turned out to be a slow Freon leak.  Decided it was easier to replace the Freon every 18 months or so than to replace the compressor, which was 2.5 stories off the ground.) Our townhouse was built in the 1970s and looked more like the older new house at 1811 North Howe than the McMansion next door in the Then and Now pictures linked above. This links to a pretty bad picture from the Cook County Assessor.

By Easter, our relationship was at the point that Don and his father painted the whole interior (except the one bedroom I painted before my 2nd date with Don — I obliterated the cute ducklings and faux sky all by myself — the rest of the house had been painted  ceiling white, and it irritated Don).  Over time, we gutted two of the bathrooms, replaced a flat roof and roof deck, had a water source run up to the roof, installed (and reinstalled after the roof and deck were replaced) a drip irrigation system for all the pots on the roof, considered replacing the a/c, built lots of storage, changed out the washer and dryer, and … Anyway, the place had a new look when we sold it in 2001, after we’d been married a year.

Share on Facebook

Adventures in Salvaging, Part 1

Saturday, July 21st, 2007

Today is about our very first professional salvaging experience (besides amateur events like salvaging materials from our own remodel).

Over the last four years, we have developed a reputation for having some skills in salvaging materials. Our best score was never-painted oak window and door trim, baseboard, and a beveled glass door that fit our front door space almost perfectly, although I still regret that we couldn’t pull an all-nighter and gotten more trim and Don regrets that we didn’t take the second door. (The house was torn down at 8:30 a.m. the day after we were invited to salvage it.) But, that’s a story for another day — a day when I can find the pictures I took of the house (a Dutch Colonial) before/while it went down.

The first successful salvaging I remember was 400 sq ft of quartersawn oak flooring (and a sink or two). We’d been working our nerve up to do salvage for a while. I’d stalk the Murco web site for good salvage, and I think we’d been to one or two auctions, but hadn’t bid. I guess it was in late summer 2003 — I would have been out of commission in summer 2002, and I was back into it by fall, but it was too hot to be fall 2002.

One Saturday, we drove up to Highland Park, hoping we’d score some bluestone. As it turned out, the bluestone was mortared in place and it bid up too high anyways, so we passed. However, as long as we were in the ritzy suburbs, we thought we’d go through Kenilworth.** While we were there, I saw a house salvage sign. We followed the signs, and found a Queen Anne mansion waiting for us. I went in — we had the baby and didn’t want to take her in so Don stayed with her — and discovered the mother lode of quartersawn oak flooring. We had narrow quartersawn in our Kensington house, and needed more for our addition to flow seamlessly. I asked the price ($1/square foot, cash) and went out to tell Don. (I’d gotten a quote for having it milled new at $9/square foot so we were living on subfloors until we had the money.) He agreed it was a great match.

The challenge, though, would be in removing it. The house was coming down on Monday, we’d never pulled flooring before, and here it was Saturday afternoon already. So, we did what any sensible couple would do. We stopped at HD, found a helpful employee who introduced us to bullnose pliers*, and told us we’d just need prybars to get the flooring out, and then went to visit Don’s folks. His mom agreed to watch the baby on Sunday, and his dad offered to cut church and go with us to pull floor. (He was a trustee of the church — cutting church was not in his nature.) We spent the night, borrowed Don’s brother-in-law’s truck, and drove north Sunday morning, with me hoping all the way that the flooring hadn’t been sold.

Of course, it hadn’t. It was the hottest weekend of the year. The house had no electricity, and had never had air conditioning. (In fact, even if it had had power, central a/c had never been installed. In hindsight, the house was in only moderately worse shape than our orphan Italianate. But the Italianate was a couple of years in our future.) Being near Lake Michigan didn’t help one tiny bit. It was not cooler by the lake that day. The flooring had been under carpet for years, so there was rotting carpet (and rusty tacks) to remove before we could get to the good stuff.

It turns out I am totally lacking in floor pulling skills/muscle, but I can pull nails and organize flooring pretty well. The three of us spent the day pulling flooring or pulling nails. It was early evening, and we still hadn’t pulled all the flooring we’d bought, when Don’s brother showed up. He was fresher, and we got the full four hundred square feet plus we’d bought out of the house and onto the truck.

While the rest of us were collapsed in a heap under a shade tree, Don’s brother was making friends with Frank the salvage guy. (Frank had lent us his specialized floor-pulling tools — prybars that had been bent into an L-shape — so I think he was already fond of us.) He bought the washer and dryer (for a rental apartment), and discussed the fate of the two very early 20th century pedestal sinks in the house. Now, on Saturday, Frank was asking more than a grand each, so I’d put them out of my mind. By Sunday evening, he had no buyers and they were going to be crushed by bulldozers in the morning, so he sold them for all the cash we had left ($100 each). Don’s brother bought one and we bought the other. We haven’t found the right house for ours yet, but my dad saved it from the local contractor recently, who (with good intentions) offered to pitch the sink into the dumpster with the other construction junk. Gack.

I later checked what the Queen Anne had sold for. $1.3 million as a tear-down. The new construction that took its place went for at least triple that or, in local lingo, “upper brackets.”

After we got home, we spent the next week or so pulling nails whenever we had the chance. I sorted the wood by length. I wish I would have further sorted it by whether both ends, the left end, or the right end was missing the tongue or the groove as that would have helped installation go faster, but I was years from installation as it turned out. (Tongue in groove flooring comes with tongue on one long end, groove on the other long end, and a tongue on a short end and a groove on a short end, which makes for an ever tighter installation. However, during installation, one of the ends is cut off when you reach a wall. And, during removal, one of the ends may be damaged and require removal.)

We wound up moving from our Eastlake/Stick house before we installed the flooring in the addition. Instead, we put it into our kitchen and had professionals install it in the front hall in the orphan Italianate. If you click through, you can see that it refinished beautifully. (Dusty, too. Will try to take an undusty picture of it before/if we sell the house.)


I suppose the post on installing it is for another day, but, in brief, we relied heavily on the Taunton Press books and video on wood floors. (The book and video were a Father’s Day present one year.) We had very little waste from our installation. Probably less than 5% (two grocery sacks) for the kitchen, but I took my time to find just the right pieces and we had very long lengths to choose from (up to fourteen feet). I don’t know how it was for the professional installation since I wasn’t there. I would expect more waste, but more haste, too. We didn’t end up doing the refinishing ourselves, due to the rush to get out of the house.

* Well, I’m sure that’s what they were called, but I couldn’t find a good link to illustrate and ours are still at the orphan house. They’re pliers with a rounded bit (like a claw hammer) so you can use some leverage to pull the nail on through the wood and out the back.

** Kenilworth is the ritziest of the ritzy suburbs of Chicago, a small planned community (2500 people, planned in 1889). The median price for houses there has been above a million for years and its median household income is $200,000. (For you non-tech people, that means that more than half the households gross $200k each year.)

Share on Facebook