Wednesday, December 24, 2008

what style is this?

After responding to comments from the last post I lazily submit this out of curiosity.

I see a lot of this style of home around here. I'm not really sure what you would call it -- it's (maybe not so) obviously victorian. The interior trim detail is of typical victorian flair. For lack of a better term I sometimes call them victorian foursquares although they're not really foursquare in layout. I've been in a few and they tend to have a long central hallway with a staircase on one side and the parlor, dining, etc on the other.

The upstairs tend to follow the same long pattern with a central hallway -- bedrooms on one side. Utility rooms are towards the rear. They can have full porches on both stories or just on the bottom floor. But the upper floor almost always has a full length window/door on one side of the house with two adjacent windows. Long and narrow with a dormer.

This one is very similar to the house in the last post. It's been converted into apartments, although it's in pretty good shape. So what is it?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

sentimental favorite

I'm not sure what it is about this house, but I love it. Yes, the front and back porches are falling apart but overall the home seems to be in halfway decent shape (the exterior at least). Most of the old homes in the neighborhood are constructed of brick so aside from the obligatory centennial repointing they are pretty much built like tanks. I guess that's why even when they're falling apart it's not all bad. I don't like the idea of singling out run-down homes that people live in, which is why I'll mostly concentrate on vacant/condemned buildings for the building of the week. I respect that people who do live in these homes might not have the means to fix them up. Instead, my intention is to inspire a local to see past the appearance of these dilapidated homes and have the will to rediscover the heart of the old neighborhoods. I fell in love with this neighborhood many years ago, how about you?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

picture this

I'm ashamed to admit the amount of procrastination I'm capable of. When we had our new heating/cooling system installed we decided to move the location of the thermostat to the other side of the wall to open up a nice piece of real estate in the living room. What was left was this.

I needed to fill this up with joint compound and smooth it out to the depth of the rest of the wall, which I admit from the pic above isn't particularly exciting. The pics below are what are the real prize, at least in my eyes. This painting by a local artist has been sitting around for the past year waiting for me to get off my butt to fill and paint the hole in the wall. I bought some picture cord and celtic inspired bronze hooks from rejuvenation which I think are pretty swanky. I think it complements the room with a touch of old house charm. You don't see that kind of thing anymore. Looking at the pics I think it might be a tad too high, but I'll let my wife worry about the aesthetics.

Check that hardware.. :)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

in the dark

So I'm washing my hands in the bathroom the other day and I hear a pop and flash down the hall. It took a second to register what happened, but there was glass on the floor amongst a red hot glow. It's not common for light bulbs to go exploding now is it? Remember how happy I was about the tulip shades I installed in the upstairs hall fixture? I'll be much happier when I know they won't randomly explode. Suffice to say, this little bad boy is getting rewired. A burned down house wouldn't make for an interesting house blog now would it? One look at the frayed wiring and it's pretty obvious why this thing never worked quite right.

I always wondered whether the fixture was original to the house. It certainly looked old and without anything else to go by I figured nobody would go through the trouble to put a fixture with missing shades that was old, but not 1914 old. Judging by the tag on the inside, it's plausible. After a little research, I found that Underwriters Laboratories has been around since 1894 so I can't dismiss the possibility. Certainly after getting these awesome shades I will treat it that way -- I love this fixture.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

chuco from space

Found this pic taken by an astronaut from space. Thought it looked kinda cool -- kinda crazy that some ~3 million people live here in the borderplex.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

downtown rant

Still working like a mad man, so don't expect much action here as far as house projects go. I have been doing some incremental things, but nothing blog worthy. I'm hoping I'll have a worthy update soon. Every once in a while I'll delve into issues that probably only concern people who live in el paso, so forgive me if my readers have to endure a boring post. I think I just need to get this out there and by chance someone who this does concern will stop to think about it -- and I hope it has a positive effect. Maybe my experiences with downtown revitalization will spark some conversation..

As most have probably figured out I live in an old neighborhood near downtown el paso. There are changes happening here, changes I think for the better -- however slow they may be. Depending on the day of the week, you may hear me flip flop on certain issues. Glass is half empty, glass is half full. But however you try to spin it, the residents of old neighborhoods like mine need more stuff. By stuff, I mean quality of life things. I don't think it's unreasonable to expect businesses to cater to people that do live here. Sometimes I feel like I live off in an island that the rest of the city knows nothing about (or cares).

I think people need to realize that you don't have to live "in" downtown to be close to the (hopefully soon) action. There are so many old homes in need of some love that are fairly reasonable costwise -- it disturbs me that people don't see the potential in what we have here. Without the neighborhoods surrounding downtown revitalized, downtown will never be what it once was unless a significant population moves there. And I just don't see that happening for a while. I live mere blocks away and it is absolutely shocking that I can count the number of places to eat at after 5pm on one hand that are within walking distance. No, I'm not kidding.

"How can this be" you ask? Not to say there isn't dining/retail/entertainment options within a reasonable distance. There is -- if you have a car. And therein lies my point. Where are the businesses that cater to the people that do live in and around downtown? There are other old neighborhoods outside the downtown area that are more well endowed in that regard. There is "stuff" out in those directions, but not really close enough to consider (for me anyway). They also don't suffer from the lack of investment and abuse that the neighborhoods bordering downtown have. These would be sunset heights, el paso high/houston park, magoffin, segundo barrio, union plaza, & san francisco dist. These are the neighborhoods that really matter when it comes to downtown revitalization.

There really is no retail/restaurant activity in any of these neighborhoods aside from downtown -- and the vast majority of that closes down at 5pm. Except segundo barrio -- I think it is pretty self sufficient as is and is beautiful in its own way. There is no "help" necessary, but I digress.

I'm a simple man -- I don't need much as far as amenities. But it would be wonderful to have somewhere to eat downtown that isn't fast food or fine dining. Again you really have to be open at night. If you want to revitalize downtown with actual living people, you can't expect them to make the drive elsewhere for dining/entertainment. Downtown is trying to make inroads with the entertainment thing with some moderate success. But aside from that, there isnt much else to do for people that live there.

You don't need fancy lofts or some luxury condos to make downtown alive again (both of which are in the planning stage here). The way I look at it is you have to start from the ground up. Making downtown some exclusive shindig is never going to get you an appreciable volume of people living there. And for that reason the revitalization will sputter along, if at all. We need places to live/work/play for the everyday joe not some planner's vision of who should live here. Downtown will look pretty, sure, but it will still be abandoned at night until you can get a bunch of people to live in and around the area. And the best way to do that is to make it nice,but not too nice so people can't afford it (at least at first). You make it safe (there have been some modest improvements in this deparment). And you give people stuff to do. And I don't mean clubbing or the theater -- I mean everyday things. Downtown suffers from an anxiety that it can only exist and survive during the day. We need to change this: one restaurant, cafe, bookstore, misc hangout at a time.

Rant over. I don't expect anyone to respond to this, but if you do thanks for reading. :)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

decrepit building of the week

Wow it's been a while -- Family life and busting my hump for the man have meant no time for house stuff the last few months. That's ok though -- after dealing with the house project it was kind of nice to not really think about anything house related for a while. Well not completely -- I always think about other houses. When walking through my neighborhood I often have a few favorites I obsess over, the ones that make me cringe, and the ones somewhere in between. I often say we live in a transitional neighborhood, but I guess sometimes the transition is a little slower than I would like.

And so without further ado, I've decided to start a little something called "decrepit building of the week". I don't plan to actually do this every week nor do I intend to focus on homes in my neighborhood. We'll just see what's decrepit enough to inspire me to blog about it. So let's lay down some groundrules.
  • gotta be decrepit (I think we covered that)
  • gotta have serious potential for a restoration
  • gotta be old (late 19th, early 20th century)
  • gotta be vacant (UPDATE)
I added a fourth condition after letting this one stew for a while.. First, I never considered the ramifications of posting about homes people live in. And while there are examples that fit the bill either way, it just feels downright sleazy. Heck, my house ain't the cream of the crop either. I'm fixing it up as I go, mostly because of budgetary constraints. So I understand and can relate to alot of the homeowners in the neighborhood who through for one reason or another have allowed their home to fall into disrepair. I do not however, have any sympathy for slumlords or owners of derelict, abandoned buildings. I reserve the right to at times rewrite some of my posts -- heck it's my blog. I thought this one in particular is a potential sensitive issue. I may never revisit this topic, but if I do I promise my readers that it will be fair and with minimal "attitude". And so without further ado, my first post:

My first installment fits each of those criteria very nicely in my opinion. It's a quaint victorian cottage with some nice detail. Does anyone know the story on this house? I've heard rumors (to which I have no real proof) that the owner started fixing it up several years ago. Brand new pella windows were installed, brick was repointed, new roof, etc. Allegedly there was a dispute between the owner & contractor. The owner then stopped all improvements and it has since been left to rot. The interior has been completely gutted as well. By gutted I mean there's nothing left -- trim, mantles, doors, floors. Zip. Looking in through the front door and you can see dirt where the basement would be. It's a damn shame.

Friday, August 22, 2008

ghettorific to splendirific

Well not quite there, but well on it's way. You may recall my introducing this decrepit old building here. Believe you me, it wasn't helping my property value that's for sure. So that's why I'm so happy to report it is finally getting some much needed love. Turns out someone did have the stones to see past this lifeless heap of a house/apartment building. It's been a long time in the making though -- I was starting to get a bit impatient when last year they put a new roof on it, but then any signs of progress fell silent. Until now.

Workers have been scurrying around the property for the last two weeks or so and have made up for lost time a bit. I'm not sure what they're doing inside, but I'm sure it's about time whatever it is. As for the exterior, the changes are subtle, yet significant. With the new roof it still looks like a condemned building -- all the pigeons still think so (note large white streak in gable). And despite the owner's best efforts to evict the pigeons that have called this place home over the years, they still love to roost here although far less than I remember. Not even 3 fake owls perched on the roof could dissuade them -- I think that's hilarious. They sure are persistent!

You'll notice the old divided light window sashes are now gone -- I'm sure most were beyond salvageable (although I did see them save a few). Now replaced with "double hung" vinyl windows, except for the two large front facade windows. They look a little too imposing -- I would have stacked them to at least simulate a double hung window, but it's still an improvement. The workers have also been busy scraping all the stucco off. It wasn't completely covered, but I'd guesstimate it was still nearly 40 - 50% of the building. From what I hear the owner plans to restore the brick, which would be awesome if they refrain from painting it. You can make out the apartment addition that was put up sometime after the original house was built. By the style of the house, which appears to be folk victorian, I'd say it was built sometime around the turn of the century and the addition was built not too long after. It's actually much larger than it appears in the photos.

Hopefully they keep up the progress and I can look out my window next summer and see a beautiful old building and not an eyesore. Looks like I won the bet..

Saturday, August 9, 2008

house project done

Well about 98% done -- there are still a few loose ends to tie up. And now for some DIY vacation.. :) Take a trip down memory lane so you can see what we started with.

The full after set is here.



Sunday, July 20, 2008

leaving well enough alone

I'm sure many a houseblogger has encountered the eternal question of leaving well enough alone. The alternative is subjecting yourself to what could potentially make your life much more difficult and will undoubtedly take longer than you anticipate. Worse yet, you could run out of steam halfway through and never get to finishing said project.. I don't think I would let the third scenario happen, but I could drag it out a very long time.

Above is a picture of my living room. There are a few things in this picture that I have on my long term to-do list. They follow in order from least to most difficult:

1. Fireplace: Seems to be in decent condition -- although I don't think it's been used in many years. We've been meaning to get it checked out & cleaned ever since we bought the place. We also need to get a new screen and tools. Maybe this year.

2. Pocket doors: These are some beautiful doors, but unfortunately for us we've never really been able to enjoy the fine craftsmanship. One door seems to have jumped the track as it is dragging on the floor. The other has a wood strip that drags along the trim casing along the top and it bends enough that we dare not open it anymore for fear of breaking it off. Moves freely though. Some realignment is in order -- I'm paranoid of screwing them up in the process though. Someday I'll get around to this.

3. Refinishing woodwork: I might have mentioned this before, but the trim in the living room and foyer have been screwed around with the most of anywhere in the house. I'm thankful it was never painted, however someone took it upon themselves to "pretty up" the original finish. You can see the mahogany-ish stain on pretty much all the trim under the ceiling. The box beams are even worse as all grain detail is pretty much obscured by the slathered on stain several shades darker. Neither of these finishes are original. In fact you can just make out the original color on the inside edge of the pocket door. If I were to refinish the wood in here, it would be the same stain as I finished the front door.

I'll probably get to the first two things in the short term, but the third one on my list intimidates me. I know if I start screwing with it I've pretty much committed myself to finishing it. I like having the interior rooms in a somewhat acceptable shape, particularly the formal rooms. So what do my readers out in cyber world think?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

backyard upgrade begins

This is something I've been putting off for far too long. I've been somewhat guilty of letting the yard go a bit in anticipation of tearing it all up anyway. I had some vacation time this week and decided now was as good a time as any to dig in. First thing was exposing the concrete slab that was being covered up by the screening. This will need to be removed before I can lay down some fresh sod. I had encountered the edge of it when planting the oak tree right next to it, so I knew I had my work cut out for me.

After a little time with a jackhammer, the concrete was busted up pretty well, although I'll probably have to revisit it since I only got the top layer off. I wanted to concentrate on the patio, so I moved to that next.

Most of my time was spent prepping the area that'll get pavers laid on. I needed to excavate as much as 6 to 8 inches in some spots in order to get the pavers at an equal height. You can see the remaining chunk of the slab is getting a much needed facelift. This is taking longer than I thought.. I think I'm going to need more material too as the new patio is going to be bigger than I initially thought. Wish me luck that I'll actually finish it this week.. at the current pace I wouldn't count on it.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

bucket 'o hardware

I've been working on the door hardware for the project house for the last two months or so. A batch here, a batch there. The pieces here are ready to find their way back into their rightful place. It was fun seeing the transformation of some pretty rough looking hardware using what I like to call the stuccohouse method. Much props. :) Hopefully my hard work will be appreciated for years to come..

Saturday, June 28, 2008

some cool houses around the corner

The project house is coming along slowly but surely -- our definition of a week keeps getting skewed abit, but that's ok. It'll be done when it's done. I've had my eye on a few homes nearby, partly to satisfy my infatuation with victorian homes. The irony being that I don't live in a victorian home, nor does my wife have aspirations to live in one. In fact we could not be more opposite. My ideal would be a monstrous queen anne and hers would be a quaint arts & crafts bungalow. Oh well. I'll keep chipping away at her.

In the meantime, check out these two houses. This smaller red brick home is currently on the market (although it already has a contract on it). That's one thing about this neighborhood -- homes for sale can flounder for months or be off the market within a week. The original porch has been altered with the excessive use of brick. The original wooden column pilasters are still there though. It wouldn't be too difficult to rebuild the porch to what it originally looked like. There are plenty of examples nearby to use for inspiration. I'm optimistic the new owners will take it to the next level -- it could be a real gem with a little TLC.

This other house I think qualifies as a queen anne (although devoid of a turret), and I can't help but sigh everytime I pass by it. It has so much potential and the overall design is impressive. Maybe someday I can call this (once) stately building home.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

the final push

They say the devil is in the details -- I think I'm inclined to agree with whoever came up with that. It's been a little hard seeing all the progress we've made (seemingly at light speed) only to have it come to a slow crawl the past few weeks. There are several reasons for this, ranging from our contractor is starting to transition to other jobs and the stuff we've been procrastinating about for the past few months actually needs to get done. Like now. Despite the slowdown in our progress, we've mandated the final push to get this thing done already -- meaning house done by the end of next week or bust. Cross your fingers..

Friday, June 6, 2008

exterior paint done

The curb appeal of this house just got a major shot in the arm.. :) It's not totally done -- there's still a little touching up and window re-glazing to go. But I still think it's looking pretty sweet.. More pics here.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

house painting

Here's some pictures I dug up of when the house was getting it's new coat of paint. If you'll recall, the paint scheme we went with should complement the house well -- being a historically accurate color combination for an arts & crafts home. The change is drastic, it suddenly went from a house that was easily overlooked to one that demands attention. On a side note, the house is actually already painted but I think posting in a chronological order is more entertaining. Check back soon for updated pics.

Exterior painting in progress here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

old tub refinished

I wish I had some pictures of this tub after we demoed the bathroom, but you'll have to take my word that most probably would have just tossed it. It was a rusty mess. The guy who turned it into what you see now did an amazing job. We were anticipating having to replace it with a reproduction clawfoot tub, but it's always nice when you can keep as many of the original features of an old house that you can.

This beautiful old pedestal tub feels right at home against the subway & hex tile. It almost makes you forget what the old tile looked like. It was painful making that decision, but I think we weren't left with many options. All in all, I think this bathroom is going to make a huge impression -- makes me wish I could redo my bathroom. Sigh. :)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

stairway coming along

Ah progress. Gotta say the staircase in this house is giving my house envy. We took on a huge undertaking by deciding to restore key aspects of the original stained woodwork in this house, but I'm so happy we did. Kudos to our contractor who was pretty patient with our high aspirations with this house. I think it will all be worth it in the end. The color in the foyer is also from the sherwin williams arts & crafts (interior) collection. I think it looks awesome.. :)

Some more in-progress photos here.

Friday, May 9, 2008

two republics life building pt2

Remember my reminiscing about the former office building good ol' Mr. McBroom had his lawyer's office at? I could have sworn that the Two Republics Life Building was long gone. Of course going by what I thought was the office address from an old city directory here, I was pretty sure I was right. Well thankfully I was wrong. Turns out the building is still standing and in decent shape, albeit in a somewhat altered form. The facade has been screwed around with, but the elaborate cornice is still intact as is some of the decorative stone detail on the bottom half of the building.

 I finally figured it out when I came across an old downtown photo that shows the building just like it was in the postcard, but a few blocks south (aside from the obvious "Two Republics Life" sign across the side). If it wasn't for the cornice, I don't think I would have noticed. I can just see it's screaming for someone to yank off the facade additions and expose what's left of the original brick. Why can't I have a ton of money and fix up entire buildings? Ah, I can dream..

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

exterior paint

We finally decided on a paint scheme for the house exterior. It wasn't easy, but we decided to go with some colors from the sherwin williams arts & crafts color palette. The main body color will be roycroft suede and the major trim color will be aurora brown. Since we can't change the color of the window sash, white will be the minor trim color. Visualize if you will..

Monday, May 5, 2008

popcorn ceilings gone

It's a good day when you can say your ceilings are popcorn free. All the rooms in the house now officially meet that standard. It's a good day. Since plaster & lathe(smiths?) are hard to come by nowadays, modern day rehabilitation most likely has to settle for drywall. I'm sure it's a heck of a lot easier to put up, that's for sure. I wonder if in 20 years popcorn ceilings will be revered. I sure hope not.. Updated pics here.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

refinishing wood trim

This was something we debated on for weeks, mostly because of the insane amount of work it would take. We decided to go with exposing the original dark stained finish in several key spots around the 1st floor. Check out that little pass through door in the dining room -- could this house be any cooler? :) Some in-progress pics here.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

fireplace reveal

It took a while to get around to it, but we finally got the original fireplace exposed. It's pretty drastic the difference in style. Honestly it looks a little more classical revival than prairie or arts & crafts, but I love it. Any opinions on the style? There's some trim missing at the bottom & top that we got to figure out how to replace/replicate. Part of the hearth has been ripped out too. We had it checked out by a fireplace guy & he said it was originally coal-burning. There isn't an access door for the ash on the side of the house so maybe he's right.

Updated pics here.

Friday, April 25, 2008

replicating trim

I think a big part of bringing back that old house charm with the project house, to the top floor at least, is replicating all the wood trim that had previously been removed. Luckily our carpenter was able to hit these spot on. So good in fact, that after painting it's hard to tell what's original and what's new.

Check out some updated pics here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

incremental landscaping, pt2

The first part of this series showed some of the minor improvements I had planned for the front yard. This time it's the back yard, which needs the most help by far. This huge pile of fine landscaping rock called screening is my arch nemesis. It's about 4ft tall by 10ft wide. I absolutely hate this stuff. In the overview pic above you can kind of see a rough outline I'm trying to carve out of the screening. This will be filled in with new sod and a new patio will be built along the rear wall.

And here's my pride & joy. It doesn't look like much right now, but someday this shumard oak will tower over my house and provide invaluable shade during the hot summer months. If you'll recall, the west texas sun can be brutal and the rear windows took a beating before I restored them. It's going to take more than a few years, but I think it will be so worth it. There's nothing classier than an oak tree -- this variety is said to be drought resistant and loves full sun. It's perfect!

Monday, April 21, 2008

incremental landscaping

On my path towards getting my landscaping to a respectable state, I brought home some stuff from the local nursery. I've mentioned in the past my dislike for the amount of xeriscaping here, so now I'm finally doing something about it. I forget the names of what I brought home, but they're native and they fall in line with a landscaping master plan I had approved by historic review. It doesn't look like much right now, but the ground cover grows like weeds, so I'm sure I'm going to be hacking it back in 6 months.. :) The problem with landscaping your home in nothing but rock is that all that stone acts like a massive heat sink, transferring all the heat to your home. And out here in far west texas, we can definitely appreciate keeping cool.



Sunday, April 20, 2008

demo done, rehab begins

And so begins this house's second lease on life. The basic idea for rehabbing the upstairs was to move a wall back to its rightful place, restore most of the wood trim, repair the walls, & fix the rear porch. The bathroom was a major focus too. It's coming along nicely. Slowly I can see it turning from something that was mostly unappealing to a real gem. It's exciting going over at the end of the day to see the progress that's been made.

Some more in-progress pics here.

Friday, April 18, 2008

nice view, eh?

Continuing on with the demo phase of the project house -- here's a few pics of sunlight hitting the sleeping porch. I'm sure it's been many years. As is representative of my neighborhood, there are a mix of architectural styles ranging from victorian, classical revival, arts & crafts. Even a sprinkling of postwar homes that somehow got tossed into the mix. I love the beadboard detail in this porch. It is going to look awesome when we're done with it.. :)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

heating & cooling done

Well we finally got this little side project done. The old AC unit is no more and we got a new furnace. Unfortunately, I didn't read my estimate closely enough to notice that replacing the ducting in the basement wasn't included. Ouch. Lesson learned.. We'll probably do it eventually, I'm hoping sometime in the fall before it gets cold. The condenser at ground level is huge -- it's a little distracting. Fortunately it's towards the rear of the property. :)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

heating & cooling upgrade

I've been waiting to upgrade this contraption for some time now. For the uninitiated, this is called an evaporative AC unit (a swamp cooler). You see these used in dry environments with little humidity. It works by running water over a fibrous element and blowing this cooled air into the house. Think of it working like how the body uses sweat to produce a cooling effect on the skin. Ok, regional AC lesson over. Since this home was retrofitted with AC later on in its life, the upstairs would only ever feel any cool air during summertime. The ducting for this unit runs through the attic with ceiling vents carved out in the four rooms upstairs (that's also on the to-do list). Meaning there was no AC on the 1st floor.. When it got hot enough, the old unit didn't work very well so this will be a welcome upgrade. We're finally ripping this thing out for good.

The plan is to upgrade the furnace to a modern unit and replace the old AC with refrigerated air. Since I hate getting on my roof for any maintenance, the condenser is getting placed at ground level. Yay! Here's what the old furnace looked like. It wasn't the original, although it probably dates back to the 60s.

When we first bought this house more than 2 years ago, the ducting was absolute crap. The first floor would get marginally warm and the upstairs was always cold. The basement felt like an inferno. Over the course of each winter I've tried to tighten up the ducting and replace the actual duct tape with the stuff you're actually supposed to use (I forget the name). I insulated some of the worst sections too. This helped out tremendously and lowered our gas bill in the process too. But alas, the novelty of my patch job must come to an end. This is all getting replaced with brand new insulated ducting that should be energy efficient for some time to come. Following are some more pics of the tentacle-like ducts that branch out in all directions in the basement.