What we’re working on now

Living Room with completed fireplace

As you can see, having a busy one year old has slowed down our progress.  Not only that, but we are a bit wearisome of plastering.  So, we are moving on to other things, smaller tidbits and outside work now that the weather is getting really nice. We finished up the light fixture and fireplace in the living room.  Bill had to rewire the light from its original 1890’s work and we polished it nicely.  I stenciled the ceiling and we hooked it up.  Next, Bill fitted cherry moulding onto the mantel to fit it around the pellet stove and put it into place.  All complete, whew.  The only thing needed now in there is floor refinishing.  We are looking into hiring someone to do the floors.  Not that we don’t want to do it ourselves, but we want it done really well and rather quickly with a little one.  It will be easiest to have them completed while we are on our winter vacation in December.  So, we’ll see.

I mentioned above that we have been aching to get to some outside work.  The past three summers at this house has seen us weeding, mowing, pruning and clipping desperately to get back to some sort of semblance of “trim”.  With over 15 years of almost no yard work outside, we’ve had a lot to combat.  This weekend, we started really digging into a flowerbed.  As this is the fourth summer we have lived at 60 West Main, we really want to plant a few things permanently, and I have been dying to have berries.  I love the idea of an edible, renewable garden, that attracts bees and butterflies.  Though I know little of gardening, I am starting somewhere to make this house beautiful on the outside and easier to maintain.  I started on a bed in the backyard, as it gets a lot of sun and I think it makes the most sense for edible plants.  Though the front yard needs work, too, I just needed to work somewhere that I walk past regularly.  And, I like to sit on the back porch in the evenings with Bill.  The whole yard will one day be a lovely garden, I’m sure.  Once the baby is up and ready, he will be outside with us, in a sandbox or pool, or digging for worms.  I look forward to doing that all together.  But honestly, a weekend with Bill in the yard was just what I needed.  You can see here how much we had to weed and de-rock.  And, there were a few wires to pull.  One wire goes under the entire yard to electrify the garage.  The other wire dead ended somewhere, but we believe it had originally lit a small raised bed that we pulled out at the beginning of the first summer.  I have a lot of weeds to pull out to complete this bed and a Japanese quince to trim, but I’m looking forward to planting raspberries and lavender here.  Possibly some flox and some bulbs of some sort, too.  We’ve been building a great compost pile for the past 2 years, so I’ll have some natural fertilizer.  Now the task will be to keep Heidi from digging.

First garden bed

Next on our list is to refinish some indoor furniture pieces and complete a set of bookshelves.  Really, the books are the only things standing in our way of putting a floor in the servants’ stair closet.  I’ll fill you in more on that project down the road.

You’ve been waiting!

Waiting to move in

That title implies that I would be showing you a completed nursery, right?  Well, it is complete to a degree.  The crown moulding is in, we’ve put down a carpet and the baby has moved in.  But, I’m still painting.  Yes, it does take me that long.  I’m working on a Peter Rabbit mural for the nursery and now that little guy is napping in there, I can only work in bits and pieces.  However, here are the pics of the room so far.  We finished painting the room a light turquoise and then readied the closets.  I decided to paint them a bit darker than the walls.

Mural in progress

Previously, we thought we could line them both with pine and/or cedar and call it done, but the expense kept us on the original plan just to re-plaster.  My father had removed all the wallpaper in them during the winter, so they were completely bare.  Bill re-plastered and built shelving and I primed and painted.  In the meantime, we shopped for a carpet.  To keep the dust at bay and the baby healthy, we have decided to wait on refinishing any floors right now.  Course, this drives Bill crazy, but it keeps us moving along on getting plaster work done. . . and has given Bill motivation to work on other wood projects (such as our mantel).  So, the room has a full rug, which was hard to shop considering the room is shaped like an octagon.  We ended up purchasing a rug that was custom cut. . .but the store had to do it twice to get it right because the room isn’t square!  Crazy hard.  All in all, it is a clean comfy nursery space at this point, but not as fun as it is going to be.

Hard at work

While I’m painting away on the nursery (and finishing stenciling in our bedroom), Bill has moved on to plastering the living room.  As you may remember, the ceilings have been sheet-rocked.  So, he is working on the walls and seams.  The woodwork in there is all cherry, which we love, but this will mean that any additional work we do will need to match.  Well, we would want it to match.  Eventually, we would like to do a crown/picture rail moulding in there to formalize it.  However, the main woodworking project we need to complete is the fireplace mantel.  It is currently pine, and we are thinking that it is original, but we aren’t sure.  It looks to simple to be Victorian, and yet, we found a matching mantel in oak online that dates to 1890.  So, we are debating whether to improve the piece we have by wrapping it around the stove more carefully or to build an entirely new piece that would go up the wall.  Any thoughts on that?

Nice window, eh?

My favorite thing in the living room is the side door.  It leads to the porch, which is the front porch that wraps around, but the door is mottled with shellac and old stain.  I love it!  I don’t want to refinish it at all, because the patina is so beautiful to me.  However, Bill might win out.  It should be refinished to complete the house and care for the wood.  Sigh.  (I like this door even more than the stain glass in the front window).

So, this is our current state. . . Hopefully by the holidays we can have a lot more done.  It would be nice to be in the living room by Christmas, for Will’s first.

the Living Room: Getting Started

Before we started. . . .

We are finishing up the nursery over the next month and I’ll post new photos of its completion once all of the furniture is moved and settled.  I’ll do some decorative painting before then, too, so it is baby-friendly.  I was thrilled to have time this weekend to paint as it was, and Bill spent the time putting in moulding and touching up trim work.  We’ll have to take a weekend off for work celebrations at Golden and then we’ll start sanding the floor.

In the meantime, I thought I’d show you the living room.  Bill has already put up the sheetrock on the ceiling, and we’ve cleared it out to ready the walls.  He will plaster and fill first as usual, but this room has fewer cracks than the others.  It was the one room in the house, we think, that the previous owners patched and painted.  The red color has made the room cozy in the winters, but rather dark.  The woodwork is cherry, so we won’t have to paint that.  We’ll clean it really well and oil it like the dining room.  We’ll have to work on the pocket doors, though, which will be a heavy task considering they have been used frequently and are so heavy that they drag on the floor.  Bill will also refinish the mantle and piece in some moulding to fit better around the pellet stove.  He also wants to refinish the side door leading to the porch.  (But, I sort of like that door, it is all cracked with old shellac and I like how it’s aged.)

Sheetrock in place, let the plastering begin!

This floor is extremely well worn, but we likely won’t refinish it for another year or two.  Will will probably be running through the house before we know it and with our long winters here, I might let him ride a scooter through the house during snow storms.  Best to leave the floors as they are for a while.

The chandelier matches the one in the dining room; original to the house and likely plated in nickel or pewter.  It will be cleaned as well as the stain glass window, which isn’t viewable from these photos.  And yes, I’ll paint or stencil in this room as well.

Of course I’ll be glad to show you process shots along the way.  It is our goal to have this room completed before Christmas, but we never know what will come our way.


When we were searching for a house roughly a year and a half ago, there were a few “must haves” Karyn and I each had. One of Karyn’s was a fireplace. Spending most of my life in upstate NY, I was both in favor of a fireplace and also knew that many homes would actually not have one so I prepared Karyn for such discoveries and encouraged her to also consider woodstoves or coal stoves as an acceptable alternative to which she approved.


When we first looked at our house, we quickly noticed there was a large brick chimney. Our first few steps into the main hallway, glancing into the living room, we saw that there was in fact a hearth. Much of the original tile work was intact however some tiles were broken or missing. The mantle had been “updated” unfortunately. No telling where the original mantle went, but the mantle here was likely installed 30-50 years ago.

Original Coal Fireplace

Upon closer inspection we quickly learned that the old coal fireplace insert appeared to be unsafe and likely not usable in its found condition. Worse so, the current tenants renting the house had used the fireplace with wood, which many would not know, is not smart. Chimneys designed for use with coal appliances like ours, are unlined and not suitable for wood fires which are high in creosote. The unlined brick can be permeable to creosote. A few wood fires will likely cause no harm however a heating season full of wood fires in an unlined chimney could be very dangerous. Luckily, it appeared there were only occasional wood fires burned here.

After purchasing the home, we had major choices considering the fireplace: 1. Try to locate replacement parts and fix the original coal fireplace or 2. Consider an alternative replacement such as a gas or pellet stove insert.

I researched replacement parts which was a bit like trying to find Jimmy Hoffa. I knew it was out there but finding the right parts was going to be difficult. I was able to find many parts, but not the two I needed. I had learned that the covers (of which I needed one) were often taken for their metal during WWII, leaving behind a fireplace that was usable. So finding a cover was going to be difficult and finding the exact type I needed only made the search more difficult.

In my research I found where I could purchase entire coal fireplace replacements, both original and remanufactured from original designs. Most popular were British companies offering such products. By the time I added the cost of the unit and shipping a very heavy, all cast iron fireplace from England to NY I figured out that I could build a new chimney and fireplace hearth, buy a new insert and buy enough wood to last several seasons worth of heat and still not be ahead so I quickly turned to alternatives.

Since we do not have gas lines in our village, considering a gas fireplace meant we would have to have bottled gas on site. Not being strictly opposed to this, I researched this option. While gas is much cleaner than wood, pellets or coal it is also the least efficient considering the dollar to BTU ratio. Coal being the most efficient (and the dirtiest) buys you more BTUs per unit followed by pellets and then wood. Oil comes in next and then gas according to the data I could find. Not feeling great about the dirtiness of coal, and after talking to several people who I know burn coal, I took a closer look at pellet fireplace inserts.

Karyn and I try to be reasonable and practical while also being conscious of aesthetics. Pellet stoves and fireplace inserts are notorious for being safe, economical and very plain or downright ugly in appearance. Our hearth is in our living room, a centerpiece of the house so we were only interested in something that looked authentic for the house.

Out With the Old

We found that in a Harman pellet fireplace insert, so out came the old fireplace insert to begin the needed hearth repair.

New tiles were needed so off to the tile store!

Choices became much more difficult however for those of you that have either done tile work yourselves or had the task of picking out tiles for a project and had the limitations of a realistic budget, you know that price starts to reduce your options. In other words: tiles are not cheap!

Our first tile choices by aesthetics alone would have caused us to sell one of our cars and one of my kidneys to afford so we regrouped and found tiles we liked, looked somewhat like the originals and at the same time, updated the hearth but maintained a neutral and authentic appearance for the room.

We did all the tile work ourselves. From leveling the substrate to sealing, all the tile work was handled by B&K Sweat Equity, Inc.

New Cement for Hearth

We started by adding a layer of cement board to the already present cement slab suspended by the floor joists and chimney which goes all the way to the basement floor. The cement board was then topped with a cement mixture allowing me to perfectly level the surface. I had to build mini forms around the hearth to contain the cement as it dried and cured.

Poured Cement Hearth

Once the cement was cured we were able to lay the tiles out and mortar them in place. Karyn measured and laid the pattern, a very nice harlequin diamond pattern with an antiqued glazed off-white boarder.

Karyn Carefully Measures for Tiles

Once all of her measurements were set and chalk lines were drawn I cut the tiles that needed cutting on my tile saw. We “dry fit” each piece before committing to mortar.

I had done many tile projects in the past including whole room floors, walls and countertops. I had done one other fireplace and hearth so I felt totally confident however knew from my experience that every project provides lessons as well. Our major lesson this project was around sealing and timing. The insert delivery and installation did not go smoothly. That is a story unto itself. However, because of the delivery and installation going less than well, it affected our timing of sealing. I decided to seal the tiles knowing the delivery and installation would happen shortly after so long story short, the sealer was not fully dry and got… well, effected by the work needed to install the insert. I had to clean and reseal the tiles later. Lesson learned: don’t rush things, there’s usually enough time later to do it right.

Tiles Cut and Set

Still not finished, our next tasks considering the fireplace will be to refinish and reset the mantle. The mantle width works perfectly with the new fireplace however the depth does not. The mantle is too shallow and will need to be extended towards the wall by about 6 inches. This will pose a nice little woodworking project for us soon!

Pellet stove inserted and toasting our home