Tuesday, January 31, 2012

It's been what???

A year.
A whole year.
365 days.

No, not since my last post.

A year ago on this past Saturday we set our signatures under tons of paperwork and closed on our Ugly Duckling. To our surprise it was a very anti-climatic event - no balloons fell from the ceiling, no confetti, no champagne corks popping - nothing - heck, we weren't even ceremoniously handed the keys to our house since they were still inside the lock box stuck to the doorknob at the house. Yet, despite all of that, this was the day the Ugly Duckling became ours.

Whatever it was that sold us on our little old house in Historic Springfield, it certainly wasn't the kitchen or the bathrooms. Nevermind the dirt, something spoke to us and both husband and I could see the potential in the old gal that we hopped in at the deep end and started swimming. We've been splashing in the pool of home ownership for a year now and it's been great. We've accomplished a LOT, first with the help of our contractors and their subs, then alone, and taken the house from drab and sad to a fresh new look with vintage touches.

While I've grown to abhor painting trim, I love loving on our house and can't wait to dedicate this year to bringing back a few more of its original characteristics.

But back to where we started. The photo two paragraphs up is from the original listing. That was the only picture in the listing so our first meeting was really a blind date. I managed to get a private sneak peek of the ground floor before our official visit when I managed to catch a painter at the house, painting the walls (the bank had decided to up their chances of selling the house by giving the walls a fresh coat of "swine." Fortunately we were able to see beyond the lovely shade of swine on the walls and other things.)

When we bought the Ugly Duckling, the interior did little to inspire awe and house envy. I mean, really, I look at these pictures now and can't help but think "Oh goody, what were we thinking?"

The downstair's kitchen

The upstair's kitchen

The livingroom

The guest bedroom

The bathroom upstairs

The Master bedroom

Our stair case

Hard to believe we fell in love with this place, eh? I mean, what for?? Whimsical Victorian? Nope. Lots of historic features? Grand style? No and no. All I can say is that the moment we set foot into our Little Old House we knew it was "The One."

Hook, line and sinker, y'know.

So we rolled up our sleeves, greased our elbows and went to work. And the Ol' Gal? She clearly enjoyed the attention and care we were lavishing on her, rolled beautifully with the punches and over the past year has become our Home. With a capital "H."

Our Guest bedroom in progress

Our stair case now

Our entry hall today

Living room at Christmastide

The dressing room and adjoining master bath, formerly known as the upstair's kitchen

Our dining room (actually the room in which we spend most of our days so maybe we should rename it to living room and call the living room "sitting room" instead)

Our lovely lovely kitchen

More kitchen (Hard to believe it's the same room, eh?)

Downstair's half bath

More downstair's half bath (and the world's smallest sink)

Our master bedroom in progress

Our Little Old House has come a looooong way, don't you think? We're nowhere near the finishing line but it's great to see what we've accomplished in a year. And maybe, just maybe this will encourage a reader that rescuing an old house and bringing it back to life is not just a green option but also very much worth it. And can be fun :o)

So raise your glasses and toast with us to another 12 months of living, loving, laughing, crying, cussing and diy-ing at the Little Old House! We love that you're along for the ride!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Where in the world is ...

Well, not Carmen Sandiego, that's for sure. I doubt that fickle lady with the shady reputation ever had a permanent address, let alone one in Historic Springfield. She would, however, make a great addition to our "First Friday" parties, don't you think?

With our first year anniversary coming up in just two more days, I thought I'd share a bit more histoy of our little old house.

The person I was looking for was the builder of our Little Old House and its sister houses to the left. All I knew up until about two weeks ago was that somebody named E.F. Rainey built four houses in Historic Springfield, including ours, at the tailend of the Springfield boom years. Three of those four are still standing today, and all three are inhabitated and in good repair, still sporting at least some of their original features, both inside and out.

After the holidays I wasn't feeling too keen on picking up the trim painting brush again (Surprise!) and instead buried my nose deep in census files, deatLinkh, marriage and birth records and generally went research-crazy over at Familysearch.org .

And guess what?
I found him!

E. F. Rainey is Edward F. Rainey. He and his three brothers moved to Jacksonville from North Carolina in the early 1900s to benefit from the building boom in Jacksonville. In 1920, Edward was 29 years old which means he was a barely out of the cradle and walking when he built those houses, ours included. Kidding.

So, Edward was 23 when he built the Ugly Duckling and its sister houses bringing along his crew in form of his brothers:
Jesse (also spelled Jessie), Edward's older brother by two years, listed as profession "Real Estate".
Virona Glenn, two years younger than Edward, was the painter in the family.
And the youngest, Joseph, must have been barely released from his apprenticeship when he worked as Electrician.

Electrician at 16 - scaaary! Then again, he must have done things right because the houses are still standing and didn't burn down. Lucky us!

Back then the band of brothers lived at Walnut Street, and while I have been able to find both Jessie (Jessie remained a bachelor until at least 1935 and lived at 1644 Main St.) and Virona Glenn (who got married to Ms Hazel Bonnie Southworth on February 25, 1939, in Riverside) in later years , Edward and Joseph have fallen off the radar and are eluding me so far.

I'm really excited to have found out about Edward and his brothers, and hope to dig up more about them to learn more about the people who built our house (and our neighbors' houses). With a little luck I might be able to dig up a picture of the house that has been lost over time. I wonder if it looks anything like the other three?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Almost 30 years ago

In 1985 a group of people dedicated to the preservation and recognition of the Springfield neighborhood in Jacksonville kicked off a huge undertaking: surveying and cataloging every historic structure in Springfield for the application for National Historic District.

Springfield Heritage Education Center, short "SHEC", is working on making these masterfiles and photographs accessable on their webpage, along with more history, anecdotes and photographs of Springfield through the ages.

Check out the webpage here.

If you like to learn more historic tidbits about our neighborhood and find historical houses and neighborhoods generally squeal-worthy, sign up for their monthly newsletter!

While I haven't been able to get my hands on our house's master file just yet, I was able to find the picture taken in 1985 for the historic district application. Woot!

There it is, our little old house. While the years haven't been too kind to the exterior paint job and it doesn't look as fresh and new anymore, it hasn't changed a lot. The wrought-iron railing had already replaced the original wooden railing (which is a bummer since I was hoping to maybe find a picture with the old railing intact), the Crape Myrtle and funny-looking loquats hadn't been planted yet, the door to the right was much uglier than today's replacement (Thank God for small blessings!) and the clump of lilies at the step-up to the front yard was already planted. Would you believe that these lilies have been there for almost 30 years?? I certainly didn't (and now I feel somewhat bad about wanting to move them).

Other than that, our little house looks like our little house.

After mooning over the old photograph for a ...ahem,while, I did discover one little detail that had me squealing with excitement. I missed it at first, but you know, you have to get a little up close and personal.

Closer still.

Do you see it?

Oh MY GOD! Leaded glass sidelights!

While our original entry door, bereft of its transom window, was already on the left side of the house, almost 30 years ago it had leaded glass sidelights! Aren't they beautiful??

Not only are they beautiful and I'm excited to have a picture of its past beauty, but this picture will be great proof of how the door originally looked like when we apply for the permission (Certificate of Appropriateness," short COA) to restore it. Woot!

I feel like dancing. How about you?

Friday, January 20, 2012

No more peekabo

We are very fortunate to live in a neigbourhood with great neighbors in general (SPR's slogan could very well be "Come for the houses, stay for the people)" and especially lucky to live on a block with really darling neighbors.

So in order to quit shocking them with the sight of unmade bed hair, lumpy PJs and other unmentionable sights from the inhabitants and to add to the winterization of our house (not like we're really needing it this year; the winter has been incredibly mild so far) I decided to take this window in our vestibule looking out over our front porch and into the street from this

[Bare-naked ladies inside and out]

to this

[Shade in place]

by adding a simple thermal roman shade. During the day this baby rolls up and out of the way (without any cords to tease and tempt the feline members of the family to get into trouble) and in the evening it rolls down, keeping what's happening at the Ugly Duckling in the Ugly Duckling. I still may add actual curtains to the windows in the vestibule but this works fine for now.

So far, this has been our only ...ahem, foray into the world of winterization. Luckily, this winter has been very mild compared to past years. We hardly had any freezes and cold days have bounced back to warm sunny days in record time. It's kind of hard to keep up with what to wear: you go from shorts and t-shirts to woolen sweaters and coats within a matter of days.

By now the weather changes happen so fast that even my weather migraines can't keep up anymore. That is turning out to be the best thing because rather than feeling every change in weather I have managed to skip one or two without feeling so much as a twinge in my head. Woot!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Peeking into the future

Since I'm chatting with our contractors via facebook plotting and planning a 2012 project, I thought I might as well post here a little doodad I threw together using Paint.

Quick and easy - that's how I like'em!

Behold! I present unto thee a future vision of The Ugly Duckling !

This vision includes replacing the current 1980s wrought-iron railing with a sturdier and historically more accurate wooden railing which will be safer and optically more pleasing, possibly a new fence with gentle swoops to both soften all and provide contrast to all the straight lines of our house and finally, the original door back in its original place by the porch steps.

This rendition does not include a faux transom window above the door (faux because our ceilings are dropped and would interfere with an actual transom). Ours got removed, most likely when the door was moved, but fortunately both houses to the left still have theirs and since the Ugly Duckling is an exact copy of one of the houses and almost 99% copy of the other, we know what its original transom would have looked like and are able to shamelessly copy them.

So, there you have it: our vision for what the Ugly Duckling should look like (plus a new coat of paint and maybe some landscaping) by the end of 2012. What do you think?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Gimme Grapefruit!

In our neighbor's backyard there grows a grapefruit tree producing fruit like there is no tomorrow. It's loaded with tons of big yellow grapefruit, and while the grapefruits aren't the pretty, pristine and uniform looking fruit you can find at your grocery store, they do taste the best.

This is the first time in my life that I will happily eat grapefruit.

These babies are almost as sweet as oranges, maybe a tad tarter than your usual orange and with only the slightest hint of grapefruit bitterness as an aftertaste. Simply delicious!

If you ever needed a reminder that anything that had a chance to ripen where it was growing rather than being picked green to mature in a box in transit, there you have it.

I've been searching the web for ideas on what to do with the bounty our neighbor is sharing so happily with us and aside from just squeezing one into a glass, pure and unadulterated, for a healthy drink to accompany my breakfast here are two winners:

Broiled Grapefruit (link to recipe here)
Then again, how can you go wrong with butter, sugar, cinnamon and oh, fruit? This is a great way of eating even the tartest Grapefruit!

Mulled Grapefruit Punch (link to recipe here)
This one is great for really juicy grapefruit. I managed to get two cups of juice out of 4 bigger ones and it made for a lovely drink to keep me warm on a chilly Florida winter night.

Got any other tried and true recipes using citrus?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Pi-Pa-Pocket doors - Part II

And it's back to the pocket doors (Although the yard is calling my name. Loudly. And the weather is gorgeous!)!

As excited I am about having them, I'm just not that excited about having to paint them. I know it'll be so worth it but after painting so much trim and so many doors already, it's one of those projects that I'm having a hard time finding the excitement for. Oh woe is me! *imagine dramatic hand to forehead pose*

Anyways, my pretty babies are now patched, caulked, sanded and primed and ready for some fresh paint. Here is a in-progress shot that shows the yellow patches of wood filler where I smoothed over dings and scratches on my second time around.

I then decided to venture on another detour before painting the doors and love a little on the original hardware. I globbed on some paint remover to get rid of some old paint built-up along the edges of the hardware, waited and scraped off the gluey mess.

As always, the first layer of yellowed off-white paint doesn't budge at all. That was quality paint, back then, I'm telling you. None of that wimpy Latex they are selling these days. After cleaning up the hardware I tried to prime around it. Yeah, well, that didn't work so great. There was just no good way of doing a good job painting around the hardware so after a few moments spent grumbling, I checked the screws, grabbed the right kind of screw driver and send a prayer to Heaven.

The escutcheons came off without a hitch!

I don't know what I expected to find underneath but I sure did not expect to see raw wood once I removed the hardware. And if the smell isn't fooling me, it's pine wood to boot. A quick sanding and after almost a 100 years, this spot received its first coat of primer ever.

Hier is a closer look at the original hardware from our pocket door. It's so pretty!

On the back you can see how shiny the brass once was. Over the years it has developed a beautiful patina.

Eventually, I did get around to start laying on a fresh coat of paint. Here are the first few shots that show the first coat going up on the dining room side. Of course, I'm still not finished. Tonight I hope to finish coat no. 1 in its entirty and adding coat no. 2 over the weekend. There's a German saying that basically says that "good things take their while" so yes, this is taking a while but it's looking good.

Did you paint anything lately? [<- See that? That's a trick questions :o) ]

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Porch Make-Over

Whenever something isn't working - whether that's some method of organization, the arrangement of furniture in a room, a schedule of activities - Time. Will. Tell.

Without fail.

And continue to yell at you until you get it.
And change it.

This is how I felt about our front porch arrangement: at first, things were working fine but one day, it began to accumulate clutter.


Things that needed to be put elsewhere (and instead of doing just that, we added a Rubbermaid bin to the porch and start filling it up.) but weren't. That also included old newspapers and empty guinea pig food containers.

We were happily headed toward earning the honorary title of "THAT neighbor", and our neighbors really don't deserve that.

Yesterday, everything came to a screeching halt. Coming home after picking up Little Man from the school bus stop, I just couldn't stand it any longer and rather than tackling one of the projects on the interior to-do list, I tore our front porch apart. I delegated Little Man to drag our Christmas tree to the curb and then asked him to help me to carry the monstrous guinea pig (we have two guinea pig ladies, Cookie and Brownie) into the back yard.

Yes, that's guinea pig manure on our front porch (since the porch angles ever so slightly down and away from the house, straw, food and other stuff tends to roll out of the cage all by itself). I know, I know. I told you it was bad!

[In-progress: The neighborhood cats are befuddled by the activity on the porch]

After removing everything that had no business on our porch, sweeping and hosing it off, I started to rearrange our porch furniture.

The only ones to use our bench are the cats. They clamber up and perch on the back of it to peek through our window. We assume watching us is like TV to them. People TV! Of course, if we aren't quick enough to feed them in the morning, there's much caterwauling to be heard and seen from this vantage spot.

I decided to unscrew it from the house (no kidding, it was screwed to the siding with 4 large L-brackets) and move it. My dream is to pick up a porch swing at some point but for now, the DIY budget is slated for other things so it'll have to wait. Instead, I moved the bench over against the railing of the side of our porch. Not bad!

I changed the angle of the old bamboo rug, then moved our patio table and two of the chairs to restore our porch dining area. Me likey! A lot! Even Little Man piped up with how much he liked the new look.

The little old two-tier shelf/side table went next to the bench, and voila! Done!

The remaining two chairs wandered over to the other side of the porch for a quick seating arrangement next to the entry. It probably won't get any real use but it's a good spot to keep the chairs in case we need to seat more people over at the table. Plus, I figure I can't take just shut down the porch kitties' People TV for good.

All nice and tidy. I wonder what the husband will say when he comes home? Heh ...

View from the entrance door: A simple, no-cost clean up and rearranging of porch furniture made this a much more pleasant space. Now, we're no longer "THAT neighbor" - phew!

Sure, we still have to power wash, skimcoat and paint the porch floor, replace the railing with a historically appropriate wooden railing, install a fence, paint the house and redesign the landscaping up front, but for now, for now I can live with it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


While the pocket doors are primed and curing, I thought I'd share my latest acquisition with you:

Remember this from the house at Walnut Court?

These little dust corners were an invention of the last decade of the 1800s and a simple and decorative means to simplify the housework: they kept dust from building up in the hard to reach corners between tread and riser and cut down on time necessary for sweeping the stairs.

These soft brass corners are held in place by a nail, and were either plain or sported an embossed pattern.

Decorative? Check!
Practical? Check!
Quirky vintage type detail? Check!

All those three check marks put this feature on my must-have list for the Ugly Duckling. While you can buy original dust corners salvaged from another old house, reproduction pieces are also available. I found them at "Van Dykes Restorers" (in sets of 12) as well as "The House of Antique Hardware" (individual pieces).
[source: Van Dykes Restorers]

"Lee Valley Tools & Veritas" even sells a modern version that is glued into corners (here) if you care for the practicality but not the vintage design.

Anyways, I'm thinking about ordering a bunch of these little guys for our steps. Maybe that'll help me tackle the stair case for good. What do you think?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Pi-pa-pocket doors - Part I

When we bought our Ugly Duckling of a House a year ago we didn't know that the original pocket doors between living and dining room were still in place, hidden behind an ungodly amount of caulk. It was like a belated Christmas present for us when we discovered them (you can read more about that here) soon after we started tearing into/out the non-original walls in the former entry and living room areas to restore the original floor plan.

After freeing them from their hidey-hole inside the walls, we continue to marvel at and love this original feature. For the most part they stay almost completely open with just a bit of door and hardware showing (this is how we love it best) but with colder weather moving in, they will allow us to create smaller, more intimate pockets inside the house to stay warm more easily in cozy rooms. Bigger isn't always better, y'know.

Here's what they looked like after I managed to pry out the left half. Gee, that was way back when the brick fireplace was still all bricked up and brick red. Oh, and the living room was painted that lovely shade of "swine" (which looked all the more pink thanks to the big red brick structure).

Shortly after that we created a big mess busting open the fireplace for a simple gel fireplace insert, painting the brick white (there's really no good way to remove paint from brick so we went with it and just changed the color) and the walls a beautiful warm dark grey a la Restoration Hardware.

A few days before Thanksgiving the husband decided that we should tackle the pocket doors. And again, life confirmed what we'd learned throughout the past couple of months: everything will take longer than on HGTV.

We scraped old flaky paint for the better of two days. In the end we decided that they wouldn't get finished in time for Turkey Day, I gave them a quick coat of primer so they'd at least be a uniform color and called it a day.

Fast forward 1 1/2 months ( I know, shame on me, but hey! Time flies! Especially over the holidays) :

Like a criminal I returned to the scene of my crime:

One fascinating aspect of primer is that it will point out to you the spots you missed during your first patching and sanding session. So rather than finally getting to paint the pocket doors I spied so many new old dings and scratches that I gave up, gave in and broke out the wood filler again.

It never ends.

Happy - for now - with my patching I then went for the caulk gun. You see, old trim is never just a one-piece deal. More often than not trim is an elaborate affair consisting of several simple pieces that together build up to a more complex piece. After scraping all that old paint and removing some of the old caulking with it, the seams between those individual pieces needed some patching as well.

Fortunately, I actually enjoy caulking :o)

Today, the pocket doors should finally be ready for their fresh coat of paint, and with a little luck I should be able to present them -all done and pretty - to you tomorrow. That is if my DIY ADHD doesn't kick in again and I get sidetracked, y' know ...

Monday, January 9, 2012

Rocking the Open House: Walnut Court

Whenever I look at the first picture, I'm rendered speechless that this historic house was not only condemned and slated for demolition but that the bulldozer was waiting just down the alley. There was some serious luck involved that the contractor who won the demolition bid was able to get the right people involved and stall the demo long enough so they had a chance to pull this house back from the abyss and turn it into the first ever, legally mothballed structure in Jacksonville.

Over the past couple of weeks many volunteers pitched in countless hours pooling knowledge and resources, to clean and prepare this Ol' Lady and on Sunday, we got to celebrate! And me, I'm happy to be able to share a few impressions from the Open House:

Condemned, my ...! Walnut Court all prepped and primped and ready for the party

Preservation SOS Info table

A detail that escaped my attention the first time around: dust corners. These are little brass shapes that are nailed into the corners of each step to keep the dust from building up in the corners thus simplifying the clean up. Aren't they neat?
[I think I want some for the Ugly Duckling]

Visitors enjoying the official tour lead by Nicole Lopez, president of PSOS.

Mingling in the downstairs dining room. Opening the bay windows

flooded the rooms with light, and the layout is perfect for parties.

The buffet: cheese and dips and crackers, oh my.

Thanks to the gorgeous weather, the party spilled naturally out and onto the porch.

And you know, it felt like the house enjoyed it just as much ...