The House: Week 1

If, anytime in the next eight months, you find yourself wondering, “Where is Emily? Why is she such a slack, good for nothing, lazy blogger?”, just think of this.

Or this…


Or this:


Welcome to our new home: a 3,000 square foot, 1890 Victorian/early Arts and Crafts Four Square, in Crafton, PA. Once the lovely summer home of a well-to-do Pittsburgher, it was turned into an up-down duplex sometime in the 1940s (we think). Lots and lots of remuddling went on then. More remuddling went on in the years that followed. Now, it’s ours. Yay.

Over the next year (or 10), my husband and I (with the help of some awesome contractors) will attempt to restore the house to something of its former glory…but with modern perks like electricity, air conditioning, and a kitchen on the first floor (in the original plan, the kitchen was in the basement…and I’m not that much of a purist).

If you’re sensing any irritation in my tone, you’re perceptive. We’ve been in the new house for a full month now, and a delay in our contractor’s schedule means we’ve accomplished the following: 1) Rewired the second floor; 2) Stripped most of the upstairs bathroom of the navy bluish, dark grayish paint that a previous owner used to cover all the beautiful, century-old subway tile.

The rewiring is actually a big deal. The electric work in the house is almost as old as the house itself, and another previous owner decided it would be a good idea to blow in insulation (a.k.a.”kindling”) into the walls. Only by the grace of God has our life here not turned into a scene from “Firestarter.”

Soon, however, demo begins in earnest. So, before then, I want to give you folks a little glimpse into my own particular form of stupid: paying too much for a big old house that needs more work than I imagined…and I knew it needed a lot.

So, the tour.

You’ve seen the outside. It needs a new roof. And new soffit and fascia. And repointing. And all sorts of other help. It’s not pretty. The entryway, however, sort of is.


Pardon the night time shot. It was the best I could do. And note: I did say “sort of.” The door and sidelights are great. They need some painting, but they’re still great. Someone, however, ripped out the transom long ago. On the outside, they put a classy piece of stained plywood in its place. Inside, they just drywalled over it. Thanks to the magical land of eBay, though, we found a decent looking and appropriately sized replacement, so someday the door will be whole again.

This is the front staircase.


I know what you’re thinking: “Not Bad.” But, there are some problems. When the 1940s remuddling happened, they closed this in, straightened it out, and took away every ounce of character. They also made the house much darker, blocking off the light from the huge landing window. Along with that, they made it impossible to hear anything from upstairs if you’re downstairs or vice versa. Someday, that might appeal to me. But right now, I prefer restoring it to putting in an intercom system: we like to shout and be heard in this family. So, returning the staircase to its original beauty (and replacing the vinyl landing window with stained glass) is part of Phase 1 of the renovation. Barring acts of God or bankruptcy, it will be back to its old, open self by early summer.

See this wall?


It doesn’t belong. It was put up when the house was turned into a duplex. The whole thing is going. Bye-bye!

Now, for the living room.


Don’t mind the Victorian armoire. It’s currently blocking the horrible faux stone fireplace, put into the house sometime in the 1950s or 1960s. The armoire will someday be in the new kitchen (pantry!) and the groovy fireplace will be replaced by an awesome Victorian one I found at a salvage yard in Youngstown.

Here’s the wall that’s going away from the other side.


In the ceiling, there’s also a beam we have to shore up. Seems some previous owner thought it a good idea to take out a load bearing wall and put nothing else there to support the upstairs. Why not, right?

Behind this wall is the dining room.


Back when horses were stabled outside, there was a big grand opening in the middle of it, with pocket doors. But, that was (badly) plastered up when the dining room became a bedroom in the 1940s. It’s getting opened back up soon and, if we can find some, pocket doors will go back in.

Here’s the 486,000th reason why no child under the age of 12 is currently allowed in the house. Safety first.


And before anyone starts saying, “What nice floors!”, please pause. They’re mostly not. What hasn’t been eaten by termites, was slathered in polyshades and made extra shiny for show. Up close, however, most of the floors look like this.


And this.


Next, the downstairs hallway.


During the Days of Remuddling (DOR from now on), the ceiling was lowered, the servant’s staircase taken out, and a bathroom put in. The hall leads to what was the dining room and butler’s pantry (but became a bedroom, bathroom, and dining room during the DOR). The entry to it will be reduced to its original size, the ceiling will go up, the bathroom will come out, and a kitchen will go in on one side. On the other, we’re opening up the wall to the dining room.

It’s complicated. But someday, it will be done, there will be pictures, and all will be made clear.

Here’s the first floor bathroom.


This is one of the decent things a previous owner did. Not my taste, but not bad either. Regardless, it’s in the middle of the first floor, and we need this space for our kitchen. It’s going too.

The former butler’s pantry. Soon to be a kitchen.


Nice cabinets, right? They’re going back in the dining room where they belong.

The once and future dining room.




In addition to opening up the wall between the dining room and living room, we have two other walls that need knocking down here—the faux wall erected during the DOR to form a closet, and much of the wall between the dining room and future kitchen. The china cabinets that were ripped out during the DOR  will go back on either side of the fireplace…which will go back to where it once was (where the mirror is now), and salvaged stained glass will go in the window frames above the cabinets. I am very excited about this room. So much pretty. Someday.

Before then, however, we have to deal with this happy section of the dining room ceiling.


Yes, those are pipes, sticking out through the wall and into the dining room. They need to go back into the wall from whence they came. I like the industrial look, but not that much. There’s also a slight matter of termite damage in the right hand corner…under the plumbing. And some huge chucks of the main support joists that the genius plumber during the DOR decided to just take out. Because again, who needs those? This was a special corner, full of hidden surprises, discovered after we moved in. I’m thinking of selling a kidney to deal with this section of the house alone.

And now we come to the “kitchen,” where I currently sort of, kind of do this thing that approximates cooking.


Once, this was a back porch. Then, in the DOR, it was closed in to become the kitchen for the down duplex. I wish it were still a porch. The faucet drips. The stove only partially works. And the exhaust fan is broken, so the steam rises from the stove, condenses on the microwave, then sweats back on the cooktop below. Appetizing, no? There’s also approximately 4 square feet of counter space, and the wind blows in through the ancient slider on one side and out through holes in the wall under the cabinets on the other. Chopping has become even more dangerous than normal for me. Frozen hands don’t do the nimblest things.

Someday, the kitchen will be a mudroom with a stacked washer and dryer and a half-bath. I have always liked having a laundry room in the basement—everything was much more out of sight that way—but I’ve never had a basement that scared me.. Now I do. So, undies drying in the mudroom it is!

Then, on the other side of the slider, we have…


It’s true: you can take the girl out of Steubenville, but you can’t take the Steubenville out of the girl. This little slice of hillbilly is brought to you by a garage packed to the gills with our belongings and a basement soon to be packed to the gills with contractors. Sometime this summer, it will go a little less Appalachia and become a den. Until then, the neighbors are loving us.

This deck is also going.


It’s unsound. It’s unsafe. I look at it, and visions of children, cracking their heads open, dance in my head. Later in the summer, we’ll build a small new one outside the mudroom. A french door between the two will then replace much of this  8’x6′ piece of fancy.


By now, you may be wondering…why did Emily and Chris buy this house?

We are wondering the very same thing. So, let’s remind ourselves.

There’s the cross in the front door.


Almost as good, there are martini glasses in the china cabinets (!).


And there’s that pretty stained glass window, previously featured, in the dining room.

Also, after we spend about 8 gajillion dollars, the place will give us tons of space for hosting our friends and their dozens of children. (Okay, I exaggerate. Catholic hack writers and diocesan bureaucrats don’t earn enough to fund 8 gajillion dollar restorations. But let’s just say I won’t be drinking the good gin anytime soon.)

Other pluses: the two-car garage, long driveway, largish backyard, and relatively flat slope of the property. These are the rarest of rare finds in Pittsburgh.

Also important: the awesome houses on our street.


Bill Cowher once lived here. Seriously. Second house from the left. I didn’t know who Bill Cowher was before we bought the place, but Chris tells me for Steelers fans, he’s kind of a big deal.

Lastly, location: .8 mile from Chris’ work, a 7-minute drive in traffic to downtown, and an easy 40 minutes back to Steubenville (plus friends within walking distance!).

Oh, and one more thing: We found the house on the last day of a novena to St. Joseph. Then, the owner accepted our offer (after 5 weeks of haggling and waiting) on the last day of a novena to St. Therese. We keep reminding ourselves of this. With those two in our corner, it’s bound to turn out well eventually.


Honestly, I’m still not sure if this good list balances out the bad, but it is why we did it. That and “Oh dear Lord, We Sold Our House Even Before It Went On The Market And We Need To Get Out NOW” desperation. Desperation makes you do crazy things.

I had thought I’d have time to show you the upstairs, but duty calls. Come back tomorrow for the second part of the tour: the second floor and attic, which we like to call “Home Sweet Home”.

25 thoughts on “The House: Week 1

  1. Alexandra says:

    Oh my goodness, it’s gorgeous (well, will be)! I am a sucker for old houses, so I’m swooning over some of the original bits of your house. I lobbied hard for my fiance to buy an old fixer upper when he was looking, but he was too afraid of ending up with a firetrap or unending money pit. Your street is so full of character – your house will be a true delight when the reno gets going.

    I’m having some serious house envy over here!

  2. Renee says:

    All I can say is..good luck and keep your sense of humor. Your vision for the place shines through your words and I’m looking forward to seeing the progress!

  3. Patricia says:

    The windows alone in that house would have made me want that house too. It is a diamond in the rough, you will have a beautiful house! Someday, lol! Best of luck to you and your husband.

  4. Shelly says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post and am excited to follow your progress. (My background is in architecture and I’m currently part owner of a Design-Build residential firm in the midwest.) You seem to have realistic expectations about the level of work that will be required and “gajillion” is a real word, ha ha! Best of luck to you guys… keep us posted!

  5. Angelique says:

    Wow! It’s going to be gorgeous, but wow, that’s a lot of work! I’m going to go on ahead and steal the term “remuddling” for our own use. We also have a house built around 1905 and a lot of “remuddling” has happened here too (not quite to the extent of yours, but enough to make me both simultaneously grateful for the air conditioning and scared of what lurks behind closed walls.) Fortunately, we still have most of our original stained glass and beveled glass, original inlay floors, original doors with hardware, and giant porch. Some of these items need some attention, but none of them are so badly damaged they need to be replaced. I don’t know that I personally would have the intestinal fortitude for the task ahead of you! Best wishes in your endeavors!

  6. Jane kilmartin says:

    Love it! It’s going to happen, face it all together and remember no part of the remodel is worth stomping your feet over. Use the phrase “we’re camping “a lot, and let it all wash over the top of you.

  7. Ashley says:

    This is amazing! I can’t wait to see the progress! New flooring in our bathrooms almost killed us so I commend you. Also, why? Why would people do such awful things to such a beautiful house? So glad you are resurrecting it. And I am impressed by Bill Cowher. Good luck!

  8. Annie says:

    I’m finally back to regularly scheduled blog reading (and writing). This started my day out with a bang. Loved it and look forward to following the progress.

  9. Claire says:

    Woooooow, man.

    BUT, but!!! I can see the awesome under there, and you are going to bring it out in full force. You’ve done it before. There’s no race here; you’ll chip away at it. And when you are done (-ish,) it will be amazing. Really — it will be just plain glorious! Plus, it’s a mutual project, and a wonderful way and place to build a life together.

    I personally think Pittsburg is very underrated. Not a sponsored post, I’ve never lived there; just think it flies under the radar and is a really great town.

    Keep us posted when you can. Good luck, it’s a great and worthy project!

  10. Ree Laughlin says:

    You are a brave soul! I look forward to following this project. My daughter and her husband are doing this in Oregon by themselves with little contractor assistance. It’s been two years and they are still married, so I call this success.

  11. Mariette Ulrich says:

    Congratulations on your courage! Best wishes that the work will go well. I love love love old houses… renovation, not so much. (We’ve been fixing our house these 18 years, and it’s not even a labor of love–it’s a 1975 split level. ) Your house will be stunning (in a good way) when finished.

  12. Gail says:

    Thank you for your house tour and details of future plans. Thank you also for sharing your faith.
    I will follow your blog with interest and will glean inspiration. God Bless you both.

  13. Sad in this ungrateful post says:

    Interesting project and it will come together. I wish you the very best. However, may I say “first world problems” and take out the whiny, spoiled brat attitude, which is sprinkled with a spirit of ingratitude and total worldliness. The poor (or even the working poor) would rejoice in having a roof over their head. You and Chris can surely work and build a nice home together, no one takes that away from you. Please take it down a notch. And find a voice of gratitude.

    • Emily says:

      We’re working on that gratitude thing. Some days, though, gallows humor helps with it all. Sorry if you can’t laugh along with me or if my tone offended you.

    • lenetta says:

      I didn’t get that tone at all myself. A lovely house, lots of big problems to get through, and someday you’ll have many stories to tell as you enjoy the fruits of your labor!

  14. Sad at this ungrateful post says:

    I see comments are moderated. That is ok i don’t mind if this does not show up in the comments, I do however hope that the challenge is taken. I usually like your work.

  15. mayva says:

    It would appear this will be a huge undertaking. May I suggest watching ‘The Money Pit’?
    Best of luck and it will be interesting to ‘watch’ the progress!!!

  16. Margo, Thrift at Home says:

    It has such beautiful bones and lovely old touches!! I am the proud owner of an 1880s Victorian that we bought from a slumlord 15 years ago (we found that she had NOT repaired the leaking sewage pipe in the basement as she said she would before closing – so that was our first money-suck. . . .sighhhh). Our renovations are mostly done and they were worth it!!! Keep reminding yourself of why you bought it. Our location in our city is superb – park, library, church, school all just literally minutes away by foot.

  17. Woman of the House says:

    I think it was a good choice. The light and momentary affliction of remodeling will be over and you will reap tremendous benefits. Those windows are gorgeous! They would have swayed me too. We lived in a similar house in a similar neighborhood for fifteen years and seeing your pictures made me homesick for them. You will not be sorry you bought this house!

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