The House: Week 1 (Part Deux)

Welcome back!. Today, we’re continuing the tour upstairs. Yesterday, for those of you just joining us, we covered the downstairs. I hope, after seeing that, you got offline and thanked God that you live in a home without bathtubs on the back porch. To us, that is the stuff of which dreams are made.

Although (drum roll)……Demo has finally begun! Yay!!!! Our wonderful contractor’s schedule finally allowed him to turn his attention to this project, and as I write, men are banging away downstairs. I couldn’t be more pleased with all the dust and noise. I’m sure that will change, but right now, as far as I’m concerned, the more destruction happening below, the better. A contained dynamite blast would be best of all.

Once it’s safe to take pictures down there, I will. But, for now, let’s go upstairs. As you’ll see, I’ve put zero effort into staging the rooms. My apologies.


That was the upstairs stairwell. Chris took a crow bar to it a couple weeks back, hoping some remnant of the original stairway—like balusters and newel posts— might be encased inside. No such luck. There are no good surprises here. Only expensive ones.

When you get up to the top of the stairs, this is what you see.


Clorox wipes! Courtesy of Chris’ New Years’ bout with the stomach flu. Oh, and a bathroom. We’re making slow, but steady progress stripping the tile in here. It currently feels about 150 times less dungeon like. Other than painting, though, that’s all we’ll be doing in the bathroom for the near future. There are problems—like the textured something or other put up over wallpaper, a shower door that will slice the arms of anyone attempting to give a small child a bath, a super low soffit that needs to go, and a closet which makes blow drying one’s hair mighty difficult (my elbows keep bumping up against it!).

Note the ridiculously small distance between sink and closet.


Regardless, it’s functional. And until we put in another bathroom, it’s all we’ve got. So, for the next two years, I will learn to live with textured wallboard. Because God needs to break me of many things. And this is a wee little start. Baby steps.

Here’s the large front bedroom, which currently lacks a door. (The one in the picture came off the upstairs stairwell. The door was part of the old entrance to the upstairs duplex. It will go downstairs to the den eventually. We’ll need to find one that fits up here.) Future use of the room: my office.


This is the small front bedroom. God willing, it will be a sweet little nursery someday. (Keep those prayers coming, please.)


Now, to what once was a master suite and will be once more in about five months.

Back in the day, before this became a duplex, the very Victorian couple who occupied this house, had a his and hers suite. With two rooms joined by an archway or door, they could sleep together or apart. Or, alternately, they could sleep together on one side and use the other side as a dressing room (which is what Chris and I plan to do. Being newlyweds and all, we still like each other pretty well).

Here’s the room on one side.


Here’s the room on the other.


And here’s the wall that divides them.


Note the traces of old sconces, which were once probably on either side of the small archway.

During the DOR (Days of Remuddling), that archway got plastered up, so the one side could serve as a bedroom and the other could serve as a dining room. The smaller room was the dining room. Note: it has the only real closet on the entire second floor (although, it currently functions as one big electrical chase for the temporary service running to the third floor).


Pretty, no? The rest of the closets are either 6″ deep or have been turned into bookshelves. If we have children, we’ll be in the market for wardrobes. For now, this is fine.

The reason this particular room became the dining room had to do with the old sleeping porch, which adjoins it. The porch was made into a kitchen during the DOR, then a previous owner pulled out the cabinets and turned it into a “master closet.”


Because every master closet has a sink…and an exhaust fan…and no rods on which to actually hang clothes.

Unfortunately, even if it did have rods, we couldn’t really use it as a master closet because the room it’s attached to isn’t large enough to hold a full size bed. So, we’re reopening the archway and doing what should have been done in the first place: turning the old porch/kitchen into a master bath.

All things considered, the work on the second floor is pretty reasonable: open up one wall in a bedroom and eliminate the framed in entrance to the old duplex, put in a new bathroom, refinish the floors, skim coat the walls, and paint. I feel less insane when I’m on the second floor.

Now, to our third floor living quarters (and future guest quarters).


Behind the unpainted door on the right, you’ll find our bedroom (future bunk room for small children).


It’s really quite cozy.


Just don’t look closely at the walls. They have leprosy.


And ignore the temporary electric panel.


Not to mention all the super safe extension cords.

Behind the door on the left…


Is the living room/office/coffee station/future guest bedroom.



It too is pretty cozy. Cold, since the upstairs lacks heat as well as power (we’re supplementing with space heaters…run on that very generous temporary service, so no worries, people). Crowded, since it’s functioning as a living room, dining room, office, coat closet, mini-kitchen, and storage space,. But still a perfectly pleasant place to pass the next five months .

Once we move downstairs, we’ll rewire everything up here, skim coat the walls, paint them something other than brown, install a mini-split so the guests have the luxury of heating and cooling, and maybe, if we can afford it, replace the cheap, brown carpet that is everywhere up here. The floors, however, are an expendable project, so it’s likely that guests will be enjoying the brown carpet for years to come. Love you all!

Carpet aside, it really is quite nice up here.  And spacious. We’ll be able to pack in any number of large families someday. Which is pretty much why we bought the place. When we explained to realtors that a childless couple in their forties “needed” a six bedroom home because their friends “needed” a vacation home, they looked at us like we were in the running for lunatics of the year. But hospitality is a priority for us. We even chose readings for our wedding Mass that mentioned it. And my friend Lindsay really does need a vacation home. Just ask her. (Added bonus: when no one is around, the mini-split will allow us to shut off the third floor and, at least when it comes to heating and cooling bills, pretend like we have a normal sized-home.)

So, how are we doing up here? Pretty okay….especially now that demo is underway. The biggest problems in the space are the lack of running water on this floor (leading us to do a lot running ourselves), and the lack of light. Pittsburgh has been unusually grey this winter (even for Pittsburgh), and not much light comes in through the dormers. I’m prone to seasonal affective disorder to begin with, so all this time in the same two dark rooms is definitely getting to me. I miss my light-filled office at the old house. And my fireplaces. And my kitchen. Basically, I just miss my old house.




But someday this house will be great. It will. At least, I think it will if we keep saying it enough. That worked for Tom Hanks and Shelly Long in The Money Pit. Surely it will work for us.

Now, if only I had a precious painting to sell to some mad maestro for 100k.


12 thoughts on “The House: Week 1 (Part Deux)

  1. Patricia says:

    It is going to be one fantastic house when you are done! You have the sense of humor needed to do a renovation like this, so I think you will be fine. 😉 And when spring arrives (never soon enough) you will be able to go outside and get some sunshine! Best of luck!

  2. Lisa Desmond says:

    Oh my. You know, I’ve read your columns and your books, seen you on EWTN and I have to say you never presented as insane. Now I think you may be…that house is quite a challenge. Lots of amazing and fabulous potential but a challenge.

    Good luck and many prayers. I have no doubt the results will be 100% worth the effort!!

  3. Deborah Kandziolka says:

    Best of luck! I am looking forward to seeing the after pictures. Sending you and Chris many prayers and good thoughts.

  4. Lisa says:

    It will be beautiful some day. You can definitely see the potential and your description of what your doing sounds beautiful. We are planning to move in the spring; I may hire you if our house needs renovation.

  5. Ona says:

    At least it leads to some very amusing writing. I’ve done two renovations (one small house – extensive, one very small New York apartment – partial) and I think that’s enough forever. I now live in a rented condo-apartment with building services and that’s just super for me. If anything goes wrong the building guys show up, hit it with a hammer, put some duct tape on it, and we’re good to go.

  6. Ree Laughlin says:

    Thanks for the update. Wishing you continued peace among the chaos and find a portable light designed specifically for those whose moods are affected by lack of light. It’s a very real response in some.

  7. LeAnn says:

    You know what strikes me most? You are making this a HOME. It will be wonderful. It will be beautiful. It will be the home you welcome friends, and it will be the home in which your babies will be raised. God bless you!

  8. Apple Hill Cottage says:

    I hope you have discovered Construction Junction. (they definitely have pocket doors) We haunted it every week, and a perk is that the East End Food Coop is right nearby. I know you’re on the other end of town, but it’s definitely worth field trips. The Habitat for Humanity ReStores are good too. Blessings to you. You’re gorgeous-to-be house is three times the size of our cottage, and we still aren’t finished after 4 years… Just keeping it real. 🙂
    What a gorgeous street. Your neighbors will love you. Eventually.

    • Emily says:

      Yes, we love construction junction! I need to got there in the next week to find some pocket doors. And yes, this project is definitely going to take a while. We have three different phases planned out for this year, but one (the roof, soffit,and fascia) might get bumped until next year. Then, we’re just planning on doing a couple things a year as we can (windows bit by bit, guest bathroom, yard, carpet in the attic, etc.) Right now, the goal is primarily making it a functional and safe single family home. Once we can start inviting people over again, I’ll relax a bit. This is fun, but I am looking forward to being able to resume normal life!

  9. Woman of the House says:

    It’s going to be great and one day you and your husband will look back on this time with nostalgia. Your little space in the attic reminds me of All Creatures Great and Small when James and Helen moved up to the attic of Skeldale. It’s a sweet space! 🙂

  10. Ashley says:

    This is the type of project my husband would love. He has vision and can see the potential. Me – not so much but I trust him. He’s remodeled our last two homes and it is work, but (mostly) worth it. I look forward to following along. 🙂

    Oh, I made your mashed potatoes for Christmas. Divine! Our new favorite. 🙂

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