Hi and welcome to The Vernacular Life Podcast, where we talk about anything and everything that goes on in our 1906 vernacular farmhouse. I am Paige, your host as usual. Today, I am joined by the lovely and fluffy Bobcat. And of course the infinitely cuddlable Barron who are both chilling with me on the bed as we record this today. And we’re gonna talk about kind of an interesting topic that I haven’t really discussed, I don’t think, which is what would I do differently in renovation.
As you know, we have been renovating this house for quite some time. We bought the house what, four years ago, roughly, and we’ve pretty much been working on it nonstop and fortunately, or unfortunately I am a fairly obsessive person. So before we got to the point of needing to design anything in the house, I had gone through pretty much any version of it, or any series of ideas that you could possibly think of. And for the most part, what we have here is 100% how I want it.
But of course, that doesn’t make a very good podcast so I have six things that if given the opportunity, I think I would change if we went back and did the renovation again. Now to sort of bring you up to speed, this house is two floors. We have done the entire first floor, most of the second floor upstairs hallway, and are in process of doing a bedroom and bathroom combo upstairs on the second floor.
So we’re over halfway done with the interior of the house. And pretty much every room has required extensive repairs. Every single room had this horrible spray foam insulation in the exterior walls. And that stuff was put in, it’s called urea formaldehyde foam insulation was put in in the seventies or eighties roughly, and the problem with it is that it collapses over time. So the stud cavities were only about half full, which means that it wasn’t doing the job as an insulation, and there was no way to get it out other than taking all of the interior walls down, which we did.
So once we did that, we then found a ton of water damage around the windows, and in some of the corners, we had to completely rebuild two walls that make up the bathroom and the mudroom on the first floor, we had to jack up the front corner of the house where the dining room is, we had to fix major sill board damage in the front corner on the other side of the house, so this house has had, it’s been through some stuff, and honestly it really hasn’t been taken care of until we got here.
So I am extremely proud of the work that we’ve done. I could not do this without my husband of course, I’m gonna shout him out a little bit. He is fantastic, he can teach himself everything and he’s just amazing. He’s the reason that the quality of work is so high in this house. But of course, somebody had to tell him what it had to look like, and that’s where I come in. So of what we’ve done so far, the first regret that I have, that I wish I had done differently is the windows.
Now tiny soapbox for just a second, if you have your original historic windows, please, please, please, please, please restore them. Don’t get rid of them, you are not gonna save as much money as you think by switching to double pane insulated vinyl or whatever. Properly restored old windows have somewhere around 97% the efficiency of new windows, assuming the original window is restored and there’s a properly restored storm window.
But the main difference between new windows and historic old windows is that you can actually repair them. I’ll leave some resources in the show notes about who to follow and who to check out, to know how to restore these windows, but you can restore a window for significantly under 50 bucks versus new middle-of-the-road vinyl windows which are gonna cost you somewhere around, I don’t know, $300, $400, $500.
And then if you wanna get into high quality wood windows, you’re getting up into the four figures per window. So, if you have your original windows, save them. We do not have our original windows. As best we can tell, this house underwent a massive renovation around 1980. And at that point, I believe, our beautiful original wood windows were removed and they put in these awful, six over six, country farmhouse style vinyl windows.
They’re terrible, I hate them. And the worst thing about it is that they actually changed the proportions of a lot of the windows. One of the things that I think makes old houses look correct is that they tend to not have a ton of super different size windows, unless it’s a design feature like in a Queen Anne or some Craftsmans where you have little half windows, and stained glass, and things like that.
This house only had a few different sizes of windows. But when they did this weird remodel with all of these vinyl windows, they just, it looks like they just went to the store and picked out whatever was the closest size that was in stock, and then just put them in the whole house. So we already knew that they had to come out. And in the master bedroom, which was the first room that we did that had full size windows, we were able to look at the structure of the wall and actually figure out what the original size and proportions of those windows were, which was super helpful because restoring them back to what they were, is going to just make the house look more historic.
But two issues with them. I didn’t have anything to go on as to what the original windows looked like. I hadn’t done any research yet, I didn’t have the one historic picture of the house that I do have yet, so I had nothing to go on. So I thought, okay, this is a Folk Victorian farmhouse. Something that Folk Victorian farmhouses did sometimes is they did two over two windows.
Now, when you hear six over six, or two over two, or four over four, basically that means how many panes of glass does it look like they have in the upper sash and the lower sash. So a one over one would be a solid sheet of glass in the upper sash, and a solid sheet of glass in the lower sash. A two over two would be those divided into two, usually by a vertical piece of wood.
So two over two would be two panes on top, two panes on bottom. Nine over nine would be nine panes on top, nine panes of on bottom. You can even see things that are like nine over one, nine over three, you can get into a whole bunch of stuff, but when you hear windows described that way, it means how many panes of glass does it look like the windows have on the top and bottom. So I thought two over two were really cute and they look kind of Folk Victorian and historic.
So when we ordered the windows for this part of the project, I said, let’s do two over two because they just look really nice. Well, a few months later I found that historic picture from roughly 1944 of the house. And it’s extremely clear that the original windows of the house were one over one. I was so frustrated to find this because I had been working really hard to put the house back as close to what it was as I could possibly get. I was trying to recreate tile patterns, I was trying to match the layout, I was trying to recreate the baseboards, I was trying to do all of these things to make it look as historic and as old-fashioned as possible, and here I am staring at something that’s just very obviously, I did it wrong.
So that made me kind of sad. But then to add insult to injury, we hadn’t finished prowling all the outbuildings around here and in one of them, tucked way back in the corner, I actually found a totally rotted out window that was original to the house. It was wooden, the pieces were rotted so the glass was falling out, but it was very clearly a one over one window situation, which was just further proof that I had massively gotten this one wrong.
We were able to save that glass, and it’s actually the glass that is in the cabinets in our kitchen, which is kind of fun. But I missed the mark on the design of these windows. Now, the windows that we went with are American Craftsman 70 series. You get them from Home Depot or whoever sells this particular one. They’re okay, they’re vinyl. And they mount differently than historic windows. They actually mount closer to the outside of the house so the window sills are really deep, which is nice for plants and casts to sit on, but it doesn’t look quite right.
If I did this again, knowing what I know now about historic windows and knowing how straightforward it is to make your own windows with a few router bits and a little bit of nice wood, I would probably have campaigned that we make all of the windows in our renovation because as it stands, our windows are six and a half feet tall, two and a half feet wide, roughly, and they’re not cheap.
I wanna say they’re three to $400 a piece. And if we could have made windows for under a hundred dollars each, that would have just been a huge cost savings in this renovation. And like we talked about in the budgeting episode, any kind of cost savings that you can do when you’re trying to cash for a renovation is really, really helpful. So I would’ve done that differently, I would’ve liked to make them look a little bit more historic and then I could have done some fun colors on the outside if I wanted to, but unfortunately I didn’t know that that was a thing until we were well into our renovation.
When these vinyl windows go out, I will probably make puppy-dog eyes at Brandon until he agrees to take on the wild task of making all of our windows in the future. So that’s the first thing that I wish I had done differently. I wish we’d done a better job, a more historic job on the windows. But it is what it is.
The second thing that I wish we could have changed, or I don’t even know if it’s changing, it’s just, I’ve learned that when we leave a room thinking we’re gonna come back and do a project later, it tends not to happen. So this house has two chimneys and two fireplaces. And neither of them are working, I’m not going to make them work because that would basically require rebuilding both chimneys from top to bottom and I’m not gonna do that, but I didn’t wanna take them out either because one, that’s a huge job, and two, it just makes me kind of sad ’cause those are the original chimneys and I would like them to stay.
But when we did the master bedroom, we actually uncovered one of the fireplaces. It was covered up by a carpet and we suspected it was there, but we really didn’t know. So we uncovered a hearth, we uncovered the outline of an original mantle that looked like it was a big piece with a mirror on top and all sorts of things. And when we put it back, the master bedroom was our first room that we really did. And it was the first time I had encountered recreating old things out of new materials.
So when we close this up, we had decided that we were going to just completely close it up, we’re not gonna leave the firebox open, it’s just easier so we can insulate behind it, all that kind of stuff. So we fabricated this cover out of plywood and then a bunch of really chunky door molding to kind of simulate a cast iron fireplace surround and a summer cover. And the problem with this is that it just looks fake to me. It just looks like a bad Pinterest DIY that I could have done a better job on and it looks, it’s not fooling anyone.
It’s like nobody’s gonna look at that and think, oh, do you have an original cast iron fireplace cut? No, you don’t. You have wood molding nailed to a piece of plywood. So the difficulty is that it’s hard to find salvage things when your requirements are really specific. And the mantle that I salvaged for this room is a really weird proportion. It’s very small, but it’s pretty tall. And so the opening is an unusual proportion for what it is, which means finding a cast iron surround and a summer cover that would fit it, it’s just challenging, it’s gonna take a long time. And by the time we needed a summer cover, I didn’t have one.
So I did eventually find one, I found it at a local antique fair, and I brought it in, I leaned it against the fireplace, and it has sat there for probably two years because we’ve just been doing other things we’ve never gone back and fixed it. And I don’t even know how I’m gonna make it look good at this point. So I don’t know if this is necessarily a regret or something I would do differently, but I wish I had put a little more thought into figuring out how to attractively close up that fireplace.
Now, the fireplace in the dining room was a little bit different. I sort of expected when we did the dining room, that that was the fancier room, and then this was the parlor, which was fancy, but not as fancy, but it looks like actually the parlor was the fanciest room in this house because it had green quarter tiles in the hearth. The fireplace hearth in the dining room is just concrete, that’s it? But the mantle that I found in there is actually a beautiful cast iron mantle piece I got for $50 off Facebook Marketplace.
It had a hole in the top, but we ended up repairing it with Bondo and J-B Weld. And you can hardly even tell that it was there. So that one, Brandon cut a piece of plywood that fits in the mantle, and when I was filming the video for the dining room reveal, I frantically needed something to cover up that plywood. So I ran upstairs, I found this black fabric that has these sparkly gold roses on it. I wrapped the plywood in that fabric and I stuck it in place and I love it so much.
It’s very obvious that I’m not trying to make it a summer cover or anything like that but it’s interesting. And I wish I had done something a little bit more like that. Like if you can’t do something old, make it apparent that it’s not old, make it apparent that you’re not trying to make it look old instead of trying to make it look like something and then just kind of failing at it, if that makes sense. This next one is really just a calculation error that we should have seen coming. So, the area where the master bathroom is, and the mudroom, which has our laundry room in it, that was not original to this house.
There was a wooden porch, I assume it was wooden, that was about half that depth that led off the study. And at some point they took that down and they extended it with a full concrete porch and they closed it in, and they made it part of the house. And even though it’s not original because it’s concrete, we decided it was the best option on the first floor for our wet room bathroom, and for our mudroom, laundry room, dog room. We’d reasoned that if we ever had a flood or we ever had water issues, having it on a concrete section of the house would be a lot better than having it somewhere else.
So we kept that when we did our master bathroom remodel. But the problem was that the exterior walls that were built were so bad that would not even attach to the concrete, if I recall correctly. They had hardly any insulation, they were falling apart, they had this huge sliding door in the middle of them, like they were just terrible. And so when we started gutting, we looked at it and we were like, we’re gonna have to take these down.
We’re gonna have to rebuild this. And I’ll make sure there’s a picture in the show notes, but we spent three days over a weekend, we jacked up the roof in that corner, we blew down those two walls and we rebuilt two super sturdy, two by six exterior walls that are now the exterior of the bathroom and the mudroom. Now, when you build walls, you get to decide where the doors go, and where the windows go, and where everything is.
And we ended up doing a very silly thing in that our master bathroom actually opens into the mudroom. And we did that so that the first floor could basically be a figure eight. Before, you kind of walked into the master bedroom, and it was just a dead end, it was cut off from the rest of the house. But we wanted the master bathroom to also serve as a first floor bathroom if we need it to.
So we put one door on the side of the master bedroom, and one door into the mudroom. So that door happens to be very close to the exterior door in the mudroom. And when you open the door between the bathroom and the mudroom, and you open the exterior door from the mudroom to the outside, they interfere by literally an eighth of an inch. Like they are just slightly not in the right spot.
So what we should have done is taken the exterior door and bumped it toward the outside corner by a half an inch. If we had just moved that half an inch, then you could leave the door to the bathroom standing open and also open the door from the outside. Now it doesn’t prevent you from coming in from the outside, but if you catch it at just the wrong way, they kind of run into each other and they sort of buckle and it makes a lot of noise, and it’s just annoying.
Between the two of us, we usually don’t make measurement mistakes like that. So it was very funny when we figured out that, oh shoot, we installed this doorframe in totally the wrong spot. And by the time we realized it, the walls were up, the tongue and groove was up in the mudroom, tile was up in the bathroom, like there’s no fixing it unless you wanna shave down the door. So if you’re building walls, double-check your door interference before you finalize everything. Number four, I have talked about before in our discussion on countertop thickness.
And it is in the mudroom and it has to do with the thickness of the countertop in that mudroom cabinet. If I were to do another house, which I honestly don’t think we will, because we are very burned out on home renovation. But if I were to do another house, I have accumulated enough knowledge at this point that I think I could probably do a better job. And I don’t think we did a bad job here, I think this house is gorgeous.
There’s just little mistakes like this that I now know to avoid. So when we were recreating the countertops, and I was trying to make this built-in look old, so that it would sort of fit in with the rest of the house. And we made the countertops out of Oak, and they’re about an inch and a half thick. And you can just look at them and something just looks off. There’s something that doesn’t look historic about it.
And I doubt that most people would look at it and say, “Oh, your countertops are too big, they should be three quarters of an inch.” But I can look at it and know that the thing that I screwed up in that particular situation, was that that countertop was just too thick. So the most historic looking counters and table surfaces in this house are about three quarters of an inch thick.
And I think even though that’s very thin, it looks the best. It looks the most old fashioned, it looks the most correct. The counters and cabinets in our pantry, to me look like they were taken directly out of a historic house. So if you’re going to recreate wooden countertops and you have a say over how thick they are, go thinner to make things look slightly more old fashioned. And that’s not just my eye saying that, I know of a couple of built-ins, and when we came up with those dimensions, we actually measured those historic built-ins and the countertops are three quarters of an inch thick.
Oh boy, mistake number five. Now, fortunately, we only made this mistake in two rooms, and then we corrected ourselves because we realized there was a much easier way to do it. So you have probably noticed that all of the trim in this house is painted white. And that is because when we moved here, there was almost no original trim left. We had enough to do four complete doorways, in the entire house, that’s all we had. So when we decided to put trim back, we had to make a decision.
Are we going to pay to get this trim recreated and get more rosettes made and put this trim back exactly as it was? Now, the rosettes and the carved doorframes and the casings, it’s a very Folk Victorian look. But the problem is that I don’t really like corner rosettes. I never have, I don’t know why, it’s just, I just don’t like them, they don’t look formal to me. And this house, the whole time that we’ve been renovating him, he has just asked to be very stately, and very dramatic, and very formal.
So the rosettes, I’m just like, I think we can do better. So what we decided to do was recreate a trim that is of the time period, it just tensed a little bit more towards arts and crafts versus Folk Victorian. And in the halls, we used original baseboards, original plinth blocks, original door casings, and our new four part header. It’s kind of a stacked header with a couple of different pieces at different widths.
And in the hall, based on the research that I had come across of the best way to recreate this trim, we used MDF, which is medium density fiberboard. Now, this stuff is great because it’s very cheap, but it’s essentially compacted cardboard. So when you cut into it, you are left with this extremely fuzzy edge. And the only way to make that not look like garbage is to take spackling compound and run it down the entire edge, and then sand it smooth.
Now, we have a lot of trim. In this master bedroom alone we have three doors and two windows, all of which need headers, and all of which need left and right door casings. So we did it in here, we used the MDF, it was very inexpensive, but the trade-off was that it took so much time to spackle those edges so that they became smooth, and then sand them down, and then wiped all the molding down, and then vacuum everything up, it’s just, by the time we got done, we were like, that took forever.
So fortunately, the next room that we had to do was the master bathroom. And the thing about MDF, which you may have ever seen, if you have a new build and you’ve ever gotten water on the baseboard, and it kind of like bubbles up and kind of looks like, it distorts. That’s what happens to MDF when it gets wet. So we knew that we did not want to use MDF in the bathroom near all of that moisture.
And then we also didn’t wanna use it in the mudroom, because that was gonna be where the dogs were most of the time, it was gonna be kind of a dirty room. Didn’t want all of that. So in there we used one by Flat Stock. Just in pine, we cut them down to the right size, and that was much faster because all I had to do was patch the surface holes. But of course it was more expensive. It’s held up beautifully, it’s very crisp, it looks extremely nice in both of those rooms, but we knew that that was not really feasible for the rest of the house, just in terms of cost.
It’s just not feasible, we can’t afford that in every single room. So what we discovered, and I don’t remember if we discovered this in the study or in the kitchen. But we discovered plywood. Banded three quarter inch plywood is a life-changer. So we would go and we would buy a three quarter inch plywood sheet, we’d buy nice plywood, we would rip that sheet down to the appropriate width for the door casings and the door headers.
And then we would buy this stuff called edge banding. And edge banding is extremely cool. It is basically a thin strip of wood veneer that has glue on the back of it. And you can put that on the edge of the plywood and apply heat with an iron, and that veneer will adhere to the edge of the plywood. So now you no longer see the layers plywood, it just looks like a solid piece of wood. And so instead of doing the MDF with all of the spackling and all of the sanding, we did the plywood.
We edge banded all of the raw edges, and then we installed them just like Flat Stock. And this was amazing because once it’s painted, it looks incredible, it looks just like Flat Stock, but it costs less than that, and it was way easier than MDF. MDF also did something that I really didn’t like. We installed it with a pneumatic nailer, a 16 gauge, I think, or a 15 gauge pneumatic nailer. And when the nails went in on the flat face of MDF, it left a little pucker. And if you look closely, you can see it even through the paint.
The plywood didn’t do that, and the Flat Stock didn’t do that. So if I were to do this again, if I was recreating trim in a different house, I would skip the MDF altogether, I would not mess with that garbage, and I would go directly to plywood with edge banding. Now the last mistake was something that I didn’t really think about until it actually happened. And it is pertaining to the windows, but it’s very specifically related to the kitchen windows.
So the kitchen, as it was originally laid out, had, I think two windows in it. It had a full sized window, roughly to the right of where the sink is now, and then it had a tall raised window. When we renovated the kitchen, we made the decision to take out that full size window because I did everything I could to try to make that layout work and make it efficient, and I just couldn’t do it. So we replaced this existing window, and the window over the sink with four small windows.
Because, whether this was the right idea or not, I really don’t know, but I have tried to match aspect ratio in all of the windows in this house. So aspect ratio is just how tall a window is compared to how wide it is. So if you look at a window that’s three feet by three feet, that’s a square aspect ratio. But if you look at one that’s three feet by six feet, that’s a rectangular aspect ratio.
So I tried to take the aspect ratio that we had, which is about 2.5 to one-ish, in the downstairs windows, and I tried to match that as closely as I could in the windows over the kitchen sink and over the stove. I have no complaints with the size, they’re not very big, but they bring in plenty of light, they’re very cute.
The thing that I should have done differently is that I figured, well, all of our other windows are two over two, I will make these windows two over two. And that’s when I learned about kitchen windows or Priory Windows. Essentially they match the window pane pattern on the top sash, but they don’t match it on the bottom sash. On the bottom sash, they leave it totally open. And that’s because at your eye level, with this itty bitty window, you don’t need any extra bars messing things up and obstructing your view.
So now, if I stand at the kitchen, there are a lot of bars because the windows aren’t very big and there’s a center bar, there is a lot of stuff going on. So if I were to do it differently in another life, in another house, I would make sure that those raised kitchen windows, the lower sashes are totally clear. I know I just talked for quite a while about all of the things I would do differently, but considering how extensive the renovations have been to this house, and how much we have had to learn, and how much we’ve had to do, I think to only have six things I would go back and do differently, I think that’s pretty good, honestly.
So if you wanna see some of the pictures of the things that I would change, and then the other resources and references, you can check out the show notes at farmhousevernacular.com/ten or slash podcast, you can find them at either location. And I really appreciate you listening. Thank you so much, I loved having you here and I will see you next time. Bye.