A tip of the Angels halo to my friend Nik, who has very
thoughtfully lent me a digital camera. This will allow me to bring you
pictures fresh from the oven without the expense and delay involved in
developing film. Thanks once again, Nik, for providing an invaluable
assist. Why, here he is now, standing in the master bedroom.
cleaned the years of dust, dirt and mineral deposits off of the
tub in the upstairs bathroom, and am pleased to report that it will be
returned to service. It is in unbelievably good condition for a tub
that has to be at least a century old: no chips, no deep scratches, and
no rust. It is in fact still shiny. It just needs a good buffing
to remove a slight haze that has accumulated over the years.
needs new feet, its originals having been pilfered by felons
unknown before we bought the house. According to a fellow at DEA
Bathroom Machineries, who will be providing us with much of our
bathrooom hardware, it is generally a simple matter to find ones that
fit once one has a good picture of the foot mounting, so we took some
closeup pictures of the tub's underbelly. Upon turning the tub on its
side, we discovered that the outside of the tub was originally painted
in pretty much the exact color we planned to paint it ourselves, the
same color we will be painting the sash. I told
you our colors are
historically accurate. Or it could just be a primer coat, as Lydia
suggests. It does rather look like a primer coat, come to think of it.
February 5, 2004—
Peering in the window
of the Farm House garage, Nik remarked to me the other day that he had
"garage envy." This says a lot, coming from a guy who not only has his
own fine garage, but two entire structures to use as studio and
workshop space as well (I have envy issues myself). I too admire the
Farm House garage, and I can say that without fear of being accused of
tooting my own horn because it was entirely the brain child of our
architect. The greatest virtue of the design is that it is has a great
deal of useable floor space in addition to that needed for two cars
while giving the strong impression that it is a small structure. It is
also a very pleasant garage to look at and be in, with its high ceiling
and dormers that function effectively as skylights. It's deep enough to
accommodate a stretch limousine, so as a practical matter there is a
lot of working room at the back of the garage in addition to the wings
on each side.
I was in and around the garage today, sanding the door
so that I can prime it, so that is why it's on my mind. It was a
glorious day in Pasadena, and the house was as usual alive with
activity. The plumber was pressure-testing his lines, the concrete man
was pouring the slab for the rear entry, and the electrician was
pulling cable. These are all very pleasant people to be around. I
noticed that the electrician was wearing a zippered sweatshirt with a
nicely-executed Sierra Nevada brewery logo on it, which led us to
compare notes on the state's many fine microbrews.
back to the concrete, one of the construction details about which I am
the most persnickety is the appearance of the concrete walkways.
Nothing would ruin the look of the Farm House more quickly than
modern-looking walkways, so I specified exactly the pattern of the
relief seams and the surface finish I wanted to match the well-crafted
look of early concrete. One of the details I forgot to specify was the
look of the rear slab, but there was no need: our concrete man did it
exactly the way I would have instructed him to. If you've ever
worked with concrete, you know how difficult it is to get a nice
surface finish with straight seams and no tooling marks, but when our
man was done it looked as smooth as a chocolate bar (without almonds).
* * *
March 11, 2004—
has been my Spring Training at the Farm House, as I get my home
improvement chops up, re-acquaint myself with rush-hour traffic
patterns between Culver City and Pasadena, and figure out how to juggle
my duties at home with the Farm House work. Now that the real Spring
Training has begun, that of baseball, my spirit is greatly lifted by
having a daily noontime Angels game to listen to as I work. Listening
to an Angels game on the radio has long been one of my favorite
I’ve been plugging away at
priming the new windows and doors, a job
greatly slowed by the series of rainstorms we had the last half of
February. I’m getting caught up now, and my work speed is improving,
but our foreman put me way behind again by building and hanging the
four huge garage doors in about six days. Others look at that garage
and say, “What a nice garage.” I look at it and say, “I have to paint
every square inch of that thing except for the glass and the roof.
Several times.” I do get punchy after a hard day of inhaling volatile
We are fast approaching the “rough inspection”, the inspection of
rough electrical, plumbing, and all the other things that will
subsequently be hidden behind drywall and the like. Thus, while our
foreman and the subcontractors rush around putting the finishing
touches on things, I rush around making sure I haven’t forgotten any
details. Just yesterday I realized I had forgotten to include a
doorbell circuit in the electrical diagrams, and had to talk to the
electrician about adding one. I also had to make some changes to the
phone jacks to reflect the fleet of old phones we have recently
A more involved change involves the fireplaces. After a
great deal of
difficulty, Lydia and I finally found a prefabricated fireplace small
enough to fit within the existing mantles. Happily, it will also work
with the original fireplace inserts, with slight and non-destructive
modification. As a result, we will be able to bring all four fireplaces
back into operation, with an appearance virtually identical to the
original, as gas-burning units with ceramic coals. We will have to
fabricate one new mantle to replace the one pilfered by some unknown
aficionado of architectural details.
* * *
18, 2004—I’ve put aside the window-painting in order to remove
the remaining plaster from the walls in advance of the drywall work.
Putting it as delicately as I can, this is a lousy job: dirty, tiring,
high in particulates and seemingly endless. It’s a perfect job for Lent.
When faced with a job of this nature,
I find it best to plunge right into it so I can get it behind me as
quickly as possible. So I donned my goggles, hood, cap and Resp-O-Rator
and started whacking away. After a few hours of standing in a self-made
shower of century-old lime plaster, dust and God knows what else, my
mind in an act of self-defense began to cogitate about the tasks just
beyond the one at hand. After a while, it occurred to me that when the
house is all done, I’ll know every detail of it inside and out: the
framing, the plumbing, the wiring, the hardware.
I owned a VW Bug in my younger days,
and back then the bible for all Bug owners was a book called, as I
recall, How to Keep Your Volkswagen
Alive: An Owner’s Manual for The Compleat Idiot. It was an
inspired and useful book, full of practical knowledge and pithy
observations, and lavishly illustrated with cartoons in the style of R.
Crumb. My favorite cartoon was the frontispiece, which pictured a
husband and wife (presumably) in bed at night. The wife slept
peacefully; over her head floated a thought balloon with a big Z in it.
On the husband’s bedside table sat a still-smoking pipe in an ashtray.
The husband himself sat bolt upright in bed, his eyes bugged out; over
his head floated a thought balloon containing an exploded view of the
VW engine in full detail.
I found myself in that situation (the
bolt-upright part, that is) whenever I was in the middle of a big
repair job on that Bug: rebuilding the carburetor, replacing the
clutch, installing a rebuilt engine. These were all tasks that required
the full exercise of my limited mechanical ability, so my brain found
it impossible to put it aside until it was completed successfully.
I bring this up here because the same
thing is happening now, only it’s an exploded view of the Farm House
appearing in the thought balloon over my head, complete with every
board, pipe, wire and piece of hardware.
Especially the hardware. Finding
replacements for missing and broken hardware in the original
construction has proven to be far more difficult than we had
anticipated. As I have mentioned, most of the interior locksets are
missing, as are the tub feet. I’ve found at least one broken door
hinge, and I have yet to take a complete hinge inventory.
complete interior lockset
remains, thank goodness. It is a Niles set, which is something of an
historical oddity. Virtually all mortise locksets (the type of lockset
used from about the 1870s to 1930s, which is installed in a long slot
(the mortise) in the door) use a spindle to connect the knobs to the
latch mechanism, but Niles sets have knobs with thick shafts that hook
directly into the latch mechanism. On the left is a picture of a Niles
mechanism to the left of a spindle mechanism; on the right is a picture
of the Niles knob with its escutcheon. The projection at the end of the
knob hooks into the lever that can be seen through the large hole in
the Niles mechanism.
These unique features make Niles
hardware quieter and more dependable in operation. It also makes it
incompatible with most spindle hardware, so we’re more or less
compelled to find Niles hardware to replace what’s missing. While Niles
hardware is not exactly rare, it is a lot harder to find than spindle
hardware. According to a sales representative at Liz’s Antique
Hardware, it is only found in homes in two cities: Chicago and
Pasadena. We have not found independent verification for this curious
piece of information, but Liz herself is considered the most
knowledgeable person around on such matters, and there is a distinct
historical connection between the two cities (the Niles company was in
Chicago, by the way).
Liz’s in fact has all the Niles
hardware we need in stock, but with all due respect to that fine
establishment, the cost of buying the dozen or so sets we need from
them is bone-chilling. We have thus been trying to assemble as many
pieces as we can from less costly sources. Lydia has searched nearly
every salvage yard within striking distance, with some success, and my
brother Bill (conveniently located in Chicago) located a complete set
with escutcheons (the plate that goes on each side of the door behind
the knobs) in perfect condition. We are going to use one of these
escutcheons as a model to cast our own escutcheons in brass, with the
able help of our friend Gary; this will save us a great deal. So we are
slowly climbing this mountain.
But wait! There is a complication.
The two existing interior doors leading into the kitchen have spindle
hardware with a non-standard backset (distance from center of knob to
edge of door). Getting these to match the Niles sets visually will be
quite a challenge. By the bye, this fact does add further intrigue to
the previously-discussed kitchen mystery, but who’s got time to ponder
Finding the door hinges is another
challenge, but the really hard nut to crack is finding tub feet that
fit our tub. Evidently, there was no standardization in the way the
feet were attached to the tub, so we’re just going to have to keep
trying feet until one fits.
Most of the hardware that is still
there is made of iron; while we have determined that most of it
originally had a faux-bronze painted finish, after the many decades all
the pieces carry a finish of rust and grime. I’ll have to clean,
refinish and lubricate each piece.
The selection of hardware and
fixtures (sinks, faucets, etc.) for the new construction is a lot more
fun, because we can bring our own tastes to bear on the choices, rather
than those of the Farm House’s builders. Still, we must be careful to
enhance the house’s character, rather than alter it. We have thus given
each item from sash locks to cabinet knobs painstaking consideration,
with emphasis on pain.
The net effect of all these factors
is an unrelenting obsession that induces those exploded views I was
talking about. Forget sweat equity—this is stress
equity. But I’m not
kvetching. This is good stress, for it motivates me to work diligently,
and it affords us the joy of seeing our (unexploded) vision become real.