And the Beginnings of a Plan
We are about to buy a house that was built before the existence of cars, telephones, radios, or even electricity. Abraham Lincoln was President, the Civil War was underway, and slavery had been abolished for only a few months. Our house is older than the state of West Virginia (and 11 others as well).
Our house has no garage because people rode horses. Our house has holes cut in the floors because when electricity was invented they had to “install” it. Our house has 4 fireplaces (none working) because that was the only heat. Our house has a room to store coal. Our house has a gas outlet in the kitchen ceiling because that was used as a light…from the fire. Our house has 12” thick walls because that’s the only way they knew it would stand. Our house is, basically, crazy old!
We knew we wanted to buy an ‘older’ home, but we didn’t know exactly what that meant – and I’m convinced we still don’t. I imagine we will learn as we go with the house. I don’t know much about building practices in 1864, but I have a feeling I’m going to learn a lot!
What I can tell you is that the style of the house is Colonial with Dutch Colonial attributes (although it’s not textbook Dutch Colonial, as it lacks some of the common characteristics). The gabled roof is one of my favorite aspects of the house, as well as the slate roof overhangs. The exterior is clad in asbestos siding (yes, you read that correctly) and the front and back porches are made of wood, although we will probably be replacing them next summer. The back yard is small and is currently mostly a garden that we will remove and lay grass, thus extending our yard. Although a fence runs along all 3 sides, we will probably build them up and add vertical gardens for both privacy and the ability to grow herbs, etc. without taking up yard space.
The house is three levels, the third level being the least quality and was originally, as it was used as a living space for the help. Crude plumbing and an incredibly old sink still affixed to the wall are the only reasons I think it might have once been inhabited. The first floor contains a living room with a large bump-out and window, beautiful original tile fireplace and built-in bookshelves. Next to the living space (through the painted-in pocket doors that we plan to save) is the dining room. The bay window and built-in 6-shelf China cabinet are my favorite elements.
The narrow galley kitchen was updated in the mid 1980s and has remained untouched ever since. I plan to make the obvious appliance upgrades as well as change out the cabinets, but the overall scope is yet to be determined. Despite its size constraints, I really like the kitchen. Careful space planning will be essential to its functionality, but the 9’ ceilings, two large windows, and sliding glass doors make it feel bright and open. I look forward to coffee time (something my husband and I cherish) in the breakfast nook and many evenings prepping dinner by the stove.
The only other room on the first floor is the entry hallway. It’s large considering the size of the house and I love the dramatic stairway and high ceilings. All of the doors in the house are original, and even though our front door could use some sanding and painting, it is made of a sturdy wood and I am in love with the giant center window and original brass door handle and lock. Assuming I can get a contractor to go along with my plan, I hope to change the small entry closet into a half bath. This will require a lot of creativity (and probably a lot of cash) but a girl can dream, right?!
Upstairs consists of three bedrooms of various sizes (the smallest being 9’x9’ and the largest being 12.5’x13.5’) and a single hall bath. I don’t yet know what each room will be used for except that the largest will be a guest bedroom. I plan to entertain frequently and have plenty of house guests so making them feel comfortable is essential to my design. This room is also closest to the bathroom and is at the front of the house offering the best views. The other two rooms each have a small closet and a window and I go back and forth daily about their uses.
As I mentioned, the third floor is bare, yet finished. A single support wall down the middle of the space and a walled-in chimney are the only architectural elements. I plan to keep the wall as-is (why create more work for myself?!) keeping one side for the bedroom and dividing up the other half into a master bathroom and large walk-in closet. This project will be our largest and most complicated undertaking. The first order of business will be discussing our plans with a structural engineer to ensure that we can heighten and widen the hallway steps to get furniture (and my 6’4” husband) in the room with no issues. Again, more creativity!
So that is the generic house tour. I have included pictures from our three walk-throughs that I hope better explain the layout. One of these days I will generate a floor plan, but today’s focus is wrapping up paperwork for the mortgage and beginning to pack our apartment for the move – something I’m not at all sad about!
Although the house is old and will no doubt be full of surprises, I’m excited to see what we discover not only about the structure but about ourselves. Buying a house is a big deal. Buying your first house – an even bigger deal. Renovating a house is a big deal. Renovating a house built in 1864 – an even bigger deal. Although I feel prepared for what the next few weeks will bring, I’m sure those feelings will go up in smoke before the first few days are over…which is fine so long as the whole house doesn’t go up in smoke with them.