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7 years ago this month, I walked through the front doors of what would eventually become my house. Prior to that, I’d peeked into the windows during a barely-planned trip to Kingston—a place I really knew nothing about but seemed pretty cool—and fell in love with what glimpses I could see. The only rooms I could see into were the ones that later became my living and dining room, as well as the large parlor that I currently call the Hoard Room of Doom but will eventually be the fanciest room of all time.
See? We’ve things to look forward to yet.
Like most real estate listings, the photos were less about showing the space than they were a practice in abstract expressionism.
This, for instance, was the sole shot of the hallway and staircase that lurked behind a large wood-paneled wall, which blocked it from both public view and private enjoyment. It looked promising, sort of, but hard to tell what was going on.
And then on that overcast morning in early March, I got to see it for myself. And what had started as an irrational obsession over a house I was in no real position to buy became a single-minded mission to make it mine. I blame the unpainted, perfectly preserved newel post. Followed closely by the unique trim work and the original sink in the second floor bathroom. The heart wants what it wants, and my heart wanted this staircase. And everything around it, too. Bad.
The house had been split up into two apartments at the time, which is why those two doorways are covered over in plywood. It was definitely built as a single-family home, and newspaper records indicate strongly that it was converted into apartments (or at least rooms to rent) during the Great Depression, and then evidently converted back before it was sold to its second owners in 1962. In the early 1970s, the third owners divided it up again, this time into one apartment on each floor. And then 40 years later I came along with grand ambitions of restoring the home to its original glory, which pretty much brings you up to speed.
There’s been a ton of work to tackle, mostly involving the exterior of the house and select living spaces inside. My approach has basically been room-by-room, with exceptions where it made the most sense to do all the plumbing or electric or drywall work at the same time—most of which happened within the first year. The kitchen and laundry rooms were the first priorities before I moved onto the living spaces and some pretty massive exterior work that has completely transformed two whole elevations of the house. In the hallway, I removed the ugly 70s additions, stripped the wallpaper, had various plumbing and electric work done, and then had the ceiling replaced and the walls skim-coated with joint compound. And there it sat.
In June I’ll have been here 7 years, and—finally—I have tackled the main artery of the house—the entryway, hallway, and staircase—which I walk through about 100 times a day. And all of a sudden, the house feels completely different. Totally foreign. Like a real place that a functional adult might live. It’s going to take me a minute to mentally adjust to this new reality. Ready to take a look?!
Once more. 2013…
I. Feel. So. FANCY. Whose house is this?!
If you’ve been following along on Instagram stories where I’ve posted near-daily updates for like…2 months now?…then you know that this has been a truly deceptive amount of work. Pretty much every single part of it has been a huge challenge and labor of love—from restoring 15(!!!) doors and all of their associated hardware, to stripping and sanding 17 stair treads, to rejuvenating 57 spindles, to prepping and priming and caulking ALL THAT MOLDING. It’s really been amazing how much this felt like “a paint job!” and the extent to which it truly tested nearly everything I’ve learned about renovation all in one space. It was SO HARD. But man. It feels so good.
Sure, this might sound braggy but…I kind of can’t believe this is my house. It’s so adult. It’s so…not a total wreck. It’s so…clean…and clean-able! I just love it.
There are so many great old details in this space that just make my heart beat a little faster. This is my front doorknob and keyhole escutcheon, polished up all fancy! Admittedly they’re too shiny and new-looking right now but that’s the beauty of unlacquered brass—it’ll patina over time.
Look at that beautiful Eastlake lock! So. Beautiful!
I’m particularly proud of how the stairs came out, because that did NOT come easily. Stripping down all of those treads was kind of a true nightmare that involved various experiments with chemical strippers, a heat gun, loads of sandpaper, and a lot of dust masks. BRUTAL. I treated the old pine treads with lye, which is kind of an old-timey technique (colonial Americans cleaned their floors with it!) that brightens up the wood and takes out some of the yellow tones for a more neutral and natural look. I followed up with my old faithful water-based polyurethane—Bona Traffic HD—and they feel so nice underfoot and look good too! It takes them much longer to look dirty than painted treads, which is important in a house with two big sloppy dogs.
The banister is a whole different story. I remembered what a friend taught me about shellac, which is basically that it dissolves with denatured alcohol and can be rejuvenated—even if it’s a century old! NEVER IN MY LIFE did I think the spindles would look this fresh and beautiful! The wood tone! I die! Now that you can see the beautiful wood grain again, I can’t believe I ever even considered painting them.
And the newel post. The first reason I fell in love with this house! I used to joke that it was basically the one thing in the house that had escaped bad previous work unscathed, and swore that I’d never mess with it for as long as I lived. So you can imagine how stressful it was when I decided to strip off all the newer polyurethane finish to get rid of that dark, plastic-y look. From there I used a 1:1-ish ratio of Zinsser shellac to denatured alcohol and wiped on a few coats. It seems to have worked great, and I love that the mahogany has been freed and it really gets to shine again. It feels so nice, too. It couldn’t really be any prettier.
Oh, Mekko. You queen! Holding down this fort with elegance and class since 2013.
Now, NEEDLESS TO SAY, the most visible and impactful change in here is THE PAINT. Because this is a high-traffic space that’s going to be subject to use and abuse, I wanted a high-quality paint that would provide beautiful coverage and hold up to scuffs and getting cleaned and scrubbed from time to time. I loved giving HGTV Home by Sherwin-Williams from Lowe’s a spin! It’s excellent paint. I added Floetrol to the paint for the trim and doors, which extends the drying time and allows for better self-leveling ability, more like oil paint. That stuff is incredible—HIGHLY recommend for thicker paints that dry quickly. I’m a Floetrol loyalist now. Game-changer.
The walls and ceiling are HGTV Home by Sherwin-Williams Oyster White (eggshell), the trim is HGTV Home by Sherwin-Williams Extra White (satin), and the doors are a HGTV Home by Sherwin-Williams color-match to Benjamin Moore Onyx (satin)—my old standby black that I’ve been painting doors with since 2011. Still love it.
Oyster White, by the way, might be an all-time favorite now. It is SO PRETTY. It’s grey and green and blue and white but somehow still warm and it looks good at all times of day and is just SO NICE. Of course the “Extra White” trim (which isn’t all that extra—it still has some pigments to give it some nice dimension) really sets it off nicely—for me it’s enough contrast to show off the amazing trim work, but still keeps everything light and bright. I was nervous I’d find it all a little boring, but really I’m very pleased with it all. I just don’t feel like this hallway wanted to be super-saturated and high-drama and I’m glad I went with my gut and kept it simple.
Just having all of the doors painted, able to open and close, and with a fully restored set of hardware just feels great. All of this really makes me want to refinish the floors RIGHT NOW but that’s a project for a different time. I’m pooped!
I don’t even know. I’m just having fun with same-angle before-and-afters at this point. I’m a seasoned blogger; what can I say. It’s been a long time since the house had all those extraneous walls and doorways, but I still so appreciate how nice and open this space is. It really feels good to be in.
I keep using pictures from when I first bought the house, but this is what things have looked like for the past 6 years or so, while I wandered around with blinders on.
Even though the view is of a very under-construction powder room, I’m so glad I stripped the glass on the transom above the door! It lets in just a little more light, and the glass is so wavy and pretty. I bet that thing was painted for 80-90 years.
Not to worry! That sconce has been preserved for another purpose, but it just felt weird here. Can you believe that was the ONLY source of light in the entire downstairs space? That, combined with all the weird divisions and closed up doorways made one VERY dark hallway.
I’m so happy to see that lithograph hanging up again, and in such an esteemed location! It’s been with me most of my life—my mom and I found it at a thrift store when I was a kid for like $60! It’s by Alexander Calder and it brings me joy. If you’re a savant, you might recognize it from my Manhattan bedroom all those years ago!
Things like this make me very happy. The 1970s wall/doorway at the back of the hallway were built around/over this curve, so you couldn’t see it at all when I bought the house! I don’t think I even knew it was there until demo. To see it all nicely restored…it’s so elegant!
The flush-mount light fixture is an antique, by the way! I bought it a while ago for $60 at a barn sale. I’m not sure photos do justice to just how beautiful and large it is, but I love it for this area. Having two light fixtures in the same space can be tricky but I think this one does a good job of being beautiful on its own but ALSO letting the chandelier at the front of the hall really shine.
OH RIGHT, THE CHANDELIER. Love this thing. It’s the Erzo 8-Light Natural Brass Chandelier by Kichler, and I got it from Lowe’s! It’s nice and heavy and solid, and comes with enough threaded rods to allow it to hang higher or lower depending on the space. There’s something about it that kind of feels to me like a modern interpretation of an old gas chandelier, which of course is what would have been hanging here originally. I like that you can switch up the look depending on what bulbs you use! It’s also a really versatile piece, so I could see putting it in the dining room, for instance, if I ever get tired of it here.
I also think it works nicely with the Globe Electric light I used over the stairs—there’s no way to see both of them at the same time, but I still wanted them to play well together without being too matchy.
Before and afters really are the most fun game. I know this is getting repetitive. BUT LOOK UP. How very nice.
I really love this area in the back of the hall now, where there’s a door on every wall! I can’t describe how grateful I am that this house retains all of its original doors. Only ONE is missing (the former-office-current-laundry-room) but I have plans to fix that. In an age when everyone wants “open concept,” I’m that old grouch who likes rooms to be contained and contain-able, to be able to shut dogs in and out of certain areas and control heat and cold air in the winter.
I think one of the last remaining vestiges of the house’s multi-family past is this funny little door knocker installed on one of the Hoard Room of Doom’s doors. I think it’s probably from the 1930s conversion, not the 1970s one? But it’s always made me giggle and it feels like a cute and inoffensive nod to the house’s more recent history. Also, potentially haunted.
Is that it? Have we covered everything?? I’m so happy with how this space turned out and how much it really transforms how I feel about my home. I’m excited for it to change and evolve, too! You might notice quite a bit of empty wall space calling out for art, and I still need an elegant solution for hanging coats and things, and my gold leaf transom numbers still need to be installed, and so on, but getting all the really difficult and dusty stuff out of the way feels amazing. Onwards!
A huge thank you to my friends at Lowe’s for providing the products used in this space, the support that allowed me to spend time doing it, and their patience with me when it took longer than expected! Best. Sponsors. Ever!
And thank YOU for all of the kind well-wishes and warm fuzzies I received yesterday for this blog’s 10th birthday! Best. Readers. Ever!