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Kitchen progress update #01: Demo

The Ordinary House kitchen project is officially underway. Two weeks ago, I had a 15 yard dumpster delivered. Since then, I’ve been doing some minor demolition and architectural reconnaissance to find out what’s behind these old walls.

For the record, I hate – no, loathe – demolition, and I recognize that this puts me in a minority. Watch a few minutes of HGTV and you’re guaranteed to see a sledgehammer-wielding homeowner practically giddy with delight as he pulverizes every intact surface of his home. Cabinets on the wall? Never mind that they’re easily demounted by backing out a couple of screws, Captain D.I.Y. would rather DESTROY them, reducing the boxes to a pile of splintered wood.

My approach to demo is methodical and might be better described as deconstruction than demolition. This method minimizes mess and collateral damage to surfaces that will remain, but it slows the process to a snail’s pace. I didn’t have any idea how much of the existing dining room would have to go before I started poking around. The unfortunate answer is: most of it. The first few days of demo have revealed a good amount of work that is best described as jackleg. A good result can only be achieved by stripping away the accumulated layers of shoddy workmanship and beginning anew. All told, the demolition process will take 4-6 weekends to complete.

kitchen demo

The good news is that the underlying structure I’ve uncovered is solid as a brick sh*thouse, with apologies for my French. Records indicate that this wing of the house was added in the 1870s, but the wood posts I revealed are indicative of a much earlier structure.  They range from 4″-6″ wide and look similar to the framing in the 1750s portion of the house.

old studs

Based on this, I’m certain that the dining room wing was a separate, older building moved to the site and tacked onto the back of the original home. The framing in the attic is more like what you’d expect for a home built in the late 1870s: smaller dimension sawn lumber. So it seems that the second floor and roof were added over the dining room. And we know that the kitchen was yet another independent structure. So, between the original house, the library, the dining room, the kitchen and the master suite, our house is actually an amalgamation of FIVE houses, which goes a long way toward explaining its quirky layout.

Other things I’ve learned:

We have a mouse.

We’ve been aware of his presence because of the “leavings” he scatters across our countertops at night. But I didn’t expect him to boldly skitter across the hole that I was examining with my flashlight. I swallowed a girlish scream, but nearly jumped out of my skin and used some four letter words that I won’t repeat here. Later, it became apparent that we’ve HAD mice, because I found several of his ancestors in balls of insulation behind the walls.

mouse skeleton

Time to buy some traps.

The dining room was once green, then purple.

A crumbling plaster wall behind the old built-in buffet reveals the original paint colors.

green purple

The heart pine floors are going to be beautiful.

I’ve never loved the russet-colored stain on the floors, so I couldn’t resist hand sanding a small patch of one old plank to get a look at the underlying honey-colored wood.

sanded heart pine

I don’t need any more color than that.

The dining room was last renovated in 1950.

I discovered strips of newspaper beneath the baseboards that are dated February 24, 1950.

february 24, 1950

In ’50, you could get a “lastex” girdle for $3.99:


a “super-duper” Gene Autry cowboy shirt for $2.98:

cowboy shirt

and if you suffered from constipation, particularly the “clogging, transient kind”, you could count on Dr. Edwards’ Olive Tablets:


I look forward to leaving a similar memento for the builder who renovates our kitchen in 60 or 70 years time.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. curt #

    Love this post. One of the most interesting elements of renovating an old home is the discovery part. Of course, my house and most others don’t hold a candle next to your grand old dame. Might I suggest the Victor electronic mousetraps. They zap the little critter instantly and are reusable with no more ‘yuck factor’. Looking forward to your progress.

    November 24, 2013
    • jrh #

      Agreed – though I don’t like demo, the payoff is in the discovery. Thank you for the mouse trap tip. You can go cross-eyed looking at all the options on the store shelves, so it’s good to know of one that’s recommended.

      November 25, 2013


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