Renovating An Old Farmhouse

When I bought this farmhouse back in the 80’s, I’m not sure what I was thinking!  When I look back, I must have bumped my head!  First, it was abandoned – it had sat empty for over 18 months.  Secondly, it had experienced zero upkeep in years.

The driveway was a little better than a washed out gravel road and over a half mile long.  Along the driveway, almost to the house,  was a cute little bridge, but half the boards were missing – enough that I was scared to drive over it!  But I got out and walked up to the house, through chest high grass on the front lawn.

There were no locks on the doors.  The windows were the old double-hung, single pane with the old fashioned storm windows that were installed in the fall for the winter months, and removed every spring, if one was brave enough to climb a ladder and do that job.  These storm windows didn’t offer much insulation but that didn’t really matter because the doors didn’t really seal properly either!  In fact the old aluminium storm door was “latched” with a piece of baler twine.  There was a35 amp service for this 5 bedroom house, there were only outlets on the main floor – one in each room and nothing allocated for electric use upstairs.

The plumbing didn’t work – in fact, under the kitchen sink, there was a bucket, so that when you pulled the plug from washing the dishes (what dishwasher?), the water drained into this bucket that had to be carried outside.  Someone along the way converted the pantry into a bathroom, but it was a disaster that didn’t work.

The kitchen consisted of cupboards (lower only) along one wall, with the sink in the middle.

The heating system consisted of an old oil burning furnace that was on its’ last legs.

I don’t know what I was thinking!  From first laying eyes on this property, I moved in 10 days later!

The first issue was plumbing, but money was an issue first so I only renovated and repaired what I had to work with.  Under the kitchen sink, I installed new plumbing, the bucket wasn’t something I could live with for very long – too much like camping for me!  That was the kitchen complete, with it’s seafoam green walls.  I spent a few years on a ladder with a heat gun in my hand stripping paint.  I think I counted eleven coats, one of which was Chinese Red, in the kitchen.  I finally got all the old paint off and realized that the kitchen was a beautiful room that deserved to have a better set up.  I redesigned the kitchen that year, I had upper and lower cabinets installed and the kitchen cabinets were done with stained glass scenes instead of the floating panels  I decided to rip out the 70’s era vinyl floors and went with cherry floors because the floors under the vinyl were not saveable.   I installed a dishwasher!  I designed the whole kitchen around the sink, the sink was the original sink to the house, as far as I know.  It is a double sink with an attached built-in drainboard on each side of the sink.

Then the bathroom, the toilet flushed so I built up from there – a new tub and a new sink. Voila!  Over the years, I have done a lot of work and I have had a lot of work done and the bathrooms are more spa like than the bathroom was back then.  I have also taken one of the bedrooms, who needs five bedrooms anyway, and converted that to a lovely spa like bathroom with a slipper soaker tub.

I have stripped away more paint than I want to think about and I have tried all the methods of doing so.  I’m going to go with the heat gun for my job.  For very intricate work, you may want to try a chemical solution and toothbrush, but for large flat surfaces, the heat gun works best.

The walls in this house are lathe and plaster and there were a lot of cracks in the plaster.  I got an old guy from Europe that did lathe and plaster “in the old country” and he did the work and showed me how to stay on top of new cracks.  If you want to know how – leave a comment below!  I’ll be glad to share the process.  I did find hair in the wall one night and it spooked me, but I guess it was common place to use horse hair as a binder.

When I first moved into the farmhouse, the floors were not level.  And this is the case for most old homes, I used jack posts over a few years and slowly put the house back to level.  Go too fast and you’ll crack beams and windows.  Every so often, I get the level back out and adjust the jack posts a little to keep the level.

I was very fortunate that the bones of my old farmhouse were in very good shape for the age of the house and most of my repairs and renovations were superficial.   If you are thinking about renovating one of these old farmhouse charmers, get an expert opinion before you start.  Don’t back away from the deal – just know what you are doing going in.  I love my old farmhouse and I might have bumped my head the first day I saw it, but I’m glad I went through with buying an old run down farmhouse!

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