Mill Street Blues: Posts, Posts, and More Posts

With the Craftsman bungalow finished, it was time to shift focus back to the wing and gable farmhouse. Winter was fast approaching, and our goal was to complete the work that could not be done in the dead of winter, and/or which could not or should not wait until spring.

First up was to finish the repairs to the front porch that had been started over a year ago. We’re not talking about a big project here—like say, transforming a tiny outdoor sitting nook into a ginormous grand veranda. We just wanted to restore the sizable but simple covered porch to its former understated glory.

Of course, even that modest goal was going to involve more than a bit of scraping and a few cans of paint. We knew this because, at various points over the last century, someone (or several someones) had committed egregious crimes against the home which had compromised both its style and its structural integrity.

Case in point: the seven Tuscan Roman columns. Known to some folks as pillars, these huge, hollow, wooden cylinders were doing their job—that is, holding up the roof of the porch without completely blocking out the sun—but they were doing nothing for the home in terms of curb appeal.

Now, personally, I have nothing against Tuscan, Roman, or even Grecian columns, provided they are attached to a structure that:

  • I do not own
  • I do not have to look at every day
  • is located in Tuscany, Rome, or Greece

That’s not to say I don’t appreciate columns, or that columns have no place in Midwestern farmhouse architecture. In fact, with a large covered front porch being one of the hallmarks of the American farmhouse—and with our greatest scientific minds having yet to to invent a roof that can hover over a porch of its own accord (presumably because they’ve been busy working on self-driving cars) columns are—at least for the foreseeable future—a necessity.

But while I appreciate columns for their ability to hold up a roof and add character to a home per se, I can’t get on board with having seven (seven!) giant, cylindrical columns on the porch of this one and a half story wing and gable farmhouse. They simply don’t belong. Just like they wouldn’t belong on the front porch of an adobe ranch, a Quonset hut, a mobile home, or anything short of a bank, a museum, or the Library of Congress.

One notable exception may be a two-story Greek Revival farmhouse, which theoretically would have the height and breadth to pull off columns of that size and scale.  But even then you would typically see something less ornate and grandiose than a full-on Tuscan Roman colonnade. Think six-by-six or four-by-four posts. Or eight-by-eight barn beams.

In fact, I can think of only three reasons to put these enormous Tuscan Roman columns on the porch of a small wing and gable farmhouse:

You’re broke, and said columns are free on Buy and Sell, Facebook Marketplace, or other social media platform (which we know these were not since their existence predates the sharing economy and all social media platforms except papyrus scrolls and stone tablets)

You’re obsessed with the concept of re-purposing, and there is literally NOTHING else you can think of to do with seven spare Tuscan Roman columns than stand them on your front porch (which is unlikely since it would have much easier to lay them on the ground and use them as tunnels for training small animals, or chop them up and use them as fuel for your furnace—the columns, not the small animals)

You live in an isolated area and said columns are the only material at your disposal when you realize your porch needs work (which is also unlikely since there are no less than 16 stores within a 30-minute drive of this dwelling that sell lumber, and about one hundred times that many very tall trees within a 3-minute walk that easily could be cut down and hewn into lumber over five or six days)

Knowing how the Jarhead and I react when one of us wants to do something completely insane with one of our projects (like when he suggested we just repair the columns instead of replacing them and I suggested he stop drinking in the middle of the day; or when I suggested we repair the columns and re-purpose them to build the world’s first and only Tuscan Roman deer stand and he decided to store them just in case he gets bored and decides to build the world’s first and only Tuscan Roman deer stand) I would love to have been a fly on the wall when the decision was made to install these pillars. I imagine the conversation to have gone something like this:

She: Baby, the porch is in pretty rough shape. Could you please fix it?

He: Sure, honey.

She: Thanks, baby. And maybe instead of 3 or 4 ordinary porch posts you could  support the roof with seven giant Tuscan Roman columns.

He: Why would we do that?

She: Why, to show the neighbors that we are people of great wealth and taste, of course.

He: That’s a great idea! Let’s go shopping for them right now!

But more likely, it went something like this:

She: Baby, the porch is in pretty rough shape. Could you please fix it?

He: Sure, honey.

She (six months later): Baby, the porch is in pretty rough shape. Could you please fix it?

He: Sure, honey.

She:  Thanks, baby. I don’t need you to make it too fancy. Just do what you must to keep the roof from caving in.

He (looking up from his newspaper): You bet, honey. Anything you want.

She (six months after that): Baby, the porch is still in pretty rough shape. Could you PLEASE replace those posts before the roof caves in?

He: (sighing): Fine. (Flips to the Classified section. Finds an ad for seven free/cheap Tuscan Roman columns, then picks them up and installs them while wife is out shopping with her friends…

Fortunately, that is not how it went when we commenced work on the porch in 2018. Instead, the seven Tuscan Roman columns came down—along with the PVC railing and the chain link fence—and four simple, square columns went up in their place.

As he was removing the old columns, however, the Jarhead decided (without prompting, I might add) to look under the porch to see why the floor seemed a bit bouncy. Turns out that someone (probably the same someone who installed the pillars) decided to replace the floorboards when they went bad but did NOT replace the rotten stringers that were supposed to be holding them up. Thus, he had to pull off much of the floor and rebuild the underlying structures before he could replace the columns.

And then winter came, so we had to quit before the stairs could be rebuilt and the painting could be done. Finally, in September of 2019, we got back to work on it, as well as the lawn and the landscaping. Several months and countless hours later, we have four nice new six-by-six columns, a new set of stairs, new wooden railings, and a row of little boxwoods lining the front.


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The unseasonably wet fall weather is complicating our efforts to get it painted. But once we finish painting, lay the mulch, and get the risers on the stairs—assuming it stops raining before the snow flies—that will be one job down and only fifteen left to finish before it’s too cold to work outside.


Mill Street Blues: Move It or Lose It

After relieving Dude of his responsibilities vis à vis the wing and gable farmhouse, the Jarhead and I found ourselves in a bit of a quandary. A predicament. A veritable pickle, if you will. With our other house having already sold and closing day just weeks away, we needed to kick things into high gear if we didn’t want to spend the winter in a storage facility with our cat and all our worldly possessions.

Although we had finished installing the cabinets and painting most of the walls by then, we still had doors to paint, hardware to clean, two porches to repair, a deck to strip and paint, and a kitchen to finish. On top of all of that, after dismissing Dude, we also had kitchen and dining room flooring to install, interior doors and trim to hang, and some electrical work to finish. We also had a crapload of cleaning to do since the folks on Dude’s crew either had a pathological aversion to putting garbage in the 55 gallon bins we so generously had provided, or were trying to see how much trash they could amass on the floor before I lost my flipping mind.

Meanwhile, as they were NOT throwing away their drink cups, soda cans, and water bottles, they WERE throwing out other items. Like entire strips of original Victorian-era door and window trim and hardware we were saving to reuse. And the original siding that was to have been removed from the OLD east end of the garage before the addition was framed, and which we had expected to have put back on the NEW east end of the garage when the addition was finished.

Fortunately, the Jarhead realized what was happening in time to salvage enough trim and other components to finish the patio doorway to match the rest of the main floor doorways. That meant he had to do something different around the kitchen window and one of the upstairs doors, but at least we were able to preserve the original character in the main living areas. As for the garage siding, it presumably went to building materials heaven. Or the dump. Depending on your religious affiliation.

Meanwhile, as the Jarhead worked on the tasks involving power tools, muscles, and advanced math, I finished the painting, learned how—and how NOT to—install vinyl plank, and arranged for the carpet, counter tops, and appliances to be installed so we could accomplish the modest goal of moving out of the old house in time for the buyer to move in.

We barely made it. That is to say, we got moved out of the old house, but we moved in to the new one under less than ideal circumstances. For example, the counter tops couldn’t be installed until almost two weeks after we moved in. And because we couldn’t install the sink, disposal, and dishwasher without the counters in place, we didn’t have running water in the kitchen for a few more days after that. And because the plumber who was installing the sink, disposal and dishwasher was also installing the washer, dryer, and stove—and because he didn’t want to make two trips to outer Mongolia—we couldn’t cook or do any laundry until then either.

Thankfully, we had a grill to cook on, paper plates to eat on, a bathroom sink to get water from, and enough clothing in our closets that we didn’t have to sneak over to the old house and do laundry while the new owner was sleeping. I’m just kidding, of course. There’s no way I could have gone over there at night without waking up her dogs, and everyone knows I’m afraid of dogs.

Had we known we were going to fall so short of our goal, we definitely would have fired Dude and taken over the project much sooner. As it was, we had to hire a couple guys to work on the doors just to buy the Jarhead enough time for other tasks that absolutely had to be done before winter.

We thought that would bring us back on schedule, but as fall turned to winter, it became clear that the windows all needed to be replaced. And so, the porch repairs got bumped to spring, along with the deck repairs, the garage updates, and grouting the kitchen back splash.

And then, just as we were getting around to doing the winter projects, the foyer ceiling started leaking. And the pipes froze in the kitchen. Evidently Dude and crew forgot to insulate above the foyer when they replaced the ceiling and installed the new roof. And apparently the plumber was unaware that water lines should not be placed against a stone foundation wall. Seems to me that professional roofers and plumbers would have known these things. But then I’m reminded that, although they take money to perform a service, Dude and crew are not professionals.

Needless to say, we were very glad we opted to love this house instead of listing it. I can only imagine the lawsuit we would be facing if we had sold it. I can only imagine the excuses Dude would have to offer if I had bothered to confront him over it. I can only imagine the charges I would be facing and the sentence I would be serving if the Jarhead hadn’t been around to uncork the wine.

Meanwhile, just as I was learning to manage my homicidal tendencies, we found the Craftsman bungalow I mentioned a few posts ago (Mill Street Blues: Love It or List It.) And so, the rest of the interior painting got bumped to the summer, along with cleaning the basement and sorting the garage.

And then, just as we were wrapping up the demo at the Craftsman bungalow, we discovered that it needed a new roof and had bad wiring. And so, because we had to find a roofer and an electrician—and pull permits and meet with inspectors—the reconstruction, drywall, plastering and painting there got bumped to the spring, which meant work there would continue through the summer.

And then, just as, well, you get the picture.

In the end, it took us just under eight months to get the Craftsman on the market, and it sold in two weeks. We’re pleased with how it turned out, and excited for the folks who are buying it.

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Almost a year after moving to Mill Street, we are finally getting around to the work that should have been done fifteen months ago, including insulating the foyer and properly installing the kitchen water lines. With luck, it won’t take fifteen more.