House Renovation: MaoHaus Major Construction Update and Design Sketches

Maohaus: The 1890's folk Victorian house we are gutting and rebuilding from the inside out. 

Big renovations are happening at the house right now. If you've been following along on Stories, you've seen the nearly daily updates of mayhem. And it's not 'pretty renovations' either at this point. Like when someone says "Omg I'm so stressed- my kitchen is being redone and it's going to take a week of stuff out of the cabinets". And then it's all pretty again.

Nope. Not even close.

This is bare bones, stripped down to the floor joists and dirt kind of renovations. Wall removal, rot fixing, structural renovations. We've been planning and working on this big change for a while but life kept happening. And let's face it: there is never a convenient time to have your house ripped open...especially when you work from home.

Where we started (first floor):

Let's start with the house itself. This is an old, historic home that was at one point illegally converted into a duplex, split and closed off the main staircase (note: this is how we are able to live in work in the house at the same time as the renovation- we have everything we need upstairs including another kitchen!). We should also mention the real estate market in our neighborhood is pretty competitive. If you want an old home downtown, you JUMP on what's available knowing full well that you're going to have to do some renovations (unless you buy the enormous perfectly preserved mansions...). 

In fact, if you look at the real estate listing images from when we bought the house, you think "Not bad. Livable. The rooms are 'fine'." Except the kitchen because that thing is beyond terrible. I mean you think that it's mostly fine. But then you look closer at the absolute shit work that the previous owner did: patches, fast fixes, not doing the work the house needed. To be blunt: the previous owner was terrible. He did not care about the wellbeing of the house. He cared about profit (Remember the illegal duplex? Slum landlord. Yeah.)

And we knew that the small room structure was also not really what we wanted.

Bring on the pry bars and demolition. 

What we've accomplished so far:

Up to this point we have torn down and removed all of the damaged plaster, lath and loose fill insulation in every wall (minus one plaster wall that's good and we'll keep) on the first level of our house. In February Chris and I removed all of the floors on the first level, removed all of the shit under the floor that people had shoved in there since 1890 (COME ON can we please just dispose of stuff the right way? Why do I need to haul out building supplies you used for a fix and then threw under the house?). It was major. Also a mummified cat. Yep.

In March the downstairs office structural issues were resolved. They removed any studs with rot (thanks to a neglectful previous owner and town that does a terrible job controlling street water drainage) and added more floor support. Then, the main living area LVL headers were installed which starts the most drastic change to the house. In these before pictures, you can see there's a separate living room, dining room and kitchen (that you can see because we put a hole in the wall). That's typical these types of homes: lots of smaller rooms. The family expands and you add another room, etc. So all those walls were removed so it's one big open room and all of them were structural that carried the load of the first floor and roof. And man does it feel way better and more open.

ALSO, if you love the wall colors in these rooms...we have simple formula. Put all of your leftover paint into a 5 gallon bucket, stir and paint liberally over every surface. All hinges, door and window hardware, switches and outlets were covered with at least 5 coats of paint. FUN!

Below images: Same room location: 3 stages

It's not just that the walls are gone, but it's also the fact that this house is BLESSED with strangely tall ceilings and windows. When doing demo we found that as we removed the patchy, popcorn (WHY) ceilings with damage, it exposed beautiful wood and rafters that are the underside of the second story floor. And there was no way we wanted to cover those back up. With taller than average ceilings anyway, keeping them open added an extra bump of space. We know there is a little bit more dust and noise but we think it's worth it.

And between all of that was getting the board of architectural review's approval. What I haven't added specifically in this post is the added layer of complexity we have: this is a historic home in a historic district. And that means all exterior changes (literally all: paint, material changes even if they look like the original, fences etc) must be approved by a board after a presentation. Living in a historic district is not for everyone. 

Current Status: 

Which brings us to where we are now: stripped down, walls removed and one big open main living area! Next is insulating and encapsulating (no more vents/unconditioned space) the crawlspace before we add the subfloors on top and the electrician and plumber come in. And I've been educated by Chris enough to mention now that new homes are not built this way (their walls are built on TOP of the floor). Old homes like ours have walls not built on top of the floors (which is why they're open right now). Insulating this house has been a massive debate by many professional resources and us. It's not a true balloon frame house- do you or don't you let it 'breathe'?...insulation could be another separate post (although not as interesting) but if you have insulation questions....hit us up. Chris can probably help you. 

And now, as we're in nearly in April, some big progress, albeit not always visually exciting to show progress, has happened. 

What it will be (and won't be):

Although the renovation of the entire house (including redoing the metal roof) will take us through practically the end of summer, the downstairs portion will be the first area completed. Before you scroll down more, I want to be perfectly clear: we want a simple, minimal home with history and modern touches (clean lines, neutral colors, marble slab). We DO NOT WANT a McMansion. We DO NOT WANT a big house with too many rooms in a neighborhood that looks all the same. As we shared our vision with our contractor, and even our families, sometimes people don't get it. We don't want the chandelier in the kitchen and 3 guest bedrooms we will never use. This is what we want in our life right now.

These quick renderings don't show an additional wing of the house which contains our office or another bump out that has a bathroom/mudroom/laundry room. They also really don't do the space justice (the light and the wood ceilings are so cool). But you get the idea. It's a big change (and improvement). Scroll up to see the before just for a gut check.

folk victorian modern simple renovation kitchen
folk victorian home modern simple renovation

Materials, mood and what's next:

By now, I'm sure you've realized we are incredibly particular with what makes the cut in our lives and in our home. We lean toward the minimalist side of things (clean lines, selective texture, cat proof, more white space than full) with a mix of more unusual pieces and art that tells a story (we have a giant half naked painting of a woman that caused some angry mom to do a u-turn off the street at the store we bought it from to yell at the store for daring to show boobs in their window. Obviously, we loved the story it so much we bought it.). 

Unfortunately 'simple and minimal' means that everything matters (that's why some famous chefs are known to have their potential employees cook them a single egg as a test...). There's no half ass-ing this look with poor quality materials or shoddy work. Lines need to match up from one end of the house to the other. Angles need to be done just so. All while we still let this house 'be' the house it is: old. As we peel back the layers of this house, we've found things we want to keep (the wood rafters, the brick chimney that was plastered over, newel posts).

While this is obviously not a recipe or food kind of is in a way. The recipes we share, the posts I write are all done to hopefully cut down the noise you hear other places. If something is complex: we make it worth it. If it requires research: we do it so you don't have to. And for this house renovation, we hope we can show you products we've found to be a good fit for our philosophy or to be a resource for those of you who are considering buying an old home, but aren't sure what you're in for. 


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