Author Archives: Jason

ASBH Features: Our 100-Year-Old Windows

For a 100-year-old-house, the original wood casement windows in our American System System Built Home are in excellent condition. This is largely due to the fact that the house has been fortunate enough to pass from caring owner to caring owner. We learned from the grocer’s daughter, for instance, that it was her father who had carefully reglazed the windows and built the interior (storm) windows and screens. And according to a longtime neighbor, the windows were a point of pride for the teacher who owned the house for many years after the grocer sold it. The neighbor told us that the teacher spent his summer breaks tending to the house and preserving the wood windows.

There are twelve zinc glass windows in the house – two in each corner of the three bedrooms, five on the south wall in the living room and one in the window beside the front door. (The three narrow doors leading to the sunporch are also zinc glass in the same design.) The rest of the windows are standard wood casement windows – most of which open fairly easily. We don’t really open the zinc glass windows very often because, well, why tempt fate with something one-of-a-kind?

The inner windows were not a part of the original design of the house. We were visited by the daughter of a former owner, the town grocer, who informed us that it was her father who had built the windows and screens. The grocer and his family lived in the house through the late 1970’s so the inner windows and screens were likely constructed around that time. You’ll also note the early-American style hinges on the windows. It seems that, it being the 1970’s and all, the grocer’s wife was a big fan off early-American style. That’s also an indication of when the windows were added.

There are also screens that were built for nine of the windows. Three screens for each of the larger bedroom, two screens for the smaller bedroom, plus one screen for the kitchen and one for the dining room. Since we know that these screens were built by the grocer, we don’t know what was originally in place. Likely, nothing. In the other ASB homes we’ve been in, we’ve seen a number of retractable and removable screens in the windows. I don’t think the original American System Built Home plans called for screens. That was likely up to the owner.

The screens and windows are numbered with helpful little pins that were sold at a time when storm windows were a more common feature houses.

I’d love to replace the early-American hinges with something that’s more in keeping with the Prairie style of our ASB home, but there are a total of 74 hinges on the windows. And that’s not including the hinges on the screen! If I include those, it would take 94 hinges to replace them all. If anyone out there has the hook-up for cheap but handsome hinges, let me know.

As the current stewards of the house, we are doing our part to care for the windows. Every summer I oil the casement stays and other hardware. Oiling not only helps extend the life of the adjusters, it makes it much easier to open and close the windows. As with any wood windows, some of them are easier to open than others. The swelling and shrinking with the seasons wreaks havoc on the wood each year. There are a few windows that are going to need a little more attention next spring.

In a house that is lacking a lot of other original features, we consider ourselves lucky to still have the windows that were installed in the house when it was built in 1917. Here’s to keeping these windows going strong for another 100 years!

A Final Tour: Saying Goodbye to the City Condo

Rogers Park Chicago Condo

On February 20, 2007, The Mister and I signed the closing documents for our first home together – a modest vintage condo on the far north side of the city. It was the Mister’s big birthday (I won’t say which but it ended in a zero) and we were confident that by purchasing property we were taking our first big step toward financial security. The housing market had been going gangbusters for the first few years of the early 2000’s and this small, rehabbed condo in an up-and-coming neighborhood was what we could comfortably afford. We reasoned that with the strong housing market we’d be able to trade up to a larger condo within a few years.

And then there was a little thing called the recession. Housing values dropped, businesses closed and, well, our best laid plans were thrown off track. The little condo that we thought we’d sell within five years instead became our home for the next ten. While many of the condo units in our building were lost to foreclosure and some other owners went the short-sale route, The Mister and I decided to hang tight. We weren’t willing to sacrifice our credit ratings to be able to move on. And, in some ways, that actually worked to our advantage.

I feel like I should be serenading the condo with “To Sir with Love.” For this little home has certainly taken me from crayons to perfume in terms of design. When we bought the condo ten years ago I was just beginning to invest in my interest in home design. Buying the condo was perfectly timed to coincide with my urge to nest. I also started writing for a design blog soon after we moved in, giving me a platform for documenting decorating the condo.

It took about seven years to finally find the perfect look for the condo. Each of the three rooms went through four or five design iterations along the way. There was the time I lined the walls with fabric “wainscoting” and turned the largest of the three rooms into a formal dining room. Or the period when the bedroom was Tiffany blue and we slept on a captain’s bed that was so tall that it came with steps.

As a longtime renter, it was a refreshing challenge to re-invent the condo every couple of years. I had been accustomed to moving every year or so and thus creating a necessary purge and redesign period. This condo was the first time in my adult life where we were locked into something. Since we couldn’t start over, I redesigned.

And then eventually I got the condo exactly where I wanted it. All of the rooms made sense in form, function and style. From the plumbing pipe shelves to the wood-filled mantel/entertainment center, I couldn’t bring myself to make one more change to the space. That was when we bought the Delbert Meier House. Having a big old house that is an ongoing project took my focus off the condo and allowed us to just live in the space for a couple years.

Well, now, ten years later, we’re finally moving out of the condo completely. My oldest and dearest friend is moving to the city and, in a case of absolute perfect circumstances, is renting our condo. We had long considered moving out of the condo and renting it out, but until my friend expressed interest in being a tenant we never took the notion seriously.

In the weeks leading up to our move, I was worried that I would find it difficult to dismantle the contents of the condo. I was particularly proud of the mantel/TV in the living room and thought that taking it apart might be painful. But, actually, as the first log came out, and as the others started to tumble to the floor, I was already over it. It was a fun design that we got to live with a few years but now it’s time to move on.

So now that we’re finally moving out of the condo, what’s next? When we first bought the house we thought that we might be able to move there full time at some point. In reality, our jobs are keeping us tethered to the city for the foreseeable future. And so we’re renting an apartment in the city and will continue to travel back and forth between city and country.

I’ll have more to share on our new city digs soon. Meanwhile, you can see more photos of the condo on the CONDO TOUR page.

Kitchen Mini-Renovation: We’re Going to Need a Backsplash

Here’s a little don’t-always-believe-what-you-see lesson for the internet age. Note how nice the wall looks in the photo above. The space above the newly installed countertop looks smooth and cleanly painted, right? You might even think that if I would just touch up that little bit of door frame to the left in the photo, I’d be all good to go. If this were a photo on Instagram, you might comment with something like, “Wow! It looks like you’re almost done!”

Well, what you see online and in social media posts may not always be as it seems. Take this wall for instance. While some patchwork and a fresh coat of paint has it looking “internet good,” reality is a totally different story.

If you were to come for a visit and see the kitchen in person, then you would notice all the flaws. And there are many, many flaws. For starters, my patch job is a little, uh, spotty. Have you ever tried to patch old plaster walls? It’s not easy! I thought that I had all the nicks and gauges filled in and sanded smooth. But then after I applied a coat of gray paint all the imperfections became glaringly obvious.

In addition to the marred walls, there’s also the little matter of the drywall not meeting the countertop (as shown in the photo above). When I ripped out the old countertop and discovered that the drywall didn’t extend behind the cabinetry, it didn’t occur to me that the new countertop would not be as proficient as the old at hiding this little imperfection.

So does the wall look better than it did when we started this project? Take a look at this photo mid-patch and be the judge. Of course it looks better! But only from a distance.

I could try to patch that gap where the drywall doesn’t meet the countertop, of course. And I could go back and patch the walls again. But at this point I think we’ll just install a backsplash in the kitchen. I’ve been wanting to try my hand at tiling and what better place to experiment than in the kitchen?

In the meantime, I’ll just share photos of the kitchen online and keep any real life visitors distracted so they don’t notice the walls.

Kitchen Mini-Renovation: Countertop and Sink

The kitchen rehab continues! This time, countertop and sink. We’re saying goodbye to the stainless steel sink and formica countertop that had been painted silver. In their place, we’re installing IKEA HAMMARP butcher block countertops to warm up the kitchen and a Kohler white cast iron sink to bring back some vintage farmhouse flair.

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Kitchen Mini-Renovation: Painting the Cabinets

Previously on This American House: We kicked off the kitchen mini-renovation by rehabbing a small corner of the kitchen. Now the time has come to finish the other 3/4 of the kitchen. First up, painting the cabinets.

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