You’re the Mantel to my Fireplace

Milk and Cookies.
Waves and the Ocean.
French Fries and Ketchup.
Simon and Garfunkel.
Peanut Butter and Jelly.
Fountains and Pennies.
Lauren and Matthew.
Miss Pepper and Chasing Squirrels.
See where I’m going here, people? Some things just go together. 😉

So, you can’t have a fireplace without a good mantelpiece, am I right??

Our family room fireplace has come a loooooong way, my friends. Early on, we knew this was one of our little house’s “problem areas” considering every time it would rain, water would flood in through the firebox.

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This is a very early “before” picture…like, before we closed and cleaned the belongings out of the house…but you can see the water damage has rotted the entire mantelpiece.

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Once we tore away the wall, we discovered that the brick fireplace surround had completely separated from the chimney.

As you may remember, we completely rebuilt the wall on which the fireplace sits and we even contemplated cutting our losses and removing the entire thing (chimney and all) during a moment of insanity. But with the help of some professionals, we were able to diagnose the problem, repair the chimney and rebuild the firebox.

With all the brickwork complete, it was starting to look like a proper fireplace again…except we were still missing the crowned jewel, our mantelpiece!

Since our family room is open to the kitchen, we decided to stay with the same simple shaker-style look as with our cabinets. We think it turned out pretty nice:

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Bye, wall!

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Matthew surveying the scene and contemplating how to remove the very old and very heavy iron stove insert…

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…realizing this is not a one-man job.

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But that stove didn’t stop him from demo-ing the old brick surround. (The bricks were literally crumbling and disintegrating from the long-term dampness – ick!)

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New firebox, flue, surround and hearth!

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View from the outside; no more leaking!

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Ready for her mantel to arrive!

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Ta-daaaaa! She’s back and better than ever!

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(Sorry about all the junk in the fireplace; I was clearly so taken with our new mantelpiece that I was blind to all the scrap wood and tools! 😂)

The Last-Minute Window

Our powder room may be small, but it’s got personality! There are so many things we love about this teeny little room, but one of its finest features almost didn’t happen! You may remember from the floorplan redesign that the Nest’s powder room is not an original feature of the house. We decided early on that it would be smart to add a bathroom to the side of the house where all the living spaces are located (duh!). So, we added two little walls (and two pretty doors!) in what we call the office and – voila! – a powder room was born.

Because we re-plumbed the entire house, adding another sink and toilet was relatively easy. The challenge was making this little [water] closet not feel like an afterthought… so we decided to use the other half of the diamond-paned window that was originally in our master bathroom. Great idea, right?? Except: 1.) we only had one of the two window panels restored professionally (to keep in the master bathroom) and 2.) all the window openings had long been decided and windows installed months ago. Ugh! But Lauren we HAD to have this window! So, who did we call? My dad.

Good ol’ Richard Harper already has a recurring role in this story, so why not write one more chapter? Not only did he come to the rescue to restore the other half of the window for us, but he installed it, too! Here’s the proof:

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The master at work! Removing old glazing and stripping the wood.

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Adding new glaze to the window panes. Is there anything this guy can’t do? 🙂

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Making the first cut; no turning back!

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We see the light!!!

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Perfect cut!

The Newton Nest_Powder Room Window Install

Installed and trimmed.

I kid you not, adding this little window completely transformed our tiny powder room. Not only are we glad to have the natural light and a view of the Camelia tree in the side yard, but we saved and repurposed the other half of a very special original feature of our Nest. Win-win!

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I mean, can you even imagine this room without a window?

Removing a Relic

We think our Nest has lots of special features, but one of these is a certain type of wood paneling that has my dad – the master forester – seeing hearts. It’s called Wormy Chestnut… or as Richard Harper calls it, “a true relic.” Apparently, this woodland artifact is basically extinct and wormy chestnut lumber is an extremely rare find these days…and Matthew and I  [GASP]  wanted to paint it. So, in swooped the mighty mustachioed forester to rescue the Chestnut lumber in all its wormy glory from those who seek to whitewash its beauty beyond recognition!

The room we call our office was paneled floor-to-ceiling with the “good stuff,” so in lieu of covering up something so special with paint, we decided we would rather share the Wormy Chestnut with someone who really appreciates it! It took a few tries to discover a method of removing the tongue and groove boards with little damage (because they are so old, they’ve become fairly brittle), but the forester finally landed on a crude-but-effective system of prying each board away from the wall about an inch and then using a saws-all to cut through the nails holding it to the wall. Then his trusty nail puller (me) dutifully pried out the remaining nails.

What will the forester do with his loot? Well, he’s not sure yet, but Matthew and I have a feeling it will be something very special and maybe a little piece of it will make it’s way back to the Nest one day  🙂

Close-up of the grain and pattern of American Wormy Chestnut.

Close-up of the grain and pattern of American Wormy Chestnut.

In case you would like to know more about why Chestnut lumber, especially Wormy Chestnut, is so rare, here’s a little explanation from the Nest’s very first guest blogger:

So… what’s so special about the American chestnut?

Before the turn of the 20th Century, American chestnut was a dominant hardwood tree in the eastern United States occurring mostly in the Appalachians from Maine to Mississippi. Some of the largest trees reached heights almost 100 feet with diameters over 9 feet occurred right here in the Southern Appalachians which occupied 25 to 40 percent of the lower cove forests. Large crops of its sweet nut were enjoyed by humans and were a major contributor to wildlife forage.

Unfortunately, an Asian chestnut tree imported to the U.S. around 1900 carried a bark fungus commonly called the chestnut blight. The American chestnut had little resistance and the blight virtually girdles the tree killing it. By the 1930s, an estimated 3 billion trees had died.

The wood is somewhat rot resistant and many trees lay on the forest floor for years before being salvaged, hence the “wormy” effect of the lumber where insects bored throughout the tree; a.k.a. wormy chestnut.

The wood was strong, light, and was widely used for construction, furniture, and decorative trim. It has a true brown patina – not too light, not too dark… just right to warm a room – chestnut! My favorite is a room paneled with variable width boards that have been left to age to its natural brown patina.

Small shoots of American chestnut are still living throughout the Appalachians, but are soon attacked by the chestnut blight before reaching a few feet tall. Hybrids are being developed to resist the blight. One live chestnut hybrid in the Clemson area is almost 18 inches in diameter and about 60 feet tall – there is still hope!

So, what really is so special – it is a relic of a once great tree important to the forest, and… well… I just like it!

Richard Harper
Professional Forester, Retired

There you have it, folks! Straight from the Forester’s mouth.

Here are a few photos of the removal process:

A "before" picture of the Wormy Chestnut walls.

A “before” picture of the Wormy Chestnut walls.

Getting started!

Getting started!

Saws-alling with a smile!  :)

Saws-alling with a smile! 🙂

Pulling off the last few boards.

Pulling off the last few boards.

The loot!

The loot!

Here's a little Forester Flashback of Richard in his early forestry days. He's on the cover of Westvaco CFM News magazine, November 1983.

Here’s a little Forester Flashback of Richard in his early forestry days. He’s on the cover of Westvaco CFM News magazine, November 1983.

The devil really is in the details.

It’s a tedious job, but somebody’s gotta do it!

The sledgehammer swingin’ is over and now we are left with the nitty gritty detail work around “the edges” of each room. This is the last of the demo work that must be done before our builder can bring in the framer and really get the renovation phase going.

I suppose we brought this headache on ourselves by attempting to save the trim work, but we think it will be worth it to keep a few of the original details intact.

All the demo is done except the plaster left around the "edges" of each room.

All the demo is done except the plaster left around the “edges” of each room.

Close up of the left over plaster around the trim.

Close up of the left over plaster around the trim.

Chipping away along the baseboards.

Chipping away along the baseboards.

If we're not chipping away at plaster remnants, we are pulling nails out of the studs. Details, details, details.

If we’re not chipping away at plaster remnants, we are pulling nails out of the studs. Details, details, details.

Clean edges!

Clean edges!

We were able to carefully remove the plaster around the archway from the foyer into the formal living room -- one of the many details we love about our house!

We were able to carefully remove the plaster around the archway from the foyer into the formal living room — one of the many details we love about our house!

While tackling the detail work, Matthew took on one of our toughest “muscle” projects – master bathroom tile removal! Oh sure, those little square subway tiles look like they’ll chip right off, but what you can’t see is the two and a half inches of concrete behind them! Wowzer! This project – by far – took the most muscle power. Good thing Matthew’s got the guns for the job!

Master bathroom tile pre-demo. (Notice how the window goes halfway into the shower and there's also an air vent inside the shower!) We plan to remedy both of these little quirks.

Master bathroom tile pre-demo. (Notice how the window goes halfway into the shower and there’s also an air vent inside the shower!) We plan to remedy both of these little quirks.

Lauren's sad attempt at demo-ing tile!

Lauren’s sad attempt at demo-ing tile!

Matthew "Muscles" Newton makes some real progress.

Matthew “Muscles” Newton takes over and makes some real progress. (If you look closely, you can see he’s pried a huge chunk away from the wall — his arm is behind it!)

Pretty thick stuff! It's apparent that this tile was laid to last.

Pretty thick stuff! It’s apparent that this tile was laid to last.

SUCCESS! Believe it or not, it took three wheelbarrow loads to get all that tile rubble out of the tub.

SUCCESS! Believe it or not, it took four wheelbarrow loads to get all that tile rubble out of the tub.

Next step is getting electricity to the house so we can use power tools to speed up this detail work and run a shop vac to help with clean up. We have been waiting for more than two weeks now, so wish us luck…and if you happen to know someone at Duke Power who can bump us up on the list, we wouldn’t be upset if you made a call 😉

The sky is falling!

Chicken Little:  “Oh, help! The sky is falling!”
Henny Penny:   “How do you know?”
Chicken Little:  “I saw it with  my own eyes, and heard it with my own ears, and part of it fell on my head!”

If Chicken Little thought the world was coming to an end after a little acorn landed on his head, he and Henny Penny would have lost their minds in our house this weekend! Saturday’s major task was knocking the plaster off the ceilings. And yes, a lot of it fell on our heads.

It’s bad enough to have the plaster falling in your face, but we got the added surprise of loose insulation raining down upon us. There’s no way to spin it, this was a dirty, itchy, no good, very bad job. However, unlike Chicken Little, we know this isn’t a sign that the world is coming to an end, but more like a beacon of hope to know this dirtiest of jobs done and behind us!

We were again lucky to have lots of volunteers for demo day number two—Matthew’s sister Rebecca, my parents, my sister Emily, and our friend Skyler all came to help. Plus, we hired a local handyman named Doug to help with the really tough stuff.

Here’s a recap of all our dusty, dirty fun:

Matthew makin' it rain.

Matthew makin’ it rain.

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Loose insulation everywhere!

It's a dirty, dusty job, but somebody's gotta do it!

It’s a dirty, dusty job, but somebody’s gotta do it!

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Wheelbarrow load after wheelbarrow load to fill up Big Red…again!

We haven't scared Rebecca away yet!

We haven’t scared Rebecca away yet!

Even though my mom was down a hand, she went to town pulling nails out of the studs. A broken arm can't slow her down!

Even though my mom was down a hand, she went to town pulling nails out of the studs. A broken arm can’t slow her down!

My dad, the forester, came to help with a special wood project. ;)

My dad, the forester, came to help with a special wood project. 😉

My sister, Emily, is stylish as always with purple earplugs that perfectly matched her sweatshirt.

My sister, Emily, is stylish as always with sassy purple earplugs to coordinate with her sweatshirt.

Sisters that demo together, stay together.

Sisters that demo together, stay together. (We missed you, Rebecca!!)

Sledgehammer Sisters. #thoseharperwomen

Sledgehammer Sisters. #thoseharperwomen

Skyler joins the demo party!

Skyler joins the demo party!

Making progress!

Making progress!

Hammer down! (This actually happened twice!!!)

Hammer down! (This actually happened twice!!!)

Finished!

Finished!

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Another busy day... another full dumpster.

Another busy day… another full dumpster.

Behind linoleum floor number one…

If you’ve ever thought it was a good idea to glue linoleum tiles over beautiful hardwood floors, you may want to skip this post because you are officially on our naughty list!

Clearly the linoleum must go, so Matthew and I decided to test the waters and see what was lurking under those popular squares of a bygone era. Whaddyah know? There’s beautiful hardwood floor under there! In both the kitchen and the butler’s pantry, the previous owners had pasted over the original hardwoods… and it was no easy task to chisel our way down to the good stuff. Matthew and I spent the better part of two days chipping away at the tiles with scrapers and a rubber mallet, but it was worth it!!

Our test patch strikes wood!

Our test patch strikes wood!

Sir Chips-a-Lot

Sir Chips-a-Lot

Scraper-Roo

Scraper-Roo

Almost done!

Almost done!

Success!

Success!

Roll that beautiful floor footage!

Roll that beautiful floor footage!

As we were scraping along, we wondered to ourselves, “what exactly is linoleum, anyway?” So, naturally, we Googled it. In case you’re wondering, too, here’s the scoop according to Wikipedia:

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Funny thing – you’ll notice that the use of the word ‘linoleum’ grew exponentially in the late 1940s/early 1950s… back when our little nest was just a teenager. Maybe the linoleum was just an awkward phase. 😉

Excuse me, your studs are showing…

That’s right! Our studs are on full display, so try not to stare.

After our permit was approved, we slapped that baby up in the window and went to town with hammers, crowbars, and a lot of elbow grease. And, thankfully, we had a couple of volunteers, too! Matthew’s sisters, April and Rebecca rolled up their sleeves, donned dust masks and spent the entire day working with us on Saturday. Hours of hammering and one huge dust cloud later, we had exposed the bones of our little Nest!

Here’s a recap of our Demo Day:

Demo time!

Demo time!

Goodbye kitchen cabinets...

Goodbye kitchen cabinets…

The nastiest job of all... old carpet removal.

The nastiest job of all… old carpet removal.

Then linoleum floor tiles had to be scraped up!

Then linoleum floor tiles had to be scraped up!

Saving the cabinet hardware before the hammers begin.

Saving the cabinet hardware before the hammers begin.

Watch out! It's hammer time.

Watch out! It’s hammer time.

Making some progress.

Making some progress.

Real women swing sledgehammers (while kicking their leg up in an awkward demo dance move).

Real women swing sledgehammers (while kicking their leg up in an awkward demo dance move).

Taking a break in the bathtub.

Taking a break in the bathtub.

Clean up in bedroom three!

Clean up in bedroom three!

Dining room demo. April is meticulous!

Dining room demo. April is meticulous!

Removing ceiling tiles and  faux wood paneling in the family room.

Removing ceiling tiles and faux wood paneling in the family room.

Attic gold! Matthew found a beautiful vaulted ceiling after removing the old, yucky acoustic tiles in the family room. Jackpot!

Attic gold! Matthew found a beautiful vaulted ceiling after removing the old, yucky acoustic tiles in the family room. Jackpot!

Peek-a-boo!

Peek-a-boo!

Cleanup continues.

Cleanup continues.

Bin load #1,978. These ladies we troopers!

Bin load #1,978. These ladies were troopers!

Big Red is full again!

Big Red is full again!

Post-demo Kitchen.

Mid-demo Kitchen.

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Whoa! No more plaster in the dining room.

Lots of studs showing!

Lots of studs showing!

The dust cloud...a.k.a. the reason we wore masks!

The dust cloud…a.k.a. the reason we wore masks!

The Newtons -- happy after a hard day of work!

The Newtons — happy after a hard day of work!

Demo by the Digits:

  • 3 ladies and 1 dude
  • 6 hours of hard work
  • 2 sledgehammers
  • 2 crowbars
  • 1 rubber mallet
  • 4 sets of gloves
  • 8 earplugs
  • 4 respirator masks
  • Approximately 1 million (we stopped counting) bin loads full of plaster and insulation taken to the dumpster
  • 1 giant red dumpster – FULL
  • 1 big ol’ cloud of dust
  • ZERO injuries!

All in all, it adds up to a greatly productive day.

The Great Clean Out

Okay, brace yourselves. You’re about to get the grand tour of the interior of our house…

Not only does our nest need to be updated, but the house was never completely cleaned out before it was abandoned. So we had our work cut out for us to muddle through the clutter and separate anything of value from the trash. Luckily, we had many helpers! Matthew’s Mom, Dad and youngest sister Rebecca, plus my parents, The Harpers, and our good friend RJ showed up to lend a hand with the remaining yard clean up and relocate everything inside the house deemed “throw away” to Big Red, our giant dumpster.

Before we venture inside let’s talk about taming the jungle that’s grown up around the house. Saturday, with the help of our family and friends, we implemented Phase II of the exterior make over. We like to call it a “close shave” of the landscaping…don’t worry, we plan to let a lot of it grow back, but to make room to repair the cedar shakes, we had to really give the chainsaw a work out!

Yard Clean-up:

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Pretty big difference, huh?

Are you ready for the inside tour?  Here goes:

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Okay, so at this point, you’re probably thinking “WHOA—they have lost their cotton-pickin’ minds!” but don’t doubt us yet… it’s really hard to see the forest for the trees with all the “stuff” everywhere. We promise, there’s a really special house under there.

There were even a few “Keepers” found among the mess and we’re excited to eventually incorporate these items into the finished product.

"Keeper" Pile

“Keeper” Pile

We are counting our blessings after an extremely productive day and owe a huge thank you to our families and friends who came to get their hands dirty! With all we accomplished and all the hazards involved, we made it through the day with very little excitement…but there were a few little hiccups!

A Newton who shall not be named was enthusiastically sweeping and put the broom handle right through the window!

Gotta watch those broom handles!

Gotta watch those broom handles!

Chainsaw Scare! My dad (who is a very experienced chainsaw operator!) accidentally touched the slowing chainsaw blade to his leg and it ripped through his jeans leaving what was basically a deep scratch in his thigh. Amazingly lucky!

Too close for comfort! Yikes!

Too close for comfort! Yikes!

…and since that made three Hurt Harpers, we had to document!

The Three Hurt Harpers.

The Three Hurt Harpers.

Lauren had hand surgery, Richard cut his leg, and Jennifer has a broken wrist! It might be safe to say that the Newtons carried most of the weight this time.

Eggs of Wisdom:

  • No matter what you get yourself into, family will jump right in – without question – to help you succeed (and we have two of the very best!).
  • Construction Dumpsters are not really as big as they look…we overflowed that bad boy.
  • You can never have too many pairs of gloves. (Work gloves, rubber gloves, garden gloves…do I sound like Bubba Gump, yet?)

Two Newtons and a Chainsaw.

Before: Front Yard/Exterior

Before: Front Yard/Exterior

Okay, so maybe we have a little pent-up excitement? Just as fast as we could get our clothes changed after closing, Matthew and I were in the yard taming the jungle that has grown up around the house in the 4+ years it stood vacant. It’s amazing what you can do in a couple of hours with a chainsaw, weed eater and clippers, but we still have a ways to go.
Gas cans at the ready! We have our work cut out for us.

photoP.S.  I had minor hand surgery on Monday (which made signing the closing papers fun!), so Matthew is pretty much a one-man-band at the moment.  Thankfully, I can pick up a few sticks and small branches with “the good hand”.  The good news is that we have reinforcements coming to help us this weekend!