Old house undergoes satisfying changes

#560 in a series of true experiences in real estate
September 2008, Hills Newspapers

So many interesting and gratifying changes are happening at an old Berkeley house we’ll be putting on the market. The painters were able to save most of the crumbling ceiling plaster that had holes as big as coffee tables. They removed loose pieces, patched in sheetrock, smoothed the edges so well we can’t see the repairs.

They painted ceilings and walls. They used stain in gel form, something new to us, to go over unpainted woodwork – door and window casings, baseboards and doors – which restored them to what they must have looked like when new, when first built in the early 1900s. Scratches and scrapes blend in now.

There is a sleeping porch on the second floor off of the largest bedroom, probably included for healthy fresh-air sleeping. When built the room was open on 3 sides but, as we heard the story, so much rain came in that early on sliding wooden windows were added. Inexplicably, one exterior window sill had been built wrong. It sloped inward ensuring that rain dripped into the room instead of away.

A number of rickety fall-apart windows were being replaced including the sliders in the sleeping porch. But it didn’t seem right to leave the outer sill the way it was. A carpenter was hired to replace the entire opening, inside and out. He rebuilt the sill and frame and new sliders were installed. Cost for this opening and window, about $5,000, and definitely worth it.

The painters stained and over-coated the new wood framing and windows, and they match surprisingly well the original old wood in the walls and open-rafter ceiling of the sleeping porch.

One of the bedrooms in the house has a sink in one corner, convenient for brushing teeth and getting a glass of water without having to go into the hall bath. The contractor who was making repairs at the house called us one afternoon saying that new faucets were needed for the bedroom sink. The valves were worn out and while they could probably be rebuilt, it would be difficult to find replacement parts.

Better to buy new faucets, needed by the following morning. We made phone calls and we went to hardware stores but what was readily available didn’t look right. The old nickel plated faucets with porcelain trim were plump and happy looking. New ones are thinner and sleeker shiny chrome with criss-cross handle tops. Inexpensive at about $40 for a pair, one hot and one cold, but we kept looking.

At Omega Salvage we lucked out. Faucets very similar to the old with sinuous lines but these were new; $175 for both including tax. The contractor also installed new supply lines, p trap, drain and shut-off valves. Total to make the bedroom sink work well and look good, about $400.

The dining room fireplace hearth tile had broken into pieces some years back when repairs were made underneath the room. We found the rubble visually disquieting, plus the pieces stuck up above the flooring making for stubbed toes.

We went tile shopping, wanting to find tile that would be in keeping with the style of the house but not attract attention to itself. The first tile we liked was a rustic skip-surface finish in delphinium blue. Very pretty but we felt too conspicuous. We bought instead a modest charcoal-brown matte-glazed tile, 6 inches square. Cost to make dining hearth whole and fine, approximately $350. The whole room looks better.

These are only a few of the costs and repairs being made to this wonderful old house but they are among the most satisfying. Among my favorite parts of this house are the sleeping porch where I would love to sleep looking out at the tree tops; the casement windows both upstairs and down that either fling out or are opened in; the pantry room located at a front corner of the house. When I first opened the wide pantry casements and folded them back almost like wings, I felt like I should hurry to the kitchen and bake a pie.

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