What history would our walls share? That is what I was thinking as we started our home remodeling project in May. Molly and I decided it was time to do something with our downstairs bathroom and our back room that we referred to as the “catch-all” room of our house. The bathroom was in need of serious updating–both mechanically and aesthetically. And the back room was just not the practical, usable space we needed it to be for our growing family. We took the plunge and decided to give these areas a much-needed facelift.
These two rooms are in the back portion of our home which was an addition from the 1920s. The original portion of the house was built in 1921, and up until the demo I figured the addition was 1927-28. It is very unusual for older homes to have a bathroom downstairs and upstairs. The original owner, Casper R. Fluor, likely built this bathroom & bedroom addition for his wife suffering from illness. She may have had a hard time going up and down stairs, so Casper made her a suite on the first floor. Sadly, she passed away in 1928.
Before the demolition, the bathroom had the original white, subway tile shower. When we moved into the house the shower had the original Crane shower faucet! Over the years modifications were made to this room, and a lot of the original features were covered up or removed. As sad as it was for me, the old tile shower had to go. There were too many cracks and holes in it allowing water to penetrate the walls and the sub floor.
I was amazed at what we discovered as we started gutting these rooms. First of all, they were not lath and plaster walls like the rest of the house. It was all original drywall! I never realized how far back drywall went. Some of the pieces even had the original manufacturer and instructions for installation on them. Secondly, when we tore up the shower we found that the floor was about 4″- 5″ thick! WOW! Water had already started to penetrate that and had rotted the wood sub floor. It wasn’t until we had everything out that we realized how rotten all of the floor joists were from moisture and needed to be replaced. Lastly, all of the original armored electric cable was still in the walls. Some was still being used, others were stuffed in their junction boxes and covered by updates done in years past. One thing was certain, these wires were in bad shape and needed to be removed and replaced.
There were no big surprises in the back room. That also had an original layer of drywall beneath another layer added at some point later when a portion of the wall was moved to make the bathroom larger. I had planned on restoring all of the lead-weighted windows from both rooms. The windows in the back room were beyond repair, but I was able to restore the bathroom window. All these window were originals made by Anderson Windows.
Upon starting this project, we set a budget on what we expected to spend on this renovation. Well, when you open old walls nasty surprises present themselves. The wiring and plumbing was a given to be bad and need to be replaced. We found out that the window headers were not to modern code. They were 2x4s (some laid on plank end) used for the window headers. When the building inspector came through he pointed this out and said it had to be fixed. My argument that it had been this way for 90 years was no exception. My Dad and I braced the ceiling and put in new 2×8 headers. We also did some more bracing under the windows.
Most of my summer was spent rewiring, plumbing, and insulating these rooms. My Dad and his crew of Amish carpenters were a tremendous help with this project. I really couldn’t have done it without my Dad’s help. By the end of summer, new windows were put in and the drywall had been hung. We hired a guy to do the taping, mudding, and painting. In the fall we had carpeting put in our new family space, and the bathroom got a tiled corner shower and hex tile floor.
I wanted to use as much of the original woodwork as possible, but there some things that I needed to replace. My father-in-law, Dan, is great with wood projects. I recruited him to help recreate the window header look from that era. We spend a whole afternoon routing and hanging window trim. The results were amazing.
It’s been a busy year getting this project done. We now have two beautiful rooms that are much more functional. The best part is that our new couch in the family room has a pullout bed for company to sleep over. I wanted the bathroom to keep that old look to go with the age of the house. I think we nailed it!
I was hoping to find some money, a note in the wall, or a time capsule when we opened the walls. No luck. However, I made sure I wrote our names, the date, and what we were doing on some of the studs before we closed the walls. We did find an old trowel in the wall in the bathroom during demolition, which I used during the project to cement the shower base in place. So it was used for both the first and second shower installation. What is the coolest item you’ve discovered while doing a remodeling project?