Monday, November 30, 2015

The struggle is real

I'm not going to sugar coat it. I am struggling right now. Granted things are better, way better than where we were last year. For those of you who don't know, here is a brief recap:

We were renting a trashy small apartment in which our landlord unexpectedly passed away. We found ourselves in the middle of an all out family war for the property. It was a four unit property divided among three relatives. One of whom had already passed, leaving his apartment share to his wife. We were renting our unit from GCG. He passed, and the demands for rent began to show up. "Pay me the rents". "Pay me the rents now in cash". "Don't give the rents to the woman". etc, etc. We had no intention of paying anyone other than GCG's estate so we did everything by the book in terms of writing and sending the appropriated documents to those involved and starting an account for rent and documenting EVERYthing in terms of lack of heat and hot water (long running issue). The man illegally living in the basement was part owner of the building, and the author of the grammatically stunning notes from above. He liked to pee in Snapple bottles, leaving them in an artistic covering on the table in the basement. He liked to scream the same few foul phrases over and over most likely while drunk off his gourd from $2.99 hooch. He liked to sleep in a basement with no running water and no plumbing, on a soiled mattress laying on a concrete pad so thickly covered in dirt we thought it was carpet the first time we went down there. He also liked to, on occasion, leave feces in the vestibule; of which that is a whole other story. He also liked to turn the heat off in the attempt to extort money from us for the rent to which he was not entitled to. It was a long cold winter last year and we had many calls to 311, the police, the fire department, and frankly, most everyone pointed to someone else who could do something but said they weren't legally able to keep him from turning the furnace off. It was a regular ol' mess.

So moving forward a year; yes I am ridiculously grateful that we are in our own house, with our own lack of heat, but this time it is because we are working on the home and making it something we can be proud of. The problem lies in that I have absolutely no control over anything. The DOB is dragging their heals, most likely not as much as our expediter. (If you're reading this by any miracle of miracles, CALL ME). The contractors are doing the right thing and waiting to do the permitted work until the absent permits are pulled, and moving forward on select projects.

Again, life is also a bit messy and sticky in other areas, but when isn't it. I just feel myself sliding and everything I try to do in order to pick myself up and feel optimistic, falls just short of working.

Did I mention that I invited my family for Christmas? I know they will make the best of it with us, I just pray we have a semi-functional kitchen in time for Christmas dinner and a place free of construction debris to celebrate together. As it stands now, it is all I can do to keep my eyes focused on the future.  For the week, that means rehearsals and performances of "Amahl and the Night Visitors" with shifts in Times Square mixed in. There, now who doesn't feel more relaxed?

Friday, November 20, 2015

To Covet

The hunky contractors are busily framing out the new bathroom/laundry room/closets in the upstairs unit. With luck and pixy dust, we'll be cooking on a real stove (exit crock pot stage left) and gathering in a mostly finished home for Christmas. I have had, and am probably currently having a panic attack. I invited my family to join us in NY for Christmas this year. What? Jump back! What sort of masochistic fool takes on a two unit full scale renovation project, while managing another project for her folks, while working in a Times Square restaurant (Holiday Season anyone?!), while singing a lead in an upcoming opera, while remembering to breath, while not screaming her head off because of her shear insanity? This sort: Hello.

Taking a brain break from my memorization, I decided to troll the internet for things I covet. Feast your eyes on these pretties.

House Number Lab gold leaf historic house numbers. For the time being, the crafty red painted numbering will live to face another sunrise.

A tiny giant of a soaking tub from Kohler. This bad boy is one of the only tubs small enough to fit our New York bathroom. Alas, we found one other less luxurious model after a week long nightmare of dinged and damaged tubs. Still, this is what our tub looks like in my mind.

Curvy and solid, just the way I like 'em, from House of Antique Hardware. Imagine these holding up antique walnut open shelving in our kitchen. That was fun. Moving along.

This ingenious jewel is the pièce de résistance What restoration project would be complete without an accurate replica of an antique icebox, but with all the modern conveniences of electricity! Just kidding, or am I?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

In Memoriam: Crappy Stuff

Main waste line 

Loads of debris shoved in tiny hole in the attic crawl space

Strange medicine cabinet that hung into the ether
Petrified mouse jauntily making it's way in the world

Just got word that we need to say a final farewell to our house water main as well. I was hoping it would make it through the storm unscathed but it has been steadily leaking more and more over the past month. FIE ON YOU CONSTRUCTION GODS! Must there be so much loss?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


I have been waiting for the windows to be completely installed to write this post. I realize that nothing will be completely finished until the whole of the project is complete. That being said, they are 98% complete. We still need to:
- Insulate in the old weight pockets in the front bedroom (just three windows left).
-Finish stripping the trim we are staining, and prep the trim we are painting THEN install it;
-Stain the windows, paint the trim;

Then they'll be complete. Sadly, the painting and trim work will be the last thing we do, so we will be happy with our 98% windows until then. It is a HUGE upgrade so we are content to bask in the rays of light that now flood our home. It is a bit different than the flooding of water in the basement, a welcome change.

Plus, last February was a wee bit chilly with windows that didn't close, broken glass, and a missing transom (a.k.a. trash bag and cardboard) above the back door, which itself was nothing more than a piece of plywood bolted into the opening with a big scary gate and an even scarier pad lock keeping us in.

So let's get down to business. Windows, they cost an arm and a leg, gave me my first, second, and third gray hair, kept me up endless nights worrying and eventually turned me into the anxious drooling dolt of a person that I am today. Yes, a more appropriate title for this post is "Windows; picking, purchasing, surviving and installing the single most expensive item in your renovation".

There are a dizzying array of windows out there on the market. The frames themselves come in vinyl, aluminum, wood, fiberglass, not to mention composites of multiple materials when you start cladding wood windows with aluminum, vinyl and proprietary mumbo-jumbo. I should first say that if we had the original windows, we would have put the effort and money into rehabilitating them, but they were nothing but a wisp of a memory, and what we had instead were metal contraptions from the 70s, some if them even had glass.

The old kitchen window, note the presence of glass.
Since we are on a National Historic block, we were limited to some degree as to the materials we could use if we wanted to take advantage of the Historic Tax Credit. Working with the National Park Service, we realized we had only two options but no specifics. Let me me explain: We could use a wood interior window with a historically clad profile for the exterior, or we could purchase an all wood window. So knowing very little about windows, I began to do all the research, make a choice on a product, get the bid, submit our choice then wait and see if it met approval. When I asked for a short list of approved windows, I was met with silence. There is no such thing. So google and I trolled around the web looking for documents from other state and local historic applications that had approved windows. I loved the idea of all wood but we had to keep in mind that while we live on the first floor of the building, we will have renters on the second and it will ultimately be an investment property. A window with very little upkeep was a big factor in our decision to chose a clad window. The rear of the property gets a lot of sunlight and I'd already rehabed wooden windows in a bungalow in CA. The paint on the South facing side, flecked in a few places after one year, and only took three years to start chipping in earnest. Again, if we had the wood windows to begin with, we would have happily and lovingly maintained them. However, we were dealing with a blank slate; a very daunting and expensive blank slate. The price for new windows, large ones at that, was staggering and every little added cost to one window, was multiplied by 14. Wood windows were our most expensive option. Clad was the second most expensive. We used an aluminum clad on the front. It is also the historic face of the home and what we could use and still have approved. I did the math and it was worth the added cost, since in order to qualify for the tax credit a certain percentage of your repairs has to be on the exterior of the home. Well, looking back, we didn't need to worry about hitting that mark, but at the beginning of the game, way back last spring when we ordered the windows, it was a consideration. Silly us.

That being said, for the rear of the house we pulled the trigger on Andersen 400 Clad double hung windows, bare wood interior, Terratone exterior. The front of our house now sports Marvin Clad Ultimate double hung in Pebble Gray with bare wood interior.  Why two different windows you ask? 1) The Andersen were less expensive 2) We qualify for the credit with the Marvin on the front. It seems simple enough but it gave me an ulcer.


Our contractor has been invaluable in this process, whom we found through the window and door dealer, Naussau Windows and Doors. His initial proposal was for either a full tear out or a replacement insert. I am going to attempt this next bit of window explanation wizardry while trying not to bore you to tears, if you have even made it thus far. A full tear out is super energy efficient and gives you the largest glass size for your opening while integrating the window most effectively into the fabric of your home. They take out everything; from one side of the brick to the other. In our case this included the moldings, the window sills and the paneled wood beneath the window. Entering stage left in this saga is my starry eyed optimism who saw original wood and desired nothing more than to save it from demo and dumpster. Looking back, it wasn't worth saving. *gasp* How can I even think those words. I am supposed to preserve the historic fabric of this home. Well, seems Starry Eyed Optimism missed the part where the trim was previously hacked to shreds and large portions of it were new additions or missing entirely. I can't explain how I didn't see this other than to claim Future Vision. I have this habit of seeing a space as it will be, not as it is. This has been incredibly helpful while living in a construction zone surrounded by boxed possessions and construction materials and debris. It wasn't so helpful in making this decision.  That being said, we opted for the inserts. It will be OK in the end, but I do have my regrets.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Preservation League of New York

The night before Christopher left town for his Mobile Opera gig, we rubbed elbows with some pretty swanky folks.

We were invited to the Preservation League of New York Gala, Pillars of New York. We spent the evening in the Rainbow Room of Rockefeller Center dining on some damned good food, drinking some damned good adult beverages and listening to some damned good people get awards for their contribution and hard work supporting NY preservation.

We are incredibly grateful and thankful to be invited as their guests for the evening. It was a relief to be out of my serving uniform or demo scrubs. On our way to the gala I did find some white paint under a fingernail and a smear of something on the back of my elbow from lord knows when. You can take us out on the town for a few hours but the renovation made sure we didn't forget what we were going home to.

And of course, I can't forget to mention we were featured in this schnazzy little article as part of the Preservation League's Annual Report. We're looking pretty dapper if I do say so.

Thanks to Liz for the tremendous photo