Uncovering the Stairs

In anticipation of the upcoming renovation, which involves putting a landing and a turn in the stairs, I pulled off the carpet. It was time for it to go anyway.

Stairs with some carpet removed. The green is the first paint on the steps.

But, turns out the stairs are not in the best of shape. They move substantially when stepped on, there’s a cracked step, there are large gaps between a couple of treads and risers, and the landing at the top has some serious gouges, gaps, and bouncy spots. The squeaking is outrageous.

I talked to the builder about reusing the balusters and the newel post and he noted that he would want to replace the whole stair anyway. So, not sure where we’re at with the stairs – what I’ll get to reuse and what will be new. Since nothing I’m getting will be ‘finished’, I’m sure I’ll end up with pine stairs and can put any fine wood on it that I want (after the builders have left the building). But it’s one aspect of the build where I’ll have to be present and insistent when it’s happening to get as close to what I want as possible.

Removing the Front Step

This afternoon I spent a couple of hours taking down a deck-style front step that had been built overtop of the original concrete steps. Because the crazy elevation of the yard means the drive and walk ways go down toward the house, the first step of the deck was short, the second was giant, and the third was also high. There was also no handrail where one needed to be. The result was that older people, like my mother and aunt, had a difficult time getting up the steps.

Front step added in the 1990s

The deck-porch was solidly built and I guess it was about 15 years old. It was rotted in some spots, notably the railings, but solid elsewhere. It was difficult to get off – where I needed to pry was rotted, so there was no leverage. But eventually it came off (with a sledgehammer) and the original steps are revealed. ​

The original steps have just two risers to the landing and then another step up into the house. They appear in good shape – concrete covered with indoor/outdoor golf carpet. Clearly some updating to do, but that can wait until next summer. I just had to get the deck-porch off because with the new addition comes a leveled out elevation – no reverse incline to the house, but rather level or even rising in height a little. So, the old deck-porch wouldn’t do anymore.

Upon seeing the original steps I felt a sense of ‘right’ – these small concrete steps feel much more normal and appropriate for the house. They’re ‘right’,  even with the awful golf carpeting. The deck-porch was wrong and I’m glad to see it gone. And I’m delighted that they’re in such good shape.

But now, with the deck-porch gone, I can see significant holes into my basement and a large rotted gap under the door. I don’t think those should wait for next summer’s repair list because I live where it gets to be really cold in the winter, so will make some calls to see about hiring a carpenter to fix these spots.​

I had just made a list today anyway that involved having a carpenter come out and fix the jambs at the front door – and hopefully install new doors. The jambs are rotted and the hinge screws loosen up regularly, so definitely need to replace those. Would be good to also have new weather strips. So, all good reasons to call a carpenter.

Why not the company I hired to do the addition – which by the way they have not started yet (communication is not their strong point – I have no idea when they intend to start)? Because I have signed the contract and it does not include the front door and I would rather not do a ‘change order’ before the work even starts and I might as well just pay someone straight out for this work and get it done.

Anyway, I feel pleased that I’ve liberated the original steps and that they are so fitting for the house.

Preparing for the Addition

I’ve signed a contract for an addition to this house, but because of permit issues, construction is starting almost 9 months after the contract was signed. In the meantime, I’ve taken “before” pictures and am preparing for the addition.

The plan is to take down a crumbling 1965 garage and add two stories of liveable space in its stead.
So, I have to clear out the garage and find places to put what normally is stored in there. Sadly, it has not been  a car. My garage has, for several years, been used as a large shed. It houses my canoe, gardening tools and potting equipment, sporting goods, lumber, chemicals, old doors and windows, and so on. It’s quite a task to find homes for these things when storage was always a problem in this house.

I resolved the storage issue by purchasing two tall sheds that are now installed along the east fence, by the house. One shed holds camping and fishing gear and the other holds sporting equipment. The little shed that was located at the back of the yard is now the garden shed. I’ve rented a storage unit for old doors and windows and extra furniture. The garage is finally mostly empty, but for some items that have to be donated and some items that will go to the dump. Cleaning out the garage took about a week of steady labour. Not the best way to spend summer holidays, but one step closer to the new addition.

Back of garage

A Little History

I’m not a historian by any means, but the research I did do provided me with some insight into the history of this house. ​

In 1911 there were no houses on this block. In 1912 my house appeared as the first house on my side of the street, built by a Scottish immigrant named Robert Rigg (born 1882), who was a carpenter. The value of the house was stated as $3,500.  A house across the street was also built in 1912, and the following year two houses appeared a few lots down, to the east. ​

The 1916 census shows that Mr. Rigg was 34 years old at the time and had arrived from Scotland with his wife Agnes and son Robert in 1911. Robert must have been born just before their travel to Canada. The Riggs resided in the house until 1922.

Between 1922 and 2006, when I bought this house, there were 19 other residents and there appear to be  short periods when the house was vacant. The longest resident stayed 12 years (Edward Ferguson, a CN Clerk, who lived here between 1941 and 1953). I’m next in line at 10 years (as of the fall of 2016).

Some other interesting residents were James Bailey, a Land Titles Clerk (1925-1927); Herbert Godby, a grocer on Broadway (1928),  James Dier (1929-1936), a carpenter and the owner who installed lead pipes for access to city water in 1929; Walter Sacha (1962-1969), owner of Hub City Bindery, who added the attached garage in 1965; and Robert Pywell (1994-1998), who had an engineered structural wall built to support the east basement wall that was buckling. ​

Sometime prior to 1965 stucco was applied over top of the original bevel Douglas fir wood siding. An article relating to this practice from New Westminster, BC, suggests that this was a trend between 1940 and 1950, a post-war effort to encourage spending.

My interest in the history of this house is piqued and I only wish I could speak to the prior residents. I’d love to know what the house was like when they lived here, what changes they made and why, and why they left. Photographs would be awesome!
​I’m sure there’s more information out there about this house, but that will have to wait for when I have time.

The House – A Modest 1912 Foursquare

1912 Foursquare – Exterior Front

It was built in 1912 by a carpenter named Robert Rigg, a recent Scottish immigrant. It’s a modest American Foursquare on a beautiful 25′ x 50′ lot, near a trendy shopping and restaurant district, and close to downtown. It’s got 595 square feet on the main and 535 square feet upstairs. The basement is unfinished concrete block with a 6 foot ceiling and buckling walls.​

As with Foursquares, it’s got four rooms on each floor. Sometime in the past 100 years a previous owner added a kitchen ‘bump-out’ (adding 60 square feet) but otherwise it conforms to the Foursquare plan.*
​I call it modest because of the square footage and the fact that there are few decorative embellishments to be had.

I can’t say whether there were ever any decorative features, but right now there’s little to be seen. The stair bannister and newel post are basic, there’s no fancy mouldings, the dining room is small, and the entry way is small and dark. It was a tradesman’s house.

Clearly there have been renovations over the last 105 years, but I’d suggest that none of them were made with an eye to maintaining or restoring any character the house may have had: The interior window and door cornices were removed; the wood windows were replaced with crappy vinyl; drywall was laid overtop the lath and plaster; replacement MDF baseboards in the living room and dining room;  stucco overtop the original wood siding; and who knows what’s underneath the kitchen and hallway vinyl flooring, the carpet on the stairs, the laminate upstairs, and the walnut living room floor that was added in the 1980’s. A real hodgepodge of flooring.​

The only eye catching features of this house are on the outside – the Juliette balcony, the colour scheme, and the large and beautiful yard. It’s a compelling look, for sure. Pedestrians slow to look.
​But, it’s run down, there’s no bathroom on the main floor, and the entrance is too difficult for my mother to navigate because of an impractical negative incline in the driveway. It makes the approach into the house precarious and the first step into the house a giant one.

My plan is to replace the garage with a two story addition that will raise the elevation/grade so that front step is of normal height, and that will also provide an additional family area, a powder room, and a mudroom/storage area for coats and shoes on the main floor; and on the second floor add a large master bedroom with bathroom and walk-in closet. I’m not a fan of large bedrooms, but storage and bathrooms are in short supply, so I’m happy to have those.

I have access to original Douglas fir trim, windows, and doors from another ~1910 house (Grandma’s house), so plan to use those in the addition. I also plan to remove the stucco and restore the siding (and will cross my fingers for some standout siding features).

Once those jobs are done, I plan to focus on restoring the original parts of the house – find out what’s under the hodgepodge flooring and remove the drywall and hope for decent plaster or at least shim the trim so it’s profile is sitting where it’s supposed to and is not buried by drywall; strip multiple layers of paint from the trim; take down the kitchen bump-out and reconfigure the kitchen from a galley style to an L with centre block; and possibly add a sunporch to the back of the house. Winning the lottery might help in all that.

​* Update: After speaking to a previous owner, I learned that the kitchen addition was at one time a porch, likely on the house from the beginning. I’ve confirmed this somewhat by checking the stucco and can see that the porch at least pre-dates the original stucco application, which I believe was done in the 1940’s.