Monday, April 26, 2021

The Bathroom Remodel, Part Two--The Messy Middle

When you start tearing into an old house, you never know what you'll find.

Here are a few stories I posted on Facebook as they happened:

I was called into the bathroom to approve a few particulars about the tub and shower arrangement. Paul and the Carpenters frowned, pointed, measured, and looked to me for approval. But I was distracted by something else. "Why can I see daylight through that gap in the corner?" I said.

They all looked. "What?" "Wait." "You're right."

It appeared that the bathroom, which used to be the back porch, was falling off the rest of the house.

Much more measuring was done, and crawling under the house, and trying to jack up a wall.

Apparently it happened when Paul's dad moved the house here 40 years ago. The foundation is solid, so we are unlikely to keep tilting further every time we fill the bathtub. That was the band's conclusion. I hope they're right.

They braced the one wall, just in case, so if there was any more shifting the tile wouldn't be cracking in every direction.
I'm learning it's good to speak up with what I think and see, even if I officially don't know anything about remodeling.

Then there was the episode where we decided to restore the ceiling to its original glory.

“That ceiling is a bit of a surprise,” said the carpenter.

He said it quietly, like it was no big deal.

First he had pried off just a bit of drywall around the light and exposed the old beadboard underneath, and we had decided to return to the original ceiling. Then he hacked off big chunks of drywall. After that, he made his calm observation, like you might say, "We need to pick up another bag of grout." Or like Daniel Kropf, Paul's great-grandpa, probably said to Anna in 1911, "Yah, we had just enough boards to finish the back porch ceiling, and we didn't have to make another trip to town for more."

Anna, I'm guessing, nodded and smiled like a good wife fully confident in her husband's skills and judgment. The next day she walked through the house, admiring the progress. Her husband was obviously all about practicality and efficiency, hence the steep stairs and the utterly utilitarian floor plan--a square house divided into square quarters. At least he had indulged her with that bay window in the living room.

Then Anna bustled into the back porch where she would put her wash machine. Good, good. Plenty of room for the washer, the galvanized schwank tub for rinsing, and all the baskets.

She looked up.

"Daniel! Wass in die Welt?!"

A third of the ceiling was covered in bead board like the kitchen, a third in plain boards like the bathroom, and the final third in leftover siding boards from the outside of the house.

"Ach, Anna, it doesn't matter, does it? Look, this way we could use up all the leftovers and they all came out even!”

Anna sighed. It was only the back porch, after all. Visitors would never come out there. And she really was grateful for her efficient husband and her new house.

Maybe, a long way into the future, her great-grandson's wife would think it was just the latest and greatest thing, after the back porch had been a bathroom for many years.

Well, no, probably not. But Anna had bigger fish to fry than worrying about mismatched ceilings. So she bustled off to peel potatoes for supper for Daniel and their ten children.


I decided I have a limit to my quest for authenticity in this house. The ceiling will get covered in reproduction beadboard after we clean up 50 years of bug droppings. It will run crosswise to maximize efficiency and avoid waste, since Paul carries the practical genes of his great-grandfather.

Meanwhile, the bathroom progresses bit by bit. Everything is a terrible mess, but the new shower area gives me hope. It looks like a line from Edelweiss--"small and white, clean and bright."

The quiet carpenter does excellent work.

The mess of the whole project was overwhelming at times, as was the stress of having extra people in the house day after day. Sometimes Jenny and I escaped into the pantry for a bit of privacy, sipping tea and whispering among brooms and Crock Pots.

When we finally reached the point where we could start painting, it felt like we might actually reach the end of this project, and we had a hand in its outcome.

Dozens of details--faucets, latches, light switch covers, and more still needed to be worked on, but the end was in sight.

Next post: the results.


  1. We live in a house built in 1898. Every time we try to update or upgrade something we find surprises too. Many think our house is a grand mansion; well, it is large and the spaces are grand, but we haven't found the grandeur one would expect of such a large "Queen Anne" style Victorian house. We think it was all removed in the late 1940's by a family who wanted to "modernize" it. But the underlying surprises are all still there in the electrical and plumbing systems, and the walls we've had to open up. We frequently ask, "What were they thinking?" Old houses, for all their charms are surely an adventure. Your bathroom is looking really good. I'm eager to see the final product.

  2. 😂😂😂 Love the little possible scenario! What I have learned about rehab: make your budget, then add 50% in both time and cost.

  3. Like your new hairdo, Ms. Dorcas, with French braiding! 😊