The first surprise

After closing, we got the keys, unpacked, decorated, and lived happily ever after.


(…which is hopefully how this concludes in 20 years, if we’re being optimistic.)

But have you seen that foyer? You can forgive a house a host of sins with a foyer like that.


After getting the keys, we vacillated between celebrating and cleaning, heavy on the cleaning. One sip of champagne for every two squirts of bleach. We washed the walls and mopped, scrubbed the baseboards. I injured my back a few weeks prior, so my friend, Kristin, came over to help, and between the three of us, we got the house ready for the movers to come the next day.

This, by the way, is not a judgment on the previous owners. I’m a fastidious clean freak, and even I was horrified at how much dirt, dust and animal fur uncovered as our condo was emptied. It happens.


Moving day was long and exhausting, nine hours from start to finish, I think. Our movers were fantastic, but we have 40 or so boxes of just books, and there were a lot of stairs involved. At the end of the night, we started doing little things around the house. In the first picture, you can see a railing hung like a ballet barre in the foyer on the left. I’ve been a dancer my whole life, but that was the first thing to go. I didn’t even get a good picture of the barre, because Nik had that sucker down in two seconds flat.


In the library, there’s a large built-in bookcase. It’s definitely not original, but it’s hard to tell how old it is. To put it in perspective, if something was done in 1900, the house would already be around 30 years old. The cabinets themselves have an inset that seems like 1970’s rattan painted over, but that was definitely a later “improvement.”


Also, it’s built exactly where you’d think a fireplace would be in the room. That is one of the house’s greater mysteries.We have multiple chimneys, but no fireplaces. It’s likely that they were small coal burners, but I put money on the fact that we’ll uncover at least one hearth along the way.

Knocking along the back of the cabinets, there were sections that definitely felt like solid masonry and others that sounded more hollow. We realized, too, supporting the assumption that the built in was added later, that the backing was just particle board. It was after midnight after a long day, which is clearly the perfect time to start a demolition project. Nik found a loose corner and started chipping away at it with a pry bar.


It tore fairly easily, like cardboard, and there were pieces I could pull away with my hands. We didn’t discover a fireplace, as least not yet. But this might be better. We found a swath of intact, near perfect Victorian wallpaper that had been covered with the backing, but not glued. I imagine that at some point the house was completely papered, but it had been removed and the plaster restored in the rest of the house.


After doing the majority of the inside of the cabinet, we stopped to preserve the paper and probably our lungs until we’re ready to take on the full project. I’m dying to take out the entire built-in and expose what’s hopefully a full swath of paper wall, although it’s rarely that simple and straightforward with such an old house. We have a lot of secrets to uncover.


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