State of the House - Second Floor

5:30 PM

Where's Wyeth?
Since we're in January, it seems apropos to discuss further the state of this house. 
Specifically, the second floor. As I said before, this part (and beyond) is where things get sketchy. 

On your way up to the second floor, things are lovely! It's a beautiful old staircase. It has unusually wide treads, I feel, and some have what seems to be an extraordinary amount of give. I think one stair in particular might make the project list. We were told the iron railings are not original to the house, but they do precede the Bitterman's, the previous owners, so they've been around more than 50 years.

Which explains the looseness of some of them. Nothing a drill and some new screws can't handle.
And I did request and get a really nice drill for my birthday in August... 

The door at the top of the stairs is the entrance to the back staircase which leads into the kitchen.

You have reached the top of the stairs! Congratulations!
Now look back down. That little mini-rug on the landing matched the carpet in the master bedroom, but it was one of the first things to go. And yes, on the newel post at the top, a piece of the trim is nowhere to be found. It will be replaced through, fear not!

This is a picture from the real estate listing, which is why the light is so pretty. Unfortunately, it's not always this bright! So, we're on the second floor now. You are looking down the hall into the master bedroom. The staircase up to the left is to the third floor (originally the servant's quarters). So fancy! 
On the wall up the stairwell, that pink strip? It was a carpet tack bar that was apparently used to hang something. It was removed in the "Great Wall Clearing of 2016" that took place within the first week of our moving in. It was pretty tricky to get down, actually.

An interesting tidbit about the first and this part of the second floor is they are covered - walls and ceiling - with wallpaper. The only exceptions are the dining and breakfast rooms. I shudder to think why. My suspicion is that it covered up the plaster issues, rather than forcing them to be dealt with.

If you looked at the above pictures and thought to yourself, That carpet isn't so bad, you'd be wrong. That carpet was truly disgusting. I kid you not when I say that upon moving in to the house, all of us broke out in a variety of skin rashes. Upon removal of all the carpets, we all cleared up. True story.

The removing of the carpet was the easy part. The removal of all the nails and staples holding down the carpet, the carpet pad and the carpet tacks on the edges was definitely not easy. But, armed with a hammer to remove the most stubborn of nails, a flathead screwdriver to wiggle under stubborn staples, a pair of pliers, a trashcan to dispose of nails and a box to hold the wood shards from the carpet tack bar thingies, it makes for a very satisfying process. Pop on some good music and it's a downright good time. 

So, you might notice the wood is different from the downstairs floor. Yes, it is. It's not the maple found in the kitchen or downstairs bathroom, nor is it the oak everywhere else downstairs. It's a much wider plank and I think it might be pine. I'm no expert. It appears to be original. It's very splintery in places, but all the boards are in good shape. I'm hoping it can be sanded down and refinished.

There's no way I'd rip it up or anything.

Looking in the direction away from the master bedroom, here is another view pre-carpet removal.
The walls are wallpapered and the trim is painted grey.
The doorways into the bedroom have the transom windows, but only the master bedroom actually has glass in it, as far as I can tell. 

The door immediately to the left is the entrance to the boys' room. The next doorway is to the linen closet. Directly across from the closet is a linen cabinet and the laundry chute. 
The third doorway on the left is Brooklyn's room. The door at the very end of the hall is currently what we call the "wood room" as it is all wooden and currently doesn't have a function other than to keep Singer at night, store the disassembled crib, my desk and various other items that have yet to find their home.

Here's a picture of the chaos after we moved in - mid-unpacking.
The open doorway is to the linen closet. This is a space that I really love - there's something so unique about it.

For starters, it's its own little room. You walk in, there are hooks on the wall left and right, even though there is a door to close the room off.  Directly facing you is this built in cabinet. It has drawers, glass doors with shelves behind them and additional shelves on top of the cabinet. 

Now, the cabinet is not in the best of conditions. I know this shocks you.
But it's functional. "Fix up the linen cabinet" is on the list, but right now, a low priority.
I would like to find some contact paper to replace the extremely tacky red marble motif going on. Especially as it's peeling pretty badly. I considered ripping it up, but it left some nasty residue, so instead I just cleaned it thoroughly before putting stuff on it. Once I find a contact paper I can live with, I'll change it all out. 

Right now, the shelves behind the glass doors hold our cleaning supplies and cleaning rags (top shelf), lotions, soaps, medicine supplies (second shelf), essential oils, misters, extra baby wipes, baby supplies (bottom shelf). The drawers contain extra toilet paper rolls and paper towels (just enough to serve as extras for the upstairs bathrooms - the big stash of them stays in the basement).
I left a few drawers empty.

Right now, some of the floor space is devoted to extra diapers. The laundry bin hung out here for a week or so until I decided it was easier to use the laundry chute and have the clothes fall into the bin down there, rather than filling it here and lugging it to the basement. 

The space above the cabinet holds some cloth diaper supplies, an extra duvet cover and a sleeping bag.  And the walls of this closet are facing the same cracking/peeling of the plaster as all the other closets. Definitely on the list to fix.

Ok, now directly across from the linen closet is a linen cabinet! Painted the same grey trim as the crown molding and papered inside with the same peeling, red marbled contact paper. 
It's a big cabinet! I filled it with our sheets, duvet covers and quilts. The bottom space is all our towels and wash cloths.  The drawers hold pillow cases and larger blankets, when not in use. I also left open a drawer. As my friend Emily said, It's always good to give yourself some empty space. 

Here's what it looks like for the most part.

Or maybe this. Although I have employed the use of the flannel sheets and quilts on our beds, so it's a little more cleaned out at the moment.

Now let me show you what the hallway looks like without that nasty carpet! 
SO much better. I feel like the house heaved a big sigh of relief when that came up. I know I did.

If you were walking up the stairs, here's how it looks without that carpet, looking into the boys' room.
It was the next to be un-carpeted. But I'll get to that in a minute. Let me show you what the hallway looks like right now. I took the Flor tiles that I had used as a runner in our previous home and added to them to use in the hallway. Since the floor needs to be sanded and refinished before it is smooth and lovely, and I can't afford to do that right now, I'm using the Flor tiles as a runner. I may redistribute some tiles at a later date, but for now, I like them.

They definitely add a modern touch to this old house. In a good way, I think.
Ok, on to the bedrooms. First - the master bedroom.

Here's the real estate picture of the master bedroom. Looks very presidential, don't you think? 
It has three very nice windows with very awful roll-up shades. I have since removed the curtains, one of the roll-up shades simply died and the other two will be removed when I can find the right replacements for them. The door with the mirror on it is the entrance to the closet. 

This is a picture I took when we first had a showing of the house in June. 
You  can sort of see two very large plaster cracks on the wall to the left of the window. 

Here's Brooklyn entering the room that day of the showing.

Here's a picture of the pure chaos which was the master bedroom in the early days. 
Yes, for those of you who know me, this was torture.

Flexibility...its' all about flexibility.
We didn't even have a bed. We had mattresses that we had just upgraded to (queen from a double) thanks to Chad and Melissa!! We just didn't have a bedframe for it. We ended up getting one from Ikea.

Pretty soon, we were able to clear out most of the stuff and create another temporary space that didn't make me want to cry.  In the move, the only thing we lost (that we noticed) was a screw that held on the lamp shade to our arc lamp. Eventually we got a replacement part from Home Depot and that made me very happy.

I'm showing you this room before the boys' room, although it was the last one we uncovered. I'm glad. It's in such fabulous condition that if we'd done it first and then seen the hallway and boys room next, I'd be grossly disappointed. As it was, it was a pleasant surprise to uncover this floor.
Those little tufts of green you see above are remnant carpet pads held there by staples. 
Yes, I got a sick pleasure from going around the room tugging those up. Call me crazy. 

We tackled the room by halves. 

I have no idea why, but with the exception of a few little spots, this floor was in perfect condition. A truly beautiful floor. Whenever we get around to redoing the second floor, I want it to all be this stain. It's dark and lovely.

Here was the side under the bed. I kept pulling up the carpet pad and thinking, ok, where's the bad parts....and there just wasn't any! Praise the Lord!

It's gorgeous, right?

Starting to look a little more like my style.

Due to a "situation" involving Singer and a bit of bored chewing on her part, I had to flip the rug and cover up a bare spot with the side table. I am this close to killing the dog or giving her away. Don't even get me started. 

My plan in here is to first address the plaster cracks. Then, when the walls are in good shape, paint. Then some window coverings. I want something that I can raise all the way up to let as much light in as possible. But that can black-out at night. There are lots of street lights outside that make the room very bright right now. 

I just realized I haven't shown a picture of the bed...I'll get on that!

Here's our closet. For the first time in 16 years, Kyle and I are sharing a closet!

We did such a clothes purge before moving that we even have an empty rod!

This is my side...

There was carpet in the closets, too, and I ripped it out. Original hardwoods beneath. 
Who in their right mind covers up this much wood flooring? I just don't understand. 

Alright, folks. Now here's the biggest problem area on the second floor.
This picture, all bright and shiny, is also a real estate shot. It doesn't hide the issues, though.
The numerous random wall shelves. The vile carpet. Thousands of hooks and nails. A random window unit. Power strips out the wazoo. Peeling wallpaper. Cracks in the plaster. It's truly amazing.
Now, the potential....that REALLY is amazing. This room faces the east and the sun shining through this room is fabulous. I love this room. I think it's going to be amazing! It needs some surgery first, though.

This little mess of nasty was who knows what. Work table? Cork board from the early 70's? 
It all came off and down. But not without a fight. Kyle almost said a few curse words when dealing with the cork board. He probably did, just quiet enough so the kids didn't hear.

Here's the closet - it's huge! Lots of Bitterman-made shelves which for the moment, I appreciate. Brooklyn is exclaiming over the bazillionth pencil sharpener. I personally love the window in there! Leaded's beautiful!

Look above the many more nails and a nice crack. 

You just gotta know it needs work and dig in. 

On the wall opposite the cork-monstrosity, is this lovely bit of plaster separation.
Which draws the eye over the wall to.....

The best part of the room. The ginormous hole where the plaster has literally crumbled away, revealing the lath. Yes, it's beyond what you even see in the picture.

As we were being shown this house, the realtor, who's a cousin of the previous owner, just waved her hand around and said, oh, just rip it all out and replace it with drywall. 

I about choked. I would never, in a million years, replace all these plaster walls with drywall. I don't care that the plaster is cracked - that can be fixed. Plaster walls are a testament to an art that is rarely practiced anymore. They are amazing. They add sound buffering properties, they add insulation properties, they are strong in a way that people can't even afford to build anymore....houses just are not made the way they used to be. When this house was built, in the 1890's, such care and attention was taken to things. These weren't whipped out a dime a dozen by construction companies and builders - they were thoughtfully constructed by artisans and carpenters. The fact that this particular house has been let fall into the condition it's in literally hurts my heart. 

Yes, this is a soap-box area for me. I LOVE old houses. Thankfully, I'm not the only around who does because I have stumbled upon some amazingly helpful blogs that educate and provide the average DIYer with the knowledge and tools to tackle most of these issues myself. Or ourselves. I've been reading everything I can get my hands on and I'm ready to get those hands dirty with some plaster....

I'll let you know when that gets started, folks. It's bound to be interesting.

Moving on - once Kyle de-shelved and de-nailed the room, it already was a thousand times better! The carpet came next. The floors were pretty rough in some spots. Splinterville. It still is. I'm praying all that can be fixed with some sanding. If you're a hardwood flooring expert and you think otherwise, don't tell me. It'll break my heart. I'm bound and determined to keep these old floors.

The worst part is at the entrance to the room, and we were able to cover that with a rug, mostly.

Phase one complete! 
At least the room is habitable. The kids know not to go around barefoot. They have to wear their "sockasins" which are basically leather sock moccasins. And they have gotten some ginormous splinters, but for the most part, we are dealing with it.  

Oh, the poor walls. That awful brown splotchy business that looks like abstract art is cork board remnants. I'm hoping that when we remove the wall paper and fix all the plaster, it will be as though all the nasty cork stuff never happened.

You like all the frame shapes that remain on the wall? Nifty.

Here is the boys' closet. It's quite large. Large enough to fit two dressers!
Interestingly, many of the houses built in this period had dressers built into their clothes closets. We looked at a similar house a few blocks away that had them and it inspired me to just put the dressers in there. At the moment, the tops of the dressers serve as bookshelf space.

And this is the plaster situation with the closets. The outer layer is cracking right off. There are some legitimate cracks from plaster/lath, but this is different. It's an outer layer with paint and stuff. Very bizarre. I'm thinking we'll just pop off all the broken pieces, repair the big cracks and then skim coat it. This is my guess.

I rigged a bar up to hold hanging clothes. So far, it's working. The shelves are mostly unused at this point. They're Bitterman shelves. We've gotten used to all the varying techniques used to secure them and all the random boards he used.

It is what it is for now.

Complete with a wall-mounted pencil sharpener. Cause you just never know.

Getting tired of my second floor yet? Bear with me a little longer. Almost done.
This is the bathroom. There is no "master bath" or anything so glamorous. This is the second floor bathroom, period. 

Pretty vintage.
Original cast iron tub. Original subway tiles on the wall. Original hex tiles on the floor. Not sure about the sink. It's definitely old.

What are my plans here, you ask? Well, for starters, the deer have gotta go. 
Whatever Bambi motif is happening on the shower doors is not doing it for me. I plan to remove those and install a curved shower bar. I am keeping the tub, cause it's pretty cool, but I will be changing out fixtures. The shower plumbing is iffy right now because I think we have a hair clog problem. I need to get that fixed as I really hate my feet getting a bath when the rest of me is having a shower. Probably I will replace the sink, but no immediate plans or ideas. New lighting, yes. Repair and spruce up medicine cabinet? Need to think about that. New toilet seat. New floor? No. I love the original hex. I will be painting, but it's all in my head at this point.

Which brings us to Brooklyn's room. Directly across the hall from the bathroom.
This room has original floors, uncovered, in great condition. Lots of odd power strips, wall-mounted tv stands, etc. All of which we removed. It is wall-papered in weird ways. Only 2 walls have the patterned paper, and only on the top and bottom of the walls. The middle section is a different kind. 
I don't know, I really don't. I see the questions forming, my friends.

Currently, the trim is all painted the same grey as the hallway, and yes, eventually I'll repaint. And de-paper. But for now, it's in pretty decent shape and as I've been told to dive into the messiest projects first, that puts Brooklyn's room low on the list. 

There is work to be done, no doubt. Her ceiling plaster needs work, but the walls appear in the best shape of all the rooms. The condition is the same for her closet as far as plaster.
Speaking of her's a sight to behold. I'll just let you see for yourself.

75% of her closet walls are decoupaged with magazine covers. Primarily Time, the New Yorker and some Newsweek.

It's like a walk through the past via magazine covers. 

All told, her room's pretty cozy. She loves it. Plays Barbies and Legos, reads, draws, practices her origami, hangs out with her little brothers and her cat....

Moving on to the last room of the second floor. 
Our Wood Room.
Has it become clear why we call it that? We could just as easily have dubbed it the sauna. The radiator heats this room up like crazy and I can't get the knob to adjust. 
This room came equipped with the expected number of random shelves, wall-mounted pencil sharpener, telephone, cheap plastic roll-up shades and assorted hooks and nails. Come on, you know you'd be a little disappointed if it didn't. 
And I'm not loving the light fixture, either. It hasn't gone yet, but it will. For starters, it doesn't work. For finishers, it's ugly.

Feast your eyes on those shelves! Yes!
They're now gone. The room seems so much bigger.
This room was listed as a bedroom, but I'm pretty sure it's not going to be used as one, and I don't think it ever was used as one. 
I'm thinking office/sewing/art supplies/craft room?
Right now, my desk and files are in there, but it's all a very temporary setup. 

This is another room where the flooring was original and uncovered. 
I do know we'll paint the wood, but I'm not sure of much beyond that.
The other principal feature of this room is that it leads out to our screened porch!

This is a pretty cool space, or it will be.
It looks out over the backyard and I can imagine it will be lovely to hang out up here in the spring, summer and fall. It will be necessary to get rid of/cover up the astro-turf. I would also like to repaint the wooden railing. 

The room came complete with bamboo shades which I assume are meant to be hung to afford some privacy. We'll cross that bridge later. Right now, the view to that side is our condo neighbors. That particular window belongs to Ms. Agnes, an older Hungarian lady whom I have only met once but I wanted to sit down and drink tea with her. I liked her immediately. 

Our backyard has some enormous fir trees which are lovely. This side looks out over Paulina Street and our side yard. It's a nice view, actually.

Directly behind our house is the backyard with a wooden deck, a brick walkway leading to the street, and a path to the covered carport and 3 car garage. There are two old streetlights that were salvaged from the City of Evanston when they switched lighting systems. They come on at night and I have no idea how to adjust that. But they are beautiful.

Looking down from the porch. As city parking is at a premium, we have been approached by several people asking to rent parking space from us. As it is, we are renting a spot under the carport to a neighbor for $100/month which is the going rate. We recently cleared out a space in our garage and are planning to rent a second space to one of our condo neighbors. We are really blessed to have the parking we do! Otherwise, it's fighting for parallel parking on the streets. The funny thing is that with the Lincoln Navigator L we drive, we can only fit it into the garage by parking at an angle! It takes up 2 spaces! But it works and we are grateful for it! 

That concludes our tour of the second floor! I hope you enjoyed it and have a smidge of the vision I do for this house. Stay tuned as I will be sharing the third floor one of these days. Just when you thought it couldn't get any crazier...

You Might Also Like


  1. Looks like an amazing project! Lots of excellent ideas. Me and my wife found ourselves tackling something similar with our new home -- it's a smaller house, but in worse repair when we took it over. We had to call in a local handyman service to help with some of the renovations and to clear out the trash.