Sunday, November 9, 2014

RENOVATION UPDATE: The Countdown Is On!!!!

The FLOORS are finished! For the wooden section I decided to stain the floors with two colors. The first was a red mahogany stain. And the second was two coats of a walnut stain with polyurethane. I used a stain pad. The results are decent. I am quite satisfied with them. I did spend a lot of time sanding them (using a palm sander since we don't have big sanders on island). 

 I used a combination of glue and sawdust and the commercial wood patch material to fill in the gaps between the floor boards. That part I am very pleased with. It came out great!

 For the cement floors I used a concrete latex stain with two colors. First a light grey and then a brownish color. I used a sponge and a rag to give texture. I wish the floor could have been smoother, but I have satisfied with the outcome. I topped it off with two coats of a concrete sealer with a gloss finish.

We also got some simple CABINETS installed in the KITCHEN! Huge. We used what they call baboon plywood to make them. I don't need anything fancy for this space. I will stain them a similar color to the wooden floors and call it a day.

Now what remains is doing the final touches of painting the walls, the door trims, etc.
I also need to install kitchen sink and faucet.
Tile the kitchen counter-top and back-splash.
And the interior will be pretty much FINISHED!!!

I have a strict deadline for Sunday, November 23. WHYYYYYY? Because, I was invited by the St. Croix Landmarks Society to give a "House Tour" for their "Places That Matter" event. It coincides with a Regional Genealogy and History Conference that they are hosting. It will be the first time that the public will be invited to the space. Yes, pressure. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Painting, painting and more painting. Oh, and caulking too.

Now with the shutters in. I am finally ready to finish the interior. Caulking the ship lap siding is a lot of work. The gaps are wider than they should be because we made the mistake of not letting the wood cure in the building for a few days. One has to let wood dry out a bit before putting it up as siding because after we installed it, days later, it did dry out and left gaps in both the floor and the walls. I share these mistakes so you don't make them. And I made a lot.

So, the caulking is almost complete and the painting is almost done too. 

My intention is to finish the painting of the walls and the floors by the end of September. And then finish the painting of the exterior. The shutters are half primed and the walls are half painted. Oh my goodness, aahhhh-lmost there.  


Monday, September 8, 2014

Almost there: SHUTTERS ARE IN!!!

We spent the summer in Cuba visiting my husband's family. After returning in late August and getting kids back into the back-to-school groove I have been able to reassess this project. It's been three years since I first acquired the property and it has been quite a journey. My life has made unexpected demands on me and that there have been long stints that I could not work on either the renovation or the documentary. But this is the first time where I really do see that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. I am really almost there.

In July I was able to put together some funds to get the shutters made. I made it a point to get the historical hinges. They cost me almost as much as the labor and materials for the shutters themselves. Luckily, the vendor is someone I know and who believes in the project. They gave me a discount, but even with the discount it was definitely a pricey item: $25-$30/ hinge. Notice there are four per window opening. That adds up fast!

I had some disappointments with the quality of the work on the shutters, and even considered getting them redone. But, I am going to live with it. Perhaps by looking at the picture you can see what the issue is:

 ........see it?

They are uneven. The carpenter made one side bigger than the next so they can lap, or fold over. It is true some people do shutters this way, but for the most part they are supposed to look even when they are open. It's part of the aesthetics. I considered having it redone and then let it go. They serve their function. The person who installed them also had a little mishap when installing the ones in the bathroom.

He underestimated the width of the wall and the bolts came through and damaged the tile. Still waiting to have that fixed. These disappointments are part of construction: things happen, there is miscommunication, different expectations and mistakes. With experience and better communication you can keep these to a minimum.

What the shutters have afforded me is the ability to finally finish the interior of the building. We removed all of the bars and can now secure the building properly against weather and theft. That means I can finish the painting, stain and seal the floors and ......actually begin to put things in the building, like tables, and chairs and art supplies!


Friday, June 13, 2014

On moving into post-production

Transitioning into post-production has been an exciting but challenging process. I have the story of the previous owners, almost a dozen interviews, the story of Free Gut, issues with the town and it's current state of abandonment and the renovation of my building forge into one coherent and engaging story. "Mr Bill" aka William Stelzer came over from St. John to work on the project with me again for a week and it was so helpful. We did some filming but a lot of what we did was talking, thinking and sorting. 

I really wanted to have a strong outline for the film developed by the time he left. I had been working on a script on and off using a spreadsheet format. It was so difficult using a computer screen. You had to scroll up or down to be able to see what came previously or after and its was hard to see the whole picture, both literally and figuratively.  Bill suggested that I used index cards, which at first I was skeptical because it reminded me of taking note cards to write papers in the eighth grade. However, he was right, by jotting down my ideas on the cards and tacking them to the wall in a large timeline I was able to overlay the various components of the film and literally and figuratively see the whole picture. It was so interesting to me thinking about how amazing and essential of a tool a computer is, but the confines of a screen posed such a limitation on visualizing the project that it was useless in creating an outline. At least for me and the way my brain works, but I suspect it has less to do with me and more to do with film as a medium.  

So here was the process:
1. Put on a separate notecard each owners of the house from the 1777 to present day.
2. Put on a separte notecard key dates in VI history, including certain relevant dates from US and Danish history.
3. Make notes on what the key items that I want people to know in the documentary. For example. Where is Free Gut, who lived there, or that Freed Colored owned slaves, etc...and insert these into the timeline.
4. At this point I could then go into the interviews and pick out quotes that would correspond to these key ideas.
5. I then inserted different aspects of the renovation.

And...voila, you have a rough outline of a film.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Renovation Update: Bathroom Complete

The bathroom is complete. For the most part. We need to still caulk and paint the bathroom ceiling and place a few tiles that are missing. I have also cleaned out the space and moved all construction materials and tools into the other building.

Next step is to get the shutters made and installed. I have hired a new carpenter for this job and am nervous. I asked him to bring me a sample of one to see what he would do and there were some issues with how he constructed the shutter. In short, he took the easy way out. I had to ask him to redo the routed part. He may be finished by this weekend. Very exciting. What that means is that I can then secure the building properly from the elements, but most importantly from the hen who has decided that my Queen Anne chair would make a perfect nest. With the shutters in I can:

stain and seal the concrete floor,
get kitchen cabinets installed,
get small appliances,
finish paint ceiling,
fill and stain wooden floor,
caulk and paint wooden walls,
and of course, paint the shutters and doors.
And then,
damas y caballeros,
the interior would be finished.


My goal is still to be moved in by the end of the summer. I'm considering having a work/fundraising party, since a lot of these last details are more work intensive than funds intensive. I've had a few people along the way who have asked if they could help in any way. Be ready, I'll be calling! :)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


Renovation has begun again. Getting plumbing to the building became paramount. My daughters are often with me and I got tired of sending them to the bush when they needed to use the bathroom.

The bathroom was an addition to the house made in the early 1900's, I'm placing it between 1920-1930.  It appears to have been done by cutting a hole out of the side of the building and adding a concrete block structure that is supported also by concrete blocks. Unlike the elegance in proportion of the original structure, this bathroom was done in a way that left it awkward. You have to step down 3 inches when you enter it. The ceiling is very low. The toilet is a little far from the wall. There is a window above the face basin. All this to say that we gutted the bathroom and made some minor adjustments in positioning of the toilet.

My original idea was to have a white bathroom, but when it came time to buy the materials at HD nothing of what I had looked at before was there. There seems to be a serious ordering problem in that store. So I settled for travertine tiles, 18"X24". Stone is a beautiful material. I'm satisfied but not thrilled.

We installed completely new plumbing in the walls and in the ground. I don't know if I would have changed even the sewer line if I didn't have to, but since the "Copper Thieves" stole most of the cast iron pipes that were partially exposed due to erosion, we had to. It cost $1200 in labor and another $400 in materials.

I never imagined how exciting it would feel to see water flowing into a toilet. It was surreal. Water in a toilet, in this house, that was so abandoned and neglected for years. It made me think of how amazing that must have been for those who also saw indoor plumbing for the first time. The foundation for the outhouse/privy/latrine is still located to the back of the property. I'm not sure what I will do with it yet.

In the interviews I did with residents of the area, many commented that up to the 50's when most people still had outhouses, that men would come in the nights to empty them out. One of the interviewee's said the she was a girl at the time and it was a bit scary for her because they would come in a big noisy truck and be dressed in dark clothes, long boots and gloves, and masks. I think she said they were called the "Night Soil Men". I have to go back and look, but regardless, I like the name and see it fitting.

My next civilizing feat is to get electricity to the building. The process has begun, but is incomplete. More on that later. For now I'm enjoying running water.