When it became apparent that we had no choice but to renovate the bathroom in our 108-year-old house, I had the same sensation you get when any idiot in a horror movie hears a strange noise and decides that the best course of action would be to “go investigate.”
My entire being was screaming “No! Don’t do it! It’s a trap!”
Only the owners of a building “of a certain age” can really know the fear of “tearing into a wall.” In an old house you could find bodies (human or vermin), strange twists, weird turns (plumbing and wiring, mostly) and a lot of conversations that begin with the puzzled head scratch of a kindly hardware store associate and end with “well they don’t make those anymore.”
Bonus points if you can score an “I’ve never SEEN one of those before.”
Bathtub had to go
Recently it became clear that the upstairs bathroom was scheming to become the downstairs bathroom. The bathtub appeared to be in grave danger of landing somewhere in the vicinity of the dining room table.
As a result, we finally faced the cold, hard, porcelain-clad truth: The bathtub had to go.
Of course, just as the shinbone is connected to whatever it is the shinbone is connected to, so is the bathtub connected to the shower surround. This in turn is connected to the drywall, which is connected to the plaster and lath.
Plaster and lath, as everyone knows, is connected to the very core of the Earth itself judging by the difficulty in removing it.
We started slowly, easing into the room from the doorway by chipping away at the floor. It’s best to sneak up on a project this way. You cannot let the project sense fear.
Pounding and scraping through the layers of flooring — and a good chunk of Mr. Wonderful’s flesh — we revealed a veritable time capsule of 20th century flooring. As it turns out there were six layers of flooring atop the original.
This proves that we are the only people in the span of the last 108 years foolish enough to actually undertake removing a floor covering. Everyone else knew better.
Television demolition always looks like so much fun. They smile for the camera then laugh uproariously as they swing a giant sledgehammer at whatever it is they are removing.
In reality, one has to be aware of all the plumbing and wiring running through the walls before they can go banging around. At least that’s what Buzzkill, aka Mr. Wonderful, says as he wrestles the maddox out of my hand.
He cuts carefully through the various layers, unscrews everything that requires it, locates the studs, and, in general, proceeds in an orderly fashion.
This, of course, blows my dream of a project completion as seen on TV completely out of the water. I just want my renovations to proceed from “before” to “after” (and picking out new hand towels) in 30 minutes or less. Is that too much to ask?
Excavating through the ghosts of flooring past, we finally hit a solid surface of what appeared to be the original pristine green linoleum. Rolling it back, we beheld an unfinished pine floor as fresh and unblemished as the day it was installed. It had been protected through some 108 years of abuse, drips and nails by the linoleum above.
Therein lies the beauty of renovating an old home: the opportunity to be exposed to every single substance society has deemed dangerous during the last 50 years all in one afternoon. Don’t be jealous. There’s enough asbestos and lead to go around.
This is not to say that there are not some bright spots in the project. We have committed quiet acts of graffiti vandalism on every house we have ever renovated and this one is no different.
As a result, peeling off a panel on one wall, we were thrilled to discover a note in Mr. Wonderful’s hand. He wrote “Mike + Kym, March 15, 1997.” During a later repair he added, “Aug. 15, 2004 Mike loves Kym More.” How sweet is that?
We are currently spending every waking hour elbow deep in old wood, rusty nails, and plumbing runs that rival the Mousetrap game.
If we ever, God willing, get to close up these walls, we will have to see what my beloved pencils in next. “Mike loves Kym unless he has to renovate another bathroom and then all bets are off” is probably a solid bet.