1889 Victorian purchase...any advice?

igloochicJanuary 16, 2009

I'm looking at a victorian mansion in washington that is currently a B&B. It's in fairly good condition, almost great really for a victorian (I grew up in them). I will be doing a tour of the place next week and we're making a check list of what to look for in each room.

A couple of issues we've already thought of...and would love to hear comments on if you have any thoughts to share:

First, I have the plans which show a fireplace in the parlor as well as one backed up to it (corner to corner) in the dining room. The area in the dining room is blocked (the wall) with a large buffet. I do know the parlor fireplace works well and is used often. I don't know if they share a chimney or not. Above the buffet is an area where the plaster is cracked quite badly (there are a few areas like that on the main floor). They said this is due to a flood from a window left open during a storm by an absent guest, which is logical...does that ring any bells for you? What does one look for in regards to fireplaces?

The master bedroom has a little wood stove in it (it sits above the rooms with fireplaces below). That would have been highly unlikely I think (a little fireplace in a formal house's main bedroom). Do you think it's likely that behind the cheap 1980's tile wall we'd find a firebox? How difficult is it to restore a fireplace?

There appears to be no fireplace location on the 3rd floor, which was most likely servants quarters. Is that normal or should I be looking for something???

Then the kitchen flue is closed off with the standard plate. We'd like to put in a beautiful tile wood stove...what do we need to look for to see if this is possible? (Is this all covered in a normal inspection or do I have to ask for more)?

I'm very fire oriented aren't I? heh heh

Ok so then we have the floors...carpet wall too wall in all of the bedrooms on the 2nd and third floor...What should I look for in flooring? Most likely wood? The halls are painted wood....

We like this house because the bathrooms (each room has one) are done somewhat tastefully (I hate the normal B&B tub in the corner of the room thing). All nine rooms have a small bathroom about the size of a closet...but would a home built in the late 1800's have closets???? Every one of them will be updated or reback dated? heh heh to something more appropriate to the late 1800's. They currently have 80's tile or formica with fiberglass shower stalls...all of those will go, but I'm just curious...what do you think those little rooms were????

The foundation is great, the roof as well. They appear to have removed the hot water radiators and replaced with baseboards...those will go...is that an easy switch back or a major money issue? I'll want to factor that into the offer.

Wallpaper..gad everywhere in horrible flowers on flowers on flowers with lace...any major issues in removing??? It has to go LOL

This is an important home, and I want to respect it, but still we also want to live in it...so some upgrades need to happen...ie we want to turn one bedroom into a master closet. Does that make you shiver?

It's a national and state historic landmark and on the national register. Is this going to cause me any issues when remodeling anything? Again we'll respect the house I just want to know how much they're involved in our life in this home.

We would like to build a car port, not attached to the house (the carriage house has been sold and is part of the neighbor's house now). Given the above paragraph, will we have any difficult hoops to go through for permits if we make sure it's designed appropriate to the house???

Any insight you can share before my tour would be really helpful!!

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Our last home was an early 1900 home. We learned, after we closed on it, that there was chimney flue damage that prevented us from having fires. I'd suggest having a chimney inspection, with a video camera going up the chimneys, as part of your purchase inspection process.

I don't think it's unusual not to have a 3rd floor fireplace.

I don't think those little rooms/bathrooms were original closets but maybe some were if the original owner was very forward looking. I'd be more inclined to think the bathrooms were "carved out" of the room or is there a chance that they might have been luggage/trunk rooms?

One bedroom being turned into a master closet - you are my hero and will love it! We've done that. I'd just suggest not removing wood trim etc and if that room has a window, keep it.

You mention cracked plaster due to water damage and then you mention floors hidden by carpet. Can you find out if there is water damage to the floors?

You may or may not have problems getting approval for a carport. It depends on your local historic commission and what they see as appropriate for designs. They could have you go through some hoops. There has been alot of landmark and national register status on the attached link. Do a search for 'national register' and you'll find lots of experience.

Good luck on your tour.

Here is a link that might be useful: national register etc

    Bookmark   January 16, 2009 at 5:48AM
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In our area, at least, the Victorian era homes had closets. One that a friend bought had been converted into a rooming house and all the closets had become bathrooms.

Even when they're safe to use, the old fireplaces were often very inefficient. I wouldn't count on any of them being up to snuff in terms of safety or energy efficiency. Even if they're in use by the current owners that means nothing.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2009 at 8:28AM
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Easy switchback? depends...

Can you tell where the radiators used to be? I'm assuming you're talking hot water, not steam, and I only know steam well, because that's what I have. For hot water, the water flows through the radiator, in one end and out the other. So, with baseboards, these inflow and outflow pipes would be several feet, sometimes the length of the wall, apart. For radiators, they would only be a couple of feet apart. So, you might have to get some floor ripped up while the plumber adjusts these runs of pipe to suit radiators. This can get expensive. Fwiw, we looked into converting our house from steam to hot water, which would have involved a near total repiping and lots of wall/floor ripping--the estimate for that work alone came to over 30K. We decided we liked steam better! In your case, since it's not a total redo, I'd say thousands, not tens of thousands, to the plumber.

Then there are the radiators themselves. You can get salvaged ones--prices vary but are usually in the low hundreds. Scrap metal recycling places, if they have them at all, would probably be cheaper than an architectural salvage place. Factor in the cost of sandblasting and painting. I can send you links to info about bronzing liquid; it's period appropriate, and you can choose from tons of metallic powders, really fun. I love the way the p.o. bronzed the radiator by my front door (see I don't _always_ complain about them!). Sometimes you hook up an old radiator and turn on the system, and find out it has failed/cracked somehow (this is what my plumber told me). It is an infrequent problem, but always a little gamble when you use salvaged radiators.

Also the radiator needs to be sized right for the room. With salvage radiators, it may be possible to remove sections, if one you get is too large for the room it's going into. Can anyone else comment on the feasibility of this? If it's too small, there's nothing to be done.

Burnham makes an attractive classic radiator, I included a link below. There is no pricing but I think my plumber said they run around $1500. Price varies with the number of sections so this is just a ballpark.

OK this looks garish bc of the flash. And the wallpaper is gone (thankfully!). That's another post!

I guess I'm leaving you with more questions than answers. At the end of the day, if we'd known what some of our "fixes" would cost, we would have negotiated a lot harder.

Here is a link that might be useful: Burnham classic radiators

    Bookmark   January 16, 2009 at 8:45AM
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Your regular inspector isn't going to tell you anything useful about your fireplaces. If you want info about their safety, layout etc you will have to hire someone who specializes in them.

I'm in the process of dealing with the historic register folks now. As a general rule, they seem to be VERY concerned about the outside of the house. If you are interested in applying for any tax credits, they will be VERY concerned about the formal rooms - entry, dining, living/parlor. They seem much less concerned about bathrooms, kitchens, and bedrooms. I suggest you contact your local historic district commission and introduce yourself before you even buy the house. They have tons of information and are excited to hear from anyone interested in restoring a home to its former glory.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2009 at 8:51AM
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Igloo, is there a real estate link you can attach? I'd love to see the house, it must be spectacular, especially to pull you from your beautiful kitchen (and bath, and view!).

I'll second worthy in saying that most Victorians I've seen have had closets. In my house (1898, so a little later) there are closets in all of the bedrooms. I'll also second definitely having a specialist looking at the chimneys. I'm not sure the layout of the wood stove (is it freestanding?) but it might be possible that there was a coal stove in that room at some point. I had a friend that had a mix of coal stoves and fireplaces in his Victorian- which I think was around the same time as yours.

Just got a bunch of wallpaper off, and having used many different techniques, the best, by far was using a sprayer with hot water in it and just soaking it. Make sure to have lots of towels at the base of the wall (obviously), but it came off easiest that way. Plus, you can do it with little ones in proximity, which is nice.

I hate to tell you that turning a bedroom into a master closet does make me shiver. However, have you thought about maybe doing a "dressing room" instead? You could do basically the same thing, but make it a space where you are clearly supposed to be- give yourself a lovely vanity, get your husband an antique "valet". I think then you could get the space that you want while keeping the integrity of the time. Regardless, I'm sure anything you do would be lovely.

keep us updated!

    Bookmark   January 16, 2009 at 9:20AM
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The considerations with wallpaper removal include: how many layers, and what is the condition of the walls underneath?

Multiple layers increase the time/expense to remove. Often the walls underneath are in very poor shape.

What we did, and I like to recommend:

1. hired it out to meticulous workers.

2. They used dif and a scoring tool where necessary to get it in (vinyl wallpaper needs scoring for the stripper to penetrate, paper often doesn't).

3. gentle scraping and warm water

4. thorough washdown, many rinses, to get any residue off the walls.

5. Farrow and Ball's stabilising primer before anything else. My painters raved about this stuff; they'd never seen anything like it, and they thought it was the best idea for stabilizing old plaster so that it doesn't deteriorate/crumble. To me, it looked like a very thin coat of clear elmer's glue had been rolled onto the walls.

6. Plaster repairs, patching divots and crumbly places. They said my walls were surpringly "good" after stripping, yet each room looked like an impressionist painting after this step, there were so many little dabs of patching everywhere. I suppose if the walls had been bad we would have had them skimcoated.

***your mileage may vary***

What's funny to me is to compare the 80's flower explosion victorian wannabe wallpaper to the real thing. Those old designs had so much more soul, and were graphically just more interesting and cerebral. I'm not doing a lot of original victorian wallpaper in my house because even the good stuff is a bit heavy for me, but I hope to eventually work a little bit of it, maybe a william morris pattern, into a bathroom or closet.

I *wish* I'd had a full structural inspection done. We'll be spending tens of thousands to deal with those issues.

Here is a link that might be useful: REAL Victorian wallpaper

    Bookmark   January 16, 2009 at 9:21AM
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Ya'll are so helpful :) Thank you!

Gad the radiators LOL I had NO IDEA how much work that would be, but it will be a pretty high priority to us (DH hates the baseboards in a victorian) so I will see if I can find out what we have to work with. Slate that radiator is amazing! I love the bronze.

The room with the water damage is the dining room and that floor is exposed wood. I can see it's fine when looking under the buffet (we did this on our 1st visit). I may make them move the buffet on this next visit. If not this visit, definately the inspection visit. I'd like to know what they've done with the firebox back there, hopefully just left it alone.

We don't want efficiency out of the fireplaces (aside from the one we'd like to put in the kitchen and the exsiting stove in the basement). There are 2 existing fireplaces on the first floor now, one in the foyer and the other in the parlor. I'm sure the fireplace in the dinning room was as gorgeous...I mean why wouldn't it be? So we'd like to have that back :) Both in terms of the fire places and the radiators, we're willing to put some money into the house to restore it to it's former glory. But we obviously want to get an idea of what that entails if it should be factored into an offer!

I'l call the historican society now and ask if they have an inspector they recommend. And a fireplace/chimney specialist for that issue. We'll be sure to write that into the offer as a requirement.

I'm not a huge wallpaper freak...but those could easily be worked into my decor. They're so much better than the 80's flower "Victorian" decor LOL Honestly, they're a great option..thanks! I may well work some of that into some of the rooms (to save on the removal work) and to add to the distinction of each space.

Autumn I'll link the house below. As I mentioned it's a B&B so you can see pictures of the house on their website. I'll be taking a lot more when I visit :) We'll get rid of any "fake" victorian furniture (it comes furnished) and eventually the whole house will be decorated much more appropriately to it's style, but still be a comfortable family home. The kitchen is probably one of our big money items, which will come down the road. It's pretty much tricked out as a commercial kitchen due to the B&B. I'd like to move a few things and then do a more unfitted kitchen appropriate to the house. We'll still have some professional appliances (if you've seen my kitchen you know I like them LOL) but they'll be better suited to the house, like a molteni range or lacanche and the subzero will be hiddenin a custom amoire. I can't wait to get onto that project :) I get so jealous when I see these white cabinet kitchens LOL

I'm sorry I hurt your brain with the closet idea LOL But I made someone else smile so perhaps thats the future for me..some people groan when they see it and some people smile LOL

We will be VERY sensative to the room that is converted. We don't want to devalue the property and want to make a conversion back to a B&B possible if we ever sell (so we can market as both a B&B and a home). The room that we'd convert will have free standing pieces that are just pushed against the wall, all to look as if they're built in, but all easily removed to go back to a bedroom. There is a bathroom inbetween these two rooms (it's horrificly 80's) which we'll use as the path between them. This means we'll have to add a door to the master that isn't there, but we'll be nice when we do it, and make it removable if someone would wish that. NONE of the trim or windows in that room will be altered, removed etc. Including the door to the main hall. We'll work around and with those features instead of covering them up and/or getting rid of them.

I'm going to gut all the bathrooms and do tile (appropriate to the house) or beadboard paneling. I'm thinking the smallest will be turned into wet rooms using the existing drains, pedastol sinks and vintage inspired shower fittings. We'll work a ribcage shower in...most likely in the master, and a free standing marble shower (built out of a few slabs...we used one in Duluth and fell in love) in one of the bigger baths. But the tubs and sinks in the rooms...those will get capped off (plumbing) and the fixtures removed.

OK I'm off to call the historical society :)

Thanks and if you think of anything else, please let me know!

Here is a link that might be useful: Hastings House

    Bookmark   January 16, 2009 at 2:59PM
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Igloo- it's literally breathtaking! Wow- that is worth saying goodbye to your kitchen and bath, although you might want to take some of your light fixtures with you. What an amazing house- I'm so surprised it comes furnished too, hopefully they won't take the really nice antiques (like that library table) and leave the 1980's "Victorian" overstuffed couches. I'm sure you'd do a master closet tastefully and keeping as much of the character as possible. When I read things like that, it's more of a general quiver than a specific one- not everyone who would put a master closet in would be as respectful as you would be.

Your bathroom plan sounds amazing- I'll watch your progress happily because I think it will help me make some decisions on our bath and the one we'll be putting in.

For more period wallpaper, you should check out Bradbury & Bradbury too (although most probably already know of them). I'll post a link below. There was a friend of mine who really did his house up in B&B wallpaper and it was stunning. He just sold that house, I should see if I can get photos from him because his house was beyond amazing. His advice for decorating a victorian was to find 1 or 2 rooms and have period wallpaper in those rooms to really set the feel for the whole space. We probably won't do any wallpaper in our house, we have quite a bit of artwork and that just doesn't work with wallpaper. Also, after scraping off so much of it... but the wallpaper in the link slate posted and in bradbury does make me think about it- keep us posted!

Here is a link that might be useful: Bradbury and Bradbury Art Wallpaper

    Bookmark   January 17, 2009 at 8:44AM
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Thanks Autumn...I'm definately new in the wallpaper market heh heh I've never liked it much in modern homes. I think your friends advice is wonderful. We plan on really focusing on period appropriate decor on the main floor. The house is often (or was) used for charities, and we'd like to come in to town in a good way by continuing to allow those events to happen, and as we restore, making them even more fun for those folks who love the houses in PT (an amazing victorian seaport). LOL on the victorian overstuffed couches...they'll be gone VERY quick. DH and I both laugh about how awful they are.

Upstairs, not in the pics, are a bunch of gorgeous amoires (3 or 4) lining the hallway. The all stay and will be distibuted around the house. I'm waiting for the furnishings list, but we've seen it before and the one item I was most concerned about was that stupid library table...isn't it cool? I'm going to write that into the offer as an additional required item. I'd actually give up the baby grand to keep that table...how goofy is tat?

I'm booked to see the house on the 1st and 2nd. I can't wait. I'm better armed wth the information I received here and really do appreciate that!

We're still going to keep our ALaska home (after all someday I have to see it get finished). DH will be going back and forth weekly so we have a reason to keep it. And I'll be a snow bird and return in the summers. After all, how many kids get to summer in Alaska :)

This is a big move for us...we're pretty excited, and tat has almost overcome the fears (me being on my own with my little guy is a major issue...when he's ill he's a handful). But I suppose if he drives me crazy I can always attribute it to the flowery wallpaper...

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 9:13PM
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Our house was built in 1887, Queen Anne style.

One thing to ask the chimney inspection guy (or gal) is whether the chimneys were for wood-burning fireplaces or coal.

We had a chimney inspection separate from our house inspection. They said that our living room fireplace was too small to have ever been a wood-burning fireplace. It most likely had a coal-burning stove to heat the room.

And in fact, when we look at all of the rooms that lie above the living room, the walls in front of that chimney all show evidence where a big hole was patched up, patching up where the coal-burning stoves were.

Now, our chimney guy said that if we wanted to have an actual wood fire in the living room fireplace, we'd have to add a chimney liner, to protect the chimney for when the wood flames shoot up into it. An alternative is there are "Bio Bricks" that you can burn in the fireplace. I have my decorative candle stand in the fireplace with candles when I want the ambiance.

On wallpaper removal, you'll find lots of advice and tips on the Paint forum here in the GardenWeb. I'm in the midst of taking the wallpaper off our dining room walls. It's completely DIY doable, if you want to save money. What I've found it is a slow process, especially with my 9 foot ceilings! That's the most tedious part: soaking an area of wallpaper and waiting 20 minutes for the liquid to soak in. Then scrape and move onto the next section. Then move the ladder so I can reach the top area by the ceiling, then repeat. Then wash with Dirtext and a Scotch scrubbie to make sure all traces of the paste are gone.

I've finished one wall and primed with Gardz. You need to prime with something like Gardz, as it locks down any residual paste so it won't interact with the paint you put on the wall.

If you have hardwood floors in the wallpapered rooms, another tedious thing is making sure the floors are protected while you're putting all of that hot water or Dif liquid onto the wallpaper walls.

Closets, ack! Our bedrooms all have a closet, but they are tiny! We are considering converting one bedroom into a combo bathroom and dressing room, as we're not lacking in number of bedrooms but only have one full bath.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   January 19, 2009 at 4:40PM
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Koala maybe I could trade you a few feet of closet space for a couple extra bathrooms :oP I will have ten LOL I would imagine I'll be missing closets soon even tiny ones, since they were all converted.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2009 at 2:14PM
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Koala, we also only have one full bath, which is kind of a pain going from more than that. My kids are little, so it's not too much of an issue- but I don't know how we'll do it when they are teenagers! Igloo, we'll be envious of your 10 baths then!

Igloo, I'd be the same way about that library table, that's a one of a kind piece that looks just perfect there. I'm sure the grand piano is beautiful, but you can always find another baby grand, can't find another table like that. Moving a few states over is a HUGE move- good luck! We just moved less than a mile and it was tough, but at least you won't be having to sell, which was really hard with kids. I think summering in Alaska would be fantastic! I don't know if there is a study on the effect of flowered wallpaper on young boys, but I'm guessing you can blame all kinds of things on its' effects-

FYI on the wallpaper thing, I would of course, agree with slateberry to hire it out to meticulous workers. But if you are DIY and the wallpaper is old (have no idea about vinyl) water is really the best way to go. Diff takes forever and is messy and doesn't work as well as just soaking it. I got 2/3s of one wall done with water in less time than it took to do the 1/3 of the wall with diff. For water, protecting is easy, put down a garbage bag with a bunch of towels on it. Still tedious- but not nearly so bad.

I remember in one of your previous posts somewhere you knew something about painting techniques? I'm going to be re-painting my 3rd level floor in a checkerboard pattern, any advice?

    Bookmark   January 23, 2009 at 10:09AM
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LOL I never thought to blame all of my failings with my son on the flowers! Great idea!!!

I have used Diff and don't like it. I prefer a steamer with a bit of fabric softener in it. I've not tried that on really old wallpaper, but most of this stuff is 80's I'd bet...of course who knows what's under that mess!

Ok I've never been brave enough to do plaid paint or checkerboards, though I have been tempted. I have done stripes though, and I'd recommend if you're looking for very sharp lines, do one thin coat of clear glaze over your painters tape (right at the edges each side. Your paint won't run under it that way, but don't leave the tape on long that way.

I saw Candice olson once do a mix of plaid and checks in a kids play room. She didn't do sharp lines, but instead free handed thin lines and left the paint tape on it's own (no glaze) so there was a bit of a soft edge that came through. It was done in all very soft pastels and was really pretty....food for thought!

    Bookmark   January 26, 2009 at 4:26PM
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