Restoration Clinic et al

I didn't get a picture of the trailer full of furniture, so here's a boat Dawn found in the cornfield. There was a tree growing through it.

I didn’t get a picture of the trailer full of furniture, so here’s a boat Dawn found in the cornfield. There was a tree growing through it.

This morning we drove to Mechanicsburg to visit Dawn’s furniture. The Restoration Clinic had prepared an exhaustive list of all the work required, and it was way out of our budget, so we needed to pare it back. Now picture four people standing in a tractor trailer stacked floor to ceiling, trying to review a forty-page list of problems. It was not pleasant. Finally Marsha came to the rescue and said, “Look, you need five beds, four dressers, twenty-four chairs, and a dining table — let us do those first, and you can deal with the rest later.” Brilliant!

This evening we met with Geoff and James Brown, twin brothers who restored Tulpehocken Manor, a 27-room Victorian mansion just fifteen minutes away. (I found them when I was trying to get Central PA magazine to do a story on us, and they said they just did a restoration story on them. Hmph.) We gave them a tour of the mansion but unfortunately didn’t have time to see their manor. Next time. And I continue to be surprised (and dismayed) by the google searches that lead people to this web site…

  • Gary Geiselman (our contractor)
  • Sandrine Lacorie (our original web designer)
  • Dumpster rental delaware county PA (we’re listed #8)
  • Septic Module (we’re #4, lovely)
  • Dawn Diehm (not sure who this is, but the person looking for her was on my site for three hours! Talk about ADD…)

We also got our first international visitor — someone from South Korea searching for “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Needless to say, he didn’t stay long.


Insurance, molding, and fireplaces: just another day

Today we met the insurance guy, and found the only thing the mansion is insured for is lightning. Imagine, a stone house insured for lightning! Worse, there was a surcharge for having a low deductible! He’s going to re-work the numbers and let us know what a real policy will cost.

Mike, using three ladders as "scaffolding"

Mike, using three ladders as “scaffolding”

In yet another reminder of what a small town this is, the contractor was pulling down the exterior molding that was rotten (he calls it “punky” which is actually a word, I looked it up) and commented on how expensive it would be to make a cutter to match. A few phone calls later, Dawn had located a cutter that was made twelve years ago for the mansion. I guess her dad was looking to do some work before he got sick. Well, whatever the reason, he just saved us about $900. Way to go, dad!

Also, I’ve mentioned Darin, one of Dawn’s friends from high school, who happens to live nearby and has been helping her out quite a bit. Well, his father works for a fireplace wholesaler, we need six fireplace sets, and I’m not above exploiting people for my own gain, so we went to his shop today. We were looking at gas logs, but the electric ones were really cool — seriously, they didn’t give off any heat, you could stick your hand in the “flame”. Plus they looked great, not like Disneyland’s white sheet blown over an orange light bulb. So instead of gas lines and chimney liners, we just need an electric outlet, and we’ll save about $10,000. Way to go, Darin’s dad!



We secured funding for most of the project today. It wasn’t cheap, and this project no longer makes any kind of economic sense whatsoever, but I suspect that’s how most of these projects go…

We also met with Toni and Loren from After Eight B&B, a lovely Victorian inn on Route 30. (If you drew a line through “Amish Country” then it would be Route 30.) They are restoring another building as a B&B, so we swapped stories about permits and such, and Toni gave us phone numbers for some local contractors. Again I have to note that the people who are willing to talk to us, don’t belong to any of the local B&B associations, and the ones who belong, won’t give us the time of day. I don’t know what it means, but it is an interesting pattern.

Finally, we went to Central Market, touted as the oldest continuously-operated farmer’s market in the country. My expectations were quite high, and completely shattered. First, it’s inside; second, it’s small; and third, a lot of those booths look pretty permanent.

MONDAY, APRIL 25, 2005

Decisions, decisions…

We met with two contractors today to discuss conventional vs geothermal again. I hate to keep harping on this, but I’ve made my last ‘green’ stand on geothermal and I’m just not willing to back down, despite the costs. Dawn keeps telling me not to quote figures, so let’s just say that the geothermal system has a life expectancy of 20 years, and a return-on-investment of 32 years. Obviously it makes no economic sense, but I’ve already backed away from solar electric, aerobic septic, sustainable lumber, recycled materials, and every other lofty aspiration I started with.

The dormer, just a week after we paid the roofers to patch all the leaks

The dormer, just a week after we paid the roofers to patch all the leaks

To abandon geothermal as well would haunt me for the next twenty years. But we’re already 400% over budget and I can’t even find someone to loan us the money to do what we need, never mind to assuage my ecologic conscience… In other news, the general contractor started today, a few weeks later than we expected, and he’s working by himself, so this is going much slower than I hoped. We’ll wait and see. So far he’s endeared himself by ripping out all of the collar-ties in the attic and replacing them with new wood. One interesting discovery: Inside the knee wall, in the north-west corner of the house, there was a hidden little cache under the floorboards. It was empty, of course, and you couldn’t even access it before they took down the plaster, so it probably dated back to the original part of the house, before they finished the attic. Cool.


Two more days

and I’m back in Pennsylvania for a week. I thought once Dawn was out there, there wouldn’t be anything left for me to do. Ha. I’ve still got a million things to do; just now they’re unimportant things. I think my main function right now is to move all of Dawn’s belongings cross-country, two suitcases at a time. Two critical items on my list: – I’m still (desperately) trying to secure funding. I figured, we’ve got collateral, we’ve got income, we’ve got good credit, slam dunk, right? Well, the “slam” part is right. One lender wouldn’t loan more than $200,000; another wouldn’t include my income because I was in California; a third wouldn’t make a “farm loan” (?!), and the last one said the mansion had to be worth more than we were borrowing. Uh, excuse me, but what part of “restore it” are you not getting? If it was worth that much, we wouldn’t need to borrow the money, you see how that works? So far the only offer I’ve gotten is prime+8 for a 2-year loan. I could get better terms maxing out my credit cards. – We have to review the furniture list.

Somehow the restoration estimate jumped from $20,000 to $87,000 when we weren’t looking. And while I know that’s still a good deal (remember, it’s a tractor-trailer full of antique furniture), there’s a lot of pieces that just aren’t worth restoring. Like the funky gilded mirror that was in the attic, or the table leaves that we’ll never use. Other planned activities: Get some updated photos for this blog; visit Central Market; give tours to several important people (i.e. anyone who asks), review the insurance, buy sheets and an area rug, order stairs for Aquarius, attend the Restoration Conference in Philadelphia; set up a wolf cam (don’t ask); and see the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie. (Although technically that last two are not restoration-related.)

SUNDAY, APRIL 17, 2005


Surprisingly, given how notoriously cheap I am, I insisted on hiring a general contractor. Equally surpising, given what a perfectionist Dawn is, she was willing to tackle the mansion without one. We compromised: The GC has responsibility for the “skilled” jobs, while Dawn handles the unskilled jobs, like the demo work, cleanup, etc.

Dawn listening to me cry like a baby

Dawn listening to me cry like a baby

When they pulled up the linoleum in the kitchen, they found the wood floor was sound, but covered with glue. Scraping that off seemed to land squarely in Dawn’s “unskilled” camp. Dawn, however, wanted to rent a floor sander, which to my mind put this back in the “skilled” camp. Despite repeated pleadings, Dawn rented the sander yesterday and … it all worked out fine. She got the glue off without doing irreparable harm to the floor, the cabinets, or herself.

So on the one hand, she got the job done much faster than she would have by hand. On the other hand, she spent $70 on the sander, when her labor was free. Hmmm…

On the bright note, we finally got the web cams working. It’s very nice to see Dawn after again after a three-week hiatus. I keep asking her to put the camera by her bed so I can watch her sleep, but so far she’s not cooperating. I don’t think she realizes just how much I miss her.


How to make Dawn cry

First, make her quit her job, move cross-country by herself with a bare minimumm of possessions, live in a greenhouse next to her mother and without a car, and tell her to supervise a 15-month construction project. Then, throw in a low-level bureaucrat who says her papers are not in order. Works every time. Dawn went to the DMV this morning to get her driver’s license, and was told she needed an original social security card. (I have to point out, futilely, that this requirement is not listed on their web site.) So she called me at 7am my time, bawling. I know it was just a lot of pent-up frustration, so I tried to be supportive. I’m not usually supportive at 7am. Want to know how to make Gregg cry? Tell him that all the money he spent last year on the business is not tax-deductible, because the B&B wasn’t open yet. (And try to tell him this four days before taxes are due.) Of course, he won’t cry right away; not until he gets home and updates his tax forms and sees how much more he has to pay. Works every time.


A brick wall

We hit a brick wall today. Literally. They were gutting the summer kitchen and they peeled off the plaster (or drywall, I’m not sure) of one interior wall and found it was solid brick! We have no idea what it signifies, but it seems very strange to have a brick wall running halfway through a stone building. We’ll ask a couple of historians and, if we’re lucky, two of them will agree, and we’ll figure out the next step. Ah, old houses, gotta love ’em. Speaking of historians, I’ve mentioned that the National Register of Historic Places has a very — interesting — perspective on historic renovation.


We’re going to take down the porch for now, and rebuild it as finances permit.

To whit, anything not original but which has achieved historical significance (i.e. over 50 years old) in its own right must be preserved. Well, we ran afoul of that when we proposed removing the back porch, which was obviously a early 1900’s add-on. You’d think they’d be happy to let us strip that away and expose the building as it would have been 200 years ago, but nope. We have to rebuild it (the current one is completely rotted, which is why we were proposing to remove it) and we have to make the new one look exactly like the 20th century add-on. Please don’t look for logic or reason here; you will be disappointed. Finally, our appeal of the sprinklers also hit an unexpected snag — the township does not actually have an appeals process in place yet! The zoning officer is scheduled to take a class in May, and then they will figure out how to organize it. Oh yeah, I want to be the first one in there…



Dormer over the grand stairway. If you look carefully, you'll see the beams are covered in wasps nests.

Dormer over the grand stairway. If you look carefully, you’ll see the beams are covered in wasps nests.

Dawn called me yesterday at 6:30am my time to report there were three wasps between her and the door, and she couldn’t go to work. As we talked, she managed to dispatch them with a full can of Armor-all, and now the carpet is very shiny. (She has since switched to Dow scrubbing bubbles, so she is at least cleaning while she kills.)

Several years ago, Los Angeles got the bright idea of spraying malathion from helicopters to ward off fruit flies, and incidentally wiped out every other insect as well, including bees and wasps. So I’ve never had to worry about them, never been stung, and never thought they would impact our schedule because nobody will go into the fields! Nowhere on my project plan does it say “wait for wasps” and I’m a little frustrated.

They did, however, gut the Summer Kitchen. What was once three very small rooms on each floor is now one large room, and Dawn is quite pleased. Not enough to send me pictures, of course, but we can’t have everything.

She is not pleased with the painter, who decided to prime everything before it had been sanded down. She doesn’t know what he was thinking. Fortunately, he only got to one room before she did her full-body tackle thing. She wants to throw him off the job, but I pointed out that the next cheapest painter was $14,000 more. Even over the telephone I could tell I was getting “The Eye.”

Dawn bought a car today from a dealer in Delaware. It was the first time she haggled over a car in 13 years, and she negotiated the price down by $110. Go Dawn! (Thank goodness she doesn’t read this.) They have to fix a small dent and then they will deliver the car to her, even though they are over an hour away. Not sure how she got them to agree to that.

And finally, I entered Dawn into a remodeling sweepstakes, pointing out that while she is spending everything we have on the mansion, she is living in a green house, eating out of a microwave, sleeping on a lumpy futon, watching TV on an 8″ portable and DVDs on her laptop. I couldn’t bear to tell them about the velvet wolf pictures which, I think, glow in the dark. (I tried to take one down on my last visit, but Dawn said, “You better have something to replace that with; it’s blocking the air vent,” so I put it back.) Hopefully they will take pity on her and she can buy some drapes, get an air conditioner, and maybe even fix the toilet upstairs so it doesn’t steam when you flush it. (The water lines were switched, so it gets filled with hot water.)

MONDAY, APRIL 04, 2005

Professional rivalry

In stripping the paint back to the plaster, Dawn found the signature for the original painter, dated 1888! Unfortunately, it was crossed out and someone else signed it 1902. Unfortunately, that was crossed out, too, and someone else signed it 1947. So if we wanted to leave this exposed, it would be a large 12″ x 30″ unpainted rectangle on the wall. Hmmm… The demo is complete, and the paint crew is now stripping the (lead-based) paint off all the interior woodwork. Dawn has taken all of the hardware off the doors and cabinets and dumped it all in a large bag. (Just kidding–I have no idea what she did with it, but I’m sure it’s all neatly labelled and organized.)

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