Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Back-Door Project

I hesitated to post about this.  First of all, I don't know how I feel about house project posts.  On one hand, they're really fun to look at and to get ideas from but on the other hand they can sometimes lead to house envy and dissatisfaction.  And seriously, I think a lot of us can muster up some good old house dissatisfaction all on our very own.

The second reason is because this project was pretty out of character for us.  First, we hired someone in to do some of the work- only the second time in the almost 9 years we've lived here (the other time we hired a carpenter friend to smooth out the drywall in our bedroom after tearing out the wood paneling that was on the walls and ceiling of the room).  Jamey usually handles our home projects since it saves us a lot of money. Thirdly, it wasn't cheap.  Even though we did as much ourselves as we could, it was an expense and it took a lot of discerning before we pulled the trigger.  Eight years of discerning, actually.

In spite of all this, I'm posting about it.  But please understand this was a real (lengthy) process.  So with all that said, here's the story.  Because you know there's got to be a story, right? Right.

We live in a farmhouse built circa 1897.  The original house was two front rooms and two second story rooms above them (the portion seen below on the left with the two brick chimneys coming through the roof). Later, a two-story extension was built out the back with a second-story porch that has since been closed in. Those four windows on the second story (and to the right of them) was where the second story porch was. Underneath that porch, it was open.  Later still, the one-story section (currently our kitchen) was added and the lower open area (under the porch) was closed in.  Are you with me?

These next few pictures may help.  We are fortunate enough to have the granddaughter of the man who built our house as our next door neighbor.  Her family allowed me to make some copies of some of their old family pictures that included our house.  Below is the open lower porch I was speaking of before the kitchen was added on.  They are standing where the kitchen would later be added. The cistern that you see on the right is still there and we still use it (you'll see it in another picture later in the post).

Below is the man (and his wife) who built our house.  This picture was taken in 1937.  This man's son moved in and his family took care of his ailing parents and lived in the house after they passed away.  Both of these lovely people actually passed away in our dining room (which was then the parlor).  You kept your elders with you in those days- a challenge and a blessing I think our society often misses out on now.

This next picture is of our neighbor's parents.  You can see the second story porch railing above.  Our neighbor's parents built their own house about 150 yards from our house and that's where she grew up. When she got married, she and her husband built a house between our house and her parent's house.  If you stand on our front porch and look down the road, all three homes' front porches line up perfectly.  So the upper and lower porches were eventually closed in.  That lower space is the actual subject of this post but I like to take the round-about approach.

Okay.  Back to present day.  We have a lovely front door and porch but only the UPS man uses it.  Well, he knocks on it, anyway.  And we use it to walk out to the mailbox.  Years and years ago, our road wasn't so busy.  Company would park along the road out front, walk up the front walk, up the porch steps and in the front door.  There is no longer any walk because it would not be smart to park along our road now.  

Our driveway winds around to the back of the house where there are three (count them one, two, three) back doors.  One is kept locked because it enters into my pantry which was clearly a later partition.  We don't use that door since the pantry has it's own door that opens into the inner house.  A walkway from the driveway took you right to this door (below).  But we didn't use this door that much either.  It didn't have a proper lock (in fact, sometimes it didn't even latch) and it entered into a very small, dark, unfinished, and smelly mudroom/closet.  Once inside it, you could enter through yet another door that actually lead into the house.  Jamey stored old work clothes in there and that's where we kept our potatoes and butternut squash crates since it was unheated, but mostly the spiders took up residence and I literally held my breath and told the spiders to "get back!" every time I went in there.

This leaves one more back door.  If you imagine standing facing the door above and follow the arrow on it to the left, you'll come to the only door anyone had ever used (since we've lived here anyway).  On a good day it looked like this- shoes, tools, buckets, and just about anything else could always be found very near by. Many other days, those things lie right in front of the door.  This made sense in many ways because most of the year, we spend a lot of time outside with frequent trips inside.  When we were expecting company, we tidied up as best we could but if you happened to stop by unannounced, you'd hear my profuse apologies as I struggled to pick up/kick aside enough stuff so you could enter the house.

For eight years I longed for a better back door situation.

One that allowed guests to walk from the driveway into the house without being confused as to where to go and without having to step over or get an up-close-and-personal-introduction to our things.

So why did it take eight years to do something about it?  Well, I guess we try to let our values dictate what we value.  For all that we have to be thankful for, it seemed petty to care about such a thing. Picking up stuff isn't the end of the world.  Trying to get your family to do it on their own might be. Oops.  That just slipped out.  So.  After years of waffling back and forth, we decided to go ahead an do something about it.

In the picture below you can see what it looked like inside before the changes.  The door straight ahead enters into the little, dark, smelly room.  If you go out the door on the right, you'll trip over step over all the shoes and tools.  We had hooks on the wall to the left but had taken them down in preparation for the carpenter who was coming to do the first part of the project.

And here's what it looks like now.

The little wall that closed off the little smelly room was taken out.  The window on the right was added for light.  The old undersized door was removed (we kept it) and a new, insulated handicap accessible door was added.  Jamey laid tile over the painted concrete floor of the old, small room.  He also installed all the trim and baseboards.  I painted.  There's now a doorbell that works and a light outside that we can turn on and off from the inside.  Futuristic, I know.  The door mats we already had.  The large wooden box is our indoor shoe storage for non-filthy shoes.

The same shelves/hooks we had before were painted the trim color and re-hung.

Our family still uses the "old" back door.  We still kick off our shoes right outside and leave tools and buckets lying around.  But NOW,  I. DON'T. CARE. because I have an obstacle-free door to welcome guests.

If there is a moral to this story it is that if you wait long enough for something and really want it all that time and you finally get it, you are ever, ever, ever so grateful. 

The End. Pin It


  1. Great job, Mom! Feels so good to have the house clean and organized, doesn't it? We are enjoying many of your vegetarian recipes as of late. Such a lovely site.

  2. You are a teacher and sharer of great truths!

  3. Oh my goodness, what a lovely improvement! Goes to prove again that it's the little things that count. (I know the $$ spent was in no way a little thing, but you did wait many years for it to happen!) The area looks so fresh and clean and light and bright. We "make do" with so much (and that's all right) that getting something we've wanted for ever so long DOES make us truly grateful. And I know you are!

  4. Having had the privilege to use this new and welcoming entryway, I can say that it adds so much charm to your house!

  5. It looks great. And yes, how nice to be able to 'live' & kick shoes off etc. and still be able to function if someone stops by:)
    Have a beautiful day.

  6. I love it! I get so excited to see before and after photos! Thanks for sharing the whole story! And the old photos what a treasure to have . . . makes me want to locate some photos from our homestead which is over 100 years old! (Not the house, the original house was torn down and rebuilt in 1955 but the barn and two additional out buildings.)

    Judi :)

  7. I am excited for you and your family to have such a functional update. Our house was built in 1900 and we have redone it (my husband is a carpenter) so I know about house "quirks". I wish we had more information and pics when our house and barn were first built like you! Freya

  8. Wow! What a transformation! Thank you for sharing - rather than leading to envy, this project leads to hope for my farmhouse issues!

  9. YAY!!! Having good 'circulation' space, whether indoors or out, is wonderful and it's always nice to spruce up the homestead. It looks wonderful and I totally understand about taking years to decide on work... we live in a 1924 bungalow and it took about 8 years (and the peril of it caving in) to have our wide front porch ripped off and redone (by someone else). It's beautiful now and SO worth it being done; I've almost forgotten what a pain it was to redo! And I'm only *slightly* envious of your cistern. ;^)

  10. I think my house was built by the same man as yours but in Illinois, 20 years earlier. It looks so much the same, and I totally get the random add ons and inconvenient entries. We, too, got new doors this year and I'm so thrilled. First, they have dead bolt locks, so when my husband is gone on business, I can actually feel a bit safer. Also, they work. As in, shut and stay shut. Our front door used to blow open and I'd realize it days later that it wasn't latched. It never was flush to the wall. One back door led into the pantry area, from which you could either go down to the nasty cellar/basement or into the kitchen through another door. The placement is the same, but it actually opens easily now and I can step out onto my back steps to my little herb garden. I love it, and the whole safety issue is so much better. I used to worry about not being able to get out in a fire because the doors were so bad. One thing we'd like to do is to make our old door knobs from interior doors (many of which have been replaced with modern knobs, even on old doors) into a hat/coat rack. They look a lot like the ones on your old doors. One is white, but four are that neat old solid wood that is polished so you can see the grain. My husband is just trying to figure out how to attach a knob to a board since the knobs basically have a metal rod at the back. Anyway, I love your new doors and I agree that changes we've wanted for years are much sweeter after waiting.

  11. That is wonderful. We need to do something with the back entry that everyone uses. It has a badly cracked cement floor. Painting the walls white is on our list first. Cleaning up the messes will proceed that I guess.
    Thinking I'll make a curtain to go over the shelves to hide the mess where we store our 2 window a/c's, out of season shoes etc. Don't know if the floor will ever get done as we've been in our 1883 built house for 26 years ourselves. We'll see. :) Nancy

  12. Beautiful house, I love the old photos, and that is so true, waiting a long time does truly make you appreciate those things. It always takes me a long time to save to get little things done and when they are Im extremely happy with the result. x

  13. Love it! I especially enjoyed where you share some of the history of your home complete with photos....SO cool! Yippee for a new back door arrangement. Maybe one day I'll knock at it. :) Love, Camille

  14. It looks beautiful!! Isn't it amazing what a little change can do? I LOVE my new door and new wood flooring...can't believe we waited so long to do it!!

  15. I loved seeing the photographs of the people who built your house and what it looked like originally. Love that you have a company friendly door now. :)

  16. Looks gorgeous!!!! Isn't it amazing how a small change can make such a big difference, and make you wonder why you waited so long lol! ENJOY!!!

  17. Looks great and I love the history behind you home! That's a treasure!!
    No worries on the 'house envy' I think we can all be happy for each other on things that are a genuine improvement/blessing in another's situation/home. Also, theres another reason that you can justify a functional reno.....The carpenter has to eat too!! (I am a carpenters wife, can you tell? haha) Anyways, love the choice of trim and paint color ;)

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  19. It's beautiful! I am a firm believer in LIVING in your house! Making feel warm and comfortable and inviting! Well done! I love how appreciative you are of your house. You've really honored the history and the beauty while making it functional for your family!

  20. aren't you smart to think it through so well and fix it so nicely! I love the old photos and stories that go with your house - so nice to have a house with a history and personality. This is a beautiful entry.

    My husband is an architect and he pays A LOT of attention to entrances. They are the introduction to the space (is how I think he would put it). He has been very irritated by our slapdash foyer and is currently laying tile and sprucing it up.

  21. Our house was built in 1920. We have lived in it the last 20 years, though it is actually the house I grew up in and the house my mother lived in until she was 18. There are 5 family houses total on contiguous property with numerous fields, outbuildings, animals etc. The houses will always be lived in by family, as per family trust. We are moving out of the "big house" as it is called to one right next door that is a 1998 ranch. We are downsizing as only 1 left at home and my married oldest daughter is moving into our old house. She will be starting a goat dairy and joining some of her cousins in running the egg farm. We too seem to have a few extraneous doors, though people follow the porches and either go to the front or the side, both which open off the same drive. My grandfather was only 20 years old when he helped build this house for my grandmother's family as apprentice to another carpenter relative. They married in 1921. He worked on 2 of the other houses, except the oldest and the newest and some of the outbuildings. Pretty much all was built by relations. Though he did much carpentry work and additions, alterations as needed. Family history is great to know.


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