Bravery, Enigmatic Writing, and Mummified mice: Basement Remodel Part 1

“Being brave is knowing something is scary, difficult, and dangerous, and doing it anyway, because the possibility of winning the fight is worth the chance of losing it.”–Singer/Songwriter Emilie Autumn

We have a fight ahead of us that is definitely not for the faint of heart. It takes bravery, it takes guts in abundance, it takes chutzpa . . . to tear your basement apart and then to fix it back up again. Don’t you agree? Especially our basement, if I may be so bold. I’m not talking about taking out walls or lifting the house up to dig a new basement underneath the house (oh, horrors!) or whatnot.

We aren’t quite that brave.

I’m just talking about removing wallpaper, pulling down lowered ceilings, dragging out wall-to-wall carpeting, pulling out old insulation and then putting something back that looks better. That’s all. Yet we’ve procrastinated on this job for some time, because we’re . . . basically . . . chicken. Bwaaaac, bwak, bwak, bwak!

This guy is a little braver than we are right now.

This guy is a little braver than we are right now.

Here’s just a bit of back-story, just a bit–well, I’ll try to keep it short!

We bought an old train depot, twelve years ago, that had been moved out into the country and remodeled into three apartments. That’s a whole ‘nother story in itself, but another time . . .ย  The first time we walked up the driveway to look at the house, my heart was quite full of what I was hoping to find.

This is what I had hoped for: swooping high ceilings, railroad antiques and depot furniture throughout, old-fashioned color schemes and battered wood floors (well oiled) and pressed tin ceilings. Some faded turquoise and gray, used together. You know, the way I would have remodeled it, had I moved an old railroad depot into the country and had an unlimited bank account, as well.

This is our place.

This is our place, in the flowery blush of springtime.

But what we found instead was the inside of a ranch style house from the 70s, times three, since the massive place had been divided into three very inefficient apartments. Lowered ceilings, flocked wallpaper, shag carpeting throughout, wall-to-wall carpeting in every room, in fact, including the kitchen and all six bathrooms, (yes–six bathrooms, Gentle Reader, and don’t believe that that has been a blessing!) golden sateen wallpaper with large birds on it, and wall-mounted candelabras in the bathrooms. Kitsch in every stinkin’ room: very large avocado colored spoons and forks hanging on the kitchen wall, clumps of rubber grapes on the tables, and many, many hanging clumps of ivy and dusty silk flowers. Lots and lots of the color mauve. Bathroom tiles on the (basically unused) kitchen countertop. Porchways and hallways and shallow closets everywhere. One sweet old lady lived out here at the time.

It was clean. It was pleasant. It was a disappointment.

Yes, Gentle Reader. Not at all what I had hoped. But it wasn’t all bad. The place was obviously well-built with good old wood (the original depot was built over a hundred years ago) and there was a sweeping attic and a decent roof and it was all clean and well-maintained. The setting was lovely, with several acres, and it was located close to where both our families lived. Although it was clumsy in the way it was laid out, and not the vintage showpiece that I had hoped for, the house was massive.

And–after living for 5 years in an uninsulated house of less than 1000 square feet in Iowa, with our then-five children, we were okay with its drawbacks. The massive part got us.

“You had me at Massive,” I might have said, if I had been in a romantic movie and the old depot was Tom Cruise.

“You . . . complete . . . me . . . “ I might have said to this massive, clumsy, overly-decorated house in the country. I loved it at first sight.

So, we bought the place.

Now if we had been smart, we would have done what a lot of people (whom I admire very very much) do when they move into a new/old house: they put the other parts of their lives on hold and tear into the remodel and don’t stop until it’s done. Then they resume their prior lives and every day is full of peace and joy because their house is a place of order and indescribable beauty.

I know people like this. I stand (actually, I recline) in awe of them. I wish we were those people, sometimes. Actually I wish we were those people nearly every day.

However. We are not that kind of people.ย (Sigh.)

Instead, we moved in and unfolded our cramped little selves and unpacked and spent our time planting an orchard, laying out my beloved gardens, planting several hundred trees and starting a home school drama group. We also built a chicken coop, a duck coop, and added plenty of fowl to our place, just because we didn’t have enough to do already. On top of all that, we had another baby, too. All those things take time and money and more time and more money. Afterwhich . . . there was precious little left of both to spend on the inside of our strange, puzzling, needy house.

Still, we’ve done some improvements over the years: we’ve installed two wood stoves; we’ve pulled down flocked and sateen wallpaper by the mile, and painted rooms. We pulled up the shag carpeting in the main part of the house, which revealed beautifully shabby fir wood floors, which we had sanded and refinished. We’ve put in ceiling fans and an attic fan, and we’ve done other things, too.

But we’ve always been afraid of the basement. When we moved in, the basement was carpeted with wall-to-wall plush carpeting, of a pale peachy-orange-type shade. It was lovely. It was lovely. Kind of. But raising six children, with many dogs and cats, to boot, in this house has taken its toll, especially on pale peachy plush carpeting. We also have had a number of water problems in the basement, such as the time when we had a gusher of a storm, dumping four inches of rain on us in a very short span of time, and quite a bit of it went into our basement. And the time that our dog Bea (of all people!) was rubbing against the outside hydrant, turned it on (only slightly) and it ran slowly for a day or two before we discovered it.

Bea: "Who, me?"

Bea: “Who, me?”

Did I mention that we were out of town at the time, and that it was the middle of a very cold winter?ย  The ground was rock-hard frozen, so take a guess at where all that water went? Yup. Down the wall and into our basement. Oiy. Puddles, Gentle Reader, massive puddles in the basement. Just so wrong. That was a mess to clean up. The carpet was old and stained and used enough at that point that we didn’t feel remorse over just cutting it up in strips (along with the sodden pad) and tossing it. But the floor has been bare cement ever since. Cold. Base. Cement.

Also the basement had a poorly-hung lowered ceiling. I hate lowered ceilings. I loathe lowered ceilings. When we play darts in the basement, the darts skim the lowered ceiling panels because it is so absurdly low. When we play a particularly wild game of ping pong in the basement, our paddles hit the lowered ceiling when we do a fancy overhead hit. It’s bad. Did I mention that it was hung poorly in the first place, so it sags in areas, giving it kind of a tipsy look. That’s all I need: a drunken ceiling.

I can just hear the guys who put up this ceiling:

First guy: “Should we hang it at every joint, then? Make it nice and secure?”

Second guy: (studying watch) “Naww–this stuff is light as uh . . . very light stuff! Just attach it every . . . oh . . . . six joints! And use the lightweight wires, not the heavy-duty stuff, that’s right! That’ll do just fine! Hurry, it’s almost lunch time!”

And top this, if you will: there were florescent shop light fixtures hung on the lowered ceilings (indignity upon indignity!). True confession: I hate fluorescent lighting even more than I hate lowered ceilings, if that is possible. I know that I’m picky and rigid about these things. Bryan didn’t know this about me, probably, when he married me so many years ago. Probably there are times (sigh) when he wishes he would have married a gal with enthusiastic fondnesses for all these things. Also, lava rock along the house foundations. Thankfully he has learned to live with these little quirks of mine. He knows that I hate anything faux: faux bricks, faux wood, faux anything. Gak.

I believe these quirks are aptly named “good taste.”ย By the way. ๐Ÿ˜‰ No offense to you if you love lowered ceilings and fluorescent lighting, and even if you dote on cheap wood paneling for wall coverings, Dad, er, ah, that is, it’s a free country.

Bryan did away with those fluorescent light fixtures years ago, bless him, and put up some tasteful wall sconces, instead. He got tired of my piteous whining eventually, I guess. The nightmares. The moans. The sleepless nights.

And get this . . . I use those fluorescent light fixtures to light up my seed-starting tables every spring. Much better use for them, wouldn’t you say??

So. Jeepers! I’m sorry! This isn’t short at all. Oh well . . So. We are finally mustering up the guts to attack the basement. Hopefully in a few months we’ll have an attractive space with a finished floor (not sure what we’re going to do with that uncured cement, yet) and plenty of area rugs (wall to wall carpeting is a bad idea in a space that is prone to occasional water problems) and bright warm walls and not a lowered ceiling, nor a shop light fixture to be seen.

We spent time a couple weeks ago taking apart the lowered ceiling and taking apart the structure, and hauling it all to the trash. It was no mean feat, believe you me.

This is what we found underneath: beautiful old wooden beams and floorboards, and some ugly silver insulation (on just a part of the space). Plenty of electrical wiring and ductwork. That insulation? It scared me.

Here’s what the lowered ceiling looked like: damaged, stained, cruddy, missing tiles, yuck-o:

ick.

ick.

Here’s what we found underneath the lowered ceiling. This:

basement remodel

Lots of wires, all higglety pigglety and shiny ductwork.

and this:

IMG_5226

Ack! Silver insulation! Scary!

This is what I like so much: isn’t this old wood attractive?

basement remodel

pretty, pretty wood

Oh, Gentle Reader, I’ve done it again! I always promise you that I’ll try to make this quick and I drone on and on and I’ve already gone twice as long as I meant to, and I didn’t even get to the enigmatic writing we found. Not to mention the mummified mice!

I’ll tell you what . . . I’ll let you go for today, if you promise to come back next time to read Part 2. Deal? And hey, I wouldn’t mind it at all if you DIYers out there threw some help my way: have you uncovered a basement ceiling like this one ever, and what the heck did you do with it? Thanks so much, and I’ll see you next time!

Hey Guys!! I’m linking up with my friend Jill’s fun homesteading event at her website, The Prairie Homestead, and her awesome Blog Hop. Come on over!

40 thoughts on “Bravery, Enigmatic Writing, and Mummified mice: Basement Remodel Part 1

  1. Francene Stanley

    The wood in the ceiling looks fantastic. I know it’s going to look wonderful when–and if–you finish. What will you use the cottage for? Maybe one of the children when they’re grown would like to live close to you.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      No, Roy, the winter months are just when we do our indoor projects. Once springtime is here, we have too many outdoor projects that we are excited about!

  2. Chef William

    Love it. I do believe we are kindred spirits. I have completely rewired the place we are remodeling because once we got into the concrete walls and found the wires were about 25 years old and very brittle I had to have them rewire it all the way back to to electric pole. Plus I added a 220w line which is something kind of special down here. We have added a great tile to the concrete floors (wrong color, but that’s another story) added a ceiling fan and put new glass in all the windows, Including the new bathroom windows, which are installed without glass. They are steel, with all kinds of fancy “gingerbread” to keep people from breaking in. That is the standard here in Mexico. The glass is also about 1/3 inch thick, heavy duty and not clear. The object being that they are to let in light but not sight so people do not know if you are home unless they knock. If you want fresh air, open them, but only after you have installed screens otherwise you will be visited by all types of flying things.
    Please keep us up to date on the project for I am sure, as someone that has gone down that path a couple of times, you have much more to discover.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Chef, I’ve always believed that! There is something very satisfying about improving your home, even if it is something–like putting in new wiring–which is not seen by others!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Hm, thanks sister! I was thinking that those high ceilings now could accommodate decorative baskets and drying herbs hanging from them . . . also picturesque bunches of lavendar. Although I also see lots of dust in those clumps.

  3. Nate

    What a project! Awesome. I know timing could be an issue but then again, even though it’s Christmas, it doesn’t matter. It has to get done. At the end of the day, when it’s all finished it will be well worth it.

  4. annmarie

    Oh Amy what fun! And I am not TOTALLY being sarcastic when I say fun – just a little bit. We over at the North Miller homestead actually must enjoy remodeling somewhat because we keep dreaming up projects. Speaking of dreaming, we did tour the depot when it was for sale and I had a great (albeit, very expensive) vision of what could be done with the upstairs. I think it gave my Mr. Miller nightmares and we did not pursue it further!
    I did not get around to coming up with any grandiose plans for the basement. However, on the subject of dropped ceilings I have a few thoughts. You might already know that you cannot cover up (as in drywall) access to the electrical junction boxes which are shown in your pictures. However, I have seen pictures where people have used – are you ready- new tin ceiling tiles (or – shudder, faux tin, which are lighter and much less expensive) in a dropped ceiling grid,which can be painted to match the tiles! I have also seen some very beautifully painted concrete floors. Think I even remember where one is – a coffee shop just off of N 48th in Lincoln.

    Would be glad to dream with you anytime you want. Hope this is helpful!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Wow. The difference between you all, Ann, and us is that you are actually very talented at remodeling and we are not! I love the tin ceiling idea . . and I am going to head to your pinterest boards to check them out. Hey, how about coffee sometime soon? I’d love to hear your fantastic (albeit expensive) idea!

  5. Alana (@RamblinGarden)

    The last time we tried doing a remodel ourselves, it was the 1970’s, and put up flocked wallpaper in the living room, and mirror tiles in the bathroom – we also had shag carpeting (but not in the bathroom). You do not want our help.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Oh, ouch (forgive me) Alana!! But not to worry–everybody did those kinds of things in the ’70s. Thankfully we’ve gotten over all that!

  6. Mari

    We did a job similar to this on our daughter’s house several years ago – an unfinished basement where they didn’t want to go to the trouble to drilling through the floor joists above to run the wires! After many weeks, we left her house with a new bathroom which had previously been a storage room, plumbing and wiring completely redone, the whole thing insulated and sheetrocked and painted, and laminated wood floors on the cement. Now my choice certainly would not be laminated wood floors in a basement for a plethora of reasons, but she wanted the look of wood (warmth). After paint and all it looked really nice and we headed back to Texas and to warmth! If I had your place (sigh – I would LOVE it!) I would run the wiring in conduit and leave it all open at the wonderful wood up there. If you objected to it all being exposed (quite looking like a loft, my dear) you can stain it dark and hide a lot of it. We did that to a wooden ceiling that had been damaged by fire and all the waterstaining that was needed to put the fire out. The dark stain hides a lot! Now it is beautiful and I love it. We lost the ugly, kept the wood, and live in happiness ever after!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Mari, Thank you, thank you, thank you! I think the smartest thing I did was to ask my Gentle Readers for ideas! That’s a GREAT idea (the conduit) and my daughter, a theatre student and a trained electrician (long story) has already offered to help with the electrical work! Boom! I really don’t want to cover up that pretty wood. I’ve thought about painting the big shiny vents bright colors but that may take me awhile to coax my hubby into that . . .Now . . . any ideas for what to do with the veryvery cold cement floor?

      1. Mari

        I like the idea of stained concrete. We have done it – it is a bit of a messy job – and it came out fine. I love the idea of nice fuzzy area rugs where you will live. You can throw them away if they get too bad and still not have to deal with total carpet in flooding basements. It keeps it warm where you want it warm, and easy to clean where you don’t really need the rugs. It also gives a nice warm feel to your space and defines your areas. Where you play ping pong, a carpet isn’t necessary!
        Tile is nice, but if you have flooding and water possibly getting under it, it could be a bit of a mess to repair. We have done a lot of tiling – I did some outside – and the temperature fluctuations cracked the grout and guess what? Water under the tile, then freezing weather….you can guess the rest. Tile is also kind of cold feeling (and looking) but everyone has a picture in their mind of how they want the finished room to look, so what is good for one wouldn’t suit another. Make your dreams come true…or make it look like an old train station! Now that could be the most fun ever!

        1. dramamamafive Post author

          I agree, Mari, about making it look like an old train station . . . that would be my preference . . . but (as my hubby always says) “All it takes is money.” ๐Ÿ˜‰

          1. Mari

            …or ingenuity, which, from what I read, you have plenty of that! You are going to make a beautiful basement. I just wish I had one.

          2. Mari

            I live in the hill country of Texas, where they don’t do basements! However, they have daylight basements if you live on a hill – which we do. It doesn’t have the same feeling as a basement, and it doesn’t afford me the advantages of a basement for storing things in a cool place. Texas needs cool places!

          3. dramamamafive Post author

            Mari,
            When we were in undergrad school in Arkansas, I was amazed to see that there were no basements there, either! Where do people store their canned goods, and keep their ping-pong tables?

      2. Mari

        …I did tile the floor of my new hen house! I wanted an easy to clean surface and didn’t think plywood would clean as well – it won’t! So I tiled with tile left over from another tiling job! It looked great and I had offers from the family to be willing to come down and live in their newly finished hen house. I wouldn’t mind living there myself! I love my girls and they are great company. I think I am off the subject here just a tiny bit.

      3. Mari

        If I wanted to make shiny vents kind of disappear and not be so in-your-face, I would match a paint color as close to the wood tones as possible and they will kind of disappear and not be as noticeable. But be sure to choose a paint that is flat in finish and will work on metal.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      I’m working on that post TODAY OrangeBlossom, so do check in tomorrow or the next day to see that picture! (Another tease: there’s more than one mouse.) ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      THanks Anita-Clare! It’ll be awhile before you see any “AFTER” photos, but it feels good to just have it started!

  7. Kenny Gilfilen

    The wiring will have to be redone, of course, because you are going to put your sheetrock directly onto that lovely wood. You might try to find a way to keep some of it exposed, because it is so nice and old school. If those joists are uneven, and that’s a real possibility with old wood and old buildings, you might need to find a different way to install that sheetrock. But, fireblocking will be an important part of the overall project, for the safety of everyone there, and to make the code inspectors happy. If you do use some kind of other way to mount sheetrock, make sure sir cannot flow between joist spaces, it has to be blocked.

    Just thinking out loud…if you haven’t done this kind of work before, it would be smart to have an experienced person looking over your shoulder. There may be structural issues, electrical, framing and so on.

    But it sure sounds fun!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Kenny, I really like your idea of an experience person looking over my shoulder. . . thanks for all the great suggestions!

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