After we bought the farm we were just about convinced by everyone else that we should burn the 100+ year old home place down and build from scratch. To say it mildly, the farmhouse was in pretty rough shape. The foundation was 90% gone. The back section was sitting on the ground and had extensive termite and weather damage. The place had been abandoned for about 30 years and was being lived in by all kinds of critters and just appeared beyond repair.
During our first year in the hollow we decided to make our nest in the trailer and concentrate on putting in some gardens and getting to know our neighbors. By doing this we slowly started learning about the history of the hollow and met distant relatives of the Crawford family, who built parts of the original house. Slowly their stories came alive in our minds. We often sat on the old, falling front porch and fantasized about life back then. We envisioned the people, imagined their dreams, and would fall to sleep at night wondering about the life they once had here.
Then one day while we were sitting on the old porch sipping a glass of tea, faint visions of us one day living in the old place began to dance around in our thoughts. An old handmade set of wind chimes on the porch started singing without the slightest breeze. We both got goose bumps, looked at each other and before we knew it, a vision was born and we were making plans to bring the old homestead back to life. Neither one of us has had any real carpentry experience. I had helped build a shed, made a couple end tables and a book shelf and that’s about it. So we bought a pile of Time Life “How To” books, started a journal and then one day it all began.
Our first farmhouse renovation project began by tearing down an old fallen smoke house. We used the salvageable wood and built floors and racks to go in the chicken house, which was also falling but usable. This is where we’d store all the wood that will be pulled out of the old house.
Then with crowbar and hammer in hand we began the dirty and dusty job of removing all the interior walls of the farmhouse. Each new wall section we started began with some anticipation and excitement. We had learned that the Crawfords had stored some of their money in mason jars in the spring house and we kept imaging opening that one plank and finding a jar of old coins, civil war relics or important papers….. Well no such luck. But what we did find were walls and ceilings completely filled with pack-rat crap and household goods from shoes, nuts, leaves, overalls, and buttons to license plates, medicine bottles and marbles that the rats had confiscated. All great finds that offered plenty of conversation and stirred our imagination.
After we had all the interior walls and ceiling removed and nothing but studs and the back side of the wood siding showing, we moved to the back section of the L shaped farmhouse. Since this section had so much damage, was basically sitting on the ground with no foundation and was only one story with attic space, we decided we would tear it completely off and eventually build it back as a full two story.
This process took some time and we went to bed sore and a littlequite dirty at times, but it was so satisfying to see it transform from the dark, dusty, and a bit scary at times place, into openness and a home full of potential.
Once we had the back section gone we began the process of jacking and leveling the remaining front section. This involved digging and removing a lot of dirt from under the house and pouring new footers and laying a new block foundation beneath three quarters of the structure. We spent many evenings and rainy days designing the new section and drew up the first of several dozen versions of a floor. We were so excited the day we began laying the block and plates for the new section and could finally rest the shovel and wheel barrel…..
(for awhile anyway).
It was a miracle that I have a cousin who is an experienced carpenter. It was an absolute God Sent that he was leaving Montana and heading for Tennessee for a couple months to try his hand in the music business. We hadn’t see each other or been in each other’s lives since we were very young kids. The reunion was wonderful and it became even more memorable when he decided to stay and help us get started with the framing. Maybe he took one look at that bookshelf that I built and took a little pitty.
The dimensions of the new section were just about the same as the part we removed, except we were going to raise it a full two stories and add a utility room and porch on to the back right side. Originally the kitchen was in the old back section. The new plan was to make a master bedroom downstairs with a bath and another bedroom and bath on the second floor.
It took us some time to get the walls and ceiling joists up. We both were learning as we went and it didn’t help that the spring rains visited us for a solid month while this was going on. But each day ended with such a feeling of accomplishment. We usually closed the day by all of us walking around the house, stopping to look from every view. Then we would sit on the old porch and talk about what we would do tomorrow and before you knew it we were back standing from our favorite view spot with a big smile.
I was a bit nervous about the task of connecting the new roof of the back section to the old front section. Since the roof peak from the old section that we removed didn’t meet the top of the front section, we would have to completely remove a quarter of the front sections roof in order to tie in the new two story roof peak. So this meant that we would have to build a temporary wall inside the front section that went from the bottom floor all the way to the peak in order to hold up the other side of the roof once the opposite quarter section was removed. Dan had faith. I had… faith in Dan… and God had mercy on us. It went with out a hitch though the house looked quite strange for a few days until we had the two peaks connected.
Once the new section was sheeted with plywood and the roof was covered with tar paper we moved on to the task of re-framing some of the front section’s windows and doors. We added three windows to the fireplace wall and also restructured the front of the house from the original two doors that were there, to a door in the middle and two double windows on both sides.
The vision was starting to come into focus. It was so hard to show friends and family the original old house or even the house at this stage because it definitely took an imagination to see what we saw. We usually got that blank look or sometimes the words “Wow!”, though their eyes were wide and blank looking. But at this point the skeleton of the house was there, at least in our eyes. It had transformed from an old falling down farmhouse to an expression of ourselves, our time and our love.
Now that we had the new section ready for roofing, the next stage of the project was to remove the old tin off the front section of the house and to install a new metal roof on all the roofs. There was the occasional militant wasp or bee that didn’t want to give up their cozy home in between the roof slates. But eventually they were all evicted and we had all the tin removed and stacked in the barn to be used for future outbuilding projects.
We had been looking forward to and imagining what the house was going to look like with the new forest green tin for a long time. Each piece that went on was so dramatic and exciting. The day finally came when it was all on and what was once just a dream became a reality. The house was finally completely dried in. I no longer cringed when it started raining but instead found myself becoming tranquilized by the sounds of raindrops on the new roof.
The original windows in the house were in really rough shape. We salvaged the good ones to be used somehow later and decided to have new wood windows made for all the exterior windows. One by one we lifted them into place, sometimes using ropes and chains to hold them while we secured them into the frames.
When the summer was coming to an end we were ready to start refacing the siding. Our plans where to remove the existing poplar siding, using it as a subfloor later on the interior and replace it with the same type poplar and paint it white again. We had several poplar logs milled to match the rough cut and dimensions of the old siding and started putting up the natural poplar planks. It took us a day just to get the first piece started but once we had a system going we didn’t slow down.
When we were done we were so attached to the natural look of the poplar that we decided to leave it natural instead of painting it back white. As the first snows were falling we were reading books on brick masonry, building porches and all the untraveled roads that where coming ahead.
Cedar Log Wrap Around Porches
We were anxious and yet sad the winter day when we started taking off the old porch. We left it on during the whole project, when actually it would have been much easier and more practical to have removed it way before now. We just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it since we sat on it quite often and knew that it would be many seasons before we would be at the stage to build one back.
But the day finally came and down it fell. Our dog at the time Wrinkles, loved the old porch as much if not more than we did and he never did really seem to understand where it went.
The house changed dramatically in my perception. Maybe it was because it was winter and dreary, or because the place now looked like an old school house. But it lost something without the porch and the three months or so that it took to rebuild it back seemed the longest part of the whole project so far.
Since we’re such outdoor people, we wanted the new porch to be wide and large enough that we could have meals outside as well as stretch out a hammock between cedar posts. I had also read that it would help cool and insulate the house and of course we had to have room for rocking chairs. We also designed it so that we would have a separate screened-in room that we would access from our bedroom for cool summer night sleeping.
So with a “How To” in hand we set out with string and level and staked out the wrap around porch and screen room. We talked to the owner of the local supply store and was able to salvage a pickup truck load of old bricks that would match the fireplace nicely. So we became masons for the next month or so and built the peers for the porches to sit on.
We wanted the covered porch to be sturdy as well as look rustic and blend with the natural setting that the house sits in. So with this in mind we decided to use rough cedar logs as the posts for the porch roof. Our neighbor helped us log and haul a couple dozen cedar trees from our place. We were able to use quite a few that had fallen from the ice storm that damaged some of the forests a couple years back. It took a few guinea pig logs for my chain saw skills to improve enough so that I could cut out the correct notches and pegs to make the posts all connect together.
Once we had the skeleton of the roof frame done we took a break from porch work and put a protective stain on the siding. OH It’s starting to look like something now! As the summer came to a close and the autumn winds began to blow, we finally had all the roofs covered and had logged several hours already in the old rocking chairs. During the rest of the fall we planed the wood that we were going to use on the inside walls, installed insulation, electric and heat and air ducts. By the time winter came to visit us again this once falling down old homestead, was now standing tall and proud at the end of the road in a place we call Butterfly Hollow.
Poplar Plank Interior Walls
Since we had long ago removed all the old interior walls, we were able to easily fill the entire house and ceiling with insulation. We also wrapped the insulated walls with black plastic for another moisture barrier. We knew that we wanted the inside walls to be mostly wood and preferred the rustic lodge look and feel. Unfortunately we didn’t have any real direction as to what kind of wood much less where to get it. First, we decided on the rooms we could use the recycled wood we had salvaged (planks, tongue & groove bead board, t&g oak floor etc). There wasn’t enough to do the entire place.
Fortunately a year or so before we got to this stage, our neighbor had lumbered some Poplar trees from his adjoining farm. He later sold the logs to another friend who had the logs cut into planks and had them stacked and drying in a tobacco barn. So we wheeled and dealed, bartered and traded and the next thing we knew his trees were back in the valley and we had over 2000 board feet of rough cut Poplar planks stacked high on a wagon.
After struggling and pushing the third 12″ wide board through my little planer, I looked at the 2 completed boards laying on the ground and the untouched mountain still on the wagon and wondered what did I just get myself into. Another great neighbor came to the rescue and offered the use of his industrial strength planer. It still took several weeks to run each board through. Rough cut lumber is just that… rough. Nothing was the same thickness. So almost every board had to be tasted by the planer at least five times.
The moment we finished nailing up the first wall section though, we had no doubts it was the right decision. Yellow Poplar has so many natural beautiful colors in its grain and the more knots the better.
We made some walls horizontal, a couple vertical and one at a 45 degree. We decided to use some drywall since our dried wood supply was running low and thought that some painted color would add a little warmth. The drywall kept giving me a tough time though. It’s probably been my least favorite part to this whole adventure…no actually I think I can safely say “I hate drywall”…. better yet.. drywall just sucks! Now then…. Well I did finally figure it out. Got some good help, pointers and tips from some family and finally signed off on all the rooms that had drywall and closed the can on the drywall mud for good!
Sharon and I kept looking at each other as we were painting the walls to our downstairs bedroom. Smiling!!…. We were finally here. Finally adding colors and expression. She was picking out colors way back when I was digging out the foundation.
We restored the one upstairs guest room called the Tree House with all the original Poplar planks that we had salvaged. The tongue and grove oak ceiling was also from the original upstairs rooms. Every time I walk in this room I can still smell the old house. Sharon wants to put some deodorizer or something in the room…I kinda like it.
The other upstairs guest room called Lily’s Attic is a combination of drywall and old restored bead board used as a wainscot. We salvaged a lot of the old oak flooring that was throughout the old house and used it for the flooring, giving it a warm, earthy feel.
Oh how I wish could come back and see their old home place now.
The Field stone Fireplace
We’ve been looking forward to restoring the fireplace since we began the project. It was probably a masterpiece when it was first constructed, but over the years rocks fell off the inside, the mantle was taken, and birds and ivy made it their home. We used the fireplace as our only heat the first winter working on the house.
Once we had the interior walls up I became a little nervous about using it. We put a cap on the chimney around the time we installed the metal roof and started noticing smoke coming out from places where the mortar had came loose. We patched the holes as much as we could but eventually decided to somehow use a chimney pipe or flu for protection. In the mean time we decided to not use the fireplace until it was safe.
During the summer we kept our eyes open for unique rocks, often stopping along the side of our gravel road to pick up an eye catcher. We also took several hikes down some of the creek beds in the area and came home with a pickup truck load. There were a couple books and articles I read on building with stone. Probably the most helpful book was called Building with Stone by Charles Raven. Helen and Scott Nearing’s book The Good Life also has some great detail on stone work.
The day finally came and we moved all the first round rocks into the house, culling any we no longer found appealing. We laid them out into categories of sizes, colors, and edges. In the center of the room we drew the dimensions of the fireplace and began the fun game of puzzle building. By the end of the day we had our puzzle put together on the floor and had the hearth laid in mortar.
During the next week we set one layer a day and jointed and cleaned the previous days work. We had a local blacksmith in the area make a swinging arm for us that we mortared into the side of the fireplace. I could smell the beans cooking and wanted to start a fire so bad the day we laid the last rock.
There were several failed attempts at constructing a flue as well as the awkward task of dropping it down the fireplace. But the great day finally came. With the help of some family, we lowered a flue down, tightened the chimney cap back on and finally had the ceremonial fire.
Now with all the walls and insulation up and with the help of the two ceiling fans hanging from the vaulted ceiling, we can’t get over how easy the house stays warm. We have installed central heat and air and plan to use it as a backup on the real cold winter days. But there’s nothing like sitting in front of the fireplace, sipping a glass of wine, listening to the crackle and floating in the spell that only the roar of a fire can have over you.
Barn wood Cabinets
We have always been scavengers and get such a kick out of recycling something or bringing life back into what others think is trash. Between our own falling barn and some others that have fallen in the area, we had several large stacks of sorted, cleaned, and de-nailed barn wood ready to be converted into something wonderful.
With some lessons and hands on help, Sharon’s Dad guided us in putting together our first bathroom vanity using barn wood. It takes a bit more time preparing the wood and often has problems with bows and size variations in comparison to new wood. But it has so much more character, costs almost nothing except time, and we recycled something old and made it new again.
The bath area in the bedroom we call the Tree House was a bit more of a challenge. Sharon’s Pop had long left and gone back to Alabama and this bathroom had obstacles like a low ceiling, corner vanity and an un-square old section of the house wall to work with. It took Sharon and I about a day, but we eventually figured something out. In fact it looked so good to us that we decided then that we wouldn’t hire any of those over priced cabinet makers that came and gave us mind blowing estimates due to the fact our walls weren’t straight. We could do the kitchen ourselves. We were considering saving up and hiring this part of the renovation out since it involved so much detail. But not anymore!
Sharon’s Dad did make it back for a visit sometime later and helped with the frames and mounting them to the wall. Before we knew it the base kitchen cabinet frames where built, leveled and ready for drawers and doors. Then Sharon and I went through the barn wood stacks and hand picked each door and drawer. We cleaned each piece, joined and routered the edges, added door pulls and hinges. We often found ourselves working way past our usual bed time since it became addictive and so hard to stop.
A month or so before we began the cabinets project, I found some culled Maple and Oak lumber at one of our local mills. I couldn’t believe how willing they were to have it gone and how nicely it stacked in our neighbors greenhouse when I got it home. When we were trying to decide about how/what we were going to do about counter tops, the search was over the minute I planed my first piece of Maple lumber. We left the Oak in the greenhouse to continue curing and took the Maple out to make the counter tops. Maple has now become my second favorite variety of wood with all of its unique patterns and colors. We measured, cut, glued and clamped the tops together and set them proudly on top of the cabinets. I was a bit nervous about cutting the hole for the sink. The point of no return. I closed my eyes – OK Sharon did… and the operation was successful.
The icing on the cake was the polyurethane. It made it all come alive. I believe the house is probably being held together with Poly now. The old barn wood soaks it in quite a bit, so it took two and three coats in many places. Once we had all the plumbing hooked up, I couldn’t get Sharon away from her cabinets and sink. I would find her there washing the same dish over and over just looking out her kitchen window with the biggest smile.
Since the very beginning we’ve wondered about how we were going to do the floors. We bounced around just about every possibility once or twice. We didn’t have enough of any specific lumber to do the entire place in one variety of wood. We definitely could not afford to purchase flooring or have it installed professionally. We finally decided to use a combination of the old and new oak, but I kept dragging my feet about starting the project for as long as I could. After the cabinets were done it was logically the next project to begin, but I hesitated another couple weeks or so because Christmas was the following week and I didn’t want to have the place a wreck when family and friends would come for the first Christmas in Butterfly Hollow. But the holidays came and went and we had brought all the new oak wood back from the greenhouse and had it sorted and ready on the porches.
We tacked a layer of rosin paper down on the floor and had the momentous occasion of laying the first piece of flooring. Once the train started moving it wouldn’t stop. The creative juices started flowing and we began working our way across the kitchen/living room towards the stairs. We expressed our creativity with splashes of the old recycled oak tongue and groove flooring used for the doorway threshold, around the stair landing and as a frame around the fireplace hearth.
Every piece of the new lumber had to be planed, ripped, and cut to fit into is new home, so that kept things at a moderate pace. There were several that didn’t want to cooperative and had to be pried into position, but we finally made it all the way across the house and couldn’t believe our eyes.
We used all old aged oak barn lumber for the stairs and balcony floors. We used the planer and took off the gray weathered look and brought it to life once again. It became a beautiful contrast to the new oak wood flooring below and added depth and color.
After covering all the windows and cabinets with plastic, we rented a floor sander and made some dust. We also used a belt sander and smoothed out some of the rough edges and spent four days smoothing and finishing the floors. We saved a lot of the fine saw dust to be used to fill the screw holes and cleaned all the floors in preparation for the first coat of polyurethane. We filled all the holes and large cracks with the dust and used poly as the glue. The floors drank about three coats of satin polyurethane.
When we were finally finished, Sharon moved the rocking chairs back in and we were rocking and smiling and rocking and smiling and she looked over at me and said “See honey that wasn’t that bad now was it”. She didn’t pause but a few seconds to follow it with ” So when are we going to start building all those interior doors?” No rest for the weary. 🙂
Finishing Touches… that took almost another year
We had thirteen interior doors to build. I originally thought I would make them out of barn wood like the cabinets and made the first prototype to be evaluated by the quality control department (Sharon). It was a unanimous decision that it was going to be too dark and didn’t allow the trim, which is also barn wood, to accent the door. So the next attempt was with Maple. OHHH MY GOD! That was it. So we set up an assembly station, sanding area and polyurethane table and started building. We found some old thumb latch style door hardware that was the perfect fit and started closing in rooms and closets.
Since we had one cedar log inside the house as the floor support for the Tree house bedroom, I wanted to experiment with cedar logs for the balcony railings and stair banister. My chain saw skills were rusty since the porch days had long past, and I only used the saw nowadays for firewood.
I felt like a sculpture cutting, slicing and edging, trying to make the perfect notch or wedge. We had some friends and family over during part of this time and everyone wanted to lend a hand and help. I must have looked frustrated and probably like a little troll, walking in and out of the house with a log under my arm out to the saw block, fire up the saw for two quick cuts, back into the house, set it in place… no needs a little more off here…. back out side. I did this over and over. I could hear Sharon “I wouldn’t talk to him when he gets this way. Just let him whittle.” I did get to use all those extra hands the day we bolted and set them all in place. We added several coats of poly and WOW!!! you can’t tell when you’ve left the woods and entered the house.
We’ve had many, many projected move in dates and they all turned out to be just another good day on the calendar. When another Christmas passed and we realized that we weren’t going to be living there by the holidays, we decided to pick April 28th as our new goal. This was going to be our 10 year wedding anniversary and would be the perfect way of celebrating the best thing that have ever happened in our lives.
As the months passed and spring started warming these Tennessee hills, we kicked into overdrive. Our To-Do project list was being marked off in speeds unknown to us. We refinished some old furniture someone was throwing into the dump and had the perfect coach and chairs set in place. The next thing you know, we were moving other furniture in and were setting up the tree house bedroom with my grandfathers bed, an old desk and wardrobe. It was probably at that moment, April 8th, we realized we weren’t going to stop. So we decided to make the move and spent our first of many nights to come in our farmhouse.
That night was probably the best night so far in our life. Perhaps it was the accomplishment and pride we were feeling or simply the fire singing in the fireplace. Maybe it was the titillating smell of dinner left floating through the house or just the wonderful combination of all of these, topped with the profound love we were feeling for each other that put this glorious night on the map.
We did it….. sometimes I just can’t believe it…. but together we brought this old house back to life again and have filled it with our love and own expressions. I can just hear the next David & Sharon another 100 years from now as they pull up into this hollow and look at what’s left of our dream and whisper to each other….. we can rebuild it.