Inglewood Craftsman Home

Restoring our 1906 home in Inglewood CA on a budget


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Our Very Own House Crane

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—Guest post by Jon—

It’s been the longest unsolved challenge we’ve had since moving into the house on a hill – how do we get heavy things up to the first floor of the house? For those who haven’t visited, there are only two ways into the property and both involve a lot of stairs. The house is perched 15 feet above the street, so you can either go through the garage, into the basement, and up two separate flights of stairs, or you can go in the front gate, which will take you up one long, narrow flight of stairs to the front of the house.

So, say I want to power wash our concrete patio, or do some gravel landscaping in the backyard, or aerate the lawn. All of these things either involve equipment that is too heavy to lift up the stairs or, in the case of the gravel, would take a very long time, and probably a broken back, to carry up bag by bag.

We came up with all sort of ideas for how to get things onto the property including winching things up the stairs with some kind of stair climbing platform, winching things up the grassy hillside that leads up to the back yard, cutting a hole in our neighbors garage to bring things through, buying a helicopter, etc. All of these solutions ran into a problem somewhere and didn’t pan out, so during some recent projects, which I’ll have posts for later, I’ve had to rent a forklift to move up heavy equipment.

But one day I happened to notice a small crane on the back of a pickup truck – used for lifting things in and out of the bed. So I looked it up and it turns out that some of these little cranes can lift up to 1000 pounds and only cost about $250. One of the options that I kept coming back to lift things up using some kind of crane that would attach to the top of a ledge that overlooks the public sidewalk in the front of the house. I couldn’t find an affordable crane that was also small enough to fit in the relatively confined space, but this finally seemed to be the solution!

image_22963So I started by drawing up plans for the concrete footing which would support the crane. The crane arm was actually the smallest part of this job – the main part was the huge amount of concrete that had to be poured to support the weight. Not having much experience with concrete, I ran the plans by an engineer friend, who had a couple suggestions on where I could be a bit more efficient by changing the shape of the footing from a straight column, to an L shape.

Concrete Footing A

Click on the image to enlarge

 

These plans also have the actual prices for everything involved in this project. At a rate of $300 per forklift rental, this crane will pay itself off in just 4 uses.

So once I figured out the cost and the plan, I started digging. I needed a hole that was 20″ wide, 36″ long, and 4′ deep, which turned out to be a challenge since about half of the digging was going through thick clay, by hand.

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Outlining the hole

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After a few days of digging

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The next step was building the rebar structure which would support the concrete. Concrete stands up very well under compressive force – anything that’s pushing straight down on it. But when you apply tension (pulling apart) concrete easily breaks down. That’s where the steel rebar comes in – it is great under tension. So the combination of the two creates a very strong footing that can stand up to both kinds of pressure (the compressive force of the weight bearing down on the column, and the tension force of the the load out on the end of a 4′ boom).

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I built the base of the cage outside the hole, then dropped it into the hole and added the column.

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Bending the long, vertical pieces for the column

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Attaching the column pieces to the base

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Finished it off with rebar hoops at every 6″ up the column

Next I installed the sonotube, which is a concrete form used to shape the column. The rebar column has to be placed right in the center of the sonotube, so with a few ratchet straps I was able to position everything so it was level, lock it down with the straps, and get it ready for the big concrete pour.

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The anchors for this project had to be a bit more substantial that your typical concrete anchors. Since so much tension is going to be put on them, I wanted to make sure they didn’t move at all in the concrete. As you can see from the design, I had a few different options, but I ultimately went with what are essentially reinforced steel bolts with square plate washers on the end. I made a jig based on the hole pattern of the crane and set it up on the top of the column.

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Anchors sitting upside down in the jig

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Anchor bolt jig placed on the sonotube

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Looking down into the tube you can see the rebar column and the four anchor bolts.

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All ready for concrete!

The total weight of the concrete was about 3000 pounds, so for this I decided to spring for a forklift, one last time. I also had very limited space to work in, so it helped that the concrete was on its own platform. It gave me just enough room to stand between the bags of concrete and the mixer where I was pouring them. The forklift was dropped off on Saturday morning, right around the same time I was getting back from Home Depot with a palate of concrete.

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That small space between the concrete bags and the mixer is where I spent the better part of a day mixing and dumping concrete into the hole.

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Using a concrete vibrator to get all the air bubbles out of the footing

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Filling up the column

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Topping the column off and clearing those air bubbles

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All ready to dry

After about a week I cut the sonotube off and took the jig off of the bolts. Then I placed the crane on the bolts and, after drilling out the holes to accommodate the large anchor bolts, it fit perfectly. I mounted the crane with nuts underneath the base so that I could level it out. The top of the concrete column is a bit bumpy and not perfectly level, so I used the nuts to level it off before tightening it down.

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Drilling out the holes in the base


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Leveling the base

The final step of the installation was pouring grout over the bolts to make sure they stay in place and protect them from water. I had the option to galvanize the bolts but it nearly doubled the cost, so I just decided to cover them in grout.

I took a piece of the sonotube that was stripped off the column, and wrapped it around the top of the column. I used some ratchet straps to secure it and made sure that there was a tight seal between the sonotube and the concrete column. High precision grout is very watery when poured, about the consistency of a half melted milkshake, but once it cures, it is even stronger than the concrete.

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Looking down into the sonotube, just before pouring the grout.

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After pouring 1 bag worth of grout, it was good to let dry.

The result of the grout is a finished looking top. You can’t see the bolts, just the steel post coming straight out of the concrete.

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After drying for a day or so.

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After this step I had to wait a month for the concrete to completely cure before I could finish it up with some paint and sealer.

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I used brown house paint and a sealer on the concrete and a spray paint on the steel post. I think it makes it blend into the fence a bit better.

After installing an outlet close by in the wall of the garage, the crane was ready to use!

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Outlet on the garage next to the crane

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Groceries made it safely to the top!

I picked up a grill cover from Home Depot so that the electric hoist and the crane arm will be protected from the elements. I was originally planning on disassembling the hoist and boom after every use, but they weigh about 70 pounds, so not super easy to run up and down the stairs from the garage every time I want to use it. With the cover, and after painting everything brown, I don’t think its very noticeable at all.

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Crane with its cover

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Folded back and hidden by the ficus tree

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View from the street

I’m looking forward to putting the crane to the test! The original reason for building this was actually to landscape the side yard with gravel. I needed to figure out a good way of lifting 8000 pounds of loose gravel, and now I have it! Many more crane related projects to follow!

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Homestay

The other guest hosting website we’ve been using has proven quite disappointing as of late. A while ago, we’d listed the guest room on Homestay.com. Surprisingly, Homestay recently emailed asking to feature us and our house on their blog! Naturally, we were delighted to accept.

What we love about Homestay is the focus on community. Vacation rentals aren’t allowed there; neither are hotel rooms. Hosts must live on the property in order to participate. This creates a unique situation in which the guests actually want to interact with the hosts, and expect us to be there! So far, we’ve found that Homestay guests are more respectful and friendly on average, not just looking for a cheap alternative to a hotel (but still wanting a 5-star experience). We’ve become good friends with guests from all sites we’ve used, but Homestay makes that process more simple for us. It reminds us of the main reason we started, and the main venue through which we started- CouchSurfing.

Jasmine, the photographer sent by the site, laughed and talked with us for quite some time. She was a delight to have! Check out her images of us and our home. Since Homestay is all about the hosts’ personalities, she made sure to capture us participating in our favorite hobbies: hanging out with the dogs and working on projects around the house! The blog entry turned out great, and we look forward to hosting many more guests this year. We hope that we can help with suggesting improvements as Homestay grows- the staff seems to respond well to suggestions and ideas!

Oh, and in case you were wondering- yes, that’s the table Jon was building, and I’m reupholstering a couch from the early 1930s. Post coming soon! Also, definitely need to plug Jasmine’s business here- j.monet photography– for all these fun and inviting images! Thanks so much to Homestay and Jasmine ❤


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“Domestic Journeys”, or How to Make the Most of Unsolicited Opinions

This is the first post that isn’t about doing something in our home. It’s about thinking about something in our home. Oh, and it’s somewhat about jerks.

I saw a vintage sink and faucet (on Craigslist, of course). It was one of those 30s generation colored porcelain varieties- black porcelain, to be exact, with a fascinating faucet attached. Though I figured that at $1200 for the package the faucet wouldn’t be separated from the sink, I asked. It can’t hurt to ask, right? I’ve gotten dozens of deals by just making requests or seeing if something was possible (a few posts on those, including our amazing handmade bed, are ready to go and just need some pictures- stay tuned)! So I asked.

The seller replied that he/she would never separate the two, as the faucet was made specifically for this model of Crane sink, but that he/she would be happy to send me other faucets available that might work with our sink. A picture was requested. As I wasn’t home, all I had was the blog, so I sent one of the stills from the pre-move-in tour. Blurry, incredibly hard to see, but it at least gave an idea of the sink (basic white pedestal). I sent over the specs I knew and what we were looking for, as well as a picture of this other sink intended for the guest bathroom and a request for a mixing bridge for it if the seller had one available. I included a “thanks for checking to see what you have” and waited.

Here’s what I got in return.

 

“im not being mean but the picture of the sink in the bathroom is just an inexpensive repro. sink……doesn’t really work with the tub and of course the toilet doesn’t work with either. the bath-tub valve has been jury-rigged and is not “period correct” or even correctly installed. are you at the beginning of your journey with this b-room? [sic]”

Not me, but how I felt

I’m not even sure where to start with this. Oh- and as I was composing a reply, the seller sent me several pictures with the attached text: “these are the type of fixtures that would have been in your house originally…all are avail.  notice the bathtub….easy to return it back to original. [sic]” None of the attachments included faucets, except a sink with faucet installed, though it was not mentioned whether the faucet was available with the sink.

So I wrote back. I pointed out that, while I don’t think the message was mean, it certainly did overstep the bounds of the conversation, which was a potential customer’s inquiry in regard to purchasing faucets, not the solicitation of an opinion of the previous condition (or present condition, for that matter) of the pictured bathroom, nor a request for information about or references on period bathrooms. I responded to the other email with the images, saying thanks, but I have dozens of books to help me with how these things would have looked in a 1906 Craftsman, plus, of course the power of google. I politely continued that I’d move on and return to searching for a faucet at the architectural salvage shops, where I’m at least not patronized directly and where “inexpensive” isn’t meant to be derogatory. After all, the tagline of this blog is and remains, “Restoring our 1906 home in Inglewood CA on a budget” (bolding added for emphasis).

I got back only “laughable…. pathetic”.

That’s fine. I’m “laughing all the way to the bank”, as it were, if restoring a home on a very small budget is laughable.

You know what we could do? We could spend all our money on travel and stop working on the house altogether. We could adopt a hundred stray dogs and spend all our money on food and vet care. Or we could take out some loans to pay contractors to refinish all the little things that don’t quite fit in or don’t work, instead of slowly working on things ourselves when we’re home and have the time and money for them. We could have a landscaping crew come in and even out the whole hillside that is our yard. Heck, we could even sell this home and use all our money plus a bunch of loans to build a brand new one that’s exactly what we want from the ground up.  And some people choose to do those things. There’s nothing wrong with any of those priorities or approaches, and there’s nothing wrong with people who have loads of money lying around to work with!

So what can we possibly have learned from this snooty self-possessed person with his/her unsolicited condescending opinion of a blurry “before” picture?

1. We’re working the way we are for a reason. This exchange made me think about and articulate for myself some of the tenets of what we’re up to.

-Our budget makes sense to us. We like to travel, so we spend some money on that, though we do travel cheaply as often as possible. It’s also important to save, especially while we’re young, so we do that. We donate to causes that make sense to us. We could spend all our money on the house, as I mention above, but that’s not what makes sense for the lifestyle we want. As a rule, we generally only spend money on the house that the house has earned (such as through Airbnb or Sparechair visits). So we likely won’t be buying any $1200 sinks (or even this amazing $400 faucet I’m in love with) any time soon.

-The hunt for hidden vintage treasures (at a discount) is exhilarating! It’s not a triumph to announce that I found a brand-new piece of home decor at a huge markup above retail price at some store; it’s exciting to announce a deal or a free find on the side of the road or an item we transformed or fabricated ourselves. That’s why I almost always include the price of the items I dig up. I think it’s good to demonstrate for others who desire to learn the skills involved in decorating on a tiny budget, and to show people that a beautiful space really is possible with very little money using the right skills. That’s part of why I started this blog in the first place.

-Our house is a safe and functional place to live, so all the rest is just fun. These are not necessary remodels; they’re fun investments of our time.

-We like to have our hands physically on things (6 years of art school and a household combined total of 8 years of art school, anyone?), and we like to accomplish things together while learning new skills, so we complete these projects ourselves. Some people take cooking classes or volunteer to clean up the beach; we work on the house. It’s an enjoyable bonding experience for us, but might not be for others. That’s cool too, and those people can hire contractors!

 

2. We’ve re-named our approach to working on the house.

OK, I’m a stickler for detailed project management. I’ll come clean: we have a working google doc we use for keeping track of what we want to do. It’s divided into length of time we predict each item will take. Possibly excessive, but it’s a great feeling to delete items from the list!

Originally, this list was entitled “House Projects”, and was divided into “Inside Projects” and “Outside Projects”. It turned out that considering these items as “projects” actually proved stressful, because it implied that these things HAD to get done, rather than that they were desirable. I changed the document to reflect this, and entitled it “Wish List Items”, with “Inside Wish List” and “Outside Wish List” as the subcategories.

However, this supercilious message exchange gave us a new phrasing. Remember “are you at the beginning of your journey with this b-room”? I laugh every time I think about that. Which is exactly what we need when we’re deciding what is possible for us to work on in a given amount of time (particularly if we don’t quite know what we’re doing, which is often): levity and humor. So (and you’ve already seen this if you clicked on the google doc link above)… our list is now called “Domestic Journeys”. We have “Interior Journeys” and “Exterior Journeys” to complete the categorization. I can’t stop laughing.

Sometimes rude people contribute more than they know! In this case, I’m happy to report that I was able to use this instance as an opportunity for reflection, rather than the beginning of a battle. I think it’s important to think about things like this every now and then in the midst of a go, go, go life, so I’m happy we got a chance to.

Oh- and the original $1200 sink listing was removed almost immediately after this exchange (possibly and hopefully from embarrassment). If you see it re-listed, refer the seller here for a proper thank-you 😉


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We Almost Didn’t Get the Home We Wanted (PUBLISHED!)

This is an article that I wrote that was published on OffbeatHome.com about our crazy adventure in getting this place. 

My partner and I just bought our first house. We love it; its unusual details and weird secrets fit us perfectly. However, we didn’t get the first four we tried for, and we almost didn’t get this one at least 372 times throughout the process.

I found myself on an emotional rollercoaster where I had to constantly prepare myself for a possible “it’s just not going to work.” To make the potential hard blow softer, I started searching for ways to make that situation a learning experience.

This could easily apply to both renting and homeownership, plus many other areas of potential disappointment in life! Use these disappointments to:

1. Clarify what you want

Several of the times we didn’t end up succeeding actually felt like relief, after we’d processed. Some of those homes/condos needed a lot of work to be habitable, and we didn’t have the budget to continue paying for an apartment while working on another place and paying its mortgage. That helped us realize that something on our list was “habitable immediately, with only cosmetic projects.” Furthermore, we learned things like “being near this artist community is more important than we’d thought” and “we would really like a backyard space for the pupsters.”

Focus on the things you really love about the place you’re trying for: can some of those be translated to another place? If you really love the green door frames, could you just paint the door frames in the place that you ultimately end up in? What about the guest house in back — couldn’t you build one or have one built over time? Start a Google doc of these items and add to it as you go along. That way, every minute you spend looking at places will ultimately contribute to your final dwelling space, and it won’t all be a waste of time if you don’t get that one specific property.

2. Practice patience and generosity

So many times it would have been easy to kill the messenger, who was often our very sweet and hardworking agent. I’m not perfect, and I did get snippy a few times, but I feel I grew during the process. I had to know and recognize my own emotional limits and communicate them to my partner and other people. I had to consciously remember how to express my disappointment in a genuine and productive way without snapping or projecting. Sometimes I just had to say, “I’m really upset about this right now and I need the rest of the day to process. Can we talk tomorrow?” I’d then use the rest of the day for the following point.

3. Be creative

Many pieces of a rental agreement or home transaction can fall apart easily, but many of the problems encountered can have creative solutions that your landlord or realtor hadn’t thought of. For instance, if your credit just won’t cut it for a landlord’s rental agreement, could you offer a higher deposit or make a notarized agreement to complete repairs yourself? Or, in our case, some wonky stuff was happening with closing costs, and it turned out we didn’t have enough cash on hand. With no real estate experience whatsoever, I suggested two different ways around this, and our agent loved them; we ended up going with one that helped seal the deal!

Though we ultimately landed this house after two months of agonizing — “yay, we’re getting it!” and “aw man, we’re not getting it” — I have to say we appreciate it much more because of the struggle it took. And the lessons learned along the way were invaluable.

Learning about the House

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Sometimes, the style of a house is pretty hard to identify. Using this article from American Bungalow magazine, I’m fairly confident in saying it’s a Craftsman Bungalow AKA California Bungalow. We know it was built in 1906, which is before Inglewood had power, according to the Inglewood historical society. However, some of the light fixtures seem original, and the walls are wired in a way that would have been difficult to manage after building. Therefore, we’ve surmised that the house was built ready to plug into the grid, but wasn’t electrified until later.

I plan to visit the LA County Hall of Records and find out more about the home if possible, but for now, I’ve been looking through the amazing “yearbook” assemblages that were donated to the Inglewood historical society. I’ve found through these yearbooks and through the 1928 phone book reverse directory that the second owners of the home, Max and Louisa Gersabeck, were Germans from Detroit who bought the home in 1927. Max was the town barber!

The home isn’t on the original Inglewood planning map, as our street has changed names and is a bit east of the original map. We’re also hoping to find out why it was built on a hill rather than on the flat ground next to the hill; one of the inspectors’ hypothesis is that the family was quite well-off and wanted an ocean view, which they would have had at the time (before urban sprawl moved in).

I’ll likely be volunteering with the historical society (in order to learn more) and adding pictures of the street from that time period, but for now, here’s an amazing 1895 Los Angeles image to help you imagine what the folks who built the house looked like!

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