The weather is tempering and the leaves are already falling from the trees. My apologies to all of you that despise the shortening of the days, but autumn is upon us, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Although it means no more of the best tomato sandwiches on the planet, I will do my best to fill the void with bonfires, dark beer, pie pumpkins, and dining al fresco. With out-of-town guests visiting, Saturday was a perfect morning for a full waffle breakfast at the picnic table under the old Ash tree.
With the desire to be outside more comes the desire to finalize some of the outdoor spaces. After so much inside work over the last year, it’s nice to close the loop on some of the big projects and enjoy the small amounts of our newfound spare time.
Basement Stairs of Death
One project that was imperative to complete was the redesign of the narrow staircase leading into the new basement kitchen, installed sometime in the 1950s. Besides the fact that it was a serious safety hazard with slick, worn bricks, too-tall risers, and very narrow treads, the drain-line that it encompassed to move storm water away from the foundation was faulty and continuously backed up into the basement during a heavy rain. The basement flooded several times, even after the new cabinets were installed. No doubt this had to be a priority!
The old staircase of dangerous, damaged bricks and a faulty drain
The start to the project was simple: carefully tear out the old, damaged bricks and cracked concrete pad and then find the best masons in the area to lay new ones. Away we went with the removal and excavation of the old drain line. It was a mess once we discovered that the exterior drain was actually diverting back into the house’s main pluming lines – a big recipe for disaster. That was quickly capped and a new design was implemented to direct the water through PVC down the hill. This would reduce any risk of interior flooding.
Phil and Chris look on as removal of the old concrete pad begins
Mr. Phil completed the first phase of the work and was a real inspiration to watch. He did all of the work himself with only a small excavator and hand tools, his intuition and experience guiding him each step of the way. Thankfully his experience with historic masonry meant that he was very conscious of the existing brick foundation, chimney, and intersections of old and new brick.
Once the modified drain was installed, the new bricks could be laid. It was one early morning that I heard the loudest truck coming up the driveway carrying two pallets of the most beautiful handmade bricks. It is incredible how much they look like the original bricks in the foundation.
Beautiful handmade bricks to match the existing historic fabric of the house’s foundation
The best masons in the area, the father and son team of Hamp and Hampton, laid the bricks using old pattern styles and mixed mortar according to historic standards. Having worked on so many of the area’s oldest homes, their knowledge of historic building techniques was invaluable during the project. Not to mention they are two of the best storytellers. There were plenty of times at the end of a long week that I would look forward to sitting and chatting with them as they worked.
The new drain is laid and the brick side walls become a reality
The bricks are laid with care, waiting for mortar, while the new door takes its place
As much as I enjoyed the company of everyone working on the new entry, I was ready to have exterior access to the basement again. Carrying groceries upstairs and then downstairs had become a bit cumbersome after more than a month. Finally the finishing touches were installed including the new door and accent lighting to highlight the beautiful masonry work.
Smokey guarding the new basement stoop
Now we have a well-functioning basement entrance that is both safe and carries the water away from the foundation of the house – just in time to enjoy the outdoors more. My next project is a small kitchen garden just to the right of the stairs with herbs and flowers for cutting. Stay tuned!