Several months ago we closed on a very picturesque and historic house on the water.

This home is a second home for us, and our grand plan is to use it as a vacation/weekend retreat where we will be able to spend time with friends, family, and each other away from the very fast paced and close proximity lifestyle to which we've come accustom. But before we reach that idyllic setting of sipping drinks on the dock and paddling a kayak, we've got our work cut out for us by way of house projects.

As you may already know, we're not ones to shy away from a home renovation related challenge, and though any given project may take us exponentially longer than the average bear, we have some serious plans for this house before we're all said and done. As much as we want relaxation, our idea of relaxing is a bit different than many. We relax as much through working on the things that inspire us and we love. I guess what I'm trying to say is that we plan on doing a lot to this house, both inside and out.

The photos we've shared of the house thus far have really only shown what things looked like on day one (or maybe two and three). While everything may have looked "fine" on the surface, and perhaps like we really only needed a little "paint and paper" to get this place into shape, we have a much different outlook on everything now that we've owned the house for about three months.

Since we closed we've been making frequent trips, getting everything livable by scrounging some furniture from friends and family, buying other items whenever we see a great deal on something that's just perfect for our home (while weeding out items that are not)...

...and doing a whole lot of antique shopping. But at the same time we've been trying our best to make this home look furnished, we also started planning to kick off our first major project in the house...the living room!!!!

The living room is the very expansive room with a door at either end (one with a beautiful view), a fireplace near the middle between two windows, and a weird partial wall that awkwardly dissects the space.

This partial wall is an odd animal, to say the least. Its existence was puzzling at first, as it makes the living room a confused space that's unaware as to whether it should act as a single room with a barrier, or two rooms...with a partial barrier. While the focal point of the room should be the fireplace, the partial wall sits just off center of the fireplace, making it very hard to effectively use the room and keep it balanced.

I did quite a bit of sleuthing to determine why this partial wall is what it is. I mean, why would there be a half wall right in the middle of the fireplace? It just didn't make sense. But without a tremendous amount of effort I figured things out.

First, this fireplace isn't original...not even close. Today, the house looks like this.

But prior to an 1990's renovation there were actually once two chimneys in the house that exited through the hipped roof, kind of like this.

I found evidence of these two chimneys in the attic and in the walls on the second floor. I think each of the four rooms upstairs and down had a wood burning stove to heat the rooms, along with a closet on either side of each chimney. In each case, one closet opened to one room while the other closet opened to the other room. Two of the upstairs guest bedrooms still retain most of this original floor plan, and one even has the original mantel.

Bottom line, the partial wall in the living room was once a double wall with a chimney in the middle and a closet on either side. But in the early 1990s a previous owner decided to remove the chimneys, partially remove the wall, and build this new fireplace centered between the two windows.

After much discussion, many considerations, and quite a bit teeth gnashing, Wendy and I decided that this wall ultimately had to go. We want to turn this oddly divided space into a full and very large living room, and that really can't happen as long as that partial wall and beam is in place.

Suspecting, well, actually completely certain that this is a load bearing wall, we decided to start tearing things apart to see how it was all put together.

There's almost nothing that gets our blood pumping for renovation like a little demolition work, and before we could even say "wait don't start yet another project before we've completed all of the others!" we were elbows deep in drywall dust and debris.

As we tore off the drywall we learned that the wall is definitely load bearing, and original to the house. The framing is big and thick old growth lumber with cross bracing that supports the 2nd floor floor joists (or joises as locals call them) and extends below the floor and rests on massive beams supported by brick piers in the crawl space.

In other words, this old house may be wood framed, but it was built to last! Keep in mind that this is an interior wall with structure more indicative of an exterior wall.

When we exposed a bit of the beam above the partial wall we could see it consisted of a few 2x10 pieces of lumber with a makeshift plywood "flitch" glued between them. Think of this as an improvised LVL beam. The beam was then resting on a single 2x4 jack stud. While it was doing the job, it definitely wouldn't be sufficient to do something similar for a full span, and I've noticed a bit more springiness on the second floor above this wall than I would expect. I suspect this beam, and especially the jack stud, may be undersized for the load it's carrying. At the very least, the beam was set a little off on the jack stud, so there's a whole lot of pressure on a very little bit of wood.  

Finally, we opened the wall above the fireplace to figure out how the corner post had been altered to allow for a chimney right where a major support column for the wall once stood. We learned that a decent sized header was put in to distribute the weight, creating a load path for the column that carries the weight of the roof, second floor, and beam that ultimately rests on the sill plate on the side of the house. Again, possibly slightly undersized, but doing its job for now.

I also have to point out that the lovely mantel was held on by two nails and practically fell off of the wall when we started the work. RIP 1990's mantel, RIP. You served your duty, but we'll be replacing you with something more appropriate for the house.

Since we knew we wanted to remove this partial wall and beam, we started talking to local contractors about the project. Our goal is to remove the wall completely and replace the beam with an LVL that can be hung in the joist cavity, making the ceiling flush across the room.

Now here's where I almost pulled a fast one and somehow convinced Wendy I'd be the one to do this structural work. I know what needs to happen, and how it needs to be done, and even talked with my old boss (when I worked in construction) about my plan. He felt it was a good plan and Id be able to knock it out, but suggested I might need three or four friends to help me lift the beam into place. That issue of extra labor, plus the warning to "do the work on a day that's not windy or snowy so you don't end up with the house falling down on you," was enough to seal the deal. We'd be hiring this job out.

After several phone calls and lots of research we met with a contractor that we really liked. During our meeting we discussed the whole project and how they'd approach it. They'd build temporary walls, cut out the existing framing, cut a pocket in the joists above, and recess a new engineered lumber beam in the ceiling to open the room. They'd also assess and possibly improve the header above the fireplace if necessary.

I felt confident in their approach as it essentially mirrored my plan, and as much as I *really* wanted to do this project myself, we (and by we I mean mostly Wendy) felt like it was a much better idea to let the pros handle this major structural work. I conceded and we agreed to have them do the work, leaving the finish work for us once they completed the job. I do have to say that when I asked them to leave the old framing timbers for me, in as long of lengths as possible, and they said they'd certainly do that for me, it did give me the warm fuzzies. It was like they got me and what I was trying to do.

With that we were underway. We had pros scheduled to do the heavy lifting, and we had our work cut out for us on the rest of the room. We were very excited to be starting on this first major project of the new house, and we are ready to take it all on.

What do you think about our idea? Does removing the wall make sense to you in the room? And as far as major structural work, have you ever taken it on yourself in any of your renovation projects? Or do you leave that work to be hired out?

Wendy is excitedly working on furniture layouts and we've begun to purchase a few pieces in anticipation of our finished space. We look forward to sharing how this room shapes up over time.

Comments 16


Scott Hummer
1/22/2015 at 12:20 PM
You should start doing a time lapse photo project of the restoration/renovation. It would be cool to see the progress as it's made.
1/22/2015 at 12:49 PM

So cool to see what's behind the walls and how they're constructed! I agree with your plans - I can't imagine why someone would remove half the wall and put in a faux fireplace in such an awkward spot. Do you think you'll put "new" fireplaces back where they stood originally?

1/22/2015 at 12:55 PM

Yes, the wall needs to go. What an odd, odd configuration. You have to wonder how the previous owners could have thought that it looked right. I think the structural part is a job best left to a contractor, while homeowners actually usually do a better job with the finishing details.

1/22/2015 at 1:03 PM

I didn't notice how weird that wall was until you pointed it out. I'm a bit baffled by where they put the new fireplace. I get the 'centered between the windows', but not the 'leave a wall above it'. Too bad about the missing chimney; it would make the house feel a lot more balanced.

Good call on leaving the 'heavy lifting' to the pros.

Josh Shaffer
1/22/2015 at 1:05 PM
"do the work on a day that's not window or snowy so you don't end up with the house falling down on you". That made me chuckle.
1/22/2015 at 1:34 PM

What a totally weird wall! Sometimes you just want to call the people who did seemingly random renovations and say "Okay guys - a partial wall - what was going through your heads?!" I love the two chimney look - I would have been dying to add those original fireplaces back in to the bedrooms!

Holly Laffoon
1/22/2015 at 1:35 PM
Why on Earth do people do things to "improve" their house and spoil the lines? The house with the two chimneys coming up through the hipped roof looks balanced and beautiful. Will be following your restoration progress!
1/22/2015 at 1:56 PM

So glad to see you guys tackling big stuff again! Even if you could have done the work yourself, it's always nice to have a relationship with a local contractor for when the inevitable issues pop up, even if it's just to run an idea by them.

1/22/2015 at 2:32 PM

I'm excited for you!! Good call on the pros. You will have enough fun with getting everything back together.

1/22/2015 at 3:08 PM

We live in an old foursquare and the previous owners told us of the old configuration-- there were 2 upstairs fireplaces between the 4 bedrooms. In the front of the house are two bedrooms that share one wall. One of the front rooms had a fireplace, and on the wall between the rooms, there was apparently a door that would have been left open to so that the fireplace would heat both rooms. In the back of the house, also, one of the rooms had a fireplace and on the wall that separates the rooms, there was a door that would have been left open to allow the fireplace from the one room to heat them both. I haven't been able to confirm this despite having looked for Foursquare floor plans with similar configurations... have you ever heard of bedrooms sharing a fireplace like that?

Margaret Schleicher Bjorklund
1/22/2015 at 3:09 PM
Looking and sounding really wonderful. Keep us posted.
Kathy S
1/22/2015 at 7:49 PM

The rooms look really big. I don't know if I would like a giant giant room. But it's not my house.Alt smile I would say the fireplace needs to go more than the wall right now.

Whitney Kerr
1/23/2015 at 8:45 AM

Ooh This is exciting!
I have wanted to do this in our own bedroom, but it's such a daunting task, we'd have to hire it out too.

1/23/2015 at 3:52 PM

I so wish you could put back the original fireplaces, but I understand how much it would take to do it and I think you're doing the right thing with what is there. People that remuddle old homes drive me nuts. I wish I could ask what they were thinking....

And no, there's no way I would tackle such a job on my own. My mother had a load baring wall removed and a beam put in, in her old farm house, and I saw just what went into it. It's not an easy task.

I can't wait to see the progress!

1/26/2015 at 7:04 AM

Make sense to me. That would be a nearly impossible room to furnish with the fireplace there.

I have a really good time imagining what went through the minds of the previous occupants of our 1800's house. I would love to get inside their heads to find out why they chose to do the things they did.

1/28/2015 at 7:25 AM

This sounds like a big project, but I think it will result in a huge improvement in your living room. That half-wall definitely has a 90s vibe (in my opinion, at least), and removing it will help to restore the home's original character. Can't wait to see how your room looks once that wall is gone!

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