Month: September 2006

The Borg

Shortly after I moved to Brooklyn, one of the largest local independent home improvement centers closed, Mars Lumber. It’s now an Outback Steak House. The attitude at Mars was gruff and impatient but there were always professional trades people hanging around to give good advice. Mars fell victim to NYC’s first Home Depot store on Hamilton Avenue. Home Depot was bright, clean, well stocked and the people were friendly. Good riddance to Mars. But then a funny thing happened. The Hamilton Avenue Home Depot took an abrupt nose dive. The quality of the help was the first casualty. The bright, …

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DIY War Story

There was a recent forum post on asking for DIY disaster stories. I’ve had more than my share of them. But I’m such a long-winded writer that I didn’t think I could reduce any of them to a sound bite paragraph. Here’s one of my more verbose ones: My previous renovation was a downtown Broadway loft in Manhattan, where I converted a 5000sf paper bag factory to a residence and a commercial audio recording studio. This was a very early progress picture. The place was a mess when I took it. The floor was wired only for DC electricity. …

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The Most Painful Free Drywall In the World

Yesterday, I got the framing completed in the new closet so it was time to fetch the free drywall my friend, John, around the corner had offered to me. John is another home renovation tyromaniac. In fact, I wouldn’t have found this place if not for him. He was the former NYC City Register so I had a complete history on this place a few hours after its former owner had mentioned to John that he was thinking of selling. John knew I was looking for a cheap fixer-upper with a garage for my bikes. He called me, I rushed …

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Plague Walls

With great reluctance, I pulled myself out of my sick bed to get back to the master bedroom renovation, which means more demolition. Lovely. A couple of hours later Karen called to see how her patient was doing. Karen’s an anesthesiologist who had to leave medicine because of a severe latex allergy. So she takes things like breathing both personally and professionally. When I told her I was ripping down old woodwork and plaster I thought her hands were going to zoom through the phone and strangle me, Bugs Bunny style. “Are you <bleeping> nuts, you stupid <bleep>?! Do you …

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Into the closet

I’ve been fighting a sore throat and sniffles all day, but I’m tired of my belly aching. That’s why I’m so behind bloody schedule here. Yesterday, I got the rough framing done for the new closet in the master bedroom. Well, almost done. I thought I had the 4″ lags and shields I needed for the upper cabinet’s deck support. Because these houses don’t have attics, I need to build one for dead storage. There will be two levels in this closet, with cabinet doors on top. I want a profiled corner on the closet, not a square edge. This …

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Phase 7: Plan A, Step One

Here’s what I have planned for next week’s start of the master bedroom renovation. Tomorrow evening, I have to move myself into the guest room. I also need to take an updated picture of that room. It just occurred to me that a lot of things in that room were gifts: the sofa bed (Karen), the macrame curtains (Betsy), the side table and the large, mirrored O’Connell-Flynn whiskey sign too. I even have a couple of wall hangings given to me by magician, Doug Henning, back when we worked together on The Magic Show. Anyway, I really hope that sofabed …

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Phase 7: The Wrath of Details

Today officially begins the scheduled start of the next major phase of the renovation at Brooklyn Row House: the rebuilding of the master bedroom and upstairs hallway. It started like most of my scheduled projects. In other words, it didn’t. Dykes Lumber, which was given instructions to call me before delivery, arrived yesterday when I must have been out walking the grovelers. Granted, it’s a contractor size order but, sheesh, even GC crews take lunch breaks, guys. They didn’t call to confirm that they were even delivering yesterday so I could at least hang a note. For that matter, I …

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Homeland Security

The recent Houseblogs posts on the burglary and the fires made me want to say something about whole-house security systems. BTW, to the Restoration on 7th home owners, maybe check with your local board of estimate and/or buildings department to see if some sleazy entity might be trying to get your neighborhood rezoned. We had a lot of these fires in Back Bay, Boston when I was in college. They traced back to the mob, which was trying to open up the avenue to high rise development. Planning commissions are more friendly to these efforts if there are a lot …

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Labor Day Snoozer

This was the first Labor Day weekend since I got this place that I wasn’t knee deep in some h/i project. Last year I was in the middle of the guest room renovation. Now, I’m waiting for lumber estimates so I can start on the master bedroom rehab. I took the opportunity to hack on my Drupal software but, man, does it need a coherent manual. We got some of Ernesto on Friday/Saturday. The wind down here on NY Harbor was pretty fierce so there was clean up to do, which is about as clumsy a segue as I can …

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Electrical Gremlins

Just when I think I’ve got this electrical stuff all figured out, something tosses me in the weeds. This morning I noticed that the clock on my four-year old Frigidaire stove wasn’t working. Neither were the buttons. Great, the computer’s shot. Of course, it’s got an electronic starter that depends on the computer so the oven’s not working either. Well, I guess it’s about time. The Frigidaire microwave I bought at the same time had to be replaced last fall. Nice quality control, guys. I remember when companies like Frigidaire and Maytag had good reputations for durability. But that wasn’t …

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Welcome to Brooklyn Row House

This blog is about the challenges of renovating an old (1903) Brooklyn, New York row house.

My last major renovation project was the master bedroom, most of which is about finish carpentry. You’ll find other completed home improvement projects in the Projects submenu at the top of this page.

I’m not a professional builder and don’t pretend to be. I’m just an experienced amateur raised in a family of committed DIYers. I try to closely follow local and national building codes but don’t mistake anything on this site to be professional or even accurate advice! Your mileage may and definitely will vary.

This is the third iteration of, from scratch-built to Drupal and now Wordpress. I hope you enjoy your time here.