I suspect that the people who built my house were amateurs.
One reason that I reached this conclusion is that the place is sturdy beyond any rational need for it. It has that “better get things nailed down securely so we never have to do it again” feel that you get when something is built by people who don’t know the shortcuts and decide that everything needs to be done as thoroughly as possible so they don’t have to worry about it anymore. This isn’t a bad thing, however, so I don’t complain about it.
I do complain about some of the other things that lead me to this conclusion, though.
For one thing, as we discovered during the Great Window Project of 2008-2009, there is a standard depth for windows in American housing construction and has been since the Civil War, but nobody told our builders this. Honestly I’m not entirely sure where they found nonstandard windows, but they did and they all at one point matched. Further, the wells were lined with cove molding just in case anyone wanted to try to take an accurate measurement of how wide the opening was. This is why a project that would ordinarily take a professional like my old neighbor Adam a weekend to complete, at a rate of about one window every half hour, ended up taking the better part of a year. It always took the two of us an entire afternoon to install two windows because of all the trimming and custom noodling around that had to be done. But now we have nice windows, so there’s that.
For another thing, we also have a lot of doors. There are three doors that lead to the outside, for example, only two of which can be used without serious injury or death since the third one leads from the upstairs hallway out to, well, the back yard one story below. We call it “the door to nowhere.” There are no stairs outside. There really isn’t any place you could put stairs so far as I can see. The house was moved here from another site back in the 90s, before we moved in, so it is possible that there was at one time a place to put stairs, but any set of stairs would have been in the way of something important (such as the bathroom window, either of them) no matter where you put it. Mostly we regard door to nowhere as a large window, caulked and sealed, since both the internal and external doors have large glass panes in them and it brightens up the hallway, but we have on occasion opened the doors in order to get large things like box springs into the second floor since the stairs that actually do exist for that purpose are singularly ill-suited for it, which is just another issue that speaks to the dedicated amateurs who built this place.
The three outside doors are only the barest hint of our total doorosity, though.
We have, by my count, sixteen internal doors in this house. We took four of them off and leaned them against the basement wall, because otherwise the house felt like an Advent calendar, but the other dozen are still in place. None of them are interchangeable with any of the others. They vary in width by as much as six inches and in height by up to a foot, and for the few whose dimensions are roughly comparable the hinges are either on opposite ends vertically or mounted on the wrong side of the door front to back. Each door is unique.
It’s entirely possible that all this was due to some post-WWII shortage of housing materials and our builders simply made the frames for the doors they could find. The house was built in 1947 or so, after all, at a time when materials were short and doors were supposed to be plentiful in houses to conserve heat. I like to think it was just dedicated amateurs working as best they could, though, because it’s my house and I can have any theory I want for it after all.
We discovered the true extent of the door situation this past weekend when it became imperative that the door to Kim’s office (which also serves as our guest bedroom) be made to function as a door rather than a screen, and to do so with a quickness.
As of last week it was really more of a visual barrier, since it refused to close all the way (being rather too tall on the latch side) and, when it did close, it refused to latch (the strike plate being about a quarter inch too high for the door lock). This was okay for people staying a couple of nights, since we come fully equipped with doorstops, but starting next week it would be unacceptable since there would be someone living there for the next few months, and people generally like their doors to be doors when they’re sleeping behind them.
Through a long and frankly implausible process that even now I am not really sure I understand, we will be hosting a foreign exchange student starting as early as this coming weekend. I know that she’s from Belgium, she already attends Local Businessman High with my daughters (who know of her, though don’t actually know her), and she’s a gymnast. She’s been staying with friends of ours, but they weren’t supposed to host her this long (the hurricanes this past summer flooded out a lot of hosts, apparently, so the foreign exchange people have been scrambling to find places to put kids).
So here we were.
In need of a more permanent guest bedroom, with a door that could actually be shut.
Through a process of elimination involving removing the door that was already hanging, hauling up from the basement each door that might conceivably fit into the now vacated the doorframe for that room, attempting to place the new door on the hinges, muttering animatedly and not all that politely, and then returning the rejected door back to the basement, I determined that the proper door was already hanging on that frame and would need to be reshaped.
This, it turned out, was easier said than done, especially for someone of my dubious Home Repair talents.
Fortunately it was a freakishly warm day so the various methods that I tried to make the door slightly shorter were accomplished in some comfort out in the driveway, and when all was said and done a whole lot more was said than done but enough was done that the door actually fit and shut all the way now. It’s a bit ragged at the top, but it does what a door should do. Or at least it did once Kim and I got the strike plate moved up that quarter inch.
So now we have a functioning door to what will be our new student’s bedroom. Kim has been diligently moving her stuff out and setting up shop in my office, amid the clutter and the books. And soon, there will be more people here.
Another adventure awaits.