Busy Busy Dizzy Dizzy

Our renovation project work has been super busy this week, though most of the progress has been made in the planning area. Emails are flying back and forth between us and our architect, the structural engineer, and the city so fast I can barely keep up. We’ve gotten our structural improvement plans for the eastern third of the building (where the two bedroom and efficiency apartment will go) through the first level of approval by the city. And details are being worked on to lay out the plumbing and electrical. We are also getting our quotes for fire suppression as required by the city because our building is both commercial and residential.

Putting in a fire sprinkler system will be fairly uncomplicated in the eastern third of the building, since we are already going to be replacing the old drop-ceiling in our wood repair shop tenant’s business. The challenging part will be next year, when we have to rip in to already existing ceilings of the dance studio and law office. But we’ll worry about that later.

This past weekend, the father of one of my closest friends came to share his masonry expertise with us. Frank, the masonry expert, and my husband, Heath, tore down several existing brick sections that needed to be leveled for doorways. They also started filling in some of the holes in walls with reclaimed brick. Check it out:


First hole completely filled! Small hole that is in a wall between a kid’s bedroom and the bedroom of the two-bed apartment. I think there was previously a vent pass-through here.


Originally a window opening, we are filling this in as it is going to be the back of a closet in one of the kid’s bedrooms.


Needed to remove brick from another window opening to go down to the sub-flooring.


This is yet another window opening that we broke open the bottom all the way down to the level of the floor joists.

Shout out to our crew of teenagers and friends for helping us haul¬†TWO pallets of “Old Chicago” reclaimed bricks from the sidewalk up into the loft! Thanks Tavary Family and Kulow Kids! I don’t have a picture of the kids, unfortunately, but look at all of these bricks we hauled! And this photo is only half the load! Did I mention that there is no elevator? Basically, we start with a wheelbarrow at the top of the back stairs, and a line of people on the stairs passing bricks one-by-one up to the top. Once the wheelbarrow is full, one of us jogs it over to the designated drop area (needed to balance the floor load), another few folks unload it, the wheelbarrow goes back empty, and the process starts all over again. A bit tedious, but it’s the only way.


This photo shows only half the load! There were more stacks to the right.

Oh, and this was only two of a total of seven pallets that we’ll eventually need. Can’t overload the floors with too many bricks, plus there’s not really enough room for that many. Luckily the brick company (Rudloff Bricks – great team!) will hold on to the rest of ours until we need another load delivered.

So, our current weekend job is filling holes in walls with bricks, and performing necessary structural improvements dictated to us by the structural engineer. Any one wanting to try their hand at masonry is welcome to come on over! ūüėÄ And those of you who have been to demo days know that we’re not kidding.

P. S. I suffered my second job injury (the first was getting my feet tangled up in old wiring, and falling very hard on my left knee). Twofold stupid: I was wearing sandals, not my work boots, because it was supposed to be a quick meeting with the brick company representative and our master mason – and I wasn’t paying attention. There’s a missing floor plank in the very middle of the building. I stepped right into it with my right foot almost up to my hips. Oddly enough, I was saved by my phone, which was in a side cargo pocket, and prevented me from going all the way down. The phone bruised me badly, and I got scraped up on either sides of my leg. Thank goodness for my friend Heather’s homemade skin healing lotion! So… wear proper footwear, and pay attention, kids.


My bruise, several days later, from the phone saving me. Thanks, Otterbox! And you can see a nearly-healed scrape on the bottom of the leg (Thanks again, Heather!).

Holding Pattern

So, a lot of you have been asking what’s going on with the renovations?

First, how about the results of our most recent demo day:

View from the front stairs, facing south.

View from the front stairs, facing south.

View of the rear section of the building, facing east.

View of the rear section of the building, facing east.

Junk-free floor after filling up two dumpsters. View facing north.

Junk-free floor after filling up two dumpsters. View facing north.

To sum up, the entire eastern third of the building has officially completed the demolition phase. Yay!!! This means that we are now in the process of working on getting our construction permits for this section of the building. This “eastern third” will contain the efficiency apartment and the two bedroom apartment that we’ll be renting out in the future. We have demolition permits, but have to apply separately for our construction permits. Right now, we’re waiting for the structural engineer and our architect to get us the final construction plans for these two smaller apartments. Waiting… lots of waiting.

As soon as we have our plans in hand, we can go through the approval process from the city to get our construction permits. We’re hoping that it won’t take very long, but these things never go quickly.

Hopefully we can begin construction soon and are now aiming to complete the efficiency apartment and two bedroom apartment by the end of November. After these two apartments are completed, we can continue demolition of the western two-thirds of the building – this is the section that will contain our living space. For demolition, we’ll need to remove the remaining ceiling planks, and remove all of the flooring. Here’s hoping that will happen by the end of January. Then construction can begin on our new home!

What are we doing in the meantime? Well, truthfully, it was nice to take a break for a few weekends. There’s lots of fun to be had in Brenham in the summer, such as the Hot Nights Cool Tunes concert series every Saturday in downtown during July. We’re also taking the time to fix tenant issues, as well as reorganize our downstairs storage area to better accommodate items for the period where we’ll be living in the two small apartments and renovating the big one. Yesterday my husband Heath and I worked all day adding new shelves and moving some extraneous items over to the storage area.

We’re also working to organize our interior design, starting to pick styles, fixtures, tiles, wall colors, etc. We’re researching important stuff like fire sprinkler systems, insulation between apartments, where we’re going to locate AC units and water tanks, and so much more. We also have to start considering the exterior, though that probably won’t happen until late 2017 or early 2018.

So, even if we’re not physically working on the building for the next few weeks, we’re still ticking items off our lists. We’ll update again once we know more about our construction permits.

Floors coming up

We decided to post-pone the removal of the middle section of ceiling for now for a variety of reasons, and have gotten started on carefully removing the floor beams in the eastern third of the building. This eastern third will eventually contain the efficiency apartment and the two-bedroom apartment that we’ll be opening up to lease to the public. Take a look:


View of the back room (south-east corner). After we redo the floors and seal them, the windows will go, and this whole area will be a deck (foreground), part of a bedroom for the two-bed apt (middleground), and a small balcony for the two-bed apt.


Closer view of the back room. Unfortunately, the ceiling in the shop below is in very poor shape. But on the up side, we will be able to access everything underneath this third of the building easily, replacing the ceiling for the tenant in the process.


View looking into the rear-room. You can see that it is slightly higher right now. We’ll be lowering it to meet with the rest of the building.


At the top of the stairs (left side of photo) coming up from Main Street, floor boards are slowly being removed to expose the beams. A temporary walk-way has been created with some recycled plywood boards.

At this point, our plan seems to be that we’ll be completely building out the eastern third of the building so that these two living spaces are complete. We’ll then put most of our belongings into storage, and live in these two spaces while we finish completing our own space. Of course, plans may change. But that’s what we’re thinking right now.

The big question is when. We still don’t know. As the months get hotter, it will become much more difficult to work up in the loft for any length of time. We’re trying to avoid as many social commitments as we can for the month of May so we can spend every spare minute picking away at the structure. I’d like to hope that we’d be finished with the eastern section by the end of November, but I could be severely under-estimating our progress.

In the next few weeks we’re supposed to have our next meeting with our architect, which will also include a consultation with his structural engineer. We’ll be examining all of the beams that have been exposed in the ceiling and in the floor, and any plan of action that might be needed. So far, in our uneducated opinion, our girl looks great! There’s one beam that is badly damaged by termites that will need to be replaced. And another beam got butchered where an over-zealous plumber got really creative installing indoor plumbing. But other than that, we seem to be okay so far.

As usual, if you have some free time on a weekend, we’d love to have some help. You don’t need experience, just a willingness to work. We’ll feed you, give you a place to sleep if you are coming in from out of town.

Post-Demo Results and Finds

We’ve got some great progress to share from our demo weekend. I¬†can’t think of why I haven’t taken my wide-angle lens to the loft before to take photos, but I did yesterday. Perhaps those who have never seen our project in person can better see the scope of it now. I took a shot standing in each corner, and you can really see how much work has been done.


View from the north-east corner, ceilings gone all the way!


View from the North-west corner: ceilings gone for most of this section. You can see that ceilings still need to be removed in the middle. Also, some of the dropped ceiling still remains in the right back-ground. To the left is all of our lumber. To the right is debris that will end up in a dumpster on our next demo-day.


View from south-west corner: in the foreground on left are some tools and metal cabling (the latter being saved for recycling). Beyond the red tool case is the debris pile. To the right, just out of sight is the back stairwell, and the doorway leading to the back room which will be the future deck.


View from the south-east corner: all of the ceiling has been removed. We’ll remove the rafters but keep the roof. Floor will be re-done. Back wall/windows on left will go, replaced with wrought iron railing. This area is our (and another apartment’s) future back covered deck.

And I think that’s about it. Before we pull down the remaining section of ceiling, we are going to skip ahead and pull out the flooring! Ha! We want to start exposing some areas for the structural engineer, plus we need to start streamlining the process of restoring our flooring, especially on the east-side of the building, where it isn’t as well-kept. After we remove a section of the flooring, we’ll partially cover the opening with some temporary plywood so we can move all of the lumber out of the way of the ceiling demolition. And after the final ceiling is removed, we’ll move on to the floors – can’t wait to see what we find under there!

Speaking of finds, here’s some of our found objects of the weekend.


Metal fuse boxes and we found Prince Albert’s can!


After Heath went and bought needed extra hammers for the crew, a hammer fell out of the ceiling. Seriously. Looks like the end was sawn off.


Difficult to see in the photo, but it says “Belknap” on the top, “Trade” on the left, “Mark” on the right, “Bluegrass” in the middle, and “Louisville” on the bottom. Probably 1930’s to maybe as late as 1960’s era.


And as usual, a ton more hand-wrought square-head nails. I’m saving them for lots and lots of future craft and art projects.

That’s all for now, folks. We’ll be picking away at smaller projects just about every weekend we can, so if you are interested in taking a whack at some demolition, just let us know. And keep watching this space and your Facebook Events page for the next demo day! Thanks for keeping up with our project.

Demo Day Review

Saturday was a blazing day with a full crew of people. Unfortunately, we lost a few folks due to injuries and weather threats, so Sunday went a bit more slowly. The upside is, 4/5ths of the ceiling is now down, with only the last section in the middle to go. That includes two heavy air conditioning units hanging from the ceiling. But that’s in the future. Let’s share what we just did. First, the fun stuff.

We had one last “dropped” ceiling hiding the real ceiling that needed to go. It was barely attached to the last remaining non-brick wall, so the guys decided they could just yank the entire dropped ceiling down instead of piece-by-piece. It was by far the faster and easier route, and also a bit more amusing. Also mildly dangerous. Check out this video by our friend and one of our lovely volunteer workers, Miranda:

(Charity had some great videos, too, but you’ll have to be a friend of hers on Facebook).

Here’s some shots of us in action throughout the day:


First find of the day: bird skeleton number 374


Scott gets started on the ceiling in the northeast room of the building.


Kaylea and Connor pull nails from reusable lumber.


Heath had to build more saw horses because we had so many crew members.


Mike sticks his head up in the southeast room’s ceiling.


Miranda knows that Charity’s beatings of Zad will continue until morale improves.


Zad and Charity take a much-deserved break.


Scott is a prime example of how filthy things got. There was a lot of nasty dirt and debris under the rear room ceiling.


And I do mean filthy… the clean part is where his glove stopped.

I’ve got pictures of the final results of this weekend coming up soon!

Much thanks to the Shelbourne Family, the Tavary Family, the Norris/Jackson Family, Miranda, and Jill who all helped out whether it was actual demolition, cooking, or keeping the kiddos out of our hair.

We’ll definitely be doing more demo weekends in upcoming months, hopefully before it gets too hot. Just keep watching this space for more details and/or your Facebook Events page.

Seeing the Light at the End of the Demolition Tunnel

For St. Valentine’s weekend, we decided to celebrate by breaking down walls – literally! Our dear friends Scott,¬†Charity, and Mike visited, and we had help from our local friends, too!

In all honesty, it has been¬†hard for me personally to see the end of demolition. I thought we’d be doing it forever and ever and never move on to construction. We’re still not there yet, but after this weekend’s demo party (and previous work done in February), I think I’m beginning to see the light. There’s a ton of changes, so take a look!

Let’s start at the top. Here’s a ceiling in progress of being taken down.


Center rooms ceiling coming down.

And here’s how it looks now.


Cleaned up center room.

You can see that we still need to the rafters in this picture, but by the end of the weekend, the rafters were exposed. Still have that massive air unit hanging from the ceiling, though – going to be a challenging job to get that beast out. There’s also the giant York air compressor, which will have to be disassembled entirely before removal.


Anybody want a 2-ton air compressor?

Next we have the dropped-ceiling in the SW corner room. Previously, the ceiling tiles were removed,¬†exposing a bunch of nasty old brown insulation, 2×4 cross-pieces, and oddly enough, a bunch of tongue-and-groove panels that must have been repurposed from elsewhere in the building (and we’ll repurpose them again!).


Heath and our friend Scott nearly single-handedly removing the dropped ceiling. The brown insulation dust clouds were awful, and filled that whole side of the building.


These bags are all filled with old insulation. UGH!

Oddest find of the demolition this weekend? A butter knife in the ceiling. I forgot to snap a photo of it. But when Scott and Heath were taking down the ceiling and insulation, a silver butter knife fell out! I’d love to hear the story about how that got up there!

We still have some of the lower ceiling structure that needs to come down (the lighter beams on the bottom in the picture below), but above them is the original structure from the original second-story construction in the mid-1800’s! The beams are beautiful and larger than the rest of the ones found in the roof structure (the other 2/3rds of the second story¬†was constructed later than the west side). Forgive my lack of technical terms, but look at those lovely criss-cross structures! So exciting.


We’re hoping we can leave some of the beams exposed.


Exposed beams, you say?

Next, we have the changes in the north-east corner of the building. All of the walls in the bathroom above the front stairwell have been completely removed.


No more walls protecting the stairwell – watch out!


Only thing left are sewage pipes, which will need to be removed and/or repositioned.


Lunch Break!

Unfortunately, there was rather extensive termite damage in the bathroom areas, so we won’t be able to save all of the flooring in this area. That’s okay, though – we’ll probably be doing some tile in the bathrooms and kitchens.


Termite Damage in former bathroom.

Next we have this wall in the front third of the building, near the stairwell on Main Street. I don’t know why I don’t have a decent “after” photo, but it is GONE! Here’s some photos of demo in-progress.


View from the NE corner of the building – no more walls on the right foreground, and Tony and Mike are headed towards the last bit of wall to be taken down.


Tony poses with the wall before he destroys it. Mike does not look amused (just tired – we worked them hard).

After the wall came entirely down, we found something really unique, that I don’t think we’ll be able to uncover any where else in the project: hand-stenciled designs painted directly on old plaster.


Design painted on plaster, hidden behind a wall for 100 years.


Less clear design painted on plaster.

We’re not quite sure why one side is faded, and the other much brighter. Obviously, the pattern probably continued along the wall, but layers of paint and wall paper on the plaster will make it impossible to uncover more. Hopefully we can find a way to leave these interesting sections exposed.

Speaking of wall paper, we found even more of it. I’ve already sent the best samples off to a framer to have them matted and mounted.


Even more wall paper: a brown leafy design, then a brown and red floral border, and underneath and reddish brown pattern.

We also made a realization that not all of the brick is the same. To recap – the first level of the Zeiss Building was built in 1850. Sometime in the 1850’s a second story was built above only the west third of the building. We know that sometime before 1885 (we have a fire map of that date), the second story was added to the other two thirds of the building. For the west (first) side of the second story that was built, the bricks used are very crumbly and dry, and will simply come off in your hand. We uncovered a brick in the rear stairwell (part of the original) that had a stamp on it.


Brick with stamp reading SEL RE CAN

Unfortunately, we can only read one section of the three lines:




So, some research will need to be done there.

The rest of the brick in the upper level is different – not dry and crumbly, and a darker, less rich color of red. Supposedly one of these two kinds of brick is local Brenham-made brick, and the other is a brick imported from England, that was originally part of a ship’s ballast. Again, something I need to research more.

We also met some more of our neighbors, one of which told us that an elderly family member tells lots of stories of gambling going on in the saloon and/or Elks Lodge that was located on the second story.

For our demo party, we ordered up another 30 yard dumpster, knowing we would fill it. The company messed up the order, and gave us only a 20 yard dumpster, which we filled really quickly.


Full dumpster seen out the window on the left, and stack of more debris that didn’t make it in on the right.

I’m still waiting to hear back from them regarding pick up, and to confirm that they know they delivered the wrong size, and will only be charging us for the smaller dumpster. We didn’t see it being delivered this time, and they are closed on weekends, so we couldn’t have them fix their mistake. Oh well, next time. Because we still have a lot that needs to go:


Debris waiting for an empty dumpster, and ladders positioned to take down more ceiling.


Dry wall that needs to go into the dumpster, and wood to be sorted for reuse.


Random stack of flagpole bases found.


A still life: Afternoon light drifts over a table that Heath constructed for folks to eat at and dump keys on, etc. A broom, which has just finished sweeping up masses of nasty brown insulation, leans on the table.

¬†Normally when we are working on the building, my primary job is watching the kiddos (mine and anyone else who brings theirs), running errands and supplies, and cooking and/or delivering meals (and cleaning up after said meals). Occasionally when someone needs a break, or there’s a spare teenager, I get to head up to Zeiss Lofts to help out. This weekend, my job was pulling nails. Lots and lots and lots of nails. We have a ton of wood of all sizes that we want to reuse in the project. The wood¬†has been pulled down from all manner of structures, and generally has at least a few nails hanging out of it. Our pile of “lumber¬†to have nails pulled from it” had been growing steadily, so myself and several other workers were assigned to nail-pulling.


Say hello to my little friend. I love this tool for nail-pulling. That, and a good hammer.

We managed to completely clear a huge pile of usable lumber of nails, and sort it for reuse while the rest of the demolition was going on. Yay!

My husband Heath and I have to take a moment to thank a very special family, the Tavary’s. Either they like us very much, or are very bored, because¬†nearly every weekend, for at least a few hours or more, we’ve had at least one Tavary family member come up to the lofts and help us out. Tony and Heather and their five children have not only helped with demolition, but they’ve also contributed to meals, helped baby-sit smaller children, and even run errands. We met this lovely family through our eldest’s son’s participation in youth football this summer.


Tony and Heather Tavary – our newest and coolest friends here in Brenham, and not just because they’ve been helping us out with the Zeiss Lofts Project.

Thank you sooooo much, Tony, Heather, Brittney, Jordan, Andy, Joey, and Patrick! Us Westfields owe you BIG time!

And last, but not least, announcing our next demolition weekend on April 16th and 17th! Please come join us – no skills needed, just bring a pair of work gloves or gardening gloves that fit you. We’ll feed you, beer you, wine you, and entertain you. We’ll even give you free lodging at our place, should you need it. Need an invitation? Check your Facebook Events page, or drop us a line. We’d love to see you!