Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

This old house, a work still in progress August 6, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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I ALWAYS WANTED TO LIVE in a big old white farmhouse that holds the history of generations. Abundant, aged woodwork and built-ins. A sprawling porch and plenty of windows with sunlight pouring in. Wood floors that creak with age.

A farm site along U.S. Highway 14 between Nicollet and Mankato.

A farm site along U.S. Highway 14 between Nicollet and Mankato with the type of old house I like.

That was my dream.

But as we know, dreams don’t always become reality. Rather, I’ve lived for 30 years in a smallish home along a busy street. Anything original to our old house was hidden behind dark, dreary paneling. My husband and I long ago removed most of the paneling, replacing it with sheetrock. We didn’t want to live in a cave.

Yet, one bit of 1970s cavedom remained—in the basement. It was time, after 30 years here, to begin the process of transforming our basement.

We are currently in the demo stage, thus the stacks of Styrofoam insulation/ceiling panels, paneling and wood edging our driveway.

Gutting of our basement is well under way. This photo shows paneling stripped from the clay tile foundation walls with some paneling remaining yet on along the stairway. The floor shows carpet backing scraped off, backing to be scraped off and the not-so-lovely carpet.

Gutting of our basement is well under way. This photo shows paneling stripped from the clay tile foundation walls with some paneling remaining yet along the stairway. The floor shows carpet backing scraped off, backing to be scraped off and the not-so-lovely carpet.

Now we’re adding to that debris pile as, strip by strip, the red-and-black striped carpet is being sliced from the floor. Underneath lie the remains of black carpet backing and glue, there for, we guesstimate, forty years.

So, on hands and knees, we have been scraping remnants of carpet backing from the concrete with one-inch wide gasket scrapers. It is a slow, tedious and labor intensive process. My hands and arms ache. My knees and back are sore. But there is no easier way. We tried a wire brush on the end of a drill. The heat warmed the glue enough to melt some of the backing into it. This is not what we want; we desire the cement as clean as possible. Solvents are not an option.

Original wainscoting uncovered beneath the paneling.

Original wainscoting uncovered beneath the paneling.

But in the midst of all this mess, I uncovered a treasure when I pulled a portion of paneling from the basement stairwell. Underneath was wainscoting. Why, oh, why would you cover wainscoting with paneling? The answer, I suspect, lies in the paneling fad of the 1970s.

Perhaps I could ask Nicky or Cheryl or Randy, whose names and heights were penciled upon the wainscoting in 1969.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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31 Responses to “This old house, a work still in progress”

  1. Dan Traun Says:

    That is some snazzy red carpet – wowza! Save a swatch of that and frame it :-) It is always interesting to remodel; you never know what you will uncover.

    • I’m laughing, because I mentioned to our eldest daughter that I was going to save and frame a piece of the carpet for her given she and her sister used to rollerskate on that lovely carpet. That was in the day when she talked of becoming a professional rollerskater.

      Oh, yes, there are always surprises when you’re working on an old house. We just hope the carpet is tacked to, rather than glued to, the basement steps. I don’t want to scrape them. We’re about 2/3 done with the floor now.

    • I usually have to look at my feet while roller skating, so I would have been down for the count due to the dizzy carpeting.

  2. Kevin K. Says:

    To remove carpet backing, perhaps an “ice scraper” – 6″ metal blade on the end of a straight wood handle (like a rake handle). On the farm we called this a manure scrapper, and used it in the barn. Used standing up, with your foot applying the pressure. Just a thought….

    • Thanks for the tip, Kevin. We were offered a tool exactly like the one you describe. However, Randy did not think it would work given our basement floor is so pitted and uneven. He also thought we might wreck this tool. I wanted to try it, but…he knows more about tools than me.

      My right hand and fingers are so sore today that I will not be scraping. I mean, what if I couldn’t type?

      Your barn must have been really clean. All we used was a scoop shovel. :)

  3. Beth Ann Says:

    What a wonderful discovery! Your basement will be transformed before you know it and you will forget the aches and pains of “The Summer of the Basement Redo”. Hopefully.

  4. Lanae Says:

    We used the long handled ice scraper on the bedroom floors in our house. Worked great to get the 30+ stuck backing off the floor. Good luck

  5. Why would anyone want to get rid of that beautiful carpet? :)

  6. Beautiful wainscoting – amazing what you uncover when remodeling :) Good Luck – the hard work will be worth it in the end – glue is not a fun project though. Happy Hump Day!

  7. lensgirl53 Says:

    My husband and I renovated a home in Alabama that was built in 1849 and we turned into a B&B….our dream for a while. When my son died I did not have the passion to be hostess anymore. While we were in the early stages of renovations, HGTV’s “If Walls Could Talk” came and did a segment on our discoveries. Episode #1712. I will always cherish the time we spent in our old home. I wish you well on all your renovating and hope that one day you can have that old farmhouse of your dreams. It can happen.

    • I am impressed by the project you and your husband took on. And I can understand how your passion would diminish with the devastating loss of your son.

      How exciting that your then house would be highlighted on “If Walls Could Talk.” We don’t get cable, so I’m not familiar with the show.

      As far as that old farmhouse ownership, at my age I think the goal now is downsizing and less work. And here we are, remodeling the basement.

  8. Jackie Says:

    I must first mention that I love the white Barn and Farm house, reminds me of Grandma’s house. Your basement…. The red carpet caught me eye immediately, you have to wonder, what were people thinking? Sounds like a lot of work, but what a great project to have done, cant wait to see the finished project :)

    • The suspect the farmhouse is familiar to a lot of people who had family on the farm. The house in this image reminds me of my Uncle Glen and Aunt Elaine’s farmhouse.

      I had a similar carpet in my basement bedroom while growing up. Imagine candy-striped carpet with paneling on two walls and two walls of cement blocks painted lime green. What was I thinking?

  9. Ah, renovations…. that red and black carpet made me laugh a little, and I definitely see your point in moving ahead. It will feel very sweet when you come out the other side of this project, arms all toned from all that scraping! Good luck. I grew up in a bedroom with that 1970s paneling. It does feel like being in a cave!

  10. hotlyspiced Says:

    I’m so pleased that after all that effort and hard work you uncovered a treasure! Good on you for taking on the task. I too dream of living in a home full of the character and charm of yesteryear! xx


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