Farmhouse Restoration

In our spare time, we’ve begun gutting the old farmhouse we purchased back in May.  The house was built in 1889 by a farmer for his wife before they were married.  She moved in in 1902 on their wedding day.   The grandsons told me of stories where grandma spent nights holding a lantern over grandpa’s head while he finished the construction. 

The house  was built to be a productive family farmhouse.  The family farmed all of their land right up to the house–dairy cows, chickens, cotton, etc.. but in subsequent generations the children opted out of the toil of farming for work in construction, buying into the post-WWII “modern world” fallacies.    They put water heaters in the root cellars making them warm and moist so food couldn’t be stored in them any longer.  They opted for central heat and air, which mean that ceilings needed to be lowered and ducts run all through the house–and fireplaces and windows needed to be sealed up.  The wood cookstoves were replaced by electric ranges.  Family time moved from the porch to the TV room.  In the most recent generation, surround-sound entertainment systems were added, Playstations and plasma TVs mounted on the walls and satellite dishes mounted on the roof…of a 19th century farmhouse that grandpa built.

When we first toured the house, my eyes saw grandpa’s work…and I knew I could get a dumpster big enough for his children’s additions.  So, now that things have settled down for us with visitors and outdoor work, we’re tearing it up. 

We’ve pulled all the dropped-ceilings down.  We opened up the original chimneys and uncovered the old fireplaces.  We’re moving the water heaters out of the root cellar and making the root cellar a root cellar again.  We’ve cleaned all of the lawn chairs and RV/camping equipment out of the canning kitchen.  We uncovered the original wood cookstove vents and tore out all of the cabinets–which no farm kitchen needs. 

In time, we’ll be bringing in a new wood cookstove.  We’ll be restoring the original fireplaces and chimneys.  We’ll be filling the root cellar with food.  We’ll be canning in the canning kitchen.  We’ll have no more electric air conditioning or heating filling the dead spaces of the house with t-shirt accomodating forced air, but the ventilation and breezes and the 12′ ceilings that grandpa knew would control the temperature in his house will comfort us as they did him.  We’ll be snuggled in front of warm fire or around the cookstove in the winter.  The kitchen will be processing fresh milk and butter, cheesecloths will be hanging to dry in the windows, girls will be kneading dough on the work table.  The house will be filled with the sounds of bleating sheep, summer crickets and singing birds–not video games and TV commercials that have no place in the country.  

I tell those around us that I’ll be “reveterizing” the house–making it old again.  More importantly, I will make the house make sense again.  I wish the old grandpa was here because I know he knew what he was doing.  Life made sense in his generation.  Not in ours.  We’ll fix it and our kids will only know a world that makes sense.


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15 Responses to Farmhouse Restoration

  1. Fiona says:

    We uncovered the original wood cookstove vents and tore out all of the cabinets–which no farm kitchen needs.

    Could you please elaborate on the kitchen. You mentioned that no farm kitchen needed the cabinets. Why is that ?
    What did the kitchen look like?…..big table in the middle , for everyone to work around? ( not kitchen benches ? )

  2. wmclaa says:

    The kitchen walls full of cabinets are not necessary in a simple farm kitchen, but belong to the modern grocery store kitchen where there are a million different recipes and a million different packaged/preserved ingredients because you can buy anything your tongue desires at the stores. In a real farm kitchen, the actual food in the kitchen is limited to what is produced in the area at different times of the year. Look in your fridge and you’ll see a door and drawers full of random condiments that are needed for random recipes…none of which are necessary and none of which would be used on a self-sufficient farm.

    Our kitchen has a pantry for core ingredients (wheat flour, cornmeal, grits, oats, salt, sugar, etc..). Our fridge has nothing but milk, frozen meat and leftovers–which are rare. We have one rack of pots, pans and dishes–one set for each family member. That’s it. We have no need for cabinets because there is nothing to be stored. The food coming in is fresh and doesn’t need to be stored because more will come in tomorrow. We pick/gather what we will eat and leave the rest outside until we need it. Milk and eggs come in twice every day–fresh–and they’re normally consumed within 12 hours. We don’t have to store store food…we produce it! Tonight we had cooked collards (from the garden), scrambled eggs (from the chicken coop) and home-made wheat biscuits. We drank milk (from the barn) and had butter (from the milk). This afternoon the boys and I had french toast made from our eggs and leftover home-made wheat bread–and milk. For breakfast, I had home-made bread and butter with some jelly and a cup of coffee. There’s nothing to store. Foods bought included only syrup, sugar, coffee and grape jelly. Everything else was farm-fresh.

    THe kitchen in the house had an electric stovetop, an electric oven, an electric dishwasher, a giant computerized refrigerator, microwave oven, a separate closet for pots and pans, another closet for pantry items (three times what we would have), another two closets for dishes for a million different purposes, a whole wall of china, and cabinets covering every inch of wall space around the kitchen!! All of the cabinets were packed with things that were rarely used.

    Why? Just in case….

    No…not in a farm kitchen. Life is more than food in a real farm kitchen and the goal is to put healthy food on the table. Period. “Eat whatever is set before you” is the rule.

    Now, because the house is full of cabinets, it is full of mice and bugs. Our kitchens have no rodents and all food is kept in the pantry in sealed plastic buckets.

    Our kitchen has a large 5′ stainless steel work table in the middle of it, where my wife kneads bread, cooks, processes milk, makes cheese, etc.. There was no such table in the other kitchen because no such work was done. Everything was bought and simply heated to serve.

  3. Rebecca Kranz says:

    What amazing pictures & story! I look forward to learning more about how a farm kitchen is supposed to work. A couple questions I have–what kind of thermometer does Dania use in the kitchen–does she have more than one? I’m sure she needs one for cheesemaking, does she have a meat or candy thermometer or something that can do anything? I’m looking to serve the most functions with one thing as I can, but need a thermometer for my cheese (at least I think I do–if I don’t please enlighten me 🙂 Also, would you be able to share Dania’s current bread recipe? I’ve been using the one posted a couple years ago to the family forum, but thought she might be using something now incorporating buttermilk? Where can we learn more about how a traditional farm kitchen works, other than from you? Thank you!

  4. Kris kranz says:

    I don’t know where you find free time, with all you have going on, but I Thank you for working as hard as you do. I am trying to work hard too, and the frustrations of neighbors who complain I am decreasing their property value by turning my 2.5 acre parcel back into a farm. And people who drive by my house and call the police that my cow is standing in the rain without a shelter (she has one now)… and just being the only person in the area who is trying to do this seems lonely, and you are an inspiration to me and a motivation to keep working in spite of the seemingly very little progress I make.


    Kris Kranz

    • wmclaa says:

      haha…yes, you’re decreasing the value of their property, which seems to consist in selling it. What a sound plan for wealth-building–as if they own property in Beverly Hills. I will trade in my land for a handful of cash one day…what wisdom. Why not complain at those people for destroying human community and decreasing the value of GOD’S property by turning fertile land that by God’s wisdom and goodness provides men and animals with food and clothing into a sterile and useless place to drive and build houses? They’re never asked any questions, which is why they’re so dopey. “What, good neighbor, will you do with the money you get after you sell you house? Buy another house? To sell or keep? What next? And next? What is the goal of this house-selling?” Get ready for a good laugh. The whole thing is like buying a $500 oven and, rather than cooking with it to make food to eat and/or sell, leaving it in a garage waiting for a day to resell it and make a profit. Genius. Let’s imagine you make one loaf of bread a day and sell it for a $1 profit. You’d make $365 every year off your $500 oven and in ten years would have turned your $500 into $3650, making over $3000 in profit beyond the price of your oven. Meanwhile, genius is ready ten years later to re-sell his un-used oven for $525 and imagine himself to be wise. Yes, I suppose the bakers are crazy for using their ovens, not the oven re-sellers. Again, this is all part of modern sterile and fruitless society. They’re all going to be poor. Consumer culture is unsustainable…for consumers.

      I can understand when people get upset about cows standing outside. We are comfortably covered with a leather coat and hat and gloves that keep them warm, while those poor cows stand outside with nothing but their own skin to protect them. What a shame. (P.S. Once you build the shelter, the cow will rarely stand under it anyway.)

  5. “Sloppy electrical work represents the spirit of the age.” How so? Yes, I can understand how the wires are a problem now, but with the drop ceiling it was not a problem….

  6. wmclaa says:

    Yes, the drop ceiling, in that it hides what’s above it means that anything goes. Whack holes in walls rather than drill, hand elecrical boxes by wires rather than screw them to walls…after all, no one can see it. That’s the spirit of the age.

    What electrical work ISN’T behind walls and above ceilings? There’s a way of working that characterizes a man who takes pride in his work and a way that is concerned only with getting a minimal possible work done.

    • Being in the construction trade for so long it is hard to find customers who are willing to pay the price for quality work, especially where you can’t see the differences. For me it was the construction of the cabinets, especially boxes(the part you never really see, is it real plywood or particle board?). I have been asked many times why are my cabinets so much more, the cabinets fronts all look the same and at Home-Depot or Lowe’s they are cheaper. Many contractors build their houses with out plywood sheathing, because building code allows for “single wall” construction. Many people you work for have this mindset. It is a Wal-Mart mindset, they want a “good deal” and think little about quality or how long the product will actually last as long as it looks good on the outside.

      From my experience when you try to raise the standard in the trade you are in it can be difficult to get work. Someone is always ready to undercut you. You have to try to convince the customer you are delivering a better product and sometimes you tell people you just won’t do it that way and risk loosing the job. But down this road, if your work performs, you build a great clientele who are willing to see their projects done right. Many contractors are not patient enough to build the customer base or are just in it for a quick buck.

      I figured that was what you meant, but I wanted to point out that the spirit of the age also includes a customer who just wants a modern convenience at a cheap Wal-Mart price. I concede that with spirit of the age, the Wal-Mart mindset, there is the manufacturer of the cheap goods, in this case the electrician. That is the problem and in so many ways from the contractors perspective this quick and easy way is the way it is done. They probably have never had a customer that would care about the wiring under a drop ceiling. They may not even consider another way. There is very little apprenticeship going on and as long as it passes building code its “good enough.” In my home state you must take classes to become a “License Contractor” and not one of the 16hrs of classes is actually about construction. It is about liens and legal issues and procedures for working with customers, conflict resolution, and which forms you have to have the customer sign so you can lien their house if they refuse to pay.

      This all leads me to Distributism….and guilds…What do you think of these ideas?

  7. wmclaa says:

    Well, the talk of distributism is pointless. It’s like discussing whether monarchy would be better than democracy in America. It doesn’t matter.
    I don’t think the problem with the Wal-Mart mindset is that people are willing to settle for lower quality. The problem is that they don’t even know what they need and so collect ANYTHING they can afford. Then, having no money to invest in the things that are actually necessary for life, they’re out of cash.
    I don’t believe we should talk about contractors do in general any more than we should talk about what people do in general. We should be asking only what WE should do in particular. The #1 problem in all Christian business and work is that Christians are not willing to be patient and humble. It takes time for quality to win the day. You would have to do quality work for 10 years before you developed a reputation and a client base that rewarded you for it. Those 10 years would require great humility because no one would understand what you were doing and you know how that goes.
    Mst contractors buy their $60,000 trucks, $30,000 worth of tools and then start looking for work. I worked in construction with my father and I drove a 1994 Mercury Topaz to work with my tools in the trunk. Today, twelve years later, I own a 60 acre farm…while I drive a 1996 Jeep Cherokee and work with a pair of shoes with wholes in the bottoms. When there’s work to do I do it with my hands and I see that most men are ashamed of working for something. They want everything to be easy…fire up tractors, press buttons, flip switches…no matter what it costs. It’s a matter of humility. My neighbor once laughed when he saw me preparing a new garden with a hand-driven tiller. He said, “We’ve got bigger toys than that around here, buddy.” Yes, but I have more vegetables than he does. I’m not trying to do the smallest job with the biggest tool. I’m trying to do all things sustainably and efficiently. That takes humility.
    Most contractors are not good businessmen, and by businessmen I mean men who make reasoned decisions that allow them to achieve goals they have set. I work with numbers and budgets and spreadheets. I don’t care what anyone else does, I KNOW what I am doing and that it will work. If a man wants to create old-world quality cabinets, he can’t sell them to Wal-Mart customers. There’s a balance between working to make money and working to do on earth what God intended man to do. You can’t serve God and money. You can’t be a carpenter who admires the beauty of solid oak furniture and make a living selling it to peple who are content to live in houses with fake brickface and plastic molding. The problem is not that they have fake materials, but that they have a desire to have an appearance but not willing to pay for the reality. That’s the essence of American culture—we don’t want the real things, just to look like we have them—and for what?
    When I created the CLAA, I said, “I want to serve the right kind of people.” and, for the most part, I do. The phoneys come in and I don’t cater to them. One wise saying I heard in business was from a man who was a farrier and said, “I never lost a client I wanted to keep.” He spoke about people complaining once when he raised his rates and ending their contracts with him. Several weeks later they called him back realizing that the cost was better than the inferior work. Unfortunately, he had entered into contract with new clients and they lost. That needs to be the rule and it takes a principles man to be that kind of worker.
    You can’t start with expenses and they try to earn the money you need with any kind of old-world principles. There will be no guilds or quality craftsmanship before men learn to live simply and humbly. The greatest masters’ work wasn’t appreciated until after they died and did their work often in poverty. It was an old proverb that “the only man in town with poor shoes is the cobbler’ and that’s usually how it works out. No one wants to be that poorly-shod cobbler. That’s why there are no good cobblers.
    Capitalism isn’t the problem. Lack of heart and cheap talk about standards and principles is the problem. Men who did great things in old times didn’t do so easily, yet we think we should be able to hold our cake and eat it too. We can do great things today, but we have to become great men first.

  8. Yes and Amen! Thank you for the thoughtful reply! The longer I live the more I realize I need more and more humility.

  9. Rebecca Kranz says:

    Thank you WM for the info on the thermometer for making cheese. I will put that on my Christmas list!

  10. Fiona says:

    “Our kitchen has a large 5′ stainless steel work table in the middle of it, where my wife kneads bread, cooks, processes milk, makes cheese, etc.. ”
    How is the stainless steel table working now, after 6+ months of use?
    Where did you acquire the table.? Would you recommend stainless steel kitchen all round ?

    Secondly, I am interested in your thoughts re: bathrooms, ( indoor if allowed please)
    What are the old farm house bathrooms like and how would you like them to be?
    thanks for all the sharing.

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