Its been just about a year now since we started the renovation of the lower east wing of the manse, which was damaged by fire in the 1960s when Romer Grey occupied the property. You might wonder how this space could sit burned out for 50 years. But when you have 18,000 square feet, there’s always plenty of other things to work on. Since Steve and I got here, that’s mostly been waterproofing and bathrooms. But bringing this 3000 square feet back into productive use has been the most rewarding project so far.
Here’s the before, just about a year ago. We were attempting to clean it so we could temporarily store some of Alicia’s things.
This wing of the house was added by Zane Grey in 1926. There are 3 rooms downstairs and they served primarily as workshop and storage space. This is the southern-most room, and its about 900 square feet. The fire was confined to the northern-most room, which housed a photographic dark room, but the smoke damage was severe throughout the space. The upstairs portion of this wing, which was built as Zane’s library and writing studio, was not damaged in the fire and remains in its original state.
Here is the same room 1 year later, shot from the opposite side.
I can’t believe how functional this space is. On Sunday morning a cream can slipped out of my hands as I was removing it from the refrigerator. It emptied 2 gallons of milk into the inside of the fridge (every shelf, every object) and onto the floor under the appliances. As I was on my knees scrubbing the wall behind the pulled-out freezer, I was so loving the sexy Schluter cove base. It was an extravagance at the time we ordered it–one of the few things we bought new–but totally worth it.
The stainless steal cabinets were a great Craigslist find. Steve and I drove out to Corona, TWICE, to load these into the pick up truck under the blazing sun as the temperature east of the 15 approached 732 degrees. They had been removed from a small house that was being flipped, but had clearly institutional origins, as indicated by the markings on the top of the under-counter pieces: “Rm 254, cabinet 13.” We celebrated the find by ordering a big slab of carrara marble to top the set of cabinets on the east wall, for pastry and pasta work.
By far my favorite thing about the Creamery is the HOBART (parting clouds, streaming sunshine and an angel’s chorus are appropriate accompaniments to the mention of this object)–a commercial dishwasher bought used from a Chinese restaurant. The Hobart washes at 165 degrees and takes just under 3 minutes. Our largest pot, in which I could easily heat 10 gallons of milk, fits in it with room to spare. We don’t want to use any chemical detergents or sanitizers, so we wash the dishes by hand with soap nut tea first to remove any milk residue. Then the Hobart does its hot-water-sanitizing magic. And I get a mini-steam-facial every time I open the door to unload a rack of piping hot mason jars. As any farmstead cheesemaker knows, cheesemaking is 10% working with cheese and 90% doing dishes. And I am equally passionate about both parts of the job.
The windows behind Steve open into the outdoor milking area. I can milk the goats and pass the milk through the windows to Steve for immediate filtering, weighing, and icing. We put handles on the outside of the windows so they are easy to open and close from the milking side.
The beautiful oak stairs were built on-site by our housemate Robert with help from Freddy and Miguel, and are an exact replica of the original stairs.
Many aspects of the renovation are invisible. All of the windows were completely rebuilt (new pully systems shipped from their manufacturer in… wait for it…. Rochester, New York!), and screens were made for them. A radiant floor heating system was installed under the tile floor, which will make working in the Creamery much more pleasant in the winter. A new, tankless, uber-efficient hot water heater.
To think that this is only 1 of 3 rooms renovated over the past year blows my mind. All of this work was done basically by 4 people: Freddy, Miguel, Robert and Steve. This is the best gift to the house since this wing was built in 1926. I hope someone is still making cheese in here in 200 years. Thank you, guys, for an amazing job!