Den and Sitting Room

1. Schoolhouse Floor Plan

Table of Content

Past renovations

  • the laying of wall-to-wall carpet

  • the opening of a new doorway from the Den to the Lounge

  • the opening of a new entrance doorway in the fireplace alcove from the Den to Bedroom 2

  • the chimney in the Sitting Room was capped without removing the pot-belly stove installed in the fireplace

  • the chimney shared with the Bedroom 2 was capped

  • ducted oil heating installed

Renovation Plan

Nothing structural is planned but the interior needs to be repaired and updated.

The original flooring is 130x24mm T&G hardwood timber, possibly Tallowood. This is a very dense and hard wood. Floors are very worn in places with gaps filled with plaster but don't appear to have been sanded since originally laid. The floor cannot be restored.

Various access points have been cut into the flooring, at least one per room, for installation of the ducted oil heating. It was clearly intended that carpet would be laid to hide this work, hence the finishing is rough. It appears that no effort was made to lay ground sheets when repainting either, for the same reason.

Sitting Room

This room was the original 1880 kitchen and is an access hub, with doorways leading to what was the parlour (now bedroom 1), what was presumably a study/office or dining room (now the Den) and an external doorway to what was the rear of the school building and is now the main entrance hall. It's fireplace is still present and currently houses a pot-belly stove, obviously added much later and now purely a décor item since the chimney is capped. The ceiling has been lined with timber paneling. A window in what was the rear wall now provides a view into the main entrance hall.

  • Remove carpet.

  • Remove the pot-belly stove and convert the large fireplace into something useful, perhaps a miniature wine "cellar". Ironically this is the coolest location in the entire property.

  • Replace floor with new with underfloor insulation.

  • Relocate and install additional power outlets

  • Replace oil heating ducting with HVAC ducting and relocate vent

  • Refurbish the window

  • Replace the door to the main entrance hall

  • Repaint walls and ceiling.


This room originally may have been a second bedroom or study/office and has only the one doorway from what was originally the kitchen. It had a door that was removed at some time.

The room is now a hub providing access between the Sitting Room, Bedroom 2, and the Lounge. It includes a small fireplace that is now decorative-only. A window in what was the rear wall now provides a view into the main entrance hall.

  • Remove carpet.

  • Replace floor with new with underfloor insulation.

  • Relocate and install additional power outlets

  • Replace oil heating ducting with HVAC ducting and relocate vent

  • Refurbish the window

  • Repaint walls and ceiling.

  • Strip and restore the cast iron fireplace surround

  • Straighten the doorway to the lounge

  • Replace the door to the lounge.

Old wall-to-wall carpet

The bulk of the wall-to-wall carpet and foam underlay was well past it's useful life and was removed as my very first inside task, so that I could see exactly what I was dealing with underneath.

Most of the flooring needs to be replaced.


New modern flooring will be laid in these rooms, consisting of structural particleboard sheet subfloors with 14 mm solid floorboards laid over the top. The overlay board width will match the old but the species will probably be different. As far as I can determine the original flooring is Tallowwood, which has a Janka hardness rating of around 8.6. The new flooring will have a similar or higher rating.

This floor is continuous through both rooms and is approximately 200mm lower than the floors in the other three rooms.

2. Out go the old boards

3. Hmm. These joists aren't spanning a great length so why is this extra support here?

4. Bearer sitting on a loose stack of bricks sitting on bare earth

Sitting Room

Clearly there has been some serious sagging in this floor that required the post-fitting of a bearer for support (photo 3). This is the original kitchen (the hearth of the open fireplace visible at left) and was an old style kitchen where pots were suspended over an open fire.

I decided to remove one of the original joists in this room and sister the rest with new 150x42mm LVL F17 joists to level and stiffen the sub floor. The adhoc bearer will also be removed. The new joists are specified to single span the 3.15m width of the room and the added stiffness from sistering will more than compensate for the marginal extra spacing to 500mm centres.

But before I do that I need to lower the level of the hearth to below top of joist.

5. Fortuitously the tiles are on a relatively soft mortar mix sitting on a steel mesh reinforced concrete bed that is just below top of joist height

6. A nice clean and level bed remains after removing the tiles. The pneumatic chisel was handy but most of the work was done using the hand bolster


A few more artifacts were found under these floors.

7a. Beer bottle found in a disused under-floor wall vent.

7b. Made by "The NSW Bottle Company" in 1926 - in perfect condition. Contained either Tooths or Tooheys beer because they owned the bottle company

8a. Teaspoon - William Page electroplated silver found in the dirt just in front of the hearth of the original kitchen fireplace.

8b. Unfortunately the other hallmarks don't mean anything. How does a spoon just fall through the floor? There must have been some significant gaps somewhere

9. First joist glued and bolted. I used seven bolts per joist evenly spaced on serpentine centres. The makeshift bearer will not be needed

10. All done in the sitting room with trimmers in ready for the sheeting. The center bearer is now gone. After spacing all the joists there was a leftover narrower spacing so I decided to put that in line with the main doors in this room to give foot traffic and the step down from the bedroom a more solid feel

11. Sistered joists. I had to raise the left hand side of all joists by 14mm for level. The reason was simply that the approximately 60mm x 75mm timber sill plate at right of image had been turned 90 degrees, I assume because the sill is narrower on that side.

For the record, trimmers were put in at the ends where none are shown in this image.

The vent through the wall for the underfloor ventilation is going to be a problem because it extends higher than the floor level. There was some rot in that corner, both wood and carpet, that was hidden away under a corner builtin shelf unit. I don't want to run the floor up to the wall at the back of either fireplace alcove for that reason and the difficulty arranging supports in that area.

Ducting and Vents

The duct outlet is also being relocated from the very top right of photo 11 to the left side. The original outlet boot was somewhat mangled on installation and was leaking air between the collar and the register box and so will be replaced.

The complication in this room is the external vent through the wall at top left. It extends higher than floor level so the plan is to run the floor up to the front of the fireplace surround and leave a gap (both sides) to the wall at the back of each alcove. A box structure will then be built about 300mm in height to form a low shelf in each alcove and the new skirting will run straight across level with the front of the fireplace surround. The inside of the box will be damp proofed and will then form a duct for underfloor ventilation. The right hand side will be a dummy purely for symmetry.

Floor Hatches

It isn't possible to crawl between rooms under the floor so each of the four rooms will have a floor hatch built in from the start to service the ducting and any other underfloor services that may be installed in the future. I found it convenient to position the hatch and framing so that one side is in line with a locking edge of a particle board sheet.

Den - wash, rinse and repeat

New joists sistered to the old was the order of the day again in this room. The floor vent in this room will be moved from next to the old fireplace hearth to the other side of the room.

12. The den and sitting room joists done, except for a couple of small details around the fireplaces

13. Reverse angle. Joists have been leveled right through both rooms

Underfloor Insulation and Sheeting

Rather than using construction adhesive and screws to secure the sheets I'm using Green Glue tape and screws. The tape is a low-medium density foam with glue on the under side and a plastic membrane on the top side and reduces noise transmission. It is less permanent, in case I ever need to lift a sheet or two and it enabled me to do the job without an extra person on hand. It's not shown in the images below but the tape is run along the top of all joists and trimmers etc. See this image from bedroom two.

14. Sitting room insulation in. Floor hatch framing done and all ready for sheeting

15. Den - the joists are all level and the insulation is in. Oops. Where's the floor hatch going to go?

16. Sitting room subfloor completed with hatch installed

17. Den subfloor completed with hatch installed

18. Subfloor completed.

I'm leaving cutting the openings for the floor vents until after the overlay strips are down so that they can be positioned consistently relative to the strips.

Den to Lounge doorway

This opening in the stone wall was a later addition, possibly sometime after the school closed down in 1945 when the property became a residence for the teacher at nearby Roslyn school. The architrave and jamb is out of square and twisted and is particularly noticeable. The landing boards are of a different species and size to the original also. The two narrow french doors have been cut or modified to work in the opening.

Apart from restructuring the supports under the landing and replacing the boards, the architrave and frame will be squared up, which will also require either that the existing doors are reshaped or new doors are installed.

This is the doorway that I'd like to be hidden. However, after removing the doors and the woodwork altogether I think a frameless glass door system would also work, and in a way give recognition to the fact that this was originally a solid wall that has been opened up. Regardless of the door system, free air flow will be required to return air from each of the four rooms back to the return vent in the lounge.

19. The yellow doorway edge is vertical. The green doorway edge behind is not.

20. All woodwork removed.

The reveal paneling was attached with masonry anchor screws and the easiest way to get the paneling out was to cut the anchors using a reciprocating power saw between the panel and the masonry.

Now, before anything else, I need to remove the protruding cement render at bottom left of photo 20 to leave a flat surface for the skirting and architrave to sit against.

I'll run the sill of the landing along the full width of the wall supported by some of the left-over 42mm LVL offcuts joined together. This is not just to visually connect the two spaces or provide a slightly deeper landing so that the french doors don't overhang the landing when open. The subfloor sheets are 3600mm long and the room is 3650mm long below the wall render, so after leaving a 10mm gap all around I'm still 30mm short. The wall render is about 15mm thick and so by making the gap 15mm at the opposite end of the room I'm left with a 20mm gap between the end of the subfloor and the wall render face. The 42mm LVL will sit flush against the render and still have 22mm sitting on the subfloor directly. The LVL is not attached to the sheeting so the sheets are free to slide under if and when they expand or shrink.

The wiring in the photos below connects the local speed control switch to the underfloor HVAC fan coil unit for this zone. Although I can adjust temperatures from anywhere on the planet via my phone, the HVAC system is not quite fully centrally or automatically controlled, which may be a project for the future. The hardware is all in place just needing a little extra wiring but the software doesn't allow it yet.

21. Trimmed LVL off-cuts running full width of the wall and screwed to the wall making use of the original skirting board wood nailing plugs.

22. Reverse view showing bracket supports. At the near end the joists have been bolted to the main floor joists to facilitate removing the slotted screws through the floorboards that currently secure the structure. The screws are hard to see with the dusty floor but will be a problem when the floor is sanded.

23. Sill and landing boards were cut from original floorboards to replace the previous odd species and width. The front edges of the sill have been routed to a bull-nose profile to prevent breaking and splintering.

To rebuild the framing for the doorway new timber was bought, and then I decided to reuse the original timber but turn it inside out so that the visible reveal and head board surfaces are the bare timber that previously faced the masonry. The new timber is radiata pine and cost AU$250, which I'll now use in the opening between bedrooms 1 and 2, so reusing the original timber (cedar or possibly cypress) is a saving of more than AU$250.

Then to work out the maximum dimensions for the rectangular box that will fit into the wonky masonry hole in the wall required some approximation and then refinement. The outcome was eight marks, four each side of the wall, that identified where the corners of the box need to be. As it turned out, the outside width of the box was exactly 900mm.

The original frame I suspect was built directly in the opening but this time I would assemble the frame on the floor, square it all up and brace it then raise it and slide it into the cavity. That way I can control the squareness while I organise the packing and fixing to the masonry.

24. Frame rebuilt, in place and square. Here it's obvious the masonry isn't square.

25. Door frame: just need to pack it properly and fix to the masonry.

26. Hex-head masonry screw bolts were used to fix the panels in place. Six per side. This made it easy to finely adjust the packing thicknesses for flat and vertical.

This doorway never had the raised beaded profile that the other frames have and which forms the stop for those that have doors fitted. To create the centreline bead I'll use 12mm dowling between two 160mm x 12mm MDF strips to match the profile of the other existing doorways. The total width of the frame is 460mm and the total width of the raised part of the profile will be 332mm. I'm using MDF because I can't easily get 12mm (1/2 inch) solid timber at 160mm or more width.

This will mean that, if the original french doors go back on they will need to be hung to open into the room, probably to swing 180 degrees back against the wall, either the lounge wall or the den wall. I was thinking of installing a frameless glass sliding door on barn-style rolling hangers on the den side of the opening but after making and installing the new door to the main entrance hallway I will repeat that design here.

27. MDF strips with dowel beading completing the profile and hiding the masonry fixings

Underfloor ventilator solution

The solution I've come to for the fireplace alcove floor-to-wall gap and ventilation is to end the subfloor in line with the front of the fireplace surround and construct a frame to step up about 150mm that, when completed with skirting and a shelf over the top, will provide a duct for air in and out of the wall vent. The other side alcove will be the same for symmetry. They are wide enough (200mm) to stand shelf units on.

28. Box step in Sitting Room fireplace alcove. The frame is fixed at the front only to the subfloor sheeting and joist.

29. SImilarly on the other side for symmetry.


All of the walls in this area have been painted in the past with modern plastic paints, so the question arose around restoring the original breathability of the walls and whether to attempt to strip them back. The wall have been skimmed with a layer of pink plaster, which can indicate gypsum (in the uk) but I'm pretty sure this is a colouring added to the lime plaster. There are places where this plaster is quite thick where it has been pushed behind trim and is quite an intense salmon pink, almost red, saturated colour. Not the subtle brownish pink of gypsum plaster with impurities.

The walls that are entirely internal on both sides are not a problem. All the walls that have an external face are under verandahs and rarely if ever get wet, apart from occasional condensation during very cold nights or days with heavy mist around. Generally, the climate is considered dry. The only evidence of damp affected timbers has been the small area in the corner adjacent to the under floor vent in the sitting room. That external wall has not always been under a verandah and, although the existing verandah is now several decades old, the flooring and joists in the sitting room were original in my estimation, i.e. 140 years old.

So the question is answered: the walls in this area will be repaired for cracks etc and then repainted as they stand. They will not be returned to their original condition of lime plaster and lime wash.


There are hairline cracks and "drummy" plaster areas above all the door openings in the sitting room. The render at the top of these openings also has completely separated from the timber lintels. I have opened up these areas so that they can be repaired. I used 3:1 "graded river sand" and lime putty in a dryish mix for dubbing out and a [synthetic fibre] haired 3:1 1mm sharp sand for the scratch coat. I use a standard cement mixer to mix the lime render.

I stapled 6 x 6mm wire mesh to the lintels over the original chisel cuts which provided a standoff of a couple of millimetres and a key for the render. The chisel cuts are visible in images 30, 31 and 32.

30. Doorway from the sitting room to the main entrance hall.

The original render coats are very thick at around 2cm each but I'd be unwise to try to replicate that, although I did manage to get to level over the hall doorway (images 30).

The other patches are just too much for me and so I've had to apply a second scratch coat to get to within a centimetre for the straightening coat, and now the finishing coat is now completed. You can see some crazing in image 31 along the bottom edge of the finish coat where the plaster went on thick but will be hidden behind the architrave.

31. Doorway from the sitting room to bedroom one.

32. Doorway from the sitting room to the den.

Sitting room to Den doorway

Removing the architraves revealed that the jambs were fixed by just three nails total and the whole frame was pretty loose. So off it came to be refixed with modern masonry anchors - very solid now.

There was a door here originally as well. The hinge rebates have been filled.

33. Doorway frame refixed to the masonry using anchor bolts.

34. Countersunk bolts - twelve in all.

The old in-swing solid door has been replaced by bespoke out-swing french doors.

By having them swing outwards they open neatly against the limestone quoins of the 500mm deep doorway opening, taking up zero space in either the room or the hallway. The width of the opening is over 900mm so even with the thickness of two doors in the open position the clearance is still greater than a standard modern doorway.

These doors are a practice run for the two external doorways of the old schoolhouse, which will be of a very similar design.

35. Old hall door removed

36. New doors hung

Floor overlay

Now that the new hall door is done and its new sill is in place it's time to install the solid hardwood overlay flooring before it gets too cold for the glue (15°C minimum).

The key in the room is to choose the starting line, which needs to be down the centre of both rooms extending through the linking doorway. From this line, which needs to be absolutely straight and temporarily reinforced for nailing against, planks will be laid towards the walls with the tongues leading.

37. Aligning the laser

38. Far end of laser line

39. Reinforcing the line

40. Completed install

41. Sitting room completed

42. Den completed

The floor hatches will be completed after the overlay is down.