Posted by: philipfontana | May 18, 2016

Repair & Replace, Part 3

Repair & Replace, Part 3

No, Sell!


Philip Fontana

1 HouseSiding

     Our 1885 Dutch Colonial as it looks today after two major changes over the years; 1981 enclosing the side porch, that had 5 beautiful columns, behind the large sugar maple tree, & 1992 covering the old cedar shake shingles with vinyl siding.



Excuse us for living, but sometimes there comes a time in every man’s life, every woman’s life, that you have to declare you have had enough! I am referring to our beloved home of 41 years, our 1885 Dutch Colonial in Montville, New Jersey. You can refer back to previous pieces I’ve written on this website about “Old House” and “Repair & Replace,” and “Repair & Replace, Part 2.”  Go to the archived articles here in the right margin, at the bottom! There, click on “Our Old House” to go to these previous stories.

And when wife Geri and I say we have “had enough,” we do so with great regret. We threw our heart and soul into everything, big and small, we’ve done to the old house and yard over the years. – – As if we would never leave here. I like to say, only half in jest, that “the funeral home can pick us up here.” It’s where our three sons were raised and where the family gathers for all the major holidays each year. But now after the past three plus years of “repair & replace,” since January 2013, we say, “No, sell!”

2 HoleForSale

      The repair that put us “over the top” & on track to sell our beloved house! It was the 7 ft. lead drain pipe from the upstairs bathroom sink leaking (only slightly!) through to the living room ceiling below. Our original plumber 40 years ago warned us that this would eventually happen in an old house such as this. – – Quite “a call” on his part!



“The straw that broke the camel’s back” happened three weeks before this Easter 2016, when we anticipate welcoming the family for Easter dinner. I had asked our first plumbing-heating man some 40 years ago what we could expect to go wrong with the plumbing in an old house such as ours. He replied, “Your upstairs bathroom sink drain pipe. It’s made of lead and goes over the beams under the floor boards. It will warp like a roller-coaster going up and over those beams. Eventually, it will leak.” – – And that’s exactly what happened THREE WEEKS BEFORE EASTER, leaking through the living room ceiling below.

The problem was major in that the sink drain pipe ran 7 ft. under the floor to the sewer pipe. Our “new” plumber, for the past 25 years, said he would have to tear out a 7 ft. by 10 inch hole in the living room ceiling to remove the sink lead drain pipe and replace it with PVC pipe. – – So we agreed on a truce, to wait three weeks until after Easter to do the job.    – – Just don’t use the sink, obviously!

The plan sounded reasonable, but we did not anticipate the stress of waiting to address the repair work. And then after Easter, as is the “working style” of our plumber over the years, despite our once a week telephone call every Monday morning, he did not show up for three more weeks! – – Stress! – – Try additional “Happy Hours” to get through the anticipation. We kept telling ourselves, “We are blessed. This pales in comparison to the tragedies on the nightly news of flooding, tornadoes, destruction, lives lost.” – – Right! – – More Happy Hours!

3 RepairLadder

     Nothing like good craftsmen to complete the job!  The plumber took less than two days to do a yeoman’s task! The sheet-rock spackle man took quite a while due to the nature of the work, in small doses each day to let the spackle dry, stretching into over a week’s time. Had we known it would go so well, we could have had less Happy Hours! – -But oh, the stress release!



     The “doing” of the job was far less stressful than the six weeks of anticipation. Our plumber took all of two days to complete the job, granted that he’s a hustler when it comes down to doing the work, and should have been a three day job at the least. He even expanded the project while the ceiling was open to install a new shower/tub drain pipe, toilet sewer pipe, and even a new toilet bowl and tile work behind it. Now, the sheet-rock spackle guy and repair work to the ceiling was another story. After the initial sheet-rock patch, the spackling took short visits and many coats over 6-7 days.

And so, we prepare to address the things that need to be done to the house in order to put it up for sale. – – This will take the next year and more at the least. – -Not to leave out sorting through and clearing out 40 years of “stuff”! We thought we would share a few photos of this modest old house from 1885 and its grounds that we have truly loved living in until “repair & replace” set in. It’s been an honor to be the good stewards of the old place.

4 LvgRm

A view of the living room as seen from the stairwell.

5 StepsWllUnt

The other end of the living room.

6 Dng Rm

     The somewhat hexagonal dining room has a built in corner hutch typical of old houses of this vintage.

7 Kitchen

     The kitchen has been a fun place for us over the years, center of many a Happy Hour at the counter, followed by those “Friday Night” dinners in the “breakfast nook” seen to the rear of the kitchen.  (see “Friday Night” in the archives, right, bottom!) – –     Another corner hutch on the left.

8 PorchDesk

     A view of the enclosed porch, completed in 1981, serving as family room, study & library. Check out that stein collection on the right (another photo to come!) & 20 some family scrapbooks on the bottom shelf.

9 PorchPiano

       The other end of the porch with wood burning stove, my beloved upright piano with my collection of college mugs, & over the piano a collection of “these are a few of my favorite things”; from photos of Broadway shows to George M. Cohan, James Cagney, my namesake Grandfather painted in watercolor by my Uncle, the Rutgers Glee Club, Laurel & Hardy, & more!

10 Steins

       And my German beer stein collection in the porch, totaling 111 & counting! It started with one large stein, top left corner, in 1968, purchased in Echternach, Luxembourg, for $7.00, on tour with the Rutgers Glee Club.

11 OriginalHouse

     This is how the 1885 Dutch Colonial looked when we moved in back in 1975. It was built in the traditional farm house style being close to the original dirt road, with the front of the house only 11 ft. from the roadway. Notice the green cedar shakes on the upper level & the dormers. And here you get a good idea of what that beautiful side-porch looked like. While we loved it, the porch floor was constantly dirty from the road & we knew it could easily be made into a family room.

12 HouseSide

     Here’s a great shot to give you an idea of the lot terrain & charm. – -Plenty of pachysandra & ivy, terraced, white gravel patio, driveway wrapping around the right side of the house to the back & garage under the enclosed porch. Below the driveway retaining wall is a large grass yard.

     13 HouseRear

      This photo gives you an idea of the rear view of the house; mudroom/turned breakfast nook at the top of the steps, greenhouse below, door to the basement, flowers in bloom, garage, & retaining wall covered with ivy.

14 HouseYard       

       Here you get the full picture of house, driveway, wall & yard, guarded by that big old black walnut tree!

15 GrassYard    

      Plenty of grass yard for activities especially for family cookouts, from badminton to crochet, bocce ball, & tether-ball. A half mile of wooded terrain is beyond the hedge line for hiking along Crooked Brook.

16 RckGrdnTrl

Enter a caption

        Love this trail & rock garden leading from the patio down to the grass yard. If you look closely, you might make out 2 flights, 5 steps each, of blue stone steps leading from the patio up to the front gate & fence & front door.

17 Forsythia

Enter a caption

       Hard to pick which season photo to show you, but who could resist springtime with the forsythia in bloom! Shortly beyond the forsythia hedge our property ends. Down the embankment, below the forsythia, out of sight, is the old Morris Canal, late 1820’s to 1920’s. You might be able to see a glimmer of water through the hedge. That hill in the woods is a pile of dirt from the digging of the canal. Remnants of the mule trail along the canal bank to pull the barges is left more to your imagination than anything resembling what it looked like from old photos. The canal ran 107 miles from Phillipsburg, N.J., on the Delaware River, east to Jersey City on the Hudson River. It was outmoded by the coming of the railroad.



     Excuse us for living here for so long! It would be easier to stay than all the work involved in getting the house ready to sell, discarding things, packing and moving. But as the popular verses of Ecclesiastes remind us, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven,” …A TIME TO SELL!!!

Comments: Please!

Sources: 41 years at 203 Main Road, Montville, New Jersey



  1. As i have said in the past take the money and run
    find a low maintenance place in a part of the world you and Geri love and go happily into the sunset-

    your pal always Bob La Bianca

    • Bob, And I remember your sage advice!!! It IS all about the money & loving where your living!!!!!!!! AND, YOU are doing it!!!! How many people can watch POTUS Airforce One land from their own yard!!! We love you, Bob! Phil & Geri too!

  2. Another chapter in the Wonderful Life of Phil and Geri Fontana. I can empathize with leaving a wonderful place that we Love. Enjoyed seeing you a few weeks ago. Glad the recent turmoil is ending. More to come. You are a strong couple that have done the hardest thing. Making such a decision is difficult , but I know it will be for the best. To move or not to move, is no longer the question. It just all the work that is involved. Take it slow and this too will pass.Be Safe, God Bless.

    • John, Thanks for the shoulder to cry on!!! Big shoulders! You have an appreciation for how much we love the old place! Right, such decisions are hard but sometimes the hard ones are almost made for us by the circumstances! And thanks for the advice….one step at a time! Phil & Geri too!!!!!

  3. So curious as to where you would settle. Wonder how spread out your children are as I will bet that their locations may factor into your choice of future home. Best of luck in this monumental endeavor.

    • Marti!!! How nice of you to comment! We plan to settle withing the same or a neighboring town. The 3 sons locations work nicely with our present approx. location; NYC, upper NY State, & local Rockaway Township here in Morris County, NJ. Thanks, Marti! Right, it won’t be easy! It’s easier to stay & “repair”!!! But it’s like “the fear factor”! We expect things like a new roof, regular normal things. This last repair was about the worst that could happen…..but there’s more….a little more old plumbing that could cause replacing the old bathtub…..or even the 65 ft retaining wall collapsing….it’s old as the hills!!! We have to work towards moving & see how things go! Love you, Kiddo! Phil & Geri too!

  4. Phil, what a lovely place, are you sure you want to sell? I would also say that if you listed it today and included the pictures and write up I just viewed, you would sell it in a heartbeat. Have you considered a second career in real estate🙂?
    Good luck,

    • Richard Franco, DICK! I hold you is such regard, I am THRILLED to hear from you here! Thanks for the nice comments re how my article, edited, with the photos would sell the house. Oh, we sure DO have mixed emotions between love & “sell,” but we don’t know if we can keep up the angst of repairs. This last one was the worst & little worse can happen except tear out the bathtub & drain pipe! Funny you mention me & real estate….I come from a long line of realtors in my family….It’s in my blood! Wife Geri & I LOVED you photos of Italy….especially because it seemed you were not on a tour & had your own itinerary permitting you to be immersed in an area. Our 5 tours in 5 years were all tours. –Rushed. Little free time. We are now turning to see the USA, but we WILL return to Europe. Love hearing from you! Phil

  5. Hi Phil-
    such a hard decision to make as I know how much you and geri love that old house-but remember this-memories of your kids in the house will always stay in your hearts and your photo albums. You always have that. Sometimes it is a hard decision-but in your case it is a practical one! I wish I could help…take it slow and easy.

    • Marg! You more than so many people know exactly how we feel about the house! It’s “love vs sell”!!! So true what you say about memories here & the kids in our hearts & photo albums. The decision feels like, in part, destroying ourselves & who & what we are….It’s all here! What do you throw out? Everywhere I turn I come up with, “Not that!” But you are right. It is a practical decision &, as you say, one step at a time. We have a long way to go….Lots to do first. “We ain’t out of here yet!” Thanks, Marg! See you soon! Phil & Geri too!

  6. 1975. Yikes, I must have been one of your first overnight guests when I began my annual August visits. I feel very close to that house, and I totally understand your ambivalence. Yet the next phase is calling, and I laud your decision. Me, I will be replacing my roof here in July, but that is not an unexpected major expense for an aging cedar shake roof in the northwest. You have done such wonderful things for your house, and when it is put on the market, it will show beautifully. Rich

  7. Richard! 1975….Yes, you were probably THE FIRST overnight guest! Geri even verifies all you said about visits! Nice that you remember the house so fondly. And we ARE having a tug-of-war with our emotions about “repair or sell.” Once we recoup, we will fix things that are “musts” to sell while we decide…..That will take a year or more! We don’t plan on any big decision now…No signing on with a realtor. So not to worry. Totally “with” what you say about your cedar shake roof replacement this July! That’s part of our decision making process re to sell or not; we’ve done the roof once, a new furnace, water heater, vinyl siding, etc. Do we want to stay & “Oh, Do It Again”? And thank you for the nice comments on what we’ve done with the house & for your warm support & encouragement. Phil & Geri too!

  8. My dear friends,
    How hard this decision must be for you! To sell the house where you lived for so long. But enough is enough. Like I said to you before, you both deserve to relax. You need a house that gives you less worries for sure. I hope that the selling will go easy and that you both can make a loving home somewhere else.
    Love and hugz to you both from across the ocean! ❤

    • PATTY!!!!!!!!! How nice to have you comment as in days of old! Yes, it is a hard decision to sell….But we have a year+ fixing things & clearing out “stuff” to decide really. And right now we agree with what you say about “enough” & relax & enjoy & less worry. Thank you for your kind words of encouragement to sell & set up a new loving home!!! We can feel your concern & love across the waves!!! Thanks, Patty! Our love in return! Phil & Geri too!

  9. I can’t imagine 40 years of stuff because my wise old grandmother had a garage sale every six months. She always said, “If I haven’t used it in 6 months, I sell it so someone else can use it.” The worst I ever did was when Jim and I bought a 4,000 SF house here in San Diego on 2 acres of land with a 45,000-gallon swimming pool and a 15,000-gallon spa. It was a fixer upper. In the process of fixing up, I also collected. After I fixed up, it was maintenance mode. I never had time to enjoy everything. After 2 years, we sold it. With everything I had done, though, we had increased the value from $360,000 to $780,000 so we were pretty happy. We had so much crap, though, that I swore, “Never again!” I don’t (and won’t) have any posterity, and with digital everything, there’s no reason for me to collect stuff like that.

    • Russel Ray, Your grandmother had it right!!! It will be hard to “undo” 40 years here….It’s all in the basement, the small stuff!!! How about every lesson plan & bulletin board display in a file cabinet!!! –A fixer upper in San Diego! –That’s what I do….always fixing small things over the years…now big things!!! IT PAID OFF FOR YOU almost doubling your value in 2 years!!! And good for you not “collecting” now!!! Simplicity is a great way of life without material goods! Phil

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