Selling Out

You know you’re a grown-up (or a Grinch?) when you start to seriously consider getting a fake Christmas tree.

Always one to cling to tradition, I never thought I could imagine a Christmas without the piney scent of fresh needles, the sacred process of selecting just the right specimen (never too bushy), tying it to the top of the ol’ minivan and finally, the art of fitting the boughs with an aging strand of C7s so that as little of the cord as possible showed between branches. It was all so darn magical. I couldn’t understand why my dad did all that sighing and cussing every year.

 The December after I moved out, Mom and Dad bought an artificial tree. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them happier. Dad definitely seemed to have a new bounce in his step. As for me, I thought they were traitors. I made a promise then that I’d never sell out. And I’ve kept it…until now.

 We knew we needed a tree for our holiday party on Sunday, so we figured we’d take care of it first thing in the morning. It took. all. day.

First there was an epic search for rope – I now know that grocery stores, drug stores and Targets do not carry it, but hardware stores do. Next we learned there was a silvertip shortage in these parts, so our usual tree farm was a no-go. Our local tree lot was all but sold out. The next nearest lot was charging $80-90 for a six-to-seven-foot silvertip. Even the little five-foot firs were going for $50. The boyfriend claimed this was normal, but I refused to believe it, so we moved on. We finally found a decent-sized noble fir for $40 at Home Depot, but when we got it home, it wouldn’t stand up in our tree stand because the trunk was too heavy. Somehow he wrangled it into position and carried it into the house, at which point it toppled over, permanently warping our little metal stand. So the boyfriend went out into the cold rain for a new stand. I guess December is far too late to buy a stand, because the first three or four places he hit up were plumb out. It’s a good thing he finally found one at Home Depot (the second time they saved us that day). Otherwise our tree would be laying in the front yard instead of aglow in our living room.

 So instead of dreaming of a white Christmas, I’m dreaming of a white aluminum Christmas tree for next year.

Apartment Therapy

Or a silver tinsel tree.

Target

Hell, maybe I’ll go turquoise. I figure as long as I know it’s fake, there’s no point in trying to be naturalistic…might as well go all out.

                Amazon

Or maybe I need to take a cue from Charlie Brown and remember what Christmas is all about.

        Target

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Filed under christmas, Holidays, living room, retro

Christmas Coke

 As long as we’re breaking out the Christmas decorations this week, I thought I’d share our almost-DIY holiday project.

 

It’s no secret that my boyfriend has a major Coca-Cola crush. So major that it actually inspired this summer’s Southern sojourn, which included a stop at Coke headquarters in Atlanta in addition to the mentioned Nashville and Asheville. Some kids have bedrooms painted with puffy clouds or zoo animals; the walls of Paul’s childhood room were covered in red and white Coca-Cola wallpaper (yes, there is such a thing).

 So when we came across a dusty collection of his family’s old National Geographic magazines, we had to check the back pages for cool retro Coke ads. And these three Santas from 1956, ’60 and ’62 just begged to be framed.

 

We carefully removed the ads from the magazines, but that’s where the DIY ended. Since we had a 60 percent off coupon for Michael’s – and since the framer at our store is pretty talented – we opted to have them professionally done. But we probably could have achieved a very similar look ourselves with some basic black frames and matting.

 I think the end result is more subtle and cozy than your generic store-bought snow globes, reindeer, or even Coca-Cola merch, but still manages to feel extremely Christmas-y.

 

Unfortunately, I had a heck of a time getting a photo with decent lighting. This time of year, we only get sun in the living room from 5 to 7 a.m – and the new light fixture that was supposed to arrive Nov. 1 has been backordered twice, finally convincing us to cancel our order this afternoon. It’s back to the drawing board on that one, I guess.

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Filed under christmas, Holidays, interiors, retro, vintage, winter

I Saw the Light

After browsing the fourth different version of the Pottery Barn holiday catalog (sometimes I think they just rearrange the order of the pages and slap on a new cover every week), I decided that our porch needs a little update before Christmas.

I’m not talking about PB’s lanterns and garlands and light-strung topiaries and $90 wreaths. Not that I don’t admire those things – I really, really do – but a pair of poinsettias and some strands of C7s are more in my price range right now.

 No, I’m thinking of a more lasting improvement, like replacing our rusty, cobweb-encrusted porch light (though, ahem, touching up the trim around the door might not hurt, either).

A new light fixture is a relatively small update that will look extra warm and inviting in the winter, but will also add some much-needed class to our porch all year round.

 As usual, though, we can’t make up our minds. 

 Do we want to go for arts and crafts flair, like one of these lamps from Old California Lantern Company? On the one hand, it would be a perfect match for our new Craftsman door. On the other hand, these guys don’t come cheap.

 This one feels like something a 49er might carry down into a gold mine.

Then there’s the classic black arts and crafts lantern from Rejuvenation.

But I’m also drawn to this simple clear globe  from Pottery Barn – which just so happens to be on sale.

This coppery PB lantern isn’t bad, either.

Or how about Restoration Hardware’s elegant Victorian lantern, complete with faux candles?

 It’s hard to say. In the meantime, the plan is to wrap so many Christmas lights around the front porch that visiting friends and relatives won’t notice our tarnished light and nicked-up trim (fingers crossed).

Photos from Pottery Barn, Old California Lantern, Rejuvenation and Restoration Hardware.

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Filed under bungalow, California, christmas, exteriors, Holidays, Victorian, winter

Making a List, Checking It Twice

I’m such a hypocrite when it comes to Christmas shopping. I curse the premature holiday displays, but find myself browsing them before November. I shake my fist at store speakers blaring Christmas music, then go right home and put holiday tunes on Pandora. Sigh.

So it should come as no surprise that I’m already browsing potential holiday gifts and goodies to give and get.

Maybe I can’t afford one of these amazing houses for Christmas. But surely I can manage one of these.

Or, in keeping with my current letterpress obsession, some of these. You’ve got to admit, they’re a lot quirkier than your standard snow village.

Though most of the year I stick to natural colors and wood tones, something about the holidays makes me crazy for rainbow brights. The saturated hues on these picture frames turn what would otherwise be a basic gift into a statement piece.

Or how about a brightly-colored custom plate? This tree-trimming version is cute, but there are other holiday – and non-holiday – silhouettes and shades to choose from.

Personally, I’m thinking about buying these kitschy retro napkins for my parents’ newly remodeled kitchen.

As for my own retro kitchen, I’ve been coveting these shiny Sur La Table tumblers and sundae bowls for quite some time now. They remind me of the aluminum glasses we always used at my grandparents’ house.

When it comes to holiday decorating, I have this ridiculously anal rule about using only vintage-style ornaments – our tree  typically features just  glass and lights, with no crafty felt ornaments or whirligigs in sight. Basically, if Charlie Brown wouldn’t have put it on his tree, I don’t want it. (I think I was brainwashed by Mom and Dad, hardcore blown-glass ornament enthusiasts who only grudgingly put up the pieces we made at school with glitter and popsicle sticks for a few years before packing them away for good with our other sub-par school crafts.)

Fortunately for folks like me, Anthropologie is making it easy this year.

The best part about being an early bird list-maker is that I don’t usually have to scramble to get my shopping done at the last minute. The worst part? With so much time left until Christmas, my list usually keeps growing…this is just the beginning.

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Filed under Holidays, old houses, retro, vintage

Homes for the Holidays

I know it’s a tad bit early, but I’ve been doing some window shopping and I think I found what I want for Christmas.

 

What’s the only thing better than a restored 1906 Craftsman? A restored 1906 Craftsman located on an island in San Francisco Bay, of course.

Okay, so we’re not even in the market for a new house – let alone one going for prices like this. But I like to keep my eye on what’s out there in Northern California. I call it research – very important research. Here are some of my very important findings.

 The porch alone was enough to sell me on this one. The red door is just the icing on the cake.

If Craftsmans are my favorite, Dutch-Colonials are a close second.  

Of course, nothing beats a big ol’ Victorian in gold country. I grew up around here, and home is where the heart is.

 

Something tells me I’m going to have to settle for a new coffee maker this year. And maybe some warm socks. But it doesn’t hurt to dream, right?

Photos via listings on Realtor.com. Click on pics for more details.

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Filed under bungalow, California, historic houses, old houses, real estate, Victorian

Brand New Coat

Unlike me, my living room walls are sporting a brand new coat this autumn.

We finally committed to a paint shade – Glidden’s Water Chestnut, a soft cream-beige I discovered on Young House Love – and broke out the brushes a few weekends ago.

Every time I paint, I go through the same roller coaster of emotions and this time was no different. First, there’s utter confusion about choosing a color, then elation upon making a choice and realizing we’re finally moving forward. Next, brief panic after seeing the paint first hit the walls (you know how paint always appears lighter when wet? Well, when wet, our new color matched our old paint color exactly), and major relief upon realizing the end result is better, not worse.

Before

After

And finally, a bit of disappointment after moving the furniture back in place and realizing that the room still looks pretty similar.

All of a sudden, I worried that things looked too dark, that there were too many competing dark colors – blues, reds, greens, browns. This sparked a mad urge to tear out our old roller shades, swap the chunky coffee table out for something smaller and cozier, get a lighter rug and furniture and buy a big ol’ mirror for over the fireplace in hopes of giving the illusion of a more spacious room.

Fortunately, my boyfriend was able to talk me out of doing anything drastic. We decided to focus our energy on improving the lighting situation and adding details like crown molding, and then assess what our next move should be. That’s fine by me – I’ve been itching to tear out that god-awful cheapo fan (our only source of living room light) since the moment we toured our house.

Lighting has always been too spare in here, so we’re going to try a semi-flush mount pendant with two bulbs to hopefully reflect light up and out.  Something like this lamp from Feiss.

Though if our ceiling (and budget) wasn’t so low, it might be fun to get a little crazy and try a vintage style chandelier, or one of the new sophisticated drum lights like this guy.

As for illuminating those dark corners, we briefly considered sconces on either side of the mantel, but decided against tearing into those walls. Now our options seem to be recessed lights in four corners of the room, or possibly just one or two new standing lamps. I’m crossing my fingers that we don’t have to go with the canned…

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Filed under home improvement, living room, paint

Haunted California Coast

I was totally going to skip the classic haunted house post for a lighthearted write-up on cute little early 20th Century beach houses. But with a dark and stormy afternoon at Half Moon Bay fogging up the lens of my point-and-shoot faster than I could wipe it clean, our recent weekend getaway – and my post plans – turned out to be a wash, no pun intended.

Exploring the famously pumpkin-happy beach towns just south of San Francisco was a treat despite the weather, but at times I couldn’t help wishing we’d just made a detour to the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose instead.

 As luck would have it, we stumbled upon another historic haunted building – the Moss Beach Distillery.

Photos from MossBeachDistillery.com

I don’t know about you, but when I think of speakeasies, my mind turns to Chicago and New York. But apparently one of the most successful of the illegal ventures was located right here, perched on the bank of a particularly rough piece of coastline best known for the annual big wave surf contest Mavericks.

 

Rum runners would lug booze up the steep cliffs and into vehicles headed for San Francisco speakeasies, all under the cover of fog and darkness. Of course, some of the liquor seemed to always end up in the basement of the little stucco building, then known as “Frank’s Place,” where owner Frank Torres mingled with silent film stars and Bay Area politicians. And thanks to his high-up connections, “Frank’s Place” was never raided.

 But not everybody had a good time. According to legend, one of the patrons was a young, married mother carrying on an affair with the bar’s piano player. On one of her many trips to and from the restaurant, she was killed in a car crash. Members of the restaurant staff claim to have seen the woman’s ghost, always dressed in blue, searching the restaurant for her lover. Occasionally, they report unexplained phenomena, like altered dates in the computer system, earrings that go missing from female customers and levitating checkbooks. The Blue Lady has even been featured Unsolved Mysteries – in fact, I remember seeing the episode at my grandparents’ house, where my brother and I always crammed in as many episodes of UM as we could (for some reason, our parents  just weren’t fans of the seedy storylines and cheesy reenactments).

We didn’t have an opportunity to eat in the restaurant. But I have dined at another supposedly haunted eatery – and stayed in the place’s haunted hotel.

The quirkily constructed chalet-style Brookdale Inn in the Santa Cruz Mountains is as famous for the creek that runs right through the restaurant as it is for the child ghosts said to haunt the premises (apparently they drowned in the stream).

Photos from Brookdale Inn & Spa

I don’t even believe in ghosts, and being left alone in one of the creaky, semi-rundown rooms in the 1890s building for five minutes gave me the creeps.Then again, everything in the overgrown redwoods surrounding Santa Cruz can feel a bit cobwebby and creepy.

And of course, there’s the granddaddy of all California haunted houses – the infamous Winchester Mystery House.

Photos from WinchesterMysteryHouse.com photo gallery

You might already know the story. Sarah Winchester, widow of gun magnate William Wirt Winchester, visits a psychic after the death of her husband in the early 1880s. The medium convinces her that the Winchester family is cursed because of the lives taken by her husband’s rifles. Somehow, Sarah gets it in her head that she needs to move west and build a house to honor the spirits – and to appease them, she must never stop building.

Over the next 38 years, she uses her multi-million dollar inheritance to fabricate a sprawling, fantastical Victorian mansion with 160 rooms and seven stories (though the highest buildings were reduced to a measly four stories after the 1906 earthquake).

 

But this wasn’t an ordinary large house. Remember, she had to keep building, even if her blueprints didn’t exactly make sense. That meant adding 47 fireplaces, 17 chimneys, 10,000 window panes, two basements and three elevators.

It meant installing staircases that led to the ceiling

putting in doors that opened not to decks, but to multi-story drops

and using patterns that contained eery details and her lucky number, 13, whenever possible (this is the window in the 13th bathroom).

There was also the much talked about tiny upstairs Séance room, though some say her belief in the paranormal has been embellished – and it was relatively common for Victorian era society to hold séances and consult psychics.

In the end, continued construction couldn’t prevent the inevitable – Sarah Winchester died in 1922, after which time the behemoth residence finally came to rest.

Whether or not you believe in ghost stories, the Winchester Mystery House is one of the best examples of Queen Anne architecture on the West Coast. I’ve been on the tour twice, and I’m still itching to go back – maybe someday I’ll make one of the All Hallows’ Eve flashlight tours.

So that’s my haunted house/restaurant/hotel roundup. Hope everyone has a scary good Halloween!

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Filed under California, famous houses, historic houses, old houses, travel, Victorian

If a tree falls…

If a tree falls in the backyard and someone is around, does it make a sound? 

Surprisingly, not always.

 But let me backtrack a bit – quite a lot, actually.

 Nothing says autumn like a hot cup of cocoa in front of a roaring fire – which is why we decided to fill our defunct fireplace with a stove insert last year. There were too many issues with our flue for an affordable fix and eliminating the fireplace by tearing out the heavy brick chimney (seen here during a Christmas a few years past) would have been a major undertaking.

Deciding we wanted a stove was easy. Deciding on which kind of stove – gas or wood – was not. We went back and forth for months. On the one hand, a wood-burning insert would better fit the period of our home. Plus, I didn’t really want to spend a good chunk of change for a fireplace I knew was “fake” – I like real cream in my coffee, real butter in my brownies and real logs in my fireplace thank you very much (um, please don’t quote me on that). The idea of starting flames with a remote control just wasn’t very romantic, nor was the idea of paying for gas.  

On the other hand, we had to be realistic. We had a postage stamp-size backyard with one real tree – obviously we weren’t going to be able to collect the wood ourselves. We’d have to buy it. Or we’d have to borrow it from friends and family, which likely meant splitting wood in exchange.

 In the end, we bit the bullet and went with a Jotul cast iron gas insert. I worried that we would regret it.

 

Weeks later, it started raining. By the third or fourth day of gray skies and steady, pouring rain, it got windy. 

I was home alone working. Being a particularly paranoid person, with every shriek of wind I was certain our neighbor’s oak was going to come crashing through the office roof. During one particularly leaf-shaking gust, I thought I detected creaking and snapping so I did what any California girl raised with earthquake drills would do – I dove for cover under my desk, put my hands over my head and squeezed my eyes shut. 

Papers went flying, cats scattered and I heard the blood pounding in my ears – but I didn’t hear a crash. In fact, all I heard was eerie silence. I opened one eye, then the other, then got up the courage to peer out the window at the oak. It was still there. Slowly, I began breathing normally again. I went back to work for half an hour or so, then sauntered into the kitchen for my usual third dose of caffeine (maybe that’s why I’m always so paranoid). I casually glanced into the backyard as I took a sip of coffee. But my backyard wasn’t there anymore.

 

I hadn’t even considered that our only shade tree would fall. But there it was, all 80 feet of it, horizontal across the back fence. The soft, waterlogged ground must have absorbed the impact, because I didn’t hear a thing.

 Amazingly, it had fallen cleanly between our neighbor’s workshop and our own, missing those structures as well as three houses all well within 80 feet of the rootball. It did, however, take out the fence on one side, our little shed, and almost every shrub and flower we owned.

 

We did some research and learned that it was a tree-of-heaven, a species native to China, and its most common use is, get this – burning. Cleaning up literally tons of wood took months, and today that wood is still fueling the wood stoves of our dearest friends and relatives.

 So what’s the moral of the story? That’s a good question. I don’t really have one. Except that maybe things don’t always turn out like you plan. And that, despite the fact that we could have had enough free wood to make it through three cold seasons, I would highly recommend considering a gas stove, even if you’re skeptical. Turns out I like heating up the living room with the click of a button. You know what else I like? Being the only house on the block that doesn’t need to rake leaves come fall. I guess I’m just lazy like that.

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Filed under autumn, garden, home improvement, renovation

Color Collection

I think I have a problem.

I seem to be addicted to paint swatches. Which would be fine if I were a painter or interior decorator – but I’m most definitely not.

On the way to the grocery store or post office, I find myself swinging by Home Depot or the hardware store more and more often. Before I know it, I’m carrying out a fresh stack of color. I almost wish they charged a few cents per swatch – the fact that they’re free makes it too easy. I would totally splurge on the full-collection professional paint decks, except I’m afraid that viewing so many options at once would make my head explode. I mean, we only have 51/2 rooms and a hallway.

And you know what the worst part is? After collecting swatches of every color in the rainbow for, like, years, we’re finally going to paint the living room…beige.

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Indian Summer Blues

Normally I’m knee-deep in pumpkins and pinecones this time of year. But with yet another 85 degree day upon us, I just haven’t found my autumn decorating groove. It feels too much like summer.

 The most I’ve been able to muster is some mums, a wreath and a trio of pumpkins for the front porch.

The boyfriend took it a step further, posing a skeleton on our bench.

Apparently he’s resting after some grueling yard work (and possibly a groin injury?).

I used to love a good, long Indian summer. I still enjoy warm weather, but I think I’ve been spoiled by our visits to New York City during the past two Octobers. We fell in love with fall on the East Coast, where it was already coat weather and the leaves blazed red and orange in Central Park, along the Potomac on a side trip to Washington D.C. and – of course – in Sleepy Hollow, the namesake setting of Washington Irving’s classic tale.

Nothing puts me in the Halloween mindset quite like the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, whether it’s the book, the Disney cartoon or the Tim Burton film. And nothing says autumn quite like old buildings, creepy scarecrows and cemeteries.

Maybe I just need to go traipsing around in a local graveyard to find my Halloween spirit.

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