Category Archives: old houses

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.

Advertisements

1 Comment

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.

Leave a comment

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.

2 Comments

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

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!

Leave a comment

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

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.

1 Comment

Filed under home improvement, interiors, old houses, paint, renovation

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under autumn, old houses, travel

Getting a Handle on Hardware

It’s all coming back to me now.

After spending weeks poring over magazines and swatches and brochures for my parents’ kitchen remodel, I’m starting to recall just how many little details it takes to make a blueprint a reality. Sure, there are the paint colors and cabinet styles – that’s the easy part. But do you want your cabinet doors to have a regular overlay, full overlay or a flush inset? Do you want your countertops to have a mitered or non-mitered edge? Will cabinet hinges be hidden or visible? So many choices.

It’s enough to make even the most prepared planner’s head spin.

The latest do-or-die decision involves hardware. Home Depot and Lowe’s have a decent selection of contemporary handles and knobs, but they don’t fare so well with the traditional end of the spectrum.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to introduce Mom and Dad to specialty companies like Rejuvenation, White Chapel and Van Dyke’s Restorers. (Fun fact: I just learned that Van Dyke’s is owned by Cabela’s, the hardcore hunting/fishing/outdoors superstore – weird.)

Anywho, I knew what I wanted before I knew where to find it: shiny nickel-plated Shaker bin pulls for drawers and latches for cabinets. Van Dyke’s selection fit the bill perfectly.

I’d be happy to see my parents go with the same, but I’m also excited to see the outcome of something different.

Like glass hardware that mimics the classic crystal door knob, for instance.

Or traditional arts and crafts choices like square knobs and dangling drawer pulls.

Then there are the medieval-looking strap hinges that conjur up images of a cute Tudor Revival cottage. I can’t believe I couldn’t find a photo of a kitchen with these guys.

I like to imagine those cast iron hinges on white cabinets – I love the contrast of black hardware in a light kitchen.

Hardware is sort of the icing on the cake – it’s not going to make or break the room, but it really adds a finishing touch. But enough about what I like – what’s your favorite old house hardware style?

Images from Kitchens.com, Van Dyke’s Restorers, Plain & Fancy Custom Cabinetry, Rejuvenation and CrownPoint Cabinetry. Click on photos for more info.

3 Comments

Filed under bungalow, interiors, kitchens, old houses, renovation, Victorian