Category Archives: renovation

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.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

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.

1 Comment

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

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

Renovation Motivation

So I was feeling a tad sorry for myself last week, which may have led to even more infrequent posts than usual.

I was thinking that I’ve got all these big plans in my head, yet all I’ve accomplished recently is purchasing some kitchen canisters  and sink organizers.

Not that the updates weren’t absolutely necessary, of course. I mean, we’d been using the same soap jars since we moved in together. 

I’d like to think the end results are somewhat more sophisticated than the straw-hugging panda and his Softsoap tiger brother, who resided in the kitchen.

I might add a glass soap jar in the kitchen, too, but for now a cute Mrs. Meyers bottle in a white dish will do the trick.

 But a few days into my wallowing, I got some news that changed my outlook. After more than 10 years in their current house, my parents are finally remodeling their kitchen.

To appreciate the significance of this situation, you’ve got to understand something about my family. They have not completed a single renovation project in my 27 years of life. When we moved out of our first house, it was half green and half white because we’d started painting once and never finished. It’s been all downhill since.

Yet, they’ve hired the contractor, they’ve ordered the cabinets – they’ve even (perhaps a bit prematurely) torn out their inherited mustard and deep brown 1970s kitchen. It’s really happening. But the part that impressed me the most? The way my parents held their ground when their contractor suggested they rethink their dream of white Shaker cabinets and subway tiles and instead consider knotty pine and stainless steel, which he thought would have better resale value.

We went through almost the exact same thing when my boyfriend’s family, who was very kindly (and thankfully) helping us with the work, couldn’t understand why we didn’t want Corian counters and Tuscan-style cabinets from Home Depot. Then again, they also didn’t understand why we didn’t want a house built after 1990.

I get that we all have different tastes. I even appreciate it – it keeps things interesting. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have light birch cabinets and a recycled glass backsplash, or colored cabinets (like the cover photo on September’s This Old House) and a checkered floor.

But we wanted white cabinets, white subway tiles (apparently I really am my parents’ daughter) and a warm wood floor. We wanted to go from this…

To this! How-we-did-it post to follow sometime in the future. Please ignore the odd tiki display-turned-clutter above the sink.

Yes, in hindsight there are some things that I wish I had done differently…and there are many, many things that still need to be done. But my point is, we had a vision once, we stuck to it, and we made it a reality – and we can do it again. Any time I doubt that, all I have to do is look at our before and after photos. Two years later, I still smile every time I do.

13 Comments

Filed under interiors, kitchens, organization, renovation

Hi Ho, Silver

I heart old houses – on wheels.

 It all started with Sunset. Ever since my July issue arrived, I’ve been pining for the shiny silver Airstream on the cover.

 

I always thought Airstreams were cute with their gleaming aluminum and  spacey shape. But lately I’ve been noticing the retro trailers nonstop – on our trip to Ferndale, camping in the mountains last weekend, cruising down the freeway through our town. I’m officially obsessed.

Apparently I’m not the only one. Renovated Airstreams for home, work or play have recently been featured in the aforementioned Sunset, as well as at Design Sponge, Dwell, The Tiny Life (pictured below) and the Washington Post.

 

We’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately – which I love, don’t get me wrong – but I miss the coziness of our little, old house when staying in hotel rooms. And I miss the convenience of showers and a stove when I’m sleeping in a tent (I know, I’m really bad at roughing it). Wouldn’t it be cool to take a familiar place –showers, stove, maybe even the pets – on the road with you?

There’s just one obstacle. New and gently used Airstreams are expensive. Really expensive. Like, you-could-buy-two-or-three-small–cars-for-the-price-of-one-small-Airstream expensive. The only way it’s going to happen anytime soon is if we buy a used rig in not-so-hot condition, gut it and start over, which would be quite the undertaking – though it has been done.

Until that happens, though, I can satisfy my dreams of silver glory by drooling over the mid-century inspired photos in this book.

Ordering lunch from this Airstream window next time I’m in Seattle.

Borrowing someone else’s trailer for a night.

Or by settling on one that’s more my size.

1 Comment

Filed under mid-century modern, renovation, retro, travel

A Place to Start

Sentimental value is a strong motivator – which explains why an ardent fan of arts and crafts style would be sleeping in a bed more fit for Laura Ingalls Wilder than Gustav Stickley.

Once upon a time, I dreamed of snoozing in an oversized chocolate brown sleigh bed, or maybe a nice shaker farmhouse model. Basic, classic.

Restoration Hardware

Pottery Barn

Long story short, my boyfriend’s dad made the aforementioned pine log bed for him and, though it’s not exactly our style, we feel obligated to keep it around. It’s beautiful, well-made and has a lot of that sentimental value I just mentioned.

 So here’s my dilemma. We’re trying to gear ourselves up to get back on the home renovation train, starting with the bedroom. We figure it’s a small, not-too-overwhelming place to start, and after all, we spend a third of our lives there. But I need some ideas for toning down the rustic quality of our bed.

 So far, I’m thinking of keeping the walls a subdued shade of mocha, taupe or wheat – a lot more neutral than I would normally go for – and refraining from going too crazy with patterned quilts and duvet covers, as I’ve been known to do. Maybe putting up some vintage wall art, and replacing or customizing some of the hand-me-down lamps and side tables.

Rather than meticulously scrape off every last crumb of the dreaded mid-century popcorn ceiling – as we did in the other rooms of our house (and burned ourselves out in the process) – we’re thinking of covering it with beadboard and tacking on some crown molding.

This Old House

Other than that, I’m at a loss. But here’s where I’m looking for inspiration.

Better Homes and Gardens

Cottages & Bungalows

Better Homes and Gardens

Better Homes and Gardens

Blogwise, I’m inspired by these romantic bedroom redos at A Brooklyn Limestone in Progress, Yellow Brick Home and Wild Ink (as featured on Brooklyn Limestone).

One benefit to spiffing up the boudoir is that we can find a new place for the musical instruments that have been bunking with us. Just for fun, let’s count the number of guitars the love of my life has stored between our bedroom furnishings.

One, two, three.

Four, five, six.

Lucky number seven.

And eight…who seems to have been hiding from me.

You should see the rest of the house. But no worries, we’re going to get things under control here real soon.

6 Comments

Filed under bedrooms, interiors, old houses, renovation