Category Archives: restoration

Yard Work

Working from home is both a blessing and a curse.

 On the one hand, I can get work done on my own hours with as many coffee breaks as I want and, yes, sometimes in my pajamas.

 On the other hand, the Internet, radio, refrigerator and, at times, the other person who shares my home office, can be highly distracting – especially for an infamous procrastinator. And I don’t even have kids yet.

 My dream solution? The backyard office.


When old houses are short on space, sometimes you have to get creative. If I had a bigger backyard, I would refinish a little shed, workshop, mother-in-law quarters, poolhouse – any small outbuilding – into my own cute, private cubicle.


 Okay, this one’s actually a greenhouse – but I would totally make it into an office.


Fresh Dirt Blog - Sunset

Aside from magazines, I haven’t noticed many backyard offices in the U.S. But shed offices are so common in the U.K., there’s a blog devoted to them. Tiny House Blog also features its share of garden offices. With so many people telecommuting today, I think these guys are onto something.

Tiny House Living

Urban Eden

 And check out this hunting cabin-turned-Victorian cottage in the New York Times. To be fair, this one isn’t an office either – but it’s inspirational all the same.

The New York Times

I can just see myself now: packing a briefcase, kissing my boyfriend goodbye and whistling as I commute to work – across the lawn.



Filed under cottages, garden, interiors, old houses, restoration

True Colors

If these walls could talk, they’d tell me they need some color.

With the exception of a sunny yellow kitchen, the rest of our rooms remain a dingy shade of off-white. Chalk it up to our failure to finish the great popcorn ceiling removal project of 2009 – or my tendency to, ahem, spend more time dreaming than doing when it comes to remodeling.

On the bright side, at least I have plenty of time to settle on colors before we break out the primer – and lately, my interest has veered towards historic paint colors.

Now, I’m not a stickler for historical accuracy – and am not sure I’d like to be bound by strict rules of a historical homeowners association – but honestly, sometimes period paint colors just look and feel right.

Take the soft green 19th Century farmhouse of Stephanie at Our Life on the Hill.

All too often, I think homeowners aren’t sure what to do with their old farmhouses, so they simply paint them white. This is Stephanie’s house before the restoration.


 A white house never goes out of style, but a too stark or neutral color can mask a home’s character and make it look washed out. On the other hand, the Kennebunkport Green and Windham Cream from Benjamin Moore’s Historic Colors Collection, coupled with a pop of burgundy and original clapboard siding (which Stephanie’s husband painstakingly refinished), makes this historic home come alive.

For my own little house, I’m partial to classic arts and crafts shades – especially earth tones like golds and sages. And thanks to Benjamin Moore, Sherwin Williams (pictured below) and California Paints, I can choose from dozens of original shades.


Don’t have a colonial, Victorian or Craftsman? California Paints 20th CenturyColors of America palette devotes much of its swatches to the bright, cheery postwar colors of the 40s, 50s and 60s – like “Hot Tin Roof” red or “Moon Landing” blue (bonus: you can view a biography on each color at the company’s website).


1940-1960 Mid-Century Modern Colors

Like I said, I don’t feel obligated to coat every wall with classic color (though a pastel art deco bathroom would be fun) but I like being able to pick and choose from historic palettes.

What about all you old house enthusiasts out there? Do you want to restore your home to its original painted glory? Or do you prefer to mix it up with modern tones?


Filed under exteriors, paint, restoration

House paparazzi

I’ve developed a rather strange hobby – I like to take photos of stranger’s houses. I’m like the old house paparazzi (or is it paparazzo?).


Actually, this particular house is a business. But judging by the strange look on the face of the lady inside, I might as well have been photographing her place of residence. Sorry, lady.

No, I’m not crazy. I’m in need of inspiration. I love the idea of decorating, but I’m not very good at it. I get overwhelmed in the paint chip aisle. So when I see a pretty color combination that works on a real house, I have to add it to my portfolio. I plagiarize paint colors.

I’ve had my eye on this particular house since it was renovated not too long back. When it went up for rent (why are all the cute houses in my neighborhood commercial?) I so badly wanted to set up shop there – even though I don’t really have a business per se.


It’s a little more neutral in color than I usually go for, but I really like the clean, subtle look of the creamy beige and maroon – and I don’t know if you can tell in the photo, but there’s a strip of copper that divides the shingled part from the lap siding – kind of adds a nice little pop. Speaking of siding, this is the look I’m envisioning for our fiber-cement siding if we choose to go that route. This stuff looks like real wood, but I was afraid to get close enough to tell.

I love the little white mailbox as well. I could do without the metal railings, but I’m guessing they’re ADA accessible.

I’m also digging this sage green, dark red and cream combo – so many colors, so hard to decide. By the way, this one is a real residence, and yes, I did feel creepy snapping away outside.


Filed under exteriors, old houses, restoration

Pick a Side

I consider myself a traditionalist when it comes to remodeling materials. Windows have to be wood, not vinyl. Countertops have got to be stone or tile, forget laminate or Corian. Hardwood floors are infinitely preferable over carpet (though I do have a soft spot for vintage checkered linoleum).

 So I was surprised to find myself considering fiber-cement siding, rather than wood, for our (hopefully) impending exterior remodel.


 Fiber-cement doesn’t deteriorate, is fire-resistant and inhospitable to bugs and, when painted, looks somewhat like the real thing (unlike the vinyl siding on our neighbor’s house – or the ahem, asbestos siding on ours).

 Both JamesHardie and CertainTeed make shingles and lap siding that would look pretty authentic on any old house – they even make Victorian-worthy half-round and octagon (or fish scale, as I’ve always known them) shingles.

 Since fiber-cement doesn’t contract and expand like real wood, it requires less repainting. It won’t crack off like stucco. And, from what I understand, it can come with paint baked on in your choice of color (assuming you like one of the shades offered by the manufacturer).

 Not that we’ll be ripping our siding off anytime soon, since we’ve been blessed with the asbestos-cement variety.

It’s often recommended that people with asbestos siding in decent condition just patch up the bad spots and repaint. It’s old and ugly, but it’s also potentially expensive to remove, thanks to the health hazard (though I hear that if you wear respirators and keep the dust down, it’s probably fine to do it yourself).

But I’m pretty set on a combination of new cedar or fiber-cement shingles and lap siding, at least for the face of our house. If we’re going to paint the whole thing– which has been my hope since the day we bought our house, since I’m not a fan of its current shade of faded grey – why not go all the way and spiff up the siding too? If we can afford it, that is.

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Filed under exteriors, old houses, restoration

My first salvage yard

I’ve always read that architectural salvage yards are great places to find period materials for old houses. But to my dismay, they all seemed to be located on the East Coast.

 I guess I wasn’t looking hard enough. Last weekend, I happened upon my very first salvage yard in Berkeley – Ohmega Salvage.


Need an army of claw foot bathtubs? Apparently this is the place to find it.


Or how about a 1930s-era sink in blue, mint or peach?

Or matching toilets?


You know, what this salvage yard really needs is a vintage urinal. Oh, look, they’ve got one!  


Doors, windows, address tiles – you name it, they’ve got it.

And just down the street is Omega Too, which originally began as an annex to the salvage, according to the store’s blog. Today, new owners sell restored and reproduction lights, tubs, sinks, doors and ironworks like curtain rods and address letters.   

We didn’t buy anything at the salvage that day, but when we’re ready to replace our white aluminum back door with something older – or if we get a hankering for a bathroom the color of a Cadbury mini-egg – we know where to look.

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Filed under old houses, restoration, travel

Open Wide

Whoever built our house must have had a really big refrigerator. How else do you explain putting a 42-inch door in a 900-square-foot home? Between the door and a few windows, there’s almost no wall left in the living room.

Which would’ve been okay, except the original door was old, plain and ugly – and had a big gap at the bottom that sucked in cold air all winter. Not cool. More than painting the drab white walls, more than tearing off our asbestos siding (in a careful, environmentally-friendly way, of course), I dreamed – alright, nagged my boyfriend – about getting a new door. And this month, we finally did! Second greatest Valentine’s Day present ever (our cat is the first).  Check out the blurred action shot of the old door on its way out.

Though 42 inches is actually a standard size, it’s still uncommon. That means a wood door that wide can be quite expensive, especially when you include glass – which we wanted to do in order to let more light into our dinky, formerly dim living area.

But the large craftsman doors at International Door & Latch in Eugene, Ore. were actually quite reasonable. We got the whole shebang – pre-hung door with new handles and locks – for just over $2,000 (okay, maybe it’s not a bargain, but nice doors are pricey! And this was lot less than what we were quoted elsewhere). Mind you, we (my boyfriend) did stain the door ourselves. My uninspired photography does not do it justice, by the way:

Nice old-school wooden doors are few and far between in our neck of the woods, where most houses were (sigh) built after the 60s. But just like when you get a new car and suddenly spot the same model all over the road, I’m now noticing hardwood, paneled, windowed craftsman-style doors on houses everywhere. And though I’m more than pleased with our new door (except for the fact that it suddenly makes the rest of our house seem crappy in comparison – especially the unfinished strip above the new door, which was turned out to be slightly shorter than the old door) I’m also envious of the models I missed in our initial search, like the fir doors from Omega Too, the dutch door from Jeld-Wen or the more elaborate styles at IDL (check out the Gamble House-worthy stained glass). Oh well. One project down, a hundred more to go.

Omega Too

International Door & Latch


Filed under bungalow, exteriors, old houses, restoration

Subway Style

I love the subway tiles we added to our kitchen during a recent remodel, but I sometimes wonder: Are they timeless or trendy?

Better Homes and Gardens

 The glossy white tiles do fit the era of my home, along with the (also new) white shaker style cabinets and nickel-plated latches. On the other hand, flip open almost any home decorating magazine today and it looks like everybody and their brother is rocking pretty much the same kitchen.

 Will my subway backsplash withstand the test of time, or will it someday – along with the stainless range and black granite countertop – identify my kitchen not as a 1930s-inspired preservation but as an obvious 2008-ish makeover?

 Maybe more importantly, should I really care? I’m the one looking at them, and I like what I see. Besides, I think they’re neutral enough to not be an issue, even if we decide to sell down the road (our bright banana walls are another story).

I think even trend-driven styles are OK if you adore them. I was surprised at how much I admired an aqua-hued sea glass backsplash I saw in the January issue of Sunset – or maybe I was just taken in by the sky-blue retro fridge and range.


 What do you think – is it cool to mix modern and vintage? Or do you prefer something you know you won’t want to rip out in 10 years?


Filed under design, interiors, kitchens, old houses, restoration