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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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.

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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.

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

Where’s the Wastebasket?

A letter to the editor in a recent American Bungalow posed an interesting question. In all those beautiful photos of featured arts and crafts-style homes, the reader pointed out, the magazine never once included a wastebasket. Where the heck do these people put their trash?

 It got me thinking – not just about trash, but what about remote controls? What about computer cords? What about the litterbox?! Do these immaculately decorated homes have handcrafted accessories to match? Or do the homeowners just grab the most convenient doodads from Target and then hide them from the camera?

 Since then, I’ve had my eye out for ways to prettify the typically un-pretty – like this wastebasket, for instance. Problem is, when you have to request a price quote for a trash can, you probably can’t afford it.

 

Meanwhile, we’ve managed to wrangle the remotes into a bowl, keep pens, sunglasses and other small items in another dish, and toss my boyfriend’s guitar tuners, cords, and mini-amps into a bread basket.

 

And then we got this guy.

 

No, it’s not some futuristic ottoman – it’s a  litterbox. A ModKat litterbox. (FYI, our walls aren’t really fluorescent yellow, that’s just my camera playing some weird tricks).

 

I never thought I could love a litter pan, but I guess I really am a crazy cat lady, because I’m over the moon for this one. It keeps the litter (and most aromas) contained, is a breeze to vacuum around, and resembles a piece of furniture more than a bathroom receptacle – a large, candy-colored plastic piece of furniture, mind you, but you get the point.

This one, on the other hand, might be going a bit too far.

 

 All jokes aside, you never see pet accessories in photos, either – probably because there aren’t many decent-looking options. Thank goodness for Bungalow Bob’s Pet Designs. Past kitty Christmas gifts (stop snickering!) have included the pet hammock – which as you can see, has since become a home for toys – and the cat maze.

 

I’m sure if we had a dog, we’d be all over the quarter-sawn oak den.

 I totally understand that the homes in publication pages are, much like human models, part illusion — they’re primped, touched up and ultimately transformed into something quite different than the way they looked when they woke up in the morning. But since I get most of my design inspiration from magazines, it would be nice to catch a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes things that are usually left out. Like, is there a built-in pet box or cubby hiding around the corner? Or maybe a cool trash can or remote control holder? How do the design-savvy mix form and function when it comes to typically un-fun home products?

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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.

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Filed under interiors, kitchens, organization, renovation

Over the Counter

Nobody would ever mistake me for a neat freak. But just because organization isn’t in my blood doesn’t mean I can’t change, right?

 That’s why I thought I’d use the inevitable burst of motivation that comes with the onset of autumn to tackle a few organization projects. Rather than overwhelm myself and end up doing nothing (a common occurrence around here), this time around I aim to focus on very small areas of the house, starting with the oft-cluttered kitchen counters.

 With space tight in our pull-out pantry, we were amassing a pile of plastic bags full of sunflower seeds, pasta, oatmeal and the like, all secured with twisty-ties and aging chip clips. Not a very pretty – or convenient — arrangement. So I picked up some simple glass canisters from Target and, lo and behold, the room was (very subtly) transformed.

I can’t believe I’ve been so slow to embrace such a timless kitchen organization system. By the way, we aren’t crazy over sunflower seeds – they’re for the chickens.

 The gleaming glass containers so easily spruced up our countertops that I’m thinking of going back for more – or picking up some of the half-gallon Ball jars I hear they carry at Michael’s. I was so excited, in fact, that I whipped up my first roundup/inspiration board/mood board. It may not the most aesthetically-pleasing one out there, but I’m no interior designer and this was my first try. So without further ado, here’s a collection of cute and classic counter space savers.

 

1. anchor hocking heritage hill jars, target, $10.79 2. vintage jadite flour canister, etsy, $58 3. deruta-style canister set, sur la table, 69.95 4. old dutch decor copper canisters, amazon, $64.99 5. ball 125th anniversary jar, JC Penney, $19.99 6. Pfaltzgraff small country canister, pfaltzgraff, $9.99 or $49.99 for set of 3 sizes 7. le creuset 4 qt. cherry canister, amazon, $49.99 8. enamel bread box, the vermont country store, $59.95

Next mission in operation anti-kitchen clutter: finding some kind of caddy or plate for storing our soap, dish detergent and sponges so we don’t have to constantly wipe the wet, sudsy spots that collect beneath them on the counter. A pretty ceramic dish, perhaps?

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Filed under design, interiors, kitchens, organization