Workin’ on my Fitness…In the Backyard.

Last time I left things hanging with some grand plans and grand delusions of what shape my backyard might someday take, god willing and the creek don’t rise. I made mention of a rototiller rental that I thought would be my key to success.

The plan was to spend the weekend tilling and tilling and tilling and shuffling dirt around the yard. The objectives here were two-fold: firstly, to remove all the grass and overgrown weeds and garbage to prepare for my new lawn, and second, to bring the grading down in certain places and up in other places to address my serious grading/draining issues. I know I’m probably still going to need to bring in a few truckloads of fill dirt/topsoil to get things in really good shape, but my hope is that I can minimize that hellish task by working with what I already have first, and solving some existing issues at the same time.

ANYWAY. I’d get all that done and then it would be all clover-lawn planting and planter-box building and new-fence-installing and planting and planting and planting and admiring my gorgeous yard. This seemed so realistic and feasible.

As usual, I’m dumb.

rototiller

Ugh, this motherfucker right here. This, ladies and gents, is the rototiller I had in my possession for several days, rented from BlueLine Rentals in Kingston.

Not the miracle device I was anticipating. Not even a little.

First of all, this thing is heavy as all get-out. They loaded it into the bed of John’s truck with a forklift, with no instruction as to how I was supposed to get it out of the truck or back into it when I had to return it. I got it out with a friend, gravity, and a couple bloodied knuckles, and got to work.

Honestly, I should have just rented a small excavator for this party, but I had it in my head that the rototiller would solve my problems and I soldiered on. Here is what I learned, at least about this particular rototiller, which we will call Nigel:

1. Nigel needs to go over the same patch of grass roughly 5 times to even loosen said grass/roots from the underlying soil.

2. Nigel is unwieldy, heavy, and does not easily switch between gears, so this whole back and forth is a massive pain in the butt.

3. When Nigel has completed his work to the best of his abilities (not very well), one must then grab a rigid rake or some other tool of destruction to really remove the grass that Nigel was supposed to help remove. Harder than you’d think. I even broke my rake and had to buy a new one. I blame Nigel even though the rake was probably just crappy.

4. Because of the way Nigel is designed, you can’t really get close to the edges of buildings or fences or anything, so you still have to do a lot of hand-digging and shaking your tiny bloodied fists at the heavens for making yard work such a bitch.

5. When your time with Nigel is up, you’ll try and fail to get him back into the truck, at which point you call the rental place, where they tell you that it will be an additional $50 to get Nigel picked up and taken away. You are so exhausted at this point and have developed such disdain for this thing that you will pay anything to get it the hell out of your dustbowl of a yard.

So that’s pretty much how that went. Some progress was made. Not a lot of progress, but let’s talk about it anyway so I feel better:

brushpile

So one thing I learned a little too late in the game was that it’s best not to mix your excess soil with your torn up grass and weeds: it’s easy to dump and then grade out soil that’s been relocated, but major clumps of grass and weeds make it kind of impossible. So after Nigel did some half-assed tilling, I got in there and finished his job by pulling out and raking together large piles of brush. I then used old joint compound buckets to load in the brush and transport it to large 42 gallon trashcans that I scrounged up from around my construction zone of a house.

sideyardprogress

Even though my goal was to do the WHOLE YARD, I actually started with the side yard and the section of the front yard that I didn’t work on last summer. I figured starting more or less at the front and working my way back would be a good strategy, and I was also anxious to get all this grass and stuff up because I only want plants here. Picture the chainlink fence gone and a profusion of gorgeous flowers and evergreens and nice stuff and you’ll get the general idea because I have very few specific thoughts.

frontyardbeforerightside

You may recall that last year I did a whole lot of landscaping work on the other half of my front yard/garden, but didn’t really touch this side at all. In the meantime, it became even more horrible and overgrown and I didn’t even mow it once because it just felt like there was no point and I have no time in my life for pointless endeavors. Unless my whole life is just a series of pointless endeavors? Let’s stay away from that dark place. That’s what my Zoloft is for.

cherry2014

Last summer I dd a total of 2 things on this side of the yard. I planted this tree in the front corner (some kind of flowering cherry number, I can’t remember…), which I surrounded by bricks that had been salvaged from the inside of the walls of the downstairs bedroom. Naturally, now I want to relocate the tree…any tips on the best time to do that? It’s only had a year or so to take root so I figure if I do it in the fall (?) then it has a decent shot at surviving the ordeal.

smokebush2014

I also planted this smoke bush sort of in front of the dining room bay window to provide a little privacy screen and hopefully fill in to cover the PVC vents that had to be installed with the new boiler that are unsightly and sad.

smokebush

The different angles of these pictures doesn’t really show it, but the smoke bush is filling out nicely! Grow, grow, little smoke bush! Make papa proud. I’m just surprised when anything is still alive so I consider this a huge accomplishment.

Let’s all ignore that I clearly need to repoint my foundation at some point and I just cannot wait for how much fun that will probably be. Yikes.

frontcornerlillies

The tree is also doing well but the bricks are not. This bricks were used as insulation because they’re basically garbage bricks (or “salmon bricks”) that were not fired hot enough or whatever else can go wrong with brick-making. Protected from the elements they’re OK but outside they basically crumble and self-destruct when exposed to water, snow, and ice. If you’re considering repurposing bricks, I strongly recommend seeing how they weather outdoors for a year or so, so you can pick out the bad ones.

Anyway, this whole area went a little wild with weeds and day lilies, which in my experience are hard to really get rid of. I don’t have anything against the day lilies but I’m trying to limit the color palette of the front garden to whites, purples, pinks, reds, and green foliage, so the hot-orange flowers that these produce have no place in this plan. ANYWAY, I dedicated a lot of time to digging up and salvaging everything I could and plan to relocate them to Bluestone Cottage down the way, where they will be adorable and hardy and cottage-chic. Or something. They’re free.

sideyardprogress2

Anyway, back to the side yard situation. After stupid Nigel did his stupid thing and I raked and raked and moved buckets and buckets of dirt, it was down to hand-digging out all the crap along the fence and the foundation and then leveling that soil out with a rake. I made sure to maintain some pitch on the ground so that water will drain away from the house and toward the sidewalk instead of vice-versa.

mekkoinyard

Mekko was zero help during any of this. Look at that lazy thing! Ugh. Dogs. Food, fun, lounging…they have it all figured out.

sideyardprogress3

Anyway, by the end of last week, things were finally looking like this! Which is so…hideous? But it’s progress because now there’s a foundation for the real stuff. Like in the front garden last year, the hard part is getting all the grass out and getting down to a clean slate, and then the fun stuff can start. I want fun stuff. This is not fun stuff. I love yard work in general but this sucks, frankly.

frontyardcleared

The front is looking good, too! YAY. So ready to throw some topsoil up in this ish and get some plants in the ground. What are we thinking? Hydrangeas, peonies…what else is there? I generally make my plant selections by wandering the aisles of garden centers, seeing what I like, and if it’s under $20 it’s a contender. I like to prepare for the possibility of everything dying so I don’t want to spend big bucks and then feel sad about it in a few months or a year. Someone give me a plan that feels kind of traditional and pretty and might provide year-round or at least 3-season interest. This area could probably handle plants that like full or partial sun. Not shady enough for shade plants. Ya dig?

brushbins

When all this was said and done, I had 4 of these massive trashcans FULL of weedy grassy messy root-y crap. It’s wayyyyyy too much to fit in my composter, but I think I have a plan?

bluestonepathbefore

The other area of attack was the bluestone path, which wraps the backside of the big living room, the other side, and the bathroom/laundry room additions. It’s a LOT of bluestone! My landscaping plan calls for a fair amount of bluestone, but not here (the path is sort of useless, and I’d rather give this space over to plantings). The challenge with this is that at some point somebody set or re-set all of the bluestone slabs in concrete. The concrete doesn’t bind particularly well with the bluestone or the foundation, so while I’m guessing this was an attempt to keep water away from the foundation, it seemed to be having the opposite affect by trapping water in the large spaces where the concrete had separated. Plus it’s ugly.

blustonepathprogress

I found that between a shovel, a sledgehammer, and my brute manly strength, I could separate the bluestone slabs intact while breaking up the concrete into manageable chunks, which also went into big garbage cans.

bluestoneremoval

It is not easy work, but it is kind of exciting. This path has bothered me for a while so seeing it go and admiring my new stockpile of bluestone makes me sort of happy.

blustoneslabs

Look at all that bluestone! These slabs will provide the path from the porch to the fire pit and probably two strips for the driveway I have planned between the porch and the garage. All in due time. I can barely move some of these pieces so I’ll need some assistance getting them into place. Lucky Edwin lives next door and loves to show off by carrying obscenely heavy shit.

SO, my thought is this: rather than paying to dispose of all this concrete (HEAVY = expensive disposal fees), I figure I can break it into small-ish pieces and throw it in the bottom of my massive planters, which seems good for drainage? And then on top of it, I can throw all the old sod and roots and crap from elsewhere? And then on top of that I can throw about a foot and a half of high-quality topsoil, and the old sod and crap will compost itself? That way I’ll have to buy less topsoil? And my veggies and herbs and stuff will still be so happy and fine and productive?

To me this seems like a solid plan. Now tell me why I’m wrong. I’m sure I’m probably wrong.

Speaking of wrong, by the way, THANK YOU for all of the input on the backyard plans!! This is why I love having this blog…I totally would have forged ahead with the pea gravel plan and it sounds like I would have been so sad and so sorry about it down the line. I’m trying to source decomposed granite now which sounds so much nicer to walk on and much less prone to the whole weed issue. I didn’t even know about it, and now I’m convinced! My readers save me once again. I love you guys.

SO ANYWAY. That’s about all I have to show for a week of work, which sort of sucks. I was hoping to be a lot further by now but it wasn’t in the cards, and frankly I think the rototiller kind of slowed me down and cost me a whopping $267 for my troubles. Live and learn, folks. Live and learn.

plantstockpile

On the bright side, I have a nice little stockpile of plants ready to put in the ground! Some will go in the new front yard, some will go in the other half of the front yard I worked on last year (update on that forthcoming…it’s doing better than I expected!), and some I have no plans for but will figure it out. There are a ton of hostas I dug up from various places around the yard, buckets of daylillies sitting in water and ready for transport to bluestone cottage (hoping to do it after the gas line is run in case they need to trench…it’s SUPPOSED to happen by the end of this week!! But I’ve learned not to hold my breath…), three plants called Chardonnay Pearls (which sounds like a stripper name), three Korean Lilacs, three Polka Weigelas (pink flowers!), three blue star junipers (shrubby, creep-y evergreen thingies, I guess), and three Wine and Roses Weigelas, which have purple leaves and pink flowers. I also picked up 10 Dwarf English Boxwoods (I like to stock up when Lowe’s has the $7 guys in stock! Boxwoods are so expensive otherwise…), AND a white Dogwood for the center of that circle of bluestone I mentioned last time. I know that sounds like a lot but for all the planting I have planned, it barely scratches the surface!

OH—and my lawn came!! I ordered a 25 pound bag of EarthTurf, which is a mix of clover and grasses and science and magic that’s supposed to give me a pretty, eco-friendly, dog-piss-resistant, drought-resistant, self-fertilizing, delicious lawn. I’ll report back because I’m super curious about this whole thing.

SO. Olivebridge Cottage is pretty much eating Monday-Friday for me, but I figure if I can spend a couple hours in the yard everyday after work and then put in some more hours on weekends, I can bang this shit out in time for the new fence!! I just found out that my friends at Lowe’s have come along to bail me out again and are down to do the install for me, which is HUGELY exciting in my world considering DIY-ing this much fencing by myself would probably take me the rest of the summer and/or kill me. Hopefully I can get it scheduled in the next few weeks and then it’s just going to be YARD INSANITY and I cannot wait. I’m already so tan and my arms look bangin’ so with any luck I’ll have abs or something by August.

I WANT BACKYARD.

If you’ve been following the saga of my own home unfold over the past couple of years, you may recall that my backyard is essentially a total wasteland of mega-depressing sadness whose only real function is as a dog toilet and junkyard.

This isn’t for total lack of effort. I’ve actually already done a fair amount of work back there, but it’s like every action has an equal and opposite reaction and the result is that nothing has actually gotten all that much better. In fact it’s very possible that things just look worse and worse. But sometimes things have to get worse before they get better, right? Let’s review:

backyardbefore1

By way of background, my entire property is about 75 x 100 feet, which is a lot of space. Granted on that land sits my house and a garage, but the yard space is still quite sizable especially for an urban lot. The previous owner took advantage of this fact by paving the majority of the backyard space in asphalt and evidently used it as an enormous parking lot. I’m told he worked for GM or something and had a few cars and, at one time, a boat.

So there was all the asphalt, an old foundation behind the garage (evidently the plan was to expand the garage to house the boat, but it never went any further than building the foundation—thank goodness), and LOTS AND LOTS of overgrowth. The house had been vacant for about 2 years and I don’t know how much maintenance the yard got before then, so the parts that weren’t paved were kind of a jungle.

backyardbefore2

Work began that first summer with a pretty hefty clean-out effort. I removed as much of the crazy overgrowth as I could, which included a ton of grape vine and Virginia Creeper that seems to really thrive in the 6″ gap between my fence and the neighbor’s, which is impossible to maintain. More on that in a sec.

So anyway. Lots of debris-clearing. Many many yard bags. So much fun.

This seemed like a big improvement at the time and I still think it was, but man…there is almost nothing I hate more than my chain-link fence, and removing all the overgrowth exposed so much more of it. Yuck, yuck. If I ran the world, chain-link fences would be illegal, but unfortunately I can barely run my own life so chances of this happening are slim to none.

The only good thing about chain link is that as long as you’re OK with your property closely resembling a prison yard, it is fairly maintenance free and has for the most part withstood the years fairly well. The neighbor’s wood fence is pretty decayed at this point, though, so it’s been super fun and charming to look through my chain-link at her decaying wood fence for the past two years. #pinterest

backyardbefore3

Last summer, a couple major things happened with the yard—the first being that I couldn’t stand the asphalt anymore and got it all removed. There was SO much of it that doing this DIY was just not at all an option—I called in the pros (my plumber and his team of chain-smokers) who had 3 or 4 different backhoes in there over the course of several days. Literal tons upon tons of my backyard were hauled away in massive trucks which felt very exciting and like a big leap forward, all to the tune of about $2,000 which more than maxed out the non-existant backyard budget for 2014.

backyardbefore4

What I had failed to account for is that removing so much of the yard (underneath the asphalt was a few inches of gravel which also got hauled away for the most part) would leave me with some major grading issues. When all the machines were in my backyard I may have spread a false rumor that I was installing an in-ground pool, which turned out to be not that far from the truth if you like pools that are really just enormous mud puddles. Luckily Mekko is a classy lady and Linus doesn’t know what fun is, so neither of them were terribly interested in our new water features.

The other major thing that happened last summer with the back yard was really what happened to the front yard—I put in a section of new fencing to delineate a front yard on the side of my house, and did my best to do some landscaping in that space. I’ll have to do a little update on that space in the next few weeks and we can review all the things that lived and also all the things that died. Whoops.

Stupid azaleas. I knew you were mistakes.

Anyway, the point of this story is that in order to landscape the front yard, I had to excavate the top 6-8″ of crap out of that whole area to fix some grading issues and remove all the old sod/weeds. I did it with a shovel and a wheelbarrow and my brute strength and steely resolve. As I filled each wheelbarrow, I wheeled it back about 50 feet and dumped it unceremoniously into the crater in my backyard. I had high hopes that this would make a big dent in the grading issue and allow me to get away with buying less fill dirt/topsoil, but I was mistaken and it barely made a dent beyond leaving my yard covered in mounds of weedy sod. ADORABLE.

grading2

Last fall was when work started on Bluestone Cottage down the street. You might recall that that yard also had major grading issues and essentially just way too much soil build-up, so the crew and I excavated about 1-2 feet out of the whole front yard, loaded it up, and brought it to my backyard. This also did not make the kind of dent I imagined it would in my problem and my severe drainage/grading issues still abound. But it didn’t hurt.

japanesemaple

One area of major concern for me since buying the house was this enormous old Japanese Maple. It’s too bad because it’s a pretty tree, but it had really extensive rot right at the base, and its proximity to the house could have caused some serious damage if it ever decided to fall.

So last week I called Armin’s Tree Service here in Kingston, who also did the major tree/shrub removal over at the cottage in the fall. Armin is great! He’s prompt, professional, super duper knowledgable, and handles a chainsaw like a boss. He has a background in landscape design and knows everything about trees and is a nationally-ranked tree-climber (yes, that is a thing!), so I love picking his brain about suitable plants for my yard(s) and asking prying questions about the wild world of competitive tree climbing.

armin3

He evaluated the tree and the verdict was no bueno. He concurred that it was dying a slow death and at risk of falling on the house and recommended taking it down. He also offered to spend some time in his bobcat grading out my enormous mounds of soil, and I also took the opportunity to get him to trim up the honey locusts in the front of my yard between the street and the sidewalk.

armin1

Seeing this tree go was kind of sad, I’ll be honest. It was scraggly and dying but seeing something so old getting destroyed in a matter of minutes is just sort of an emotional affair. Plus its absence does not help the wasteland-y-ness of my yard.

armin2

Despite the momentary feeling of loss about the tree, this was such an exciting day! Along with grading out the mounds, Armin hauled away some pretty massive hunks of concrete that Max and I were just barely able to move out of the front yard when I was working on it last summer. All this work was about 600 clams (I don’t have a final invoice yet, so I’m not entirely sure), which sort of hurts but it needed to happen and this is the kind of thing that should really be hired out in my book.

backyard3

So anyway! I feel like the slate has been wiped pretty clean, which feels great. I really feel like this is the summer when things will start to happen out here for real. As you can imagine, the two years of fantasizing about doing something with the backyard have left me with a brain full of ideas and I just want to get going. 

Backyardrendering1

Here is the basic plan! This rendering is missing quite a bit of stuff but frankly I spent way too much time sketch-upping what I really could have just scribbled out on a notecard so we’re all just going to live with it. Deal? Cool.

I’ll walk you through it. Real Life looks like this:

Backyard1

Not cute. Not cute in the slightest. backyardrendering2

SketchUp Life looks kind of like this, though. So here’s the plan:

1. NEW FENCE, FINALLY. This is the year when all the chain link comes down and gets replaced with a fence to match the section I did in the front—6 foot dog-ear style opaque-stained black. This will probably be the single biggest improvement to promoting a sense of privacy and luxury that this backyard is sorely lacking. I know it seems like a lot of black, but it’s going to be really nice with plants and stuff…I really love the way the black fence recedes so nicely in the front and just lets the plants and trees shine, so I’m holding onto that idea back here. I’ve already talked to my neighbor about this and we both agree that sharing a single new fence along our property line is going to be the best plan to help avoid the impossible-to-maintain space that currently exists between our fences.

2. I want to follow the line of the garage and build a much lower fence (maybe 2-3 feet) to sort of section off this back part of the yard from the dogs. It still leaves a lot of space for them to run around and play and poop so they aren’t getting shafted, but I don’t want them messing with my….

3. MASSIVE PLANTERS. Each of these babies is about 4×12 feet. Construction should be really simple—I plan to build them much like the retaining wall situation over at bluestone cottage. I also want to stain these black. You might be sensing a theme. This is obviously a ton of planting space so I picture lots of veggies and herbs and probably flowers as well, just because I don’t think I could possibly consume as many veggies as these could potentially grow.

4. Not on the rendering, but along the back and side of the fence I want to plant some taller stuff to provide some more privacy and block some views I’m not a huge fan of. I’m thinking maybe forsythia along the back and some skinny evergreens mixed with something else (purple sandcherry, maybe?) along the side. I don’t want a fortress but I do want to not look at the commercial business next door quite so much.

5. Pea gravel! This is a whole helluva lot of a pea gravel. I think it’ll look great and feel fancy. I love feeling fancy.

backofgarage

Real Life looks like this. Too bad, so sad.

backyardrendering3

SketchUp Life looks something like this. YES, I will play with the dimensions of the planters so that the pathway between them aligns with the center of the garage. I’m not an animal.

So I also want to paint the garage black. Black-paint-haterz, eat your hearts out. It’s happening so you can be for it or against it but I do not care. This is me not caring at all. The impetus for this is that the garage is sort of cute but also sort of shack-like and SOMEDAY when my actual house is beautiful, I think it will just be so gorgeous to have this big white Greek Revival house being set off by all the nice plants and all the black stuff will sort of disappear and really let the house shine. I feel strongly about this and someday everyone else will too.

ANYWAY: FIRE PIT. I want my backyard to be a fun party zone too so obviously a fire pit is a must. Preferably one surrounded by four Bertoia diamond chairs but that might just stay in SketchUp world unless I happen to score some cheap ones.

I also want to put a set of doors on the backside of the garage. It’s not a huge amount of framing work and would allow me to easily add/remove seating when it’s not in use or during winter or whatever, as well as maneuver the grill, gardening crap, etc. etc. The existing door on the side of the garage is very small and this makes a lot of sense to me.

behindgarage

In Real Life, this mess lurks behind my garage. It’s just a place for weeds to grow and the dogs to poop. It’s totally wasted.

backyardrendering4

SketchUp Life, though, sees all of this shit getting excavated out and replaced with brick, I think. I have kind of a stockpile of brick from the chimney that was removed when the roof was redone, so I’d like to recycle those to make this space feel kind of special and nice. Its special use will be the trash/recycling/composting zone, so that I never have to look at any of those things anymore. There will be a gate at the end there so that I can easily move trash/recycling out the curb on trash night. I think the brick will be better than just doing more gravel for the wheels on the cans.

I know people will feel like this is an awfully inconvenient place to put garbage because it’s sort of far from the house itself, but it makes a lot of sense to me. I’m out there with the dogs a million times a day so it’s not such a big deal to walk the 38 feet from my back door to throw a bag in a can, and totally worth it to me to keep it out of sight. The city gives us these HUGE blue recycling bins (and soon HUGE brown trash bins) so there isn’t really a way to make trash cute here.

For the winter or when I’m feeling lazy or whatever, I might buy a couple cute cans to sit outside the back door as kind of a transfer station between the kitchen and the trash zone. They can sit on the porch or just off the porch or something.

WHAT’S THAT NOW? OH YEAH, PORCH.

fireescape

Real life used to look like this, which was kind of awful. The house was a duplex so the fire escape from the second floor was needed, but now that it’s a single family it’s not necessary. I had it torn off when the roof was redone about a year and a half ago, and the roofers also tore off the little overhang above the mudroom door while they were at it because…I don’t recall why. Whatever.

backofhouse

That left us with this gorgeous view of today, which is totally shameful and horrendous and I’m sorry we’re all having to look at it.

The mudroom is really an awful space…the inside is all 70s wood paneling and vinyl tile flooring and leaky-roofing and just a total mess. I’ve known since day 1 I would eventually tear it off the house so I didn’t even have it re-roofed with the rest of the house. The interesting thing about it is that it’s actually a lot older than you’d think—the foundation it rests on is not original to the house but is a stacked bluestone foundation, so it more than likely post-dates the kitchen addition but pre-dates the garage and the bathroom/laundry additions. “Summer kitchens” are typical of houses of this era, so that’s my best guess as to what this thing was…and then it was all enclosed and turned into this hideous rotting appendage you see today.

Oh yeah, don’t mind the door leading to nowhere upstairs. I don’t have the key so it’s remained locked, but even so the fact that it’s there is a major thrill for my homeowner’s insurance company, as you can imagine. They just love that feature almost as much as they love my pit bull. Stupid insurance.

backyardrendering6

Anyway, SketchUp Life is so much more exciting. There’s a lot going on here so allow me to break it down…

I want to tear down that hideous mudroom thing and build a double-decker porch. The idea is to reuse the existing bluestone foundation but extend the porch along the entire width of the back of the house (minus the laundry room/bathroom additions). I don’t want the second floor porch to come out as far as the first floor (about 10 feet), so that’s why it’s set back a bit. I think the room above the kitchen (which was another kitchen when I bought the house) will eventually be my bedroom, so being able to walk out there with a cup of coffee in the morning is going to be so fancy. I will probably replace the door with the one on the existing mudroom since it matches the other exterior door that’s currently in the kitchen.

The nice thing about this plan is that it doesn’t all have to happen at once. You might notice that this rendering calls for replacing and enlarging the windows both upstairs and downstairs to ones that will work with the eventual kitchen renovation, let in more light, and follow the proportions of the rest of the windows on the house. Yes, this means sacrificing the cute casement window in the kitchen, but that thing is SO drafty and doesn’t match any other windows on the house style or size-wise, so it’s really for the best.

I think eventually the exterior door will also move to the back wall of the laundry room, which will sort of act as a mini mudroom/vestibule and provide access to the backyard. I’ve gone back and forth on just keeping the door in the kitchen or just switching it to the other side (where the existing casement window is), but I think this will look a lot cleaner both from the inside and outside of the house, even though it’s a little bit wonky. Anyway, relocating the door is a bit down the road so for right now it can stay where it is.

This rendering is obviously way short on detail but I’ve been doing lots of planning and scheming and sourcing to try to make this porch look as legit as possible. Luckily I have a front porch to take my cues from, so the plan is to order replica columns to match the ones on the front as closely as possible and keep this thing looking as original and greek revival as I can. I’d like to replicate the original exterior spindles I found to provide the railing upstairs, so feel free to ignore that silly mess I mocked-up. It’s going to be so nice, trust.

Also, any tips for tongue-in-groove porch flooring? I’m a little lost on where to source the right wood from, or what the right wood even is. I was thinking cedar but maybe I’ll do yellow pine (pressure-treated?) and stain it, or bite the bullet for fancy mahogany, or…I don’t know. Old porches are always tongue-in-groove so I don’t want the more modern-day alternative of 1×6 pressure treated boards—they’ll just look all wrong. If you want some MAJOR greek revival porch inspiration, you have to go look at Steve’s flawless work at An Urban Cottage—he gets into amazing detail that’s been so helpful as I plan this big project, including some really helpful product resources. He used mahogany on his new-old porch floor…the whole thing is kind of everything I want for here, except matched to the details on my house. So nice.

driveway

Oh, Linus. You little stud. I can’t wait to see that busted up gate GTFO.

backyardrendering7

There will still be a gate here, but it’ll be sized appropriately for a car and not for a boat. The existing gate is 16 feet wide which is just outrageous. I think maybe I’ll do two strips of bluestone for where the tires will go and then do some creeping jenny or something to fill it all in. I’ll also have a garden bed on the side of the garage—maybe just a nice boxwood hedge or something. And probably another one on the front of the porch. Haven’t decided yet. Anyway. It’ll be nice, whatever it is.

bluestonebed

Lest you’re still mourning the loss of the tree, chin up! The bright side is that right behind the old tree is this super cool circular bluestone bed that looks to be very very old and I LOVE. It’s closer to the house than the old tree, but I’d like to clean it all up and plant a nice tree right smack-dab in the middle—I’m thinking a dogwood since it’ll stay small-ish and Armin said it would do well here. Also I’m from Virginia so I have a real soft spot for dogwoods.

So, the backyard! It’s ON. I love yard work so hopefully I can find time on weekends to tackle this sucker, since Olivebridge Cottage is taking up my weekdays and I need to get back to bluestone cottage, too. Why NOT have a million different things going at once? I see no valid reasons.

Oh yeah, and I want to adopt a puppy.

SO. I might start mudroom-deconstructing pretty much ASAP, because I’m nuts, and I have a rental rototiller reserved to pick up on Friday so I can till the living daylights out of my whole yard this weekend, continue getting things graded out, and maybe even get away with not purchasing a bunch of soil to fill in if possible. By the by, I’ve been researching clover lawns as opposed to traditional grass and they seem like kind of my answer to everything (draught-resistant, dog-urine resistant, way less mowing…), so if anyone has thoughts/experience with that I’d love to hear them.

If not, go away.

Just kidding. Tell me everything. I need help.

Here’s What the Living Room Looks Like Nowadays.

linus2

Oh hi, Linus! What a little muppet. Can you believe that guy has been camping out with me for almost three years now? He’s the best thing in the world. FYI.

When I first posted about the renovated living room, I kind of mentioned that I didn’t feel like the room was looking all that great, as the extent of my decorating had been spending an hour or so the day before throwing a bunch of stuff into the room that I already owned. When you live in a perpetual renovation zone, just the novelty of being able to use a room is excitement enough…caring too much about what it looks like is kind of beside the point. And because my house still needs so much work, and the budget for it is always slimmer than it needs to be, it’s not like I have a bunch of cash lying around to buy beautiful things and make even the “finished” spaces look…well, finished.

Anyway. I’ve been doing some heavy-duty nesting and reorganizing and changing things around lately, as I’m now often alone in the house and allowed to do whatever the hell I want. Moment of awkward silence. Point is, I was looking around my living room the other day and realized it looks way more like a real room than last time I posted about it, so maybe it’s high time for a little update!

womb2

First thing’s first…CHAIR. Newsflash: I have a womb chair now and it is officially the nicest thing in my house. And by thing, I mean glorified dog bed. Here, Mekko demonstrates how to use it. Thanks, Mekko!

So the story of this chair is one of bratty persuasion. At some point when I was in high school, my mother became fixated on buying a set of lounge chairs for her bedroom, and somehow I convinced her that a set of grey womb chairs were everything that she wanted. It probably goes without saying that in fact they were everything wanted, but she bought them all the same and then…DIDN’T LIKE THEM. I don’t get it either. She doesn’t find them comfortable.

I’ll say two things about that. The first is that I personally find this chair incredibly comfortable, and the second is that I have lots and lots of chairs in my life and admittedly very few of them are all that comfortable. What can I say? I love me a good-looking chair and like any good blogger, I will sacrifice comfort for beauty every time.

So the chairs sat in my parents’ bedroom until they moved, and then one went to the condo where it continues to be hated and the other one went to fester in a storage facility. This is what my family does as a way to avoid dealing with getting rid of stuff, which is one of their finer qualities IMO. In any case, it seemed like an awful shame to let this chair sit piled atop other stuff and wrapped in cellophane, so when I was home for Passover recently I did the selfless thing and brought it home with me.

Sorry, Mom! This is what you get for having a gay son. Endless decorating advice about expensive items that said son will later convince you to bequeath to him. I’m not proud.

OK, I’m kind of proud.

brasa

Working our way around in no particular order: LAMP. I love this lamp. It’s the IKEA 365 BRASA floor lamp, which I hate to tell you is discontinued! Ugh. I think it retailed for $120 which was always too spendy for me, but the whole thing is super nice powder-coated steel and just so, so well made. I’ve loved it for years! This was a floor model and I found it in the as-is section, and it took me about 0.0 seconds to snatch it up before the opportunity would never present again. I think it was marked down something like 40%.

So sad. It’s such a great lamp.

rugcoffeetable

You might have noticed in the first shot that I moved my stupid little DIY bench into here and called it a coffee table! It functions well as both and I like it a surprising amount, especially because it saves me from feeling like I have to buy a coffee table. Coffee tables are maybe the hardest thing to find, am I right? It’s like they’re all ugly or the wrong height or the wrong length or the wrong everything. Or a billion dollars.

rug

Underneath the coffee table is a rug! A rug that I bought! I got a little overly excited at an auction recently and snagged this rug for $150! TOTALLY worth it in my book. Antique rugs like this are so hard to find at an affordable price. The pictures don’t really show how damaged this rug is in spots, which I’m sure is why the price didn’t go higher, but I don’t really care about that. The majority of the damage is in the middle region and that’s mainly under the coffee table, so I just ignore it. I do have to invest in a pad for underneath but that’s more of a “note to self” than something you need to be concerned about.

I love it a whole lot. It’s still kind of under-sized for this room, but not as under-sized as the one in the old pictures, so at least I’m moving in the right direction. This room can handle an 8×10 so I’ll probably be on the prowl for one for the rest of my life.

bench

Also found at the same auction: PIANO BENCH. I’m still feeling pretty smug about this one. The piano came with the house and is from the 1920s or so, but whatever bench it had was gone, unfortunately, and the piano looks kind of strange sitting without a bench. I think this bench cost me 30 bucks and I feel like you’d NEVER think I just bought it! That’s all I really wanted…I didn’t want to make some kind of feature out of the piano bench—just find something that fit with the piano. The piano is Kroeger and the bench is Steinway so I know they aren’t really a match, but the mahogany finish is almost an exact match and even the shape of the legs is similar, so I feel like I did pretty good.

fern

On top of the piano I plopped a Stag Head Fern, which I love and am trying not to kill. This room needed some plant life so I’m glad it has some now.

Please don’t die, fern. I can’t take that level of emotional turmoil right now.

LR1

I keep futzing with the mantel (why is mantel styling so impossible for me?), but I LOVE this ridiculous/scary/amazing lady portrait. She’s HUGE and I found her in the trash a while ago in Brooklyn! The TRASH! Max always hated her so she was never allowed outside of my hoarding room, but one of the upsides to this whole break-up thingy is that now I can display all of my creepy art without consequences. Nothing says “single and sane” like this display, am I right?

SOMEBODY LOVE ME

I think she was a student art piece and the back of the canvas indicates that a boy named Brett painted her. Are you out there, Brett? Thank you for throwing your art away so that it could come live in my home. She brings me so much pleasure and joy on a daily/hourly/minutely basis.

chimneywallbefore

Controversial art aside, it’s come a long way from this, right? I love hanging out in this room.

womb

linus

mekko1

Oh, Mekko. You gorgeous pink moody thing. Keep living the life of endless lounging and leisure. I’ll try to finish more rooms for you.

New Season, New Project!

It’s SPRINGGGGGGGGG! This might be old news to some of you but it just happened in the past couple of weeks up in the Hudson Valley. I’ve been blissfully popping Claritin-D and huffing prescription nasal spray and I don’t even care about these sinus headaches because it’s finally warm and sunny and not horrible outside.

You might be thinking to yourself: “since it’s finally warm, isn’t it high time Daniel got back to the cottage renovation?”.

You’d be correct.

Except it’s a different cottage. Not mine. I need another house like I need hole in my head. Bluestone Cottage is on hold for a minute while I attend to some more pressing matters that pay better than working for myself. Matters that look like this:

exterior1

Here we have a whacky little 1,100 square foot cottage out in Olivebridge, which is a whacky little town near the Ashokan Reservoir, about 30 minutes from Kingston. We’ll call it Olivebridge Cottage, as it’s a cottage in Olivebridge. I know. You probably can’t even handle my creativity.

This is a client gig and I am stoked. This house is one crazy mo’fo’ and I can’t wait to get my grubby little paws on it.

The clients are actually a couple of friends who I’ve known for a few years now, Adriana and Barry. Adriana and I met when I went to Sweden a few years ago (Max and she were in the same program at Parson’s), and my love for her was intense and immediate. She’s a lunatic ex-attorney Texan-Brazilian-Jew-Unicorn hybrid with possibly the most energy of any person I’ve ever known. I met Barry sometime after that and he’s equally lovely, though slightly less frenetic, which is such a groovy balance. They live in Manhattan but got the upstate itch a while back and closed on this lil’ fixer baby a few months ago. It’ll be a place for them to escape to on the weekends and a vacation rental for visitors (yeah, you can stay here when it’s all done!), so pressure’s on to make it amazing.

The budget on this project is small and the timeline is short and the expectations are high and the challenges are numerous, so what could go wrong, right? Let’s take a little trip inside…

entryway2

This is a funny house. Looks are deceiving here…it’s actually a pretty old house (maybe 1920s?) that’s been added onto at least 5 times, so there’s a lot going on and some weird spaces to contend with. The previous owner was a contractor of some sort who did some pretty heavy renovations in the 80s/90s—some of them good, some of them not so good. My job is basically to go in and fix what’s broken, do a big ole kitchen renovation, and refine all the small little details that just weren’t done so well the first time around. They’re not living there while this is going on, so I basically have the freedom to tear it all apart and put it back together again. Let me at it!

ANYWAY, above is the little entryway/vestibule thingy. It’s cute, but definitely needs some TLC in the form of paint, some better hooks, and maybe a lighting upgrade. I actually happen to kind of like that light but maybe not for this house. We’ll see how far the budget takes us…

guestbedroom

To the left of the entryway is this little enclosed porch, which can technically be called a second bedroom. It’s small but full of windows, which makes it feel super bright and pretty. The plan in here is to remove the closet (it just takes up too much space, isn’t necessary for this house, and doesn’t need to be there for this to qualify as a bedroom—I checked). Then it’ll mostly be a lot of paint, probably replacing that fan, and decking it out all cute-like with a little daybed and a rug and all that fun stuff. I have a feeling I’m going to want to crash here by the end…

entryway3

To the right of the entryway is the rest of the house! I’ll post a floor plan next time so you can get a better sense of how these spaces connect—it’s definitely a little unorthodox and bizarre, but totally workable.

entryway1

Inside the living room, there’s a wood stove on a big bluestone pad and lots and lots of beadboard panelling. The beadboard is the nice tongue-in-groove solid pine variety, but we all agree that painting it out is going to be the best plan here. The previous owners did a sort of white-washed finish on it, but pine tends to go kind of pink unless you compensate with some yellow/brown tint, which is what’s gone down here. The pink tone combined with the major wood bleed on all the knots is just not a good look, although admittedly these pictures are pretty flattering despite what it looks like in real life. It’s not cute. The subtle texture of the beadboard painted white will be nice, though.

LivingRoom1

Here’s that area from another angle, so you can get a better sense of the space! It’s so good, right? Or, like, it will be. The vaulted ceilings are great, and all the windows give the whole house such beautiful light and views. Not every window has a great view, but most of them are all forest and lichen-covered boulders and upstate NY magic. It’s already such a nice place to spend my days working!

My immediate reaction to this house is that it really wants to have a fun, bright, casual, minimal Scandinavian cottage kind of vibe, which is almost too appropriate considering a big basis of my friendship with Adriana is our time in Sweden and Finland. She and Barry are totally on board with this, which is so exciting for me. I’ve kind of been lost in old-house-restoration-mode for the past couple of years, so I’m excited to flex some modernist/minimalist muscle in here and whip it into the kind of house it’s aspiring to be.

sunkenlivingroom

One side of the living room houses this really odd sunken space, which I’m sure used to be a porch and was also enclosed at some point. The ribbon windows along the long wall and side let in a great amount of light, but the vintage corbels in the corners and that weird trim piece in the middle between the posts are just all wrong for this place. This area is part of the fun and part of the challenge of this house. I have a plan and I think it’s gonna be great.

TVcabetc

On the other side of the living room is this funny/terrible TV cabinet set-up, which is going to get demo’d and replaced with something much cleaner and better looking that’s flush with the wall. I’m assuming this was constructed in the olden days of the 90s when tube TVs were still a thing, but it doesn’t need to be this deep anymore.

Hallway1

Up those couple of stairs is this little hallway, with a closet on the left and a full bathroom on the right. The flooring in this hallway is kind of a mess and will probably get replaced. A big challenge of this house is using the budget to not only fully renovate the space, but also unify all of these additions that hail from different eras and make use of all these different materials—right now there are six different types of flooring in the house, which just makes it feel choppy and disconnected.

MasterBedroom1

The main bedroom is sweet but needs some work. The maple flooring runs into this room, too, and should look great with refinishing. The room is a nice size for a queen bed, a couple little side tables, and a dresser, but is going to take a deceptive amount of work to bring up to speed. The walls are in bad shape, the electrical is weirdly placed, that fan is driving me bonkers, and we have got to refine the moldings throughout the house. The 1×4 is just way too chunky for this modernist minimalist escape. That’s a lot of the work here…it’s like everything was done decently well until the last 10-20% of the last remodel and then things kind of fell apart. Nothing that can’t be fixed, though.

livingdining

Back in the living room space, we have a few steps leading up into the dining room and kitchen area. The folding table and chairs are not permanent.

To the right of the stairs is this big propane-powered heater, which functions as the main heat source for the living/dining/kitchen space when the wood stove isn’t burning and keeps the pipes from freezing when nobody’s home. It’s kind of a beast and pretty unattractive, so we’re looking into possible replacements or at the very least relocating it. One of the goals here is to extend the stairs and open up that wall where the propane heater is sitting as much as we can, so I’m meeting with my HVAC dude today to brainstorm what we can do about it.

dining3

The dining room is nice, though! We’ll need to sort out the moldings, electrical, a new light fixture, flooring, paint, and obviously furniture! Can’t you just see a nice round dining table with some great chairs and an amazing pendant light? OK, well, you don’t have to. That’s my job.

halfbath

On the other side of the dining room is the biggest issue with the whole house…this wall! Behind that door is a half-bathroom, which also houses a small utility closet for the hot water tank. We’re trying to figure out the best option for replacing it with an on-demand tankless hot water heater, which can hopefully move much more out of the way than where it is now—maybe even into the crawlspace below. And the half bath? It’s gotta go.

I KNOW. I know the classic wisdom is that more bathrooms add value to houses, but in this case, it’s just stupid. It takes up an ENORMOUS amount of space, and let’s just remember that this house is 1,100 square feet and really a one-bedroom but technically a two-bedroom. It does not need a half-bathroom like ten steps away from the full bath, and it certainly doesn’t need one practically in the dining room. I mean, excuse my french, but who wants to be eating dinner while someone is taking a shit right there? Nobody.

kitchen4

All that space could be put to much better use by giving it over to the kitchen, though! So that’s the plan. The existing galley kitchen is just small and cramped and worse for wear, so the bulk of this renovation is blowing out that half-bath, gutting the existing kitchen, and putting in a new fancy kitchen that’s open to the dining space and much better suited to entertaining and socializing and not having a poop-center right in the middle of it all.

kitchen3

The existing kitchen looks to be from about the 1950s and updated with a little paint and new countertops whenever the house was renovated last. Unfortunately the cabinets are mostly built in place and pretty much shot, so everything except the fridge and stove are getting replaced. The floor has a pretty significant slant going on, too, so we’ll probably have to take everything down to the studs and joists to get it all level and ready for new flooring and cabinets and everything else. Hopefully the structural issues aren’t too big of a deal, but unfortunately it’s one of those things that’s hard to figure out how extensive the problems are until things are opened up a bit.

kitchen1

Currently the kitchen also houses a washer/dryer unit, which we’re planning to relocate to the hall closet with new stacked units. It’s not super ideal to lose that much closet space to a washer and dryer, but it’ll free up the kitchen and because this is primarily a vacation house, it really doesn’t need a lot of closet space. We’ll need to add a little storage to compensate but that shouldn’t be a problem considering all the space we’re gaining back from losing the half-bath.

kitchen2

Anyway, tearing into this space is going to be fun fun fun. There are some things we don’t really know, like why the window sill is so deep or what’s contained in the soffit above the upper cabinets or why the sink isn’t centered under the window or how they got the checkerboard patterned curtains to match the backsplash tile so exactly, but I guess we’ll find out! Curtains might remain a mystery, though.

I can’t wait to get this project going! We’ve been talking and planning for a couple of months now and while the budget and timeline make me a little nervous, it’s all going to be great and so worth it. Adriana and Barry have been amazing to work with and I think we’re all totally on the same page with this place, which is just so much fun. Next time we’ll dig into the plans!

Yay for Olivebridge Cottage! This is going to be a fun one.

A Personal Update

So…you might have noticed my posting has been a little light around these parts lately. A lot’s been going on. A few friends have come to visit, I’ve been hard at work on a new freelance project, still wrestling with the cottage, projects at my own house—I guess none of that’s so out of the ordinary. What is out of the ordinary? A couple months ago, Max and I decided to break up. And, frankly, it’s been hard on many levels. Personally, of course, but continuing to post here with this at the forefront of my mind has felt…weird. So I took a little time to myself to get my head right, regroup, and recharge. I hope that’s understandable.

I think and hope that it’s fair to say this decision did not come at all lightly, but was about as mutual as such a decision can be. For those of you who are new here, this might not matter to you at all, but for those of you who have been around for a while, you probably have a sense that this is sort of a big deal in my life. Max and I were together for over four years. We had a good ride. Nay, a great ride. In that time, we moved in together in the Brooklyn apartment, we supported each other through several jobs, we adopted two dogs, we travelled, we got engaged, we bought a house. Together, we experienced innumerable “firsts” for both of us, and saw each other through countless fun times, difficult times, and everything in between. I wouldn’t trade those years for the world, and I mean that sincerely.

Not everything is meant to last forever. It’s strange. I don’t think of our relationship as failing—not at all. If you’ll forgive me the cheesy extended analogy, I think of it kind of like a rollercoaster ride. You get on, there’s a steep ascent, and then it all comes rushing at you—the quick turns, the loop de loops, the steep climbs and dramatic falls and all that speed, and then it slows and eventually, it stops. There’s that moment in the middle there where you feel like you could stay on the ride forever—where you might wish it would never end—but it does, and you do the right thing. You unbuckle yourself, get up, and move on. The ride didn’t fail because it stopped. It just ran its course.

You might be able to tell that I have no idea how to do this. Having to do this at all is, admittedly, a little odd: making so public what feels like an intensely personal and intimate matter. I don’t honestly know how our relationship came across from the perspective of a stranger reading this blog (or following our instagrams or twitter accounts or whatever…), but I can assure you that it was good. Max is a wonderful person—possibly the kindest I’ve ever known, smart, funny, charming, handsome, intensely sweet, extraordinarily talented, all of it. He’s the best thing that ever happened to me. In so many ways, I feel like we grew up together. Challenged each other, taught each other, made each other better people. I’ll forever be grateful and honored to have had that. Moving on from being a couple hasn’t been particularly easy, but it hasn’t been bad, either. We care deeply for each other. We’re there for each other. The nature and definition of our relationship has changed, absolutely, but we’re on great terms. We’re approaching this in more or less the same way we tried to approach our relationship: with caring, compassion, mutual respect, and love. There’s no dramatic story behind all of this, no sides to be taken by any of our friends—none of that. It’s all OK.

If you’re one of those people who does care about this post and has made it this far, I’m hoping I can anticipate some questions you might have.

This blog isn’t really going to change. Max is taking over the Brooklyn apartment as his full-time residence, and I’m now a full-time Kingston-ite. At the risk of crossing too many personal lines, the house is more or less mine, and I’m staying in it, which I’m happy to do. It became apparent to me pretty early on after buying the house that I had no real desire to live in NYC any longer—I really feel like I’ve found my home here in Kingston, and in this house, and it’s still my great pleasure to do my best to restore it and really make a life here. I love being a part of this community and while leaving the Brooklyn apartment behind me isn’t easy, I’ll admit that it feels kind of nice to take that responsibility off my plate. It was my home for two solid years (and my kind-of home for two more after buying the house), and I’m happy that it’ll continue to have such a wonderful person living in it. It’s a special place.

The dogs are staying with me. This is a tough one to talk about, because it’s no secret that we adopted both of them together and we both love them so, so much. I think what it comes down to is trying to figure out what’s best for them, and they can have a better life here. They’re more at ease in Kingston and in the house, they have a yard to run around in—it’s just for the best. Max can of course see them whenever he wants, and there’s no debate about that. They’re still his, too, even though we’re not together. We’re figuring it out.

I’m not sure what more there is to say. I’m disabling comments on this post for what I hope are understandable and obvious reasons—this is just one of those things that I don’t really feel compelled to field a lot of input on. If you’re feeling compelled to comment, trust me, I appreciate it.

I hope you’re having a great weekend—I’ll be busy hauling demo debris to the dump, and back on Monday to kick off a new exciting project that’s been in the works. Until then, thank you for reading and I’ll see you very soon.

XO,

D

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