Let’s Go to the Auction! Tips and Tricks and A Big New Addition!

We all know I love vintage shopping. We all know I like a bargain. Good—glad we got that out of the way. See that rug up there? I bought it. For $40. At an auction!

There are lots of ways to find good deals on vintage/antique stuff: occasionally you’ll get a deal at antique stores, but I tend to favor consignment shops, thrift stores, salvage shops, flea markets, Craigslist, and the curb. Sometimes I venture into the land of eBay and Etsy but I like to see and touch and inspect things in person, so online shopping can be tricky. Also I hate waiting for shipping because I’m impatient.

In the past couple of years though, I’ve started going to more and more AUCTIONS! Auctions are my kind of fun: the people-watching is usually good, and I like seeing how much things go for even if I’m not really interested in them. It’s an exciting way to spend an evening…or afternoon…or morning…when ISN’T a good time for an auction, really? Especially if you’ve never been to one, though, the whole thing can be a little intimidating. In my experience, the general crowd at an auction seems to be largely composed of dealers—which is good if you’re not one, because you’re often bidding against people who have to be able to re-sell whatever’s for sale at a big mark-up for their attendance to be worthwhile. So if, like me, you have rooms to decorate and renovations to outfit, auctions can be an awesome resource once you get over the initial apprehension that might come along with trying it out.

Every auction house works a little bit differently, but here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way with the ones I’ve gone to!

1. Finding the auction! A quick Google search should pull up auction houses in your area. Most of them will have a website or at least a Facebook page giving some detail about the upcoming sales. Some places hold auctions on a regular schedule—once a week, typically—but others may be a few weeks between sales. Auctionzip.com is a great resource for finding sales in your area.

2. GO TO THE PREVIEW. ALWAYS. Before the auction, there’s a preview. Sometimes it’s a day or two before, and sometimes it’s just a few hours before the auction actually commences—usually the auction house will list this information, but just ask if it isn’t listed. GO. This is your opportunity to look at all the things for sale, and inspect anything you might actually want to buy. Usually there are paper copies available of the entire catalog that you can use for reference. I like to circle items that I’m interested in, and perhaps make small notes so I remember any flaws or repair work or whatever. There’s typically a LOT of stuff so it’s easy to forget—particularly if there are ten light fixtures you might want but two you REALLY want. You have to be able to remember which two! Obviously don’t break anything, but the preview time is there for you to touch things, open doors and drawers, and make sure it’s something you really want to buy. It may also allow you some time to check what similar items might be selling for online, so you have a point of reference for what a fair/good price might look like.

3. Bring a tape measure! You never know what you might find, and seeing a bunch of stuff sprawled out in an open space can mess with your sense of scale. You want to make sure you can fit whatever it is in your life!

4. If you can’t make it to the preview, your auction house might post the whole catalog online. The pictures are generally poor quality, but sometimes it’s enough to get a good idea. Sometimes, a few more items will be added to a sale that never make it into that online catalog, so going in person is definitely the best thing. If you can’t make it to the preview, though, sometimes it’s best to just skip the auction—purchases you immediately regret upon actually seeing them in real life suck!

5. Register to bid! The auction house will typically want your name, address and phone number, and then you’ll be in their system which makes the process faster next time. They’ll give you a bidder card with a number on the front, and typically a place on the back for you to fill in with your purchases. That space on the back of the card is really for your benefit—once you win an item, your number is noted in their system as the winning bid. But it’s good to keep track of your purchases yourself regardless—mistakes happen occasionally, and you don’t want to spend your whole paycheck!

If it’s your first time at an auction house, give yourself plenty of time to register—the registration counter will become crowded as the auction approaches, and you don’t want to miss the first items if you’re interested in them because you don’t have your card in hand yet!

6. Bring a checkbook! Or cash! On your winning bid, there is a buyer’s premium: essentially a percentage of your winning bid that gets added.  The buyer’s premium is usually between 10-20% of the winning bid, but many auction houses charge a lower buyer’s premium if you pay with cash or check instead of a card.

7. Lots: anything that goes up for sale as a unit is called a “lot.” When you bid on a lot, you buy it all—so sometimes a lot will be just one piece of furniture, sometimes it will be two chairs and a side table, or it might be a box lot like the ones above, which are just groupings of similar items that the auction house decides to sell as a single lot. Don’t disregard box lots! Even if there are 30 things in a box lot and you only want 2 of them, sometimes you can buy the whole thing for 5 bucks and then you just have 28 things to get rid of or resell or whatever. Ha!

8. Bidding! The actual bidding part is SUCH a rush but also sort of scary, so a few things are liable to happen: either you get so determined just to WIN that you end up over-paying and regretting it, or something is just going way too cheap so you buy it just BECAUSE and then you have shit you didn’t really want, or most LIKELY you get too nervous and flustered and don’t bid or stop bidding and then lose stuff that you actually would have paid more for if only you had a second to think! That’s the WORST. So I like to pencil in my maximum bid next to the item in the catalog (and keep that shit close to your chest!), so I don’t end up in any of those positions. It’s such a simple thing but makes a huge difference, I promise! Always know how high you’re really willing to go before you bid.

My rule: don’t be the first to bid, ever. Often, the auctioneer will open bidding at something like $100, and then nobody will bid until he drops down to $5. Let other people bid it up and swoop in toward the end if it’s still in your price range. You don’t want to be the dummy that raised your hand at $100 when you could have walked away winning for $30. At the same time, don’t wait too long because sometimes nobody will bid, and the winner is just the first hand up—so if you want it, be that hand.

Also, try to sit toward the center, in clear view of the auctioneer. It SUCKS to bid on something and the auctioneer just doesn’t see you. I like sitting more toward the back than the front—that way I can watch my competition. You can pick up a surprising amount from body language!

Also, also: SOME auction houses will have the entire catalog photographed and displayed on a slideshow so you know what you’re bidding on. Sometimes, auction house workers will carry each individual item up to the podium area as they come up. In the first case, bidding is more likely to go in order of the catalog—meaning you know if you can go to the bathroom or something because the next item you’re interested in is 20 lots away. When the catalog isn’t photographed, often they’ll just auction things off in the random order that the auction worker grabs them off the floor, so you have to pay attention.

9. Leaving a bid: If you can’t make it to the auction in person, you might still be able to buy stuff! You can usually leave a bid on an item with the auction house, and then your bid competes against bidders who are there in person. EDIT: if you leave a bid on a chair for $400, and the highest bid in the house is $50, you will win it for $55 or $60—whatever increments the auctioneer is increasing the bid at.

10. Phone and online bidding: again, if you can’t be there in person but might be able to bid in real time remotely, the auction house might be using a service like Auctionzip.com to allow online bidding. It’s the future! It’s kind of like eBay but way more intense: you have to sit there and wait for your item to come up, and then you’re bidding in real time against any other online bidders and whoever is sitting in the auction house. It moves quickly! For phone bidding, tell the house which lot you want to bid on, and they’ll call you when the item comes up and you can bid over the phone, much like you would if you were in the room.

11. Bring refreshments! Auction houses often sell concessions like hot dogs and sodas and stuff, but maybe you don’t want that? Bring your own! Even though each individual lot might only take 30 seconds or so between opening bid and hammer, the entire auction might last a few hours. Be prepared! For the love of god, leave your kids at home and don’t bring friends with short attention spans. Auctions are just too boring for some people.

12. It’s OK to leave early! If you’re over it, or everything in the catalog that you were interested in has already come up, snag the opportunity to beat the line at the end and check out early. It can take a while for everyone to check out, and then even longer for the house to bring out your items if you wait all the way until the last lot.

13. Be nice! Nobody likes a sore loser, so don’t be one. Also, if you have friends you go to the auction with, make sure you’re not competing!! If three of you want the same item, be open about your max bids then let whoever is willing to pay the most bid on it. It’s never worth losing friends over! With other attendees, don’t be an asshole! You never know if you’ll end up walking into that dealer’s store, and you don’t want to be remembered as that jerk from the auction. Also, you might start seeing items that you saw go at auction for $10 in a store for $200—knowing what somebody paid for something does not give you license to begrudge them what they’re reselling it for.

OK SO NOW THAT YOU KNOW HOW TO DO IT…wanna see a thing?

I went to an auction a couple weeks ago. I saw THIS. I was filled with FEELINGS.

SO I BOUGHT IT FOR $200 AND NOW IT IS IN MY BEDROOM! It’s so tall. It’s so beautiful. It’s so…not my usual thing! Where furniture is concerned, I typically like modern from the past 60-70 years or so, or really primitive kinds of antiques from before 1850-ish. Then again I can be a sucker for Art Deco, so I don’t know. This armoire is Eastlake style—call it 1870s. I normally don’t like Victorian furniture for myself, but I make an exception for Eastlake because it was really a reaction against what we think of as Victorian furniture—the SUPER ornate, Rococo-revival kinds of stuff. Although the style of my radiators are literally named “Rococo” and I think they’re incredibly beautiful. What’s my point?

I have no point, except that the way to Narnia is through my bedroom and I’m pretty psyched up about it. I really like waking up and seeing this thing.

Right now the inside is set up with a clothing rod, but…I want a TV in it. I know I just renovated the den and the bedroom, but I do kind of miss having a TV in the bedroom because I’m trash, but I also want it concealed because I’m an insufferable snob. It’s a delicate balance.

To tie this post together, this is part of why you go to the preview! The armoire is not in perfect shape—it’s missing a few little trim pieces and the lockset for the doors, but look what was hiding in that lower drawer! All the pieces! Plus a finial that doesn’t appear to match anything. So $200 and an hour or two of little repair work, and it’ll be good to go.

I love you, towering Eastlake armoire. Welcome home.

Ask for PURPLE! The Best Drywall for My New Kitchen.

This post is in partnership with National Gypsum Purple XP! #askforPURPLE

I feel like I tend to think a lot (overthink?) about the materials that go into a given renovation project. At this point, my brain is essentially trained to think about this stuff as I fall asleep every night: I picture a room I’m going to be working on, and then I toggle between combinations of beadboard and shiplap and beaded shiplap and tile and plaster and natural stone until my brain just sort of dissolves into a puddle and I drift off. The options are endless, so this method tends to be effective even when it takes hours to kick in.

One thing I never really thought about until very recently, though? DRYWALL. We all know it, we love it, we live with it, we might have even installed and/or finished it and/or patched it at some point. As a building material, it’s about as ubiquitous as 2x4s and nails…both of which I’m pretty sure I could come up with a few compelling things each to say about, but ask me about drywall? It’s…drywall. It’s what the walls are made of. What else do you want from me?!

Until very recently, a piece of drywall has been a piece of drywall in my mind. Some of it’s grey. Some of it’s green. Some is 3/8″ thick. Some is 1/2″. Some is 5/8″. But really, it’s all pretty much the same. Right? RIGHT???

NOT RIGHT. WRONG. I WAS WRONG. I’m often wrong. It’s one of my many charms.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel down to Charlotte, North Carolina to learn all about drywall with the folks at National Gypsum Company. National Gypsum has a fascinating history: they’ve been producing drywall since 1925, the production of which is still done entirely in North America. As I learned, the United States is naturally rich in gypsum—the main ingredient in drywall—which I suppose is part of why drywall was adopted so quickly and has remained the standard wall and ceiling material in this country for almost a century. At least in the States, it’s almost unimaginable to do any interior renovation or construction project without it.

More or less, here’s what drywall is: a slurry of powdered gypsum, water, and starch, between a couple sheets of paper. The slush dries and hardens and then it’s drywall! After hanging it onto your studs, the seams are taped and “mudded” with joint compound to create a seamless, flat surface that can be painted.

Fun fact: did you know (I did not know) that National Gypsum is one of the biggest recycled paper manufacturers in the country?? The papers that coat the front and the back of drywall have been produced by recycling old magazines and newspapers and cardboards since the 1960s! Before it was cool! I dig that. They’ve never especially made a point of this in marketing their products, but I think it’s so awesome!

Another fun fact: some of the gypsum used in National Gypsum’s drywall is mined from the earth, but a lot of it is actually synthetic gypsum, which is chemically the same compound. The cool thing about synthetic gypsum is that it’s essentially a manufactured by-product of other manufacturing processes, capturing stuff that would otherwise pollute the air and instead turning it into a useful material. What happens is coal-fired power plants work with National Gypsum to enact a flue gas desulfurization process in their coal stacks—basically allowing National Gypsum to clean their emissions before they go up into the air by combining Sulfur Dioxide in the emissions with lime (Calcium Carbonate) which forms pure gypsum through the !!!MAGIC OF CHEMISTRY!!! So that way, the emissions get way cleaner and emerge from the stack mostly as steam, and National Gypsum gets a lot of gypsum to use in drywall that we put in our houses. I just thought that was super cool.

ANYWAY.

Like most renovation-inclined folks, I rely heavily on drywall…so I’m not sure why I never took the time to really consider what type of drywall I was using. I have a lot of gutted spaces in my life right now (let’s think…my kitchen, the room above my kitchen, my 1/2 bath, soon my laundry room, the entirety of Bluestone Cottage—which, yes, is still happening—this other house I started renovating last week, another couple in the pipeline…let’s stop before the panic sets in?), and most of them will need a lot of drywall. And I have to confess something: I’ve pretty much always bought 1/2″ lightweight drywall and never given it another thought. I neither love it nor hate it, but I’ve tried to work around the realities of it by doubling up layers of 1/2″ drywall and skim-coating the whole thing to mimic the look and feel and sound-proofing qualities of plaster, which has been ok. But that’s really because I had no idea there were better products out there that already pretty much do that. WHICH IS SO EXCITING! Those products are called PURPLE XP and they feel so right. Also I really like writing PURPLE in all caps, like I’m screaming about it because I AM.

Taking a step back, let’s think about lightweight drywall for a second. Over the past decade or so, the market has largely dictated a huge rise in the popularity of lightweight drywall—which is a fine product, but also one with better alternatives. As one member of the National Gypsum team put it to me, “the only way to make lightweight gypsum board is to take the gypsum out of it,” which is essentially what all drywall manufacturers have done. Less gypsum, and more…bubbles! Quite literally, in order to make lightweight drywall, the gypsum-water-starch mixture in the core of drywall is cut with soap to create bubbles, which harden to a board filled with tiny air pockets where there would otherwise be gypsum. Of course, this leads to a product that’s less sturdy, less sound-proof, and has lower insulation value than a denser drywall board. Is this what we really want on our walls? I want my walls dense and solid and sturdy! If you really think about it, the only person lightweight drywall benefits is the contractor who buys and hangs it…so if you don’t Ask for Purple, that’s what you’re more than likely to get. It may have to be ordered at your hardware store of choice, but you can also find retailers here. Just ask!

So now that we have that cleared up, what is this magical PURPLE XP?  For starters, it’s what National Gypsum flew my ass down below the Mason-Dixon to discuss. It’s a line of drywall products. There are several different ones, and they each have their own drywall superpower. National Gypsum can probably explain this better than I can, but that’s never stopped me before from trying to stumble my way through talking about things I just learned about with feigned authority. Here goes.

What makes PURPLE XP, well, purple? Dye. Dye and clever marketing. Ha! But it’s the only purple drywall out there, so when you see it (and now that you know about it, I promise you’ll start seeing it!), you’ll know there’s actual awesomeness behind the color. First of all, ALL the PURPLE XP drywall is mold and moisture resistant (XP stands for “extra protection” and don’t ask me why it’s not “EP” because I’m only one person with only so much knowledge). It’s also all Greenguard certified for indoor air quality, which is a huge priority of mine up until the moment I inevitably start spray-painting something inside in the middle of winter and get high off fumes. Anyway, I aspire to high indoor air quality standards, and luckily it’s built-in with PURPLE.

There are four main types of PURPLE XP and they’re all totally cool:

1. PURPLE XP! Here is me in front of an enormous tower of it at the plant. YEAH, I GOT TO GO TO THE PLANT. Jealous?? Thought so. It was awesome. I love a factory tour.

PURPLE XP is basically your all-purpose PURPLE drywall and can be used anywhere, but especially anywhere where mold or moisture are even vague concerns/considerations. As a person with mold allergies who has also torn out my share of moldy drywall, I would absolutely use this in a whole house top to bottom. Except for where I wanted to use…

2. PURPLE Hi-Abuse XP! See that machine up there? I drew a handy arrow pointing toward the important part, which is a super rigid steel-bristled brush with a big weight on top of it, and its whole job is to scratch things really hard over and over again. There are actual machines for this! You go, little scratchy machine.

So on the left you have PURPLE Hi-Abuse XP and on the right you have regular lightweight drywall. Both went through the same test, and you can see that the brush didn’t even get through the PURPLE paper all the way whereas it literally dug through the normal drywall. Nuts! I am clumsy and constantly renovating, so I often accidentally scratch something against the walls when carrying materials around or tools down to the basement. I can totally see how awesome this would be in a space like an entryway or hallway or mudroom that might otherwise get scratched up. Rad.

3. PURPLE Hi-Impact XP. And hey look, it’s Kim! Hello Kim! But the point of this picture is not how adorable Kim is, it’s what she’s checking out, which is a sample of the fiberglass mesh that runs through the entire sheet of Hi-Impact XP drywall. Maybe you have a terrible temper and tend to kick and punch the walls? If so, seek help. But also seek better drywall, in the form of Hi-Impact XP because it is SO STRONG.

It looks like I’m pretending in this picture but I swear it’s real! They let us try this fun thing where we got to hit a hanging Hi-Impact board with this wooden bat, with the goal of making a hole. I have demoed lots of drywall in my life. I have accidentally made holes in drywall in my life. I couldn’t do it! It’s seriously intense.

That being said, it’s still drywall! It’s designed to withstand impacts like errant hockey pucks, the end of a pool cue, some bro’s angry fist, but it hangs just like drywall with regular screws and you can still hammer a picture hook into it and all that stuff.

4. PURPLE Soundbreak XP. The drywall that cannot really be appreciated in photographs but HOLY COW I’m so BEYOND happy to know this exists and to use it. It’s the one I’m most excited about, and makes me want to replace every stitch of inferior drywall in my house with this.

See how that image kind of looks like two sheets of drywall? It’s not—what you’re seeing in the middle there is a thin layer of special super magic stuff that’s designed to absorb and dissipate noise. And it works stunningly well. At the National Gypsum Technology Innovation Center, they have a little closet for demonstration where one side is finished with regular drywall and the other side with Soundbreak, and then they have speakers outside of each respective side that play loud sounds so you can hear the difference on each side. The difference is HUGE!

So, of course this would be great for multi-family buildings, nurseries, home theaters, wherever your teenager holds his jam-seshes with that friend who thinks he’s Led Zeppelin, that kind of thing, but my brain immediately went somewhere else that I find much more exciting. One of the best things about old plaster walls is how well they insulate noise—I really believe that you can often stand in a room and just feel whether it has plaster walls vs. drywall ones, just from how the sound reverberates and travels between rooms. Does this not seem like the PERFECT solution to addressing that difference?? I  have a feeling I’m going to be dealing with a LOT of Soundbreak XP in the future…it makes me want to put up drywall RIGHT THIS INSTANT.

Thinking about my kitchen (well, the room that was once and will someday again be my kitchen…yikes), I think I’m planning for tile around the room from baseboard to about 5′ high, and then drywall above that up to the ceiling, where I’m leaning hard toward beadboard! Since it’s not a space that sees direct water contact (like a shower or something), I’m planning on using PURPLE XP under the tile and Soundbreak above it. Evidently tile + Soundbreak is somewhat pointless because essentially the sound waves don’t penetrate the tile (physics, or something), so that’s why I think mixing products makes sense here. If all goes according to plan, the Soundbreak will make up for the fact that there’s no more plaster left in this shell of a room. Obviously there’s just a littttttle work to do before hanging drywall can happen, but I’ll keep you in the loop on how it goes down!

 

Designing Olivebridge Cottage 2.0: Part 2!

So, you may recall that last time we discussed Olivebridge Cottage, we had a plan to kinda-sorta rebuild the house and it looked more or less like this:

This period was the closest this job probably ever came to feeling manageable: we had the town and the engineers on our side, the homeowners were happy with the direction, and the tasks ahead were difficult but not that difficult. It’s a little one-story house—a few more months and we’d be out.

Then the homeowners threw a second floor master suite into the mix. Which they wanted me to design. In approximately 5 minutes. Two weeks before we were set to start construction on a plan that had remained unchanged for a few months.

At the time, the logic went like this: after spending so much time and so much money on this house, reselling the house at a price that bore any resemblance to the amount invested would be somewhat impossible if the finished product didn’t really differ materially from the original house. Adding a whole bedroom and bathroom would turn the house from a 2 bed/1 bath to a 3 bed/2 bath, essentially shifting it into a different bracket of real estate. Obviously the upfront building cost would be higher, but the homeowners felt that it was the right move.

And so, the second floor. Maybe it sounds easy to you. It did not sound easy to me. It didn’t even necessarily sound fun to me, because I think I’m more of a renovator at heart. I like working within the constraints of an existing structure. Pulling a design out of thin air…that’s a whole different thing.

And you can’t just plop a second floor onto a house and call it a day! You have to rethink everything. For starters, stairs! Stairs take up a lot of space. You also have to think about using that new space efficiently. You have to think about plumbing paths and electrical requirements and septic systems and all the codes. And you have to think about what that new house is going to actually look like! And, in my case, without really any experience to lean on, I had to do it in a really short amount of time and have it approved by two homeowners, a team of engineers, and the fine folks at the local building and zoning department. And then I had to be able to build it.

All that being said, it’s not like I could just propose/build whatever. Every design job has constraints, and often those constraints guide the design much more restrictively than your imagination does. As somebody with some educational background in architecture, and certainly a personal interest, my mind immediately went to all kinds of things I’ve seen or read about. The Eames Case Study House, constructed from factory components in a matter of days. The stark geometry of the Bauhaus. The undulating concrete forms of Saarinen and Niemeyer. Those incredible walls of glass and rich wood finishes and the indoor-outdoor dialogue they create that Neutra did so well. It’s easy to get caught up.

And then you come back down to reality, because these were my constraints:

  1. Experience: at this stage, we didn’t even have a builder. Obviously I can’t literally, single-handedly construct a house, so I knew I’d be working in conjunction with a contractor, but we didn’t know which contractor. New construction is somewhat uncommon around these parts, so there really just wasn’t room to gamble on some complicated or experimental design. This house needed to be simple and straightforward to construct.
  2. Cost: I had to be able to build it inexpensively. New construction is never cheap, but there’s a big difference between a simple, traditional stick-frame structure and a complicated one that requires steel supports or tons of custom components or hard-to-source materials. Time is money when working with contractors, going back to the ease-of-building point. Cost is also part of what eliminated prefab as an option: everything I found was priced much higher than we hoped to be on a cost-per-square-foot basis, not to mention really tiny!
  3. Footprint: partially because we were working with most of an existing structure, and largely due to zoning regulations and setback requirements, we essentially had to maintain the footprint of the existing house. More on that in a second!
  4. Site: this site was somewhat challenging. You have the beautiful wooded areas in the back and off to the side with big mature trees and boulders and the wonders of nature, but then across the street and next door you have houses. Two of the three are currently in states of disrepair (and even fixed up, it’s not like you want to highlight neighboring houses when you have nature as an alternative!), so I had to try to maximize the appealing views and minimize exposure to the less desirable ones.
  5. Practicality: even with the additional floor, the house still isn’t particularly large. You can dream all day about the architecture of a space, but ultimately you still have to have a functioning kitchen, three bedrooms, storage, wall space for art and small storage and display, two bathrooms that meet code, utility space, and laundry. The house has to work.
  6. Codes: There are codes for almost everything. Heights, spans, clearances, distances between supports, the rise and run of each stair tread, the R-value of insulation, the placement of electrical receptacles, forms of egress, the type of glass required on a given window, fire safety, vapor barriers, grades of lumber for interior walls vs. exterior ones, the space around the toilet bowl. To say the learning curve for me was steep is an understatement.
  7. Engineering: Regardless of what would have actually been possible, the engineers had some restrictions that my hands were somewhat tied to follow—the most consequential being the pitch of the roof. You hear a lot about snow loads being greater than they used to be, and our engineers said emphatically that our roofs had to be 6/12 at a minimum. This refers to the rise and run—for every 12″ of run, the roof must rise 6″, which is fairly steep. That’s kind of fine for a regular gabled roof, but wouldn’t allow us to build, say, a shed-style roof without the angles just looking insane.
  8. Time: there just wasn’t enough of it! I had to design it quickly, primarily because all of this came about in mid-September, and we had to get a foundation in the ground before winter hit! And we had to build it quickly. Had is a strong word—the homeowners wanted it done quickly. They wanted it done yesterday. There was quite a bit of time spent on this project trying to explain why various things were so time-consuming, and why we probabbblllyyyy couldn’t build and finish (and furnish!) an entire house in 3-4 months.
  9. Homeowners: as much as the homeowners and I really did get along and were on the same page about so many things, remember that I’m designing this house for them, not me! It’s easy to forget now, but during this period there was SO much anxiety and frustration that, for the homeowners, it started to feel essential that the house had mass appeal. OH DEAR. To me this house was always aspiring to be more modern, not less, but Adriana started showing me examples of these very traditional, kind of generic but well-executed new construction projects that just felt so at odds with the actual house, or what they even wanted to live in! I think it was really just panic about the future prospect of resale, which I understand. Not only did this feel really…uninspiring, it also seemed like an efficient way to increase construction costs: with modernism you can get away with simplicity and utilitarianism, but it’s hard to do that with more traditional styles without everything just looking cheap and flat. As a small example, we were aiming to reuse certain things like windows that were still in fine shape, but large single-lite vinyl casement windows were not going to look right on a house that’s supposed to have 6-over-6 divided lite double-hungs. Nonetheless, this period of not wanting to go “too daring” with the design was happening in the background of this and felt like a big complicating factor, even though they eventually got over it. Ha!

SO! The first thing was figuring out the space I had to work with. Our original footprint was this, with the top facing the street:

Since we asked real nice and applied for a zoning variance, the town allowed us to bump out the living room wall 6 feet, giving us an addition 120 square feet of space to play with. Like so–shaded section is new:

One of the challenges I see in designing a structure vs. renovating one is that with renovations, you tend to be thinking mostly about the interior or mostly about the exterior. Exterior work is often cosmetic—re-siding, re-painting, re-roofing, landscaping…ya know. But you have a structure: you have window locations, doorways, ceiling heights, the direction the roof pitches. But designing a building, you have to consider the how the interior looks and functions and how the exterior looks, and the two don’t always play well together! You might think a certain window would be nice inside the house, but then outside it just looks totally dumb. Or vice-versa! Or you want really high ceilings inside, but that makes the structure really tall and proportionately unappealing. There are so many things like this. In this case, it felt imperative to maximize light and views on the elevations of the house that face nature, but ALSO create a street-facing facade that looked welcoming and attractive, but didn’t highlight the undesirable views available to that side of the house from inside. Tricky!

In super simple terms: green is where we have good views, red is where we have bad views.

So, at THIS point, the back portion of the house (now the “guest wing,” since the master bedroom is moving upstairs!) was supposed to remain fairrrrly unchanged, although I wrote in the last post about some of the stuff we were required to do with it.

The kitchen and dining room plans were also more or less set, at least in their locations. That footprint wasn’t changing, and since we were hoping to keep some framing and the foundation under the kitchen/dining space, which would not allow us to put a second floor over that part of the house without redoing the foundation as well. Weight and stuff. So our second floor master suite is confined to the area where the whole foundation would be new—directly over the living room.

So basically we have this enlarged living room, which is also the only artery to get to the kitchen/dining spaces, the guest wing, up the stairs that don’t exist, and into the house at all unless you’re just going in the front door and into that long skinny guest room. It’s a ton of space, but once you add in all of those factors it gets a little tricky to create a room that doesn’t just feel like a massive pass-through.

It dawned on me that nobody was especially tied to the front door location, and that maybe it ought to be facing the street. Incidentally that’s where the front door was before the previous owners bought and wreckovated the house.

It also occurred to me that it’s not like you spend a lot of time in a stairwell, and you can get sort of creative with window placement in a stairwell, and that the stairwell should probably go against the street-facing wall, too. That way, we concentrate the views from the living room out into the woods, not onto the street and neighboring houses.

That’s how I got to some earlier version of this. You’ll notice that a couple of walls have shifted around in the guest wing with the elimination of the old entry, but those changes weren’t planned for until after we started building! A number of major things changed on the fly once construction got underway.

ANYWAY—if memory serves, all of this took place in a couple of days, and then it was time for another meeting with the engineers and Adriana the homeowner. In the background of all of this was the fact that I was no longer under contract at this point—we had to scrap and re-write my contract for the job completely, which was underway but not complete. This sounds inconsequential, but typically I wouldn’t be designing or sharing drawings and renderings (not to mention running around town to building departments and engineering firms) until after I have an executed contract and a deposit check in hand—a little freelancer safeguard against doing a bunch of work and never getting compensated for it if a client decides to be a jerk. Unfortunately it’s happened so I’m leery of it, even when I work for people that I know and trust!

The point is, we walked into this hour-long meeting with the engineer, and I didn’t really know what we were doing there. Adriana had called the meeting but without a design in place, it seemed premature and potentially like a waste of everyone’s time.

As it happened, Adriana had been corresponding with the engineer and had submitted a sketch of what she thought the second floor layout should be. I think she’ll be OK with me pointing out now that it was…a mess. Haha! Problem number one was that it wasn’t at all to scale and showed the staircase coming up in a location that made no sense for the first floor. The allocation of space was choppy and complicated and gave the toilet the best corner in the whole house! There was an enormous amount of space given over to closets, not enough room to actually use the washer and dryer in the plan…and I was just sitting there like…oh shit. 

Again. I am not hired. I am not being paid. I am watching the engineer set these plans in stone in CAD, and feeling like if the meeting continued on this way, we’d have a terrible plan that I could then be possibly tasked with executing, and a client who might not understand the need to start over with a different plan since why did we have that meeting in the first place where we designed the house in an hour?!

So, I stepped in. And drew up a little sketch of what had been tumbling around in my brain. Then we dropped it into CAD. And then we moved a couple things. Then we rotated the roof 90 degrees to have a street-facing gable. Then…the basic strokes of the design were all there. We had a shape. We had walls. We had rooms.

Then some more decisions. How tall are the first floor ceilings? I say 10 feet. Adriana wants 12. How tall are the second floor ceilings? I say 8. Adriana insists on 10. All of a sudden the house gets four feet taller. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but things like that had a bigger impact on everything—costs and time, for instance—than any of us appreciated at the time. That’s longer lumber, more insulation, more of all the finishing materials…whoopsie!

With those plans and decisions in hand, and shortly thereafter my contract executed, it was time to take our basic shape and basic layout and flesh it out into something resembling a house!

Because budget was such a concern, it was always the plan to reuse as much of the original house as we could in the rebuild! That’s right up my alley, of course, but it’s tricky—you don’t want to be so tied to the idea of reuse that the end result suffers because you were just trying to make too much stuff work together. This started with the windows, so I made a simple visual of all the windows that could potentially be relocated and the rough openings required to install them:

Pretty exciting stuff.

Then I set about placing them, and quickly realized that we’d need more windows, and the sizes we had were mostly really strange and difficult to work elegantly into a design. I tried, though! In order to keep costs down, I recommended that new window purchases be readily-available stock sizes.

Here was the first proposed design—oof! I hated that entryway when I proposed it, and I hate it now. Haha! Since the front elevation is where we wanted to minimize views, I kind of liked the idea of doing it up really fortress-like with just a couple little windows on the front. Those windows come from the list of windows with potential for reuse, but the sizes felt arbitrary and not so great.

The clients thought it looked uninviting and scary. I get that. Moving on…

Idea #2! In both of the first two designs, I sort of liked the concept of doing a shed roof over the kitchen/dining spaces, but the required 6/12 pitch was kindaaaaaa too much. I also turned the entryway inside-out, thinking a little recessed covered exterior mudroom kind of thing might be totally cool? Especially clad in a cedar tongue-and-groove or something? Given that we already bumped the front of the house out closer to the road than the existing zoning allows, it seemed like an interesting way to avoid pushing our luck with the building department by also asking for some kind of porch/portico/something that would bring anything structural even closer to the road.

The clients did not like the outdoor mudroom concept. Still not feeling the facade. Next!

I liked this plan! I think I still kinda like this plan! The mismatched window sizes on the second floor window are an error on the rendering, so ignore that. Anyway.

This plan definitely felt the best so far to the clients, but something still wasn’t sitting quite right (with all of us, really) so we brought in another set of eyes! Trained, talented, and experienced eyes! Adriana is great friends with an NYC-based architect named Matt Bremer, so she brought my renderings to him for some input!

Matt drew the above doodle, Adriana sent the doodle to me, I made the alterations in SketchUp, and that got us to…

Boom, house!

And that’s…pretty much what we ended up building. With some minor changes, naturally.

All in all—is this the house I would have built if I could have built anything my heart desired? No. But it IS a house that I think takes into consideration the things that I talked about at the beginning of this post. Simple and relatively inexpensive to build fairly quickly, satisfied our technical requirements, had the happy approval of the homeowners, made effective use of the site, and allowed for an efficient but spacious-feeling interior layout. Check check check!

Now let’s build this thing! This is where it gets fun.

Psssst! Olivebridge Cottage is an ongoing series about a renovation that flew off the rails (and then found its way back on)! For lots of backstory and schadenfreude, check out these past posts!

  1.  New Season, New Project!
  2. Plans for Olivebridge Cottage!
  3. Oh Dear, Here We Go…
  4. Little House of Horrors
  5. From Bad to Worse (And Worse and Worse and Worse)
  6. Blogger is Hired to Renovate, Mistakenly Destroys Ulster County Art Piece “House”
  7. Olivebridge Cottage: 2.0!
  8. Designing Olivebridge Cottage 2.0: Part 1!

Spring Garden, 2017!

Last spring/summer, I was working so much on other projects that I TOTALLY slacked on my garden. I don’t recall doing much in the way of planting, pruning, weeding, or watering. I didn’t even mulch! When fall rolled around, I didn’t split or move anything as I had planned to, and decided to deal with it all this spring. You know that old sleep, creep, leap adage? I failed to notice that last summer was my LEAP year! Sorry, plants. There was a lot going on.

Regardless, almost everything has at least survived, and most of it is doing very well! I feel like this garden thing has a longggggg way to go before I start feeling happy with it, but just having stuff maturing in the ground (the majority of which will probably end up getting transplanted as I settle on some semblance of a plan) is a good first step. It at least looks pretty healthy and happy and cute enough right now.

The first order of business this spring was a long overdue clean-out followed by fresh mulch! I had a lot of weeds to pull, some pruning, and raking out leaves and some of the existing mulch from two summers ago. It took me a long day or two of work to clean and spread about 50 bags worth of mulch in this area! All in I’ve put down about 100 bags of mulch in the yard this spring, but that includes the other side of the house and a couple areas in the back that I’m DYING to get some plants growing in. If I ever want some mature trees in my backyard, I better get on it!

By the way, I know buying that much bagged mulch might sound crazy to experience gardeners rather than getting a bulk delivery from a local nursery/landscape supply place, but I wasn’t sure how quickly I’d be able to use it all and didn’t want it all festering in a loose pile in the middle of my backyard while I figured it out. I probably spent a bit more money, but this year it felt worth it to keep things manageable. Hopefully in the future that won’t be the case!

For some reference, the angle is different but this is more or less how this area looked when I bought the house! I installed the black timber fence back there as a way to divide this area from the back and keep the dogs contained in the backyard, but as you can see the garden was just regular grass with a couple rhododendrons and a big clump of hosta at the time. The hosta was dug up and split a bunch, and I’ve been trying to get the rhododendrons into better shape for a couple of years.

ANYWAY! This coming fall, I PLEDGE to split up the hosta growing in front of the original wrought iron fence so they grow as more of a full hedge rather than super distinct individual plants. I think that’ll look much nicer, and save me from having to weed/mulch as much as I currently do. That kind of goes for everything—I’m really looking forward to the day when I don’t have to mulch as much because most of the ground is occupied by plants! Those hostas have been growing steadily since I first transplanted them a few years ago, so they should respond very well to being split.

Also you can see that the creeping jenny has really started to take off—yay! I think I’ll transplant quite a bit of it for use elsewhere, but considering how little these were when I planted them, I’m tickled by the growth!

The rhododendrons probably hit their peak last week. So many flowers! Once they’re done blooming, I’ll do some somewhat aggressive pruning as part of my years-long mission to get them into a shape and size that feels nice and not too big for this location. We’ll see.

You can kind of see that the boxwood “hedge” behind them is doing quite well! I gave them all a little haircut when I was mulching which should help stimulate some nice dense growth. These are only a couple of years old, so probably still a couple years away from a real hedge coming to fruition.

I planted a strip of homeless day lilies in front of the rhododendrons, and now I don’t know why I did that! They’ve multiplied probably by triple in the time since, and I don’t even particularly like them, and they’re difficult to get rid of! Oopsie. I’ll transport them sometime soon…day lilies are ridiculously hearty and seem to survive almost anything.

Back along the black fence, I planted three hydrangeas way back when, and I think it’s safe to say that they are not happy. They’ve been healthy enough, but haven’t bloomed well or increased significantly in size, so I think this location is just no bueno for them. I’d guess they don’t get enough rain because of the huge spruce tree, and maybe too much shade.

In front of the hydrangeas, it’s a much happier story! All those purple bearded irises came from one small patch planted by the garage when I bought the house, and they’ve taken off really well. I love irises!

In the foreground, you can see the “wine and rose” weigela with the pink flowers! I planted three of these in a little cluster and they’re all doing well. Once they’re done blooming, these can get some pruning action too—they’re starting to get a little leggy and that should help them keep a more appealing and healthier shape.

There are a few more clumps of iris planted right behind the wrought iron fence.

Also back in there are a couple of oakleaf hydrangeas, which are doing OK but, like the other hydrangeas, don’t seem to love their location. There are two smallish pine trees growing sort of close to them in this front garden space, and I think they may be part of the problem—both because of the shade they cast and the water they hog. I’ve been thinking a lot about cutting them down, but I definitely want some other evergreen things growing before I do that so the yard doesn’t look too barren. More on that soon!

Up toward the front, the false indigo/Baptista is doing great! I love love these plants. These have HUGE root systems and don’t take well to being transplanted, apparently, so hopefully I can work around it as I keep futzing. It’s amazing how quickly these get so tall after starting from nothing at the beginning of spring!

The peonies aren’t quitttttteeee there yet, but I do expect some good blooms this summer! I think the location of these is also too shady for them to thrive as well as they could. I loveeee peonies and just want MORE MORE MORE—particularly tree varieties and ones that shouldn’t require staking. I planted some peonies as a kid that are still growing at the house I grew up in, and I desperately wish I had dug some of them up before my parents moved. Especially with perennials that can be split, it’s such a nice way to keep your plants with you! I guess I could still do it, but I’d have to be sneaky. Don’t put it past me.

Over on the other side of the front door, the much smaller front garden area is doing really well! I planted most of this stuff two summers ago, which means that this is year three! So according to sleep, creep, leap, this side of the garden is leaping this year! I’m not sure I’d quite say that, but it does seem to be thriving. Like the other side, I do picture transplanting most of this stuff as I figure it all out.

This type of weigela is different than the type on the other side of the garden, but doing just as well! Such a cute plant!

I have to say, I’m really impressed with these deutzia—this variety is called Chardonnay Pearl which sounds like a pornstar but is really a lovely, hearty little plant. These were bought off the clearance rack at a big box garden center, then sat in their plastic pots over a winter because I didn’t get my act together to plant them, then survived and got thrown in the ground, and now a year or two later they look great! The foliage is a nice vibrant kind of acid-green, and the little tiny white flowers seem to last a long time. You go, Chardonnay Pearls!

There are a few irises planted to the right of the front door, but these are different than on the other side of the yard! These are special—they came from my dear friend John’s grandmother’s property that they’ve owned since, like, Civil War times. He brought a few up to New York with him when he bought his first home in this area around 20 years ago, planted them there, and now there are hundreds of them! We went to visit the house just for fun a couple years ago, and we couldn’t help but leave with a few. I love having them here. Keep multiplying, irises!

 

That’s pretty much how everything is looking! With respect to landscaping, this summer/fall will be about trying to fill in the more bare spots in these areas, but mainly I’ll be working on the whole other street-facing side of the house, which has almost no plants at all! It’s all freshly graded and mulched (I just had to get it down before the weeds could take over), and I’m really excited to get some stuff going over there. There are a few things with the whole side-of-house-restoration project from last summer to wrap up and it’s easier to get that stuff done before having to avoid stepping on new plants, so I really have to knock out those remaining items so I can get some things in the ground!

The Den: The Big Reveal!

Exactly four years ago today, I became a homeowner. That decision could be characterized in a lot of ways: crazy, stupid, optimistic, deluded, exciting, terrifying, and maybe a bit ambitious. I loved this house from the second I saw it, and if I was going to buy a house (something I was not particularly equipped or intending to do), it was going to be this house. There were no other contenders.

That part—the period of falling for a property and feeling committed to its acquisition—felt easy (the actual purchase part was not, but that’s another story). The stuff that came after it wasn’t quite as easy. I’m not sure I have much in the way of original thoughts on this topic: yes, it really does take twice as long. Yes, it really does cost twice as much. Yes, at times it’s satisfying, frustrating, overwhelming, thrilling, and challenging. It’s a process that can variably bring out both the best and the worst, exposing your weaknesses and fears as much as it reveals the heights of your capacity for joy and contentment. It’s a long, strange, intensely humbling trip.

None of this is immediately pertinent to this post, I guess, but it felt weird to not acknowledge the milestone of four years! Some days it feels like the house has come such a long way, and other days it feels like the amount of remaining work is insurmountable. So with regards to the den, this is a space that—until very recently—contributed to that whole insurmountable feeling. This room has never really been anything. For a while it had a bed in it for guests (who got to wake up looking at a half-demoed water-damaged acoustic tile ceiling…how charming!), but mainly it’s just been a place for stuff to spill into as other spaces got worked on. Which feels…weird! There’s this whole space in my house that, functionally, might as well have been some off-site storage facility (which certainly would have felt cleaner and more manageable!), and now it’s an actual room that I’m actually sitting in and actually writing this blog post and actually not seeing anything crumbling around me or making me feel crappy because “oh-my-god-I’ve-lived-here-for-this-long-and-this-room-is-still-a-total-dump.” Particularly on a DIY pace and budget, stuff just takes a long time, and it’s not always easy (or, necessarily, especially productive) to pinpoint exactly why. It just does.

SO! Shall we take a looksie around the new room? Let’s do it.

Ba-boom! If it looks like a different room, that’s almost because it is. That bay window situation in the “before” shot was not original to the house and I removed it last summer as part of a larger exterior renovation, and I believe this is actually much as the room would have looked when it was built! Time saw the addition of electricity, hardwood flooring laid over the original subfloor, and hot water radiator heating, but ya know—that stuff’s not going anywhere. The rest of it is just cosmetic—one of the ways I try to approach renovating vs. decorating is by renovating with more of a restoration mindset, and decorating however the hell I want. Somebody could move in here and swap out light fixtures and repaint (or wallpaper), furnish, and have themselves much more of a time capsule vibe, but I guess I’d rather just have a…me vibe? This room feels very me, to me. ME ME ME.

Here’s where we were at the beginning of March!

And today! Much improved, yes?

Sorry, I’m a sucker for a before-and-after comparison. Did we get it out of our systems? I really wish I had taken more pictures of the room before it started getting torn apart! It’s like I had learned nothing four years ago when I had the opportunity to take true “before” photos. I’m going to blame it on the fact that I saw much more of the house as a straightforward renovation/redecorating project than what it’s become.

So, maybe this room looks crazy and maybe it is crazy and maybe I have no ability to form an objective opinion on it, but I DO know that it’s filled with so many things I love and is so comfortable and cozy that I literally do not care at all if it could also be considered stylish. I think it’s pretty. I don’t know.

I’ve mentioned lots of these things before, so forgive me if I’m repeating myself, but…

This sofa!! I bought it from Susan and Will Brinson (of the obscenely inspiring blog, House of Brinson). 400 bucks! For a secondhand, high-quality, all leather sofa that is the most comfortable thing in the world, I think that’s a great deal. Even though this room isn’t really a guest room (it was supposed to be when I started working on it!), the cushion section of the sofa is roughly the size of a twin sized bed, and I can tell you from firsthand experience (of Netflix and chilling so hard that I fall asleep) that it’s SO comfortable. I wouldn’t feel bad asking a guest to sleep here because it really does sleep like a bed, not a couch. I love the wear on the leather, and I love that I don’t have to be insane about it because it’s already been lovingly broken in by two large dogs before my own dogs, so they just add to the patina.

Womb chair, womb chair! I love this chair but Mekko REALLY loves this chair. When I was a kid, my mom looked for a lounge chair for her bedroom for literally a decade, and as a teenager I recommended this one…which she purchased…and then hated…which I was secretly kind of excited about because it meant that if she didn’t get around to reselling it as she said she would, I could ask for it when I eventually had the space to accommodate. MY SCHEME WORKED and now it is mine and it’s the most expensive dog bed in the world.

The original (well, original to the house being heated by radiators—before that it was wood stoves!) radiator got a few coats of glossy black spray paint, and I love the pairing of the black-black with the blue-black walls! I don’t know why! Particularly with more ornate radiators like this one, I think black paint is a great way to really highlight the fancy Victorian scrollwork on each fin.

Above the radiator is a collection of frameless antique mirrors, which I hoard just because. When the foil backing starts to disintegrate on an old mirror, I think the effect is so beautiful and interesting and I just buy them whenever I see them, assuming the price is good and they meet my rigorous quality standards of being in one piece.

I always thought it would be cool to display them in some kind of grouping, and this steel ledge isn’t quite what I had in mind, but I bought the ledge almost four years ago (it was supposed to go in my first kitchen renovation, but I changed my mind!), so it was nice to finally put it to use since I didn’t get my act together and send it back to CB2 at the time.

The tea light candlesticks are originally from Dwell Studio, but I picked them up a few years ago secondhand. I love them so much! The wooden tray that they’re sitting on I bought in the fall when I was in Austria. So simple and pretty.

On the wall to the right of the window, the top little piece of art was made by my mommy as a kid! I stole it out of a box of old stuff in our basement years ago, and I’ve had it hanging somewhere since. I love it—someday I’ll upgrade the frame, but an IKEA RIBBA never hurt anyone. The muscleman below it came out of my grandparents’ house after they had both passed away, and nobody knows where it came from or who the artist is.

The light is from my internet pal and long-time design crush, Logan at One Forty Three. I’m so proud of that dude! Watching his business expand and grow, and all the things he’s created since I first became aware of his work, has been so exciting. I’ve had the lamp for…probably 5 years at this point, and it still looks and works like the day it was packaged up and sent to my then-home in Brooklyn. I’m so happy to have it hanging up again.

The dark walls do swallow up a lot of natural daylight (perfect for a chill zone room like this, I think!), but that can make houseplants difficult. I’ve never had a problem keeping one of these ZZ plants alive though—perfect for low light and thrive on neglect. The pot is vintage, found somewhere around Kingston. The candlestick is also vintage and used to be half of a set of two, but I MAY have not realized that absent a metal liner in the part where the candle goes, a candle will burn down and then light the candlestick on fire, and then that will burn until somebody notices.

I’m a hazard.

I bought the dog on a trip to China in 2005. I bought the side table a few years ago from JC Penney, when Terence Conran did a really nice collection for them, and then it all went on clearance, and then I panic-bought some of my favorite pieces from the collection just BECAUSE I HAD TO and I don’t regret it because I think it was like $30 for this cast iron and white oak side table that is just so cute and very well-made.

Also you can kind of get a sense of how the Diamante wallpaper from Hygge & West in the adjoining little office looks with this room. I feel like the two play well together!

You might recognize the two pieces above the sofa from my Brooklyn bedroom and then again from my current bedroom that I showed you just a few weeks ago, but naturally I’ve already moved them and I think THIS is where they belong! These hung in my grandparents’ bedroom at least throughout my lifetime, and it’s an honor to have them here.

Also, ORANGE NAKED LADY!!! Evidently, I wrote a blog post about her back in 2013 after I bought her at an auction, but she’s never really had a permanent home until now. I’m still exactly as tickled by her as I was when I spent $60 real-life dollars on her and got made fun of by other auction attendees for it.

SPEAKING of auctions…now is the part where if you didn’t hate me already, I give you license to hate me now.

I went to an auction shortly after I started working on this room.

I saw this rug.

I wanted this rug. Immediately. Intensely.

I prepared myself to spend $400-$500 for this rug, which is a chunk of change but actually a good deal for a rug of this age and size (and, I’d argue, uniqueness), and I’d been looking for one for this room, and here it was.

The bidding started.

Nobody bid.

I bid. $45. And won.

FORTY. FIVE. DOLLARS. That’s, like, a fancy tea towel. That’s, like, five burritos.

The guy next to me literally turned to me and asked what possessed me to buy that rug. ARE YOU BLIND, SIR?

OK I’m done gloating. I love that rug so hard. The colors are so weird and good. The wear is everything I want.

I haven’t painted the door yet (since it swings into the hallway, I can convince myself it’s part of the hallway restoration, which I’ve been great at putting off indefinitely), but you get the idea.

This space is pretty narrow, and that couch is ENORMOUS, and the space between the righthand corner and the door trim is about a foot, so I needed something very slim for under the TV.

I searched and searched and racked my brain for something I could just buy and be done with. I didn’t want to build a thing. It felt like…I just built a ROOM, do I really need to make myself crazy over building something big FOR the room?

Then I built a thing and I’m so glad I did because I actually really like the thing I built! It’s essentially just a plywood box that’s covered in lath from my very own walls and ceilings. I think I started it on a Sunday morning and had it hanging on the wall by Monday afternoon, and it holds a bunch and looks cute and cost me all of about $10 for the piano hinge. Also, it was really fun! Since buying the house, it’s actually very rare that I just kind of make something that isn’t part of a much larger renovation project, and I forget how fun it is to just play around with some tools and some wood and see what happens.

By the way, on top of the cabinet thing on the far left sits a Sonos speaker, and my Apple TV is turned sideways between the speaker and the stack of books. That’s all the technology! I’ve tried to make it a tradition to buy a Sonos speaker upon the completion of each room to spread the cost out—it’s kind of spendy for me, but I do really like the system and I love that the speakers come in white or black so it’s usually possible to keep it very inconspicuous.  The speakers all tie back to the Sonos app on my phone, and can be controlled independently or in unison to play music, adjust the volume, play/pause, etc. I recommend it!

I didn’t do anything particularly nice about finishing the inside (I made it! for me! and I don’t care!), but it holds a ton! I decided to put all of my weird pottery and figurines and candlesticks and stuff in there, along with extra tea lights and candles for the room. It’s so nice to have all this kind of stuff in one place! I find that I love too many things and can’t display them all at once without my house looking like a thrift store that somebody lives in, but if I rotate stuff in and out of display it keeps things looking more sane and ALSO makes me appreciate stuff more when I don’t see it all the time. Kind of like shopping in my own house when I get the itch to move stuff around, which is an extremely frequent event because I love to futz.

LEST you had not hit your limit with me over RugGate 2017 (scroll up a few photos; it literally just happened), a few weeks ago I was tromping through some funny antique mall kind of place in New Jersey and spotted this little fella for a dollar. So tiny! Those delicate little brass feet! Immediately I was charmed. I picked him up and then couldn’t put him back down, so I shelled out my George Washington to take him home.

Fast forward a couple of weeks into our new blissful life together, during which I had unofficially named him Herman, and I posted an Instagram of him, and was immediately informed from multiple sources that little Herman is…kind of valuable. Oddly enough, Herman was designed by Jacob Hermann (how weird is that!) in Denmark in the 1950s, and is highly collectable, and seems to sell for a few hundred dollars up to several thousand for a grouping.

Lesson: never pass up a good tchotchke. Just build a cabinet to store all the tchotchkes.

Finally, the light! THE PINK LIGHT! PINKKKKK LIGHTTTTTT!

Here’s what had happened. I went to Germany in the fall. Essentially I landed from my red-eye flight, dropped my bag at the hotel in Berlin, and immediately went to a flea market. I was so tired and so not thinking clearly and before I knew it, I had blown my entire souvenir budget on three vintage rugs and this 1950s chandelier. This is what it means to travel with me, and I am considering the first clause of this sentence as fair warning to anybody who might someday travel with me.

I carried the light through Germany and into Austria, where I disassembled it and shipped it home via DHL, which was FREAKISHLY fast. It arrived before I even got home! Between the purchase and the shipping I ended up spending about $250 on this thing, which is typically more than I’d spend on…most things, but I REALLY WANTED IT for no reason in particular. A month ago I worked up the nerve to unpack the box—knowing that one broken shade would pretty much render the entire thing worthless—but luckily it had arrived intact so then it was just a matter of rewiring the whole thing, remembering how everything fit together, and hanging it up.

I love you, pink light. Never leave me.

Annnnnnnnnd, here is my attempt to keep up with the bloggers and make this post “shoppable”: A THING IN THIS ROOM THAT I THINK YOU CAN ACTUALLY BUY! I love this little candleholder from the Modern by Dwell Magazine collection for Target. Mine was on a clearance rack at a store in Virginia that I visited to buy clean underwear after the Baltimore kitchen renovation, but it’s still for sale online. So cute!

Is that it? I think that might be it. Opium den—check!

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