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!

A Night In…the New Den!

This post is in partnership with Article!

Oh hello. Funny seeing you here at this time of night. Looks like you had a hard day? It’s almost the freakin’ weekend, so let’s get started early and chill: opium den style.

Here’s a Manhattan. I’m on my second.

If you’ve been following along recently, you know I’ve been working (here, here, here, and here) on this small-ish weird-ish room on the second floor of my house to make a cozy little den, the primary purpose of which is to watch TV and relax forever. I wanted it to be super cozy, full of things I love, and simple enough for the small size of the space but still layered and intimate—a nice little hideaway for myself and some friends if and when I procure some. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been at the futzing stage with this room, which is when I put on some back-season of my recently reignited old love, Survivor (if you don’t look up who won, you can pretend it didn’t happen 10 years ago!), and put up art and swap around chairs and lamps and take frequent breaks to collapse on the sofa because I CAN. I love how it’s come together! This room needed a lot of the same work as the recently-completed-ish bedroom, but for some reason this one felt so much easier, both to renovate and get some decor happening that I actually like. Let’s pretend it’s because I’m getting better at this, and not that I’m just HIGHLY motivated by using my TV again?

We’ll go with that.

The other night, bae came over and we broke in the opium den officially. Here’s how I like to do it:

Step 1. Order Chinese food.

Step 2. Kick back.

Step 3. Take a drink. Take a hit. Take whatever floats your boat. Not the hard stuff.

Step 4. Do that thing where you scroll through iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, and HBOGO indefinitely until you land back at the thing you wanted to watch in the first place. We bought Get Out on iTunes which, sadly, I missed in theaters because I never leave the house. It always feels like a big commitment to actually purchase a movie on iTunes, and then I remember it’s less than the cost of two movie tickets. I don’t know what that’s about. Anyway.

Step 5. Receive Chinese food delivery, pig out.

So one excellent addition to my life has been that bae brings with him an impressive dowry of not one but two dogs. So essentially I have four dogs now. It’s so many dogs. I love dogs.

This is Gertie, alternately known as Officer Gert. She keeps the crew in line. She’s squat on her legs and big in her behind and does not like anyone acting up or seeming like they might be thinking about acting up. Gertie spends all day taking care of Linus: cleaning his face and ears and sometimes a part of his back she seems particularly fond of, and steps in when the other dogs get rowdy too close to him.

Linus. Linus! He needs a grooming. I love and cherish when he’s more of a muppet, but this is about as long as his hair can get without curls starting to mat.

That is, by the way, the best dog in the world. I don’t play favorites but yes I do and Linus is my favorite. It’s been five whole years since that guy stumbled into my life, which makes him around 15 years old now. I think that means Linus needs a whole separate post because otherwise I’ll get carried away, but man. My little man. Still trucking.

This is Fox’s ear, because his face is buried in my sweatpants’d crotch. It’s pretty much where he lives unless he’s running around causing terror. Fox is not an actual fox but rather an oversized Papillion who looks a lot like a fox. Also, bae shares my everlasting love of The X-Files, so. Fox.

Fox and Mekko are inseparable. Poor Mekko used to just have Gertie and Linus who are no fun as playmates, and now she has Fox who is a little too much fun. He’s such an annoying younger brother. I love him.

Bae is in the background there. He likes a striped hoodie and long walks on the beach. Calm down.

We’ll talk way more about the room when I can show you in daylight, because night photos are tricky and I feel like we need the light of day to really appreciate things like that bright orange naked lady in her guilded frame. Anyway, this corner of the sofa I think is the most comfortable place in the house. The seat portion of the sofa is pretty much the size of a twin bed, which is honestly kind of too amazing, in that I want to live on it. That discontinued IKEA lamp dims and gives off great light—I’m glad I found a spot where I like it! I love that lamp but it’s never landed anywhere that it felt right before.

Gertie’s favorite spot in the house is sprawled on this sheepskin across the back of the sofa, which comes from the fairly new-to-me company, Article! Especially if your style leans more modern, do yourself a favor and scroll through their products—so much good stuff (big and small!) and really well-priced. This sheepskin is perfect here because it’s almost exactly as long as the back of the sofa, wide enough that it can be draped over the back but stays in place, and covers an otherwise noticeable dip in the back where Susan and Will’s dogs used to love to nap! It’s also super soft and cozy and adds a nice shot of texture, and it’s ethically sourced from New Zealand or Australia and non-toxic, so it should last for decades. The sofa itself is a well broken-in black leather, and I really dig the combo of dark browns and off blacks in here. I know it’s a faux pas maybe and I don’t care!

Also I have been carting around that pillowcase since HIGH SCHOOL because I loved it and held out hope that someday it would look good somewhere. It brings me joy so leave me alone about it. It’s originally from IKEA.

I’m not really a fan of most scented things, but I love (LOOOVVVVE) some Palo Santo wood to burn as incense. I scaled back my candle game for the purposes of not looking crazy in pictures on the internet, but it can get reallllll witchy up in here. Sticks burning, candles everywhere, lamps dimmed down or off…yes. I aim to be as witchy as possible during relaxation time.

By the way, back behind my weird piece of thrift store pottery in the foreground, there’s a little notepad and a pen, which I’ve realized I have some version of around me at all times. I make notes constantly of ideas or little sketches or lists, because otherwise it’s all just in my head and it makes me crazy? So I write a lot of stuff down. I’m really opening up here, I don’t know.

Also, that chair back there is my womb chair, which I was lucky enough to inherit when my parents downsized! I thought it would be too big in here, but it ended up feeling just right. It’s been in a few different places in the house, but so far I like it in here best. This seems to be a theme with this room! I’m not really sure why. Do dark rooms kind of decorate themselves?

Lighting that corner behind the chair was a challenge (you know, the kind with zero stakes)—even though I have tons of lamps, not a single one of them felt right! It always felt too bright and too directed either down at the chair or up at the ceiling, and I just wanted something very slim and simple with a soft light. The Rise floor lamp—also from Article—ended up being pretty perfect! It comes in white too, but I love how the matte black finish of the shade disappears with the wall color to keep the corner from feeling too crowded. Having never bought anything Article before I wasn’t sure what to expect from the quality, but it really is excellent! The shade swivels around to any direction you want, and the height adjusts, and the whole thing is very sturdy on a heavy substantial base. It turns off with a push-button on cord at floor height, which is great since it’s a slightly awkward squeeze to lean in and turn something on at the top. I’m into it illuminating a painting—just enough light bounces off the painting and the wall for the corner to feel super inviting and not like a black hole. For now I’m enjoying this strange painting I found in the trash. I don’t know what’s going on with this guy but I figure I’ll stare at it for a while and try to figure it out. I move art around like a crazy person.

Oh yeah, that cabinet. Whipped it up one fine Sunday a couple weeks ago. It was really fun. And I finally used some of my lath!! It sorta made me want to abandon most of my other goals to play with lath all day instead. We’ll discuss more soon.

The movie, by the way? SO GOOD. I’m glad I bought it so I can watch it again. Which I already did.

Thank you for stopping by! And thank you to Julia and Kim for bringing me in on the A Night In series fun! It wouldn’t really occur to me to take artificially lit photos at midnight, because I am blogger and we shoot always by the light of the sun,  but this room was pretty much designed for Netflix & Chill so now you know what that looks like! We’ll do a day-lit reveal soon!

Want to see more bloggers betraying their secret training and showing their spaces at night? Hop on over to…

Chris Loves Julia ++ Yellow Brick Home ++ The Gold Hive ++ I Heart Organizing ++ The DIY Playbook ++ The Fox & She ++ Room for Tuesday ++ In Honor of Design

Den-ovation: Moldings and Paint!

There are several different molding treatments in my house, and—like many old houses—they follow a formal hierarchy between rooms. Basically the fancy rooms have the most ornate moldings, and the less fancy places have more modest ones. When renovating, I try to be very careful about this stuff, because even if everything is new and looks great it should still be appropriate to each individual space!

For instance! This is a decent view of the moldings in that funny upstairs room I turned into a little home office, where you might be able to tell that the baseboards are a very simple profile and the window is cased out with a stool and an apron rather than the panel molding, like you find below the windows in my bedroom. The piece that makes up the foundation of the window molding is actually slightly different and narrower, too. The baseboard is similar to what’s in the den, except the den has a more decorative cap piece on top. Essentially, the moldings in the den are more formal than this little room, but less formal than my bedroom.

Which, for me, begged the question (for months): what do I do with this new window?? A stool (just FYI, because I only learned this recently: a sill is on the exterior, and a stool is on the interior. Both are often called “sills” but now you know better and can be annoying, too!) would be easier to execute, and might look more natural in terms of matching what’s in the adjacent room? But maybe this room would have had a panel, like the bedroom, because it is a more formal space than the little office?

DECISIONS.

I went with panel. I think I made the right call. Someone once told me that when making decisions like this in an old house, don’t be afraid of going too formal. I try to renovate more or less like a purist and decorate like a lunatic, so formal it is!

Naturally, this had to start with cutting out the brand new drywall work right below the window—oh well! It’s just a couple of feet and with the help of my oscillating saw, I didn’t damage any of the surrounding new drywall work while removing what was in the way.

I always have a hard time stopping to remember to take progress shots, but here’s the basic framework of it all! I’m not going to lie, it’s kind of complicated. The back part of the panel below the window sits recessed from even the framing, so I also had to use my oscillating saw to cut that framing down a bit. It would have been better to have done this before installing the framing in the first place, but at the time I thought this window would be getting a sill and it wouldn’t matter!

As usual, this is all salvaged wood! I like using salvage for a couple reasons:

  1. Captain Planet would be proud.
  2. I have so much of it.
  3. I think the most effective way to make something look old (even—perhaps especially!—a surface that’s getting painted) is to use old wood! This wood has little dents and dings and holes from old nails that are just marks of age from its previous life serving as something else, and I don’t worry much about trying to fill in every little thing. Trying to age new material by throwing chains at it and hammering screws into it and stuff is a tricky thing to pull off without it looking overly intentional, but this feels just right.

Even though the individual pieces are fairly simple, there are a lot of pieces! And trying to match new to old takes some serious head-scratching. I have a router and some bits, though, so milling my own simple profiles isn’t such a big deal. Here I had to use the router to create the cove effect on the flat boards, and then I used a large 1/2″ bead bit (I have this set!) to create the rounded profile that kind of fakes a window stop. Then I run it through the table saw to get a 1/2″ thickness, and then it gets tacked to the existing stop that’s part of the window jamb on these new windows. It’s tricky!

The only piece that I can’t really replicate myself (YET!) is the simple-ish but fancy molding that creates the transition between the flat boards and the deep ones that sit perpendicular to them. This is what’s left of my entire supply! Especially when I have precious few pieces to work with, I like to lay them all out on a flat surface in size order, so I always choose the shortest available piece for the run I need. This of course minimizes waste, but also allows me to maintain as much old stock as I can.

There’s a stock molding profile at Lowe’s that’s very similar to this, and I can’t decide whether that’s good enough for the kitchen or if I should get this profile replicated. I mean, I know the answer, but…money.

But there it is, installed! Again, I want it to look original so no need to strip all the paint. I do a little scraping and sanding and then up they go to get caulked, primed, and repainted.

See that dark piece of wood on the innermost part of the casing? That’s an actual window stop, which has been used for the past 150 years as a shim for the lath on the ceiling of my kitchen! Now for the first time, it’s serving the purpose it was milled for. Fun, right? Maybe only for me. I need more stimuli clearly.

Because this room was short on electrical, I added a few baseboard outlets to the new baseboards and the existing ones. Rather than removing the whole baseboard, it’s pretty simple to trace the electrical box and cut it out with an oscillating saw. Then just drive a drywall screw into the center and use a hammer to pry out the cut-out! Then you can insert your box and pull the wires through. For the new baseboards, it’s easier to mark my location, make my cutout with a jigsaw, and then install the baseboard like that—being careful to pull my wires through the hole before attaching the baseboards to the wall.

For the new sections of baseboard, I was really excited to find this piece of salvaged baseboard behind the wall in the upstairs kitchen (boy, we’re overdue for an update on that!), untouched probably for about a hundred years! It’s kind of dirty in this picture, but I believe that’s the original paint color for a lot of moldings in the house, which is kind of a muddy yellow-greige. I kept a small off-cut and I want to try to get it color-matched, because I think MAYBE that’s my new kitchen cabinet color?? We shall see.

The gap between the flooring and the baseboard will get covered with base shoe molding. It would look a lot nicer to do it now, but I’d rather just live with some gaps and wait for the floors to get refinished, and then do all the base shoe at once.

Not so bad, right? I mean it took me two days but now that I’m writing this post, it doesn’t seem so bad. Haha! I think there are 28 different pieces of wood on this window casing, not including a few shims hiding behind the finished pieces here and there.

Even before painting the new moldings, I was starting to feel like the room was so much lighter and brighter than I had expected, and maybe I wanted it to stay that way? I do love a bright sunlit room! I don’t fear dark paint but I also know it’s not right for every space, and maybe I was trying to force it?

I painted a sample. The sample got me excited. Full disclosure: I chose this color solely because I had two leftover gallons from another project, and I liked it in that room, and it was free, and I like free, so there ya go. It’s a Benjamin Moore color called Flint, which was color-matched with Valspar Reserve paint. It’s a really deep inky blue-black-charcoal—very rich but doesn’t really read as black in the space, especially next to black-black.

Then one thing led to another! Ohhhhh shit!

No lie, it was not exactly love at first sight. Painting something a dramatic color is always exciting, but I still wasn’t sold.

I went downstairs to grab something and walking back up the stairs, I was sold! This door is almost always open, and that peek of a really dark room at the top of the stairs is just so nice! Make me wanna go cuddle up to a dog or two. The unevenness is just the paint still drying, don’t worry.

Ahhhhh, yeah. I’m about it! The dark walls DO swallow up a ton of natural light, but in a good way. It feels so cozy! I wanted cozy! This also means this room needs a fair amount of supplementary lighting, which as a serial hoarder of lamps I find appealing.

Circling back to the moldings, all that pink filler is my BFF, Bondo! I’ve never had an issue with Bondo separating or cracking when used on an interior surface, but I wouldn’t recommend it for exterior. Bondo can’t make up for really lousy workmanship, but it can compensate for a lot. It also does a nice job of filling in grain, which makes the wood look like it has more paint on it than it does, which keeps all the moldings looking uniformly imperfect, if that makes sense.

Before moldings ever get a lick of paint, they go through a little rehab. The first step is cleaning: I like to use TSP substitute, following the dilution instructions on the package. These moldings were especially dirty from all the demo work that this room endured.

Then I use my palm sander to knock down any lumps and bumps, then a filler and/or caulk where needed. After the filler is sanded down, everything gets wiped down again and THEN it’s paint time. I tend to favor a 2″ angle brush for cutting in on the walls and painting moldings.

Yes! In this picture, the new casing and baseboards just have primer on them, and the rest of the moldings still need paint, but you can get a sense of how the room is going to look! I’m really happy with it. I also put up a ceiling medallion (the same one I used in my bedroom) and the light fixture, although the shades aren’t up so don’t judge yet! The pink glass shades really make the fixture.

It’s going to be way cute. I know because the room is basically done now! It came together so fast, at least given how long it usually takes me! These photos are a few weeks old so the room has furniture, art on the walls, a working television set, and now it’s my new favorite room in the house! I have to photograph it and then I’ll show you the whole thing soon! Eek!

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