Patterned Shirts for the Dudes!

Lately I’m really into shirts with exciting patterns on them. I mean, I like patterns on other things outside of my body, but I’ve always been more of a solid/stripe/plaid kind of guy, shirt-wise.

No more. Gimme a good pattern and I will wear it and feel happy about wearing it.

Here’s the thing with patterned shirts on the gentlemen: you don’t want to be described as, “you know, that guy who always wears the crazy shirts.” At least I don’t. I don’t want to be a “loud” dresser, because people who dress “loudly” tend to be super annoying and I don’t want to be super annoying, or give people good reason to think I will be based on how I’m dressing.

So you have to find the good patterns so you don’t look like an irritating clown. How do you do that? I think like this. First, you limit the colors. A crazy pattern with only a couple of colors will look less nuts than a more simple pattern with a bunch of colors. Second, I like to steer toward abstracts and away from things that are literal/legible, like little floating anchors or even florals. I own a few good florals but they’re tough to get right and can go silly/kitschy/cutesy real fast. Third, I like to pair a good pattern with normal stuff like a simple pair of classic jeans—you don’t want multiple elements of your outfit calling out for attention because then you will look crazy.

Look at me, writing with fake authority on fashion. HA. So, boys. Point is, according to me, you can totally rock a shirt that’s a little weird without looking nuts. I do it all the time and nobody has ever explicitly told me I look nuts so I assume we’re all good. Here’s a little round-up of some shirts I’m into right now to carry me through the rest of summer and into fall:

ABSTRACTS

1. Navy Print Short Sleeve Smart Shirt, Topman, $30

2. Slim-Fit Cloud Print Shirt, Club Monaco, $89.50

3. Blue Aztec Print Short Sleeve Casual Shirt, Topman, $50

4. Navy Paint Print Short Sleeve Smart Shirt, Topman, $50

 

POLKADOTS

1. Selected Homme Blue Geo Long Sleeve Shirt, Topman, $85

2. Selected Homme Black Slim Fit Shirt, Topman, $20

3. Classic Fit Ditsy Dot Shirt, Club Monaco, $27.30 with code THESALEONSALE

4. Short-Sleeved Cotton Shirt, H&M, $14.99

 

ABSTRACTS2

1. Slim-Fit Indigo Cross Shirt, Club Monaco, $48.30 with code THESALEONSALE

2. Weekday Shirt Happy Times Grandad Collar Sumi Print, ASOS, $73

3. ASOS Shirt in Short Sleeve with Paint Print, ASOS, $40

4. Navy Confetti Drapey Short Sleeve Smart Shirt, Topman, $50

 

Plans for Olivebridge Cottage!

Hey, remember that other house I’ve been working on? That vacation cottage? The one out in Olivebridge? That we called Olivebridge Cottage? For those nice sweet clients from the big city? That one that I wrote a blog post “introducing” and then never spoke of again?

Well, it’s done!

PSYCH. LOL. GOTCHA.

Oh, Olivebridge Cottage. Spoiler: you are so much more than we bargained for. Like, so much more. Like, an unthinkable, unreasonable, unfathomable amount more. I hope you guys like whatever the house version of blood and guts and gore is, because it is what Olivebridge Cottage has been serving up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner everyday for the past two months.

Honestly, I haven’t been sure how to even blog about this renovation because it’s just been total insanity. Plans and budgets and timelines have had to change on what feels like a daily basis, and I haven’t been totally certain of what the appropriate time is to jump into writing about it with some semblance of certainty or authority or professionalism. Thus are the hazards of trying to live-blog a renovation. Or at least this renovation. This little house is bananas.

Last time I posted about the house, it was a bunch of before pictures and some vague ideas about what the big plans were (I’d recommend going back to that post and just looking at the pictures if you need a refresher). That was only a few days into the job…back in the days when my heart was full of naive optimism and my brain still full of the understanding that this was more or less a kitchen renovation. We’ll get into how and why everything has changed since then, but for now maybe it makes the most sense to just start with…where we started? The overall aesthetic direction for the renovation hasn’t really changed, so before we dive into demo and all the lunacy that’s come with it, let’s all get an understanding of the basic layout and stuff…

 

olivebridgebefore1olivebridgeproposal1

Is it even worth apologizing for my Sketch-Up renderings at this point? Probably not. I really don’t enjoy doing them (to say the least…I might be the least tech-inclined blogger ever) but it’s helpful when clients and/or contractors are involved so everyone can be more or less on the same page with stuff.

Anyway, here’s a side-by-side of the overall layout. Before is above, proposed after is below. It’s oriented this way because the top is the side that faces the street, but the right side is where the entryway is. So you walk into this little vestibule space, and turning left brings you into the 2nd bedroom (which is an old enclosed porch) and turning right brings you into the living room space. The plan for the vestibule and second bedroom has always primarily just been some paint and a few other cosmetic upgrades, but there’s since been talk of bringing the new flooring into those two spaces as well. It’s a small house, so cutting down on the number of different materials all over the place would probably be a very nice thing. It’s mostly a question of budget at this point.

The living room is sort of an odd space because of the dimensions of the room and the location of the wood stove and size of the hearth. It’s all a bit wonky. At only about 12 feet wide (and having to function as a pass-through to the dining/kitchen area, the entryway, and the bedroom/bathroom area), it’s a REALLY difficult space to lay out with regular furniture in any kind of conventional set-up. Then off the living room is this sunken area, which is also an enclosed porch and sits about 6″ lower than the living room. It’s about 6 feet wide and is supported by a beam and four posts, so even though the area is wide open to the living room, it feels kind of closed off.

The proposed plan didn’t call for altering anything really with the wood stove, but that’s probably changing due to safety issues and code compliance and all that fun stuff that includes the house not burning to the ground. The proposed plan also called for at least putting a structural support beam between the living room and the sunken section so that we could lose the vertical supports, and there was a lot of talk of just leveling out the floor (which, yes, would leave sort of an odd ceiling height when you got way up to the front of the house, but would have still been OK…just kind of quirky?). If the living room were even a foot or two wider, I think leaving the sunken section as-is would have been the obvious answer (and building some kind of great bench or shelving or something below the windows), but the narrowness of the room more or less precludes the placement of even a normal-size sofa. So that was the thinking.

Spoiler: none of that stuff is happening because now very different things are probably happening.

olivebridgebefore2olivebridge2

ANYWAY. Up a couple of stairs, you’re in the dining room/half bath/utilities/kitchen area. You can really see here how enormous that half-bath is, especially relative to the size of this house, so I’m glad it’s going away! That funny-shaped wall inside the half-bath shows more or less where the hot water tank was and the guts of the big propane-powered heater.

In the proposed plan (which was actually the second proposed kitchen concept—the first didn’t have the breakfast bar part), the half-bath goes away and the kitchen gets a lot more space and a lot more storage. It’s still not a huge space but there’s enough for a couple of people to comfortably maneuver in the center of it, and opening up the kitchen/dining space is going to make the whole house feel much roomier and brighter and all those nice things.

That thing next to the refrigerator represents some kind of utility closet that we thought might be necessary, but luckily it’s been nixed because the plumber confirmed that we could put the new tankless hot water heater (which will be more efficient and much, much smaller!) in the closet across from the bathroom (where the washer/dryer will also live), and we’re doing away with the propane-powered heating tower thing altogether in favor of a new ventless mini-split system that will ALSO have A/C. Color me jealous! I’m not a fan of the way those things look in old houses, but it’ll be just fine in an all-new and modern space.

Spoiler: we’re now on to kitchen design #23478904587 so the kitchen probably won’t actually look much like this, at least layout-wise. So feel free to tear it apart or whatever because it’s not getting built anyway.

moodboard1kitchen

After we’d figured out the overall layout and more major decisions about the renovation plan, I sent Adriana and Barry this “mood board” do-dad to help sort of visualize the overall aesthetic direction and a few specific products I had rolling around in my head! If you’ll recall, the goal of this renovation is for everything to be very inexpensive without looking cheap, so I tried to keep things as budget-friendly as possible. The overall concept this is trying to communicate is that Scandi-mod vibe with lots of blacks and whites, but also throwing in some nice natural textures and some bright colors so it never feels to sterile or boring. Ya dig?

1. We weren’t really sure what was going to be lurking behind the bumped-out wall in the kitchen and the soffit above the bumped-out wall, so in case we needed to maintain a soffit of some kind, I thought a few fun-colored lights like the Alabax fixture (medium size) from Schoolhouse Electric would be so cute! I love the Marigold color. Adriana nixed this particular fixture because she doesn’t like exposed bulbs (I tend to agree, honestly, since I’ve been trying to transition as much as I can to LED and those bulbs aren’t all that cute to look at), but they both liked the idea of adding that element of color.

2. Range hood, sink, faucet, and cabinets are all IKEA. We’re keeping the existing stainless steel stove and refrigerator, so the plan is to use the LUFTIG exhaust hood and the DOMSJO double-bowl sink, which will be set in the new line of SEKTION cabinets! As I am a huge IKEA nerd, I’m excited to try out the new cabinets and see how they compare to the old AKURUM system. I’ve checked them out in the showroom and they seem really great. I pitched the RINGSKAR faucet but that was nixed due to lack of spray function and concerns about quality, so I’m on the hunt for something else. Anyone have a modern faucet they love that didn’t cost a billion dollars? Spill.

3. TILE! I was sure this backsplash tile would get nixed immediately, but Adriana and Barry were on board! I love a tumbling blocks pattern. This tile is made to look like nice cement encaustic tile that would usually cost all the money, but NOPE—this stuff is from Home Depot, of all places! Each tile is 7.75″ square, so at $1.97/tile you can cover a LOT of territory with it without breaking the bank. I ordered this a while ago (it tends to go out of stock every now and then, so I wanted to make sure we’d have it ready to go) and I have to say it’s quite nice in person. The whole line of these vintage-repro Merola Tiles is pretty great. A lot of it is made to mix and match and it’s a great alternative if you can’t spend the money on the real deal.

4. Since budget is so slim, we need the countertops to be super cheap. Adriana very specifically did not want butcherblock, which is my first instinct for inexpensive countertops, and we all agreed that the laminate options I found were kind of blah. As I am a blogger, it looks like I will be joining the ranks of many bloggers who have come before me in trying out Ardex Feather Finish for cheap, DIY-friendly, faux concrete countertops! Just google it and you’ll find lots of blog posts about people using this stuff right over their old laminate counters or even just over plywood if they’re starting from scratch. It can look pretty great! For this house, though, I really like what Jenny over at Little Green Notebook did by adding black concrete tint to the mix—I think it just takes it up a few notches and makes the whole application look really luxe. I’m psyched to try it! It seems kind of hard to screw up and I’m relatively good at stuff, so it should be OK. Right?

5. The two globe pendant lights are from Cedar & Moss. We’re still sort of playing around with lighting—kind of a challenge since things are so open, so the kitchen lighting has to play well with whatever’s going on above the dining room table and the living room, too. The thinking behind the globes was that we might have more of a “statement piece” above the dining room table so we’d just want something simple above the peninsula. I’m not sure if these or anything even like them are going to happen, but holy guacamole…Cedar & Moss makes some good looking lights.

6. I’m into these Roadhouse Leather Counter Stools from CB2, especially as a way to introduce some warmth into this business and balance out the colder, harder materials and textures. Like a lot of things, not sure if they’re going to happen, but I’d like to use them and they’re a good chair to know about regardless as they’re nice looking and fairly budget-friendly. They come in chair height, counter height, and bar height. I wish I could…refine the bases a little bit? But overall that’s a good-lookin’ chair.

OK, now that we’re finished with this whole thing, we can finally really get into renovating this sucker! Much like Bluestone Cottage (I’ll get back to you soon, I promise…), I’ve been keeping a daily diary of the insanity and have lots and lots of pictures of the progress/disaster unfolding before my eyes and taking over my life, so I hope you’re into all that. This one’s a doozy!

Mudroom Demo!

I hate my mudroom. Like lots.

before3

This is the mudroom shortly after moving into the house. Look at Linus! So cute.

I’m the sort of person who tends to think most spaces are workable and potentially charming with a little bit of TLC, but the structure attached to the back of my house has never really felt like one of them. There was a time when I felt like replacing the floor tiles with leftover VCT from the kitchen re-do, painting the paneling, installing a cute-ish light, and building out some super simple storage would make this space sort of nice and useful. Clearly that never happened, and in the meantime I decided I just wanted the whole thing to disappear.

extdemo1

Oof…sorry, house! This is not one of your most flattering angles. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I think the front of my house is really pretty, but the side and back have suffered over the years from some weird additions, and alterations to those weird additions, and then the vinyl siding and chain-link fencing happened, and the trees in the hell-strip came down, and…ya know. It doesn’t look so great. This angle is the one that will definitely change the most during my time in the house, though, and I think I can make it attractive and much more cohesive with enough time and energy and, of course, money. Right now I’m sort of running low in all three departments, so while I wish I could tackle everything at once, it just isn’t possible.

The mudroom, though, is structurally unrelated to the house itself and should come down pretty easily, so you can imagine how much self-restraint it’s taken to even let it survive this long. It has admittedly been a nice place to just throw crap when I’ve felt too lazy to find a better spot for it and just want it out of the way, but that’s pretty much the extent of its utility as a room.

before1

before2

Anyway, back to before pictures…this room was pretty gnarly. The paneling was the cheap 70s luan variety, the floor was this super ugly vinyl tile, and I don’t even know what that tape on the wall was about. The roof leaked (and still does), the ceiling is only about 7 feet and slopes toward the front corner, the door had a broken pane of glass (I can’t remember if I put up that scrap of plywood or if it was like that…), the tiny window on the back wall was also broken…I think maybe the only nice things about the room are that it has a wide-plank beadboard ceiling and the old door, both of which I plan to reuse elsewhere.

demo1

Demo on this room actually started a while ago…like maybe a year ago. I’d just had it with all the luan paneling and the tiles popping up off the floor and figured that I’d at least gut the interior and get that out of the way.

demo2

One nice discovery was that the original clapboard was right under the paneling on the back wall of the house! I expected it to be there, but houses have a tendency to throw weird curveballs so I was still relieved to see it. I wonder if the whole was painted this mint green color at some point.

Since the foundation under this room is definitely old (stacked bluestone, like the rest of the house, but not part of the adjacent foundation under the kitchen), I always sort of figured that this used to be a summer kitchen. Having a covered but outdoor space to cook during the summer is relatively common in old houses, I think mainly as a means to keep the main house cooler in the warm summer months. Seeing the vent hole for a stove on the outside of the house (there’s a chimney behind that wall) is confirmation of this, I think.

mudroomdemo3

The other walls were pretty much just paneling nailed up to the 2×4 studs—no insulation or anything. The whole construction of this room is super wonky—usually 2x4s would be nailed in with the short side facing the interior and exterior, and you’d see a top plate that support the ceiling joists, etc. etc.

mudroomdemo1

It’s sort of hard to tell, but you can see here that some of the clapboards on this wall look to be newer, particularly as you get toward the door, and some are the originals. I think this is because the entire back wall (where the little window is) was added at some point to fully enclose the space and then the door had to be added to create access to the backyard.

Once I’d gotten all the paneling down, I could’t help but dive into the floor! The tile is laid on top of plywood, which is laid on top of what are essentially enormous shims that were put in place to level out the floor. Since this was a semi-open space originally, the entire floor slants toward the back corner to direct water away.

mudroominteriordemo5

CHAOS! It’s amazing how gutting even relatively small, simple spaces seems to create so much garbage! I wish I could just have a dumpster rented in my driveway for the next…decade? This was back when I used Bagster bags (I’ve since switched to just borrowing my friend’s pick-up and hauling to the dump myself, which is MUCH cheaper), which are thoughtfully designed to hold 4×8 objects perfectly. I do miss the convenience of Bagster bags, but also a little sick over how much money I spent on disposal during the first year in the house by relying on them. It could’ve paid for my own rust-bucket pick-up truck! Oh well.

mudroominteriordemo3

See how all the clapboard on the wall with the window is newer? Without this wall, the 2×4 ceiling joists would have been supported by a single 2×4 top plate resting on 2×4 posts in the outer corners. So flimsy! It’s sort of amazing that the roof has lasted so long, particularly through heavy snow loads and whatnot. I wouldn’t necessarily go so far as to say this room is a structural hazard (after all, it’s been fine for many decades before I came along!), but it’s definitely a far cry from the way we’d build anything today! Even if I were interested in restoring this space as-is, I’d be looking at a lot of serious structural work (maybe even rebuilding it entirely), so I really don’t have any qualms with just losing it and giving the space over to something that will actually be used and enjoyed (porch! porch! porch!).

Underneath the vinyl tile and plywood and huge shims was more plywood! At first I was just inclined to leave it, but…curiosity. Weird bursts of energy. Little impulse control. Same old story.

mudroomdem06

Hey, cool! The original floor is old wide-plank pine. It’s in solid condition, too, so these boards will definitely get salvaged and reused somehow.

extdemo2

Outside, I finally started removing the vinyl siding a week or so ago! Removing vinyl siding is shockingly easy—you really just need a hammer and a pry bar. I think I had this whole wall un-vinyl’d in maybe 15 minutes? You just start at the top and work your way down.

extdemo3

Underneath the vinyl siding is a very thin layer of foam insulation, which is nailed into the clapboard.

extdemo4

Here is where I will mount my soapbox:

Vinyl siding is not good for old houses, and the last two pictures kind of sum up why. Often people think that covering a house in vinyl siding improves the appearance (agree to disagree there…), helps with maintenance, adds energy efficiency, and might even preserve the underlying materials, but very often that’s not the case! Regardless of how you feel about how vinyl siding looks, the fact that it’s so effective at disguising potentially very serious issues makes its continued use sort of alarming to me. When water and moisture get behind the vinyl, the vinyl and foam insulation are great at catching that water, trapping it, keeping it next to the wood, and even advancing decay by keeping it dark and warm up in there. Yuck! So what you get is a nasty hotbed of mold and rotting wood. And if pests like termites and carpenter ants aren’t already hiding behind the vinyl (which they totally might be and you wouldn’t really know it because you can’t see them), well…they’re known to enjoy chowing down on some decaying wood now and then so they might decide to join the party too. So underneath a wall that just looks like clean, fresh, wood-grain-embossed-plastic, there can be all sorts of crazy activity that can not only affect the clapboard but also wreak serious havoc on underlying framing and potentially anything else in the wall like electrical and insulation.

*dismounting*

ANYWAY. As much as I’d love to rip down ALL OF THE VINYL RIGHT NOW, that’s a huge project involving careful lead-paint-containment and lots of time and potentially money and it’ll have to wait a while longer. I’m hopeful that most of the underlying clapboard will be in good shape and just need to be stripped, primed, and painted, but of course there’s no real way of knowing until I see it! For the sake of this summer, I think I’ll remove just the vinyl on the back of the house (leaving the vinyl “cornerboards” in place) and use that as a test run for how the rest of the house will be. I’m a little scared to look! I’ll salvage any of the good older pieces of clapboard from the mudroom for patching in elsewhere on the house if/when necessary, and hopefully it’ll all work out and be so beautiful and not so difficult and I won’t rue the day I wrote these words.

Workin’ on my Fitness…In the Backyard.

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

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

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

As usual, I’m dumb.

rototiller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

brushpile

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

sideyardprogress

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

frontyardbeforerightside

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

cherry2014

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

smokebush2014

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

smokebush

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

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

frontcornerlillies

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

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

sideyardprogress2

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

mekkoinyard

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

sideyardprogress3

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

frontyardcleared

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

brushbins

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

bluestonepathbefore

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

blustonepathprogress

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

bluestoneremoval

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

blustoneslabs

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

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

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

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

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

plantstockpile

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

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

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

I WANT BACKYARD.

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

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

backyardbefore1

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

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

backyardbefore2

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

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

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

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

backyardbefore3

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

backyardbefore4

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

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

Stupid azaleas. I knew you were mistakes.

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

grading2

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

japanesemaple

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

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

armin3

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

armin1

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

armin2

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

backyard3

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

Backyardrendering1

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

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

Backyard1

Not cute. Not cute in the slightest. backyardrendering2

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

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

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

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

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

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

backofgarage

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

backyardrendering3

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

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

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

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

behindgarage

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

backyardrendering4

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

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

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

WHAT’S THAT NOW? OH YEAH, PORCH.

fireescape

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

backofhouse

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

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

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

backyardrendering6

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

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

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

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

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

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

driveway

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

backyardrendering7

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

bluestonebed

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

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

Oh yeah, and I want to adopt a puppy.

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

If not, go away.

Just kidding. Tell me everything. I need help.

Back to Top