The Great Dirt-Moving Effort!

Every year it’s the same: I spend all winter being sad about the cold, and then spring and summer hit and I’m all like HOLD UP because that means I have to pick up where I left off with exterior work. The earlier I get to it the better because summers here are hot and muggy, but of course there are a finite number of hours in the day so the interior work slows way down. Which is sad, because the interior of my house is still…well, a work in progress, let’s say. A work in progress that’s occasionally frustrating to live in, that I have to force myself to de-prioritize during these warmer months because otherwise the exterior might, I dunno, get overtaken by weeds and die of neglect. Houses, man. Yards. They keep you busy. I do not recommend them if you value free time.

With so much work constantly happening both on the interior and exterior of the house, the backyard in particular has inched along veryyyy slowly. I’ve probably put more effort into the street-facing front and side gardens, primarily in the hope that a few decent-looking plants might distract from the…less charming aspects of my perpetually-being-renovated house. But the back? It’s basically a blank slate. I have a fence. I have some patchy grass. In terms of other amenities, my yard also offers a pile of chimney bricks, a steady supply of dog shit and toys laying around, a ton of irregular bluestone pieces, and a few scraggly plants I’ve stuck in the ground.

It’s not like I have acreage or anything, but I do have a really large yard for Kingston! It’s part of what I love about the house, but it’s also a lot to take care of. And a lot to figure out, because I want it to be a beautiful lush amazing (much more private!!!) paradise but I also find it kind of discouraging because of how much time and money I’ve already dumped into it.

Yes, you read that right. Those two pictures above are the products of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of hard work. CAN’T YOU TELL? DO YOU FEEL MOTIVATED YET?!?

I guess I know it could be worse, because oh boy has it been worse! Sometimes when I’m out here feeling so sad and dejected about my barren landscape, I have to remind myself of how the majority of the yard was asphalt when I bought this place! The whole yard was covered in snow the first time I saw the house, so this actually came as a surprise at the first or second walk-through, but at that point I was too in love with the house for a little blacktop to scare me off.

“We’ll just get it removed!” I proclaimed with confidence.

And it did get removed…to the tune of about $2,000, if memory serves, because I have refused to think about it since. YIKES. It took 5 full days and multiple backhoes and excavators to get it done. The thing I didn’t totally realize at the time is that under the asphalt would be a layer of large gravel (item #4, if you wanna get all technical about it), so you have to remove a lot of material to get back down to something resembling clean-ish dirt.

Like, a lot a lot. About TWENTY dump trucks worth.

At the end, they did what they could to flatten everything out and left this attractive scene, which soon started to fill in with weeds. Sure, I’ll take it!

Then it rained. And rained a few more times. And that area that had been covered with asphalt? Turned into a very large, shallow pond. Which, in the winter, turned into a sheet of ice. It’s a shame that depth gets so lost in photos because it really doesn’t portray how bad this was!

The lumpy piles of dirt behind Mekko is all the grass I excavated out of the front garden by hand and then rolled back here in a wheelbarrow. I adorably thought this would solve the problem or at least improve things, but the dent it made was…negligible.

A little while later, I transported a couple pick-up truck loads of dirt from Bluestone Cottage’s front yard, since that yard needed to be graded down and this one needed to be graded up. “This’ll fix it!” I thought to myself again.

Not remotely.

At this point, the availability of free solutions had seemed to run out, and with the new fence in placereally wanted to start getting the backyard in shape! So I stuck the plastic stakes from Lowe’s into the ground and attached a long length of neon pink nylon twine between them, pulling VERY taught. This helped me see where the lowest points were and build up as needed. I considered getting a delivery of soil, but the delivery was kind of expensive, and even with a soil calculator (like this one!), I didn’t feel confident that I had any idea how much I actually needed. I also liked the idea of bringing it into the yard in manageable chunks rather than having the landscaping place deposit a mountain-sized pile that I’d have to just chip away at, blocking my driveway until it was all gone. Hauling it myself seemed, at the time, to make a lot of practical sense.

Not that long before, I got a new car—a practical Subaru SUV. I kept saying that perhaps a pick-up truck would be a better investment at least for this period in my life when hauling large and heavy things is such a regular occurrence, but everyone in my life seemed to think this was patently ridiculous. So instead I got this utility trailer, the bed of which is slightly over 4×8 feet, meaning it’s perfect for drywall and plywood and lumber. I subsequently learned that the trailer is a complete pain in the ass, and difficult to steer in reverse, and in short order I managed to crunch both front corners of my bumper and a rearview mirror while trying to maneuver it. More recently the trailer became unhitched on a job site and smashed the trunk in, too. I hate that thing with the fire of a thousand suns. But also I need it. Because I didn’t buy the pick-up.

SO ANYWAY, now my still-new-ish car is super fucked and the trailer is not holding up annnnddddddd next time maybe I should listen less to those around me when it comes to my driving/hauling needs. It’s all very stupid. That’s not what we’re here to talk about though. We’re talking about the much more exciting topic of dirt.

I took my jacked up car with my jacked up utility trailer to a local landscaping place, where they sell fill dirt. Things like this (mulch, gravel, etc) are usually sold by the “yard,” which you can think of as a 3′ x 3′ x 3′ cube. There are different types of dirt—topsoil is higher quality and full of nutrients and shit like that, and lesser soils are cheaper and good for fill but not great for growing gardens and stuff. I decided to start with cheaper fill, and then finish off with a layer of better topsoil.

About 1 yard of fill fits in that trailer, or around 2,000 pounds, so thus commenced my new weekend tradition of getting as many loads into the yard as I could before it became either completely unbearable or the place closed. Because my trailer doesn’t have a hydraulic lift or anything fancy like that, I had to drive the trailer into the yard, climb in, unload the soil a shovel-full at a time, and then rake it out and level it.

Each time it seemed like SO MUCH DIRT and each time all that dirt barely made a dent.

So I kept having to go back to get more dirt.

Bring in the trailer, shovel it all out, spread, and go back for more. Did I mention how hot and muggy summers are here? This is the worst game I’ve ever played.

This was also getting expensive. A yard of fill from the landscaping place was about $45, so all of a sudden I’m spending literal hundreds of dollars and an obscene amount of effort to bring a bunch of crappy soil into my yard. THE JOYS OF HOMEOWNERSHIP!

After a couple weekends of this, I was bringing demolition debris of some variety to the dump, as I do. And then I saw something over yonder, in the distance.

Mounds. Mounds of dirt. JOE! TELL ME ABOUT THAT DIRT!

Joe is my friend at the dump. I like to bring him a milkshake if I go. Joe likes milkshakes.

Turns out, it’s county compost! From the county! Made at the dump! Literal garbage dirt! This is the dirt for meeeeeee!

It’s actually kind of cool—if you look closely at those mounds, on the far right there’s a pile of newly deposited branches and leaves and stuff. This is where the county’s yard waste bags end up, food scraps from the restaurant composting program, etc. There, they fester for a while, until enough of it has broken down to go into pile #2, and so on. Once it’s gone through this sequence, it goes into that red machine you see on the far left, which essentially grinds it up, breaking down any remaining branches or things that decompose slowly. Then it goes into another pile and continues to brew until somebody who might be me buys it. Cool. Gross. I like it.

Because it’s all compost, I assume this soil is actually much better than the soil I’d been getting, AND it was $35/ton (which is about a yard), so $10 cheaper than the landscaping place.

So I got a load.

Drive it home. Deposit the dirt. Spread the dirt. Go back again.

And again.

And again.

Also, again.

All told, I repeated this procedure THIRTY TIMES. Which means I moved, out of the trailer and into the yard by hand, roughly SIXTY THOUSAND POUNDS of dirt. Just dirt. It was SO much more than I anticipated.

This has to be the least satisfying way I have ever managed to blow through more than a thousand dollars. I stopped keeping track because it was just too depressing.

BUT HARD WORK PAYS OFF! JUST LOOK AT THIS OASIS I CREATED! It just feels like such a SANCTUARY from the outside world and…oh wait, sorry wrong slide. That’s Bunny William’s garden.

LOOK AT THIS OASIS I CREATED! LUSH! VERDANT! A TRUE OUTDOOR LIVING SPACE FIT FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY!

Fortunately this is not a current picture, and things have improved somewhat steadily since that time. I’ve been terrible about sharing backyard progress, I think because I keep waiting for some part of it to look great. And what am I going to do, write a whole post about…moving 30 tons of dirt?

Then I decided that’s exactly what I’ll do, because progress is progress. No lie, it BLOWS that it took this much time and effort and money to get to this very barren depressing square 1, but a lot of landscaping work (hell, renovation work!) is a very long slog that only starts to feel good when all that slow progress accumulates to something that finally feels worthwhile. We have a couple of summers worth of work to catch up on, though, so in lieu of stunning After! images that are realistically probably a decade away, let’s just try to enjoy this whole process for the grueling and occasionally exciting operation that it is! I guess.

The Laundry Room, 2018 Edition!

At some point in the past couple of years, I got a little…stuck with my own house. I know for a lot of people this feeling might not be especially out of the ordinary, but to me it was novel. The house itself was going through a decidedly “rough patch” in the course of this whole renovation/restoration madness, and to some extent my mental health followed suit. My ability to make decisions and actionable plans seemed to evaporate, which of course made everything feel worse. I’m not sure if I was looking for answers, or trying to remind myself that beautiful things do, in fact, still exist, or just to try to un-block something in my brain, but I found myself looking more and more to visual inspiration.

I’ve had the inkling for a very long time that too much “inspiration” can actually produce the opposite result. I’ve seen this with various clients over the years—they’ll send me a Pinterest board they’ve assembled over some time for a given project, hoping that each image might in some way be represented in the final product. The trouble is that most people aren’t only attracted to one particular aesthetic: they’re attracted to lots of them. It’s much easier to recognize what we think is beautiful than it is to create it. So then, armed with too much inspiration, we try to devise a way to incorporate all these things into a given space, which is usually not possible. Or at least not possible if the goal is to produce a beautiful result. So then we have to start making sacrifices, but now we’ve fallen in love with all of these disjointed elements, all generally done by other people who are really good at this and have lots of money, and we don’t feel confident in making those calls, or even know which calls we have to make, and then we’re paralyzed.

Then, seeking clarity, we bury ourselves in more “inspiration,” as though the image that will make all of this come together could be just the next click away. This, of course, is not especially productive, but it feels like it is.

Being somewhat aware of this, I’ve never used Pinterest except when a client gig required me to. This seemed like a good way to avoid this issue for myself, but I think I failed to appreciate the extent to which the Pinterest mentality has really permeated so many other spaces. The Inspiration Overload is everywhere—Instagram, Facebook, other blogs—and this crept up on me a bit. Soon all of my own work felt so small and shitty and lame, and making simple decisions became an extended exercise in self-doubt and insecurity. Each project in my house became an opportunity to create something amazinggggg but then only if I could remove the very real limitations of time and budget. When it came to my laundry room, I got so caught up in all these things I could see doing: beautiful and spacious custom built-in storage, a sink-to-end-all-sinks, a gorgeous tiled floor, and of course something more interesting for the walls than just painted plaster. Right? I wanted it to look fresh and original and like nothing I’d seen before, while at the same time wanting it to look just like a thousand things I’d seen and bookmarked or screen-capped or otherwise “pinned” without the benefit of organization that I suppose Pinterest provides.

Naturally, once these ideas entered my brain, it became impossible to dispense with them. The floor tile would have cost about $1,000 I didn’t have, but felt so essential to the very premise of renovating the laundry room that I couldn’t see a way around it. Since about half the room would be taken up by the machines, the sink, and storage, I thought maybe I’d compromise and save the expensive tile for the visible part of the floor, but then I’d need the sink and attending cabinetry to be installed first, which of course would mean buying or making those, which I also didn’t have the time/money for. I also really wanted to get the laundry done before being completely occupied with the much more involved kitchen renovation, but in order to do that I’d have to actually start working on it, which would mean finalizing these decisions, which of course I couldn’t do. This all rolled around in my mind for months while my washer and dryer sat useless in the spare room.

I guess when I started this whole renovation “journey,” I felt like the only logical path forward was escalation. Bigger projects. More advanced DIYs. An ever-expanding collection of tools and technical skills that I’d use to create the most amazing spaces I could dream of, because otherwise what’s the point? Putting this much time and effort and money into something should not yield mediocrity.

And then it hit me. It’s not the first time and won’t be the last, but I’m really trying to actively keep it in mind: Not. Everything. Has. To. Be. The. Very. Best. It. Can. Be. IT REALLY IS OK. A lot of things can be improved and changed down the line, when the time and money materializes. It doesn’t all have to happen in one take. At the end of the day, this laundry room has to accomplish one thing: wash my dirty clothes. Everything else is bonus. Also, it’s JUST A LAUNDRY ROOM.

And then something happened: I FELT SO LIBERATED. Without realizing it, and largely out of necessity, I took away the pressure of perfection and replaced it with the momentum of just GETTING IT DONE. Added to this was the challenge of doing it as inexpensively as possible, because the goal was no longer incredible beauty but instead just getting to a place of very basic functionality—and still being able to afford a kitchen stove.

And then another thing happened: in spite of my best efforts, the room actually turned out kinda cute, if you’ll permit me just a little bit of self-congratulation. Because I actually do like my stuff. I actually am generally happy with the decisions I make about my own living space. I actually am capable of making those decisions if I just lighten the fuck up a little and stop freaking out about having the coolest laundry room that my brain can conjure, and creating it in one shot.

Because only a monster would post an after image without a before, here’s the now-laundry room way back when I bought the house! It was one of the first rooms I really tackled, trying to get my renovation sea legs, and I turned it into this office:

I loved that little office, but for various reasons it eventually made way more sense to make this little space into the laundry room. It was sad for a while. Out came the desk, down came the obsolete chimney, in went new electric and plumbing, and up went new drywall and a couple fresh coats of paint annnndddddd…

Laundry room! With a utility sink! And a pink floor! I ain’t mad about it!

By the way, YES. It feels very weird/kinda embarrassing to now have “after” photos of the “after” photos from 4 years ago. I’m also 100% positive that there are those among us who will view this as a downgrade rather than an improvement, but in the context of the whole house I SWEAR this is so much better. Second floor laundry with all this natural light is such an insane luxury. My clothes are literally cleaner because I can see stains and stuff so much more easily, so my pre-treatment game is now ON POINT. I feel very on top of my laundry situation generally and it’s a great feeling.

ALSO, due to my chronic condition of over-sharing—here is the room like a day or two before I snapped the “after” photos. And honestly this is more of what I had in mind when I was all “I HAVE NO NEED FOR CUTE I ONLY NEED CLEAN UNDIES,” but then I sort of liked the additional challenge (/let’s be honest, procrastination) of trying to dress her up a little and add some storage without spending a dime. So I spent the next day just puttering around the house and hanging things up and messing around and it got kind of nice while I wasn’t looking!

Anyway. Point being, that little bit of extra effort was totally worth it and made me feel like I don’t have to really mess with this room for a long time. It also got some of my shit out of indefinite storage and put to good use!

The single biggest new purchase in this room was this cheap plastic utility sink. Various commenters were gravely concerned about this sink choice when I first mentioned it, encouraging me to go with something higher-quality/prettier/ceramic/stone/fireclay/stainless/vintage/antique BUT honestly even trolling Craigslist for some amazing $100 antique soapstone sink STILL involves trolling Craigslist, going to pick up the thing, overcoming the lurking fear of getting Craigslist-murdered, getting it home, cleaning/restoring it, getting it upstairs, probably special-ordering various parts to hook it up, maybe needing to enlist a plumber who wouldn’t show up anyway…SO WHILE I APPRECIATE ALL THE SUGGESTIONS, I am also so very happy that all I had to do was give $95 to Lowe’s and it wasn’t some whole production. When the perfect sink shows up, all the plumbing is there waiting for it.

I still spray-painted the legs black, because I can’t help myself.

Regarding the sink, it is exactly as mediocre as you might expect. It is decidedly un-fancy. It’s very lightweight and therefore doesn’t feel solid or substantial, although I did screw it right into the wall to keep it stable. It stains REALLY easily and stubbornly. It’s also HUGE and was so cheap and I LOVE IT SO MUCH, UNAPOLOGETICALLY. But like, get something nicer if you can swing it. Tell me all about it.

The plumbing under the sink isn’t so great looking either, so I spent 10 minutes making it a little modesty skirt. It’s just a tea towel folded in half with some velcro pinned to it, so it’s all easily removable and the tea towel is intact whenever I want it to be a tea towel again.

Maybe I’ll make a bunch of them so I can change the sink’s outfits seasonally. Hawt lewks for my stained plastic tub sink.

I hung up an old mirror just behind the sink to provide a little backsplash. Problem solved! I kinda love those little plastic clips that hold it up—they were a couple bucks at the hardware store but feel so 60s kitschy. Like not something you should be able to still go buy.

I put up a shelf! My pal Anna gave me like six of those IKEA brackets when she moved and they’ve just been cluttering my basement since. They were white and I spray painted them black and hung them up with some brass screws. Cute! I don’t think IKEA still makes these exact ones, but these are really similar.

The wood came off of the house at some point over the course of renovation, but I’m really struggling to remember what it did in its former life. I guess it doesn’t matter. I gave it a quick sand and a few coats of shellac and BOOM, shelf.

On the shelf is an assortment of things I have accumulated in my short but hoard-y lifetime. The yellowware bowls are antique—one holds detergent pods and the other holds those Affresh tablets that are supposed to rid the washing drum of that swamp smell in the summer. This is to prove once again that I will decant anything.

Tucked into the mirror frame are my two Laundry Idols, my mother below and my grandmother above. My grandma’s favorite task was laundry, and she passed much of her wisdom on to my mother, and I feel some grave sense of duty to, like, not ruin my clothes and bring shame on the family. So they watch over the goings-ons in this room.

I’m sorry I’m not sorry for loving that portrait but I can’t help myself. Her expression is SO GOOD. I bought her at an auction (I think I paid ten actual American greenbacks for that!), and then they told me the staining was because someone was storing her in a laundry room and she got bleach spilled on her. So it seemed right to carry on the grand tradition of this poor little old lady getting stuck in the laundry room, but maybe with a little more respect this time around.

I love my little hooks! These just came from various closets and stuff around the house, I don’t know. The long Turkish towel hides the supply lines which are hooked up under the sink.

Here we find a small sampling of my childhood collection of dog figurines. I’ve gotten rid of most of them, but some were actually kind of cool and maybe I’m pulling it off and maybe I’m not but I don’t care. It’s sort of fun seeing these guys again.

OH RIGHT, THAT HUGE SLAB OF MARBLE. So here’s the deal. Craigslist, $300. It’s a little over 5’x3′, and I bought it with the intention of it being my kitchen island (and therefore not considering it part of the money spent on this room). It’s 2″ thick and came out of this contractor’s garage, where he’d been storing it for the same purpose for the last 30 years. He got it out of another contractor’s garage who’d also been storing it for 30 years, also for that same purpose! The original contractor had pulled it out of a Victorian-era candy shop that was being demolished—can you imagine that?! So ANYWAY it’s huge and probably weighs 400 pounds and I needed to put it SOMEWHERE since custom-kitchen-island is still a ways away, so I just put it right on top of the machines.

I recognize that this sounds like a very bad idea, but I figured….hey. If the washer can stack on top of the dryer, SURELY it can handle a 400 pound slab of natural stone, right??? So I did it, and it’s been three months, and it hasn’t budged, and the machines didn’t collapse, so obviously there’s nothing to worry about here. Lol. If I ever need to call LG out for service, let’s keep this between us OK?

The marble is COVERED in 100 years worth of dings and scratches and pitting and I think that’s pretty perfect, personally. I’ll likely want to seal it with SOMETHING but I’m not super concerned about it continuing to age and patina.

I bought those two big hooks years ago, and it turned out they they make a good rack for the ironing board and iron! For the ~2 times per year that I use them.

There wasn’t really a great spot in this laundry room to hang the drying rack I had in my old laundry room, so instead I put up my Eames Hang-it-All! Anything that needs to dry flat can go on the marble, and anything that needs to be hung can go on a hanger off of this. I love my Hang-it-All and it’s so nice the be using it again after it collected dust for a few years!

It’s hard to get a good picture of, but that little tiny closet under the stairs is my new cleaning cupboard! Those stainless steel shelves used to hang in Anna’s kitchen in Newburgh—they were part of the GRUNDTAL series at IKEA but I’m not sure they still make them. The red bucket has all the cleaning basics so I can carry it around from room to room when I clean and it feels SO ADULT I can’t even stand myself. A cleaning caddy of my very own! Talk about peak experiences.

I mentioned this before, but I re-painted the floor from white (WHICH MADE ME INSANE) to this soft Farrow & Ball pink called “Setting Plaster.” I love it! Painted floors do show a lot of dirt and dust no matter what, I think, but shifting away from white makes it much more manageable. And the rug! I have a weird soft spot for old braided rugs—they just feel so homespun and sweet. I think this one was $10 a while ago and it happens to be the PERFECT size for this room.

OH! And this is neither here nor there, but I did want to circle back on the now-painted-white-but-originally-PURPLE XP drywall I used in this room! This is the Soundbreak XP, which is recommended for rooms you want to contain noise in (or keep it out of), and it’s GREAT. My bedroom is on the other side of this wall, and I really can’t hear the machines when they’re on at all. Cars just driving down the street are louder! I do get a bit of structural vibration during the spin cycles, but nothing dramatic. Everything I was worried about with moving the machines upstairs has thus far turned out to be completely fine. Better than fine! Because I have laundry again!

And it’s sorta cute, IMHO.

Here! There! Everywhere!

OH HELLO! It’s June! How did that happen?! There’s so much going on. Let’s run it down in no particular order because my brain’s all over the place.

The gang is back together! Edwin, Edgar and I are in the midst of building a large-and-in-charge wraparound front porch on a circa-1900 house in Kingston! Perhaps I should say rebuilding, since the porch was demolished long ago. So we’re constructing a close resemblance of the original porch, based on the bits of information we have—a few photos, dimensions from old tax assessment records, and the few pieces of the original porch that remained. It’s a big huge project that’s been in the works for a couple of YEARS now, so it’s super exciting that it’s finally happening. It’s also daunting! Partially because it’s HUGE at almost 800 square feet, and partially because it’s a significant addition that will completely change the appearance of this old house and I have to make it look right and like it’s always been there! Part of my job is keeping everyone occupied and PAID, so aside from this big project I’ve also been hustling my ass around town on a bunch of smaller projects that the guys can hit when it rains, or a product order is late, or whatever. It’s kinda a lot to manage.

Let me tell you a story! Last summer, I reluctantly dove into the waters of Instagram Stories while we were working on a different house just outside of Kingston. Admittedly, I’m an extremely rare story-watcher, but evidently I’m a semi-prolific story-maker. It’s fun! It’s easy! As we know by now, as much as I like to write, I frequently struggle with actually having the time to dedicate entire blog posts to stuff that I plan to dedicate entire blog posts to while they’re happening, so Instagram Stories have been a nice alternate way to document things in real time. If you’re not following me already, first of all get your life together, and second of all go find me @DanielKanter. Then just keep an eye out for new posts, I guess! I try to archive the more relevant bits into the Highlights feature at the top of my profile, if you need to catch up a little on the aforementioned porch project.

What’s that you say? A different house outside of Kingston? Yeah! I guess if you don’t follow me on Instagram, you wouldn’t have a way of knowing about the cool quirky old farmhouse the guys and I renovated last summer/fall/winter! Honestly it was another doozy—not quite Olivebridge proportions, but still managed to go from a couple changes and a bunch of sprucing up to a top-to-bottom overhaul of…everything? 2 bathrooms! Kitchen! Laundry! All the rooms! The whole outside! Mechanicals! The bulk of the work ended in February but I just did a final install last week. I have to go back and photograph it but it’s nice to have this 8-week-turned-8-month project off my plate a bit.

Speaking of Olivebridge. If you read even one of those tumultuous posts about the Olivebridge house, I owe you some resolution. We don’t have to get into all the mostly-stupid reasons that hasn’t yet come to pass, but I haven’t forgotten. Honestly the fact that I haven’t blogged about it makes me feel like the book is still open on that project—in spite of the house’s successful completion!—and that feeling sucks so it’s high time to get my shit together on that front. MAYBE IT COULD ACTUALLY BE FUN! At the very least I think it will really and truly feel finished in terms of big life events I’d never want to repeat. Ha!

5 years! So I didn’t even think about it until the day after, but Friday marked the five year anniversary of owning my house! What a journey we’ve been on, this house and I. I still love it. I’m still overwhelmed by it. There are still parts of it I haven’t tackled and a lot of other parts in some stage of progress, but (knock on ALL the wood) I think the worst of the renovation is pretty much over and that feels GOOD. The past 2 years or so were particularly rocky, but it’s finally started to feel like a real home again—my home—and I’m more grateful than ever that I get to call this special house mine.

Laundry! Kitchen! Anticipating that this summer would be exactly as crazy as it’s shaping up to be, I set some concrete goals for myself and my renovation for the first four months of the year. We can talk about this more later, but experience is a valuable thing—and it’s taught me that working on multiple major renovation projects at different properties at the same time is a recipe for inefficiency and frazzled-ness and general misery, but I also obviously can’t just work on my own house all the time. So, I try to give myself a little time between client projects to re-focus on my own stuff and get as much done as I can. May 1st became the goal for having a functioning laundry room, a functioning kitchen, and doing some MAJOR clean-up and space-reclamation everywhere else once the first two items were accomplished and there’d be a bit more room to spread out. I DID IT! Having laundry again is amazing and having it on the second floor lights up my life. The kitchen is FAR from complete, but IT HAS WALLS and electric and plumbing—enough to hook up a sink, move in a few of my old cabinets, and start using the space again AS A KITCHEN for the first time in almost 2 years. And now that my dining room isn’t also a kitchen, and my living room isn’t also an enormous glorified dog kennel, I spent a weekend just rearranging my own shit for hours and now those two rooms look and feel so much better than they have in a LONG TIME. I even had two friends over for dinner! Like I said—still a ton to do, but getting to this point of basic usability feels huge.

So interior progress at my house will slow, but hopefully exterior work will continue. There’s a lot to do on the outside of my house—between gardening on the street-facing sides (and just maintaining what I have!), finally putting the finishing touches on the major exterior work that started last summer and the one before, and trying to get SOMETHING good going on in the backyard, I hope I can bang it out in my “free time” before fall/winter hits again. I’ve already decided that this summer I’m going to skip tearing off more vinyl siding in favor of just polishing off what’s already started—I can’t stand all the loose ends out there right now.

I have a major itch to landscape. Or hardscape maybe, more specifically? Getting the backyard just to square one was so labor-intensive and expensive that gathering the motivation (or setting aside the time, with the house itself needing so much attention!) to do much else with it has been tough. I’ve done two things that helped get my ass in gear, though: first, I asked a friend with a great garden to help me prioritize and plan and make a few decisions. FRIENDS! THEY’RE SO HELPFUL! Second, the Brinson’s invited me last minute to the Trade Secrets garden show in Connecticut, where we toured 3 amazing gardens including living legend Bunny Williams’ property, which I really just need to do a photo-dump kind of blog post about because it was so insanely good. Going to see this stuff IN MY CLIMATE (“omg, I can actually grow that too!!!”) was really valuable and the whole thing was for-real inspiring. Like I literally got home and began construction on a dry-stacked bluestone wall because I just had to get my inspo-overload ya-yas out somehow.

But don’t get carried away about my house, because there’s still Bluestone CottageI feel I owe a longer explanation about this than I want to get into right this instant, but long and short of it is—I MUST finish that house. Personally, professionally, emotionally, physically, financially—it needs to happen. I think I successfully enlisted an electrician last week, and the plumber has finally (sort of) reemerged after beginning the rough-in a YEAR ago, and my own living situation is finally back out of complete shambles, and life will go on and the house will get done and then I can stop feeling shitty about bad decisions I made when I was younger and dumber. Well, at least one of them.

Mekko is the best dog. We’ve also been dealing with some health stuff over the past few months, requiring visits to vet offices in 3 different states and a whole lotta money. It’s certainly not good but seems to be surmountable (yay!), and it’s been stressful and expensive and basically I’m trying to not freak out. I lost one dog 7 months ago. I refuse to entertain that this could resolve any way other than completely fine and she’ll go on to be the longest-living dog on record and then I’ll clone her. So anyway. That’s been awful, no lie, but could be way worse. Surgery, again, this Friday. Sigh.

I’ve bought some stuff. You know, since the last time I showed you some stuff I bought. I like pretty old stuff.

So that’s basically what’s up in my little corner of the world. What’s up in your little corner of the world? Do we want to hear about any of the above items in particular more than others? Watched any good TV lately?

MINE: Porcelain Treasures + A Mirror

Yesterday I went on a high-stakes salvage adventure up to Albany. See, right now I’m looking really hard for nothing in particular so unfortunately it just had to be done.

I got a few things. You don’t drive an hour to simply turn away empty-handed. That would be unethical.

How stupid cute are these little porcelain bathroom sconces??? I’d guess they were made in the 1930s. I’m used to seeing sconces all the time that are similar to these, but I’m not really used to seeing that sweet bubbly rounded cloud-like shape on top. Precious! Naturally, every item in this store had price tags except all the things I bought (I don’t know why—it is just my way), so I was pleasantly surprised when the manager suggested $15 for the pair. Sold! They don’t have any sockets or wiring, but that’s easy enough to replace.

Where will these go? I don’t know, but I do know that $15 to have these two in my back pocket for some future bathroom renovation even if it isn’t my own makes me feel PREPARED.

By the way, they were super grody so I used my tried and true cleaning method of sticking ’em in the dishwasher. Thanks, Cascade!

Sometimes when it rains it pours, and yesterday’s theme was porcelain! ‘Tis what the thrifting higher being dictated. This is another porcelain light, also likely from the 1930s, also with no socket or wiring, also with no immediate function, but $5! You just gotta! I have a few lights very similar to this (including one I blogged about a while ago), and they just seem so handy for when you just need a little tasteful inconspicuous-but-still-special ceiling light.

I noticed later that it says “Alabax” on it, which I didn’t realize was actually a whole line of porcelain light fixtures produced by Pass & Seymour Inc. starting in the 1920s! I only knew it as the name of Schoolhouse Electric’s new production version, which I’ve used in a couple spaces over the years. IT’S ALL MAKING SENSE! The Schoolhouse versions are really lovely, and Rejuvenation has a few vintage ones available, and a nice write-up on their history.

More porcelain please, I do not have enough. Here we have a $1 plumbing escutcheon, sized for a 1 1/4″ pipe which is generally what’s used for a bathroom sink drain. I think this one will be for my downstairs powder room once I get around to it! It’s also just another good thing to have on hand because of COURSE when you really need one, they’re nowhere to be found.

ANDDDDD to round out the theme, I scrounged up 5 porcelain door knob escutcheons which match the door hardware in my house!! SEEE?!?!

It’s the little things! These have been super hard to find and of course break easily, so I’m missing a few around the house and unreasonably stoked to have a little stockpile to draw on as I inch along with restoring all the doors. At $2 a piece, they’re also by far the cheapest ones I’ve ever come across.

Amazingly, these literally came into the salvage place about an hour before I got there, and were still attached to the doors that the rad salvage guys had just pulled out of a DUMPSTER. Ugh, I mean, can you even? DOZENS of solid oak 1860s doors without a lick of paint on them and all the original hardware, in a goddamn dumpster. People are so infuriating. I’m so glad they got saved.

Anyway, salvage places usually remove all the hardware so they can store the doors more easily (and sell the hardware separately), so I offered to pitch in and take the escutcheons off myself and they gladly passed me a screwdriver! You can sort of see in the back of the group one that’s dis-assembled: there’s a round metal plate that screws into the door, and the porcelain part covers that and then a brass threaded piece screws into the metal plate and holds the porcelain part in place. Naturally these pieces always get separated from one another, so having FIVE complete sets is very exciting.

BTW, if you ever see those little white porcelain keyhole covers like the one on my door while out and about and they’re under like $10 a piece and you don’t buy them for me, we’re not friends. I’ll pay you back!!! They’re so elusive and so fragile.

Finally, this specimen. If you have more than two of something, it’s a collection, and therefore I collect mirrors like this. They have to be missing their frames (otherwise they’re just part of the mirror collection—I think of this more as a sub-collection, but it’s also been labeled “hoarding”), be an interesting shape, have beveled edges, and foil backing in vaguely this kind of disintegrating condition.

Right now they live in this totes-normal arrangement up in the den, but someday I’m sure I’ll do something else with them. It’s not like they’re creepy or anything.

Just don’t look directly at them or you’ll see your own death. K have a great weekend everyone!!!

Putting the Laundry Room Back Together!

Remember how I’m crazy and putting in my second laundry room in this house in the space of 5 years? Fun times with fickleness.

Step #1 was demolishing the chimney. We’ve discussed this. It was painful but worth it: otherwise my options were to have the machines side-by-side next to the chimney with no sink (where my floating desk was) or stack the machines and have a sink but no other work surface really, or demolish the chimney and have side-by-side machines and a sink. The last option won out, but left a big hole in the floor, the ceiling, and about a foot and a half of missing wall from floor to ceiling! Cute.

Step #2 was getting the electrical in place. Evidently I did not take pictures of this, but that doesn’t mean it just happened by magic! The room had two existing outlets, but a washing machine requires a dedicated 20-amp circuit and a dryer requires a dedicated 30-amp circuit, so both had to be brought up to the room. Luckily, this was very uncomplicated: my old laundry room was further away from my electrical panel than the new one, so it was just a matter of turning off the power to those circuits, pulling the wires back through part of the basement and up the new chase (where the chimney used to live!) and into that back wall. This kind of stuff is actually super simple to do yourself with the slightest amount of know-how, but of course if you have any concerns at all or even dead wires make you queasy, hire a qualified electrician. Duhzville.

Once that was done and my electrical boxes installed, it was on to Step #3: drywall!

Typically I would have tried to patch the missing section of plaster left by the chimney demolition, but in this case I had the depth on my baseboard to add another 5/8″ thickness to the wall, so I opted instead to just drywall over the whole wall. The biggest reason for this is noise: luckily my machines are pretty tame, but I’m still moving big laundry machines to the second floor, basically in the middle of the house, and on a wall that backs to my bedroom, so some additional sound-proofing seemed to be in order!

I wrote several months ago about the line of Purple XP drywalls, and National Gypsum was kind enough to supply the drywall for this project so I could test it out. This is the SoundBreak XP, which is essentially two high-density gypsum boards with a goop in between that blocks sound transmission that would otherwise occur through the wall. It’s also mold and mildew resistant, which is nice now that this room has plumbing! My thought was that leaving the remaining plaster behind it should provide additional sound insulation too, but otherwise you’d probably want to insulate the wall if things are all opened up.

Working with SoundBreak differs from more standard drywalls in a number of ways. First—both sides of the board look the same, but only one side (clearly marked) is supposed to face out. Second, SoundBreak should be installed vertically—not horizontally! Huh! I think it may be to keep seams contained only to where they’re backed completely by framing members. Third, SoundBreak—due to that layer of goop—cannot be scored and snapped like regular drywall can: you have to cut it with a saw! As you might imagine, this is very dusty and ideally should be done outdoors with a good respirator. A circular saw is best for straight cuts, but we were working in tight quarters and used my handy little oscillating saw to get the job done. Fourth, it is HEAVY. I can lift a sheet of 1/2″ lightweight drywall without too much effort, but I cannot lift a SoundBreak board—so be warned that hanging is likely a two person job unless you have Hulk-like strength.

And, since you asked: YES covering up that fabulous Hygge & West wallpaper was a sad moment. Don’t take it personally, wallpaper, I still love you so much! That being said, I still have an entire roll of it (first floor powder room, anyone??), and it’s still in production, and…ya know, there are worse sacrifices. There’s something I sort of like about hiding it behind the drywall, though, like a little time capsule! It’s gonna be OK.

Here you can see the part of the baseboard I had to patch. It’s behind the dryer so I’m not SUPER concerned about it being perfect, but…ya know, I want it perfect. In part because I do not trust myself and now that there’s no chimney in here, this room can actually fit a twin bed…QUIET DOWN, VOICES IN MY HEAD.

Also, that piece of plywood is covering the big hole in the floor where the chimney used to be! Without it, you could stand in the attic and look all the way down to the basement floor, which is just an odd new experience to have in your own house.

ANYWAY. Once the drywall was up, I patched the missing piece in the ceiling and then enlisted Edwin and his mudding and taping skills to get the walls and ceiling ready for paint. The finishing work here isn’t anything crazy, but he can do it so quickly and well that it usually feels worth it to save myself the headache. Normally you’d apply paper or mesh tape and 3 coats of joint compound to the seams and over screw holes, but I like to overcomplicate literally everything and skim-coat the entire wall as a final step, too. I find that this gives new drywall just enough irregularity once painted to match adjacent plaster walls, since those are never so perfectly smooth!

It’s getting there! It’s getting there! Luckily I had a scrap of baseboard that was large enough to patch in the missing section, and old pieces of subfloor to patch the floor. It’s nice when the house provides the material to fix itself! The patched floorboards are the same dimensions as the originals, but the joints are tighter so things don’t quite line up. Don’t care! It’ll be covered anyhow by the dryer, but I don’t really mind funny staggered patches like that in wood floors.

Speaking of wood floors, now is the part where I openly admit: I cannot have white painted floors. My god, they are not for me. Some people (Swedes, primarily) seem to have no problem keeping white painted floors looking great for years, and I admire them. But the combination of dogs and a house under construction and frequently using the window in this room a couple years ago as an entrance while Edwin and I tore down additions and worked on restoring the exterior of this side of the house left these floors pretty destroyed and terrible looking. Even before that, they drove me crazy. Never. Again.

But…remember how I mentioned that this renovation is really just about getting the major players in place without draining significant funds, time, or mental energy? I mean that very seriously. For a while I was so hung up on needing to install a tile floor or run the wood flooring from the adjacent room into this one that I would get overwhelmed by the whole project. It would cost a lot! It would take a while! And it’s such a COMMITMENT and I don’t even really have a fleshed out design plan for this space so I don’t even know what I want! And I refuse to let this become a big project so I don’t even really want to have to know what I want! WOE IS ME!

THEN I realized I could actually just re-paint my fucked up white floor and nobody was likely to die as a result! Isn’t that something!

Sometimes reigning it in is difficult for me. Like all the time.

So. I patched a bunch of the larger gauges with Bondo, caulked here and there, chose a color off a paint chip (seriously, why in the world I think I can do this but would never advise anybody else to is beyond me), thoroughly cleaned the floor, and painted it!

Immediate Uh-Oh I Hate This. The color is a color-matched version of Farrow & Ball’s “Setting Plaster” and it’s roughly the color that would result if dried Bondo and a Band-Aid procreated. As a frequent user of both, this was not exactly what I had in mind.

While I stewed on that, I painted the walls and ceiling. I did not exactly think this through—I actually intended to just paint the new wall and touch-up just where necessary in the rest of the room (because restraint!), but once I got into it I realized how much everything would really benefit from a fresh couple of coats (because perfectionism!) so I ended up repainting the whole thing! Had I decided this beforehand I probably would have gone with a different color, butttttttt whatcha gonna do! On the plus side, I still had enough leftover paint from the first time around to eek out two coats! The paint is Clark + Kensington flat finish, and the color was called Casa Blanca but I cannot find it on the internet for the life of me and I think maybe it’s no longer part of the color deck. I’ve had the can for 5 years; who knows.

Unexciting color choice notwithstanding, there’s nothing like a fresh coat of paint. Even at this stage the room felt kind of…pretty?

I repainted all the trim Benjamin Moore Simply White which I’ve used all over the house (and also had the paint already!) and then forged ahead with the floor, figuring worst case scenario I’d just call this the primer and do something else…and then a great miracle occurred! I LOVE it! Context, man. It changes things. By the way, that’s the little teeny closet door for the little teeny closet under the attic stairs. It’s one of the cutest things in the house and makes me happy. Also, the laundry room is going to have its very own little closet! For stuff and things!

So. My quick n’ easy just-make-it-function laundry room got a little more TLC and time than I was even intending to give it, which honestly at this point I was pissed at myself about. BUT! It really feels like a whole new space, and ultimately I think I’ll be happy I went the extra mile for it.

Or, ya know, at least like a few blocks.

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