My Buddy.

Back in March, Linus went through a rough patch that landed us, late one night, at the emergency vet’s office. The situation didn’t look promising. In discussing treatment with the doctor, there were a lot of qualifiers—“if he even makes it through the night” or “if we can administer his medication”—that kind of thing. Before departing, the vet warned me of the “difficult decision” I would likely be faced with in the morning, if nature hadn’t run its course. It was devastating. I was a disaster.

For me, grief tends to take one of two forms. There’s the more typical version: a lot of crying, wallowing in general despair, foggily moving through the motions of everyday life when loss is all you can really think about. And then there’s the arguably more productive kind, wherein I distract myself with some large but detailed task in order to fleetingly create the illusion that something in this terrible fucking situation is within my control and that things may, eventually, return to normal. On this night I gravitated toward the latter. I’d recently read the majority of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo—a 200+ page self-help volume that could (ironically, perhaps) easily be condensed to a set of bullet points in a pamphlet. Kondo’s book promises a better life if you can train yourself to abide by the simple principle of keeping only that which “sparks joy” and disposing of, literally, anything else. This is a person who threw her hammer into the trash but found that a cast iron skillet worked just as effectively for driving nails into the wall if she felt compelled to hang up a picture—so maybe take it with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, with Crisis Zone emotions coursing through me, I started in on my entire wardrobe. That’s how I found myself months later getting dressed for a wedding, only for a vague recollection of donating my joyless suit pants to surface. Grief messes you up.

He did make it through the night. In Brooklyn there were emergency vet offices that remained open 24 hours a day, but no such option exists here—meaning that for real round-the-clock care, you have to transfer back and forth between the vet that’s open during the day and the vet that’s open at night. We did this for a few days. Having dealt with my clothing, I moved onto my books.

His situation hadn’t improved, medical options beyond his normal regimen of pills had been exhausted, and the doctors felt that there was nothing left to be done. And that if I wasn’t ready to make that Tough Decision, I should consider taking him home for one last night—where, they warned, he was likely to pass on his own accord. So that’s what I did. I wasn’t ready, not remotely. And in spite of his condition—unable to stand or walk and exhibiting no appetite—something inside me felt that he wasn’t, either. Maybe he’d turn a corner. And so I bundled my roughly 15 year old dog in my sweatshirt, hoping for just a little more time.

Within 24 hours, Linus stood up. He walked around a little, and started to accept food in the form of boiled chicken breast and rice. He wasn’t keen on returning to his regular food, so in the ensuing days and weeks and—to the shock and awe of the staff at the animal hospital—months, he gained back the weight he’d lost on an increasingly elaborate diet of chicken and rice and raw beef tripe and human baby food and the occasional can of sardines. Long ago, I’d made a simple pact with this dog: as long as he wanted to stick around, I would do whatever it took to take care of him. Which, honestly, is a helpful thing to remind yourself of when handling raw beef trip first thing in the morning.

We needed more time, and we got it. Remember how I said this was back in March? That’s March 2016. A year and a half ago.

Linus stumbled into my life at the ripe age of around 10 (I’m taking for granted that you’ve read everything I’ve ever written, which is maybe unrealistic, so here’s that whole story) back in 2012.  The gist of the story is this: a tiny dog in horrible condition was mid-capture by Brooklyn police; a woman interrupted the encounter because she believed the dog lived on my block; I happened to pass this woman while she was trying to return the dog home; the dog didn’t live there after all; she couldn’t keep the dog; I volunteered to take care of the situation; I did so by eventually deciding to keep the dog. That night, I sat with him on the bathroom floor in my Brooklyn apartment and, for seven hours, worked to free his little body from what looked like years of matted fur and filth. Looking back later, this struck me as a bad idea on a number of levels. Imagine it: being taken off the streets by a strange person, brought to a strange place, and being subjected to hours of what was surely uncomfortable and painful grooming and bathing at the hands of that strange person. He should have bit me, and I couldn’t have blamed him. He should have cowered in fear and confusion. He could have given me rabies, or infested the apartment with fleas or bedbugs. But he didn’t do any of those things—instead I remember his patience and seeming understanding of what I was trying to accomplish. I remember him starting to lick me with this determined fervor, like he was trying to return the favor. When I nicked his paper-thin skin, he yelped once and licked my face, as though he knew it was an accident and forgave me immediately. After it was over and time for bed, we tried to confine him to the kitchen for the night but instead he stood by the door and barked until I let him into the bedroom. All he wanted was to be close.

I didn’t know how much I would grow to love him. I’d always had big goofy dogs, but after getting cleaned up Linus looked like he might have fallen out of some rich lady’s Prada on the Upper East Side. He didn’t chew or fetch or tug or really play at all. At the dog park he just sort of trotted around on his own. And despite what people will argue, teaching a dog that old new tricks is…well, he wasn’t interested, so I didn’t push it.

His joys were simple and small. Occasionally if he was feeling particularly active, he might start humping a throw pillow. He liked shredding (but not really eating) leafy greens like kale and lettuce. Sometimes he could really get going on gnawing a pizza crust—a rawhide for the dentally disadvantaged. But mostly, he just wanted to be close to me—really close—at all times. Even as his faculties dissipated, he somehow maintained the ability to detect my absence and track my whereabouts as soon as I would leave him alone in a room, even if he seemed to be sleeping soundly.  Evidently, this is a common trait with small dogs—to bond really strongly to one person, even in a family setting—but I couldn’t help but feel like he was abnormally fanatical about me. Maybe because the feeling was mutual.

Without question, he was the most good-natured animal I’ve ever known. One thing that always stuck in my mind about the account of his rescue was that allegedly officers were afraid to approach him because they didn’t want to get bit. Because he was showing his teeth and snarling. “He looked mean.” I literally cannot imagine this, because Linus greeted everyone—man, woman, child, dog, cat, rabbit, etc.—the same way: eyes bright, head upright on his stocky little shoulders, ears alert, scraggly little tail wagging in this circular helicopter motion that pretty much defines that phrase “I can’t even.” Exquisite cuteness aside, I think this is what I most love and cherish about Linus. That thing, right there—that approach to the world—that even now I have a hard time articulating.

I never got to know what the first decade of Linus’s life looked like, and I highly doubt I ever will. All I know is what I can surmise from the condition he was in when he found me, which remains hard to think about. That somehow my little man ended up that way. That someone allowed him to. It’s the kind of shit that can fuck someone up—human or animal. That can make the world seem scary, or threatening. That can make people seem bad and untrustworthy. That can make the task of survival feel like an extended exercise in fear and reclusion and anger. It seems to me that it takes a certain rare and resilient kind of character to bounce back from that. To move on from it all with love and kindness and the ability to trust when experience has taught you the opposite. I think that’s called grace. I think that’s strength. And bravery. I think that’s being a total badass. I never thought a 12 pound dog could show me that.

As anyone who’s reached this point with a pet can likely attest, caring for a geriatric dog can be challenging, particularly when the health issues begin accumulating. Due to his background, we’ve always had our share of medical challenges—starting with probably never having seen a vet, been vaccinated, neutered, trained to live in a house or eat dog food; the list goes on. His teeth were so badly rotted that nearly half of them came out during his first cleaning. His first night off the street, Max and I quickly noticed a muffled, huffy kind of cough that we feared might be contagious to Mekko, but learned was actually symptomatic of a collapsing trachea—a condition evidently common among small dogs. “Imagine your throat is like a camping tent,” I remember the doctor telling me, “and then all of a sudden the poles collapse. That’s more or less what’s happening.” Great.

Shortly thereafter, a heart murmur was detected, and then congestive heart failure entered the picture with an attending handful of prescription medications designed to keep his ventricles pumping and fluid from building up in his lungs. His liver and kidneys began to struggle—difficult to treat because those medications would interact poorly with the ones for his heart. At some point, any advances we’d managed to make with potty training went out the window, and the composition of my trash can became about 50% used diapers (or, more specifically, an unbelievably absorbent female incontinence product called Poise Pads that I bought by the hundreds, which happen to be the perfect size to line a “tinkle belt” made for dogs). Gradually he lost the great majority of his hearing, reacting only to very loud sounds. His sight, too: the left eye was declared worthless, while the right seemed able to detect changes in light and the movement of large shapes. He began to have a difficult time with his right front paw—arthritis, perhaps. He lost a few more teeth. The doctor thought he might have emphysema. At home, I wondered if he was afflicted by canine dementia, since he seemed unable to recall why—other than sunbathing—we spent time outside at various points in the day.

I realize to some people this all might sound crazy. Like I’m a Crazy McCrazy dog person who couldn’t accept what was plainly obvious. And at various times, I struggled with this—because I don’t see myself as a Crazy McCrazy dog person who would prioritize my own selfishness over the suffering of an animal. Quality of life is a hard thing to evaluate, particularly when the one living that life can’t speak for themselves. But he really did still seem like a happy dog, content to live out his golden years with his ten pills a day and his diapers and his collection of plush beds scattered around the house.

There are people who adopt elderly dogs on purpose, which I find exceedingly admirable. At 22, I know I wasn’t one of those people, and at 28, I’m still not sure that I am, though I wouldn’t dismiss the idea out of hand. If you’re a dog person, I probably don’t have to tell you what terrific companions old dogs can make. But the inconvenient and surprisingly taboo fundamental truth about adopting an older dog almost goes without saying : the more time that’s behind them, the less they’re likely to have ahead. So in taking responsibility for that life, you’re also sort of immediately confronted with the inevitability of death. Which, of course, could apply to all living things, but I think is much easier to ignore when you take home a puppy instead. I realize this probably sounds miserable—to live constantly with this sort of unpredictable specter of death, looming ahead at a distance that feels impossible to gauge. But I think in some ways it’s the opposite. You’re forced to face the thought of it, and as a result it becomes less scary. Less threatening. Another part of being alive. Time is precious and beautiful because of its limited quantity. Because it runs out.

Blunt as it might sound, I sort of hoped but also fully expected Linus would someday die in his sleep. It just seemed to fit with the order of things: this dog that slyly worked his way into my life, who followed his own rules and never seemed interested in observing mine. Who could bark endlessly—never, not once, out of fear or aggression, but because he wanted something and “no” did not register as an acceptable answer. Linus’s way or the highway. I always had this idea that I didn’t really own him, that he wasn’t really my dog. He had this whole past that belonged only to him. He might live in my home and accept my care and affections, but he’d still never really be mine. The idea of choosing to end his life for him seemed, for a long time, like an impossibility. It just didn’t fit.

After that scare in March 2016, it seemed apparent that our time left together might be very short.  He’d go through a few difficult days, and then he’d bounce back, and part of me began to believe that maybe he really would outlive us all. But the other part of me—the part more acquainted with reality—recognized that the time we had left, at this point, was borrowed, and I had to accept that it would soon come to a close. That he’d no longer be here. I think he fought for so long to make sure I was ready to handle that. That I’d be OK.

About a month ago, Linus’s slow decline seemed to speed up rapidly. It started out essentially the same as episodes we’d weathered before, but this time just felt different. I can’t really explain it. We went to the vet, who calmly and quietly confirmed what I already knew. It still hits you hard, to hear it. It’s still shocking to be presented the option of either doing it right there and then or waiting. I realized I’d spent more time trying to ready myself for the time after this—going home to one dog, filling one food bowl, being alone on the sofa while I wrote or watched TV—than the moment that precipitates it. The one where you have to say goodbye, the one that I hadn’t anticipated because I still expected to find him one bright morning, lifeless in his bed, gone on his own time. And again, I found myself unprepared.

There’s a Yiddish phrase that translates to “the way it begins is the way it ends,” and maybe the reason I deluded myself into expecting a different ending to this story originates from my misreading of the beginning. We decided to go home. The doctor could come to the house the next day. I held him all night and into the next morning, which turned into one of those perfectly crisp but sunny fall days where you’re warm as long as you stay out of the shade. We bundled up and sat in the sun for a while, and he seemed content. It’s weird, trying to fill that time when there’s an actual countdown. It feels really fast and really slow at the same time.

The doctor arrived. Mekko settled into a chair across the room. I held him close to me, and it ended the way it began—with him in my arms, safe, and granting me all the trust in the world that whatever I was doing was the right thing.

Choosing this conclusion wasn’t a punishment, I realize now. It was a privilege—one that he extended my way the night he walked into my life and chose to trust me. Chose to love me. Chose to be my dog.

Being your person was one of the great honors of my life, my handsome little man. I miss you more than words, and I’ll love you forever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love you, towering Eastlake armoire. Welcome home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ANYWAY.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Designing Olivebridge Cottage 2.0: Part 2!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pretty exciting stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boom, house!

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

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

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

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

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

Spring Garden, 2017!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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