All posts in: Kingston House

Spring Garden, 2017!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Den: The Big Reveal!

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

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

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

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

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

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

And today! Much improved, yes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m a hazard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I saw this rug.

I wanted this rug. Immediately. Intensely.

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

The bidding started.

Nobody bid.

I bid. $45. And won.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love you, pink light. Never leave me.

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

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

A Night In…the New Den!

This post is in partnership with Article!

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

Here’s a Manhattan. I’m on my second.

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

We’ll go with that.

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

Step 1. Order Chinese food.

Step 2. Kick back.

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

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

Step 5. Receive Chinese food delivery, pig out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Den-ovation: Moldings and Paint!

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

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

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

DECISIONS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then one thing led to another! Ohhhhh shit!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Skim Coat Walls with the Best of Them.

Here’s how to skim coat walls with the best of them: hire the best of them? OMG YOU GUYS I FIGURED IT OUT! Are you inspired yet?

I’m the worst.

But here’s the deal: renovating a house involved a LOT of different technical skills, and you don’t have to walk into it with any of them, really. I didn’t! And while I think it’s good to dip your toe into all sorts of things to learn how they work and whether you actually like them, after you’ve done that I think it’s OK to be honest about what you find enjoyable/gratifying and cut yourself some slack on what you don’t. For me, I’ve found that I really enjoy some woodworking/carpentry times, basic electrical, tedious crazy tasks that wouldn’t really make financial sense to hire out (removing and planing down all the original clapboard on my house, for instance!), and plenty of other things like painting and restoring windows that’s neither fun nor un-fun but manageable and fine and kind of satisfying. And then there are other things that I have very little interest in, like plumbing and, you guessed it, skim coating. I love a restored plaster wall. I don’t want to restore all my plaster walls single-handedly. I like parts of it (stripping down the plaster, installing plaster washers), but the actual skim-coating part I’m thrilled to hand over to a pro when I can. I can do it. I don’t want to do it. So for the den-ovation (thanks to Jaime for that delightful word combo that I will shamelessly co-opt), I hired my main man Edwin to take on the bulk of it. Lucky for you this freed up my hands to take some process pics which we will now review. Let’s learn from the best in the hopes that we might someday be the best? Or just be OK with not being the best. Up to you.

THIS GUY. I love him with all my heart. He’s straight, just to clear anything up there. Edwin is my next door neighbor who I hired three years ago to install/mud/tape drywall on my first floor ceilings, and we’ve done a ton of stuff together since. It’s the most significant bromantic relationship of my life. I learn a lot from him and, believe it or not, he learns a lot from me. Life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but when Edwin and I work together it kind of is. Except that time I dropped a level on his head. Sorry Papi!

Also, what a stud. He likes to inform me multiple times a day that “in my country, they call me El Pollo.” Of course they do.

SO. Let’s talk skim-coating. I should preface all of this by saying that we’re talking specifically about skim-coating with joint compound, which is a bit more DIY-friendly for someone who’s not used to doing it, but IDEALLY we’d be talking about a plaster veneer. Plaster veneer falls into two camps from what I understand: hydrated lime and gypsum-based. Gypsum based plaster veneers are generally available at big boxes and the like, and are generally what people are talking about when they talk about plaster veneer in the United States. It sets VERY fast, dries VERY hard, and is super beautiful (especially when tinted and left unpainted!), but traditional plasterers typically apprentice literally for YEARS before they’re allowed to start “putting up” plaster on their own. It takes a lot of skill just to get the plaster from hawk to trowel to wall, and a lot of built-up muscle memory to get the application just right.

Hydrated lime plasters are WAY cool, and what I’d like to try next. It’s one of the oldest building materials known to man and remains one of the healthiest to live and work with. It has the ability to handle big swings in humidity and temperature, which is good in old houses that undergo these swings due to a lack of central air and modern ventilation and stuff. Lime plaster is essentially extremely finely ground limestone that’s fired at a temperature of about 1500 degrees to remove any impurities, and then some other stuff is done to it that I don’t pretend to understand, and then it arrives to you pre-mixed in a 5-gallon bucket. Whereas gypsum-based products have a shelf life because the wet varieties dry out and the powdered varieties take on moisture from the air and harden, hydrated lime is actually aged after packaging to achieve superior results. Once the hydrated lime is applied to interior surfaces, it takes CO2 from the air to “cure”—essentially completing the lime cycle and returning to a stone-like state on your walls! How cool is that? Application technique dictates whether your walls are kinda rough and uneven or perfectly smooth and shiny, which is just personal preference. Instead of sanding like with joint compound, you keep working the plaster as it’s curing to smooth out it out to your heart’s content. Cure/working time is similar to the dry time with all purpose joint compound, meaning it’s typically a three-coat process spread out over three separate days, and like gypsum plaster veneer it can be left painted or unpainted depending on taste. Also it dries to a PH of 12, making it naturally mold and mildew proof. This is why you can wet the shit out of an old plaster wall to remove wallpaper and stuff, and the wall is totally fine.

So those are some things I know—huge thank you to the folks at Master of Plaster for teaching me. They sell gorgeous restoration plasters which can be colored to your preference, and I’m so excited to try it out someday soon.

We didn’t do that though. I have zero doubt that Edwin has the skills to pick up plastering quickly from all his years of joint compound work, so we’re gonna learn it together. Then he can start charging an arm and a leg to do real plaster restoration work, so it’s a win-win! As long as he doesn’t try to hit me with those new rates, haha.

SO. I digress. We are talking about joint compound, the inferior but totally fine/normal way to do this.

Once the plaster is stripped down, plaster buttons installed, and cracks scraped out, the next step is applying fiberglass mesh to the cracks. You CAN do the window screening we discussed in the last post over the entire wall (particularly if there’s significant cracking), but mostly the walls in this room were in good shape so we used standard mesh tape just where it was needed.

I do NOT like paper tape. I feel like it doesn’t hold up, particularly on plaster. I don’t trust it.

We always end up using some combo of joint compounds for skim-coating, which is something you mainly just need to get a feel for. The All Purpose pre-mixed joint compound 5-gal bucket is fine, but the dry time is quite long (sometimes more than 24 hours, depending on temperature and humidity levels), and I don’t think it dries to the same hardness as some of the powdered alternatives. When I’m doing it myself, I tend to go for Easy Sand with a 90 minute set time, which for me is enough working time (now, not when I first tried this!), dries harder, and—as the name implies—does sand easily. Because Edwin has better technique than I do, for this we primarily used Durabondalso a joint compound but dries really hard, making it probably a poor choice if you rely on a lot of sanding like I do when doing this myself.

It takes some practice to get a sense of the right powder-to-water ratio, but you can always add a little more water after mixing. We tend to mix maybe a third of the bag at once. You’re going for a thick peanut butter type texture.

There aren’t really right and wrong ways to get it up onto the wall. I’m now OK with a hawk and trowel, but I started with a mudding pan that felt more manageable. You’ll notice that Edwin has a rounded trowel in his right hand (typically used more for plaster than joint compound) and a straight 8 or 10 inch taping knife in the other. He was excited to try the rounded trowel but he’s used to the taping knives. The benefit of the trowel is that the rounded edges make it easier to not leave lines, but personally I find the trowel difficult to get the hang of. Also of note—those dark patches are fiberglass window screening that we used over the upper section of wall where the plaster was more iffy.

Essentially you want to load up your trowel or knife, start at the top and smooth it all down (or bottom up, or side to side—whatever the hell makes you happy)—you’re looking for about 1/8″ in coverage or a bit less. Thin! But also thick enough! The key is to apply the right amount of sturdy, even pressure to the knife or trowel to get a smooth, solid skim rather than one with bubbles and other weirdness.

I find this difficult. The Magic Trowel makes this less difficult, but you don’t want to really rely on it—you still have to get a FAIRLY smooth and even coverage with the knife/trowel, because the Magic Trowel is really good for smoothing and filling in tracks left by the knife or air bubbles, that kind of thing, but not for actually getting joint compound up onto the wall.

Obviously, the wall on the left has a coat of compound on it, wall on the right does not. There are knives for finishing both inside and outside wall corners, but Edwin prefers to run a straight taping knife along one side of the corner, wait for that side to dry, and then proceed with the adjoining wall and its side of the corner. Trying to do both at once with this method will lead to some very messy corners.

See how there’s some yellow peeking through the grey joint compound to the left of the door? That’s kinda what you’re going for with a first coat in terms of thickness. I won’t pretend it’s easy.

After the first coat is up and fully dried, go around with your taping knife or spackle knife and knock off any high spots or weird globs. You don’t need to sand at this stage but you do need to get your surface even for the next coat.

Ugh, melt my heart!! Look at him go. This is the second coat going up. The second coat is when things really start feeling covered, much like with paint.

We all know by now that I am kind of a crazy person (if you’re new here, consider this your warning), so even though it’s totally abnormal, I think skim-coating drywall is something worth considering if you’re in an old house and trying to match up plaster surfaces to drywall ones. It’s NOT about adding weird texture or giving the walls some faux-rustic treatment, just about NOT getting those perrrrrrfectllyyyy flat walls that drywall is really designed for. I think this will also lessen the likelihood of the drywall cracking along the seams or screw heads popping over time, which I see with most drywall jobs after a few years. If you can tell where the joints are, it’s not going to look like a plaster wall.

Will anyone EVER notice this? No. It’s a normal wall that looks like a normal wall. That’s the point. But I will know it was treated the same way as its plaster counterparts in the same room, and I will appreciate it.

Same for the ceiling. You’ll notice for both that we mudded and taped as usual for the first coat, and then proceeded to a full skim for the second. It made my heart go all pitter-patter. Skim-coating a ceiling is my personal version of hell, but Edwin was undaunted. Told ya. He’s good at these things so they don’t seem like a big deal at all. Just another surface.

Look at that! The man’s an artist! I do NOT achieve these results pre-sanding. Or even post-sanding. That is why it’s worth it to me to hire out. It’s faster and easier but it’s also BETTER long-term than what I can do. My work is sufficient. His work is excellent. It’s not like this is the kind of thing you ever want to redo.

I’ve increased the contrast on this picture a bunch so you can see that up close, it’s not perfect. Not yet! This is after the second coat, and there are some track lines from the trowels and knives and unevenness. As with the first coat, you want to knock down any high spots and lumps after drying, and depending on how things are looking you might want to do some sanding. With Edwin we can mostly skip the sanding and just save it for the end. I have to sand when I’m going it alone.

Your final finish coat is primarily to fill in any of that weirdness, and Edwin likes to mix a soupy batch (think pancake batter!) and paint it onto the wall with a roller. It’s nice to have two people at this stage—one to mix and roll and the other to smooth.

Once it’s rolled, you work quickly to smooth it down—taking most of it off the wall as you go. Just enough to fill in pesky spots.

I might need to do this final coat a few times over as I continue to spot imperfections, but a more skilled skim coater can do it in one shot.

After that’s all totally dry, you can move on to the sanding! Confession time: right after I bought this house and was operating under the delusion that I’d be doing all the skim coating work myself, I bought myself this super expensive drywall sander that primarily just takes up room in my basement. It’s designed to hook into a running ShopVac to suck most of the dust, but honestly I find it difficult to control and I don’t like using it myself. Edwin is a big fan, though, and I often let him borrow it for jobs he’s doing. When sanding, even on a bright day, it’s good to shine a work light at an angle on the wall you’re working on—it just helps you see whatever needs to be sanded down.

This doesn’t get you entirely out of hand-sanding, though—you need to go back in with a sanding block around moldings and in corners and areas that are missed by first pass. After a first coat of paint, these seams where the wall meets molding get caulked.

The final step for me is typically knocking down the globs that like to accumulate on top of door casings and baseboards. You can’t see the top of the door casings if you’re just in the room, but I like knowing that these spots didn’t just get painted over because someone (who is me) was lazy.

So there it is, skim coating with Edwin! At this point, the room is pretty much ready to paint! Now I can get in there and tackle the moldings, CLEAN, and get some paint on these walls!

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