All posts in: Kingston House

Itty-Bitty Windows on Old Houses with Pitched Roofs and Chimneys

I know what you’re thinking after reading the title of this post: I should just quit everything and write clickbait pieces for BuzzFeed. Clearly I have a knack for it? Because who wouldn’t want to read about the super-specific topic of how to address the upper portion of the back of my house by pooling an excessive number of examples and generally obsessing a stupid amount over the handling of this one architectural detail?


A few weeks ago I posted this disastrous photo of the back of my house after the walls and roof of the mudroom were demolished and the vinyl siding was removed to expose the original clapboard. Like…damn. I won’t even pretend that I’m not a little intimidated by this picture. Winter is around the corner and I gotta get this put back together—stat!

A big debate ensued in the comments about how to deal with the second story of this bad boy. Originally I was planning to build a covered porch on the first floor with a balcony above it on the second floor, so you could walk out that funny door to nowhere (where there used to be a fire escape when the house was divided into two units) and lounge around high in the air, feeling fancy. That door and window arrangement always felt kind of…off…but once the vinyl siding was removed it all started to look especially bad. The door and window were both almost certainly later additions to this structure, and seeing how they both cut into the raking frieze (the flat board at the base of the cornice that the clapboard terminates into) makes that very apparent. Unlike the front part of the house, where there are two full levels and an attic, the second floor on this section I think qualifies as a half-story—not an attic but not a full story with an attic above either.

So anyway. I’ve nixed the balcony. Officially, that idea is dead. Everybody forget about it. I’m not mourning it for the following reasons:

  1. It requires a door. That door up there is already a small door and it looks enormous and stupid.
  2. Because it’s a half-story, there’s no height to allow for any kind of roofing structure above the proposed balcony, so it would be open-air. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any houses of this style with a set-up like that…I think it would just look all wrong.
  3. It would be expensive. And harder to build. I still like the idea of doing a covered porch off the back of the house with replica columns and all that jazz, but just a regular roof on top of it. Hopefully next spring/summer.
  4. I’m not sure I’d actually use it? It’s not like I have some spectacular view of the Catskill mountains or something, and really, how much of the year would I actually choose to sit outside 20 feet in the air just…because? It gets really hot and really cold here and I’m not much of a lounger even in perfect weather.

Cool? Cool.

So now that that’s off the table, what do I do back here? A lot of people suggested one larger window in the center, but the issue with that is that there’s a chimney that runs up the center of this wall! Currently, the chimney doesn’t do anything. I suppose someday somebody might decide to have it lined and made functional again, but in all honesty that will probably never be me. Without an existing function, a lot of people also suggested demolishing the chimney, patching the roof, and then putting a window in the middle of the wall.

I see the logic of that—really, I do—but I feel strongly that the chimney stay put. I’ve mentioned this here and there before, but my house actually had a third chimney when I bought it that I decided fairly early on to demolish. It was also functionally obsolete, but mainly I removed it because it was structurally unstable and causing roof damage, and its position essentially eliminated the option of ever finishing the attic, and so the pay-off of removing it just outweighed whatever superficial charm it added to the house. This chimney, though? It ain’t bothering anyone! I think the exposed part of it above the roofline is really pretty, sure, but it also feels like an interesting part of the history of the house and of Kingston. The base of this chimney is actually a wood-burning fireplace in the basement—presumably because that was the original kitchen of the house—and then it’s set up for a wood stove in the kitchen (not sure if the upstairs room would have also had a wood stove…) and I guess a wood stove outside the kitchen for cooking in the summer. Cool, right? The bricks that this chimney is constructed out of were manufactured by the Hutton Brick Company, which was founded around 1865 and became one of the biggest brick manufacturers in the Hudson Valley, and a big part of the economic and social history of Kingston.

ANYWAY. I think losing the chimney would be sad. I see people tear down defunct chimneys every now and then and I often feel like it doesn’t do the house any favors aesthetically. Obviously I’ve been on both sides of the fence on this one and not all old chimneys are created equal, but in general I much prefer to see them remain intact!

So the option, I think, is either no windows or little windows! Once this conundrum got on my radar, it quickly became something I was laser-focused on when walking or driving around town. Does that happen to you? I never gave any thought to this topic for like 25 reasonably functional years of life but now it takes up a lot of my precious attention.

Finding one and a half story structures with this particular set-up is a lot harder than just finding two story structures with attics, but I think we’re allowed to say close enough. Right?


Look at those cuties! This is actually the same house that has the nice hosta hedge. The house itself appears to have replacement windows but I’m assuming the originals were six-over-six double-hungs, like mine. Those little attic windows are casement windows that open into the attic on hinges, pretty sure. You can also kind of see the original shutter hinges still up there, too! I love tiny shutters. So cute.


This is a Sears house in Norfolk, Virginia that I found on the google machine, not in Kingston, and it’s from the 1920s not the 1860s, but…quarter-round windows! Ugh, so damn charming. My house has a half-round attic window on the front, so I keep wondering whether quarter-rounds would be the way to go on the back. I don’t know what was here originally and I kind of doubt I ever will, but for a couple weeks I was really fixated on the quarter-round idea.


As to whether they’re appropriate to the age/style of my house…I’m not totally sure! What I can say is that I’ve definitely seen examples spanning many decades. This one is the Senate House in Uptown Kingston—where the first New York senate met for a period during the Revolutionary War. The history of these old Dutch stone houses is complicated because they were mostly burned by the British in the war—in general just leaving behind an exterior shell—so it’s possible that the quarter-round windows weren’t installed until the shell was renovated circa 1800-ish…but anyway.


The idea of quarter-round windows is/was also really appealing because everybody immediately associates them with the Amityville Horror house, I’ve learned from now boring way too many people with this debate. I’m so fun to hang out with.


In working on this post I found out that the Amityville house used in the exterior shots of the original 1979 movie is actually not the real house, but a similar Dutch colonial-style also with the distinct quarter-round attic windows. I’m guessing these were installed specifically for the movie just because they seem so over-scaled for the house itself and in relation to the other windows, but what do I know.


This is the real Amityville Horror house again as it looked a few years ago, and just adding to this complicated quarter-round vs. rectangular debate that maybe isn’t really even a debate? The quarter-round windows were nixed during a renovation and replaced with little rectangular ones! I think this probably had to do with the occupants getting tired of the house being so recognizable, so they changed one of the most distinctive features. Crazy! I gotta say I think those little teeny double-hungs look perfectly good though. I ain’t whining about it.


Oh yeah, and the Senate House with the quarter-rounds on one side? Also has double-hungs on one of the other sides. Thanks for nothing stupid Senate House.


Are we so bored yet? Check out the crazy situation on this nearby Victorian! This entire house is bananas, but MOST IMPORTANTLY (to me) is that they have the pitched roof, the chimney, quarter-round windows, and a little teeny rectangular window in the middle! You see this every now and then around here—chimneys where the flue splits to allow for a window right in the middle of where the chimney would be. It’s so funny! Victorians were crazy.


This picture is clearly terrible but the house is a little closer to mine style-wise, and those windows are rectangular casements, just like the first example. It’s also a distinct attic space, not a half-story, but you get the idea.


I love the little six-over-six double hungs. Like dollhouse windows.

casements casements2

Andddd, back to casements. These two houses are a few blocks from mine and about a block from each other, and I’m guessing they were built around the same time. I’m told that the house in the bottom picture is actually a wood framed house with a brick veneer, which is neither here nor there but kind of cool so I feel compelled to repeat it here.

The common thread I’m noticing with the casement windows is that they appear to be at the upper limit of size—the outer top corners of the surrounding trim just barely miss the raking frieze. I also find it interesting that the window style and divided light patterns aren’t necessarily mimicked by the rest of the windows on the house—like the dark blue house is almost like if you shrunk one of the six-pane sashes and turned it sideways, but the brick veneer house has nine-pane casements and six-over-six double-hungs everywhere else.

If anybody on earth is still reading…what did we learn? I don’t even know, but I feel like this is all sort of good news because maybe there isn’t just one single correct answer but a few acceptable responses that will all look OK. This comforts me. So I guess here’s what I’m thinking…

  1. As much as I love the quarter-rounds and think they’re totally adorable, mine would have to be really small and I’d have to find something salvage (unlikely for two matching ones at the right size…) or put up the big bucks for somebody to fabricate some reproduction ones. That level of carpentry is way beyond my skill set. Everything about them seems kind of overwhelming…like how do I get them made and how do I pay for it and where do I find tiny quarter-round shutters and will they be a pain in the butt to install and if they ever need replacement or repair that will be a total nightmare and…you get the picture.
  2. I like the idea of doing six-over-six double hung windows like what’s on the rest of the house, but these would have to be so tiny—they’d definitely have to be custom and I think they’d just be so small that they’d seem weird. If it were a bigger house then I’d be considering it but I just don’t think mine could handle it size-wise, even if I could get them made.
  3. That leaves us with casements! I think this is the answer, you guys. And actually, I have to spend some time measuring and re-measuring, but I think the existing casement window on the left side could actually work if I break up the sashes and hang them as two separate windows, like the many examples above. Not having to cough up cash for windows would be excellent.

In case you’re concerned about the small size of the windows, that room has two large dormer windows on the street-facing side, so I think it’ll all be fine in terms of natural light, and I feel like the little windows will make the room feel sort of sweet and quaint and charming when you’re inside it. I’m looping in my contractor/BFF/sexual harassment target, Edwin, for this one because I’m guessing we’re going to end up re-siding the top half of the entire wall, which will undoubtably be intense and terrifying as it’s happening. At least it should make for an interesting blog post? I’m scared.



I’m bad at photoshop, but here’s a rough approximation of how things could look. Except I may have already changed my mind already—this is actually approximating how the sashes from the kitchen window would work, which are about 6 inches longer and an inch wider than the ones upstairs. So NOW I’M THINKING (hear me out…):

  1. Remove upstairs window and door.
  2. Remove casement window from kitchen. Split sashes, hang as individual casements upstairs, as shown.
  3. Replace kitchen window with something mega cheap because, as cute as that window is, the plan all along has been to replace it with an enlarged six-over-six to match the rest of the house when I can really overhaul the kitchen, and as it stands, that window is SO SO SO drafty and maybe a stop-gap replacement window would allow me to do the dishes without also being able to see my breath in the winter? But I don’t want to hang an interior storm or cover it in plastic because it’s the only window in the kitchen and there’s no range hood and I have a crap stove that burns everything so I do have to open it pretty frequently year-round. So even though I don’t love the idea of throwing a vinyl window in there, this kind of kills two birds with one stone?

OK, carry on. Ignore me.

Stopgap Fencing, Which Realistically will Probably be Pretty Permanent

Anyone who’s had the distinct pleasure of using the only functional bathroom in my house can probably confirm that I’m not a huge patron of the stopgap measure. At some point, the space will more than likely get gutted down to the studs and put back together again, but for now it’s…well, it’s wretched. The vinyl tile floor is horrendously ugly and missing or coming up in places, the old paint-covered wallpaper is separating all over the place from the cracked plaster walls underneath, and the shower surround is the same 1950s gold-speckled white formica used on the old kitchen countertops downstairs. My work on it, thus far, has been keeping it clean, hanging a shower curtain, and a couple of hooks for towels. Often I think about dedicating a few days to trying to at least do something about the floor and maybe slap a coat of paint on the walls and re-caulk the tub, but then I think…nah. I’ll get to this space when I’m ready to really get to it, and for now I can just keep apologizing to guests when they inevitably ask where to relieve themselves and I’m left to wonder whether the backyard would be a more luxurious recommendation.


Sometimes, though, you really just have to do something, which is what happened with the old wrought iron fence lining the front and a portion of the side of my property, right next to the sidewalk. I often refer to this fence as “original” but honestly I have no idea. The same or similar style of fencing isn’t all that uncommon in and around Kingston, but it seems to be typically used around public spaces like civic buildings or graveyards rather than private residences, so sometimes I wonder if this fence could have been relocated here from elsewhere.

Who knows. Standing a bit over 3 feet high, it’s a very simple fence that’s relatively light on ornament, with each vertical picket terminating in a rather threatening-looking spike. It has a very creepy cemetery kind of vibe that I just think is terrific, obviously.


Trouble is, the fence just sort of…stops about 20 feet in from the corner, which is part of what makes me wonder if it was moved from somewhere else. Back before I replaced all the chain-link with a nice new wood fence, this stopping point is where the 6′ chain-link fencing began, which was awkward and totally ugly and not nice at all.

There’s about 32 feet between where the wrought iron fence ends and the wood fence begins that I needed to fill in with…something. This is the kind of thing that will keep me from sleeping for months or years. I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled at salvage places and on Craigslist basically since buying the house hoping to stumble upon lengths of the same fencing to match, but no dice.


In this circa 1950 photo of the house (which you can read a whole post about here), the solution the owners had come up with then was to patch in this area with a different type of fencing—to me it looks like wood, and maybe is supposed to be a balustrade, like for a porch? I think this is actually a pretty nice answer to this vexing conundrum so I was planning to do something similar, but then I figured I might as well obsess over it forever instead?

I found someone locally who does custom metal fabrication projects and we talked about having the original fence replicated (with powder-coated steel instead of wrought iron), but the only way it would have maybe been within financial reach would have been if he could have sourced the basic components from his suppliers (horizontal rails with pre-punched holes at the correct dimensions and spacing, that kind of thing…) and then just done the work of welding it all together, but he did some searching and couldn’t find what we needed, so that plan was kind of dead in the water.


I have no idea how it took me so long to notice, but back in the spring I was looking more closely at the original fence and took a closer look at the little seal on the gate. Of course it had a brand name on it! I’m dumb.

Want to know something cool? Too bad, you don’t have a choice. Stewart Iron Works Company? It’s still in business! According to the company, it was founded around 1860 (Wikipedia says 1886), and at its peak was the biggest iron fence manufacturer in the world—providing fencing for everything from cemeteries to the Panama Canal to the White House! They did a bunch of other impressive stuff too, like jail cells (notably at Alcatraz and Sing Sing), military vehicles during WWI, furniture…amazing, right? Nowadays the company is based in Kentucky, and evidently a lot of their business stems from historic restoration projects, which is pretty awesome. It doesn’t look like my particular fence is something they stock (although all the components seem to be available in the catalog), but I did have a very nice conversation over the phone with one of their employees who said it should be easy enough for them to reproduce. Which would be AWESOME, correct? Correct.

If money were no object this would be a total no-brainer, but…girl’s gotta eat. My house still needs a LOT of work. Funds are low. As much as I love this fence, there are about 100 things I can think of off the top of my head that I’d prioritize higher than having a perfect replica of my old fence made, and I can currently afford maybe 1.5 of them? So PLEASE, Stewart Iron Works: stay in business another decade or two and I promise to circle back and pursue this for real. Maybe then you can just send me the pattern and I’ll 3D print it.

ANYWAY I had to do SOMETHING because amazingly enough, a 39″ high antique wrought iron fence connecting to a 6′ rusty dusty chain-link fence connecting to a new 6′ wood picket fence all within about 50 feet is not adorable? Even the dirt patch AND falling down addition on the side of the house weren’t enough to make it a good look, if you can believe it.


I searched far and wide (kind of), hoping to find something within a couple inches in height of the original fence, with a similar pattern. Since the ultimate goal is to get an actual Stewart Iron Works fence, it had to also be within the budgetary parameters of free to pretty cheap.

I looked at SO MANY OPTIONS of newer aluminum fencing products, and you know what’s funny? I ultimately just came back to the same exact solution I came to a year ago on the opposite side of the yard! I originally found this “No Dig Fencing” stuff at Lowe’s totally just because I spotted it and figured it was good enough and relatively affordable, but now I’m pretty convinced it actually is the closest thing out there for cheaps to my old fence. Fancy that.

If I wasn’t trying to match something else, I was actually surprised by how many affordable and really nice-looking options for metal fencing Lowe’s has, by the way. I guess it’s all special-order in the stores or online-only (at least at my store it is), but there are all these options seem much, much sturdier than the stuff I used (since they have real posts and bolts to connect everything and all that) and the panels are 6 foot lengths rather than 4 feet, which just looks better for longer spans. I only bring it up because I can see a lot of those options actually looking really good on a historic restoration project and budget-wise it’s totally friendly.


How is this post getting this long?? Back to my fence. This stuff installs so quickly that I didn’t even take any process pictures—it was all done in about an hour, including cutting down a panel for this little return piece as well as the last one at the end so it all fit. The pieces are all hollow aluminum so it cuts VERY easily—I used my Sawzall but a regular manual hacksaw would be easy, too. The little return panel is attached to the wood post with a couple of conduit straps that I spray-painted black, which sounds horrendous but you really don’t notice them.

Anyway, the entire fence is just 4 foot panels, which interlock with vertical posts. The posts stay in the ground with a stake that you hammer in with a rubber mallet. All in all it’s not the most sturdy thing in the world, but I think it’ll be OK

This fencing tends to look a little nutty, I figured out, if you don’t really get everything hammered into place well. I sort of made this mistake on the other side of the yard and it shows, so here I hammered the stakes deeper into the ground and then went back and hammered the posts as far down as I could get them after all the panels were in place. This keeps everything level and the interlocking aspect of how it all fits together isn’t as evident. This also means that the bottom of the fence is sitting right on the ground (and a little underground after I plant and mulch this area), which may affect the longevity of it depending on how good the powder-coating is to prevent it from rusting, but again…I’m not expecting it to last forever.


Anyway! I feel like it’s kind of really hokey but it also looks totally OK?? Like, we’re all sitting here staring at it right now, but in real life you don’t really do that—especially once this area has some plants growing, I really feel like it’ll all “read” as the same fencing and be completely fine, ya know? So maybe it’s not exactly fooling anyone but it’s also the kind of thing that you’d have to be paying more attention than most people really do to notice. Yeah? Not bad for about $300 and an hour or so of work.


To finish off this VERY professional and labor-intensive installation, I connected the new fence to the old fence with…black plastic zip-ties. I can’t really believe I’m admitting this publicly, but I feel like this post is kind of about letting things slide so WHATEVER. It happened and it works and if they break it’s not like it’s exactly difficult or expensive to just throw on some new ones.


Here’s the house back at the end of April…


And here’s where things stood as of a couple of weeks ago! It’s, like, both better and worse at the same time? That’s possible, right? But someday that “after” image will just be another “progress” shot and we can all forget or feel nostalgic for how crazy things look right in this moment.

This post is in partnership with my pals at Lowe’s! Thank you for supporting my sponsors!



So, remember the ongoing saga regarding that weird room on the back of my house that I wanted to disappear? For SOME REASON (delusion, lack of forethought, unwarranted optimism…same shit, different post) making an entire addition on the back of a house just go away is more work than I gave it credit for, particularly when no bulldozers are involved. Imagine that.

So last time we talked about how I’d already gut the interior and removed the vinyl siding from the exterior and was gearing up for the full demolition. I could have probably saved quite a bit of work and time by renting a dumpster and disregarding the fact that there were any salvageable materials here, but that would be so…sensible and unlike me. #liveauthentic



Demo actually kicked off with opening an even bigger can of worms and removing the vinyl siding from the entire back wall of the house. The interior space of the mudroom (soon to be exterior space!) didn’t have vinyl, so this seemed like a logical step. It’s not a HUGE wall, so this’ll also be a good testing ground for restoring the clapboard and removing more and more of the vinyl down the line.

This may be interesting to only me, but I swear it’s slightly important. See how in the before picture, the vinyl goes all the way up to the base of the cornice, but underneath it is actually a pretty substantial flat board that runs perpendicular-ish to the clapboard? What do we call that? I don’t think it qualifies as a fascia, but anyway…it’s something and it’s created endless hemming and hawing over what to do with the back of the house. My guess is that this second floor space was built as an unfinished attic and there weren’t doors or windows up here at all. Later on, the space was finished and that little casement window and that door were cut in and installed. To me they look funny and wrong with the corners cutting into the…fascia?…board like that, right? Like they shouldn’t be there. I’m not as anal about the back of the house as I am about the two street-facing sides, but I do want it to look nice and not weird. Now I’m wondering if the best option is to replace the door and window with two pretty narrow and slightly lower matching windows that won’t interfere with the original trim and cornice like what’s happening now. I don’t even know. Obviously it would be ideal to decide, order the windows, install them, and THEN go through the hassle of fixing up the clapboard, but given that it’s already September and I can’t make up my mind, that probably won’t happen.


Anyway! Mudroom demo! That’s what we’re talking about here! Demolishing this room started with removing the roof. It was an old metal roof covered in layers of tar, but still leaked in spite of that. All in all, it came off pretty easily (and the scrapyard still took it, even with the tar!). We had to remove a piece of clapboard on the house because the roofing ran up under it, so that’s something I really have to fix stat.

Removing the roofing revealed that the beadboard ceiling below it was actually in much better shape than I expected! This roof was VERY leaky so I expected a ton of rot and water damage but it was in really good condition. YAY!


Starting at the front of the space, a helper and I removed the boards one by one from the original 2×4 roof framing. It took a little patience to get the boards up intact, but I think we had them all up, de-nailed, and stacked nicely within about an hour.


Boom! Hellllo, first floor bathroom ceiling! The first floor bathroom used to be a very small porch, but that beadboard wasn’t really salvageable during demo so I’m glad this was. Dimensionally I think it’s the same (or close to it) but the boards themselves are a bit thicker. I like the idea of putting a wide-plank beadboard ceiling back in there as a nod to what the space was originally.


Removing the clapboard took quite a bit longer. I might have gone a little overboard, but wood clapboard like this is quite different than what’s readily available nowadays, so I just decided to hold onto EVERYTHING that wasn’t rotted in the hopes that my stockpile will save me if/when I have to patch in missing or rotted boards on other areas of the exterior down the line. They’re all piled neatly in my basement, like you might find in the home of someone who has truly lost all grip on reality.

Sometimes they whisper to me.


So, uh…this looks insane. I don’t know. Exciting-insane but also just insane-insane. Just a little paint, right?


For reference, here’s that same-ish angle from when I first bought the house. I know, it’s just like one of those Spot the Difference! games where you really have to hunt around.

(it’s the plants.)


So, that’s pretty much what the back of my house looks like now. Peeling paint and missing clapboard and utter shambles and complete craziness. I know, but you have GOT to get your jealousy under control. I can feel it from here and it’s making me uncomfortable.


I left the floorboards and framing underneath in place for the time being so that the back door doesn’t open out onto a few-foot drop, but that’s going to go soon, too. Mekko doesn’t understand the difference between this and a back porch, so she thinks we’re living in major luxury. Little does she realize this will soon also disappear and everything will be awful again. Living with me is way fun.

You may or may not be curious what the current plans are for the covered back porch that was supposed to be happening this summer, and the answer is no way, no how. The backyard ate up more money than I realized it would and I have less money than I thought I would so that project is getting shelved hopefully for next spring/summer, which I think is actually a good thing. I don’t have to TOTALLY freak out about the back of the house—patch in some clapboard, strip/scrape, prime, paint, ya know—but I have a second now to reevaluate what I want back here and hammer out the details and all that before embarking on a semi-major construction project. I like most of the original plan, but I’m already thinking I’ll probably nix the second floor balcony concept and scale down the first floor part a little to bring it into better proportion with the house—like big enough for an outdoor dining table and a couple chairs, that kind of thing.


Oh! One of the majorly super exciting things about this whole mudroom disappearing act? The amount of LIGHT it brought into the kitchen! This kind of stuff is hard to convey in pictures (you can go look at the original kitchen reveal here), but it makes a huge, huge difference in real life. The eventual plan is to someday probably enlarge the window that’s currently over the sink as well as add two additional windows in the kitchen, but until then, seeing the light stream in from the door that goes to the used-to-be-mudroom is so nice. When you’ve spent two years seeing a dark brown abyss through that door and having a kitchen without a lot of natural light, this is awesome.

Quick & Easy Projects: The Dining Room Hutch.

So, you might have picked up on the fact that there’s a lot going on right now that all adds up to my life feeling like non-stop chaos everywhere I look. I’m sure you know the feeling no matter what you do, but in the midst of multiple renovation projects at once on multiple houses, the quite literal mess and feeling of so many things sitting in some state of “progress” but still a ways away from completion can get kind of…wearing. I’m so lucky to get to do all this fun stuff that I like to do, but like everything else it comes with some little downsides that can make you crazy if you let them.

This week I actually dedicated a *little* less time to the stuff that feels very very pressing and a little more time to getting off my ass when I’m tired and just want to lay in bed and watch Netflix and moan in the service of trying to check some things off a loooongggggg list of little things that have been bothering me for what feels like forever. Finally hanging some art that’s been leaning on the mantel for 4 months, switching that rug with this rug, cleaning out closets…small, approachable tasks that I can complete in an afternoon or two and have a pretty immediate affect on my rapidly slipping notion that I actually have things under control. It feels GREAT.


Case in point? The big antique hutch in my dining room. I still love that thing and still consider it a steal at $400 (I wrote that it was $450 when I posted about the dining room, but I recently found the receipt and turns out I was wrong!), but probably since the day I set it up, a few things about it have bothered me. The whole thing is really old so the doors don’t always stay closed, and the shelf spacing always struck me as kind of…wrong.


It only had two shelves (three, counting the bottom obviously), which sort of made everything I put inside it feel too small and awkward. The other problem—which isn’t so much a flaw as much as something I just endlessly stared at and obsessed over—is that the shelves have no spacial relation to the mullions on the glass-paneled doors, which may or may not have originally been someone’s storm windows or something. At some point I thought to myself, “self, you can fix that,” and them promptly added “fix hutch shelves” to a truly appalling number of to-do lists I’ve written and ignored over the course of the past year.


So the other day, I did do something! I opted to go the quick-and-easy route and just GET IT DONE instead of obsessing over every single tiny detail and making my quick dumb project overwhelming with steps.

I took a rubber mallet (so as not to bruise the wood) and gently released the top shelf from the cleat holding it up. It wasn’t nailed down so this was very easy. I thought of prying the cleat off and raising it an inch to line up with the top mullion, but then I said fuck it! and just ripped a 1″ piece of scrap 5/4″ wood down on my table saw to add to the top of the cleat. I attached it to the side of the cabinet with wood glue and 1.25″ brad nails, smeared the holes with caulk, and used the rubber mallet to lower the shelf back onto its supports. FANCY.


For the second shelf, I did pry off the old cleat, pulled the nails, and planed off the back to get rid of any remaining glue schmutz so that it could be re-glued and re-attached at the right height. More wood glue, more brad nails…done. BANG. The cabinet is 14″ deep so I kept a 12″ level handy to make sure my cleats and shelves were level and nice.

The bottom shelf had to be made because it didn’t exist before. The shelves are 14.75″ deep, and I happened to have a piece of 14″ cabinet-grade plywood leftover from something that I could just cut down to the right length. Easy. Then I just ripped a 3/4″ piece of 1x scrap and face-nailed it to the front of the plywood to add a *little* rigidity and cover up the raw plywood edge. The cleats are made from scrap 5/4″ lumber (so they matched the thickness of the originals) that I just cut down to be the same width, which I think was 2.75″ or something. Not sure. At this point the bourbon was taking over.


The next afternoon, when the caulk had all set up, I spend roughly two minutes with my orbital sander smoothing down the areas that hadn’t gotten painted the first time around or were covered by the old locations of the cleats. Then I wiped everything down and gave those spots and the new shelf two coats of the paint I used the first time, which is Martha Stewart’s Bedford Grey. For about .5 seconds I considered taking the opportunity to do something different with the color but I still really like this one and I don’t care if it gets more pins because I painted it emerald green or some shit. Sorry!


Andddd, YAY! Don’t worry about the “styling” because there is no real styling. This is called “I want this shit off my dining room table, so I’m putting my crap away” styling. So pro.

THE POINT IS, the shelves now make sense with the doors, AND I got another few feet of storage space out of this thing, which I’ll never turn down. It also did give me the opportunity to weed out some items I was keeping around that are pretty but weren’t really serving a purpose for me and just taking up space. I’ll always have stuff like that—pretty for pretty’s sake—but keeping it to a reasonable minimum feels alright.



The only other major improvement was that I added some cheap little cabinet door clasps to the inside of the doors/shelves to keep the doors from flopping around all willy-nilly. I found them at Lowe’s for a dollar a two a piece in the cabinet hardware section, like where the knobs and handles are. Changes EVERYTHING. This upgrade took maybe 10 minutes and makes me feel like this one thing in my life doesn’t have any stupid little outstanding work to do on it. I briefly considered switching out the original clasps on the outside of the door with something more substantial/functional but still reasonably historically appropriate, but this was easier, cheaper, and allows me to maintain the original look of the thing. Win-win-win! They’re not visible at all except when the doors are open. YAY.


That’s it! Does everyone else have stupid projects like this, hanging over their heads for months or years that would realistically only take a couple hours of work to fix? I have so many that I could make a regular feature out of this stuff. We’ll call it…I Was Lazy for Months and Months and I Finally Got My Act Together to be Less Lazy. Or something.

Front Yard 2015!


Last summer, I put a lot of work into carving out a front garden in the space on the left side of my house. There’s a little over 30 feet of yard there, just hanging out next to the front porch. My lot is pretty wide for Kingston—75 x 100 feet—and one of the challenges with it (aside from shoveling in the winter) has been figuring out how to effectively use the space while balancing the need to maintain original features like the low wrought-iron fence and keep the dogs contained and give the backyard space some privacy. The best solution that I could come up with was to install a 6-foot tall fence about 20 feet behind the original low wrought-iron fence and dub that area a dog-free front yard, like so:


The problem was, all I had was a bunch of grass and weeds, a huge clump of hosta, and two scraggly rhododendrons. I know there are more economical and soil-enriching ways of eliminating grass than just digging it up (sheet mulching is pretty cool and makes lots of sense!) but in this case part of the goal was also the bring the level of the soil back down. As it was, the entire bottom of the wrought-iron fence was below-grade and rusting, and the sidewalk was being overtaken by surrounding soil and grass on either side. Excavating the entire area down a few inches was a huge pain in the butt, but I’m really glad I did it!


I worked on the garden in a couple of phases—starting near the new tall fence and working my way toward the sidewalk. I threw down a path made from broken pieces of bluestone from the backyard, and put enough plants in the ground to make it presentable enough without spending much money.


Because I transplanted and split the hostas during the summer, they did not do particularly well. I sort of saw that coming so tried to remember that in a few months they’d die back, and then this spring they’d be like new plants! Some plants are more finicky than others about when they can be moved and split, but I’ve always found hostas fairly indestructible.

Anyway, I think that’s kinda where we left off?  This spring/summer I planned to do more work on that side of the yard than I really have, but I’ve done a few things. Mostly, though, nature’s done the heavy-lifting and it’s starting to kind of look like a garden or something! There are still a million things I want to do and change (I’m sure there always will be), but even the way it is now makes me pretty happy. I feel like I’ve done something good for the house and the street, and I’m excited to see it develop as the years go by. Gardening is funny because it feels so low on the priority list during a major renovation project, but it’s also the thing that takes the longest time to mature and start to actually look good.


After living with the space between my sidewalk and the wrought iron fence planted and mulched for a year, I noticed that the mulch tended to get spread around onto the sidewalk by wind and dogs and probably people, so this spring I decided to take action! I’m not really a fan of black plastic edging in general, but it seemed like the best solution for here. The sidewalk stones are pretty irregular so something too rigid wasn’t really an option, and I figured that I could bury it fairly deep and keep it looking as minimal as possible. Plus, it’s cheap!

Using a small spade, I dug out a 6″ or so trench next to the sidewalk to create a channel for the edging. It took a while and was no fun.


Here we go! I don’t love the way it looks, but it’s very functional and looks…fine? Nothing gorgeous but it does keep things neat and tidy. This was back in May so the hostas were just getting going and I’d just mulched.


Here’s the same area a couple days ago. The hostas are all done flowering for the season but the foliage is still nice to have around, and it’s nice to see them all full and happy after last year! There are honey locust trees in the strip between the sidewalk and the curb…if you’ve ever lived near one you know those tiny leaves get EVERYWHERE and are kind of impossible to keep out of flower beds and whatnot. I don’t really care, but I feel like the creeping jenny kind of gets lost because of it and would be better off somewhere else.


I took this picture of a house a few blocks away because I think their hosta hedge would work really nicely in front of my fence. It’s the same situation—a bunch of hosta planted in front of a low metal fence—except they spaced them much closer so they don’t really read as individual plants, which is SO MUCH BETTER than what I did. I don’t want to screw with the hostas again before they’re done for the season, but in the fall I’ll transplant the creeping jenny elsewhere and split all of the hosta and plant them much closer together so that it’ll look more like this. When they mature, hopefully they’ll cover the plastic edging and it’ll all look very lush and nice and it’ll be great? I’ll let ya know.


Anyway, the rhododendrons bloomed back in May, too! The rhodos in front of my porch are old and nicely established, but they’re also weirdly tall for their location and look sort of scraggly to me most of the time. They’re quite nice for the few minutes a year when they bloom, though!


It really seemed like the smaller of the two rhododendrons bit the dust during the winter. I thought it was my fault, but my tree dude who took down the big maple in the backyard said that last winter was just so cold that a lot of people’s rhododendrons died. I came *this close* to cutting it down and digging up the stump, but then…


That mo’fo’ came right back! It got all this new growth and even bloomed and it was sort of amazing and impressive. Good job, plant I don’t even really like!

It sounds like Rhododendrons can respond well to fairly aggressive pruning, so I think I’m going to attempt to get these guys growing lower and fuller over the next few years.


This is not a good picture, but I started a boxwood hedge last year that wraps the porch and stoop foundations. These were little $7 boxwoods from Lowe’s (“winter gem” variety) so it’ll be a few years before they really fill in and start to be hedge-like, but they’re doing pretty well! I think it’ll be a nice traditional element to ground things, and it’s nice that they stay green year-round. Grow, boxwoods, grow! Several people have told me that propagating boxwoods from clippings is super easy, but I gotta say I tried it last year and it was a total fail. I think I’ll just stick with buying the cheap ones.


Anyway! Here’s an idea of how things were around mid-summer last year. All thin and limp and sickly. I value these qualities in a man but not in my garden.


And here we are this spring, just after mulching and stuff! Everything I was sort of worried about by the end of last summer came back! The hydrangeas in the back are happy and all the hosta grew in nicely, although I think I’m going to move all the hosta to the “hedge” and out of the main space. Too much hosta.


And here we are a couple days ago! It’s been a dry August (the whole summer, really) and I’m still not in a great watering habit, but nevertheless things have been filling in and doing OK. It’s fun to see how much growth happened in a couple months!


I think I may have been too aggressive with splitting the irises, but they did all return! Only a few of them bloomed, but the ones that did were really pretty. These were transplanted from somewhere near the garage last year—I’m glad they survived! I love irises—I hope to add a lot more in different varieties over the years. The flowers don’t last that long but the foliage is nice and sculptural too, and I like that they’re a very traditional plant.


The false indigos are doing REALLY well. I think this is one of my favorite plants now! There are two, and I’d say both of them have at least doubled or tripled in size since last year. The flowers are so lovely while they last, but I love that the plant maintains such nice minty foliage until well into fall. They love the sun and don’t really seem to need any extra water, either!



The bleeding heart comes and goes pretty fast, but it’s such a pretty early bloomer. The entire plant is spent by about mid-July so I just cut them back to ground level and forget about them, but they’re so pretty while they’re in bloom and the foliage is nice until it dries up and dies.


I always kind of forget that I have lilacs in the front yard! They’re right next to the fence between my property and the neighbor’s and they’re super top-heavy so they kind of flop down into the neighbor’s yard. I pruned them quite a bit last summer and this was the first spring that I’ve seen them bloom! I’m going to try pruning them more in a couple weeks and see if I can get them to fill out next year.


Those three little clusters in the foreground are autumn joy sedum, which are fun to watch over the course of the summer! Above is how they looked back in May…



And here’s couple days ago! Autumn joy indeed! It’s nice to have that bit of color low to the ground.


The peony I planted last summer came back nicely (I think it had a total of one flower, though), and a couple little tiny peony plants sprouted up adjacent to it. I think maybe I planted bulbs last year but I honestly can’t really remember—I planted a lot of bulbs but I definitely did it way too early and none of them really came in. Ah, well. Better luck next time!


This was labeled a “wine and roses” weigela. I planted three of them in a clump sort of in the middle of the yard and I’m looking forward to seeing what they do next year. The foliage has a lot of deep purple in it and I guess they’ll have little pink flowers and be 2-3 feet tall and wide.



The most recent addition to the front are a couple of oak-leaf hydrangeas I picked up on sale at Adam’s. I’d never heard of these until a few people suggested them in the comments last year (thanks, guys!) and I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for them ever since. I dig the foliage on these guys. I’m pretty sure they won’t bloom until next year, but I’m glad they’re in the ground and getting comfy.


Is that enough rambling about plants? I know the garden has a lot of filling in to do and it’s looking pretty hodgepodge (probably because it is!), but I’m counting the fact that stuff is alive and mostly doing well as a victory regardless. I think if I just keep futzing with it and adding a few things every year, it’ll start to take shape and really look like something? That’s the whole plan so I hope it works out.

What kind of plants would you add to this space? Plant suggestions are always welcome!

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