All posts in: Kingston House

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.

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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.

HUTCHBEFORE

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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:

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

beardediris

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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…

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

peony

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!

wineandroseweigalias

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.

 

oakleaf

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.

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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!

New Fence, OMG OMG OMG.

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One thing that has been on my hit list since the very first time I saw my house was the old chain-link fence surrounding most of my lot. It was busted up, broken down, super hideous, provided no privacy, made the street look like a prison—it had to get GONE. I DIY’d a little over 30 feet of new wood fencing in the front yard last summer, and one of my major goals for this summer was to do the rest of the fence to match! I have to say, though—more than anything, building that section of fencing taught me that I really didn’t want to build the remaining 200-ish feet myself. Fences are one of those things that are deceptively difficult—the labor part of hauling and digging and pouring bags of concrete and all that is pretty hard, of course, but even if you’re up for that it’s difficult to get all the posts and pickets even and level, deal with whatever slope the land might have, build and hang gates…you get the idea. I think it could have easily taken me all summer, been intensely miserable, still expensive (the materials cost alone would have been in the $2,300 range)…all the while running the risk of ending up with a pretty amateurish result. This was one for the pros.

So, I hired some from an exotic land called Lowe’s! Lowe’s has a great installation service department for all sorts of things—from simple stuff like hanging blinds and installing a toilet to complex jobs like building decks, redoing roofing, installing HVAC systems…and fencing! The process goes like this: the representative from the local store comes out and takes measurements, evaluates the project, and provides a quote. I got my quote on the spot—just under $5,000, in case you’re curious. That’s actually a little less than I expected to spend here—it’s a ton of yard!

After deciding to move forward, I asked to meet with the contractor beforehand both times to go over everything step-by-step and make sure he understood my concerns, noted any particular challenges and custom requests. They were very accommodating—the Lowe’s rep came out with the contractor and they gave me lots of time to fret about stuff. Then they scheduled the job, delivered all the supplies the day before, and then the crew showed up early the next day with everything they needed to get to work!

I think there are a few major advantages to all of this. The quote turnaround is fast on this stuff—like, same day or the next day. Even more importantly, all of the pricing is regulated—for example, roofing has a fixed rate for each square of roofing (materials and labor), and fencing is calculated by linear foot. There isn’t any room for guesswork or some dude thinking you can afford a $10,000 fence because you’re wearing jeans that aren’t full of holes and covered in paint that day—it’s just a simple, standardized formula. Even if you don’t end up hiring them, I think getting a quote like that is really helpful just to give yourself a benchmark of around what you should expect to spend on a given project.

The contractors, by the way, aren’t exclusively Lowe’s contractors—instead, Lowe’s finds great local contractors to team up with, so the people performing the work have their own companies, years of experience, and do a mix of Lowe’s jobs and things they’ve been hired for privately outside of their arrangement with Lowe’s. I guess I always assumed doing a job like this through a big box store would get me a big-box contractor, which to me would seem like kind of a gamble, but that’s not the case. The advantage is that Lowe’s provides guarantees and warranties on the work and are very careful about installing to the manufacturer recommendations so that your warranty on materials doesn’t get voided. If they under-order supplies for whatever reason, there’s no charge for the extra supplies needed to finish the job, and if they over-order by accident, you get a refund for the excess materials and associated labor costs. Nice!

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ANYWAY, shall we recall the Asphalt & Chain-Link Special that was my backyard upon moving into the house? Man. I give myself a hard time about the backyard still looking pretty rough and not getting a ton of attention until now, but it’s actually come a long way! All the asphalt got hauled out last summer—which was a big, expensive project with lasting ramifications to the overall drainage and grading to the yard, which I’m now trying to correct—but I don’t regret it for a minute!

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When thinking about the backyard, the fence kind of seemed like it HAD to be the next step. The chain-link was unsightly, yes, but it was also a security issue for the dogs and knowing that it needed to be replaced ASAP kind of stalled much else from happening. I didn’t want to plant anything or try to put any real effort into the landscaping since I knew it would all get trampled and messed up with the fence replacement—anyway, just like getting the asphalt out, getting the new fence up would kind of complete the fundamental changes to the yard and allow the real progress to begin. It only took two years! Ha.

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Demo actually started with my neighbor Nancy’s old, rotted fence, which I agreed to just go ahead and do for her. If you’re doing a new fence, it’s definitely worth it to discuss your plans with any neighbors that you share a side with (especially if you might be able to split the cost!). Nancy and I agreed that it was stupid to have two separate fences (that little space between them was a mess of creepers and stuff and was impossible for either of us to maintain), and so we discussed exactly what both of us wanted out of the new fence and all that—she was so great and flexible and even told me I should have the “good” side facing my backyard instead of hers! So sweet. Doing that seemed kind of shitty but the offer was so kind!

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The Lowe’s contractor gave me the option of having the crew demo out the old fence, but I think demo was $5 per linear foot (I don’t know if prices vary on this stuff depending on where you are), so at 200 feet of fencing that would have tacked about $1,000 onto the price. The nice thing about the old fence was that demo was pretty easy—a few snips with some bolt cutters, rolling up the chain-link into manageable rolls, disassembling the gates and stuff…it took a couple days and three runs to the scrap yard and the fence was more or less gone! Only 4 of the many posts were actually held in with concrete, so that made things significantly easier. I think I made back all of about $150 in scrap metal, too, because I’m fancy like that.

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BOOM, there she is! Lowe’s delivered all the supplies the day before the install, as promised, which was so exciting! Delivery was super fast and painless—they just neatly left everything in the yard where I told them to.

By the way, the fence that I built was the same picket style (“dog-ear”), but mine is made of cedar and this is pressure-treated lumber. Cedar was an option, too, but PT was a bit less expensive and the Lowe’s salesperson said it would last longer. Since it’s all getting stained black anyway, I figured it didn’t matter much either way.

The other major difference is that my fence was made of pre-assembled panels, and this one was built all on-site! The panels have their pros and cons but ultimately the new fence seems sturdier and more custom than my attempt. The horizontal rails that the pickets get nailed into are 2x3s on the panels, but they used 2x4s on the new fence. Does anyone care about this level of minutia? The point is that the new fence is sturdier and will probably last longer than what I cobbled together, and makes me doubly glad I hired this one out.

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The night before the install, I had all manner of crazy nightmares. I dreamt that the crew thought they were supposed to demo all the fencing, so they hauled away my original cast iron fence in the front to the dump while I was distracted with something. I also dreamt that there was a misunderstanding and instead of a 6 foot fence, I got a 12-foot fence with barbed wire all along the top, which sort of defeated the purpose of trying to beautify the street a bit. You could say I have some trust and control issues.

I’m not really sure what I was expecting from the crew, but I kind of assumed they’d just move super fast, want to get in and get out, and maybe not be the most attentive to detail. I accepted that this was maybe the price of not DIY-ing, and that it was OK…at this point I just REALLY wanted a fence and as long as it looked OK and was sturdy and secure, I’d be fine with it.

WELL. I’m a jerk. The crew was so great. They let me change my mind about a couple of things after the install had started, which involved them having to pull and re-set a couple of posts, and they were just super friendly and accommodating throughout.

They made REALLY good time, too, but they were also so super attentive to detail that I kept having to stop myself from telling them to chill out! It was super weird that they seemed to care more about how my fence turned out than I did, but I’m pretty sure they did.

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Setting all of the posts took most of the first day. They made sure each one was level and square and all that. They used a manual post hole digger to dig all of the holes (I assumed they’d use one of those huge augers, but nope!) and finished each one off with an 80-pound bag of Quikrete.

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One thing that surprised me was that they didn’t use any water for the concrete—they said that after 20+ years of doing this, they could confidently assure me that the concrete would suck in moisture from the soil and rain and stuff and be totally solid in about a week. They offered to use water if it would make me feel better, but I figured they knew what they were doing and I should just back off and let them do their jobs. They were totally right, by the way…the fence had a little flex for the first few days but now it’s solid as a rock!

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Posts! Posts! Posts! I’m sure this is not that exciting for anyone except me, but look at those guys! Perfection.

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Oh hey, foxy fence guy. Don’t mind me.

After the posts were set, it was time to install the horizontal rails! These are pressure-treated 2x4s. Typically these get screwed to the front of the posts, but I think suspending them between posts looks so much nicer and more custom once the pickets are up. I was really worried that they wouldn’t be able/willing to accommodate this little detail, but the contractor didn’t bat an eye when I asked. Instead of using metal L-brackets like I did last summer, they just used long exterior decking screws driven in at an angle to affix the rails to the posts. Why didn’t I think of that? I feel stupid.

Things were looking a little wonky at this stage because they were very careful about following the overall slope of the yard—it looks kind of like a mistake but it isn’t. The horizontal rails won’t be level because of this, but you only see them from the inside of the yard and that’s kind of just how it is. The pickets all look level and awesome from the outside, so no complaints! I think the black stain will help sort of hide the unevenness from the inside, anyway. As the rails were going up, the posts got re-adjusted and checked again so everything was right. If some of the posts had to go down a little bit to get the angles right, the guys just gave them a few hard hits to the top with a small sledgehammer. Good job, dudes!

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Pickets! The crew pulled pickets for each section of fencing and leaned them against the rails to keep everything moving efficiently. I thought the pickets would go up really really fast, but they really took their time on these, too. Serious business.

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I’d say each individual picket took almost a minute to place. There was lots and lots of checking to make sure they were level and everything was just right.

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Then there was more checking…and more checking…

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After all the checking and double-checking and triple-checking, the pickets got nailed up! They used cordless nail guns for this. Pew, pew!

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Some pickets got scrapped for having large knots or even just little splits, which I guess would probably grow over time. I just can’t say enough how impressed I am with the level of detail. They left me the leftover pickets in case I wanted to use them for anything, which was pretty cool. They also offered to haul them away, for the record, but I figured I might need them for something.

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See that panel on the right, where there’s a skinny little piece missing? I thought that was pretty smart—instead of ending a section on a short piece, they ended on a full picket and then shaved one down for the second-to-last picket. Your eye doesn’t notice it nearly as much as if they’d ended on the run on a little picket! Clever, clever.

So day 2 ended and they didn’t quite finish, which they expected to. 200 feet of fencing including 2 walk gates and a 10-foot drive gate—totally understandable! This was a Friday so I assumed they’d come back Monday to finish the job, which wasn’t altogether ideal but totally normal and fine. Nope! Those dudes came back early Saturday morning, built and hung the gates and finished nailing up the remaining pickets.

The very last step was going around and sawing off the tops of all of the posts to be the same height. They did it with a big circular saw and just did such a nice job—this way, the fence appears totally level and all the post caps will sit at the same height and look uniform and perfect and stuff. By the way, the post caps aren’t included in the fence—there was an option to add them but they added to the labor cost, too, so I opted to just buy them myself and affix them after the fence is stained. That part is super easy so it didn’t seem worth paying for.

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CHECK. IT. OUT.

I MEAN SERIOUSLY, CHECK IT OUT. Ignore how insane the yard itself looks—I’m working on it. Let’s just focus on the fence. Here it is right after the dudes left.

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And here’s a wider shot from yesterday morning! I’ve been hard at work trying to level out the soil and figure out how much fill dirt I need to haul up in here, so that’s why the yard is basically a massive dustbowl. I’m so luck that my dogs couldn’t be less fussy and don’t care, but I can’t wait to get some landscaping happening because the amount of dirt and dust that gets tracked into the house is pretty appalling with the yard in this state.

ANYWAY!

I love my fence! My neighbors love my fence! I’m so excited about my fence. It changes EVERYTHING. Getting rid of all the chain link is such an immediate improvement, I can’t even really describe it. All of a sudden the house looks nice! I mean, as nice as it can given the various states of construction ad renovation and general craziness. Wait till you see the mudroom. (OH WAIT IT’S GONE)

Because the wood is pressure-treated, you’re supposed to let it dry out for a while before painting or staining, so that’s why it isn’t black yet. Did you think I wasn’t gonna do it? I’m totally going to do it. I’m planning to use the same Cabot brand opaque black stain that I used on my little section last year. Pressure-treated wood fades to a yucky green-ish grey over time, so doing something to it is sort of important, even if it looks kind of nice when it first goes up. I really recommend opaque stains over paints if you want a solid color look—paint will invariably peel and chip and look crappy after a few years and need a whole lot more maintenance.

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One area that feels particularly improved is the side of the garage that faces the street! I know that the wood in contrast with the black looks nice right now, but I think given how the wood will weather and in combo with the house, staining it is the best option long-term. One last minute (morning-of, really) decision was to set the whole fence back about 2 feet from the sidewalk, so the plan is to plant out the space between the fence and the sidewalk with all sorts of stuff to soften things a bit. The intention here is not to make the house look like a fortress, so I think getting some tall/climbing plants going will do a lot for making the whole thing feel friendly and pretty instead of big and overbearing and all that.

(And yes, the garage has exterior lights! I’ve been working a lot on the garage. They aren’t actually attached to power yet but that’s coming soon!)

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One thing to be aware of with pressure-treated lumber is that it takes several months for it to dry out. I didn’t want to post too quickly about the fence because I knew it would change a little as time went on and I wanted to reserve judgment until I felt like I had an accurate idea of how it would look long-term. These pickets were butted up right next to each other when the fence went up, but now that it’s been about six weeks, they’ve shrunk down somewhat and now there are little gaps between them. I’m TOTALLY fine with that—actually, I prefer it—but if you’re looking to have even more privacy, you probably want to let the wood dry out between delivery and install or use cedar, which will still expand and contract, but shouldn’t shrink permanently like this.

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The trash area behind the garage feels enormous, by the way. I need to figure out the best way to use it. The big gap under the gate is temporary—I’ll be bringing in some kind of paving solution so it’ll get built up with a few inches of paver base and then whatever’s on top. I have to start making decisions!

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Look, the new fence even makes Linus look fresh! Could that dog be any cuter? He’s such a little rascal.

Going from a 16′ drive gate down to a polite 10′ one is really a nice change, and the fact that it’s level and not broken all over the place is obviously a relief. Soil here also has to get built up somewhat to address the grading issues—I’m really happy that the guys understood this and installed the fence with the new soil level as a guide instead of how things are now. I have to move so much dirt, omg. Pls pray.

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The pickets of the new fence are slightly longer, weirdly, than the one that I did, so the guys even screwed an extra piece of 4×4 to the top of the last post to bring it up to the same height as the rest of the posts! I love that. Once it’s all stained, nobody will ever notice that little add-on, but it was so sweet that they did it.

So there it is! I’m thrilled with the fence and just so excited that I can move onto the next steps with the exterior of my house now. The dogs are loving their new-old yard—Mekko is so much more at ease without feeling like she has to patrol the perimeter all the time, and Linus can’t slip out anymore! I still never leave them in the yard unattended, but it’s still brought so much peace of mind. Everybody’s happy.

This post is sponsored by Lowe’s! None of this would have been possible without them, and I’m so beyond grateful. Thank you for supporting my sponsors! 

 

Black Garage!

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Ever since I got the idea in my head to paint my garage black, I haven’t really let go of it. As much as we know I love my black paint for all sorts of accent-y types of things, it’s not something I’d let loose on any and every house, but I have this whole vision for mine. It involves the following: since my house is Greek Revival (or, ya know, Greek Revival-ish), the only color that really feels right for the house itself is white, right? Maybe an off-white-ish-grey with a brighter white trim, but that’s about as far as I’m willing to go. Once I sort of clean up the architecture on the back and side of the house (bye-bye, mudroom and hazardous “side porch” thingy!), the house is going to be so pretty. The garage and even the nice new wood fence are never going to be things I want to highlight, so I like the idea of blacking them out and letting the house and the garden really shine. Black can seem bold, and in some contexts it is, but I think here it’ll do a nice job of receding and letting the house do the visual heavy-lifting. IT’S GOING TO WORK, OK? OK then.

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Hot DAMN, look at that thing! I recently decided to find my house on Google Maps using the street view function, and evidently the last time the Google van rolled through Kingston was sometime before the house even went up for sale. After the previous owner of the house passed away, I knew the listing agent had stepped in to coordinate a little work on the house (repainting the wood trim, removing and remediating the oil tanks in the yard), and she’d mentioned at some point that they’d done some work on the garage during this time, but I never realized how bad it was. Yikes! Lookin’ pretty rough there, garage.

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The garage isn’t original to the house, but it is quite old—I’d guess around the turn of the century, maybe a bit later. It’s seen some alterations over the years: the main door is much newer and probably replaced two side-by-side hinged carriage doors, there used to be another large window on the opposite side and two small windows on the back, one of which appears to have gotten poached for the laundry room. Anyway, I don’t really have a problem with continuing to alter it…some old houses come with some pretty magnificent garages/carriage houses that demand more careful preservation, but this isn’t really one of them. It can only go up from here, right?

GarageBefore1

Luckily by the time I bought the house, the garage was looking a little less horrific. The whole thing had been repainted, a brand new roof had been put on, and it was generally OK-looking. Still nothing gorgeous, but fine.

I’ve more or less left the garage alone until recently, mainly focusing on just cleaning up the overgrowth around it and using the inside as a glorified garbage dump. Cute, right? It’s never held a car as long as I’ve owned the house. Not once. I generally kind of forget that’s even a potential option, which is totally ridiculous.

garagebefore2

More recently, the garage has looked a little something more like this, kind of. Overgrowth more under control, asphalt removed, weird half-foundation behind the garage removed (evidently there was a garage expansion plan that never quite materialized, oof), and more or less a blank slate!

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To jog your memory, here’s kind of the concept for how this area will look/function by the end of the week. KIDDING. But hopefully by the end of the summer? I’m trying here, folks. The plan is to remove the little window and the patch where there used to be another window and throw some french doors on the back of this bad boy to make storage and whatnot easier and, hopefully, the whole construction a little more attractive. I have high hopes. Since the garage isn’t spectacularly weather-tight or insulated or anything like that, I feel fine with going ahead and using french doors that are really intended for indoors (probably these) which are way cheaper than exterior doors. They’ll be painted black too…I’m lazy with SketchUp so use your imagination to fill in that gaping hole.

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ANYWAY. A few weeks ago, I dove into painting this mo’fo’! As usual, I did not take my own advice and did not get any samples—I just went with my old faithful Benjamin Moore, Onyx! Then I went with my other new-ish old faithful and had it color-matched at Lowe’s to their Valspar Reserve line of exterior paint and primer in one, which is magic stuff, for real. I’ve used the interior paint in my dining and living rooms (still looks awesome, FYI) and the exterior on Bluestone Cottage, and it’s been great! It’s about $45/gallon, which I think is totally reasonable for the quality compared to other brands.

My pals at Lowe’s generously stepped in to save my scrawny ass and sponsor a bunch of backyard projects for me this summer (thanks, guys!), so the paint was on them this time around, but otherwise the 5-gallon bucket would have run me about $215. Having used the paint before I knew more or less what to expect out of it, but I was still pretty amazed by the coverage! I considered using a tinted primer for the first coat and then two coats of paint, but decided to see how the paint performed on its own, and I’m glad I did! Usually painting super dark over super light (or vice-versa) means 3-5 coats of paint, but the coverage just with the first coat was incredible! Two coats had things looking pretty great, and then it’s just been touch-ups here and there to really get in all the nooks and crannies.

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As you might be able to tell, I did not go crazy with prep. When I restore the clapboard on the house I’ll probably aim to strip it down to bare wood (or close to it) before repainting, but there was no way I was about to put that much work into the garage. Instead, I went around on my ladder and used a scraper to flake off anything that was chipping or peeling (onto tarps to keep any possible lead-containing chips off the ground), and then gave the whole thing a good cleaning. For that part, I used a garden sprayer filled with TSP-substitute (I bought the powdered version and just mixed it with warm water) to clean off any dirt/grime/whatever that could interfere with good adhesion. I used reusable microfiber cloths, which I find are best for trapping all the crap when you’re cleaning by hand. The cleaning is a little slow and boring but super worth it!

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EEEEP! Painting that first wall was SO EXCITING that it probably took me twice as long as it needed to because I kept going across the street to see how it looked. Which admittedly is kind of insane and terrible in process, but getting a glimpse of how it would look completed was totally thrilling.

This was the stage during which I received some rave reviews from the neighbors, which included “hey, it’s your house” and “it’s definitely very…you” and “you should have painted it rainbow.” Aw, shucks.

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I think I took this photo after the second coat but before touch-ups, but here we go! Almost done! I LOVE it. Almost. I almost love it. I will love it. This is going to be one of those things that is going to look a little kooky and wrong until more of this exterior plan starts to come together—removing that chain-link fence is going to be HUGE HUGE HUGE, and I desperately need to do something about the windows on the garage door. That tattered, water-stained fabric curtain is not helping this cause! I love the idea of replacing the glass with a textured wire-mesh-reinforced glass, but that stuff is spendy and I don’t want to throw a lot of cash at this thing right now, so that might be a “someday” dream. I’ve been thinking about reviving ye olde cornstarch trick and just pasting some fabric up on that, at least for now, so we’ll see.

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Sorry about the crappy iPhone pics (I’ll post better ones when the fence goes in!), but I’m super into the way the black-on-black looks on this garage. I used flat paint, which makes me kind of like the scale-y texture of the old clapboards? It has a lot of character but it’s sort of subtle. I’m into it.

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ANYWAY, I do want to give the garage a little bit of bling, ya know? I need to redo the garage’s electric anyway, so I’ve been thinking about adding a larger light on the street side (between the circular window and the garage door) and two smaller sconces on either side of the french doors on the back. Sounds good, right? The street that the garage is on is a very small cross-street that gets basically NO light at night (which might sound nice but is kind of a safety hazard), so I think adding something to the garage will help out the street a little bit too. I’ll probably put that one on a timer switch and the two sconces on a regular switch, and LED bulbs in everything to keep them from being energy-sucks. If the bulb is going to be exposed, I’m totally trying those new LED Edison-style bulbs, which are so hokey that I feel my life is incomplete without them.

So. You know me, all hot 4 warm metallics. A copper light would look so fly on the black, especially as it patinas over time, right? Above are some of my favorites I’ve been tossing around—bigger guys for the front, smaller sconces for the back. Hmmmm.

1. Progress Lighting Brookside Copper Outdoor Wall Light, Lowe’s, $192.

2. The Maritime Copper Gooseneck Light (raw copper), Barnlight Electric, $379.

3. Starboard with Shade Sconce—Mini (weathered zinc), Restoration Hardware, on sale for $190.

4. Harbor Sconce—Large (weathered zinc), Restoration Hardware, on sale for $110.

5. Carson Straight Arm Wall Mount, Rejuvenation, $695. (good god, though, look at that thing!)

6. Avalon Indoor/Outdoor Sconce (black), Pottery Barn, on sale for $559/set of two.

7. The Bowie Copper Wall Sconce, Barnlight Electric, $200

This post is in partnership with my friends at Lowe’sThank you for supporting my sponsors!

 

Mudroom Demo!

I hate my mudroom. Like lots.

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

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

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

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

before1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here is where I will mount my soapbox:

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

*dismounting*

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

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