All posts in: Kingston House

But First, Real Quick: A(nother) Laundry Room.

In my last post, I talked about renovating the back wall of my house to bring my window and door locations (fenestration, if you wanna get fancy!) into alignment with the stupid kitchen I designed, which just requires a few simple changes to every possible thing imaginable about my house.

You may have thought that getting this essential work completed(ish) would mean that NOW, FINALLY, AT LONG LAST, we are ready to dive into all things kitchen! Particularly because you know I’m liable to change my mind again and throw my life into total chaos for an indeterminate amount of time at the smallest inkling of a better idea.

Just kidding, I’M NOT DOING THAT BAD THING ANYMORE. I’M JUST TRYING TO GET MY LIFE BACK TOGETHER NOW OK? Moratorium on all ideas, please.

Also, I literally posted those kitchen plans a year ago dear god what is my life.

The problem is one that I gestured toward in my last post, which now we will really dive into: to make way for The Kitchen, I’ve had to make some sacrifices. Namely, my first kitchen renovation, my pantry renovation, having a sink on the main level of my house, my sanity, the concept of “free time,” and last but not least…my laundry room. That last one stung, because back in 2014 I’d already turned it from this:

To this:

I’ll give you a moment to get over the absurdity of this. I’m still working my way through it.

Here’s the thing, though, and I actually think it’s kind of normal: the longer you live in a house (and more secure you feel about staying there), plans change as new ideas emerge, potentials reveal themselves, and you develop a better handle on what it’s actually like to live there. I moved to this house from a 5th floor walk-up in Brooklyn where the closest laundry machines were 3 blocks away, so having a laundry facility in my house at all felt like an enormous luxury, and there was a whole little tiny room off the kitchen just for that very purpose! At the time, I don’t even remember considering relocating it to a different spot, so I renovated the laundry room.

I loved that laundry room. It was small but had almost everything I needed, and truth be told I did a really nice job on the moldings and the tile. The tiling job in the kitchen was passable, but the laundry room was perfect.

So naturally I destroyed it. More specifically, I enlisted Edwin and Edgar to handle the demo, because I couldn’t face it. Let’s try to justify what the fuck I just did with a few semi-valid points:

  1. Nice as the laundry room was, it was in the way of my kitchen plan and specifically in the way of my tiny bar sink plan and that just will not do.
  2. The laundry room was maxed out on space, for sure. A utility sink in the laundry room would be, like, next-level awesome, but there’d never be space for that or anything else, really. It woulda been nice to have a bit more room for other cleaning-related supplies as well.
  3. The laundry room was on the first floor at the very back of the house, meaning that 95% of laundry went from my bedroom on the second floor at the front of the house, down a narrow hall, down a flight of stairs, down another narrow hall, through the dining room, and finally through the kitchen and into the laundry room. HARDLY inconvenient, but not especially convenient, either. Not luxuriously convenient. I strive for LUXURY (clearly, as you can plainly see by my lifestyle of dumping dirty dishwasher into my backyard because I lack basic indoor plumbing).
  4. Back then, relocating laundry to the second floor would have sounded to me like an insane and low-key impossible feat of plumbing and ducting wizardry. I’ve learned through intervening experience that it’s not that bad.
  5. If all of this seems like a massive waste of money, let’s keep in mind a few things. First, that the most valuable thing about the laundry room was the machines themselves—the subway tile and moldings cost a few hundred dollars but mostly just a lot of my time. Second, that time wasn’t badly spent, because, after all, the room was in constant use (and looking snazzy!) for a few years and gave me lots of practice to do nice tile and moldings in the future, too.

If you remain unswayed, I simply cannot help you. I’ve done my best.

I decided, in order to make myself feel not-crazy, that the new laundry room couldn’t just be new but also had to be improved. Want a slop sink? Let’s get a slop sink in there. Want it on the same level as the bedrooms? Let’s make that happen. Want a little more space for other cleaning accoutrement? We got that too.

(I don’t know who “we” and “let’s” refers to, except it makes me feel less alone to phrase things this way.)

There was plenty of internal debate about the location of this new and improved laundry haven, but I’ll spare you the details. There aren’t that many options, let’s be real. And the best one was…my office. Which I had already renovated from this:

To this:

Take another moment to peel your palm off your face. I’ll do the same! We all ready? OK.

I had a wee little office upstairs that I stuck in a sweet bright room. It was nice and I enjoyed it.

Naturally, this too I destroyed. But less than the former-laundry-room—no reason to gut this space! As before, let’s dive into some of the reasoning that led me here:

  1. The office served as a nice “home base” for paperwork and mail and stuff, but rarely did I actually sit in there and do work. I tend to work at my laptop either on a chair or a sofa or the floor. When I do want to sit upright at a desk, I like a bigger work surface to spread out so I can make piles of papers and feel important and grown-up.
  2. When I renovated this room the first time, the goal was really the renovation itself: I thought that this was the room where I’d teach myself to scrape, stabilize, repair, and skim-coat plaster walls—a process I’d be repeating on almost every other wall of the house. This kind of came to pass, although this little room taught me that hiring out the final skim-coating is 100% worth it. In any case, I had to make the room into something, and it was too small to be a bedroom, so it became an office.
  3. I do remember, however, that the decision to make it an office was dictated partially by the fact that it was such a nice, bright little room and using it for something like a closet would have felt like a big shame! But remember, this was before so much other workmy bedroom still had three windows instead of four and felt perpetually off-balance. The den still had a crazy bump-out that felt like it might fall off the rest of the side of the house. The room above the kitchen still had an exterior door leading out to a 15-foot drop to the ground below. In context, the office was small but just seemed so nice in a way that the other rooms weren’t.

Guess what. It’s still a nice room, but now all the other rooms are nice, too! Or on their way. This is very exciting for me. So as much as dismantling another space I’d already “done” sucked, there’s a real victory in there…somewhere…of loosening up about this particular space because other rooms finally feel way nicer than this little glorified closet. It has a higher calling and that calling is washing my undies.

SO. It has been decided. Someday this will all be for the best. Now it has to happen. And it has to happen in a very specific way, because this cannot become a thing. NOT RIGHT NOW, I HAVE A KITCHEN TO ATTEND TO. This is what I need out of this laundry room renovation:

  1. Fast. Lightning fast.
  2. Very cheap. Do you know how much kitchens cost? Way too fucking much.
  3. Functional. I want/need all the major players (sink, washer, and dryer) in place, but I can worry some other time  about improving it further. I’ve considered all sorts of plans that involve tiling the floor and/or the walls, and putting in a really amazing cool sink, and building in cabinetry and other storage, and…and…and…but that’s how this becomes a thing which I have already said cannot happen right now. Stop pressuring me! Someday perhaps I will circle back and do this kind of stuff when I can dedicate the resources to it.
  4. Cute—enough. This is primarily because I do not trust myself around my own things that I do not consider attractive. If something looks nice and put-together, I’ll be less inclined to treat it badly. This is ridiculous, I recognize, but it’s also true and there’s no use in fighting it.

While the walls and floor were still in good shape (well, nothing a fresh coat of paint couldn’t fix) from my previous renovation work, there was a major obstacle: the chimney. This chimney seemed to be causing structural damage to my roof, so it was demolished below the roofline when the roof was redone back in 2013. Some time later, I demolished it further down to the attic floor. And now, I had a choice to make: leave it or demolish it all the way down to the basement floor—three stories of chimney.

For some reason, I wrestled with this decision FOR. EVER. The chimney is totally defunct. It protrudes into the room and sits where, ideally, the dryer goes. The only way to fit two machines and a utility sink into this room is for the chimney to go, and I really wanted that goddamn sink. AND YET…I hate ripping original stuff out (even if it sometimes seems like I do with wild abandon, I really try not to!), and what if someday I wanted to expose the brick?? Or use the chimney to vent…something? Or have it rebuilt from the attic floor up? This literally kept me up at night.

Hold up. I have nothing to vent. I have no reason to rebuild the chimney from the attic floor, and certainly not the money. I’m not even into exposing brick chimneys like this—I think 99% of the time it looks stupid. HOW’S THAT FOR A HOT TAKE. Come at me.

Demolishing the chimney had the enormous added advantage of being able to use the remaining void as a chase for all the plumbing and electrical, without losing any space in the small dining room closet below. I realize you’d have to be pretty intimately familiar with the layout of my house for this to make any sense, so don’t worry about it.

But also…ugh. That’s so many bricks to haul out of the house. It sounded like the worst possible way to spend a weekend, so instead Edwin and Edgar and I did it together one morning during that week we were working on the back of the house. It wasn’t so bad with three people. Now the chimney is in a pile in the backyard, where I’ll have to sort through it this spring to salvage what I can and dispose of the rest. That’ll be a terrible time. Let’s not think about it yet.

Instead, let’s think about all the laundry I’m going to do in this room! Let’s think about all the ways I’m going to use that SINK!

Literally, this is the plan. Hey—there’s a plant OK?! I made the mood board a) so I’d have a way to end this post and b) to drive home the point that WE ARE NOT GETTING CARRIED AWAY HERE. I can dream really big but I’m forcing myself to dream small. See that rug? Discontinued from IKEA and I already own it. See that sink? It’s plastic and $95 at Lowes with a $23 faucet. THAT is the vibe. Functional and good enough with as few new purchases as possible.

I’m gonna rock that plastic tub sink, just you wait.

So I Re-Did the Back of the House (Again).

Here is a shocking bit of information that you have likely already deduced if you have read this blog for any amount of time: I’ve been chasing my tail a bit with my own house renovation. I’m not proud. A couple of years ago, I bit off more than I could chew. I should have known better. I did it anyway. Unsurprisingly, it bit me in the ass.

Let’s talk about it.

I bought a house with an old and truly yucky kitchen. The kitchen was the very first thing I tackled, and ya know? That was a good renovation. The improvements were inexpensive but impactful (new paint, a little subway tile, and VCT floors for the win!), and the kitchen worked fairly well.

It wasn’t the dream kitchen but it was a fine, serviceable space, and one that could have easily lasted several more years. The kitchen took kind of a beating as other renovations unfolded throughout the house, but I’d renovated it with that in mind! It would all get torn out someday but, I figured, when everything else had been done, by which time this kitchen would certainly be falling apart.

Fast forward less than two years, and I found myself single. One night, I also found myself a little drunk (related: pls excuse the quality of these photos). With the contents of my kitchen cabinets now significantly slimmed down as a result of the break-up, I was suddenly overcome with the urge to slim down the cabinets themselves. I didn’t NEED all these cabinets! And if I just took down the upper cabinets, then I could also just rip out the enormous soffits above them, and then my kitchen would be brighter and more open and happier and maybe I’d put up a nice shelf or just a cool piece of art and HOW GREAT WOULD THIS BE?!?!

Don’t drink and demo. Or do, but with supervision so you don’t do anything stupid. Like meeeeeeeeeee.

So I took down the uppers and the soffits. Briefly this felt good.

I had to re-route the electrical for the little over-the-sink light, and drywall the area that had been behind the soffit because the plaster was too far-gone. I just had to do some more patching, sanding, repaint a couple walls and the kitchen would be good as new!

I really should have taken a bath or something that night. I never did patch and sand and repaint. Instead, a few months later I seized the remainder of summer and demolished the rickety old addition off the back of the house.

Boy was that exciting.

This, in turn, prompted replacing the window and vestigial fire escape exit door in the second floor room above the kitchen and insulating and re-siding the back of the house—it was a huge job and one that I wasn’t totally ready for. One of the casualties ended up being the kitchen window, a cute casement that got split up into two casements for the second floor, like so:

So I ripped the kitchen window out, put in a “temporary” vinyl window, still thinking I’d patch up the kitchen and continue to use it for another 5-10 years and this would be good enough for now.

I never did patch up the kitchen. The wall surrounding the new window just remained open to the studs and insulation for the next several months. Elegant!

Then I designed and built an entire house (I. will. show. it. to. you. I. swear.), and at the tail end of that little gig, I circled back to my own. I did this with great excitement because I hadn’t been able to put any real work into my own house for a while, so naturally I took on the biggest and most involved project this house will ever see under my care: the enormous restoration of the side of the house.

This saw the removal of two more additions and the installation of five(!) new windows—two of them in the kitchen, but a different wall than the one from the year before. Round and round we go.

In order to install these new windows, we first had to frame in the openings for them. We probably could have gone about this a couple of more intelligent ways, but instead at that point it just felt like…fuck it. Just gut it. So that’s what we did, and suddenly my kitchen and pantry were reduced to a few remaining cabinets and a sink. Which I then also removed because it felt like they were in the way of completing the next steps, which I was sure I’d be addressing imminently.

So dumbbbbbbbbb, omg Daniel.

But at least I had two windows where I needed them to be…you know, for the kitchen that still has not manifested.

Before I could really even address the kitchen, I had to actually wrap up that whole side-of-the-house-restoration project on the exterior before winter hit. I ran out of time and didn’t totally finish, and shamefully still haven’t, but I finished enough that things have been fine.

I ran out of something else around that time too, though! The money in my bank account! That exterior project was more involved and costly than I’d given it credit for, and it cleaned. me. OUT.

THIS, my friends, was a bit over a year ago, and it was truly a low point. The house was a wreck. What was left of the kitchen (appliances, some cabinetry) had overtaken the dining room. The living room was mostly just exceptionally dirty from the renovations but literally felt unsalvageable at the time, like it might after a flood. The bedroom was missing a wall. The den was missing a wall and a ceiling. I hadn’t managed to get a plumber to come cap a couple of radiator lines and get the boiler going, so I didn’t have a real heat system that winter. I couldn’t figure out how to get hot water running either (turns out the motherboard of the boiler had died!) so I took frigid showers or sponge baths with water from the electric kettle, since I no longer had a stove to heat it. This went on for months.

Guys, it was fucking horrible. In the summer, cold showers and doing my dishes on the front porch had felt kind of quaint and folksy, but now it just felt like I could not be more of a disappointment to myself and to this house. And it was my fault. Decisions I had made myself had led me here. To Grey Gardens, my new home.

We ain’t done.

I guess it was kind of OK to not have the cash to do the kitchen a year ago, in part because there were plenty of low-cost projects to keep me occupied, like the bedroom and the den. You can do a lot with joint compound and paint between bigger projects, so I just focused on that kind of stuff. Besides, there was another huge roadblock in front of really even getting the kitchen renovation started, aside from the money part: re-doing that back wall…again. Already. The one that I already did two years prior, when I thought I wouldn’t have to think about it again for a decade or so. The kitchen design kind of hinged (pun def intended) on moving the location of the exterior door, and replacing the temporary vinyl window, so the chimney could be flanked by two matching windows to the new ones on the other elevation.

I’d hoped, I think, that this would somehow just happen. Like I’d wake up and find windows and doors where my computer renderings had placed them, and then I could move ahead into the rough-ins and the finishing work!

Sadly this did not come to pass. So at the tail end of this past summer, with the goal of being able to really work on the kitchen this winter, I bit the bullet and Edwin and Edgar and I took a week and did it (followed by a few weeks of me working alone every evening/weekend…). I had a better idea of what I was getting into, so it wasn’t as bad as the first time around, and I had a bit more help. So we took out the door and the vinyl window.

Then we removed the siding from the first floor (again) because it seemed a bit easier than all the patching that would have been required otherwise.

All of this pretty much sucked, by the way.

Once that kitchen wall was framed and the windows installed, we moved on to putting the wall back together.

One thing I never loved about the first revamp of this wall was that I hadn’t taken the opportunity to expand the corner boards. The original corner boards are 4″ on this house, which feels kind of dinky below such a substantial cornice and eaves returns, so we popped off the corner boards and cut another 4″ or so off the ends of the remaining clapboard with a circular saw. Inside the house, we added new nailers so the new ends of the clapboard would be affixed to something stable. The new corner boards are 7.5″ wide on this back kitchen addition, and 11.5″ on earlier parts of the structure. It’s a small thing that makes a big difference! And doesn’t really complicate anything if you’re doing all this work anyway.

Boom! Someday I’ll trim out the tops of the corner boards to really finish it off, but for now they look fine.

MOVING. RIGHT. ALONG! Next came the new exterior door location and the windows for the planned pantry space and the first floor powder room. Just rebuilding every goddamn wall. The new door is off-center to accommodate cabinetry in that room, and I think an exterior wall sconce to the right of the doorway will be a welcome addition and balance things out.

By the way, yeah—that new door is in what was my laundry room. Also gutted to make space for this big ambitious kitchen plan. In case you thought things couldn’t get worse! They got worse. They’re getting better again, though!

I swear all of this is in the service of someday being able to live a normal life in this house and NOT just destroying everything on a biannual basis.

That little crooked window on the left was the laundry room window. That little skinny window on the right was the first floor bathroom window. They were a funny weirdly proportioned pair, and now they are history. Down came the vinyl, down came the clapboard, out came the brick nogging and old windows, and in went some new framing and new insulation and sheathing and windows.

This is definitely the most awkward (and, thankfully, least visible!) elevation of the house, and I think it’s just always going to be something less than gorgeous. I hemmed and hawed a lot on how to make this window arrangement feel natural inside and outside the house, but ultimately the architecture is just weird—it’s always going to look like an addition, and that’s OK! I love to tear off additions, but sometimes you need them. Like, say, when they contain the only bathrooms!

So with these new windows, I aimed to make it look like a slightly more elegantly planned addition than before, like maybe a porch that was enclosed at some point. The windows themselves are the same proportion as most of the other windows on the house, but smaller (larger than what was there, though!), and the top of the windows align with the top of the newly installed adjacent back door. I also chose 2-over-2 windows, which I kinda pulled out of my ass because it just felt right and a 6-over-6 in that size is a bit much with all that lite division.

I can kinda dig hanging something between them and planting some fabulous climbing rose bush or something? That feels like a very distant goal so we have time to brainstorm.

Annnnnnnd, this is as far as I got out there! Clearly there are various things that still need doing, but all the big stuff is done. A little odd, but I’m pleased with it!

Do you like my little deck? It’s fancy. I built it in an afternoon out of scrap wood. The post rests on a piece of bluestone from the yard. Obviously I want to do something better but I had to get rid of that big drop ASAP and “something better” is not in the existing time or money budgets.

So to review, in the space of 4-ish years, we have now gone from this:

to this:

to this:

to this:

to this:

to this:

Clearly there is some finish work to return to in the spring (we don’t need to start listing it, do we?), but HEY! I know I seem crazy. My neighbors would probably concur on this. But NOW the kitchen/pantry/half-bath work can continue and—good lord willing and the creek don’t rise—I should never have to redo this again for as long as I am alive and kicking.

Let us pray.

Small Projects: Huge Fabulous Antique Armoire Edition

You know what I have to learn and then re-learn and re-learn over and over again? The joy of a small project. That’s what.

Quick. Immediately satisfying. Simple. Cheap. Those kinds of projects. I love them! Specifically, I love to over-think them, then get quickly overwhelmed by them, and then abandon them before I’ve even begun because I haven’t mentally worked out all the kinks. See? What’s not to enjoy?

This used to be easier before I bought my house. The whole house is one enormous project, composed of many different big, expensive, time-consuming, difficult projects. This will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future, which is OK. I bought the thing. I asked for it! I even had some notion of what I was getting into, and I did it anyway. But that doesn’t mean it’s not at times exhausting and frustrating, I think in part because you end up spending so much time and money and energy on things that at least feel much more in service to the house than to yourself living in the house. Something like that?

To illustrate, let’s consider my windows. As with the rest of the house, they are very old. All of them need work, and the work is time-consuming and a pain in the ass, and when it’s all over…there’s a window. The same window that there once was, just in better condition and hopefully better prepared to stay in one piece for the next century. It still goes up and down as before, and still provides light as before. Congrats, house! You have a restored window. Boy do I feel…like I just spent a ton of effort on something that has not made a notable difference in how I live in this house. Awesome, let’s do it 36 more times, and we’ll spread it out over many years to prolong the fun!

My house has a lot of windows, literally and figuratively. It’s part of what I love about it. It’s part of what I hate about it.

SO ANYWAY, as much as I love my home, sometimes part of me might just long for the days when I lived in places owned by other people. Then, my projects were so much more about making myself more comfy and satisfied in my living space—which is, actually, fun and exciting and ultimately the goal of this whole entire endeavor, I recognize. But for me, those smaller projects will never feel like a priority when compared to the mountain of house-things I should be working on at any given time, so I have to be extra-conscious to make time for them every now and then. Turns out enjoying living in your house instead of just working on it all the time can, actually, make the work feel more worthwhile. Huh. It’s almost like…enjoyment…feels good? And…working on something you enjoy is…fun? Big revelations here today, folks.

So let’s think back to the summer, when I bought this big armoire and then we never spoke of it again.

Here’s what I did. I bought the big thing. Then I brought it home. Then I moved all my clothes out of the chest of drawers that had been occupying that wall, put them in a smaller set of drawers, and crammed that smaller set of drawers into my closet and moved the other one to another room to collect dust. Then I moved the big thing into place, wiped it off, took a couple pictures of it for my internet friends, and…

There is no “and” because that’s the whole story. It sat empty for the next six months while I occasionally thought about all these elaborate things I would do to build out the interior without compromising the integrity of the piece (it is, after all, an antique and I don’t want to fuck it up!). I wanted it to hold a TV, but also have storage for…something…which might involve drawers and cubbies and shelves and maybe some fancy twee labels. I’d have to construct a thing out of plywood to the exact dimensions of the interior so that it could nestle right inside, which obviously I’d have to plan, build, dry fit, remove, patch, paint, install, secure…it would have to be attractive and sturdy and hold all the things I needed it to, once I figured out what those things were, which really was the first project…

Enough. End the madness. The goal was not to have an enormous empty armoire in my room indefinitely, no matter how good-looking it is. The goal was to bring this thing into my life and, in turn, see my life improved by its presence. Sometimes (all the time) I need to stop and really think about how to simplify something, because my impulse is often to over-complicate it to the point that it becomes some big thing when all I really wanted was a goddamn TV in my bedroom because TV is my favorite thing and bed is my favorite place and the two in combination just feels so right.

Here is what I did. Try to keep up.

I went to Lowe’s and bought four of these little super-simple shelving verticals. Next to them, there are little packs of shelving clips, so I bought one of those. Then I went to a different aisle and picked up 3 pine stair treads, because they were long enough, a full inch thick, and had a nice bullnose edge.

You’ve seen this kind of shelving, btw. I didn’t, like, discover anything. They’re in every old person’s house in America. For a long time I’ve considered them kind of flimsy and crappy and, I don’t know, something everyone in the 1960s decided was a good idea, like cigarettes.

You know what? IT WAS A GOOD IDEA. Not cigarettes, the other thing. I submit that this shelving is actually rather beautifully designed in its simplicity of use and install, and clearly stands the test of time given how many I have un-installed from closets and stuff over the years. Ain’t a damn thing wrong with it.

(I could have probably scrounged up the wood for the shelves from the basement or the garage, but then again maybe I couldn’t have, and I’d have to break out the router for the bullnose edge, and there is something nice about the shelves all matching and not being some weird cobbled-together solution to save myself $30, and omg why am I even still thinking about this IT DOES NOT MATTER.)

Then I went home and I did something else. I installed all that shit. It took maybe an hour. I wiped down the inside of the armoire. I took out the existing clothing rod. I screwed in the verticals, like three screws per strip because the side panels are thin and flimsy so you can only screw into the thicker stiles and rails. I snapped in the clips. I cut my shelves to size (which, FYI, they would have done at the store for me if I asked/had the patience to find an employee). I drilled a hole in the back for cords to come through because we can only be so precious about stuff and nobody will ever see it.

Want to know something kind of funny? When I went to install the shelving tracks, there were already little holes on the inside of the cabinet that lined up perfectly with my screw holes! Because somebody ALREADY FIGURED THIS OUT. And screwed into the armoire, and not only did I buy it despite its compromised-by-modern-conveniences condition, it took me 6 months to notice and I don’t care even a little bit about it and anyone who’s worth a damn in the future won’t either, because it so doesn’t matter.

I’m getting worked up.

I put the shelves in. They fit.

Then I put the TV in. It’s a 40″ Insignia. It came from Best Buy. It was $200. It’s not the most amazing TV but it’s 100% sufficient and fuck if I’m gonna repack it and take it back to the store because it’s not amazing. It’s FINE and that is the attitude I’m trying to insert more into my life. IT’S. FINE. A great many things are fine being just fine. My mediocre TV is one of those things.

After the TV went in, I put in linens. I love linens. I do. I love sheets and blankets and duvet covers and seeing them neatly stacked in here makes me feel all kinds of domestic and adult about my shit. It’s that subtle difference between hoarding and collecting. Collectors store their shit well. Put it on a t-shirt.

The next day, high on my victory, I felt motivated to make the few little repairs that this piece needed. There were a few little pieces of trim that had broken off but been thoughtfully stored away in that bottom drawer, so I broke out the wood glue and the brad nailer and put them back.

I replaced the knobs on the drawer—one had snapped off in transit, and I was holding out until I found the perfect set of replacements (the original style of knob isn’t especially hard to find, except of course when you’re looking for them), but decided on this day to just replace them with the next best thing I had around. Amazingly, now I can use the drawer AND the gorgeous-even-though-they-aren’t-really-correct knobs look cute and who cares if I never replace them.

Then I wiped down the whole thing with the dregs of a can of Restore-a-Finish, which ran out before I got to the least-visible side and this, too, does not matter.

Someday I’ll have a little more Restore-a-Finish, and a couple of hours to stain and poly the shelves, and maybe the right set of knobs or even a better TV. But I’m kind of not worried about it.

Otherwise, I guess some other things have changed since last time I took photos of the bedroom? Nothing major. I move stuff around a lot. But I finally got a queen mattress for my queen bed! After spending a ton of time researching and comparing all the newfangled mattress companies, I had a nice night’s sleep at an Airbnb and found the mattress they were using for $200 on Amazon. It’s cheap and it’s firm. You can fill in that joke.

The big black and white art used to hang in the house I grew up in! It’s actually 1/2 of a diptych, but I only have a couple of walls big enough to accommodate the whole thing so in the meantime I just hung up one side here. Some people love it and some people hate it and that makes me sort of happy. It’s signed “Reizner 1975.” This is the wall I’d like to eventually add a mantel back to, since it appears one was removed at some point.

I dunno, I moved my lounge chair to another room and moved in my cutie little rocker. Nobody sits in bedroom chairs; they exist exclusively to collect laundry and fill awkward corners.

Mekko is still the cutest. Naked man is still naked.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love you, towering Eastlake armoire. Welcome home.

Spring Garden, 2017!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Back to Top