Cooking Without A Kitchen!

As we already know, my kitchen for the past nearly two years has been a sorry gutted pit of despair. Let’s not dwell on it. If you didn’t already know, here’s a basic rundown. Life comes at you fast sometimes.

While the period between gutting the old kitchen and finishing the new one might be JUST A TAD longer than what a more normal renovation might demand, most kitchen renovations do result in a space that’s temporarily unusable. The classic response to this is often some combination of microwaveable meals and take-out, the latter of which I am ALL ABOUT except for the part where it gets insanely expensive and super unhealthy and, honestly, pickings are slim around these parts. Additionally, I actually do like to cook my own food, especially to wind down a bit at the end of the day!

SO. If you are anything like me, and you might be taking on a kitchen renovation, HEED MY WORDS: give yourself the gift of setting up something efficient and functional in the meantime. It can be tempting to just throw yourself 300% into the renovation while your life disintegrates into squalor around you, but you actually don’t have to make your house a living hell of dysfunction as punishment for trying to make it better long-term. Don’t be a martyr. It’s taken me…a while to learn this.

For me, the most painless way to do this was to set up my dining room as a temporary kitchen. And honestly? It’s not the worst kitchen I’ve ever had!

I turned the dining table the other direction to free up a little space for that honker of a fridge next to the hutch. That big butcher block is my makeshift countertop, and the cookie jar thing holds food scraps for compost. I know they sell containers for this very purpose, but I find that it needs to be emptied because it’s full long before it ever starts to stink, so I like my vintage crock thing.

I gotta hand it to that fridge, by the way—it came from my friend Anna‘s old kitchen and is at least a decade old and aside from a few dents on the door (don’t ask), might as well be brand new. All LG appliances (including televisions!) I’ve ever had have been wonderful. Sometimes I get a little weepy over how great my LG washer and dryer are. On one hand I kind of hope the fridge dies because having a built-in ice-maker would be HEAVEN but at the same time, a new fridge is not an expense I need to incur at this moment. Anyway. Carry on, fridge. A+ work.

The hutch now holds all my everyday dishes, glasses, mugs, mixing bowls, colanders, measuring cups, etc., as well as pantry items! That thing can store so much shit. It’s not the most beautiful display I’ve ever put together, but it’s organized and efficient and works! Good enough!

Speaking of unattractive but organized and efficient displays, here’s what’s happening on the other wall! You might recognize the dresser from my old Brooklyn apartment, but I think it was originally intended to be a server. Those top two drawers are the perfect depth for storing flatware and various cooking utensils like peelers and pastry brushes and measuring spoons and stuff like that. The other drawers hold saran/foil/plastic bags, tupperware, pots, pans, oven mitts, tea towels—I basically have a whole slimmed-down kitchen in there! Those plastic drawers next to it could probably be eliminated, but do hold a few things, and mostly provide a pedestal for the trash so that my adorable and naughty dog doesn’t get into it. That girl is incorrigible.

I have to pause for a second to gush over these little induction cooktops because I LOVE THEM SO MUCH. Induction is pretty crazy/amazing technology that I won’t claim to totally understand, but essentially it turns your pot/pan into the heating element, rather than heating the pot with an electric coil or a gas flame. It’s super efficient and precise, and because the cooktop itself doesn’t heat up (although it DOES get hot just from the residual heat of the pan during cooking), the cooktops are incredibly easy to clean—WAY easier than an electric glass cooktop. After a bit of searching around, I bought two of these single-burner cooktops by Waring for just $60 a pop! They make a double-wide version too, but I’m glad I bought these because they can stack and store away easily. For over double the cost, you can buy one with the Cuisinart brand name on it, but it’s literally exactly the same product so don’t do that.

Anyway. I love my little hot plates a lot. The plan for the kitchen is a gas range, but I can totally see myself continuing to use these now and then if I just need to boil some spaghetti or fry an egg or just keep something warm on the lowest setting. Endless opportunities!

Oh also! That leather skillet grip was a Christmas gift from bae and it’s perfect. It was made by locally owned and operated Jay Teske Leather Co.. And now that I’m looking at their website, I want to order about 5 other things…so much nice stuff, gah! I love the way natural leather patinas over time and expect to have it forever. I love that there are so many artists and makers producing stuff like this right out of Kingston. And at $24, I mean, such a good gift idea.

Oh also, also! The marble piece is this pastry slab from Crate & Barrel, which amazingly is still the same $50 as it was when I bought it several years ago. Once I tried to find a less expensive alternative, but this one’s such a great value for the size that I couldn’t beat it.

On top of the microwave (also a hand-me-down from Anna—thanks, pal!) are a few essentials within easy reach! I don’t know what that little teeny tripod bowl is for, but I use it to hold Malden Salt flakes which in my experience make all food taste better. A few cork trivets, paper towels, salt and pepper mills, and I decant olive oil in that little cork-lidded container which is supposed to be a creamer.

Side note: just realized the creamer was designed by Kaj Franck, who also designed my mushroom bowl from my last post!

Side-side-note: who knew BB&B sold iittala?! That little stack of 20% off coupons just got a whole lot more valuable.

In terms of actually cooking instead of just talking about cooking…I have a hard time getting to the grocery store regularly while in the midst of big house projects, and Sun Basket has been a GODSEND. I know, all you wanted today was to read another blogger review a meal delivery service. BUT I have no affiliation whatsoever with them, I just heard about them a few months ago on a podcast about cults like any other normal person and gave it a shot.

It’s been several years since I used a meal kit delivery service (Max and I used to get Blue Apron—also no affiliation), so I’m not sure how far the others have advanced, but Sun Basket is the best as far as I’m concerned. The food is REALLY good, produce is fresh, portions are generous, and I’m always kind of stunned when I look at the calorie counts—each meal is usually somewhere around 500-600 calories but you’d never know and it does not feel at all like diet food. Every week, they put out a menu with 18(!) different meals to choose from, of which you can either pick your selections or let Sun Basket do the work for you by specifying a meal plan. The meal plan thing is AMAZING—there are 8 options like Paleo, Vegetarian, Vegan, Pescatarian…and gluten-free! This is a big deal for me. Bae needs to be gluten-free, so consequently I end up being mostly gluten-free, and figuring out what to cook is hard enough already without throwing dietary restrictions into the mix. Sun Basket’s gluten-free meals have made that transition a billion times easier and unquestionably tastier. You can also skip as many weeks of delivery as you want, get 2, 3, or 4 recipes each week that can feed either 2 or 4 people! I have mine set up for three recipes a week for two people ($78), but it’s easy to bump up to 4 recipes or down to 2 if the spirit moves me. Each delivery comes with a little recipe book containing all the recipes from that week, so you can reconstruct and cook ones that you didn’t even order to try out. They’re actually good enough that you want to do that, for real!

The cooking part is nice, by the way. It’s never too complicated, but is involved enough that you really feel like you’ve made something instead of just tossing some pre-measured stuff together. Typically recipes will require 1 or 2 pots/pans and rarely do they call for the use of an oven, which is convenient because I don’t have one. I do have a lil bitty toaster oven, though, and that’s usually fine for whatever the recipe’s asking me to do. It really just works out well all around!

ALSO JUST SAYING: if you were considering trying out Sun Basket, now is a good time because they’re running a promo for $40 off your first order! And if you follow this link to place your order, I’ll get a $40 credit too, which I would not complain about.

Try Sun Basket. Feed me. Win-win.

Annnndddd while I’m just recommending ways to spend your money left and right, I just got a bottle of this stuff and it’s SO GOOD. Expensive and SO GOOD. I’m gonna have to experiment with trying to make my own because I cannot afford for this to be a habit, but I’ve never used something that cleans and protects a wood countertop in one fell swoop, and I just want to smear it all over every wood product I own. Liquid. Motherfucking. GOLD.

So there it is! The irony of gutting a pretty decent kitchen with the goal of building a better kitchen and then ending up living with this for two years isn’t lost on me. But I do feel like this “kitchen” has actually taught me a lot about what I actually need rather than simply want, and has really forced me to evaluate the utility of each and every kitchen item I own—it’s amazing how much extraneous stuff we can justify when we have the space for it. Also, just IMAGINE how luxurious my expanses of countertop will feel after becoming so accustomed to this set-up. I won’t even know what to do with it all.

The ounce of shame I have left will not allow me to show the dishwasher strapped to a stud in the kitchen to keep it from tipping over and draining into a five gallon bucket that I dump in the backyard because the kitchen sink still isn’t plumbed, so I’ll just let your imagination run wild with how fancy that is. Related: what the hell is wrong with all plumbers? That’s not a question that needs an answer, just one that I ponder constantly. LET ME GIVE YOU MONEY TO DO THE THING THAT YOU DO TO MAKE MONEY. PLEASE.

Anyone ever plumbed a kitchen sink? Asking for a friend.

MINE: Bowls n’ Scales

You know what used to be fun? Telling the internet about random stuff I bought. I like stuff. I like the internet. I buy stuff all the time. I’m on the internet all the time. It’s really a natural pairing. Why aren’t we doing this more?

This past weekend I went down to D.C. to visit my parents for Passover. Passover is what Jews were up to while y’all looked for colorful eggs left by a grown adult in a rabbit’s costume to celebrate that time 2,000 years ago when God’s human son was brutally murdered and then reemerged zombie-style a few days later, or something along those lines. I’m fuzzy on the details. Human beings are so bonkers.

SPEAKING OF BONKERS (swerving back into my lane now, forgive me the religion lesson), I drove out to Fredericksburg, Virginia to watch my older, fitter brother play in an Ultimate Frisbee tournament, which was awesome? My tolerance for sports is probably best described as sub-zero, but Ultimate Frisbee somehow makes a lot of sense to me. If I had any athletic ability whatsoever, I’d totally want to join the ranks. Most of the players rock this elusive combo of having the chiseled body of an athlete but the goofy attitude of a stoner hippie, and I feel like you just don’t find that in baseball. Five stars.

On the way home, I stopped at an antique store. Why? Because I passed it on the road. NEED I ANY MORE JUSTIFICATION? GOOD. DIDN’T THINK SO.

I have a bowl problem. I know I have a bowl problem. Once I was with someone who wanted to put a moratorium on bowl purchases, and it might be telling that I’m no longer with that person but still have an impressive surplus of bowls. I JUST LOVE BOWLS. LOVING ME MEANS LOVING ALL OF ME MY BOWLS.

For several years now I have been accumulating antique yellowware bowls. I do not have a reason other than that I think they’re beautiful! Someday, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, I’ll have an actual place to display this collection. For now I just hoard them. It’s totally healthy and fine.

As I’ve matured into the stable adult with good judgment you see before you today, I’ve learned that collections of all kinds can get totally out of hand unless you impose some real boundaries and criteria. One of the easiest rules for me to follow is simply to not hunt for it—I don’t search specifically for it and never look online. Either I come across it while out and about or I don’t. I try to keep it fairly limited to white or blue striping (very often you see brown stripes which I’m not as into), and it has to be legit old, not vintage reproduction. I also impose a price limit of $30, because pricing is ALL over the map. I think yellowware got really popular in the 90s and early 2000s, maybe due to Queen Martha’s famous affinity for it. Now it seems to have fallen sufficiently out of fashion, so consequently sometimes it’s priced as though the trend never died and sometimes it’s super cheap.

With vintage/antique ceramics, you want to be smart because the glazes can contain lead, so you probably don’t want to…I don’t know, serve soup in something like this. Honestly you should just give it to me. I’ll take that hazard right off your hands. It’s safer for everyone that way.

Anyway. $25 antique yellowware bowl, hello welcome home. Go join your friends and I’ll call you when there’s a kitchen.

OH WHOOPS I BOUGHT ANOTHER BOWL DARN IT! Bowls, bowls, all day long—bowls! But this is a special bowl!!!

(They’re all special bowls.)

THIS bowl is enameled steel, and it’s Finnish, and it’s from the 1960s, and it has mushrooms all over it! I’ve long adored this particular pattern, which was designed by Esteri Tomula. The bowl itself (and the whole coordinating line of dishware that might have joined it at one time) was designed by Kaj Franck and produced by Finel. They’re highly collectable and I can’t remember ever seeing one just hanging out in the wild! It was $40, which YES is a tad steep for a bowl I do not need but merely want desperately, but a quick online search confirmed that these typically go for 2-3 times that, so it’s a Good Investment. For what, I do not know. That’s not important.

You know what else is not important? That these little scales ever serve a function in my life, other than looking cool. I bet they did at one time for somebody. Now they’re just so cute and dangly and patina’d and look very homemade and for $10…I mean…

I’m a Libra. That’s the scales, right? How’s that? It’s astrology’s fault.

Also, there’s a good enough chance that they’ll look s’cute in my kitchen or pantry that I just did it.

Also I lack a lot of self-control.

8 Years!

Let’s just make this clear right off the bat: I’m not stopping this blog train! I’ve noticed that every time I open a blog post by talking about blogging, or life, or anything not explicitly house-related, inevitably a contingent of readers thinks I am trying to signal the end times. Not so! Relax! I am, however, immensely flattered and still amazed that anyone would find such an announcement even mildly consequential or distressing. But that’s not what’s happening so don’t work yourself up! It’s only Tuesday! We have the whole week for that! Pacing is key!

Here’s what is happening: Sunday marked EIGHT YEARS since I published the first post on Manhattan Nest. I think that’s almost a century in Internet-time? What a crazy thing.

Eight years is a long time, I think, for most people to stick with any one thing. Which isn’t to overstate the longevity here—I mean, this morning I fell down an Instagram rabbit-hole and discovered that Heidi and Spencer have now been married for almost NINE years, and that shit knocked me right back down to size. But still, 8 years is something. Can we just IMAGINE for a second if I had applied the same level of long-term commitment to, say, physical fitness? Who even KNOWS the heights of hotness I could have reached! I certainly don’t. But it’s sort of fun to think about.

It feels a little funny/wrong/weird/indulgent (maybe because it isssss!) bringing up this 8-year milestone at all, primarily because of all the things this blog is not. You’d think after this much time, I might have figured a lot of stuff out about blogging, or at least about my own blog, but the truth is…nope, not really. Stuff like…is there a goal here with this thing that I’m doing? Why am I doing this? How does it fit into my life?

You know that feeling that everything we do ought to be undertaken with a specific goal in mind? Yes hello. You get the degree to get the better job. You practice the sport so you can win the game. You stitch this piece of fabric to that piece because all the small efforts will add up to one hawt caftan, or whatever. But what if you don’t know if you’re sewing a caftan or a quilt or a circus tent or a throw pillow? What if you just kind of like the activity of it? That can feel a little aimless, because it is. And not very worthwhile, sometimes.

I’ve been lucky to meet and know a lot of bloggers over the years, and have always felt super out of place when a conversation shifts to posting schedules or strategies to grow follower counts or subscribers or newsletters or video content or sponsorship deals with the kind of budgets that have definitely never come anywhere near my inbox.* In 8 years, I’ve never been successful at sticking to a posting schedule for any significant amount of time. I’ve stepped away from it all for weeks or occasionally months when other stuff took over my life. I’ve never done any of the smart things bloggers do to organically grow traffic and increase shares and gain larger followings. I’ve never pitched myself to a brand. I’ve never created goals for blog-derived income or really any blog-related goals, period. Yet, 8 years. Here we are.

*For the record, pretty much all blog people I’ve ever met IRL are really cool and fun and smart and mostly talk about things other than blogging.

For a long time, I felt like I was doing this whole blog thing very wrong. Actually, not even a long time—I mean pretty much the entire time. Like I accidentally created this thing that had potential to be…something…and I never got my shit together to really figure out what that thing was. I’ve never been able to figure out if this is job, or not a job, or kind of a job but totally different than my actual job, or an extension of my actual job, or what. It’s personal, but how personal? It’s professional, but how professional? Sure, I think I should be entitled to make some money off of it, but how much money? And how? And at what cost? How much time is too much time to spend on something that isn’t how I make a living, but contributes to it? Could I make it a job if I really dove into it with everything I had? Would I even want that if it was an option? Questions like this are shockingly easy to avoid thinking too much about, but I think the consequence is creating an abyss of not-knowing-ness. Without the clarity of a direction, often you don’t really know what to do. I guess you can just stop, but if it feels good…what’s the harm in continuing? For eight years.

I don’t have an answer but maybe that’s because I’ve been considering the wrong question. Maybe it doesn’t have to matter all the time what something should be, because how often in life are we honestly allowed to just not really know? Through what other mechanism can I have fun shooting the shit about stuff in my life and get paid even a little bit for it? And interact with a bunch of awesome people who want to talk about it? And make some legit friends along the way and see some amazing things and learn so goddamn much?

Maybe it kind of already is what it should be, which is a collection of all those things. That doesn’t mean it can’t be more. That doesn’t mean it won’t at times become less. But recently I realized that I was looking back on my 8 years of blogging as story of underachieving, a collection of personal and professional shortcomings, of all the things I somehow never wrote about or didn’t complete, of taking for granted what I know plenty of people work really hard for. We tell ourselves harsh stories, sometimes. But that’s one perspective, and it’s a bad take. My idea of a big project when I started this blog was building my own desk, and now I’ve built a housemaybe what this thing should or shouldn’t be just isn’t all that relevant.  The fact that we’re even talking about it at all 8 years in is worth something. The fact that it’s still fun is worth something. It actually feels like it’s worth a lot of somethings, at least to me.

This blog is, and has been, a source of incredible good in my life—this I know. And maybe a consequence of sitting for so long in that abyss of not-knowing-ness was the creation of this space, right here. This kooky little dimple of the internet where people are actually fucking nice to each other, and smart, and knowledgeable, and generous, where we can freely engage big ideas as much as fawn of pretty stuff and adorable raccoons. Sometimes I worry that acknowledging the rarity of that will come off as self-congratulatory, but honestly? I didn’t create it—you guys did. There have been almost 36,000 comments posted on this blog, and I don’t even think I’d need all ten fingers to count the shitty troll-y ones. Where else does that happen? I really don’t know, but it’s a real honor to be part of it here.

I don’t know what the next 8 years or 8 months or 8 weeks looks like with this blog, but I’d like to approach it with less concern about what I should be doing and more about what I want to be doing, since that’s pretty much all I’ve ever been good at anyway. It’s the internet, guys. We can do that kind of thing. And I hope you’ll come along for it, because I really like having you here. We have a nice time together, I think.

So from the bottom of my heart, thank you, thank you, thank you for these past 8 years! Year 9—let’s do this thing.

Life
Tagged:

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.

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