New Fence, OMG OMG OMG.


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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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



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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


Then there was more checking…and more checking…


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


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


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

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

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



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


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


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

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



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

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


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


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



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

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


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

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

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


Olivebridge Cottage: Oh Dear, Here We Go…

Toward the end of high school, I became what some people like to call a “theater kid.” Those words make me cringe a little because everyone always assumes you mean that you were one of those annoying 16-year-old “thespians” practicing your “craft” for an “audience” of younger siblings and grandparents who were “emotionally riveted” by your “art,” who then typically turn into attention-craving nightmares of adults, but only the second half of that is true for me. Me, I was on crew. My high school was super cool because we had one of those experimental “black box” theaters, which is exactly what it sounds like, so every season we had to totally conceive, design, and build the set for our peers to tromp across with their forced British accents and fake theater cigarettes and stuff.

We didn’t mess around, either. When we put on A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, we built three 3-storey Roman houses, clad in faux-stone that yours truly crafted from foam insulation, which turned on enormous carousels to expose the backsides of the set during the second act. We were fast and loose and dumb and it’s amazing that nobody died.

Maybe the best part of the whole thing, though, wasn’t the building part or the shows but what came after that. After the final show, the actors would spend some time doing some weird bonding shit and crying and stuff, and then when they were all tuckered out from emoting, we’d get into strike-mode. Per tradition, the school would basically lock us all in while we spent hours and hours dismantling our months of work. We’d wield screw guns and circular saws with wild abandon until our masterpiece was reduced to a pile of lumber and garbage, and then we’d sweep the floor and eat pizza and the graduating seniors would do some awards ceremony thing and then we’d all leave, I guess. The details are a little fuzzy. This one time (er, probably every time) one of the actors had the forethought to bake and then kindly distribute pot brownies to the cast and crew after the show, but he got suspended and then things got slightly more supervised and significantly less fun.

I bring all this up because demo at Olivebridge Cottage reminds me a lot of striking our theater sets. See, we didn’t really know how to build things and it didn’t really matter because realistically the set only had to last through a couple of weekends. They always looked good, but everything was more or less held together with either 4,000 screws drilled in from every angle or 1 screw that broke in a wood knot and a bunch of duct tape. There was nary a middle ground. Because we saved anything salvageable to potentially reuse when building the next set, I recall spending a lot of time removing said screws from 2x4s and cursing whoever put all of them there.

The thing is, the insides of a house shouldn’t really remind you of a theater set built by a bunch of children with braces and anxiety disorders. They should probably remind you of, well, a house, ya know? Like maybe you’ve seen houses on TV or out in the world or on the internet, so when you see the insides of your house you can be like “ah, looks familiar!” while thinking about those things and not what you were doing when you were 16 and struggling to roll a halfway decent joint.


Starting roughly 20 minutes after demo commenced at Olivebridge, little red flags began to slowly erect themselves throughout my brain. See that wall? It’s, uh, wrong. It doesn’t really look so wrong in the pictures but the thing you don’t see is that the entire thing was built not with lumber and nails, but with lumber and screws. SO. MANY. SCREWS. The screws were primarily of the drywall variety, but there were also decking screws, regular wood screws, some other types of screws…anyway. No normal contractor would build a wall this way, because the act of framing walls generally involves framing nails, as that is their function, but I sort of let it slide at the time. The wall was coming down anyway, and it was probably just this wall, right? Red flag #1.

Not right. Not even approaching right. I started depositing the removed screws into a cup, then when that filled up I found a mid-size tupperware, then I had to graduate to a bucket. Screws everywhere. Drill batteries could barely keep up. Total chaos. My life is wild.


Removing the insulation (presumably there for sound rather than heat…) revealed a beautiful cornucopia of mold…everywhere.


A mold issue had been noted on the home inspection report and having it professionally remediated and a vapor barrier installed in the crawlspace to prevent the issue from returning were conditions of the sale, but looks like some of those minor details might have slipped through the cracks. And by some, I mean all? And by minor, I mean relatively major? I’m pretty sure that actual mold remediation would have entailed removal of affected drywall and other materials, and I’m also pretty sure that some 6-mil plastic thrown down in the crawlspace without so much as a piece of tape, gravel underneath, etc., does not a vapor barrier make. Red flags #2 and #3.


Then there was the unidentified rodent nest. Mouse? Squirrel? Chipmunk? What you’re seeing in this fun blurry picture is a bunch of eaten up insulation with a hefty dose of animal shit and a bunch of eaten acorns. It wouldn’t be terribly uncommon to find this in an exterior wall (though still troubling for reasons we’ll explore another time…hello, foreshadowing), but here? Inside of a totally interior wall with no obvious access point? No bueno. Red flag #4.

Great start.


So, ahead I forged! Despite the unwelcome discoveries, getting this MASSIVE waste-o-space bathroom outta here felt good. It felt like the house was expanding and starting to look and feel right without this stupid useless space.


Hopefully you can get a sense of how enormous this bathroom was, and how right-in-the-middle-of-everything it was. Totally dumb. The hot water heater is being swapped for a tankless model in the hall closet (this one was about 20 years old, so it probably didn’t have a ton of life left in it anyway). That metal thing that looks like a duct to the right is the backside of the big propane-powered heater thing. I didn’t know at the time but this thing was about 15 years old and rather than try to relocate this huge ugly beast and wait for it to die in a few years, we decided to spring for one of those little ductless mini-split systems that’ll do A/C, too, instead of just heat.

Anyway, holy moly, the framing up in here was some crazy stuff. It took a little while to disassemble, but I’d rather take a *little* extra time on this stuff and be able to potentially reuse the lumber than see it all go to a landfill. Spending so much time at the dump kind of guarantees everlasting guilt about creating more garbage so I try to keep it to a minimum when possible, since renovations generate more than enough garbage as it is no matter how conscious you’re being.


Almost there! The construction of this wall that the bathroom shares with the kitchen sort of confirms my suspicion that the bathroom was added sometime fairly recently. See how the bottom part of the wall has older framing, and then some newer work was added on top of it? So I think the kitchen always had this division wall that ended a couple feet from the ceiling, which I can see being pretty cute when it was built. Our standards for “openness” have changed a little in the past 60 years or so, though, and I think having more of a flow between the kitchen and dining spaces will work really nicely in this kind of house.


With the half-bath mostly gone, it was fun to start to really get a sense of how big this space will be! Even with that wall still standing, the amount of light traveling through the two rooms was vastly improved and way exciting.

I try to keep things reasonably clean when I demo, and on a job site in general. Especially if you don’t have a dumpster, taking periodic breaks to bag debris, sort out electrical (TURN THE POWER OFF), and collect and organize your tools so you don’t keep losing them all helps keep things running smoothly and without a massive pile of garbage to try to wrangle at the end.

Also, be safe! ESPECIALLY if you’re dealing with mold, a good respirator is important to protect those lungs. Add in a bunch of rodent nests and who knows what else and none of this is stuff you want to be breathing in. You’re welcome for that glimmering piece of very obvious advice.


Andddddd, woah! Yay! Light! Space! Removing this cabinetry and this drywall was so awesome. Light just came FLOODING into the dining space and the whole house felt lighter and so much bigger. This is gonna be nice!


Of course, this meant I had also moved on to demo-ing parts of the kitchen, which was exciting and terrifying. This kitchen has a lot of confusion and bizarre aspects so diving in was a little scary. You never know what you’ll find!


For instance…removing the stove and the cabinet next to it revealed some funky crap. A punch through the back wall revealed lots and lots of totally rotten, eaten, and otherwise destroyed fiberglass insulation, and the side wall didn’t even have any drywall!! No wonder this kitchen (the whole house, really) was freezing in the winter! It’s essentially uninsulated 2×4 walls without drywall in places. Yikes! I keep debating whether my garage is more weather-tight than this house was.


Once the final wall was gone, I got to work on removing the lower run of cabinets and appliances in the kitchen. Oof. So much grime and mold and nastiness.


A little mold I can handle. Show me THIS much mold, though, coupled with the damp rotten insulation and the mouse shit and the acorns and the rest of the unidentified collection of horrible crap and I might throw up.

I did not throw up, FYI, but I COULD have is the point. This was some nastiness right there.

So…wanna know something fun and cool? See that big white PVC pipe going down through the floor? That’s the dryer vent. Guess where it vents into?


“Honey, I wonder why we have such horrific mold problems! I feel terrible all the time and the house is full of spores!”

“I wonder if it’s because the machine that dries our wet clothes has been pumping hot moist air into the enclosed space under our kitchen for many decades?”



Probably the consequence of this absurd venting situation (aside from the extreme mold) was…lots and lots of rot. At least on this wall. We’ve since found more and more and more rot in other areas of the house for other reasons (we’ll get there…) but this wall specifically seems to primarily be a result of the stupid vent.


Also, the framing on this wall? Horrors. It looks like somebody basically decided to build a new wall about a foot in front of the actual exterior wall, except they had no concept of how walls are made. Then they built a soffit another foot out from the exterior wall just for funsies. Then they plopped a crooked window inside this lunatic construction with zero support, added some cabinets and plumbing and called it a kitchen.

You can probably get a sense from these pictures, too, of JUST how wonky the floors are here. Basically the entire floor slopes down overall about 1.5 inches from the left side to the right in the picture above, with a pretty significant dip in the middle to make matters even more fun and exciting.

I don’t have a picture of it because it’s too dark in the crawlspace, but a quick look down there revealed why the floors are like this. See, the flooring in this section of the house is a funny mix of 2×4 and 2×6 lumber. Because the span is about 13 feet from side to side, some sagging isn’t surprising at all…I think the modern standard for this is 2×12 lumber, so the joists are under-sized to begin with. Luckily there’s a big support beam that runs lengthwise down the center, held up by posts, to hold up the middle of the floor and prevent this…except whatever genius put in the 1/2 bath decided to CUT IT IN HALF and just leave it dangling in space, doing nothing and supporting nothing. Coupled with the fact that these joists are also rotted in places from the moisture damage, I guess it’s not that surprising that the floor looks like it’s probably about to collapse? Go figure.


Cool header there, bro.

And thus began the Olivebridge Cottage renovation. Only up from here, right? RIGHT?


Diary time!

Day 1: Demo’d half-bath, inspected crawlspaces and moved appliances out of kitchen space.

Day 2: Continued demo on half-bath and utilities spaces, started demo in kitchen!

Day 3: Kitchen demo. Noted extensive mold issues and likely plumbing concerns. Dryer vents directly into crawlspace, Jesus Christ. Loaded truck for dump in AM.

Day 4: Two dump runs in John’s truck, continued work on kitchen demo.

Day 5: Dump run in morning, then continued demo in kitchen/dining spaces. Loaded truck for dump run in AM.

Day 6: Dump run in morning, more demo in kitchen and dining spaces. Will complete next week.

Black Garage!


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Patterned Shirts for the Dudes!

Lately I’m really into shirts with exciting patterns on them. I mean, I like patterns on other things outside of my body, but I’ve always been more of a solid/stripe/plaid kind of guy, shirt-wise.

No more. Gimme a good pattern and I will wear it and feel happy about wearing it.

Here’s the thing with patterned shirts on the gentlemen: you don’t want to be described as, “you know, that guy who always wears the crazy shirts.” At least I don’t. I don’t want to be a “loud” dresser, because people who dress “loudly” tend to be super annoying and I don’t want to be super annoying, or give people good reason to think I will be based on how I’m dressing.

So you have to find the good patterns so you don’t look like an irritating clown. How do you do that? I think like this. First, you limit the colors. A crazy pattern with only a couple of colors will look less nuts than a more simple pattern with a bunch of colors. Second, I like to steer toward abstracts and away from things that are literal/legible, like little floating anchors or even florals. I own a few good florals but they’re tough to get right and can go silly/kitschy/cutesy real fast. Third, I like to pair a good pattern with normal stuff like a simple pair of classic jeans—you don’t want multiple elements of your outfit calling out for attention because then you will look crazy.

Look at me, writing with fake authority on fashion. HA. So, boys. Point is, according to me, you can totally rock a shirt that’s a little weird without looking nuts. I do it all the time and nobody has ever explicitly told me I look nuts so I assume we’re all good. Here’s a little round-up of some shirts I’m into right now to carry me through the rest of summer and into fall:


1. Navy Print Short Sleeve Smart Shirt, Topman, $30

2. Slim-Fit Cloud Print Shirt, Club Monaco, $89.50

3. Blue Aztec Print Short Sleeve Casual Shirt, Topman, $50

4. Navy Paint Print Short Sleeve Smart Shirt, Topman, $50



1. Selected Homme Blue Geo Long Sleeve Shirt, Topman, $85

2. Selected Homme Black Slim Fit Shirt, Topman, $20

3. Classic Fit Ditsy Dot Shirt, Club Monaco, $27.30 with code THESALEONSALE

4. Short-Sleeved Cotton Shirt, H&M, $14.99



1. Slim-Fit Indigo Cross Shirt, Club Monaco, $48.30 with code THESALEONSALE

2. Weekday Shirt Happy Times Grandad Collar Sumi Print, ASOS, $73

3. ASOS Shirt in Short Sleeve with Paint Print, ASOS, $40

4. Navy Confetti Drapey Short Sleeve Smart Shirt, Topman, $50


Plans for Olivebridge Cottage!

Hey, remember that other house I’ve been working on? That vacation cottage? The one out in Olivebridge? That we called Olivebridge Cottage? For those nice sweet clients from the big city? That one that I wrote a blog post “introducing” and then never spoke of again?

Well, it’s done!


Oh, Olivebridge Cottage. Spoiler: you are so much more than we bargained for. Like, so much more. Like, an unthinkable, unreasonable, unfathomable amount more. I hope you guys like whatever the house version of blood and guts and gore is, because it is what Olivebridge Cottage has been serving up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner everyday for the past two months.

Honestly, I haven’t been sure how to even blog about this renovation because it’s just been total insanity. Plans and budgets and timelines have had to change on what feels like a daily basis, and I haven’t been totally certain of what the appropriate time is to jump into writing about it with some semblance of certainty or authority or professionalism. Thus are the hazards of trying to live-blog a renovation. Or at least this renovation. This little house is bananas.

Last time I posted about the house, it was a bunch of before pictures and some vague ideas about what the big plans were (I’d recommend going back to that post and just looking at the pictures if you need a refresher). That was only a few days into the job…back in the days when my heart was full of naive optimism and my brain still full of the understanding that this was more or less a kitchen renovation. We’ll get into how and why everything has changed since then, but for now maybe it makes the most sense to just start with…where we started? The overall aesthetic direction for the renovation hasn’t really changed, so before we dive into demo and all the lunacy that’s come with it, let’s all get an understanding of the basic layout and stuff…



Is it even worth apologizing for my Sketch-Up renderings at this point? Probably not. I really don’t enjoy doing them (to say the least…I might be the least tech-inclined blogger ever) but it’s helpful when clients and/or contractors are involved so everyone can be more or less on the same page with stuff.

Anyway, here’s a side-by-side of the overall layout. Before is above, proposed after is below. It’s oriented this way because the top is the side that faces the street, but the right side is where the entryway is. So you walk into this little vestibule space, and turning left brings you into the 2nd bedroom (which is an old enclosed porch) and turning right brings you into the living room space. The plan for the vestibule and second bedroom has always primarily just been some paint and a few other cosmetic upgrades, but there’s since been talk of bringing the new flooring into those two spaces as well. It’s a small house, so cutting down on the number of different materials all over the place would probably be a very nice thing. It’s mostly a question of budget at this point.

The living room is sort of an odd space because of the dimensions of the room and the location of the wood stove and size of the hearth. It’s all a bit wonky. At only about 12 feet wide (and having to function as a pass-through to the dining/kitchen area, the entryway, and the bedroom/bathroom area), it’s a REALLY difficult space to lay out with regular furniture in any kind of conventional set-up. Then off the living room is this sunken area, which is also an enclosed porch and sits about 6″ lower than the living room. It’s about 6 feet wide and is supported by a beam and four posts, so even though the area is wide open to the living room, it feels kind of closed off.

The proposed plan didn’t call for altering anything really with the wood stove, but that’s probably changing due to safety issues and code compliance and all that fun stuff that includes the house not burning to the ground. The proposed plan also called for at least putting a structural support beam between the living room and the sunken section so that we could lose the vertical supports, and there was a lot of talk of just leveling out the floor (which, yes, would leave sort of an odd ceiling height when you got way up to the front of the house, but would have still been OK…just kind of quirky?). If the living room were even a foot or two wider, I think leaving the sunken section as-is would have been the obvious answer (and building some kind of great bench or shelving or something below the windows), but the narrowness of the room more or less precludes the placement of even a normal-size sofa. So that was the thinking.

Spoiler: none of that stuff is happening because now very different things are probably happening.


ANYWAY. Up a couple of stairs, you’re in the dining room/half bath/utilities/kitchen area. You can really see here how enormous that half-bath is, especially relative to the size of this house, so I’m glad it’s going away! That funny-shaped wall inside the half-bath shows more or less where the hot water tank was and the guts of the big propane-powered heater.

In the proposed plan (which was actually the second proposed kitchen concept—the first didn’t have the breakfast bar part), the half-bath goes away and the kitchen gets a lot more space and a lot more storage. It’s still not a huge space but there’s enough for a couple of people to comfortably maneuver in the center of it, and opening up the kitchen/dining space is going to make the whole house feel much roomier and brighter and all those nice things.

That thing next to the refrigerator represents some kind of utility closet that we thought might be necessary, but luckily it’s been nixed because the plumber confirmed that we could put the new tankless hot water heater (which will be more efficient and much, much smaller!) in the closet across from the bathroom (where the washer/dryer will also live), and we’re doing away with the propane-powered heating tower thing altogether in favor of a new ventless mini-split system that will ALSO have A/C. Color me jealous! I’m not a fan of the way those things look in old houses, but it’ll be just fine in an all-new and modern space.

Spoiler: we’re now on to kitchen design #23478904587 so the kitchen probably won’t actually look much like this, at least layout-wise. So feel free to tear it apart or whatever because it’s not getting built anyway.


After we’d figured out the overall layout and more major decisions about the renovation plan, I sent Adriana and Barry this “mood board” do-dad to help sort of visualize the overall aesthetic direction and a few specific products I had rolling around in my head! If you’ll recall, the goal of this renovation is for everything to be very inexpensive without looking cheap, so I tried to keep things as budget-friendly as possible. The overall concept this is trying to communicate is that Scandi-mod vibe with lots of blacks and whites, but also throwing in some nice natural textures and some bright colors so it never feels to sterile or boring. Ya dig?

1. We weren’t really sure what was going to be lurking behind the bumped-out wall in the kitchen and the soffit above the bumped-out wall, so in case we needed to maintain a soffit of some kind, I thought a few fun-colored lights like the Alabax fixture (medium size) from Schoolhouse Electric would be so cute! I love the Marigold color. Adriana nixed this particular fixture because she doesn’t like exposed bulbs (I tend to agree, honestly, since I’ve been trying to transition as much as I can to LED and those bulbs aren’t all that cute to look at), but they both liked the idea of adding that element of color.

2. Range hood, sink, faucet, and cabinets are all IKEA. We’re keeping the existing stainless steel stove and refrigerator, so the plan is to use the LUFTIG exhaust hood and the DOMSJO double-bowl sink, which will be set in the new line of SEKTION cabinets! As I am a huge IKEA nerd, I’m excited to try out the new cabinets and see how they compare to the old AKURUM system. I’ve checked them out in the showroom and they seem really great. I pitched the RINGSKAR faucet but that was nixed due to lack of spray function and concerns about quality, so I’m on the hunt for something else. Anyone have a modern faucet they love that didn’t cost a billion dollars? Spill.

3. TILE! I was sure this backsplash tile would get nixed immediately, but Adriana and Barry were on board! I love a tumbling blocks pattern. This tile is made to look like nice cement encaustic tile that would usually cost all the money, but NOPE—this stuff is from Home Depot, of all places! Each tile is 7.75″ square, so at $1.97/tile you can cover a LOT of territory with it without breaking the bank. I ordered this a while ago (it tends to go out of stock every now and then, so I wanted to make sure we’d have it ready to go) and I have to say it’s quite nice in person. The whole line of these vintage-repro Merola Tiles is pretty great. A lot of it is made to mix and match and it’s a great alternative if you can’t spend the money on the real deal.

4. Since budget is so slim, we need the countertops to be super cheap. Adriana very specifically did not want butcherblock, which is my first instinct for inexpensive countertops, and we all agreed that the laminate options I found were kind of blah. As I am a blogger, it looks like I will be joining the ranks of many bloggers who have come before me in trying out Ardex Feather Finish for cheap, DIY-friendly, faux concrete countertops! Just google it and you’ll find lots of blog posts about people using this stuff right over their old laminate counters or even just over plywood if they’re starting from scratch. It can look pretty great! For this house, though, I really like what Jenny over at Little Green Notebook did by adding black concrete tint to the mix—I think it just takes it up a few notches and makes the whole application look really luxe. I’m psyched to try it! It seems kind of hard to screw up and I’m relatively good at stuff, so it should be OK. Right?

5. The two globe pendant lights are from Cedar & Moss. We’re still sort of playing around with lighting—kind of a challenge since things are so open, so the kitchen lighting has to play well with whatever’s going on above the dining room table and the living room, too. The thinking behind the globes was that we might have more of a “statement piece” above the dining room table so we’d just want something simple above the peninsula. I’m not sure if these or anything even like them are going to happen, but holy guacamole…Cedar & Moss makes some good looking lights.

6. I’m into these Roadhouse Leather Counter Stools from CB2, especially as a way to introduce some warmth into this business and balance out the colder, harder materials and textures. Like a lot of things, not sure if they’re going to happen, but I’d like to use them and they’re a good chair to know about regardless as they’re nice looking and fairly budget-friendly. They come in chair height, counter height, and bar height. I wish I could…refine the bases a little bit? But overall that’s a good-lookin’ chair.

OK, now that we’re finished with this whole thing, we can finally really get into renovating this sucker! Much like Bluestone Cottage (I’ll get back to you soon, I promise…), I’ve been keeping a daily diary of the insanity and have lots and lots of pictures of the progress/disaster unfolding before my eyes and taking over my life, so I hope you’re into all that. This one’s a doozy!

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