Pumpkin the Raccoon!

YOU GUYS! I honestly couldn’t believe the unbelievable response to the Lowe’s Spring Makeover thingy majiggy that I posted about last week. I was expecting…I don’t know, maybe 10 or 12 applicants? Well, I got a WHOLE LOT more than that and I’m super duper flattered and touched by the whole thing. Who knew! This selection process is going to be long and grueling, mostly because I so badly want to do pretty much all of them!

OK, enough exclamation points.




This is Pumpkin the raccoon. I found her on Instagram. I’m obsessed with her.


I don’t know a ton about Pumpkin. Pumpkin was rescued as a lil’ baby raccoon and taken in by these folks who treat her more or less like a cat or a dog. She’s a chubby little lazy thing who doesn’t seem to mind her dope lifestyle one bit. I wish I could make myself tiny enough to use her plump belly as a bed.


Raccoon hands!!!!! They kill me. I can’t. I just can’t.


I think my favorite aspect of Pumpkin’s life is her relationship with her dogs, Oreo and Toffee. I’m guessing Pumpkin thinks she is a dog, but she’s clearly not a dog.


You know what’s cuter than two dogs cuddling with each other? A dog cuddling with a RACCOON! Interspecies friendships are perhaps the highest-ranking cute activity, and Pumpkin has it down. I love Toffee and Oreo for allowing this! I’m going to go ahead and guess Mekko would not be quite so accommodating. I guess no rescued pet raccoon for me, but we all have our crosses to bear. I guess I’ll just have to live vicariously through this magical instagram.

I just had to tell you. Every time I think I’ve found all the cute animals on instagram, I find new ones. I hesitate to ask, because, like, how many is too many to follow? but if you’re kinda the same way, who are your favorites?

Manhattan Nest + Lowe’s: Who Wants a Makeover?!

Have you ever thought to yourself “hey, I wish Daniel (that’s me, FYI) would show up at my door and do a whirlwind makeover of a space in my house“? You probably have not had that thought. But start thinking it? Because it could totally happen!

When my friendly sponsors at Lowe’s reached out and asked if I’d like to pass some Lowe’s love along to a Manhattan Nest reader this spring, I hopped on it! Because I like you guys! Sounds fun! Sign me up!


If you read my blog, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Lowe’s is pretty much my home away from home. I tend to be at my local Lowe’s several times a week, and they always impress me with their knowledgeable and friendly staff, and quality products to match.  It seems a little silly to feel that way about a big box store, but when you’re in and out of hardware stores as much as I am, you come to appreciate the small stuff. Going to pick up that extra tube of caulk or box of finish nails can be a drag, but those trips aren’t so bad when I get to catch up with Deb in the garden center, or Keith in doors and windows, or Sue at check-out, or Frank in appliances, or Sexy Ron who sometimes helps me with lumber. On top of that, Lowe’s carries a lot of seriously cute and nice stuff! I think a lot of people tend to think of Lowe’s as a place to by 2x4s and drywall screws, but I’m always super impressed by their collection of all sorts of home goods, lighting, outdoor stuff—it’s become a pretty indispensable resource in my life and one of the first places I look for…well, kind of anything!

SO! Lowe’s is teaming up with me (and seven other great bloggers!) to do a spring makeover for one of you! Do you have a back deck in need of some TLC? A boring bathroom that needs a pick-me-up? Maybe you just moved into your house and really want something checked off the list? Maybe you’ve been there a while and are stuck on what to do with that pesky guest bedroom? Let’s fix it!

Here’s how it works: I get to choose one applicant for a makeover! Sorry, international readers—you gotta be within the US and within reasonable proximity to a Lowe’s store. The makeover can be interior or exterior, but should be contained to one space—like a room, a backyard, a front yard, you get the idea. After choosing an applicant, I’ll work with you to design up the space and then Lowe’s will bring me right to your door to make it happen. I’ll have a robust team of Lowe’s helpers at my disposal, and all of us will have a day or two to make your space totally awesome with the healthy product budget they’ve provided to get her done. Sound like a plan? Great!

Ground Rules:

  1. You should be looking to fix up a space within your residence!
  2. The makeover project should be able to be completed within 24 hours.
  3. You must be the owner of your own home (sorry, renters! it’s a legal thing).
  4. You have to be outgoing, energetic, and fun with unique stories to tell!
  5. You have to be comfortable been on camera and/or interviewed by media.
  6. You have to be in need of expert design help from one of the participating bloggers (pick me!).
  7. You have to be able to make quick decisions in order to keep within the tight time constraints.
  8. You have to be available for a 2-day period to complete the makeover, which will take place between February 9th and May 1.
  9. You have to allow photos of your home to be shared online.
  10. You must be 21 years of age or older to apply.
  11. You have to complete the online application form and agree to the Terms below.
  12. To apply, visit: lowesspringmakeover2016.castingcrane.com
  13. Only eligible participants will be contacted.


To apply for your Manhattan Nest + Lowe’s Spring Makeover, click here! Applications will only be accepted from now until THIS WEDNESDAY at 11:59 p.m. EST, so hurry your cutie booty along and get to applying!

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


Fixing the back of the House, Part 3! (it’s done!)


I did that!

If you’ve been following my blog for the past several of months, you’ve been pretty familiarized with the back of my house. I wrote a few pretty detailed posts about the process—which was somewhat grueling in the way that restoration work often is—so I won’t rehash the whole thing here. Suffice to say this was one of those projects that started as a fairly modest proposition and spiraled into a much bigger endeavor than I was prepared for.

Because this area of the house saw a lot of abuse over the years in the form of additions, non-original doors and windows, and the conversion of the house to a duplex with the legally-required fire escape, this is probably one of the more heavy-handed renovations this house is likely to see under my care. Most of the house is an extended exercise in restoring what’s already there, but this wall needed to be re-thought and re-imagined. Absent any evidence of how it looked back here originally, well, I kind of just had to let the house dictate what it seemed to want (with a little help from nearby examples). I know that sounds like voodoo, but that’s how I make probably the majority of my decisions about my house. We’re buds by now and she tells me what she needs.

SO! Additions were removed. Approximately 4 billion pounds of concrete got jackhammered and hauled away by the truck-fullVinyl siding was removed. All original clapboard was removed. All original brick and mortar insulation was removed. Then the walls were insulated. Original clapboard was planed down to remove all old paint and crap, then carefully put back up. New windows were framed, trimmed out, painted, and installed. Cornice details were restored. Siding was primed, caulked, and painted. Even the eavestrough on the laundry room roof was rebuilt. By me! I don’t know why I’m writing all of this in passive voice, because it sounds like it happened by magic.

It was not magic. It was a shit ton of work.


Take a gander at that! This is when I bought the house. I honestly don’t even remember thinking it was so bad but now I think it’s really pretty bad.


Fast-forward a year and the roof has been redone, with the overhang over the mudroom door and the fire escape removed in the process. Then that second floor door continued to hang out there, leading to nowhere, for roughly two years. It remained locked throughout the entire duration of that time, but it still looked a little…unique.



I’m sorry I didn’t turn the kitchen light off when I took these pictures. I’m also sorry that the yard is such a total disaster. I couldn’t even move those black trashcans in the foreground because they’re full of bricks and currently frozen to the ground. I’m pretty fancy.


In the past six months or so we went from this


To this madness.


And finally, to this! Long. Strange. Trip.

And yes, I know I’m crazy, but I still think of this as phase 1. Long-term, I can still see a nice covered porch out here, with that door switched to the other side and a nice 6-over-6 double-hung window where the door is, scaled more like the windows on the rest of the house. Theoretically the porch could have been done during this, but finances were running super dry and it’s not necessary right now. The current first floor window is just a cheap vinyl one that I spray-painted black so that I could use the sashes from the old kitchen window to make those two little windows upstairs. Changes to the door/window placement on the first floor might take place quite a while from now and would be part of a more extensive kitchen renovation than the slap-dash one I did when I moved in.

If I were to do it over again (and considering this is more or less the same process I plan to use on the rest of the house, I should have many opportunities), I’d do a few things differently.

  1. I would have probably sistered in new studs next to the originals to beef up the structure a bit. I’m not sure how much it’d actually accomplish, but it wouldn’t be a ton of money and it’d help support the old bones of this lady.
  2. I would have added blocking—or horizontal pieces of framing that span between vertical studs. This is common practice now, and required for spans of framing that are over 8 feet. It adds more structural stability and aids a little in fireproofing.
  3. I might have tried harder to add sheathing. This house is built with clapboard running right over the studs, and sheathing seems like it would add a little structural rigidity and create a more robust barrier between the inside of the house and the elements. Adding sheathing is complicated here because all of the trim work was installed with the thickness of this clapboard in mind, so I’m still not really sure how to accomplish this without throwing everything off.
  4. I might have experimented with using opaque stain (I like Cabot’s solid-color acrylic siding stain) rather than paint on the clapboard. I didn’t do this because the clapboard is still old with lots of knots, remnants of old finishes, and quite a bit of Bondo was employed to fill gaps and old nail holes and stuff, so I wasn’t sure how the stain would take given all of that. Instead I just went with what I knew, which was to use a good oil-based primer (I like Zinsser products) and two coats of flat exterior paint on top.
  5. I would have added flashing at the butt joints between boards. You wouldn’t see it, but it would be some added protection against water infiltration. I just didn’t know any better.
  6. I went back and forth and back and forth on beefing up the corner boards, and ultimately decided to leave them as-is. It wouldn’t be such a hard thing to change at some point, but I wasn’t ready to commit to it. I’m totally happy with the end result but I can see wider corner boards (maybe half the width of the frieze under the eaves returns) looking nice and kind of increasing the formality and stateliness of the architecture. I think that’s an OK thing to do, by the way—a person with more experience in restoration work than me once told me not to be afraid of getting too formal with old houses. As long as new details are added well and are in keeping with the house, it can be just fine to add stuff that wasn’t there originally. I try to keep that in mind when I get too hung up on just trying to stick with what’s original—those decisions made 150 years ago weren’t always the right ones, the best ones, or the most considered (unless they were, ha!), so who knows. I’ll keep thinking about it.


Look. At. That. Clapboard! It’s far from perfect, which is just fine. It makes me like it better. If I weren’t able to do so much of this work myself, it would probably have been totally impractical to try to reuse the original boards, given their prior condition. It might surprise some people to hear this, but my alternative would probably be to use JamesHardie lap siding with the same exposure as the original boards. Hardie (there are a few competitors, but that’s the big brand) is a cementitious wood composite product that does a nice job of mimicking the look of real clapboard, but requires less maintenance because it takes paint really well, is pest and rot resistance, and doesn’t expand and contract like wood does. It’s relatively inexpensive, too—so if you are thinking of re-siding but can’t reuse what’s already there and want to avoid real wood, CONSIDER IT, PLEASE. With all the products out there these days, I can’t fathom choosing vinyl or aluminum!

ANYWAY, I’m so happy (and proud!) that these are the original boards that were put on the house when it was built. I didn’t buy a single piece of lumber for this entire project, which feels both thrifty and environmentally responsible. And really, nothing would compare to these boards…the thickness, the character of the grain patterns, even the dents and divots and imperfections from so many years of use just enhance how right it looks on the house. New siding like Hardie (or even real wood) would have been fine and a huge improvement over the vinyl, but this is just…the best, I think.



HAHAHAHA, OK, we don’t have to pretend like this “after” picture is the most satisfying thing in the world, but WHATEVER. Sometimes you just gotta make sure your clapboard is painted before winter hits and accept that you have garbage cans full of bricks and piles of bluestone and dirt for landscaping. Clearly I did not get as far into my backyard plans as I’d hoped, but progress is progress and I’ll take it!


I don’t feel like it’s translating particularly well in photos, but the difference between the vinyl and the clapboard in real life is HUGE. And by huge, I mean subtly a million times better. The difference is really not that dramatic because the vinyl siding has the same exposure (the part of the board that shows) and is basically the same color, which makes it extra cool just how much better the real clapboard looks. The house looks so…SOLID now. Because vinyl is so hollow-looking I feel like it always makes houses look like they could just whither up and fall over, but the wood siding meeting up with trim pieces and stuff just looks super substantial and…right. Ahhhhh.

By the way, the clapboard was painted using Valspar Reserve exterior paint (flat) from Lowe’s, and the trim is Valspar Reserve exterior paint in semi-gloss. I had the siding paint color-matched to Benjamin Moore’s Simply White, which is a really nice off-white that’s bright but has definite yellow/greenish undertones that keep it from looking too stark. I considered going darker and more grey to create more contrast with the trim, but that kind of seemed like a decision that would serve before-and-after pictures better than it would really serve the house. The trim is off-the-shelf…I think it’s called Ultra White but naturally I can’t locate the can right now.

I love how those little windows turned out, seriously. They might look small but they’re really about as big as they could be without interrupting the rake frieze and still fitting in the room. They need more extensive restoration work (reglazing, a couple of panes replaced, some rotted areas epoxied) but in the meantime I just gave them both a liberal coating of Valspar’s Latex Enamel (semi-gloss) in off-the-shelf-black. I used the same paint on the door, too, and it’s awesome stuff! It’s VERY thick, dries quickly, and looks much like oil paint after it’s fully cured. I highly recommend it!


The door threshold is the original one, which I LOVE and guarded with my life throughout this ordeal. It’s beautifully worn from foot traffic in the center, and is so beefy! It had some old paint on it that I didn’t want to totally annihilate with scraping and sanding, so I tried hitting it with some wood hardener to see what that would do. Unfortunately it’s turned this hazy white color so in the spring I’ll probably sand it down a little and do a proper polyurethane or waterlox or something to really protect it and bring out the natural tones of the wood. That wood hardener product seems pretty great but I’ve yet to find an application for it that hasn’t given me grief later on. Oh well.

I think that’s about it! I’m so happy with how this turned out. Now to just do THE ENTIRE REST OF THE HOUSE.

I’m going to be renovating this thing forever, right? OK, cool.

Year in Review + What’s Up Next

I guess maybe it’s customary to do a “year in review” post at the end of the year in question, but I didn’t do that. So first off, Happy New Year, folks! We’re only a few days into 2016 but I have a good feeling about this one.

So, 2015…oh, 2015.

2015 was a difficult year. It was a year of major life changes: some good, some bad, some where the jury’s still out. It was a year where I had to learn to let go of all sorts of things—my longest-term and most serious relationship, for starters, New York City as my home (even if only part-time), and the Brooklyn apartment that so influenced so much of what I’m doing now. The broadest theme of 2015 was maybe letting go of control—which at various points of time included relationships, my house, my professional life, my time and how it got spent, the plans I’d made when reality just didn’t agree. There was so much uncertainty, so many oh shit! moments, so much time feeling unable to decipher between sinking and swimming. It was the kind of year that had to be ridden out, because no other options presented.

2015 was a humbling year. It was a year in which there was more reacting than initiating, in which I learned a great deal about my limits as a human being—physical limits, emotional limits, intellectual limits, professional limits, limits of time and space, limits of giving and of taking. It was an extended exercise in prioritizing, in learning that doing my best doesn’t always mean pleasing everybody, or even necessarily myself. It was a year in which I had to become comfortable with the word “enough” and proficient in saying “no”—which is usually harder to say to myself than to others.

2015 was an exciting year, too. It was a year of thinking, planning, and in some cases, executing. It was a year of taking opportunities I didn’t anticipate. It was a year of learning, not just new skills and bits of information, but about what I want—and, equally important, don’t want. What I want out of my personal life. My professional life. My house. This blog.  I wouldn’t say I found clarity, but somehow the result of the past year is that all of those things feel at least somewhat less fuzzy. It was a year of great progress and great setbacks, and of trying and trying and trying to embrace that period of work that comes between the “before” and the “after.”

I realize I’m speaking more in abstracts than specifics, but that’s kind of what it feels like—that it was the kind of year that begs to be measured more in feelings than hard data, where I probably learned more about how I respond to things than about the things themselves.

It was busy. Really, really busy, and it felt constantly as though one of the casualties of all that activity was this blog. While this blog does loosely track what’s going on with the various projects in my life, the past year saw a pronounced imbalance between all the stuff I was actually doing and the relatively few things here and there that I had or made the time to write about. And that made me think a lot—about different ways that I can approach blogging, about different content I’m interested in producing, about the parts of doing this that I love and the parts that I don’t. One of the great things about this platform is its malleability, and I want to take greater advantage of that. I’ve been at this for almost 6 years now, and—while I have no intention of stopping in the foreseeable future—I do think it’s high time to shake things up a little.

Basically, we have a lot of catching up to do. I know 2015 wasn’t the most prolific or most Pinterest-worthy year for Manhattan Nest, but if you’ve stuck around, thank you. I have a good feeling this next one will be much better.

So! What’s been going on? What do we have to talk about? What DON’T we have to talk about? Here’s my stab at looking back at 2015, which should give a big sense of where we’re headed, you and me…


See ya, Brooklyn! Apparently I took this picture exactly a year ago from the rooftop of my old apartment building, which I officially vacated a few months later. While I don’t miss paying rent on that apartment, or climbing five floors to get to my front door, or really living in Brooklyn at all, I definitely feel a little pang of longing whenever I think about that place. I couldn’t have asked for a better living situation than I had in my last few years in NYC, really.

In case you’re wondering, I rarely go down to NYC, even though it’s only about two hours away. I think a lot of people assume that living in Kingston was some sort of compromise and that I must bop down to Manhattan or Brooklyn all the time to see and do stuff, but that just isn’t the case! I pretty much only go down to see a few select friends, but mostly I try to stay away. I guess I was just never cut out for all that.


I finished renovating the living room in my house almost a year ago! Looking back at the original reveal pictures is so odd—it looks so different now. I did a follow-up post after getting a few months more settled in the room, but we’re long overdue for another one because almost everything has changed again.


It’s also been almost a year since the first time I walked through Olivebridge Cottage, and about 9 months since work commenced. Considering this was supposed to be an 8 week kitchen renovation and some cosmetic upgrades, suffice to say this project is MUCH, MUCH bigger than what anyone bargained for. You better believe there’s a story there…a lot of story.


This DOG! Mekko continues to be the most beautiful girl in the world, duh. My baby is turning 6 this month! She’s calmed down a bit since Max and I adopted her, but she’s still such a puppy. Instagram makes it seem like she’s super tame and sleepy, but that’s just because it’s practically the only time she’s still enough to snap a picture of.


I finished the pantry, which I think also might be due for a little blog visit. Not a ton has changed, but I’ve made some little tweaks here and there. It’s been so nice to have it, though! It’s definitely made me cook more.


I got to visit my friend Kevin Paulsen‘s studio, where he was working on an incredible mural for my other friend’s house. He’s so talented. It’s always such a treat to get a glimpse of the spaces where artists do their work. There’s so much creative energy here in Kingston and so many people producing really amazing work, which is something I’d like to start writing about more! There are also some super inspiring folks doing beautiful renovation work around town, which I’d love to start featuring here and there.


I met Tara and Percy, the incredible design duo behind Jersey Ice Cream Co. I’ve been such a fan of their work for a few years now, so getting to know them as people has been so great! They’re both gorgeous superhumans with perfect taste who can do everything, so when they asked if I’d like to come out to work with them on a project in Long Island for a few days, I pretty much packed a bag and hopped in the car. They taught me how to do traditional plaster work (verrrrryyyyyy different than skim-coating with joint compound!), and were such gracious hosts even in the midst of a major renovation project. They’re kind of too cool so I’m glad they’re willing to associate with the likes of me.


I keep buying stuff. Back when I started this blog, I feel like I logged nearly every thrift purchase! I’ve really fallen out of habit on that, but maybe it’d still be fun. In other news, my house has WAY too much stuff in it since I’m storing crap for myself, the Olivebridge house and Bluestone Cottage, so I really need to wrap those projects just so I can get some space back!


I went to Marfa, Texas with my gal-pal, Anna! We set aside a whole few days to go just to go, which felt very adult of us. Marfa blew me away, by the way—such a cool place. Anna wrote a nice post about our trip if you happen to be curious about a vacation that a couple of strangers took almost a year ago? Whatever floats your boat.


This is why we never talk about my basement. BUT! I actually did a TON of work on it in the past year—nothing beautiful, but I don’t know why I never blogged about it. I’m sure there’s at least one person who has a mild, passing, almost-interest in how my tools and crap are organized, so I’ll try to get something together.


Oh yeah, I destroyed my kitchen…again. And I’m still putting it back together…again. And I don’t know really why I did this…again…other than to blame post break-up acting out and general idiocy.


Spring marked the beginning of LOTS AND LOTS OF YARD WORK. I can happily report that this view looks NOTHING like this anymore! We still have some serious ground to cover about the yard, in part because I was still actively working on it until just a couple weeks ago when the weather finally turned, but I think I’m pretty much done back there until spring/summer hits again. I didn’t get as far into the big plans as I’d hoped, but the progress still feels great.


I found this baby cottontail rabbit in my yard which I thought needed rescuing because he was so tiny, only for the google machine to tell me that he was probably totally fine (evidently they wean and become independent at a very young age), so I put him back. Good GAWD that thing was cute.


YES, I still own Bluestone Cottage, and YES, I’m still working on it, and YES, I’ll start blogging about it again. Frankly the Olivebridge project just completely took over the spring, summer, and fall, and Bluestone became the biggest casualty of that…which sucks and makes me feel like an awful piece of shit failure. The only direction to move is forward, though, and that house will get done and it will be very, very cute, and maybe this serious delay will have some great silver lining when all is said and done. It HAS given me more time to plan and choose materials and gather salvage like a lunatic, so maybe that’s nice?



I got to go to New Orleans for a couple of days in the spring. The only other time I’d gone to NOLA was to work for Habitat for Humanity shortly after hurricane Katrina hit, so seeing the city thriving after the intervening years was really special. The architecture there is SO dreamy, omg.


I did a couple of gardening posts this year, but I did a lot more planting than I ever actually got around to writing about, which is just dumb! My tan was BANGIN’ after this summer, though. I feel like I lived outside.


I painted a lot of shit black, including my garage and then my new fence! It’s kind of a habit, you could say.


What I stupidly never talked about, though, was all the work that took place on the INSIDE of the garage! It ain’t beautiful, but it is VERY different and leaps and bounds more functional, so we really have to talk about it.


I tore a roughly 100 square foot room off my house completely, which unintentionally led to a HUGE project that I’m proud to report is now finished!


Seriously, that project was huge. I kind of can’t believe how long it took, but then again I totally can, and I’m really very proud of how much of it I did myself. Sometimes the hardest jobs are the most satisfying!


Remember summer? I kind of do. I FINALLY went out on the Hudson River for the first time. It was such a blast and so gorgeous. That was a big deal for me—I feel like I’ve been so busy since I moved here that I forget that there’s this whole side of living here that really should be about recreation and enjoying this beautiful place I get to call home. I want to try to do more of that kind of stuff instead of being so wrapped up in projects all the time that I don’t give myself a minute to enjoy stuff.


Oh yeah, more yard work. WAY more. I’ll get us caught up before spring hits.


This right here is part of why I hate driving into NYC. Getting your car out of a Manhattan tow pound has got to be right up there with childbirth and black friday at Wal-Mart in terms of agony.


Did I mention I did a lot of yard work? Part of that included moving around 60,000 pounds of dirt into my backyard. Boy was that fun.


I also demo’d this chimney down to the attic floor. It had previously been removed to below the roofline and was somewhat of a structural hazard, but I’m not sure why mid-summer seemed like the best time to tackle this one. It was miserably hot.


I think I should have bought this coffee table. I hate thrift-regret.


One of my besties, Anna, moved to New Mexico. I helped clear out the house in Newburgh, which was emotional even for me as a long-time reader and admirer of Anna’s home and approach to renovating. We’re still great friends and I’m so happy for her for making such a big decision and making it work. Hopefully this year I’ll to go visit her in her new hometown of Portales!


This one time, I sealed and polished my kitchen floor. It looked AWESOME for a few days, and then it went back to being a dusty, filthy mess because keeping anything clean in a house under renovation with a dirt pit backyard is just a losing battle if there ever was one.


Oh right, I ran for elected office in Kingston city government…like ya do. I lost in the primary, but I’m very glad to have done it and grateful to have met so many amazing people throughout the process and during the campaign. The whole experience made me a more active and knowledgable member of this community, and that’s a nice way to feel after a relatively short amount of time. Have I mentioned I love this town?


I STARTED PAINTING MY HALLWAY! Then I stopped. I really want to get this done soon, though—it feels like forever since I checked a big interior project off the list, and this one is basically just paint and a ton of prep work…it should feel like child’s play after dealing with the back of the house for the past several months.


Remember how there’s a little closet in my dining room? I always forget about it too. I didn’t really touch it when I renovated the dining room, but now I want to circle back and get that done. Maybe I already gutted it. It could be super cute, and the storage would be so nice!


I demo’d a lot of the room above the kitchen, which also used to be a kitchen. It’s looking VERY different! I can’t wait to really get my hands on it…I don’t think it’ll be a SUPER challenging renovation but it will be a HUGE transformation and I think it’ll be really gorgeous and cozy and great.


My friends Tracey and Jamie opened a wine bar called Brunette in downtown Kingston, and they did SUCH a good job with the space! They also happen to be super lovely people with great taste in wine (and everything, evidently). It’s exciting times here…I feel like there are so many new restaurants and bars and stores opening up all over the place, and it’s always extra nice when such lovely businesses move into these spaces. I’ve only lived here for about 2.5 years and it’s already changed so much, which is cool to see.


I finally took a walk through one of the gorgeous old cemeteries here, and stumbled upon the headstone of the family who built my house! I have GOT to dedicate more time to learning about the history of my house and the people who lived here. I’m sure there’s more information out there than what I’ve found!


Well, concrete footings for a new foundation is a sight I didn’t know I’d be seeing last year, but 2015 was kind of like that. I DO THIS STUFF NOW.


I think I may be the foremost expert on windows now. Old windows, new construction windows, replacement windows, renovation windows, sash kits, awnings, casements, double-hungs, single-hungs, pictures, true divided lights, simulated divided lights, jamb extensions, j-channels, wood, aluminum, vinyl, insulated, Low-E…it’s enough to drive a person insane. Ask me how I know.


Had a big old scare with my little old dog, Linus, when a routine grooming appointment resulted in emergency surgery, full anesthesia, and ten stitches. Poor thing! He had to wear a soft cone for two weeks while he healed up, which I’m not sure he even really noticed.


He bounced back just fine, though. And so handsome! I love that dog more than words can express. Best 11 pounds I’ve ever gained.


I want to work on this house. Maybe, just maybe…


And this one.


Also maybe this one? Who the hell knows. New Year, anything could happen!

SO! That’s all I gotta say. This’ll be fun!


Fixing the Back of the House: Part 2!

WELL. It’s December 16th, which is just a little crazy. I feel like we haven’t talking in forever. Hi! How are you? You seem well. Did you get a haircut? You’re glowing.

I know pretending to be shocked about what month we’re in is hardly an original way to dive into a post, but mid-December (oh my god, “mid-December”) feels particularly remarkable right about now because—as of this writing—I still have not wrapped up work on the back of my house. Usually we’re buried in snow by now, but ye olde mercury has been hovering right around freezing at night and in the 40s and 50s during the days, so I’ve been able to continue working on this project (and so many others, good lord) despite what the calendar is saying. This kind of weather is supposed to hold for another few days at least, so if I can keep squeezing some work into those precious few off-hours (when it’s actually light out! it gets dark around 4:30 nowadays), I should be able to get it all finished before winter really hits.

I’m so grateful for the weather on one hand, but to be honest this whole rush-before-winter-thing is getting wearing. I’ve been in that brand of crazy-mode since early September, and all I really want right about now is an excuse to curl up on the couch and write some blog posts and…I don’t know, do winter stuff. Basically, I’m losing my mind. It’s all good.

So anyway, exterior painting in December in upstate New York. That’s happening.


It’s been a while, so here’s where we left off with this whole endeavor. I ripped off all the clapboard on the back of the house, poached the old kitchen window sashes for reuse, replaced the kitchen window (yes, in fact that ladder is leaning right on the new one’s glass…whatever, everyone survived including the window), tore off all the original clapboard, removed all the brick nogging between the studs, replaced that with new rigid foam insulation and spray foam, ran the original clapboards through a planer, and then began the fun and exciting process of re-siding with the original boards. That all sounds like a lot of work, right? Yeah, well, it was.


Guess what’s difficult? Standing on a ladder, 12 feet or so in the air, holding a 10 foot long piece of clapboard in one hand and trying to position and nail it correctly by yourself with the other. So until one of you people finds me a husband*, I’ll be forced to improvise…and on this day, that took the form of erecting my own scaffolding. Scraps and leftovers! It looks like garbage but I swear it was shockingly solid and stable. This made things slightly easier…at least easy enough that I was able to do the entire first level solo! Boom!

*preferably super handsome, rockin’ bod, my mother would prefer Jewish and a doctor/lawyer/both, around my age, likes to be bossed around.


A few days later, I got Edwin and Edgar to come by and help me out with the top half of the wall. I’d already gutted this wall from the inside upstairs, so this top half had to happen relatively quickly since the house was literally wide open to the elements/animals/bugs/zombies. This part of the job was also a little more complex than the lower half since we also had to remove that door, frame in two windows, install the windows, patch the rake frieze, insulate, and install all the trim and siding. Obviously this was also happening high above the ground and all of those boards from the eaves returns upwards have to be cut at angles at the ends…this would have taken me FOREVER by myself and I probably would have died.


While Edwin and Edgar worked on pulling off the old clapboard and removing the old door and window, I built window jambs! I wish I had more and better pictures of this, but I can’t seem to find any. The original frame for the old kitchen casement window was still intact, so I took the whole thing apart and used pieces of it to create the jambs for the two individual casement windows. There was some trial and error but I figured it out and I think they ended up looking pretty good!


I also had to make the casings to trim out the windows after installation, but before the clapboard went back up. The casings are 5/4″ thick (1″ in actual dimensions) x 4″ pieces of wood that were easy to just rip down to size on the table saw, but that little drip cap on top of the casing took a little more effort. This is the kind of thing that tends to get hacked off when vinyl siding is installed, and my house is no exception. Argh! I was able to replicate them pretty easily with my table saw, though—first by ripping the board to the right width (I think it ended up being 2 inches?), and then by adjusting the angle of the blade and running the board through again.


Meanwhile, Edgar and Edwin put their brains together and figured out how to patch in the missing parts of the rake frieze—the restoration of which was a big part of why this project happened in the first place. They used scrap 5/4″ lumber (which was slightly thinner than the original board, so they had to be shimmed out a little bit) and somehow got the angles just right and fit the pieces into place. Those guys…they make me so happy.


How ya like them apples? Things were looking pretty nuts at this point, but look at how good that patch job is up on the rake frieze! The patches are nailed to the studs and screwed into the original boards—the whole installation seems very secure. After patching and paint…well, just wait!


While Edwin and Edgar worked on framing out the rough openings for the window jambs I’d just made, I planed more clapboard! I know we’ve been through this, but man…pre-planed board above, planed board below. SO. SATISFYING.

In case you’re wondering why I didn’t just flip the boards around and reinstall them with the painted side facing in, the backs of these boards are finished totally differently than the fronts—all rough and splintery and not made to be reversible.  Many of the boards that came off the mudroom appear to come from the 1930s or so and those are finished on both sides and could have been flipped, but not the originals. I just went ahead and planed all of them, because whatever.


YAY! Placing the windows wasn’t too difficult—it was just a matter of figuring out how large they’d be—including the exterior casings—and leaving enough room in the top corners that everything would fit nicely under frieze we’d just patched in. These windows need some restoration work, but they’re easy to remove (hinges just unscrew) when I have a second to do that later on.

By the way, I decided to use these sashes instead of the ones from the window that was already up there because these were a little bigger—a few inches longer and about an inch wider—and I thought that scale seemed better. These windows had to be relatively small but I didn’t want them to be too dinky. I still want that room to feel really great when it’s done. I’ll do another post on how that room is looking from the inside now, but I really like it! The little windows really change things but it feels very cozy and authentic to this whacky old house. There’s a big dormer on the other side of the room, too, so it still gets plenty of natural light.


Moving right along! Edwin and Edgar installed the casings that I prepared and everything fit so nicely. Then they went about insulating the wall using the same method I’d used downstairs—2″ rigid foam insulation with spray foam around the edges.


And then, clapboard!! This went pretty quickly between the two of them up there and me on clapboard cutting duty down below.


This kind of goes without saying, but I’m so lucky to have these dudes in my life. I love that I can ask them to re-side my house with 150 year old splinters and they don’t even try to talk me out of it. That they also do nice work is a bonus! Cutting those angles at the top and getting the boards to fall with the right exposure (5.25″, if you’re curious) was sort of math-y so I’m glad Edgar was on deck for this part.


Look at all that glorious siding! Next, the guys worked on patching the rake frieze and the notched out components of the soffit. They nailed smaller pieces of wood into the notched areas and then approximated the curves of the molding with patching compound, which was contoured further with some artsy sanding work. The patches aren’t perfect up close but you can’t tell that from standing on the ground, so it’s all good! Short of prying the moldings off and getting them replicated, it’s about as good as it gets. edwinandedgar

We used Bondo for all the patching, by the way. There are better products out there for wood patching (Abatron’s line of products is kind of the gold standard now, as far as I know), but Bondo is cheap, easy to work with, and I had it on hand. I’m curious to see how it does—I’ve never had a problem with Bondo repairs and any old-school contractor/carpenter I’ve talked to about it (yes, I’m that guy that strikes up that conversation) hasn’t either, so I hope it all holds up. Worst case, I’ll spend a few days scraping it out and cursing my life and using the fancy shit in its place. Best case, I spent about $12 on Bondo instead of $150 on Abatron.


So we were all rocking and rolling as your dad would say, and feeling overly confident about our progress. Edwin asked me why we weren’t just doing more walls like this, and started picking at the vinyl siding on the adjacent laundry room wall. I reminded him that this was November in upstate New York and the weather could change and I did NOT need to make this job bigger, and he countered with pointing out how fast things were going with he and Edgar there, and that we were all wearing t-shirts. I reminded him that he was only planning to be there through the end of the day and then I’d be on my own with another mess on my hands, and he told me he could let me pay him for another day or two of help.

Then he batted those beautiful brown eyes and we decided to rip the vinyl off another wall. I mean, just look at that gorgeous man. He just does something to me.


Damnit. What’s wrong with me? Good news was that this wall was neither much better or worse than the other wall—no super nasty surprises. Ya never know what you’re gonna get!


I went about removing the clapboard, tearing out the brick nogging, and cutting my insulation to size for the laundry room wall. I was already kind of regretting this move but the damage was done and Edwin had promised me another day or two so I tried to calm down. It’s not that fixing this wall was particularly hard—it’s all basically straight cuts and the whole thing is less than 7 feet wide—but it’s just more work. I still have to patch and caulk and prime and paint this thing!

Edwin and Edgar did not return, by the way. I can’t fault them because they were off doing another job for me elsewhere (different day, different post) but I still like to pretend like this was their fault. Jerks.


Check it out! Primer! Much to the chagrin of Edwin, I wanted to use oil-based primer on the clapboard. Pro painters seem to agree that it performs better than latex in terms of adhesion, durability, and stain-blocking, but it’s a little harder to work with and clean-up sucks. I like to skirt this issue by wearing latex gloves and using cheap brushes that I can throw away at the end, but it still takes longer to apply than latex.

ANYWAY. It was really, really exciting to see this finally coming together. I tore off the mudroom back in June (!) and hemmed and hawed over this wall before deciding on a plan around early October, so seeing those windows in place with the clapboard restored and the rake frieze patched in…well, that was some gratifying shit right there.


And this is where they left me! I’m guessing some people will think this looks like a horrific mess and some people will think it looks like it’s almost done, and you’re both right! It’s amazing how long the additional patching, sanding, scraping, priming, caulking, more patching, more caulking, finally painting, then painting the trim, then final touch-ups really takes, but I’m finally ALMOST THERE. Give me good weather tomorrow and I think I can wrap this sucker up!


I’m having trouble figuring out how to end this post, so why not—it’s not a full before and after (yet) but it’s still fun to see the change! Almost there. Almost there. Almost there.

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