Stopgap Fencing, Which Realistically will Probably be Pretty Permanent

Anyone who’s had the distinct pleasure of using the only functional bathroom in my house can probably confirm that I’m not a huge patron of the stopgap measure. At some point, the space will more than likely get gutted down to the studs and put back together again, but for now it’s…well, it’s wretched. The vinyl tile floor is horrendously ugly and missing or coming up in places, the old paint-covered wallpaper is separating all over the place from the cracked plaster walls underneath, and the shower surround is the same 1950s gold-speckled white formica used on the old kitchen countertops downstairs. My work on it, thus far, has been keeping it clean, hanging a shower curtain, and a couple of hooks for towels. Often I think about dedicating a few days to trying to at least do something about the floor and maybe slap a coat of paint on the walls and re-caulk the tub, but then I think…nah. I’ll get to this space when I’m ready to really get to it, and for now I can just keep apologizing to guests when they inevitably ask where to relieve themselves and I’m left to wonder whether the backyard would be a more luxurious recommendation.

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Sometimes, though, you really just have to do something, which is what happened with the old wrought iron fence lining the front and a portion of the side of my property, right next to the sidewalk. I often refer to this fence as “original” but honestly I have no idea. The same or similar style of fencing isn’t all that uncommon in and around Kingston, but it seems to be typically used around public spaces like civic buildings or graveyards rather than private residences, so sometimes I wonder if this fence could have been relocated here from elsewhere.

Who knows. Standing a bit over 3 feet high, it’s a very simple fence that’s relatively light on ornament, with each vertical picket terminating in a rather threatening-looking spike. It has a very creepy cemetery kind of vibe that I just think is terrific, obviously.

before1

Trouble is, the fence just sort of…stops about 20 feet in from the corner, which is part of what makes me wonder if it was moved from somewhere else. Back before I replaced all the chain-link with a nice new wood fence, this stopping point is where the 6′ chain-link fencing began, which was awkward and totally ugly and not nice at all.

There’s about 32 feet between where the wrought iron fence ends and the wood fence begins that I needed to fill in with…something. This is the kind of thing that will keep me from sleeping for months or years. I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled at salvage places and on Craigslist basically since buying the house hoping to stumble upon lengths of the same fencing to match, but no dice.

before1950s

In this circa 1950 photo of the house (which you can read a whole post about here), the solution the owners had come up with then was to patch in this area with a different type of fencing—to me it looks like wood, and maybe is supposed to be a balustrade, like for a porch? I think this is actually a pretty nice answer to this vexing conundrum so I was planning to do something similar, but then I figured I might as well obsess over it forever instead?

I found someone locally who does custom metal fabrication projects and we talked about having the original fence replicated (with powder-coated steel instead of wrought iron), but the only way it would have maybe been within financial reach would have been if he could have sourced the basic components from his suppliers (horizontal rails with pre-punched holes at the correct dimensions and spacing, that kind of thing…) and then just done the work of welding it all together, but he did some searching and couldn’t find what we needed, so that plan was kind of dead in the water.

stewartironworks

I have no idea how it took me so long to notice, but back in the spring I was looking more closely at the original fence and took a closer look at the little seal on the gate. Of course it had a brand name on it! I’m dumb.

Want to know something cool? Too bad, you don’t have a choice. Stewart Iron Works Company? It’s still in business! According to the company, it was founded around 1860 (Wikipedia says 1886), and at its peak was the biggest iron fence manufacturer in the world—providing fencing for everything from cemeteries to the Panama Canal to the White House! They did a bunch of other impressive stuff too, like jail cells (notably at Alcatraz and Sing Sing), military vehicles during WWI, furniture…amazing, right? Nowadays the company is based in Kentucky, and evidently a lot of their business stems from historic restoration projects, which is pretty awesome. It doesn’t look like my particular fence is something they stock (although all the components seem to be available in the catalog), but I did have a very nice conversation over the phone with one of their employees who said it should be easy enough for them to reproduce. Which would be AWESOME, correct? Correct.

If money were no object this would be a total no-brainer, but…girl’s gotta eat. My house still needs a LOT of work. Funds are low. As much as I love this fence, there are about 100 things I can think of off the top of my head that I’d prioritize higher than having a perfect replica of my old fence made, and I can currently afford maybe 1.5 of them? So PLEASE, Stewart Iron Works: stay in business another decade or two and I promise to circle back and pursue this for real. Maybe then you can just send me the pattern and I’ll 3D print it.

ANYWAY I had to do SOMETHING because amazingly enough, a 39″ high antique wrought iron fence connecting to a 6′ rusty dusty chain-link fence connecting to a new 6′ wood picket fence all within about 50 feet is not adorable? Even the dirt patch AND falling down addition on the side of the house weren’t enough to make it a good look, if you can believe it.

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I searched far and wide (kind of), hoping to find something within a couple inches in height of the original fence, with a similar pattern. Since the ultimate goal is to get an actual Stewart Iron Works fence, it had to also be within the budgetary parameters of free to pretty cheap.

I looked at SO MANY OPTIONS of newer aluminum fencing products, and you know what’s funny? I ultimately just came back to the same exact solution I came to a year ago on the opposite side of the yard! I originally found this “No Dig Fencing” stuff at Lowe’s totally just because I spotted it and figured it was good enough and relatively affordable, but now I’m pretty convinced it actually is the closest thing out there for cheaps to my old fence. Fancy that.

If I wasn’t trying to match something else, I was actually surprised by how many affordable and really nice-looking options for metal fencing Lowe’s has, by the way. I guess it’s all special-order in the stores or online-only (at least at my store it is), but there are all these options seem much, much sturdier than the stuff I used (since they have real posts and bolts to connect everything and all that) and the panels are 6 foot lengths rather than 4 feet, which just looks better for longer spans. I only bring it up because I can see a lot of those options actually looking really good on a historic restoration project and budget-wise it’s totally friendly.

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How is this post getting this long?? Back to my fence. This stuff installs so quickly that I didn’t even take any process pictures—it was all done in about an hour, including cutting down a panel for this little return piece as well as the last one at the end so it all fit. The pieces are all hollow aluminum so it cuts VERY easily—I used my Sawzall but a regular manual hacksaw would be easy, too. The little return panel is attached to the wood post with a couple of conduit straps that I spray-painted black, which sounds horrendous but you really don’t notice them.

Anyway, the entire fence is just 4 foot panels, which interlock with vertical posts. The posts stay in the ground with a stake that you hammer in with a rubber mallet. All in all it’s not the most sturdy thing in the world, but I think it’ll be OK

This fencing tends to look a little nutty, I figured out, if you don’t really get everything hammered into place well. I sort of made this mistake on the other side of the yard and it shows, so here I hammered the stakes deeper into the ground and then went back and hammered the posts as far down as I could get them after all the panels were in place. This keeps everything level and the interlocking aspect of how it all fits together isn’t as evident. This also means that the bottom of the fence is sitting right on the ground (and a little underground after I plant and mulch this area), which may affect the longevity of it depending on how good the powder-coating is to prevent it from rusting, but again…I’m not expecting it to last forever.

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Anyway! I feel like it’s kind of really hokey but it also looks totally OK?? Like, we’re all sitting here staring at it right now, but in real life you don’t really do that—especially once this area has some plants growing, I really feel like it’ll all “read” as the same fencing and be completely fine, ya know? So maybe it’s not exactly fooling anyone but it’s also the kind of thing that you’d have to be paying more attention than most people really do to notice. Yeah? Not bad for about $300 and an hour or so of work.

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To finish off this VERY professional and labor-intensive installation, I connected the new fence to the old fence with…black plastic zip-ties. I can’t really believe I’m admitting this publicly, but I feel like this post is kind of about letting things slide so WHATEVER. It happened and it works and if they break it’s not like it’s exactly difficult or expensive to just throw on some new ones.

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Here’s the house back at the end of April…

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And here’s where things stood as of a couple of weeks ago! It’s, like, both better and worse at the same time? That’s possible, right? But someday that “after” image will just be another “progress” shot and we can all forget or feel nostalgic for how crazy things look right in this moment.

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

 

Mudroom-B-Gone!

So, remember the ongoing saga regarding that weird room on the back of my house that I wanted to disappear? For SOME REASON (delusion, lack of forethought, unwarranted optimism…same shit, different post) making an entire addition on the back of a house just go away is more work than I gave it credit for, particularly when no bulldozers are involved. Imagine that.

So last time we talked about how I’d already gut the interior and removed the vinyl siding from the exterior and was gearing up for the full demolition. I could have probably saved quite a bit of work and time by renting a dumpster and disregarding the fact that there were any salvageable materials here, but that would be so…sensible and unlike me. #liveauthentic

backofhousewithvinyl

backofhouseaftervinylremoval

Demo actually kicked off with opening an even bigger can of worms and removing the vinyl siding from the entire back wall of the house. The interior space of the mudroom (soon to be exterior space!) didn’t have vinyl, so this seemed like a logical step. It’s not a HUGE wall, so this’ll also be a good testing ground for restoring the clapboard and removing more and more of the vinyl down the line.

This may be interesting to only me, but I swear it’s slightly important. See how in the before picture, the vinyl goes all the way up to the base of the cornice, but underneath it is actually a pretty substantial flat board that runs perpendicular-ish to the clapboard? What do we call that? I don’t think it qualifies as a fascia, but anyway…it’s something and it’s created endless hemming and hawing over what to do with the back of the house. My guess is that this second floor space was built as an unfinished attic and there weren’t doors or windows up here at all. Later on, the space was finished and that little casement window and that door were cut in and installed. To me they look funny and wrong with the corners cutting into the…fascia?…board like that, right? Like they shouldn’t be there. I’m not as anal about the back of the house as I am about the two street-facing sides, but I do want it to look nice and not weird. Now I’m wondering if the best option is to replace the door and window with two pretty narrow and slightly lower matching windows that won’t interfere with the original trim and cornice like what’s happening now. I don’t even know. Obviously it would be ideal to decide, order the windows, install them, and THEN go through the hassle of fixing up the clapboard, but given that it’s already September and I can’t make up my mind, that probably won’t happen.

beadboardceiling2

Anyway! Mudroom demo! That’s what we’re talking about here! Demolishing this room started with removing the roof. It was an old metal roof covered in layers of tar, but still leaked in spite of that. All in all, it came off pretty easily (and the scrapyard still took it, even with the tar!). We had to remove a piece of clapboard on the house because the roofing ran up under it, so that’s something I really have to fix stat.

Removing the roofing revealed that the beadboard ceiling below it was actually in much better shape than I expected! This roof was VERY leaky so I expected a ton of rot and water damage but it was in really good condition. YAY!

mudroom-roof-demo

Starting at the front of the space, a helper and I removed the boards one by one from the original 2×4 roof framing. It took a little patience to get the boards up intact, but I think we had them all up, de-nailed, and stacked nicely within about an hour.

beadboardceiling

Boom! Hellllo, first floor bathroom ceiling! The first floor bathroom used to be a very small porch, but that beadboard wasn’t really salvageable during demo so I’m glad this was. Dimensionally I think it’s the same (or close to it) but the boards themselves are a bit thicker. I like the idea of putting a wide-plank beadboard ceiling back in there as a nod to what the space was originally.

mudroom-demo5

Removing the clapboard took quite a bit longer. I might have gone a little overboard, but wood clapboard like this is quite different than what’s readily available nowadays, so I just decided to hold onto EVERYTHING that wasn’t rotted in the hopes that my stockpile will save me if/when I have to patch in missing or rotted boards on other areas of the exterior down the line. They’re all piled neatly in my basement, like you might find in the home of someone who has truly lost all grip on reality.

Sometimes they whisper to me.

mudroomdemo5

So, uh…this looks insane. I don’t know. Exciting-insane but also just insane-insane. Just a little paint, right?

backofhousebefore

For reference, here’s that same-ish angle from when I first bought the house. I know, it’s just like one of those Spot the Difference! games where you really have to hunt around.

(it’s the plants.)

backofhousefullfrontal

So, that’s pretty much what the back of my house looks like now. Peeling paint and missing clapboard and utter shambles and complete craziness. I know, but you have GOT to get your jealousy under control. I can feel it from here and it’s making me uncomfortable.

mekkoondeck

I left the floorboards and framing underneath in place for the time being so that the back door doesn’t open out onto a few-foot drop, but that’s going to go soon, too. Mekko doesn’t understand the difference between this and a back porch, so she thinks we’re living in major luxury. Little does she realize this will soon also disappear and everything will be awful again. Living with me is way fun.

You may or may not be curious what the current plans are for the covered back porch that was supposed to be happening this summer, and the answer is no way, no how. The backyard ate up more money than I realized it would and I have less money than I thought I would so that project is getting shelved hopefully for next spring/summer, which I think is actually a good thing. I don’t have to TOTALLY freak out about the back of the house—patch in some clapboard, strip/scrape, prime, paint, ya know—but I have a second now to reevaluate what I want back here and hammer out the details and all that before embarking on a semi-major construction project. I like most of the original plan, but I’m already thinking I’ll probably nix the second floor balcony concept and scale down the first floor part a little to bring it into better proportion with the house—like big enough for an outdoor dining table and a couple chairs, that kind of thing.

kitchenwithlight!

Oh! One of the majorly super exciting things about this whole mudroom disappearing act? The amount of LIGHT it brought into the kitchen! This kind of stuff is hard to convey in pictures (you can go look at the original kitchen reveal here), but it makes a huge, huge difference in real life. The eventual plan is to someday probably enlarge the window that’s currently over the sink as well as add two additional windows in the kitchen, but until then, seeing the light stream in from the door that goes to the used-to-be-mudroom is so nice. When you’ve spent two years seeing a dark brown abyss through that door and having a kitchen without a lot of natural light, this is awesome.

Quick & Easy Projects: The Dining Room Hutch.

So, you might have picked up on the fact that there’s a lot going on right now that all adds up to my life feeling like non-stop chaos everywhere I look. I’m sure you know the feeling no matter what you do, but in the midst of multiple renovation projects at once on multiple houses, the quite literal mess and feeling of so many things sitting in some state of “progress” but still a ways away from completion can get kind of…wearing. I’m so lucky to get to do all this fun stuff that I like to do, but like everything else it comes with some little downsides that can make you crazy if you let them.

This week I actually dedicated a *little* less time to the stuff that feels very very pressing and a little more time to getting off my ass when I’m tired and just want to lay in bed and watch Netflix and moan in the service of trying to check some things off a loooongggggg list of little things that have been bothering me for what feels like forever. Finally hanging some art that’s been leaning on the mantel for 4 months, switching that rug with this rug, cleaning out closets…small, approachable tasks that I can complete in an afternoon or two and have a pretty immediate affect on my rapidly slipping notion that I actually have things under control. It feels GREAT.

diningroomlastyear

Case in point? The big antique hutch in my dining room. I still love that thing and still consider it a steal at $400 (I wrote that it was $450 when I posted about the dining room, but I recently found the receipt and turns out I was wrong!), but probably since the day I set it up, a few things about it have bothered me. The whole thing is really old so the doors don’t always stay closed, and the shelf spacing always struck me as kind of…wrong.

HUTCHBEFORE

It only had two shelves (three, counting the bottom obviously), which sort of made everything I put inside it feel too small and awkward. The other problem—which isn’t so much a flaw as much as something I just endlessly stared at and obsessed over—is that the shelves have no spacial relation to the mullions on the glass-paneled doors, which may or may not have originally been someone’s storm windows or something. At some point I thought to myself, “self, you can fix that,” and them promptly added “fix hutch shelves” to a truly appalling number of to-do lists I’ve written and ignored over the course of the past year.

hutchprogress2

So the other day, I did do something! I opted to go the quick-and-easy route and just GET IT DONE instead of obsessing over every single tiny detail and making my quick dumb project overwhelming with steps.

I took a rubber mallet (so as not to bruise the wood) and gently released the top shelf from the cleat holding it up. It wasn’t nailed down so this was very easy. I thought of prying the cleat off and raising it an inch to line up with the top mullion, but then I said fuck it! and just ripped a 1″ piece of scrap 5/4″ wood down on my table saw to add to the top of the cleat. I attached it to the side of the cabinet with wood glue and 1.25″ brad nails, smeared the holes with caulk, and used the rubber mallet to lower the shelf back onto its supports. FANCY.

hutchprogress1

For the second shelf, I did pry off the old cleat, pulled the nails, and planed off the back to get rid of any remaining glue schmutz so that it could be re-glued and re-attached at the right height. More wood glue, more brad nails…done. BANG. The cabinet is 14″ deep so I kept a 12″ level handy to make sure my cleats and shelves were level and nice.

The bottom shelf had to be made because it didn’t exist before. The shelves are 14.75″ deep, and I happened to have a piece of 14″ cabinet-grade plywood leftover from something that I could just cut down to the right length. Easy. Then I just ripped a 3/4″ piece of 1x scrap and face-nailed it to the front of the plywood to add a *little* rigidity and cover up the raw plywood edge. The cleats are made from scrap 5/4″ lumber (so they matched the thickness of the originals) that I just cut down to be the same width, which I think was 2.75″ or something. Not sure. At this point the bourbon was taking over.

ADDEDSHELVES

The next afternoon, when the caulk had all set up, I spend roughly two minutes with my orbital sander smoothing down the areas that hadn’t gotten painted the first time around or were covered by the old locations of the cleats. Then I wiped everything down and gave those spots and the new shelf two coats of the paint I used the first time, which is Martha Stewart’s Bedford Grey. For about .5 seconds I considered taking the opportunity to do something different with the color but I still really like this one and I don’t care if it gets more pins because I painted it emerald green or some shit. Sorry!

HUTCHAFTER

Andddd, YAY! Don’t worry about the “styling” because there is no real styling. This is called “I want this shit off my dining room table, so I’m putting my crap away” styling. So pro.

THE POINT IS, the shelves now make sense with the doors, AND I got another few feet of storage space out of this thing, which I’ll never turn down. It also did give me the opportunity to weed out some items I was keeping around that are pretty but weren’t really serving a purpose for me and just taking up space. I’ll always have stuff like that—pretty for pretty’s sake—but keeping it to a reasonable minimum feels alright.

CLASP

CLASP2

The only other major improvement was that I added some cheap little cabinet door clasps to the inside of the doors/shelves to keep the doors from flopping around all willy-nilly. I found them at Lowe’s for a dollar a two a piece in the cabinet hardware section, like where the knobs and handles are. Changes EVERYTHING. This upgrade took maybe 10 minutes and makes me feel like this one thing in my life doesn’t have any stupid little outstanding work to do on it. I briefly considered switching out the original clasps on the outside of the door with something more substantial/functional but still reasonably historically appropriate, but this was easier, cheaper, and allows me to maintain the original look of the thing. Win-win-win! They’re not visible at all except when the doors are open. YAY.

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That’s it! Does everyone else have stupid projects like this, hanging over their heads for months or years that would realistically only take a couple hours of work to fix? I have so many that I could make a regular feature out of this stuff. We’ll call it…I Was Lazy for Months and Months and I Finally Got My Act Together to be Less Lazy. Or something.

Front Yard 2015!

fencebaptista082015

Last summer, I put a lot of work into carving out a front garden in the space on the left side of my house. There’s a little over 30 feet of yard there, just hanging out next to the front porch. My lot is pretty wide for Kingston—75 x 100 feet—and one of the challenges with it (aside from shoveling in the winter) has been figuring out how to effectively use the space while balancing the need to maintain original features like the low wrought-iron fence and keep the dogs contained and give the backyard space some privacy. The best solution that I could come up with was to install a 6-foot tall fence about 20 feet behind the original low wrought-iron fence and dub that area a dog-free front yard, like so:

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The problem was, all I had was a bunch of grass and weeds, a huge clump of hosta, and two scraggly rhododendrons. I know there are more economical and soil-enriching ways of eliminating grass than just digging it up (sheet mulching is pretty cool and makes lots of sense!) but in this case part of the goal was also the bring the level of the soil back down. As it was, the entire bottom of the wrought-iron fence was below-grade and rusting, and the sidewalk was being overtaken by surrounding soil and grass on either side. Excavating the entire area down a few inches was a huge pain in the butt, but I’m really glad I did it!

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I worked on the garden in a couple of phases—starting near the new tall fence and working my way toward the sidewalk. I threw down a path made from broken pieces of bluestone from the backyard, and put enough plants in the ground to make it presentable enough without spending much money.

hostahedgepostplanting

Because I transplanted and split the hostas during the summer, they did not do particularly well. I sort of saw that coming so tried to remember that in a few months they’d die back, and then this spring they’d be like new plants! Some plants are more finicky than others about when they can be moved and split, but I’ve always found hostas fairly indestructible.

Anyway, I think that’s kinda where we left off?  This spring/summer I planned to do more work on that side of the yard than I really have, but I’ve done a few things. Mostly, though, nature’s done the heavy-lifting and it’s starting to kind of look like a garden or something! There are still a million things I want to do and change (I’m sure there always will be), but even the way it is now makes me pretty happy. I feel like I’ve done something good for the house and the street, and I’m excited to see it develop as the years go by. Gardening is funny because it feels so low on the priority list during a major renovation project, but it’s also the thing that takes the longest time to mature and start to actually look good.

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After living with the space between my sidewalk and the wrought iron fence planted and mulched for a year, I noticed that the mulch tended to get spread around onto the sidewalk by wind and dogs and probably people, so this spring I decided to take action! I’m not really a fan of black plastic edging in general, but it seemed like the best solution for here. The sidewalk stones are pretty irregular so something too rigid wasn’t really an option, and I figured that I could bury it fairly deep and keep it looking as minimal as possible. Plus, it’s cheap!

Using a small spade, I dug out a 6″ or so trench next to the sidewalk to create a channel for the edging. It took a while and was no fun.

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Here we go! I don’t love the way it looks, but it’s very functional and looks…fine? Nothing gorgeous but it does keep things neat and tidy. This was back in May so the hostas were just getting going and I’d just mulched.

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Here’s the same area a couple days ago. The hostas are all done flowering for the season but the foliage is still nice to have around, and it’s nice to see them all full and happy after last year! There are honey locust trees in the strip between the sidewalk and the curb…if you’ve ever lived near one you know those tiny leaves get EVERYWHERE and are kind of impossible to keep out of flower beds and whatnot. I don’t really care, but I feel like the creeping jenny kind of gets lost because of it and would be better off somewhere else.

hostahedgeinspo

I took this picture of a house a few blocks away because I think their hosta hedge would work really nicely in front of my fence. It’s the same situation—a bunch of hosta planted in front of a low metal fence—except they spaced them much closer so they don’t really read as individual plants, which is SO MUCH BETTER than what I did. I don’t want to screw with the hostas again before they’re done for the season, but in the fall I’ll transplant the creeping jenny elsewhere and split all of the hosta and plant them much closer together so that it’ll look more like this. When they mature, hopefully they’ll cover the plastic edging and it’ll all look very lush and nice and it’ll be great? I’ll let ya know.

rhododendroninbloom

Anyway, the rhododendrons bloomed back in May, too! The rhodos in front of my porch are old and nicely established, but they’re also weirdly tall for their location and look sort of scraggly to me most of the time. They’re quite nice for the few minutes a year when they bloom, though!

dyingrhodo

It really seemed like the smaller of the two rhododendrons bit the dust during the winter. I thought it was my fault, but my tree dude who took down the big maple in the backyard said that last winter was just so cold that a lot of people’s rhododendrons died. I came *this close* to cutting it down and digging up the stump, but then…

rhodoresurrection

That mo’fo’ came right back! It got all this new growth and even bloomed and it was sort of amazing and impressive. Good job, plant I don’t even really like!

It sounds like Rhododendrons can respond well to fairly aggressive pruning, so I think I’m going to attempt to get these guys growing lower and fuller over the next few years.

boxwoodhedge

This is not a good picture, but I started a boxwood hedge last year that wraps the porch and stoop foundations. These were little $7 boxwoods from Lowe’s (“winter gem” variety) so it’ll be a few years before they really fill in and start to be hedge-like, but they’re doing pretty well! I think it’ll be a nice traditional element to ground things, and it’s nice that they stay green year-round. Grow, boxwoods, grow! Several people have told me that propagating boxwoods from clippings is super easy, but I gotta say I tried it last year and it was a total fail. I think I’ll just stick with buying the cheap ones.

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Anyway! Here’s an idea of how things were around mid-summer last year. All thin and limp and sickly. I value these qualities in a man but not in my garden.

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And here we are this spring, just after mulching and stuff! Everything I was sort of worried about by the end of last summer came back! The hydrangeas in the back are happy and all the hosta grew in nicely, although I think I’m going to move all the hosta to the “hedge” and out of the main space. Too much hosta.

frontyard082015

And here we are a couple days ago! It’s been a dry August (the whole summer, really) and I’m still not in a great watering habit, but nevertheless things have been filling in and doing OK. It’s fun to see how much growth happened in a couple months!

beardediris

I think I may have been too aggressive with splitting the irises, but they did all return! Only a few of them bloomed, but the ones that did were really pretty. These were transplanted from somewhere near the garage last year—I’m glad they survived! I love irises—I hope to add a lot more in different varieties over the years. The flowers don’t last that long but the foliage is nice and sculptural too, and I like that they’re a very traditional plant.

falseindigoinbloom

The false indigos are doing REALLY well. I think this is one of my favorite plants now! There are two, and I’d say both of them have at least doubled or tripled in size since last year. The flowers are so lovely while they last, but I love that the plant maintains such nice minty foliage until well into fall. They love the sun and don’t really seem to need any extra water, either!

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The bleeding heart comes and goes pretty fast, but it’s such a pretty early bloomer. The entire plant is spent by about mid-July so I just cut them back to ground level and forget about them, but they’re so pretty while they’re in bloom and the foliage is nice until it dries up and dies.

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I always kind of forget that I have lilacs in the front yard! They’re right next to the fence between my property and the neighbor’s and they’re super top-heavy so they kind of flop down into the neighbor’s yard. I pruned them quite a bit last summer and this was the first spring that I’ve seen them bloom! I’m going to try pruning them more in a couple weeks and see if I can get them to fill out next year.

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Those three little clusters in the foreground are autumn joy sedum, which are fun to watch over the course of the summer! Above is how they looked back in May…

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

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The peony I planted last summer came back nicely (I think it had a total of one flower, though), and a couple little tiny peony plants sprouted up adjacent to it. I think maybe I planted bulbs last year but I honestly can’t really remember—I planted a lot of bulbs but I definitely did it way too early and none of them really came in. Ah, well. Better luck next time!

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This was labeled a “wine and roses” weigela. I planted three of them in a clump sort of in the middle of the yard and I’m looking forward to seeing what they do next year. The foliage has a lot of deep purple in it and I guess they’ll have little pink flowers and be 2-3 feet tall and wide.

 

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The most recent addition to the front are a couple of oak-leaf hydrangeas I picked up on sale at Adam’s. I’d never heard of these until a few people suggested them in the comments last year (thanks, guys!) and I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for them ever since. I dig the foliage on these guys. I’m pretty sure they won’t bloom until next year, but I’m glad they’re in the ground and getting comfy.

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Is that enough rambling about plants? I know the garden has a lot of filling in to do and it’s looking pretty hodgepodge (probably because it is!), but I’m counting the fact that stuff is alive and mostly doing well as a victory regardless. I think if I just keep futzing with it and adding a few things every year, it’ll start to take shape and really look like something? That’s the whole plan so I hope it works out.

What kind of plants would you add to this space? Plant suggestions are always welcome!

New Fence, OMG OMG OMG.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Then there was more checking…and more checking…

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

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

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

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

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

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CHECK. IT. OUT.

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

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

ANYWAY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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