Progress in the Front Garden!

I feel like I’ve probably opened a few posts this way by now, but whatever: when I was a kid, we moved from one new-ish house in suburban Northern Virginia to a new-new house also in suburban Northern Virginia. Looking back, the move shouldn’t have been a big deal. The two houses were maybe a 10-15 minute drive from each other. The old house wasn’t anything terribly special, and the new house had more space and exciting futuristic amenities, like an ice maker. We didn’t have to change schools or anything, and all our stuff was coming with us, so I’m not really sure what the hell our big problem was with the whole thing.

I blame my brother, Jeremy. Since he was three years older than my sister Laura and I, and I guess we took our emotional cues from him, his upset over the move became our upset, too. And we were very upset. Whenever we went to visit the new house while it was under construction, whether it was to check out the newly-poured foundation or later to pick out our bedrooms, Jeremy stayed in the car. He was having none of it. And while I wasn’t about to sacrifice the opportunity to choose the best bedroom just for the sake of solidarity, Laura and I weren’t much better. We bitched and moaned the whole time, and were general nightmare children throughout the entire ordeal. Moving day found me literally clinging to the curtains of my old bedroom, wailing as if I’d been set on fire while my father dragged me out of the only home I’d ever known and into the car.

Semi-related: the curtains were part of a larger dinosaur motif that had been enacted throughout the decor of my room a few years prior—the bedspread, sheets, wallpaper border, and said curtains were all of the same pattern and very obviously formed a set. I guess since the new owners also had a young son and liked that the wallpaper border matched the curtains, they negotiated the sale of the curtains with the home. Altogether, the various dinosaur-themed pieces displayed quite a dramatic effect, but separated the whole thing just seemed sort of sad and amateurish, decor-wise. I still consider this decision a grave error on my parents’ part, if only because my new room looked really bad with just the comforter left as evidence of its former glory.

ANYWAY. In a move of questionable parenting, my mother and father attempted to quell our complaints and unrelenting sadness with bribery. We were promised a second dog, which we eventually got (Yophie, the best dog ever). We were told that we could each have our own small pet, which we eventually did (I got a hamster and my sister got a guinea pig and my brother got a small exotic frog). Lastly, we were promised that we could all have our own garden.

This last promise still puzzles me. It isn’t as though our old house didn’t have a backyard that we could plant shit in—as far as I know, we’d just never really had any inclination. My brother spent most of his time indoors on his computer, and my sister an I had a swing set we were quite fond of and a whole lot of Barbies who, thanks to me, were always missing the majority of their hair. Gardening? Sure. I guess. Whatever, Mom.

My sister gave it a try, growing mostly edibles like strawberries and a few cucumbers every summer. I started with tomato plants, which I quickly learned needed to be watered and staked and caged to stay upright to actually bear tomatoes. My parents used to buy bagels and lox and cream cheese JUST for the occasion of eating my freshly harvested tomato crop, and I remember both really liking bagels and lox and cream cheese with a tomato on it and the idea that I’d actually grown a part of what I was eating.

And that’s how tomato gardening became my main passion in life. It was a lot of work and I liked it for whatever reason. I was a weird kid.

Soon my interests expanded, I think when my mother took me to our local farmer’s market for the first time. There were a few vendors who sold various types of non-edible plants, and I made quick work of taking over all of the space allotted to my sister and brother with black-eyed susans, astible, hosta, lilies, lamb’s ear, various ornamental grasses, and a bunch of other stuff I can’t remember. When I’d filled up that space, I moved on to other areas of the backyard. When I got bored of that, I picked up where the landscapers left off and started filling in the front yard, replacing some dead azaleas with more exciting hydrangea bushes, putting some peonies  and evergreens on a forgotten strip of land next to the driveway, splitting the perennials that had matured in the back and moving them to various other places…I was prolific. Despite our hard, clay-dominated soil, for some reason everything I planted seemed to thrive. I’d spend entire days outside, completely engrossed in my gardening, and then make everyone come admire my efforts. In the summer I’d clip my flowers as they bloomed and arrange small vases of them throughout the house. In retrospect, I’m sure my mother was thankful for the free labor and fresh flowers, but I can’t really imagine my childhood without gardening. It taught me all the platitudes about life that gardening is meant to provide: about patience, the payoff that comes with a hard day’s work, and that it was OK to have a hobby that was totally my own—solitary, slow, and hardly the type of thing boys weren’t supposed to be spending their time on. I loved it.

I continued gardening here and there until I graduated from high school, albeit without quite the same vim and vigor I had when I was younger, and then I stopped. I moved from one apartment in Saskatchewan, Canada to another, and then I moved to a dorm room in New York, and then an apartment on the Upper East Side, and then another apartment in Brooklyn. Aside from a few houseplants I’ve kept alive with varying degrees of success, I never had the outdoor space or the inclination to do anything else gardening-wise. And sometime in the space of that near-decade, I forgot how much fun I used to have.

WELL. As much as I love working on the inside of our house, the electrical work is still not totally done, which means we’re more or less at a stand-still with what can be done for the moment. I’ve been getting some things accomplished here and there, but I’ve taken the opportunity to really start focusing on the outside a bit more—more specifically, the front garden that was created when I built the fence! The weather in the Hudson Valley has been beautiful, and even though I’m trying to be cautious about spending money on plants when I really need to be saving for ceilings and stuff, I’ve been having a hard time resisting buying a few things and putting in a ton of work to make my garden dreams a little closer to reality. Doing all this work in the front also helps distract me from the disaster in the backyard, which is an added bonus.

So! What did I do? Let me explain.

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It started with this huge clump of hosta growing next to the gate in the front yard. See it? It was huge. I had to dig out a section of it when I was breaking up the weird concrete path next to the entryway of the house so that I could fit a wheelbarrow into the space to cart off the concrete chunks and bring in soil to back-fill the resulting hole. I realized while doing this that the clump of hosta was long overdue to be divided and thinned out a little, so one thing led to another and I ended up digging out all of it and dividing it up into still-sizable chunks—25 plants in all!—each of them probably still bigger than what you’d buy at a nursery. All from about a 2’x3′ space. Crazy! I know the common wisdom with perennials is to divide them in the fall while the plants are going dormant for winter, but my childhood experiments in gardening taught me that hosta is super hardy and can pretty much be divided whenever. It won’t look so hot after it’s divided, but the next spring/summer it will re-emerge and look great.

Hosta isn’t really my favorite plant in the world and this variety of it definitely isn’t my favorite, but I don’t dislike it and I had so much to work with. So I started digging.

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The first to go was actually the patch of grass in front of the original wrought-iron fence—a little over a foot of space between the fence and the sidewalk. I considered planting something evergreen here, but decided that was a bad idea when I remembered how much snow we got last winter, and how covered this area gets when we shovel the sidewalk! I felt like anything I’d plant would just get completely ruined, and we’ll be better off with something that completely dies off in the winter. Hosta it is!

The basic process of gardening this area was to dig out the grass and a fair amount of the soil to bring the ground level down a bit. It had built up a lot over the years, and the grass/clover/weeds had overtaken a good 6 inches or so of the sidewalk! It was kind of labor intensive filling up the wheelbarrow, bringing it to the back, and dumping everything in the newly-excavated area where the asphalt used to be, but it was kind of fun, too.

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After I dug the area out, I started placing my hostas about 2-3 feet apart. They’re going to continue to expand over the next few years, so I wanted to give them some space to fill out. After the hostas were planted, I mulched the area with black mulch and filled in the gaps with some creeping jenny and purple heart. I find that it’s easier to mulch around bigger plants, but easier to plant smaller things once the mulch is down. We’ll see how it all does! The purple heart is a perennial and supposed to be about 12″ tall and wide, so I’m hopeful that it’ll fill out and provide a nice contrast with the hosta. A few commenters have warned about creeping jenny (or any creeping ground cover, really!), so I’m keeping an eye on it. I liked the idea of planting something that would fill in around the purple heart and the hosta (and even creep onto the sidewalk and between the cracks, if it looked prettier than the weeds…), but I also don’t want it to be too aggressive and kill the other plants in the process!

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OK, yes, I’m aware that this doesn’t look so hot. The hostas definitely went through some trauma during the splitting process, and like I mentioned, they probably won’t really look too great until next year—I was hoping they’d perk back up this summer, but I don’t think it’s going to happen! They’re still growing and are just beginning to flower, though, so they’re OK. Just a little in shock and need some time to establish themselves.

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I love our sidewalk, by the way. It’s made of these enormous and very old locally-quarried bluestone slabs, which is pretty common in the Hudson Valley and in Kingston. During all of this gardening, my neighbors from across the street sauntered over to talk about plants—they’ve lived in their house since 1958 (!) and were so excited to see us taking care of the outside a bit! They told me that there was an initiative at one point to replace all the bluestone sidewalks in Kingston with concrete to make winter shoveling easier, and while plenty of other people leapt at the chance, the previous owner of our home (yes, the same one who died in the bathtub…) would not, under any circumstances, allow the city to replace the sidewalk bordering his house. That still makes me feel really good for some reason. Even though I spend a lot of time wondering what the hell this man was thinking when he paved our yard with asphalt or smeared caulk on a beautiful old radiator, it’s nice to know that for whatever reason, he was so instrumental in saving this bit of history. I think our sidewalk is absolutely beautiful, so I’m happy I get to take care of it a little bit. I love being able to see the edges of the bluestone slabs on that side! It makes me want to plant out the “hell strip” between the sidewalk and the street in a similar manner, too…I’m sure I’ll get to it someday.

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After I finished planting the area in front of the wrought-iron fence, I still had a bunch of hosta and pretty much just needed a place to dump them! I put three back where the original enormous clump had been…and then I started obsessing over the bluestone path that leads from the sidewalk through the wrought iron gate and to the new wood gate (and continues beyond it!). At some point, somebody set or, more likely, re-set all of these slabs in concrete. I think it was an attempt to keep water away from the foundation of the house, but it wasn’t doing its job—the concrete hadn’t bonded with either the bluestone or the foundation, leaving lots of gaps and cracks and weeds growing through the cracks and general ugliness. You can kind of see what I’m talking about here, although I didn’t really get a good shot at all.

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I didn’t really plan to, but I ended up digging out all of the concrete and moving the bluestone slabs and re-laying the path entirely. It was a workout, but I think it looks a MILLION times better and more charming and more period-appropriate this way.

Once I got all the hosta in the ground, I felt the urge to get some stuff planted back along the new wood fence line and start to establish a little path through the future-garden.

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A big slab of bluestone in the backyard was unfortunately damaged during the asphalt removal, so I chipped the concrete from the salvageable pieces and began to set them in a little path through the space. I like how it turned out! I didn’t do anything fancy like set them in gravel or sand or anything like that…I just messed with the soil until they were level and let them sit. Old school! It’ll be interesting to see what happens with it over the next couple of years…if it’s not fairing well, it’s not such a big deal to just redo it. Anyway, the path looks a little silly and arbitrary right now since there’s still a fair amount of sod in the front of the garden that I need to remove, but that would then involve buying lots more plants and that shit adds up. Someday, though, the path will be a nice way to get into the garden to water and prune and all that.

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ANYWAY. I figured I’d start by getting some stuff in the ground by the fence line, so I marked off the general shape of the bed with a garden hose and got to digging! The shape didn’t really matter too much since the rest of the sod will eventually be dug out, too, but I wanted it to at least look kind of OK in the interim. I’m not honestly sure when I’ll do that second part of the project…hopefully later in the summer, but we’ll see!

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Andddd, done-ish! Done for now. Whatever.

I know this picture is awful, but it was the only one I got that kind of shows everything going on back here…

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I’m really pleased with how the bluestone situation is panning out. Removing all the concrete and rearranging the stones opened up a nice little gardening bed area next to the porch, which is nice! I already feel like the hosta behind the fence line needs to go and get replaced with boxwoods or something evergreen, but I’m hoping I can catch a sale. My favorite boxwood variety is the “green velvet” ones (which are a little softer and less formal feeling than the traditional boxwoods…), but I’m having an impossible time finding inexpensive ones. The cheaper and free-er I can keep this project, at least for now, the better!

One of the things I love about gardening, though, is how low-pressure it is, relatively. Stuff can pretty much always be moved and shifted around, so I’m not expecting it to be perfect the first time around…I just wanted to get some things going while the weather is nice. The hardest part BY FAR is getting all the old sod/weeds out of the way, so I’m glad to have a lot of that over with!

So here’s what I planted…

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Along the fence line in the back, I took a bunch of your suggestions and put in some big Hydrangea bushes. They aren’t so big right now, but they’re supposed to be huge! Like 6-8 feet tall and wide, although I’ll probably prune them when they start to get huge to keep things a little under control. The two on the left are Tardiva Hydrangea and were only $15 a pop at Lowe’s, and since I wanted one more and they didn’t have it, I compromised and bought a “Pinky Winky” (seriously), which is the one in the photo above. As the flowers mature, I guess they’ll start to turn pink from base to tip before dying. Sounds nice! The two varieties seem pretty similar, so it’s OK that they aren’t all identical, at least right now. Who knows how I’ll feel in a year or two.

Even though none of these are my absolute favorite variety of hydrangea, the price was right and I think they’ll be great when they mature next year and the year after. If not, I can put them to work elsewhere and plant something better up here. Not worried! I do think the size will be super nice, though, and the white flowers against the black fence will look really pretty. The hydrangeas should bloom in the summer and into the fall.

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Near the start of the path, behind the hostas which I want to remove, I put in 3 Dazzleberry Sedum, which are a type of succulent that seems to do well in our zone (5). I liked the blue-purple-grey color of the foliage, and that it stays pretty low (about 6″ high) but spreads a good 2-3 feet. I guess they’re supposed to start flowering in early summer and continue until the beginning of fall.

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One of them has started flowering since I planted it, and it’s pretty! I dig it.

Behind this sedum is some bleeding heart, which I transplanted from the backyard. It was getting strangled by hosta in its old location, and since the backyard is going to go through a lot in the next few years, I wanted to save it before it got killed. Bleeding heart is a really delicate plant, so it isn’t looking so hot post-transplantation, but I think next year the softness of the foliage will look nice among the hosta and the sedum and the hydrangea, and it should flower earlier in the spring. I’m trying to keep in mind that it’s nice to have things flowering at various times.

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Beyond that stuff, I threw some irises in that I also took from the backyard…same deal, just trying to save them before they get destroyed. I love iris but honestly have no idea what this variety is or what the flowers will look like, but I guess they also bloom early, so assuming they come back, it’ll be nice to have those little patches of color scattered around until the other plants take off for the summer.

I also planted a clump of 3 Autumn Joy Sedum, which should reach about 2′ high (they’re so tiny right now!) and about 2′ wide. I might have planted them a little close together, given this, but it happens. They should start to bloom pink flowers late in the summer and into the fall, which will be nice as everything else starts dying out. I like them! I’ve seen some mature plants around the neighborhood so they seem to do well here.

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In the back corner near the pine tree, I planted a Golden Mop False Cypress, which is supposed to potentially be really large—like 10 feet wide and 6 feet high. It can be pruned, though, and I wanted something evergreen to kind of fill in this corner near the tree, and I liked the color contrast it provides. It’s a slow-grower, though, so I don’t know how long it’ll take to start doing what I want it to do…

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Anyway,  I know it’s hard to get super stoked about a bunch of dead-ish-looking plants and things that really need to mature and fill in and this remaining patch of grass that still needs to go, but to me this reflects a lot of hard work and a huge amount of improvement! It can only keep getting better…at least that’s what I keep telling myself! In any case, the neighborhood is super happy about all of this, which makes me feel really good.

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I still have a ton to learn when it comes to gardening. I sort of ignored the traditional wisdom of amending the soil with good compost/topsoil/humus/etc., which may have been a bad idea. My friends in Kingston talk about how amazing and fertile their soil is, so I figured I’d give it a try just plopping things in the ground and seeing how they do. I do need to pick up some fertilizer at the very least, though.

Oh! And yes—I am aware that black mulch can be toxic to dogs. My dogs don’t really seem to be interested in eating it at all, but given that this is a dog-free front yard, I’m not really concerned. I’ll definitely keep that in mind when I get around to really working in the back, though.

Phew! OK, I know I can’t be the only one going a little garden-crazy right now.  Who else is logging some serious summer garden hours? Tell me EVERYTHING.

 

House
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The Asphalt is Gone!

It’s a story I end up telling a lot.

“What brought you to Kingston?”

“A house.”

And it’s true. We came up here with some friends for a weekend in late December, fell completely in love with Kingston, got drunkenly curious about real estate listings, saw one for a house around the corner from where we were staying, and trespassed on the property the next morning on our way out of town, just because we were so curious. I remember spending the drive back to Brooklyn and the rest of the day fantasizing about buying it, imagining how easily (HAH!) it could be restored, and how fun it would be to live in this amazing little city I hadn’t even heard of the week before. I thought it would be a passing thing, that maybe the next day or the day after, I wouldn’t wake up and go to bed completely obsessed with a vacant house 2 hours away that I’d seen for all of 10 minutes. And then I did something stupid: I bookmarked the listing on my internet browser. It was kind of like having a song stuck in your head—you can either try to avoid it or just give in and listen to it on repeat. It couldn’t hurt to just check in on it every few hours or so for weeks on end, just to see if it had sold or was in contract or something. Where was the harm in that? People check Perez Hilton all day at work and don’t go out and try to purchase a celebrity.

Then the price dropped. And I did another stupid thing: I called the listing agent. Just to find out what the hell was so wrong with this place. Just so I could stop thinking about it. Surely the foundation was crumbling into the ground or carpenter ants had whittled all of the wood framing down to unstable toothpicks or something really bad that would just put the whole thing to rest.

But it all sounded fixable. And it was just a two hour drive. And we weren’t doing anything that Saturday. Would we like to come for a walk-through? Sure. I guess. Why not.

Remember that thing I said about seeing it first in late December, though? There was about 2 feet of snow on the ground. Snow has a way of masking certain flaws and making everything very charming. By the time we actually came for the walk-through, it was the end of February. The snow had melted. The house was still more or less the same, but the yard looked significantly less attractive than I’d imagined it when all you could see was a blanket of white.

Asphalt. So much asphalt. Almost the entire yard was covered in asphalt.

At that point I was way too obsessed with the house to let a little blacktop get between me and my future home, so I ignored it. We’d cross that bridge when we got to it. No biggie.

Now that we’re over a year into home ownership, though, and it’s summer, and I have outdoor projects on my mind…I really wanted the asphalt to disappear. I know lots of readers thought I should make lemonade out of these lemons and cover it with this and build that and just let it be, but I might not be accurately portraying just how much asphalt there was. Especially once I built the fence to create a separate front yard from the backyard (which I’ve been doing some work on, yay!), we were left with a relatively small area of grass and a vast majority of our backyard covered in asphalt.

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What. A. Disaster. Not only was the snow covering all this asphalt, it also covered an old foundation behind the garage—part of a never-realized plan to extend the garage, apparently. The foundation was a total mess…it looks like the previous owners wanted to extend it a certain distance, then decided to extend it even further, then never quite finished and just threw a bunch of cinderblocks into the center of it and ran. I tried to get in there a couple of times to clear the weeds and see if we could use it in some way, but it was just a losing battle…so instead it just became a weed jungle. So charming.

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Anyway, I guess the previous owner had several cars AND a boat at one time, so I’m sure all of this pavement seemed like a decent idea at the time. We only have one car, though, and no boat or any reason for the backyard to be paved, and there was really just way too much of it for any kind of creative solution to remedy. If we didn’t have dogs it might be another story, but even though I don’t really like grass and I don’t want any in the front of the house, I do want the dogs to have a nice big area of grass in the back that they can run around in. Dogs love grass. That’s just science.

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Because the asphalt runs within a couple of feet of the property line on two sides, it really limited our landscaping options. The back of the yard faces this house, and the other side faces a rental property in the front and a commercial business in the back…all of which I’d like to get a little privacy from with some taller trees and planting, but it doesn’t really make sense to do any of that until the fence is replaced and the asphalt is removed.

Aside from all of this, the asphalt is just such a bummer. It’s totally ugly, it wasn’t in good shape, it doesn’t serve a functional purpose, and it just makes the house and garage and whole backyard look and feel really sad.

So there. That is my whole defense. I wanted it all gone. Clean slate, fresh start. I briefly considered leaving an area next to the garage for parking, but I’d so much rather do that with a couple strips of bluestone with some groundcover surrounding it or something other than a huge bed of pavement. Even parking can be charming if it’s done right, you know?

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I wasn’t quite sure how this whole removal process would happen, though. In the earlier, stupider days of homeownership, I thought maybe I’d rent a dumpster and jackhammer and do it all myself.

This was an insane plan.

Then my plumber, Carl, mentioned that he owned a backhoe. It makes sense, given that he has to tear up streets and sidewalks and stuff sometimes, so I half-jokingly asked if he wanted the pleasure of removing all my asphalt. And he did. So I let him. Just like that! I really love Carl—he’s done all of our plumbing work at the house, and he’s super great to work with and reasonable and just an all-around awesome dude. I’m so happy he was up for this, even though it really doesn’t have to do with plumbing at all! What a guy.

I don’t think any of us realized how intense the removal would be. It took four days, I think…first with the small-ish backhoe you see above. Mostly they broke up large portions and put them all in a pile. It was incredibly exciting.

Underneath the asphalt was a TON of gravel, which I wasn’t really anticipating. I guess that’s how it’s done? News to me. Instead of leaving me with a gravel backyard instead of an asphalt backyard, I asked that we excavate down a bit further to remove a lot of the gravel. Some gravel I can deal with, but not to the point that you can’t even see the soil. That was not the point of this whole exercise.

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At the end of Day 1, Carl let me play around on the backhoe for about 45 minutes while he and the crew mocked me relentlessly for being so confused by all of the levers and buttons and stuff. Eventually I got the hang of things and I got to feel really badass and cool for a while. I didn’t want it to end! I know this action-packed shot might look like a skinny confused kid with bad posture messing around in my backyard, but it felt exactly like Sigourney Weaver in Aliens. Here is a more accurate depiction of events:

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Pin away.

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Next came this second backhoe. It was bigger and more powerful than the first. They started to tackle the pile we’d made the day before and load it into a dump truck. I wasn’t allowed to drive this one.

We thought it would take maybe 6 loads of the dump truck to clear the yard. After a while everyone lost count, but the final tally was somewhere close to 20. Insanity.

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The final day of work involved THIS. It was so awesome. I definitely was not permitted to operate this thing, but it was pretty amazing to watch. It cut through the asphalt like butter and was just generally the coolest thing that’s ever happened.

This is when I told the neighbors I was building a pool.

After all the removal was more or less completed, they worked on compacting the newly-exposed soil and grading the yard out and making everything look less like the post-apocalypse.

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Anndddd…DONE! It’s so weird to see the back of the garage like this! Now you can really see where the window is missing, which was relocated at some point to the laundry room. I’m tempted to say that a long (longgg) term goal might be to put a couple of french doors on this side of the garage and a fire pit/conversation zone situation in this area. Could be kind of amazing? Maybe a pergola of some kind?

There’s about 5 feet of space between the left side of the garage and the fence line, which I think I’d like to pave with salvaged bricks and use to store our garbage cans and compost. It’ll be nice to have them out of sight! That will free up the space on the other side of the garage for some plants, like maybe a simple boxwood hedge or something. As I mentioned before, to replace the old driveway I’ll probably install two strips of bluestone and some ground cover like Creeping Jenny. As you can see, the old gate is ENORMOUS (much bigger than it needs to be) and falling apart, so replacing the fencing on this side of the house is next on my fencing hit-list. Not only will it be a big functional improvement, but we’ll also have replaced all of the chain-link facing the street, which I’m really excited about. Old busted-up chain-link fencing is also a huge bummer.

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As for the rest of the cleared space, it’s just so exciting to have this blank canvas now! I think replacing the rest of the chain link with wood fencing will go a longgggg way toward making the backyard feel more private, and adding some tall trees along the fence line will also help immensely. That building you see in the back is a commercial business—it’s not like it’s super busy or anything (despite their enormous parking lot…), but getting some more separation from it will still be really nice. I think most of this area will likely end up just being grass for the dogs, but I do like the idea of doing some kind of really long raised bed in the back for a vegetable/herb garden.

Anyway. Big dreams.

Before that stuff can all happen, though, we need to get some fill dirt! I didn’t even think about this beforehand (I know, I know…) but removing 20 dump trucks of material is…a lot of stuff. Unless we want to end up with a pond in the middle of the backyard when it rains or snows heavily, now we need to get fill dirt brought in and grade out the land. The last thing I ever really envisioned paying for is dirt, but I’ve been assured that I will be hugely sorry if I don’t just bite the bullet and do it before trying to do any landscaping/grass-planting, etc. It’s pretty much the most boring thing I can imagine, but that’s how it goes sometimes!

I’m not exactly rushing to do the fill dirt thing while I’m working on digging out the grass and weeds and crap in the front yard. It’s nice to be able to just fill a wheelbarrow and dump it all in the newly excavated area in the back, and might even end up saving us a little bit in the long run. If we have the dirt, we might as well use it, right? I don’t want to buy a bunch of dirt and then end up with more dirt and nowhere for it to go. That just seems unwise.

And now I’m writing a blog post about dirt. Awesome. I’m so cool and trendy.

Fireplace-ish!

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There’s this room in the front of our house on the main floor that I’ve always been a little baffled by. There are only four main rooms on the first floor (kitchen, dining room, living room…and this room), and I’ve taken to just calling it the “front room.” Sometimes it’s the “parlor” (fancy!) and sometimes it’s the “den,” but the truth is, I haven’t been sure what to do with it. Our house really isn’t that big (about 2300 sq. feet, which feels huge for us, but we’re used to living in little apartments), so it feels sort of stupid to have a whole room for which I haven’t been able to decide on a dedicated function.

For the past several months I’ve been using it as a very poorly located workshop and staging area for working on other spaces in the house, but since it’s adjacent to the dining room, also lacks a ceiling, and needs new electrical to be finished up, it makes sense to renovate the two rooms more or less simultaneously. Which means I’ve had to start thinking more seriously about what to do with it.

Here’s what I don’t want:

1. A main floor bedroom. No need, and I think it would be weird.

2. A den/TV room. There’a a whole other living room just across the hall (you can look at the floor plan here, which might help this make more sense…) which is enormous and going to be incredible someday. I know it’s often customary to have a more formal living room and then a less formal hang-out space with a TV and whatnot, but I don’t really believe in formal living rooms. That living room is going to be the best room in the house, and I want it to get used. As for the TV, I don’t really think I want one on the main floor at all. There’s a room upstairs that I think will make a really nice, cozy TV room, and I like that idea much more.

So what does that leave? Well. Let me tell you.

A study. That’s what we’re calling it. We have a ton of books that need a home (right now they’re pretty much shoved anywhere they’ll fit). We’ve both been transitioning to working much less from Brooklyn and much more from Kingston (yay!), but now Max really wants/needs a place to work that isn’t our bed. I envision this study having a desk, a chair or two, bookshelves, a nice rug…a place that doesn’t feel too formal and off-limits for a main-floor room (people should still feel free to mill about in it during parties and whatnot) but still functions as place we can get stuff done. I’m obviously partial to my little compact upstairs office, but I think this will be pretty great when we want to be working or hanging out together.

stud3

cornerradiator

That said, the furniture layout thing was still just…confusing me. Part of the challenge of the room is that it has three large windows, a radiator, two doors, and a funny little closet, but there’s no real focal point. It’s like there should be an architectural element to anchor the room around that isn’t there.

study-2

I might feel that way because there should be an architectural element that’s missing.

Originally, this wall sported some kind of fireplace. At some point, I think in the fairly recent past (50 years or so…), whatever was here was removed. You can tell because of the missing piece of baseboard, and the spot where the floor was very artlessly patched in with the wrong type of wood where I’m guessing there was some kind of stone hearth.

My normal inclination with stuff like this is to just let it be what it is and work with what we have, but then my friend John mentioned that he had an old mantel sitting in his basement that he’d taken out during the renovation of his insanely gorgeous house. And that I could have it. For free.

mantel

Oh. Well. That changes things, now doesn’t it?

A word about my friend John: he’s sort of the best. I love him to pieces. He’s welcomed us to Kingston with open arms, and made our first year here so great. He’s a veteran renovator and terrific to bounce ideas off of and nerd out over old house stuff, knows everything, and is just so kind. Everyone loves John. We’re so lucky to have him in our lives. He’s spent about 6 years renovating an incredible 1720s stone house around the corner from us (originally it was a tavern, and before he bought it, it was a doctor’s office!—you can see his Sneak Peek on Design*Sponge here!), and he has impeccable taste and is just so frustratingly clever. The more time I spend in his house, the more I appreciate all the little details and smart solutions that just make so amazing (and, in turn, make me feel like a totally inadequate garbage person). It’s endlessly inspiring. I think I want to do a series of posts about all the little things that make John’s house so special…so keep an eye out for that! Maybe that sounds boring but I swear it will blow your mind.

ANYWAY. Then I became obsessed with the idea of adding a fireplace back to this room. It just doesn’t feel right without it! It should be there, and it’s not there, and it makes the room feel weird and ungrounded. A fireplace is what this room needs to be whole again. I feel it in my bones. It’s going to be purely ornamental, and that’s totally OK. We’re hoping we can make the other fireplace in the living room wood-burning someday, but this one can just be for looks and candles and pretty for the sake of pretty. Who cares.

The mantel also comes with a really cool and very heavy cast-iron insert/cover thing that is still in his basement, but coming here soon. So stoked.

demo1

When I got it home, I immediately started tearing into the wall that it’s going on, just to see what was back there. I had this idea that maybe there would be an original firebox lurking in the wall, and I needed to know. This whole area was patched in with sheetrock, and underneath it old sheet metal had been nailed into the studs. Weird.

demo2

Once I exposed the edges of the sheet metal, I started peeling it back…

demo3

Between two studs, there was essentially a column of bricks skim-coated with plaster or joint compound or something. I noticed that the bricks look more like the “garbage bricks” that are inside all of our exterior walls rather than chimney bricks, so I eased one out and hoped that the whole chimney wouldn’t come crashing down.

demo4

Behind those bricks where the actual chimney! Huh! There’s a vent hole, which is weird because there’s a whole separate vent hole near the ceiling. I guess this one was replaced with the other one? Or all of this effort to seal it off so well was because this chimney used to vent the ancient boiler, and carbon monoxide poisoning is not cool. I don’t know. Anyway. No firebox. No biggie.

fireplace1

One thing I didn’t anticipate is that this mantel is HUGE. It’s quite a bit longer than whatever was here originally. My inclination is to center this new mantel on the wall rather than offset it to the side, as the original one was (which centers it in the room, but only if the fireplace fits the original dimensions, which this one doesn’t). Sure, I could cobble something together myself that might look passably good and fit more with the original dimensions, but I love that this one has a story and a past and that it’s free and was given with love. I don’t think trying to modify the proportions is a good idea. And even though it didn’t work for John’s house (he thinks it was fabricated and added in the 1920s, so far from period appropriate for him…he had a new mantelpiece custom-built that looks much better), I think it’s kind of perfect for ours! I think it complements the original woodwork really nicely and will just fit right in.

venthole

wallbow

Unfortunately, the wall that it’s going on is sort of a disaster. I’m all about preserving as much of the original plaster as possible, but this wall is already a weird mix of newer drywall patches and bad plaster repairs and a whole lot of joint compound and it’s just looks really bad. There are enormous cracks that have clearly undergone unsuccessful repairs over the years…it’s just a mess. I think I’m going to just bite the bullet and take it all down and start over with new drywall. Just this wall. Normally with drywall you just tape and mud the seams, but my plan with the wall and the ceilings is to do that and then skim-coat the entire thing with joint compound (and maybe experiment with mixing in some plaster of paris for a harder surface…something an old-school renovator told me he’s done with success in the past), so I think it’ll look really authentic when it’s all said and done. Part of what makes plaster so appealing is the texture of the imperfections, so I don’t want three perfectly-imperfect plaster walls and one that looks brand new, you know? I think it’s possible.

Anyway, I’m really excited about this faux-fireplace development! I have to decide on the exact placement (centered on the wall, I think, will look the best…), and then cut out some flooring and replace with a stone hearth and patch in surrounding flooring so it all looks seamless. I’m leaning toward honed marble (hopefully I can find a remnant piece without spending too much money…), but there are so many options! Soapstone? Slate? Bluestone? Hmmmmmm….

It’s going to be good. So very good.

I Built a Fence!

Status report: my inexpensive and talented but very flakey electrician keeps canceling (also known as not showing up), which means we haven’t been able to have the work finished, which means it can’t be inspected, which means stuff like the pantry and the ceiling-less dining room and the ceiling-less front room and patching the swiss-cheese walls in the entryway have more or less come to a stand-still. For a week or two, this led me to destroy more things (different post, different day) on the inside of the house, which is technically forward motion but kind of just feels like I’m making everything worse in our torn-apart house. It’s like I’m trying to figure out how many things I can break down before I start putting them back together again. It’s this fun game I play with myself where I end up totally insane.

I need a new electrician. And someone needs to confiscate my pry bar.

Honestly, I’m a little sulky and annoyed about the electrical thing, but secretly (except now, since I’m telling you) it’s also been a perfect excuse to finally get out of the house and get my hands dirty in, like, actual dirt instead of plaster dust and other types of dust and more dust. What a concept.

We’ve been in our house a whole year (and eleven days, technically) and thus far this is all we’ve accomplished in terms of exterior projects:

newporchlights

1. We added some new light fixtures. Big improvement, but I had very little to do with it beyond coordinating the electrical work and buying and installing the lights.

service

2. We had new electrical service run to the house, including a new service drop and converting to a single meter rather than two, since now the house is a single family. Hard to decide if it looks better or worse.

3. Mowing the lawn. Occasionally. Weed-wacking even more occasionally. We’re a mess.

yardclearing

4. Clearing a crazy jungle that had cropped up on the side of the garage, a bunch of grapevine that had run rampant from a neighbor’s property, and miles of Virginia Creeper that had overtaken the saddest and weediest flower bed ever at the back of the property. Much of which is creeping back a year later. Go figure.

roofbeforeafter

5. Getting a new roof, which was a hellish and drawn-out ordeal involving 4 different roofing contractors spread out over about 8 months and something I’d pretty much rather die than repeat. What. A. Nightmare. But it’s done. Or done-ish. Done enough. Fuck roofing.

We’re awesome neighbors. I’m guessing the neighborhood had higher expectations when the house sold and a couple of homosexuals moved in. Homosexuals are notoriously good at having good taste and making things prettier, and I feel like we’ve been letting everyone down since our beautiful tiny laundry room hardly qualifies as an appreciable improvement to the curb appeal of our house. Most of the houses on our block don’t have a whole lot going on in the way of landscaping and whatnot, so I’ve tried to stem my guilt by thinking about it that way, but I’m a neurotic Jew. Guilt is my #1 emotion and way of being.

ANYWAY. Let’s remind ourselves of our yard situation:

YARD

As you can see, there are a few different issues.

1. All the asphalt. It must go. I hate it with every fiber of my being, and I’d give my left kidney to have it disappear and be replaced with something. Anything. I don’t care if it looks like the fucking dust bowl. I don’t even care of the Virginia Creeper wants to colonize the entire thing. I just want it to be gone. I guess the previous owner of our house had several cars and decided to pave half the yard with asphalt, but we have one car and it is tiny and I don’t need or want it at all. Not even a little bit. I think we’ll still have some kind of a gate and parking situation next to the garage, but I’d much rather just have two strips of bluestone or concrete or something with pebbles or ground cover surrounding it. I hate asphalt.

2. I found out from my neighbors that the old foundation (cinderblock disaster/weed jungle) just behind the garage was actually a half-baked plan to extend the garage, which is a horrendous idea that I’m glad never came to fruition. The garage is actually a really pretty cute little structure and I shudder to think what any kind of renovation would have done to it. That said, now we are stuck with a wildly unattractive crumbling foundation of broken dreams that all needs to be excavated and hauled away. Boo.

3. The biggest problem here, strangely, is the fence. There is fencing surrounding the entire property, which is great. I’m glad it’s there. But the purple lines demarcate an old (original, probably) wrought-iron fence, which I love, and the black lines are all cheap and very crappy chain link that’s all falling apart and looking a hot mess. And as much as I love the wrought iron fence, it’s only 3 feet tall. And despite that the top of it is surrounded by a threatening row of spikes (so witchy!), I have a Pit Bull with a very impressive vertical leap who can clear it with a smile on her face. Not safe.

wroughtironfence

Now, we never leave the dogs in the backyard unattended, but there’s always the risk that Mekko will get excited by something and jump over. It’s happened three times in the course of a year, and she hasn’t done anything bad or anything like that, but it’s so scary. We live on a fairly busy street in terms of both foot and car traffic, and I’d really prefer if my dog didn’t get hit by a car or terrify an unsuspecting neighbor who wasn’t quite prepared for a Pit Bull to jump the fence to greet them. Even if it’s friendly.

So, when Mekko jumped the fence last week to go see her friend(ish…they have a rocky relationship) Bailey from across the street (an adorable 150-pound white Boxer…I don’t blame her), I felt very overcome with the need to do something and do it now in terms of getting our fence situation sorted a little bit. Panic is pretty much my main motivational tactic (aside from guilt, as we have established, but the two go hand in hand), and the idea of my dog’s safety being at risk pretty much brings my panic-meter off the charts. So I built a panic fence.

This panic-induced fence was actually kind of a good thing. I’ve been planning it more or less since we moved in, but fencing is intimidating. There are so many different styles and decisions to be made, and after mulling it over for so long, I was more overwhelmed than anything else. Vertical boards or horizontal? Pre-fab panels or individual pickets? Attractive gate hardware? Post caps? Paint? Stain? Seal? Let it weather naturally? I’m exhausted.

There is SO. MUCH. TO. THINK. ABOUT. This is the kind of shit that keeps me up at night.

Added to this is the exact location of the fence. I definitely don’t want my house to look like some kind of fortress, and the old wrought-iron fence had to stay, which basically left building a new fence behind the original fence as the best option. Which is a good option, since it gives us the opportunity to have a front yard and a backyard instead of just…a yard. Like so:

YARDnewstuff

Anyway, this  panic-fence didn’t have time for complex decision-making. It just needed to happen. I already knew the general location, so I just measured and took myself to the local lumber yard a few blocks away, made a quick decision between standard stockade fencing and dog-ear style fencing, bought my stuff, stole my friend’s truck, and hauled it all home.

Newsflash: even cheap fencing is expensive.

Newsflash: it’s also very heavy.

Somehow I managed to unload the truck myself (and splinter-free!) and haul my six 6’x8′ panels and 8 4″x4″x8′ posts into the driveway.

I was less than thrilled with the panels I purchased, but at the time they seemed like the cheapest and most attractive option. But they were not nice. The wood was either pine or spruce, and it wasn’t even pressure-treated. Each panel had a few super crappy looking boards, the pickets themselves were narrow and unsubstantial, and they were about $65 a piece.

But then I went to Lowe’s, which is basically my home away from home. The employees are all starting to laugh at me every time they see me there since I am there constantly. I was just getting some supplies for the fencing that I couldn’t find at the local place, and then I meandered over to the fencing section, and developed a serious case of buyer’s remorse. Lowe’s had MUCH nicer dog-ear style fencing. The boards were wider. There was a pressure-treated pine option for about $48/panel and a cedar option for $50/panel.

Now. I’m all about supporting local businesses. Don’t get me wrong. Really, I am. I’m willing to pay a little more to shop local, despite the sorry state of my bank account, because I feel like it’s the right thing to do when given the option. But I’m not willing to sacrifice on quality. Lowe’s was offering a much better product at a much lower price, and it just didn’t make sense to stick with the garbage panels I’d already purchased, particularly since we plan to install the same fencing around the rest of the house to replace the chain-link, and I’d like all the fencing to match. Them’s the breaks. So I had the lumber yard swing by and pick up the shitty panels, loaded my new cedar panels into my friend’s truck, and hauled that all home and unloaded it, again, splinter-free. Tiny miracles, small victories.

Posthole1

Deciding on the exact location of the fence turned out to be easy due to this weird section of missing bluestone next to the foundation a few feet behind the front of the house. The missing bluestone had been filled in with a thin-ish layer of concrete, which was getting in the way of digging my first post hole. So I rented a jackhammer, you know, like you do. This location turns out to be perfect since it’s about 4 feet back from the front corner of the house, and gives is over 18 feet of front yard space between the wrought iron fence and the new fence. 18 feet! Right now it’s all sod, but eventually I don’t want any grass whatsoever and I want it to be a luscious magical garden that both I and the neighborhood can admire. I’m so excited.

Back to the jackhammer. There is no photographic evidence of this, unfortunately, since I was mostly flying solo here, but I discovered that using an electronic jackhammer is not only really very easy, but also really very fun. I’m a tiny person without a lot of weight or muscle, so if I can do it, you can probably do it. The hardest part was carrying the thing around, since it probably weighs about 80 pounds. And then clearing out whatever you’re jackhammering.

concretepath

While I had the jackhammer at my disposal, I also decided to get rid of this weird concrete path in front of the house, next to the entryway steps. I don’t know why this path was ever put in, since it has no access from the outside or from the porch, really, but I figured the space could be much better served by plants than by concrete. Little did I realize that the concrete was VERY deep in spots and underneath it was a ton of rock, which all had to be excavated and hauled out before it could be back-filled with dirt. Luckily, digging fence posts creates a lot of displaced soil.

concreteremnants

Here are the remnants of the path and the rocky dirt, which I finagled Max into loading into a wheelbarrow and dumping onto the asphalt. It will get hauled away when the asphalt is removed. Which is hopefully super duper soon.

ANYWAY. Once I got the jackhammer situation sorted out and my first whole dug, it was time to place the first post!! EEEEEE! Progress.

post1

BETCHA WEREN’T EXPECTING THAT. Maybe you were. I decided that the fence should be black. I really want it to look as unobtrusive as possible and really recede, and I think the black will do that perfectly. I don’t want a “statement fence” and I don’t want it to detract at all from the architecture of the house. And even though the cedar panels are pretty brand new, they’ll fade over time and I hated the idea of a light wood fence next to the house, calling attention to itself. I’m very, very, very happy with this decision. I used Cabot Solid Color Acrylic Siding Stain (tinted black, obviously), which goes on much like a paint and looks like paint, but should still allow the wood to breathe while also protecting it a bit from the elements. The benefit of using a stain rather than a paint is that it shouldn’t chip and peel over time and need to be redone like paint does.

For the posts, I bought 8 foot long 4×4 pieces of pressure-treated lumber. I dug each post hole about 30″ deep (which, by the way, is really fucking deep), then threw in about 6 inches of drainage gravel, and then filled it in with fast-setting Quickrete, which you just dump into the hole, soak with water, agitate a bit to mix it up (I used a stick), and let it sit, all the while checking that your post is super duper level and won’t move. The concrete sets up in about half an hour. One thing I didn’t account for is that while the local hardware store employees claimed I’d need one 50-lb bag of Quickrete per post, I averaged more like 3 bags per post. Back to Lowe’s! This section of fencing is about 30 feet long, and I think I used somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 bags of Quickrete for the posts. Luckily it’s cheap.

I bought a post-hole digger for this project, but ended up returning it immediately. Soil in Kingston tends to be really rich and kind of sandy, which makes it really very easy to dig. I averaged about 30 minutes to dig each post hole with a shovel. The post-hole digger I think is better if you have really hard soil, but I found it completely worthless for us.

gatebuilding1

After the first post was in and setting, I built the gate! To do this, all I did was cut down one of the 8 foot panels with a jigsaw and added vertical 2×3 supports, which are attached to the original 2×3 horizontal supports. All in all, very easy. It seems super sturdy to me.

gatebuilding2

gate

After it was stained and the second post was in, I put it up! You’ll notice that it’s a bit wider than the path (the gate is little over 3 feet) but I wanted it to be wide enough to cart a wheelbarrow through with ease. I’ll find a way to tastefully widen the path a bit, I think. I picked up a gate hardware kit from Lowe’s (I can’t find the link, sorry!), and two gate hinges. I think I may add a third one to the middle, just for some added support. All are made by Stanley.

L-brackets

The one thing I did do to complicate things for myself was that I decided to space the rest of the posts evenly, rather than 8 feet apart and end up with a shorter panel on the end. Then I decided to attach the panels with stainless steel 5″ L-brackets (spray-painted black) rather than screw the panels into the front of the posts. The L bracket is screwed into the bottom of each of the horizontal 2×3 supports, and then into the 4×4 post. This leaves the front of the post exposed, which I think looks a little nicer and more custom from both the outside and the inside. I was assured that I wouldn’t have a problem with the brackets rusting or falling apart, so I’m hoping for the best. If we run into problems down the line, I think I could replace the brackets with vertical pieces of pressure-treated lumber (exactly like the gate, pretty much), and screw those into the posts. If that makes any sense.

trench

Once all of the posts had set for 24 hours, it was time to put up the panels! Before doing this, I decided to dig about an 8″ deep trench under where the panels would sit and fill them with drainage gravel. We used about 15 bags, which added about $60 to the overall cost of the project, but the gravel should help keep weeds from growing at the fence line, and provide drainage underneath the fence so that the bottoms of the pickets don’t rot out. Additionally, because the fence is black, the gravel should help keep the color looking good when it rains and soil crap would splash up onto the fence if the rocks weren’t there. I think it was worth it.

chainlink

I’m sorry this picture is so awful, but I also wanted to address the section of chain-link fence that would now sit in front of the new fence, which separates our yard from our neighbor’s. Chain-link is just such a bummer, particularly when it’s so close to the street, and I wanted to find something better that would tie in with the original wrought-iron fence in front of both our properties.

fauxwrought

I searched a couple salvage places for something old (no dice), but then on another trip to Lowe’s I found this stuff! It’s nothing super fancy—galvanized steel that’s been powder-coated black, but the size was good, the price was good (about $30 for a 4′ section), and installation seemed (and was) very easy. I really hope it lasts. I thought removing the old chain-link would be a huge pain in the ass, but it was super easy. I used bolt cutters to detach the chain link from the posts, and the posts—which I thought would be set in the ground with concrete) just pulled right out of the ground with a little of my manly brute strength. Awesome. To fit our dimensions, I just had to cut one of the panels down with my Sawzall, which took roughly 30 seconds, and attach it to the last post. Overall, it’s not the fanciest thing in the world, but it does look good and feels pretty rigid, and it ties in nicely with the original fencing.

noraandmax

Did I mention my wonderful and long-suffering friend Nora was here during all of this? Poor thing thought she was coming up for a nice few days in the Hudson Valley and got sucked into my insanity. While the panels were going up, I put Nora and Max on staining duty, which they were obviously loving. It was pretty much the time of their lives. As you can see.

paintingprocess

EEEEEE! Almost done! I include this process image mostly to show the difference between the cedar and the black. See how the cedar is super visible and kind of obtrusive, whereas the black just kind of disappears? I think so, anyway. I also like that it ties in the with the black window sashes and other black accents I have planned for the exterior.

fromback

Annnnnd, DONE! Here’s the view from the back, which I know is nothing amazing but I think a hedge or something will do wonders. The gravel should settle down a bit and look less ugly over time, besides. After all the panels were up and stained, I used my Sawzall to cut the posts to the same-ish heights and topped them with these generic and affordable fence post caps from Lowe’s. I think they look nice!

corner

In the front, I’m super pleased with eliminating the area of chain-link while we were doing this anyway. The fencing on the left is the new faux-wrought iron, which I think looks pretty damn good for what it is. Again, it’ll look better with some plants and whatnot, but it’s just so much more inviting and pretty.

cornerwithpvc

I secured the last faux-wrought-iron fence panel to the wood fence with some super cheap plastic PVC connectors I found in the electrical aisle. They do the job. I spray-painted them black. Exciting stuff, I know.

gatefromoutside

I’m really pleased with how the gate turned out. Nothing fancy, but it opens from the inside and outside and it looks good. Obviously we need a better situation for the hose, but I’ll save that for another day…I have a couple ideas. Let’s just all ignore the vinyl siding and the missing end of the downspout and the foundation work we might have ahead of us. This is about the fence!

fencefromacrossstreet

I really like how it looks from the street, which was obviously a big challenge when thinking about this project. Setting it so far back keeps it really unobtrusive, and I’m SO excited about our new dog-free front yard! I think the fence will look a million times better once we get a bunch of plants growing in front of it and some real landscaping going. All in due time! In the meantime, I have pretty much no experience with landscaping and could use some plant suggestions and ideas for how to use the space…hint, hint.

frontgarden

I’m also really glad I broke up that concrete path and got back those couple of feet of gardening space in the front next to the entry. I backfilled the hole and obviously need to plant some things and mulch, but I think it already looks better. I also went on a MAJOR weeding/pruning spree to try to get the Rhododendron under control a little. I actually really don’t like Rhododendron in general and I don’t like them here (too tall!), but the pruning definitely helped me like them more. Someday I’d like to get rid of them altogether (or at least the one on the right) and replace them with a bunch of other stuff I like more.

header

ANYWAY, I’m so excited to have this new foundation to work with as we start to plan some more landscaping! As for the rest of the fence, I’m not sure I have it in me to DIY-it (it’s a TON of fence…) but we’ll see. There’s also the whole matter of cost—I haven’t added up every little thing, but I think I probably spent about $700 for just this section of the fencing, including the faux-wrought-iron business, so I might continue to just do it in sections where it’s most necessary and go about things that way. For now, I’m just glad to have this section taken care of—not only do I think it adds some curb appeal, but it definitely gives me some peace of mind where the dogs are concerned. They still have plennntttyyyy of space in the backyard to run around and play and poop, and this just goes such a long way toward keeping them safe. So that’s good!

I want to plant stuff. Tell me what to plant.

The Laundry Room is Done!

I’m sure if you had asked me about the laundry room after we first looked at our house, I wouldn’t have really remembered anything about it beyond that it was disgusting. Little details like the lack of a dryer seemed insignificant (and I didn’t really think about the fact that dryers need their own electrical supply and vent and stuff…which they do, FYI). This was still in the rose-colored glasses days, when all I saw were all the amazing original details I wanted the opportunity to save, and all the potential the house had. Even when thinking seriously about all the work we had ahead of us, the tiny little laundry room off the kitchen was so overshadowed in scale and biohazard-ness that I really don’t recall considering it at all. It’s just a laundry room, right? The idea that we might someday even have a washer and dryer in our place of residence seemed more than posh enough for us, so I really didn’t even think about how it would look or what form a renovation of the space might take.

But then things changed. Demo and dust and debris and general filth became a huge part of our lives, which meant that laundry became a huge part of our lives. And when you’re in Obsessive Renovation Mode, as I am between 99-100% of the time, having to stop everything for a few hours on a Saturday to get your tushy to the laundromat carting so much gross laundry really kind of sucks. I’m well aware that this is the reality for plenty of people for whom having their own laundry isn’t an option, but for us it was an option. All of a sudden, having a working laundry room couldn’t come soon enough. Added to this is that Max—while hardly involved in the nuts-n-bolts of renovation at all—loves to do laundry. All I had to do was renovate a room, and then I could pass the torch to my boo to actually use it. So, since I like to think of myself as both romantic and stylish, I decided to build that boy the best damn laundry room this little space could handle. The room had to be utilitarian, yes, but it could also stand to be beautiful and fancy-feeling, so that Max could really commit himself to removing the frequent blood/grease/filth stains from my clothing with panache and style.

You guys. I totally did it. My semi-evil semi-romantic plan is working.

1beforefromkitchen

Let’s take a horrifying look back, shall we? Way back. Here’s a picture of the kitchen looking into the laundry room after about a week in the house. The funny thing about this room that separates it from basically all the other spaces in our house is that pretty much any nice architectural detail that perhaps once existed had been stripped from it years ago. On the kitchen side, 1×6 pieces of lumber had been cut to various thicknesses (why? Who knows! But each side was different!) to frame out the doorway. Inside the laundry room, the same 1×6 lumber had been used for baseboards, and dinky 1×3’s surrounded the super crooked window in a super crooked way. The window itself is old, which is kind of nice, but that’s about it. The original plaster had been covered over with drywall, and anything that may have been nice about the room way back when had just been lost in the process. So unlike in other spaces, where I want to highlight all the original architectural details, the task here ended up being to basically recreate them to give this room back some old-fashioned charm.

1afterfromkitchen

Ohhhh yeahhhhh. That looks a whole lot better, can we agree? I hope we can agree.

I ended up slightly decreasing the size of the doorway (both width and height) to accommodate an old door I found in the basement. The plan was to erect this poor forlorn door as a swinging door between the two spaces, which I still intend to do, but it just hasn’t happened yet. But that’s OK! It will. Some other time. After some careful/creative drywall, tile, and baseboard patching, it really looks like this doorway has looked like this all along, which I’m so happy about. If we ever get to gut the kitchen, I think this doorway will be one of the few things that just stays put as it is.

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The molding on the outside of the doorway actually came from the only thing that was really worth salvaging from the inside of the laundry room, which was the original door casing! I carefully pried off the pieces (which, due to the later addition of the drywall over the original plaster, were basically sitting flush with the drywall—not cute), and then verrrry carefully cut them down to their new size to accommodate the smaller opening.

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In the process, it looked kind of like this—which was a whole lot of sadness, considering the kitchen was looking pretty good before I had this bright idea to destroy it again. Whoops!

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This is a truly horrendous picture, but after cutting the old pieces to their new sizes and nailing them up, I wrapped them in 1×2’s and then added this stock piece of pine base cap molding from Lowe’s. These added details do a nice job of matching the original 1850s moldings in the kitchen, and after it was all primed, caulked, and painted, it looks really authentic!

OK, enough dorky molding talk (jk, there will be more). Shall we go inside? WE SHALL.

before

Just look at this sad awful mess. It was sad and awful.

7afterfromkitchen

I don’t even know where to begin. I’m overwhelmed.

1. You can read all about how I replicated the original moldings for the window casing and baseboards here. I’m so proud of how this turned out! Even if they don’t look 100% original, they definitely tie the room together with the rest of the house and really make the space feel special. I obviously tell everyone that I made all the millwork, because I have zero shame and a developed need for praise, so for that reason alone they aren’t fooling anyone.

2. I am in LOVE (LOVE LOVE LOVE) with our machines. We wanted to get machines that were the largest capacity we could, while taking up the smallest footprint, and of course with good ratings. These LG models (washer & electric dryer) fit the bill perfectly—they’re slightly shallower than competitive brands, meaning they fit the space between the back wall and the doorway like a glove, they have amazing reviews, large capacity, fancy features, and even sing a very jolly jingle when they’re finished with their cycles. I could go on and on! I can’t imagine being any more satisfied with them. One thing of note is that we purchased them at full price, but a couple weeks later Lowe’s was running a promotion (10% off, I believe) on large appliances! We brought back our receipt, and Lowe’s was happy to honor the current promotion because it was happening within a month of our original purchase. We got about $300 back in store credit, which I immediately spent on…wait for it…A TABLE SAW. There may have been tears. Table saw = life-changing.

3. Since this room is attached to the kitchen, we wanted to tie it in visually with our earlier kitchen renovation—which meant subway tile, and lots of it! I’m so happy with how the tile came out—combined with the millwork, it really makes the space feel finished and fancy, not to mention how nice it is to clean and everything. Regular 3×6 subway tile is really inexpensive, too, so tiling the whole room was only a few hundred dollars. Can’t beat it! These are American Olean white subway tiles, and the grout is TEC unsanded grout in Raven.

4. Are you seeing that little cabinet next to the dyer? Are you seeing it? Well…

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There’s about 8 inches of space next to the dryer, which I didn’t want to go to waste. To keep the machines as close to the back wall as possible, I had the electrician install the dryer plug to the right of the dryer itself, and we chose to side-vent the dryer for the same reason (lots of dryers offer this option nowadays, and the conversion is easy with a couple special-order parts). This left an awkward little ugly space that I didn’t want to look at, and it seemed like letting it go to unused would be a wasted opportunity.

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So, out of some scrap plywood, I cobbled together this little rolling cabinet! It holds all kinds of stuff that we don’t really need for every single load of laundry, but do end up using frequently. As you can see, it isn’t even full, so we do have some room to expand where our laundry potions are concerned.

For the top, I just cut down a piece of our old fir countertops (gone, but not forgotten), gave it a good cleaning, and sealed it with three coats of water-based polyurethane. The polyurethane is a HUGE improvement over the original oil finish in terms of keeping it clean and wipe-able. I made it extra-long so that the back edge of the countertop hits the wall before the back of the cabinet can hit the plug or the dryer vent. Sneaky!

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I’m so happy with how it came out, and the wood top adds a nice natural element to the space to keep it from feeling too cold. The handle is just a cheap brass sash lift I had lying around for some reason. I painted it in Bedford Gray by Martha Stewart’s line for Glidden, color-matched in semi-gloss to Valspar paint from Lowe’s. I love this little thing! Even though the decorative paneling elements on the front are a little more traditional than my style tends to skew, I feel like it fits right in in this space.

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On top of the machines, I made a simple ironing board out of a piece of 3/4″ plywood cut to size, cotton batting, and a piece of a canvas drop cloth, which was inspired by a Martha Stewart project. The original concept was to make a removable cover that could be washed, but once I broke out the sewing machine, I quickly got overwhelmed and just stapled the fabric to the underside of the board. I still have plans to make a removable cover…if I can figure it out with my rudimentary sewing skills, I’ll do a whole DIY tutorial. For now, though, this is totally fine and a functional way to take advantage of the top of our front-loaders, and the natural cotton texture is really nice in the room.

Also, SHELF! The copper-coated brackets were a lucky find from a local coffee shop/vintage store in Kingston, Outdated (who also have an Etsy shop!). They were super rusty when I bought them, so I soaked them in CLR, scrubbed them with Barkeeper’s Friend, and spray-painted them with matte varnish to keep them from rusting. I love them. The enamel tray is vintage, and the stainless steel spray bottles and medicine droppers are from the Container store.

The shelf is a piece of super old salvaged wood from the attic, which I cut down to size, sanded, and coated with water-based poly. Really old far-gone-looking wood cleans up so well!

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I figure it’s been like this for about 150 years, so I’m not too worried about it warping.

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One of my favorite things in the room is this ENORMOUS poster that Max designed—Martha Stewart’s Household Stain Treatment Guide! We defer to Martha for all things home-maintenance related, and homegirl knows a thing or two about doing laundry. I know the writing might look illegible, but that’s just the picture…it’s easy to read in real life and reference in a stain-fighting conundrum. We had it printed at Staples for a few bucks (it’s just one of their cheap 4’x3′ posters, cut down to size). I wish I could offer the image as a free download, but I fear it would violate all sorts of copyright laws and I can’t have Martha on my bad side.

Sorry.

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I made the frame myself out of some scrap wood and a few inexpensive trim pieces from Lowe’s, and painted it the same Bedford Gray as the rolling cabinet. For the glass, I had a piece of plexiglass cut to size at Lowe’s, which was awesomely easy and cheap.

The walls, by the way, are Benjamin Moore’s “Calm” color-matched to Valspar in matte. I’m really glad I tried out this Valspar paint—I went one level below the top-of-the-line option, and the paint is SO nice—especially for the price (like $34/gallon). I used the color recently in a client space and I love it—it’s such a nice super pale grey that contrasts nicely with white trim and doesn’t go purple or blue. It’s my new leading contender for the entryway!

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At the end of the shelf are a couple of enamel canisters from West Elm, which hold our powdered detergent and Borax, which Max uses as a laundry booster. We use these for pretty much every load, so it’s nice to have them accessible but also pretty and decanted into these containers. The labels are from the Martha Stewart collection at Staples. (are you sensing a theme? no? WE LOVE MARTHA THAT IS THE THEME.)

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The shelf is hung just above the outlet for the iron. Check out how pretty the doorway molding is! I MADE THAT. Check out how cute that frame is! I MADE THAT TOO.

Other side of the room? Other side of the room.

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Obviously, this was a bummer. I only include it for the DRAMA.

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There’s only about 14″ of space between the doorway and the wall on the other side of the room, but I fell in love with the idea of installing a hanging rack for things that need to hang-dry. Enter the WOODi! It’s the same idea as the very pretty Sheila Maid that a bunch of readers suggested (thanks, guys!) but I found it at one of my favorite Brooklyn shops, Dry Goods, and I liked that it was a little more contemporary and American-made. It lifts up or down on a pulley system attached to the ceiling, which sounds intimidating but it was really simple to assemble and install. So cute, right? It fits the room perfectly, and I love the functionality.

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The rope for the WOODi (which could be exchanged for a cotton rope or something else, but I used the stock nylon rope it came with) is held up by a little chrome cleat that comes with it, which I attached to the new doorway molding.

window+WOODi

window1

Can we just talk about the window some more? I think it’s my favorite part of the room. It’s the little things! This window was such an eyesore before since it was so small and crooked, but adding beefier moldings (and installing them LEVEL) changed EVERYTHING. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on a new window, I spent maybe $50 on lumber and made this one work, and I’m SO glad I did. Now it feels like the perfect size for the space, and I even like the crookedness of the window itself in its own funny little way. The whole thing makes me happy every time I look at it.

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I swear I’ll shut up about the moldings at some point, someday, but man—it just made all the difference. From this, up there…

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To THIS. Worth every bit of time and effort and expense. I probably dropped about $300 on lumber for just this little room, but I can’t imagine it any other way. Trying to make all the tile work with the existing moldings would have been an ugly nightmare!

The trashcan is by Brendan Ravenhill for West Elm (and currently on sale!)—the top part lifts off to become a dust pan, and the little broom is held on by magnets! So smart. We originally bought it for the kitchen, but there isn’t really any space for it in there, so now it collects dryer lint and whatnot. I love this trashcan, so I’m glad we found the perfect place for it!

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I’m so, so incredibly thrilled with how this room came out—and I can say, really and truly, that it’s changed our lives in such a great way. I so appreciate all of the input and encouragement from you guys along the way, and I’m so thankful to Lowe’s for helping us make it happen! Getting this little room checked off our incredibly long list is such a morale boost, and I’m so excited to start working on all the other spaces calling out for attention!

Yay, clean clothes!

This post is in partnership with Lowe’s! Lowe’s has generously provided funding for this project, however all designs and opinions are my own.

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