All posts tagged: Lowe’s

Fall Checklist: Overseeding the Front Curb Strip!

This blog mini-series is in partnership with Lowe’s! Thank you for supporting my sponsors!

For many years, like probably most of my years, I’ve held onto this idea about what autumn would look like when I was all grown up. I know it, you know it—it’s the best season. Crunchy leaves. That crisp fall air. Warm drinks. Plaids. Brown liquors. Candles. Gourds. Sweaters. More clichés. Other clichés. Different clichés! Fall is the king of clichés, as far as seasons go. Pumpkin Spice Lattes (or PSL, if you really want to be a nightmare) are among the worst of the clichés, which is why I will not discuss them here.

I still think this way, as it happens. I turned 29 a couple of weeks ago but I still picture grown-up me as a totally different person with, like, nice clothes and an organized day planner. A person for whom home maintenance tasks are undertaken promptly and efficiently, who might start the day merrily clearing leaves from gutters and end it merrily setting potted mums and an assortment of gourds on my porch, because that’s just what this merry person does to usher in the season on October 1st. The weekend before, this guy probably went around the house and inspected for any areas of peeling paint and quickly addressed them, and the weekend after, he’ll flip on the heat with complete and total confidence that it’ll work because the whole system has just been recently serviced—well in advance of when it was needed, because he thinks ahead. He has it all figured out.

Where this concept and reality clash is…well, basically all of it. Grown-up me—the real one with the garbage wardrobe who continually tries and fails to really get into a groove with the Calendar app on my phone—has not exactly lived up to this specific expectation. It’s not because he doesn’t try. He tries very hard. But he takes on these really big projects, and either doesn’t have or doesn’t create the time for things like the mums and the gourds and the boiler-servicing-while-it’s-still-80-degrees-outside. Instead he’s usually up on a ladder, well into November, really putting the temperature requirements for most paint brands to the test, because what he thought would take one month has taken four. By most people’s standards, fall has decidedly given way to winter at this point, but his autumn to-do list still has so many unchecked items that he can’t admit what is plainly clear—most of this stuff won’t happen. The leaves and spent perennials will rot under the impending snow. The weed content of the grass will increase. Nothing will be planted in the ground, and that one radiator will, once again, refuse to heat. Better luck next year, ya little mess of a man.

Back in the spring, I made a Very Big Boy Decision: not taking on another exterior wall of the house to restore this year. I had the actual foresight to know I couldn’t finish the sides of the house I’ve already started over the past few years plus a whole additional side, while also starting and finishing two big freelance jobs, while also finally getting the cottage ready for very long-overdue finishing work. As such, I’ve still been a busy bee, but a bee who isn’t quite so thoroughly overwhelmed. Wanting to take advantage of this, I promptly overwhelmed myself by creating a Big Fall To-Do List, and my pals at Lowe’s stepped in to help me work through it! I feel like I’ve entered a new stage of adulting. Getting these fall house/yard maintenance tasks done has felt SO GOOD I CAN’T EVEN STAND IT and—let’s be honest—long overdue considering I’ve never done most of them and this is going to be winter number SIX in this house.

So! Over the coming days and weeks I’ll be sharing these small but impactful projects with you! Because this is a blog! And that’s what we do here! Let’s dive in!

MISSION NUMERO UNO: OVERSEEDING THE CURB STRIP

I used to be that kid with the bad attitude when it came to lawns. Loving a really dense, thick lawn seemed like something for…other people. surely don’t care about that classic staple of American yards! have no need for a thick bed of vegetation that needs to constantly be mowed and watered and fussed over. Who cares if the lawn is just some struggling grass and clover and a bunch of weeds? I can mow weeds too, ya know!

I now totally understand the appeal of a nice lawn. First of all, it really does look good. Second of all, it feels nice—to walk on, sit on, roll around on if you’re a dog or that’s just your thing. Third of all, having a healthy lawn means fewer weeds, simply because they don’t thrive as well when competing for space and resources with well-established grass. And that thing I said about just mowing a weed lawn earlier? WRONG. WRONG WRONG WRONG. Weeds really do suck, because they take up a lot of space—meaning that when you mow over them, you expose a bare patch around the roots where their leaves and water consumption haven’t allowed anything else to grow. Multiply that by a lot of weeds and you have lots of vegetation but still a lot of exposed dirt. And when you have a bunch of bare dirt, and a dog who goes in and out of the backyard and then all over your house and on all your furniture all day long (FOR INSTANCE), it gets EVERYWHERE. I feel like the amount of dirt I’m constantly sweeping, vacuuming, and mopping up could be really cut down with some commitment to good lawn care.

Before getting bogged down in addressing the entire backyard, I actually wanted to focus on the grass in the front of the house. I’ve never done anything to maintain the grass in the front hellstrip other than mow it, and…it shows. It could definitely look a LOT better, and that’s an easy thing to do while the front of the house still awaits restoration. I’ve been working a tonnnnn on the side of the house, meaning the front has started to look increasingly shoddy.

FIRST, I blew the leaves. I have two honey locust trees in front of the house, I’d guess around 40 years old, and those little leaves get everywhere! Honey locusts can be great because the leaves are so small that a lot of people just let them compost themselves on the ground without raking or blowing, but that doesn’t really work for sidewalks and streets. Rather, it does work, but it’s a mess and it’s slippery and not good. Basically my strategy is to move from the house toward the street, blowing onto the sidewalk and the street and then sweeping up and bagging my piles. It works well. I used the blower to get as many leaves out of the grass as possible.

There are a few things you may notice about this picture, such as my sweatshirt bearing the likeness of my favorite Insta-cat, Princess Monster Truck. There is also the rest of my ensemble which I cannot explain other than to say it’s both disappointing and invigorating to be at this point where I simply no longer have the energy to care about looking a hot mess on the internet or in real life.

The thing I’d like to draw your attention to, though, is my SUPER AWESOME NEW LEAF BLOWER. When I bought this house, I did the ill-advised thing of buying the cheapest outdoor equipment available, basically without exception. The first lawnmower we bought was the manual kind you just wheel over the grass without the benefit of modern technology like, ya know, a motor. My leaf blower has heretofore been a super lousy battery-powered number, and while it does produce air it doesn’t have the power to disturb more than an upper layer of very dry, lightweight leaves, and the battery dies really fast and recharges slowly. So that’s where I’m coming from. Essentially I’ve just been replacing all of these lousy tools one by one as they either stop working or become unbearable.

Which leads me to: GREENWORKS! Back in the spring, I took the plunge (totally independent of this sponsored series) and bought the Greenworks Pro battery-powered lawnmower from Lowe’s to replace the bottom-of-the-line gas mower which I bought after quickly giving up on the manual mower. The gas mower died, and the options were to basically spend as much as the mower cost to have it repaired or just invest in something new. Over the past few years, the market has been flooded with battery-powered outdoor power equipment, and it seems to clearly be the wave of the future, so I opted to just go for it and I’m SO glad I did. No gas! No oil! No smoke! No yanking on a string over and over again hoping that this is the pull that will finally persuade the engine to start!

But who really cares how clean it is if it doesn’t really work? WELL. These Greenworks Pro tools are far and away the best thing I’ve ever used—battery-operated or otherwise. I never really understood the importance of a high-quality leaf blower until I upgraded to this one, and it’s kind of like…OH, THAT’S how this is supposed to work!! It saves SO MUCH work when it actually does the thing it’s supposed to do! The power that comes out of this thing is insane, and it just keeps goinggggg and goingggg and goinggggggg. The upfront investment of these tools did strike me as a bit high when I started looking into them, but considering how well they work, that they don’t require any future investment of oil or gas, and are far less prone to issues that might require professional repair (meaning $ and time without your tools!), I actually think they’re totally reasonably priced. Plus, they’re just SO COOL! SO FUTURE!

When the leaf blowing was done, it was just a matter of popping the battery out of the new leaf blower and popping it into my well-loved lawnmower! The great thing is that the batteries—as long as they’re the same voltage—interchange between tools, so you don’t have to buy a new battery/charger every time you want to add a tool to the arsenal. That’s why it’s smart to pick a brand and stick with it.

So, I mean this sincerely. I love this lawnmower. I never, ever thought I would love a lawnmower. But I love this lawnmower. Let me count the ways.

First, obviously, is the battery. I HATE dealing with gas and oil, so that was my main motivation to go battery-powered, but it’s SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT.

Out of the box, it’s basically ready to use. There are like three things to screw together and it’s ready to go. For the leaf blower, you just insert the battery and you’re off to the races. Amazing.

And then. It starts with a button. A button!

It’s SO QUIET. The first time I used it, I wasn’t even sure if it was working properly because it was so quiet. I can listen to podcasts while I mow the grass without the sound of the mower drowning out my earbuds. It’s a REVELATION. And, like, stunningly cool if you’re used to a gas mower.

It’s so light. This is not a self-propelled mower, but it’s so easy to push that I don’t feel like it’s necessary. But they make one of those now, too!

It’s compact! I mean, in use, it’s the size of a regular lawnmower, but it can kind of fold up and hang on the wall the rest of the time. Admittedly I have no clear wall in my garage to hang it on, but it’s nice to know this is an option for the future when I tame the hoard.

The height adjustment! IT’S JUST A LEVER! On my old mower, you literally had to remove the wheels and reinstall them to change the mower height. As such, I put it on the lowest setting when I assembled it and then never changed it.

WHICH BRINGS US BACK TO MY GRASS. I used to think mowing on anything other than the lowest setting was the dumbest thing ever. Why would you do that to yourself? Imagine you’re getting your hair cut, and the barber proposes just cutting it just a little bit every week instead of a couple of inches that’ll last you a few months. Who has time to go to the barber every week?*

*some people do, and it frightens me.

The thing I didn’t understand is that unlike hair, grass needs a little length to maintain its overall health! If you cut it as short as you can go every time, you’re shooting yourself in the foot because the grass can’t properly develop and thicken, and then you invite weeds which grow faster than the grass, so you need to mow more, and your grass still looks like garbage. I’ve learned this the hard way so you don’t have to. Also, sometimes it pays to even just do the smallest amount of reading about stuff.

ANYWAY. In this case, I’m overseeding existing grass, and that’s a special kind of a process. For overseeding, you DO actually want the lowest setting to give new grass seed the best chance at success. Also—typically I allow my grass clippings to just mulch out the side of the mower, but for this you want to use the bag attachment and collect the clippings. The point is to expose soil!

After blowing the leaves and mowing, this gives you an idea of what’s left. That poor grass—it’s really trying! And the weeds are also trying! But it’s just a patchy thin state of affairs.

At this stage, you have a couple options: thatching or aerating. No lie—growing up, we had a landscaping company come and deal with our grass so actually knowing about this stuff is rather new to me. I remember when they’d aerate every year—essentially, breaking up the soil and adding fertilizer—but I don’t remember ever hearing about thatch. Thatch is the layer of stuff created by dead grass, clippings, and dead roots. Most of the time it’s an OK thing, but not really when you’re trying to get new grass seed to take. Sometimes thatch gets so thick that it actually causes the grass to thin out, so thatching isn’t exclusively for overseeding—some sources say to do it about once a year!

Learning. So. Much.

So anyway. I decided to thatch. With a manual thatcher—which is good for something like this, but I can imagine it being EXHAUSTING for a whole lawn. There are motorized versions, though, and they’re pretty affordable.

I kinda want one? That also feels like a new territory of lawn obsession I’m not sure I’m ready for.

Time for seed! I picked up this Scotts Turf Builder seed spreader a few years ago for my first attempt at seeding the backyard, and this bag of Scotts Sun & Shade Mix over the weekend to overseed this front strip. I compared a bunch of different grasses and seeds to land on this one—it’s a mix of medium and fine-bladed grass (I personally don’t like larger blade grasses), and the idea is basically that the characteristics of each different type compliment the others—so if one type isn’t doing well because of too much foot traffic, or too little water, or too little sun, or too much sun, another will take over that affected area and thrive.

Also, it’s blue! The seeds are coated in fertilizer and stuff to retain moisture and other science things, so you just spread it and water it. No hay, no additional fertilizer steps—couldn’t be easier. If you forget any of the steps or aren’t sure what setting to use on the spreader, not to fear. It’s all on the bag! I gotta hand it to the Scotts packaging and product designers—they do a great job of walking you through it all.

Here is me, candidly watering my new grass seed in my sexy DIY clothes as though someone isn’t standing the street waiting for cars to pass to snap photos of me. Totally normal, not weird at all.

I finished off by walking up and down and edging both sides of the curb strip and sweeping up errant grass seed and any other debris. It’s a small thing but I love when the bluestone sidewalk and curb are all neat and tidy! I may have one BILLION things to do to restore the front of this house, but until then—this is the kind of thing that makes a house look well-loved and cared for. So excited to see how this grass develops—I can see you now, perfect green carpet!

Two Things

THING 1:

Here’s some high-level Blog Trivia for you: what do the following three pictures have in common?

They’re all the products of last year’s rounds of Lowe’s Spring Makeovers! The first one is Chris Loves Julia’s project, the second is Yellow Brick Home’s, and the third is mine. To jog your memory, the three of us plus a few other bloggers teamed up with Lowe’s and each took on a big makeover project in the home (or outside it, as the case may be) of a reader in a fast-paced whirlwind of DIY madness. It was one of those things where we were all independently freaking out during our respective makeovers, and then after it was over couldn’t stop talking about how much fun we had and how we’d totally do it again.

WELL WE’RE DOING IT AGAIN! BUT THIS TIME WITH A MAJOR TWIST! LIFE IS SO CRAZY I CAN’T HANDLE IT OMG.

This year, we’re a TEAM. Julia. Chris. Kim. Scott. Me. Joining forces for one epic super fast makeover. AND to make things extra high-stakes and insane, we’re looking for a specific kind of makeover: a kitchen or a bathroom! We all got a fair number of kitchen/bath applications last year that were a little beyond the scope of what we could do given the time constraints, but this year? We’re coming for ya. Chris and Julia are taking the lead on this one, but we’ll all be working together on one project which of course includes all five of us showing up on YOUR doorstep. Afterwards we’ll be launching our very own cult! Stay tuned for deets on that.

Applications are still being accepted through midnight tonight, so hop on it! We’re gonna have so much fun.

THING 2:

There’s still time to vote for this little laundry makeover that I told you about earlier this week! The part of me with some shame wouldn’t be bugging you about it again, but the part of me that would be so hella super stoked to win $2,000 will totally bug you about it again.

This is the last day to vote, and it’s dramatic! Yesterday I pulled into first place (whaaatttttttt you guys are amazing and I love it so much) but today I’m back in second and it’s SO SUPER CLOSE! A real blog nail-biter if I’ve ever seen one. So if you appreciate this project and this blog gives you some pleasure and, I don’t know, you want me to get so rich, feel free to VOTE! You can vote once a day on each device (so if you’ve already voted, you can vote again! don’t hate the player hate the game), so whip out those phones and iPads and that first generation iMac in your attic and do it!

Or don’t do it. You do you. You’re your own person and we love you just the way you are.

Unless you’re a jerk.

Have the BEST weekend, everyone.

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

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

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

LowesSpringMakeover

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

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

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

Ground Rules:

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

ApplyHere

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

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

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

windowdetailshot

I did that!

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

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

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

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

beforebefore

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

before

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

Angledviewafter1

BOOM.

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

backofhouse1

In the past six months or so we went from this

newboard4

To this madness.

BackAfter1

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

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

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

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

paintedclapboard

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

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

backofhouse1

angledviewafter2

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

littlewindowsafter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

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