All posts tagged: Cottage Exterior

Bluestone Backyard Makeover: Welcome to the Jungle!

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

Since the basement laundry room renovation a few months ago, progress has been a little slow over at ole’ Bluestone Cottage. I’m itching to get going on the finish work (the fun stuff!), but there are some hurdles to overcome first. Right now getting the insulation sorted out is the main priority—something that sounds simple but has required all this back-and-forth hassle between professional installers and the building department and inconsistent information and CAN ANYTHING JUST BE EASY?!

No it cannot. We’ve discussed this at length for roughly nine years. Get with the program.

So here we are in the middle of summer. My strategy is to get the house to the point this fall that the exterior’s in good shape and the interior is insulated and heated and ready for all the fixin’s. I’d really like to have this house occupied next spring, and I really don’t want to have a major exterior project hanging over me when that time comes! SO, while I’m waiting on these few interior things to materialize, and the weather’s good, and fall is just around the corner, I’m finally tackling…THE BACKYARD.

I don’t think we’ve ever really talked about the backyard? I don’t think I ever really showed it? Much like the front of the house, it was a complete jungle of overgrowth and trash when I bought this house, so it wasn’t really possible to take photos that show the whole space. It’s very small—less than 500 square feet!—which I find kind of exciting. It feels manageable in a way that my own much larger backyard doesn’t, and the volume of materials needed for any given improvement isn’t so huge. At the same time, it’s a real design challenge because you still want to include everything you’d want in a larger space, but don’t want it to feel crowded or busy or stupid. Challenge accepted? Great; you don’t have a choice.

By the way, should I be referring to it as the…rear garden? That sounds so much more sophisticated than “backyard.” I feel like that’s what Monty Don would call it.

This is one of the only photos of the rear garden I have from when I bought the house. Cute, right? There was this big storage shed back there, which I think partially collapsed after a tree fell on it. At the time I remember thinking it took up so much space and that the backyard would be so much nicer without trying to also use it as a storage facility, but I now understand why the shed was necessary. Because the house is small, too! The old shed held a wild assortment of toys and figurines and picture frames and stuff, but I’ve really tried to design ample interior storage space for that kind of thing. That said, with only a little tiny basement, there really isn’t anywhere inside the house for gardening tools or outdoor power equipment or snow shovels, fertilizers, seed, etc. This is fine for now since I just bring all that stuff over from my house when I need it, but eventually this house needs to grow its own wings and fly. So keep that in the back of your brain: STORAGE!

Anyway. The shed and its contents were disposed of years ago. And that’s pretty much where the progress in the back stalled until about a week ago.

DO YOU FEEL INSPIRED OR WHAT?! Yikes. What you’re looking at is the north side of the spaceThe back of the house is on the left, and a 4-ft walkway between that and the rickety wood fence provides access to the space.

So. Lots of old trash—the overgrowth conceals some of it but trust me it’s there. I swear this was just used as an unofficial dumping ground for a while. There’s an oil tank leftover from the house’s old heat system (which had been stripped out, presumably for scrap, when I bought it) a mysterious pile of sand, and just general mayhem.

(Related: if you’re local and need a perfectly good oil tank, hit me up.)

Moving ’round clockwise, the back corner is mostly obstructed by this big tree, which is growing RIGHT on the fence line. This tree was actually supposed to be removed back when I had some other tree work done, but I think a miscommunication resulted in it just getting some pruning. It’s a mulberry tree, which is both yummy and a total mess because those berries drop everywhere.

This is the entire view of the back of the property (it fits in one photo! the whole thing!), which is comprised of a tall chain link fence owned by the community garden behind it. I love having the community garden as neighbors but I always hate chainlink fencing, and since people come in and out of it all day, it makes the backyard feel very exposed. So keep that in the back of your brain: PRIVACY!

Moving clockwise, we have the other side. Here, we threw up a quick fence when I bought the house with some pre-assembled panels mostly to keep the neighbors from disposing of things by just moving them over the property line. Now they just throw things over it, I guess? In fairness I accept responsibility for this—I don’t think people are nearly so inclined to act this way when it’s apparent that a space is being cared for and this one hasn’t really been. So hopefully that won’t be an ongoing issue.

There’s also a nice maple tree! I like the maple tree. I’m guessing it wasn’t planted intentionally but it’s big and appears healthy and provides some shade, so I think keeping it is the right move.

Continuing clockwise around the yard…these “before” photos are gonna be a lot more fun with some “afters” to throw up next to them. I’m working on it!!

Annnnd, we’re back to the rear of the house. Do you have your bearings? So compact!

OK, SO LET’S DIVE IN. The first phase of any landscaping work is to clear, clear, clear. Clear anything and everything out that you don’t need or want. I’m so glad this space is small because this was a big job.

On the first day, I did a bunch of smaller brush removal and filled about 15 paper yard bags with debris. It took a while because I try REALLY hard to keep any bits of trash out of the yard bags, since the county composts and resells it to people (like me!) in the community. Nobody wants plastic in their compost!

For the Mulberry tree, I called my normal tree guy (whose prices seem high to me, but he’s in the neighborhood and a good dude), but couldn’t get a call back! I asked Edwin to help me with some other odd jobs for a few days, and we figured we could tackle it together.  

Except neither of us have a chainsaw.

SO I BOUGHT A CHAINSAW. I figured the professional tree removal would cost 3x as much as the chainsaw anyway, and I still wouldn’t have a chainsaw. Feel free to borrow this logic when you want to justify power tool purchases. It works for me all the time.

Small note: if there are structures nearby or the tree is big or there are any doubts or hesitations, hire the trained and properly insured professional.

I picked up the Greenworks Pro 60-Volt battery-powered chainsaw, and it is GREAT. Edwin, a straight man, likes to destroy things possibly more than he likes building them, so he tore it out of my hands and climbed the tree before I could take the tag off or fight him for it. He had the time of his life, I think?

So the chainsaw. I am genuinely impressed. We took down the whole tree on one battery and it had no problem getting through big limbs or even the base of the trunk.  It uses the same battery as my leaf blower and lawnmower and hedge trimmer, and I feel really good and grown-up about assembling this arsenal of high-quality battery-powered tools. I’m consistently impressed by their performance and expect to use them for a very long time!

And then I took this photo of ol’ Boondock, which is carrying most of a Mulberry tree in its bed. It took two trips to the compost pile at the dump and about $15 and the deed was done.

Many more yard bags and contractor bags later…

HELLO (almost) blank slate! I feel like now we can get a better sense of what we’re working with here. Don’t worry, I’m sure I will find a way to overcomplicate this whole endeavor.

Of course without the tree, it feels a little like a fish bowl because of the chain link fence. I think I have a plan. The community garden folks are thrilled to see the Mulberry tree gone, by the way.

In the foreground, there is an odd pile of large rocks and broken bricks and pieces of concrete. I didn’t have the strength to start dealing with that. Pls ignore.

Sadly the kitchen windows are currently boarded, but I’m working on that too. I’m working on, uh, a lot of things.

Here’s a rough sketch with dimensions so you can see where we’re starting. So! WHAT DO WE DO. THAT IS THE NEXT QUESTION. Remember, this house is not for me to live in, so this is a real question. What do people like to do in backyards? Obviously we are dealing with major size limitations.

Here are some things I’m thinking about as I lay awake every night (it’s getting annoying):

  1. New fence. Private, and uniform all the way around. I think this will make a huge, huge difference. I think horizontal cedar boards will make the space feel a little bit larger. I spoke with the landlord who owns the existing picket fence on the north side and he’s totally on board with letting me replace it with whatever I want.
  2. Storage. Not a TON, but enough for outdoor/gardening-related stuff. This isn’t on the mood board because I think I’m going to try building something custom.
  3. Place(s) to hang out. I’m torn here. Chairs? An outdoor sofa? A dining table? A bistro table? Some combination? It’s tricky. I want it to be cozy and a place that will actually get used. I like a classic Adirondack chair…and a small table and chairs to sip morning coffee or evening cocktails (or morning cocktails and evening coffee; you do you). Pretend you’re renting this house: what would you want? Lowe’s has a whole lot of options!
  4. Low-maintenance. This kind of goes along with storage and places to hang out, but I really don’t want to deal with trying to grow/maintain/mow grass back here. I have a low-key pea gravel fetish, so I’m thinking a combination of concrete paving, classic pea gravel, and mulched beds—things that theoretically have to be dealt with only about once or twice a year.
  5. Outdoor cooking. Nothing crazy but it should have a grill, right? Sadly fire pits are a no-no in Kingston, but grills are OK. I love a classic little Weber charcoal grill, and I’m intrigued by this newer design that makes the charcoal/ash clean-up easier. And it comes in cool finishes like copper and this dark green!
  6. Plants. You could totally go all Secret Garden vibe back here, but I feel like that would not work with the aforementioned practical priorities, so I’m thinking more along the lines of some nice mulched beds along the fence. Maybe some climbers on a trellis, like this one? Maybe some container gardening in some classic terra cotta pots? Maybe another tree? Also, those kitchen windows are gonna need window boxes, right? These window boxes seem promising, and I wouldn’t mind buying something prefab rather than turning that into another project.
  7. String lights, because what kind of monster doesn’t love a string light?

OK! Past experience has taught me that there are some very good brains out there reading this, so I’m curious what your priorities would be! Tell me what you think at once! I insist.

Itty-Bitty Windows on Old Houses with Pitched Roofs and Chimneys

I know what you’re thinking after reading the title of this post: I should just quit everything and write clickbait pieces for BuzzFeed. Clearly I have a knack for it? Because who wouldn’t want to read about the super-specific topic of how to address the upper portion of the back of my house by pooling an excessive number of examples and generally obsessing a stupid amount over the handling of this one architectural detail?


A few weeks ago I posted this disastrous photo of the back of my house after the walls and roof of the mudroom were demolished and the vinyl siding was removed to expose the original clapboard. Like…damn. I won’t even pretend that I’m not a little intimidated by this picture. Winter is around the corner and I gotta get this put back together—stat!

A big debate ensued in the comments about how to deal with the second story of this bad boy. Originally I was planning to build a covered porch on the first floor with a balcony above it on the second floor, so you could walk out that funny door to nowhere (where there used to be a fire escape when the house was divided into two units) and lounge around high in the air, feeling fancy. That door and window arrangement always felt kind of…off…but once the vinyl siding was removed it all started to look especially bad. The door and window were both almost certainly later additions to this structure, and seeing how they both cut into the raking frieze (the flat board at the base of the cornice that the clapboard terminates into) makes that very apparent. Unlike the front part of the house, where there are two full levels and an attic, the second floor on this section I think qualifies as a half-story—not an attic but not a full story with an attic above either.

So anyway. I’ve nixed the balcony. Officially, that idea is dead. Everybody forget about it. I’m not mourning it for the following reasons:

  1. It requires a door. That door up there is already a small door and it looks enormous and stupid.
  2. Because it’s a half-story, there’s no height to allow for any kind of roofing structure above the proposed balcony, so it would be open-air. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any houses of this style with a set-up like that…I think it would just look all wrong.
  3. It would be expensive. And harder to build. I still like the idea of doing a covered porch off the back of the house with replica columns and all that jazz, but just a regular roof on top of it. Hopefully next spring/summer.
  4. I’m not sure I’d actually use it? It’s not like I have some spectacular view of the Catskill mountains or something, and really, how much of the year would I actually choose to sit outside 20 feet in the air just…because? It gets really hot and really cold here and I’m not much of a lounger even in perfect weather.

Cool? Cool.

So now that that’s off the table, what do I do back here? A lot of people suggested one larger window in the center, but the issue with that is that there’s a chimney that runs up the center of this wall! Currently, the chimney doesn’t do anything. I suppose someday somebody might decide to have it lined and made functional again, but in all honesty that will probably never be me. Without an existing function, a lot of people also suggested demolishing the chimney, patching the roof, and then putting a window in the middle of the wall.

I see the logic of that—really, I do—but I feel strongly that the chimney stay put. I’ve mentioned this here and there before, but my house actually had a third chimney when I bought it that I decided fairly early on to demolish. It was also functionally obsolete, but mainly I removed it because it was structurally unstable and causing roof damage, and its position essentially eliminated the option of ever finishing the attic, and so the pay-off of removing it just outweighed whatever superficial charm it added to the house. This chimney, though? It ain’t bothering anyone! I think the exposed part of it above the roofline is really pretty, sure, but it also feels like an interesting part of the history of the house and of Kingston. The base of this chimney is actually a wood-burning fireplace in the basement—presumably because that was the original kitchen of the house—and then it’s set up for a wood stove in the kitchen (not sure if the upstairs room would have also had a wood stove…) and I guess a wood stove outside the kitchen for cooking in the summer. Cool, right? The bricks that this chimney is constructed out of were manufactured by the Hutton Brick Company, which was founded around 1865 and became one of the biggest brick manufacturers in the Hudson Valley, and a big part of the economic and social history of Kingston.

ANYWAY. I think losing the chimney would be sad. I see people tear down defunct chimneys every now and then and I often feel like it doesn’t do the house any favors aesthetically. Obviously I’ve been on both sides of the fence on this one and not all old chimneys are created equal, but in general I much prefer to see them remain intact!

So the option, I think, is either no windows or little windows! Once this conundrum got on my radar, it quickly became something I was laser-focused on when walking or driving around town. Does that happen to you? I never gave any thought to this topic for like 25 reasonably functional years of life but now it takes up a lot of my precious attention.

Finding one and a half story structures with this particular set-up is a lot harder than just finding two story structures with attics, but I think we’re allowed to say close enough. Right?


Look at those cuties! This is actually the same house that has the nice hosta hedge. The house itself appears to have replacement windows but I’m assuming the originals were six-over-six double-hungs, like mine. Those little attic windows are casement windows that open into the attic on hinges, pretty sure. You can also kind of see the original shutter hinges still up there, too! I love tiny shutters. So cute.


This is a Sears house in Norfolk, Virginia that I found on the google machine, not in Kingston, and it’s from the 1920s not the 1860s, but…quarter-round windows! Ugh, so damn charming. My house has a half-round attic window on the front, so I keep wondering whether quarter-rounds would be the way to go on the back. I don’t know what was here originally and I kind of doubt I ever will, but for a couple weeks I was really fixated on the quarter-round idea.


As to whether they’re appropriate to the age/style of my house…I’m not totally sure! What I can say is that I’ve definitely seen examples spanning many decades. This one is the Senate House in Uptown Kingston—where the first New York senate met for a period during the Revolutionary War. The history of these old Dutch stone houses is complicated because they were mostly burned by the British in the war—in general just leaving behind an exterior shell—so it’s possible that the quarter-round windows weren’t installed until the shell was renovated circa 1800-ish…but anyway.


The idea of quarter-round windows is/was also really appealing because everybody immediately associates them with the Amityville Horror house, I’ve learned from now boring way too many people with this debate. I’m so fun to hang out with.


In working on this post I found out that the Amityville house used in the exterior shots of the original 1979 movie is actually not the real house, but a similar Dutch colonial-style also with the distinct quarter-round attic windows. I’m guessing these were installed specifically for the movie just because they seem so over-scaled for the house itself and in relation to the other windows, but what do I know.


This is the real Amityville Horror house again as it looked a few years ago, and just adding to this complicated quarter-round vs. rectangular debate that maybe isn’t really even a debate? The quarter-round windows were nixed during a renovation and replaced with little rectangular ones! I think this probably had to do with the occupants getting tired of the house being so recognizable, so they changed one of the most distinctive features. Crazy! I gotta say I think those little teeny double-hungs look perfectly good though. I ain’t whining about it.


Oh yeah, and the Senate House with the quarter-rounds on one side? Also has double-hungs on one of the other sides. Thanks for nothing stupid Senate House.


Are we so bored yet? Check out the crazy situation on this nearby Victorian! This entire house is bananas, but MOST IMPORTANTLY (to me) is that they have the pitched roof, the chimney, quarter-round windows, and a little teeny rectangular window in the middle! You see this every now and then around here—chimneys where the flue splits to allow for a window right in the middle of where the chimney would be. It’s so funny! Victorians were crazy.


This picture is clearly terrible but the house is a little closer to mine style-wise, and those windows are rectangular casements, just like the first example. It’s also a distinct attic space, not a half-story, but you get the idea.


I love the little six-over-six double hungs. Like dollhouse windows.

casements casements2

Andddd, back to casements. These two houses are a few blocks from mine and about a block from each other, and I’m guessing they were built around the same time. I’m told that the house in the bottom picture is actually a wood framed house with a brick veneer, which is neither here nor there but kind of cool so I feel compelled to repeat it here.

The common thread I’m noticing with the casement windows is that they appear to be at the upper limit of size—the outer top corners of the surrounding trim just barely miss the raking frieze. I also find it interesting that the window style and divided light patterns aren’t necessarily mimicked by the rest of the windows on the house—like the dark blue house is almost like if you shrunk one of the six-pane sashes and turned it sideways, but the brick veneer house has nine-pane casements and six-over-six double-hungs everywhere else.

If anybody on earth is still reading…what did we learn? I don’t even know, but I feel like this is all sort of good news because maybe there isn’t just one single correct answer but a few acceptable responses that will all look OK. This comforts me. So I guess here’s what I’m thinking…

  1. As much as I love the quarter-rounds and think they’re totally adorable, mine would have to be really small and I’d have to find something salvage (unlikely for two matching ones at the right size…) or put up the big bucks for somebody to fabricate some reproduction ones. That level of carpentry is way beyond my skill set. Everything about them seems kind of overwhelming…like how do I get them made and how do I pay for it and where do I find tiny quarter-round shutters and will they be a pain in the butt to install and if they ever need replacement or repair that will be a total nightmare and…you get the picture.
  2. I like the idea of doing six-over-six double hung windows like what’s on the rest of the house, but these would have to be so tiny—they’d definitely have to be custom and I think they’d just be so small that they’d seem weird. If it were a bigger house then I’d be considering it but I just don’t think mine could handle it size-wise, even if I could get them made.
  3. That leaves us with casements! I think this is the answer, you guys. And actually, I have to spend some time measuring and re-measuring, but I think the existing casement window on the left side could actually work if I break up the sashes and hang them as two separate windows, like the many examples above. Not having to cough up cash for windows would be excellent.

In case you’re concerned about the small size of the windows, that room has two large dormer windows on the street-facing side, so I think it’ll all be fine in terms of natural light, and I feel like the little windows will make the room feel sort of sweet and quaint and charming when you’re inside it. I’m looping in my contractor/BFF/sexual harassment target, Edwin, for this one because I’m guessing we’re going to end up re-siding the top half of the entire wall, which will undoubtably be intense and terrifying as it’s happening. At least it should make for an interesting blog post? I’m scared.



I’m bad at photoshop, but here’s a rough approximation of how things could look. Except I may have already changed my mind already—this is actually approximating how the sashes from the kitchen window would work, which are about 6 inches longer and an inch wider than the ones upstairs. So NOW I’M THINKING (hear me out…):

  1. Remove upstairs window and door.
  2. Remove casement window from kitchen. Split sashes, hang as individual casements upstairs, as shown.
  3. Replace kitchen window with something mega cheap because, as cute as that window is, the plan all along has been to replace it with an enlarged six-over-six to match the rest of the house when I can really overhaul the kitchen, and as it stands, that window is SO SO SO drafty and maybe a stop-gap replacement window would allow me to do the dishes without also being able to see my breath in the winter? But I don’t want to hang an interior storm or cover it in plastic because it’s the only window in the kitchen and there’s no range hood and I have a crap stove that burns everything so I do have to open it pretty frequently year-round. So even though I don’t love the idea of throwing a vinyl window in there, this kind of kills two birds with one stone?

OK, carry on. Ignore me.

White Trim! Planters!


I’d start this post with an apology about how long it’s been since I’ve posted, but I feel like maybe that’s starting to get old and embarrassing so let’s all just pretend like it didn’t happen. Sound good? Groovy.

Truth is, the pace of this renovation has been moving so fast. It’s kind of like this crazy roller coaster that I can’t seem to get off of and have a second to breathe. And rest. And blog. And generally function like a human being.  I have so much to blog about, but to be honest my body just isn’t really keeping up—in the past few weeks I’ve been battling some serious exhaustion (probably lingering mono stuff…it’s still been less than 2 months) and, to top it off, a super attractive head-cold thingy that can probably account for an appreciable percentage of the Kleenex use in the state of New York. Exterior work overlapped with demo which has now overlapped with beginning framing out the interior and the whole thing has just been…nuts. I guess I’d rather things move too fast than too slow, but suffice to say I’m still trying and failing to strike a decent balance here.

Where last we left off, the house was looking a little something like the photo above. All of the crazy overgrowth and that big tree had been removed, chipped, and hauled away, most of the house had been painted, and things were looking a little bit…flat. Originally I was super into this whole monochrome paint scheme idea (except the window sashes—the plan was always for those to go dark), but then I saw it on the house and I was like…nope. Not right for this house. Y’all were not shy about unleashing your disdain (save for a few dissenting votes) for the monochrome in the comments, so it’s a good thing I already had your back.


Boom. Better? Better. The corner boards on the top half of the house are still yet to be painted in this picture, but you get the idea. I left the eaves overhangs grey, which I think adds some nice dimension, but all of the trim got painted out with Benjamin Moore’s Simply White, color-matched to Valspar Reserve exterior paint in semi-gloss. I’m really happy with it! It’s clean and classic and traditional, which feels more right for this project. With such a small house set so far back on this lot, the monochrome sort of just made it disappear and look a little lifeless, so I think this works much better!

Since this comes up a lot in the comments, color-matching is super easy nowadays! Most paint stores should be able to accurately color-match between paint companies using just the color name and brand, and sometimes the color code. It’s all computerized. I generally like Benjamin Moore’s colors without the price tag of the actual paint can, so I just take my color name to Lowe’s, they look it up in the computer, and the paint machines just mix it like magic in a cheaper (but still excellent quality) can of Valspar. Nothing to it! There’s no guess work or relying on scanning a paint chip or anything like that. I’ve heard this shouldn’t be attempted with more speciality brands like Farrow & Ball, but all the regular brands seem to work this way.

Also, before I forget, the casement windows on the first floor haven’t been replaced! The ones pictured here are just the storm windows (which curiously mount on the inside of the house, presumably because the casement windows open outwards instead of up and down like the double-hung sash windows). All of the casement windows are hanging out in my future-library, awaiting repair and re-glazing. It’s very tedious work. If/when I sell this place, I might have to put a clause in the contract that the windows cannot be replaced! Nothing chaps my ass more (I love that phrase, sorry) than seeing beautiful old windows ripped out of old houses for crappy vinyl replacements, so hopefully all of the TLC I’m putting into the originals will save them from future destruction.

So anyway, let’s talk about what’s happening on the side of the house! I’ve mentioned before that the front yard is CRAZY here. There’s about 30 feet from the front of the house to the sidewalk (meaning about 700 square feet of front yard!), and the whole thing is graded all wrong. The whole front of the house was sitting below grade when we started work (meaning it was rotted, meaning we had to replace the whole sill plate…oof), and grading back toward the house—meaning that water was running back toward the foundation instead of away from it. It was pretty much all the things you don’t want to see happening with land around a house.

After all of the weeds and overgrowth and craziness was removed, it was easier to see that there was also a small hill in the middle of the yard. Not only that, but the soil in the front of the yard was sitting about 2 feet above the sidewalk, all of it basically contained by the root systems of the enormous overgrown evergreen shrubs and weeds. Which are now gone. So what was left was a small landslide waiting to happen.


The old fence had to go, but the question remained as to what would take its place! My original instinct was a cute, classic white picket fence, because, you know, duh. But that really didn’t solve the insane grading issue. Either I’d have to get a backhoe in here to dig out half the yard, or I could work what I was working with and figure out some other solution.

I decided on the latter. Short of excavating the whole yard, the only solution I could really come up with was to create some sort of retaining wall situation to keep everything contained. At the same time, I didn’t want to totally abandon the idea of a fence for a little visual/physical separation from the street and the neighboring houses, and I thought it might be fun to use the opportunity to sort of build in a landscaping feature. Like a living fence/retaining wall/planter set up. Since I went very traditional with the exterior of the house itself, I figured I could get away with doing something a little different for the landscaping.

The old fence posts were actually in fine shape (pressure treated lumber, set in concrete, no major rot), and already spaced 8 feet apart, so it seemed logical and easy-ish to use those as the basis of the design. Basically the plan was to build a series of terraced planters down the side of the lot that would kind of step down with the land, and then continue with one long planter essentially spanning the width of the property across the front. Ya dig? It solved the retaining wall issue, it had potential to solve the privacy issue, and the planters themselves would be a good place to throw all of the excess soil in the yard and get things graded out properly. Solid plan.

I started by constructing the outer surface, which really just involved screwing my lumber into the old fence posts. I decided to use 5/4″x6″x8′ cedar decking boards from Lowe’s to construct the whole thing (which were significantly cheaper than 1×6 cedar boards, and thicker, too). Cedar was more expensive than pressure-treated pine, but the cedar allowed for the possibility of a nice stained/sealed finish whereas I think pressure-treated pine is better if the plan is to paint or use an opaque stain, which I kind of wanted to avoid here. Both are rot-resistant and should fare OK for something like this.

Anyway. The only really tricky part of working on the sides was getting everything level and figuring out the slope. I’m no smarty-pants mathematician, so the easiest method I could figure out was to hold the board level at the high point and measure the distance between the bottom of the board and the low point down at the other end. Then I just cut a diagonal line down the length of the board  with my circular saw. I have no idea if that makes sense or if anyone cares. Here is a really heinous illustration of what I’m talking about which may or may not help.


So there. After the first board was in place and level (I used 2.5″ exterior screws), it was just a matter of stacking my subsequent boards on top of it and securing them.


See? Like so. I stacked the boards four high, bringing the whole thing to a height of 22 inches. I knew I wanted to keep it as low as possible while still doing its whole retaining-wall job, both because theoretically the plants contained in them will mature and add some more height (and privacy) but also because I didn’t want it to be like crazy cedar planter overload. I think the height feels pretty good. Substantial without overpowering.


Since I only had fence posts for support on the outer edge of the planters, I used 2×2 pressure treated posts as the support for the interior edges. I found it easiest to assemble the sides flat on the ground first and then move them into position. I made the 2×2 corner posts about 6 inches longer so that they’d help anchor the whole thing into the ground.

After moving the side panel into position, it was just a matter of spending some time leveling the inner edge with the already completed outer edge and getting everything square. Not so bad.


Since 8 feet is a fairly long span, I ended up screwing a 2×2 support to the middle of each panel and then a pressure treated 2×4 horizontally between the 2×2’s to keep the whole thing from bowing out. Wherever possible, I tried to drive my screws from the inside to cut down on the exposed screw heads and holes on the outside.


Moving right along…more planter madness! It’s sort of hard to believe that a few days before this photo was taken, this area was an insane jungle of shrubbery and weeds and litter. I know the overflowing Bagster and the empty, half-filled planters and all that dirt aren’t really looking like much of an improvement, but they will. Trust.


So…it’s possible that my big genius plan of shoveling all the excess dirt in the yard (to bring the ground level down to a reasonable, acceptable level) into the new planters might have been mildly delusional. I filled them to about 6″ from the top, reserving the top few inches for quality top-soil to be mixed in, plus the plants and the mulch. And, uh, this is about what the yard still looked like. Not gorgeous.


I sort of accidentally acquired some help throughout parts of this whole ordeal (long story, another time), and so the totally ridiculous idea of moving all of the dirt from this yard to my yard seemed a little bit less completely nuts than it had before. I mean, what else do you do? So that’s what we did. My wonderful go-to contractor, Edwin, volunteered the use of his monstrous pick-up truck, and we filled that thing one wheelbarrow load at a time. Then we did it again. It was amazing. With a few guys working on that, we got the whole yard (except where the Bagster was sitting) basically cleared, graded, and looking really good in about half a day.



My backyard, however, is a totally different story. It’s really bad. Like so bad. Maybe next summer will be, like, the summer of getting this backyard sorted out, since it certainly didn’t happen this summer and things are not looking hopeful between now and winter. It’s serious very shameful.

I should also mention that Edwin had just stopped by the cottage as a favor to let me use his pressure-washer for a different project (coming up soon!), and decided to just stick around and help us haul dirt and crap for funsies. He’s such a good dude, you guys. I love that man.


Before planting, the final step was sealing the cedar boards! I went back and forth on if/how I should seal the boards (and whether I should seal both sides before I started, but read somewhere that the boards might be better left untreated on the inner parts), but ultimately played it safe and did two coats of Olympic Deck Stain in the natural cedar color on the sides, top edge, and inner side of the top board. It did a nice job of bringing out and hopefully preserving the natural color, while also adding a little pigment. I feel like the natural wood tones play nicely off all the grey paint on the house. It dried a bit lighter and more natural looking than this photo suggests, but this is more or less how it looks. The deck stain also provides good water-resistance, so it should hold up to the elements well. I’m guessing it’ll have to be resealed every couple of years, and from what I’ve read the boards should hold up fine for a couple decades.

I feel like I need to save more of a reveal photo of the planters all planted and in action until I blog about the next exterior project because the pictures would spoil it (yes, you must live in brief suspense!), but I stuck a bunch of plants in them a week or two ago and they look good! Nothing like some plants to immediately make a house look better. I’m glad to have gotten some stuff growing before it gets too cold to plant, and hopefully everything will come back in the spring looking very beautiful and charming and some nice person who loves the house will be so charmed by my plantings and want to buy the house and live in it and stuff.

Despite its scale (about 50 linear feet of planter!) the planter project wasn’t super hard, and the whole thing cost a few hundred dollars—not bad for such a huge project with a big impact! I feel like the front yard has finally been tamed and is all primed and ready for the rest of it to start looking nice.



Day 11: Oversaw final painting day, paid Edwin and crew, worked on constructing second planter.

Day 12: Worked on planning interior layout and took dimensional drawings to building department for building permit. Borrowed Edwin’s truck for late-night Lowe’s run for rest of planter lumber and other supplies.

Day 13: Worked on building third planter. Got help from neighborhood guys removing stumps from old shrubs along front of property, then worked on removing old fence posts along left side of bluestone walk and leveling soil.. Dumped top soil from that area into completed planters.

Day 14: Very rainy. Worked with Chris, Kodi, and Mike in yard (miserable. wet.) and put first two rows of cedar on front span of planter to prevent run-off onto sidewalk. Went to Lowe’s. Tree guy came back to grind large Catapla stump. Purchased Bagster and cleaned up main floor of house. Mike began demo’ing walls upstairs. Demo’d walls and ceiling in kitchen.


This post is in partnership with Lowe’s!

Repairs, Painting, and Tree Day!


After we dealt with the necessary structural repairs, work on the exterior of the cottage kept moving right along! The weather has been cooperating beautifully, so there’ve been very few delays in work the past couple of weeks. If all of my projects moved at this pace, I wager I could renovate the state of New York by the time I’m 50? Sounds reasonable.


As with any paint project, prep is 90% of the work. Not only was the entire house pretty filthy, but the whole thing hadn’t been painted in probably 20 years. The yellow paint on almost all of the clapboard was peeling off, meaning that the entire house had to be scraped of loose paint and sanded to prepare for the new paint job. If this were my own house, I’d probably take it slower and try to paint the whole thing myself, but with winter around the corner and an exterior to hopefully finish by then, it only really made sense to hire it out.

Another reason to hand the job over to the pros is the whole issue of lead. The outer layer of paint is too new to contain lead, but I’m sure layers underneath do. Restrictions (and enforcement) of this kind of stuff vary by place, but technically this isn’t the kind of work somebody who isn’t certified in lead abatement should be dealing with. My contractor had the necessary equipment, experience, and training to handle the job, so I let him do the honors.

I pitched in a little bit by helping pull a bunch of the billion staples stuck everywhere! Everything in my house was fixed with masking tape and caulk, but I think everything in this house was fixed with staples. I’m guessing all these staples are remnants of efforts to weatherproof the windows with plastic in the winter, and the cumulative effect of doing this over many years lead to the major staple build-up. They are EVERYWHERE, inside and out. It’s sort of astounding. Hello, blisters!


Prepping everything took several days. First all of the clapboard around the entire house was hand-scraped (the chips fell onto 6 mil plastic that we laid around the perimeter of the house, which was then disposed of). Then all of it was sanded with a special sander attached to a special vacuum with a special filter to contain any particles, just to smooth everything out and rough up the surface of the remaining old paint.

People go to various degrees of insanity when they prep old clapboard to paint. Some people who have lots of time and lots of energy go as far as stripping all of the paint down to the bare wood either with chemical strippers, ultraviolet strippers, heat guns, or some combination. Unless, of course, you’re Martha Stewart, in which case you have the entire house sandblasted, just to make the mortals feel inferior. But the level of prep done here is more typical when you hire it out to a normal painter—scrape what’s loose, paint over what isn’t. Sure, the clapboard doesn’t look perfect—even after sanding, you can still see layers of paint below the new paint—but I don’t mind it. Just like with the inside of these houses, sometimes old stuff is allowed to look old. I’ll take the texture of this over vinyl or aluminum siding any day.

ANYWAY. I considered a lot of different paint schemes for the house, trying to take into consideration what’s happening with the neighboring properties and the unique nature of this tiny house set way far back on this tiny lot. I felt like maybe I could get away with doing something a little off-the-wall and considered painting the whole thing some bright, exciting color, but ultimately I felt like that wasn’t the right move. For starters, I’ve never painted the exterior of a house, and part of me felt like I had to crawl before I could walk here. I also just felt like I want the house to be cute and sweet and classic, and some bolder choice might not accomplish that.

So I went with grey. I KNOW, I’M SO BORING. Sorry to the color-lovers. I’ll try to make it up to you. I have ideas and stuff.

(maybe. no promises.)

Specifically, I went with Martha Stewart’s Bedford Grey, which is a color I’ve used a couple of times as an accent color in my house. It’s my favorite mid-tone grey paint color: warm undertones, so it never goes blue, but it’s also never taupe or beige. It’s basically perfect, much like Lady Stewart herself.


For the entire exterior, we used Valspar Reserve paint from Lowe’s! I used the interior version of Valspar Reserve paint in my dining room (and will probably continue using it throughout the house—it’s amazing paint), and the exterior version did not disappoint. My contractor, Edwin, typically uses Benjamin Moore when he paints exteriors and gave me major side-eye when I came to site toting my gallons of Valspar, but every single person who had a hand in the painting (including Edwin!) ended up commenting on the quality and coverage of the Valspar Reserve. We did two coats on the entire house, but look how well it covers up that intense green with just one! It really is great stuff. And at $40/gallon less then Benjamin Moore Aura, the savings is insane. Sorry, Ben. We used 17 gallons of paint on the whole house (with a little to spare on touch-ups), which worked out to a little over $750 in paint. Not bad!

I’ll stop gushing about paint. For now.

For some reason, one of the major challenges I’ve had here is figuring out exactly how to paint this house. Is it because the green trim and windows everywhere is so distracting? Is it because I’m just bad at this? I don’t know. It seems like there’s opportunity for a few different paint treatments here, and figuring out what should go where proved weirdly complicated. I’ll try to break it down.

1. The clapboard. All one color, obviously.

2. The window trim. Different color? White? But it’s so simple, and there’s something strange about how the trim around the casement windows in the front meets the trim around the sidelights, and…I don’t know.

3. If the window trim goes white, then what else qualifies as trim? Everything that’s currently green? What about the corner boards? What about the eaves overhang, which is currently the siding color? What about the fascia?

4. The window sashes. Should they be the trim color? Or a different color? Will it be too busy if they’re a different color? My head is spinning.

5. The sidelights. Do those qualify as windows? So they should be the window color? Or should they just be the same color as the door? Or should they be the color of the trim? I feel dizzy.

6. The door! Should the door be the same color as the window sashes? Or the trim? Should the door and the sidelights be the same color? Should the door be some other fun color? And then what to do about the sidelights?

7. What about that sunburst detail thing (does anyone know exactly what to call that?) over the door? I sort of want to accentuate it in some way, but I don’t really want to introduce another paint color, especially if the clapboard is different than the trim is different than the window sashes is different than the door…yikes. I just threw up.


How many times can I mention Martha in one post? Let’s find out. The color Bedford Grey was originally formulated for Martha’s home, Cantitoe Corners, in Bedford, New York, so I decided to re-familiarize myself with how it was used there and maybe get some answers to my paint problems.

Monochrome. Huh. I mean, how perfect is that house? Very perfect. Somehow it looks really classic and modern at the same time, and the monochrome scheme is just the right solution for disguising the asymmetry of those second floor windows, which would otherwise be kind of glaring if the trim color offset too much with the house.

I still liked the idea of doing something different with the window sashes and the door color, but painting everything else out monochrome seemed like maybe just the right solution to freshening up the house and solving the never-ending what is trim and what is not-trim debates I was mentally wrestling with.


While the painting proceeded, we continued to make a few repairs to the exterior, including replacing the crown molding around the overhang on the front of the house. Parts of the existing crown were missing and other parts were completely rotted, but luckily the molding wasn’t really anything super special and I was able to find a near-exact match at Lowe’s. Cutting all of the angles correctly was horrible and trying and I think Edwin wanted to slaughter me throughout the ordeal, but it looks great so I’m glad we threw a little money and time at that detail.


I also decided to replace the back door after all, which turned into ripping out the door, the old (very broken, messed up) jamb, the rotted trim around the old door, and some of the clapboard to the right of the door, which was just very messed up and better to replace than try to repair or just paint over. For the entire exterior, we used about 3 packs of new wood siding from Lowe’s where the clapboard needed to be replaced. It added a little over $200 to the materials cost, but matches the old stuff perfectly and looks great. Edwin used 2″ finish nails to attach the new clapboard—I didn’t know at the time, but larger nails with larger heads (7d nails) are recommended for clapboard, so I plan to go back and add those the old-fashioned way. Ah well.


Here’s the new back door! So nice! It’s almost exactly the same as the original door (it has three panels on the bottom half instead of two), except it’s not completely broken, rotted, missing mullions, etc. I saved the old door and may try to use it inside or just hoard it in my basement for some other project someday. Like the front door, this new door came from The Door Jamb—the local discount window and door place up here. It’s a little nicer than the front door—stain-grade fir instead of paint-grade pine—so it was $125. Still a great price for such a nice door, I’d say! We had to cut 1.5″ off the top and bottom to make it fit the existing opening, but that was easy.

For the trim surrounding the door, we ripped down 5/4 x 6″ lumber to match the thickness and width of the original trim that we couldn’t salvage. The new sill and piece below it are 2×8 pressure-treated wood we had leftover from the sill replacement in the front.


After the first coat of paint was on the house, latex caulk was applied where necessary, which gets painted over during the second coat. I think we used somewhere around 20 tubes of caulk for the whole house. Vertical surfaces like where clapboard meets corner boards and trim gets caulked, but you don’t want to caulk between the clapboards themselves—this is what allows the house to “breath.”


Tree day happened over the weekend!! HOORAY! I took care of removing all of the insane weeds and vines and stuff myself, but I hired out removing the large Catalpa tree in the front, the three overgrown shrubs up by the sidewalk, and a few other trees growing too close to the foundation in the back and the side. It took two guys an hour or two (and a really awesome chainsaw) to take care of everything and cost $750, which included hauling everything away, grinding the stumps, and removing the enormous pile of brush I’d made of all the weeds and vines. I was planning to haul the smaller stuff to the dump myself (and save $150), but the convenience of just having these guys take care of all of it won out.

before progress

Helloooo, little house! You can be seen from the street now!!

Now you can really get a sense of how tiny this house is in comparison to its neighbors, and how far back it is from the street. It’s such a bizarre little place! I’m almost positive that this house started out as a carriage house (or some kind of secondary structure) for one of the houses adjacent to it, and then became its own house after 3 or 4 major additions. I’ll get into that more in a future post—it’s kind of interesting! At least to me.

I’d already decided at this point that I really didn’t like the monochrome paint scheme (the house just isn’t interesting enough to pull it off!), so plans switched to paint the trim white—which, spoiler, looks way better. Switching gears partway through painting ended up tacking $550 onto the initial quote of $4,500 for painting the whole house. It kind of sucked to eat that cost since it was my mistake, but it’s worth it in the long run to get it right. Oh well.

The yard still has a LONG way to go, but getting the trees and shrubs out of there was an enormous first step! Now that the yard is more of a blank slate, it’s time to really get going on the landscaping! There’s a whole lot of grading that needs to be taken care of to get the yard sloping out toward the street instead of back toward the house, that fence situation needs to go, and a lot of general clean-up and stuff needs to take place, but this is huge. I can’t even count the number of people who walked by that day who were either shocked to find out there was a house lurking back there, or had to check that they were even on the right block. It feels good.

Diary time!

Day 8: Went to Lowe’s to buy some lumber and other small supplies. Worked on landscaping scheme, began building planters. More yard clean-up. Decided what parts of house to paint white versus grey.

Day 9: Went to Lowe’s to buy more paint and a few supplies. Went back to site to deliver everything. Edwin had trimmed out front door and replaced most of missing siding on front. Went back to Lowe’s for more lumber for planters and crown molding for front. Ran to Door Jamb in Edwin’s truck to purchase door that has been on hold for the back entrance. Edwin and Edgar installed it in 45 minutes—still remaining is installing lock and knob set. Did not want to cut 3″ off one end, so cut 1.5″ off top and bottom to make it fit.

Day 10: My birthday. Oversaw tree removal starting at 8:30 AM. Worked on building planters briefly with Max. Left earlier than I wanted to so we could get to Garlic Festival in Saugerties.

This post is in partnership with Lowe’s!

Starting Work on the Exterior

You know that feeling you get, like if you oversleep by accident or get stuck in terrible traffic, and then you spend the rest of the day chasing that time you missed out on?

Yeah. That’s pretty much how the cottage renovation started out.

I woke up the morning of the closing with a fever and popped some Tylenol. I’d been in this pattern for about four days, and I guess I might have been more concerned about it if I wasn’t also in the thick of buying a condemned house, helping renovate a friend’s bathroom, trying to work on my own dining room, trying to procure an insurance policy for the cottage before closing, wondering why my Check Engine Coolant light never turns off, wishing I had a bagel…you get the idea. Generally feeling a little bit crazed, which is more or less how I (dys)function always and forever. Works great.

Admittedly, feeling this way before embarking on another major renovation probably should have served as some kind of warning, but whatever. I signed all the papers and handed over all the money and bought that house! And then the next day I found out my mysterious fever was actually Mono.

I turned to my primary care physician, WebMD, which informed me that everything was about to get worse, maybe for weeks, maybe for months. Then I mentioned having it on this blog, and among the well-wishes and get-betters were horrific stories of 6, 8, 10, 20 months-long ordeals with the affliction of which I had recently been diagnosed.

This was such bad news. Buying this little condemned house sort of felt like buying, I don’t know, a baby. Like I bought a helpless, defenseless little thing with the promise and understanding that I’d take care of it, and then my body was basically like “NOPE. You will go to sleep indefinitely instead!” So that’s what I did, more or less, and it super sucked, except for the part where I watched all the TV.

Luckily the worst of it was over within about two weeks, which brought us to mid-September, when I declared that the first day of work would officially begin on the cottage. I’d been up on my feet a few days and it seemed like it would be OK to, you know, ease back into things. Just get my feet wet a little bit.

Then I proceeded to pull weeds and vines and pick up trash for eleven hours straight. Why? Because I am dumb. And I really wanted the painters to be able to access the house to start prepping. Mostly because I’m dumb.

Anyway, hopefully this is the last you’ll hear me complaining about mono because it won’t come back and everything will be terrific forever. Fingers crossed. I’m trying to be good about not pushing too hard. It’s going moderately OK.


Lest we forget, here was the state of the front yard before (standing at the house, looking toward the street). It’s sort of crazy seeing this kind of thing in a fairly densely populated urban area…I’ve noticed that even empty lots don’t look like this in Kingston, let alone ones with houses on them! Bananas.

ANYWAY. The name of the game with this yard is pretty much to start over. There isn’t really anything except the bluestone hardscaping that can be salvaged, and I guess the fence posts are in OK shape. The super overgrown shrubs along the front and the large (but poorly located and very ugly due to some old aggressive pruning over the years) Catalpa tree will have to get removed professionally, but I figured I could save a little money by handling pretty much anything that didn’t require a chainsaw by myself. People have suggested keeping the huge evergreen shrubs in the front for privacy, but I sort of feel like it’s important for the street for this house to be seen, since it’s going to look all spiffy and whatnot. Removing the shrubs should also bring more light into the main floor, which would be nice!

I’m really, really excited to say that I’m teaming up with my friends at Lowe’s again (they also worked with me on our laundry room) to get this exterior into shape! The team at Lowe’s was as excited about the project as I am, and have been completely dreamy to work with. I pretty much do all of my shopping at Lowe’s in general (I love the employees at our local store! So much!), so I’m all-around super thrilled to be doing this with them by my side! They’ve given me complete creative freedom with this, by the way, and—as always—all opinions are my own.

My basic strategy was to start at the perimeter of the house and work my way out, clearing space for the painters first (who, achem, didn’t end up coming that day) and then worrying about everything else. I essentially just threw everything in a large pile…it’s really too much to be wrangling into individual yard bags. Kingston’s Department of Public Works has a program where yard waste can be brought to a place nearby, where they chip it into mulch, so the plan is to borrow my friend’s pick-up and do that. You can actually rent a dump truck for a weekend for $50 for this very thing, which I guess they drop off on a Friday and pick up on a Monday, but my understanding is that the entire city basically shares one and so that option only really works if you’re not on a deadline. The other cool thing I learned is that once everything is chipped into mulch, any Kingston resident can take it! As much mulch as you want for free. So cool! I only mention this stuff because it all seemed to novel to me and maybe other people are missing out on similar fun and exciting municipal services.


So part of the trouble with the yard being SO overgrown and unruly was that it was a little hard to even tell what was going on with the exterior of the house. Everything looked more or less OK, but so much of it was obscured by plants that me, the inspector, and everyone else may have missed a few little details.

Like, oh, the front of the house sitting below grade. Nice.

As I went about my weed-pulling, I started to notice that under all the overgrowth was a massive amount of dirt. There’s something around 30 feet of front yard between the house and the sidewalk, and the whole thing is graded super wonky, like there’s a big hill in the middle and about 3-4 feet of soil build-up behind the fence that’s pretty much just being held in by a couple of horizontal 4×4 posts and the root system of those evergreens. It’s really strange. As it stands, the whole thing basically needs a retaining wall. It looks like I have a lot of dirt-moving in my future. Maybe it can come to my backyard? Somehow? Hmmmmm.

ANYWAY, a consequence of the crazy dirt situation and the crazy grading is that the bottom course of clapboard was basically completely buried, meaning the bottom part of the exterior sheathing and the sill plate (that thing between the studs and the foundation, which holds up the house) was also sitting below grade. YIKES.


I mean, HOLY SHIT. The entire front of the house is resting on that rotted out disaster. To me it kind of looked like termite damage more than regular wood rot, but there weren’t any signs of an active termite infestation, so at least that’s good. Anyway, a little quick evaluation told me (and then, later, my go-to contractor Edwin told me) that the whole thing needed to be replaced.

Ouch. Ouch Ouch Ouch. This is not the kind of information you want to get on DAY 1, FYI. Basically we’d have to figure out a way to support the whole front of the house from collapsing (easier said than done without a basement under this section) while we took out what was left of the existing sill plate and replaced it with new pressure-treated lumber. The whole thing sounded horrible and potentially astronomically expensive and I basically could just picture that emoji I’ve grown so fond of using—that one with the wad of money flying away with its set of wings.

BUT. It wasn’t that bad. Really. The house sat like this for a few days, which made me crazy anxious for some reason, but then we got to work. There was also a section of sill plate that was rotted out at the back of the house near the kitchen (due to a damaged gutter…gutter maintenance is important, people!), that needed replacement, and Edwin quoted $800 + materials (which ended up costing about $200) for the repair of both. So…not cheap, but not totally decimating the budget either. OK. Deep breaths and stuff. We’re still good. Luckily the rot hadn’t extended up into the studs or past the sill plate into the joists, so that was good news. I was a little worried the whole house was like this.


This is what the entire front of the house was resting on! It’s sort of a wonder the whole thing hadn’t collapsed? I mean, damn. It’s basically a toothpick!


But, we fixed it up! The process involved supporting the front of the house very temporarily (like 10 minutes) with 2x4s and sliding two new 2 x 8 pressure-treated boards into place, which were sistered together with a framing nailer. So fresh and so clean! Then the front wall was shockingly easy to move back into the correct position, and the studs were re-attached to the sill plate with the framing nailer at a few different angles, inside and out. Solid as a rock. This isn’t how houses are built today, but it’s worked here for many decades and now can continue to work for many more! HOORAY.


After the new sill plate was in place and secured, we shimmed the whole thing out another inch to match the thickness of the original sill.


Then all we had to do was cut a piece of 3/4″ pressure-treated plywood to create the sheathing. I had the plywood leftover from my failed attempt at fixing my own box gutter, so the material for this part at least was free.


After the sill plate was replaced and the new sheathing was installed, we opted to add 14″ high aluminum flashing to help keep water away from the new sill plate and foundation. A few courses of new clapboard will be installed over top of this (the old stuff wasn’t salvageable), and everything will be OK. The house will be solid and more equipped to handle water and stuff than it was before. Excellent.


Throughout this ordeal, we realized that the existing sidelights and door were framed in COMPLETELY incorrectly…no header, no real support…the whole thing was a mess! Rather than trying to work with the existing crappy job as we were installing a new front door and jamb, we made the quick decision to rip it all out and re-frame the entire thing. It cost me a couple hundred bucks in extra labor hours and materials, but it was entirely worth it. The front of this house is not going ANYWHERE.


The new header meant that the old sidelights had to be cut down a bit to compensate. I’m seriously debating these sidelights. They’re REALLY not very old and REALLY not very nice, and a ton of the panes are broken, and I think I could just replace them with something nicer and new for about $200. I’m really tempted…I have so much window restoration on this house already, and this is one of those things that I can make a little bit easier and a little bit nicer for a little extra money, and it kind of seems worth it. I don’t know! For now, the old ones went back in place (with temporary stops, so I can easily remove them for restoration and paint), but we’ll see. I’m not married to them. They’re really pretty bad, believe me.


Anyway, look at that fancy framing and that fancy new door!! AHHHH! Finally the house has an actual LOCK, and I can stop being super paranoid about people coming in and stealing my tools. Obviously in this picture we still have to add back the sidelights and trim everything out, but it’s already and improvement. I changed the direction that the door swings, and I think it makes a lot more sense this way.

Oh, about the door! I’m super happy with it. I went to a place called The Door Jamb nearby, which basically sells overstocked or slightly damaged doors and windows at great discounts. This door is solid wood (not stain grade, though, so I’m planning to paint it), really nice, and only $95! That’s super cheap for an exterior door. I wasn’t really planning to find anything I liked that was new production, but I think this door suits the house super well, especially when I put the first floor casement windows back in place (I took them down for repair/painting…the windows in the picture are just the storms).


One of the things about there only being one of me is that I can’t be in multiple places at once! I’ve spent a lot of time running back and forth to Lowe’s to pick up more supplies—more lumber here, more paint there…I’m typically there like 1-3 times a day, which means sometimes I miss things back at the ranch! I casually mentioned to my contractor that I was planning to put new beadboard up in the arched area above the door (which was totally rotted/eaten by animals), but I never planned for him to do it for me! I guess the installation must have been easy since he banged it out in about 20 minutes, but I missed the whole thing! This is just tongue-and-groove breadboard wainscoting that comes in a pack (I bought 4 foot lengths, and I think this took a little more than 1 pack), attached with 2″ finish nail. It looks so good. I thought for a second about trying to stain it, but I think it’s getting painted like everything else. I don’t want it to look glaringly new, you know?

Is that enough progress for one post? It’s hard to know when to stop! Even though a lot of this stuff was a little bit unexpected, I’m really glad that we got it resolved quickly and properly (and relatively inexpensively) and can move forward with the beautification process and start seeing some non-invisible changes around here!

By the way, I’m sorry about the (in)frequency of posts in the last couple of weeks! I promised more and then you did not get more! Obviously this is a big project, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t going through some growing pains right about now…trying to manage all the work and keep everything moving and also have time to blog about it and eat and sometimes sleep and pay my bills and all of that is proving a little tough. We’re only a couple weeks in, though…I’m trying really hard to strike a balance and figure out how to make this work a little better. Just FYI.

Totally unrelated, but I had this kooky idea…continuing in the grand tradition Martha Stewart’s New Old House, I thought maybe it would be fun to maybe end these posts diary-style. It’s all well and good to see a bunch of progress in one post, but I always sort of wonder what the day-to-day looks like. I skipped over those sections the first time I read Martha’s book (which is amazing and totally insane—I love it), but reading through it the second time was sort of amazing…the entries are informative but also reveal her neuroses and anal-retentiveness in a really adorable Martha-y way. So why not? Fun? Let’s find out.

Day 1: Bought new front door.

Day 2: Yard clearing. Took a break to purchase some supplies. Uncovered structural issue on exterior and worked on solution with Edwin. Used Edwin’s truck to buy pressure-treated lumber to replace sill plate.

Day 3: Cleaned up around yard and interior of cottage while Edwin started prepping clapboard for paint.

Day 4: Edwin continued to prep exterior for paint. Painted sample of siding color on clapboard for review and approval. Debating how to paint trim, window sashes, and doors.

Day 5: Went to Building Department to apply for building permit while Edwin and crew continued to prep for paint. Edwin and I brainstormed exactly how to replace sill plate. Lack of basement makes things complicated.

Day 6: Bough caulk for painters. Went to Lowe’s for 2×4 lumber to reframe door and sidelights, aluminum flashing, and Sawzall blades. Edwin and Edgar worked on replacing sill plate—almost complete by the time I got back. Edwin and Edgar moved on to removing old door and sidelights. Painting began on underside of rafters and trim. After workers left, cleaned up site and met with tree service professional, Armin, about removing larger trees and grinding stumps. Quote seemed reasonable, nobody else has returned my calls—hired!

Day 7: Went to Lowe’s to buy plants (before they are out of stock), new cedar siding, more flashing, and exterior paint. Changed painting plan slightly—$550 mistake on my part. Edwin and Edgar re-framed doorway and put back old sidelights. Edwin installed beadboard wainscoting over entryway. Edwin installed door, threshold, weather-stripping, and new locks.  Ran back to Lowe’s to buy 2×6 pressure-treated wood to replace upper portion of trim and 5/4″ x  6″ for trim pieces around door to match original 1″ thickness, which will be installed next working day. Rain in forecast tomorrow.



This post is in partnership with Lowe’s!

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