Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Now you see it ...

Like pretty much every other room here at the Duckling, our master bedroom is a work in progress.

So far we've added batten and board and painted the room: a crisp clean "Pure White" for batten and board and the ceiling and the delicious dark teal-y blue "Shaded Lake" for the upper part of the walls. Then we moved in and crammed everything and the neighbor's our cat into it and progress came somewhat to a stand-still. I still have to paint the trim around the windows and that was a thought that preoccupied me a quite a bit.

[Before: Big brown exterior door right next to the bed]

You see, our master bedroom has the weirdest door to window ratio and configuration. It has two windows and four doors, spread out over three walls in the most imbalanced way possible. The only wall suitable for our bed has a window and the door to the outside staircase. Talk about wonky. While we do like and sleep well with the current furniture arrangement, my sense of visual balance has been suffering mightily.

Since for now the exterior door is staying where it is (maybe to be turned into a window or perhaps a door with a glass inset at some point or to be closed up for good), some decent camouflage was called for. I'd seen people "fake" an extra window for symmetry by simply hanging window treatments against the wall and thought this was a great idea but I wanted to take it one step further.

I made the door vanish!
[After: Now you see it, now you don't!]

I simply painted the door to match the walls giving its lower half a coat of Pure White and the upper part a coat of Shaded Lake to help the door play chameleon and blend into the background rather than hogging all of the attention. So so -so- much better!

Now I need to find some quiet time to whip up some window treatments, install the hardware and dress up two windows, one real and one fake. Oh, and paint window trim. Argh!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Knobs and pulls, oh my!

I finally decided to face my worst fears and install our kitchen cabinet pulls and knobs.

Yes, it took as this long to scrounge together all my courage and drill into our beautiful brand-new cabinet doors. Here's our inspiration picture of an early 1920s kitchen (5 years later than the building date of our Ugly Duckling but closer than anything else I could find so far)

[source: antiquehomestyle.com]

We loved the clean lines, the shaker style cabinets and open shelves. So when it was time to buy knobs and pulls we were happy to see that our own preferences matched right up with our inspiration picture: knobs and pulls! In the picture it looks like a chrome or nickel finish but we wanted a bit more contrast, especially considering all the black we were introducing through the appliances and went with the oh so hip oil-rubbed bronze.

[Knobs and gadgets]

I scored a super great deal on both types of cabinet handles at the "Knob Shop" on Ebay, and then found slightly larger pulls for a steal at Target. See? [Yes, that's $1.98 for 2 bin pulls]

[Lucky find at Target]

I also got those two nifty gadgets that'd help us position the handles consistently. They run at about $3 each and I guess you could whip up a template yourself but especially for the knobs this worked really well and kept us from having to finish one project (create jig/template) before even beginning the one we'd actually wanted to work on (install knobs).

Step 1: Grab a roll of simple painter's tape (save the frog tape for the really big projects) and tape over the spot where you'll be drilling. It doesn't have to be perfect; just approximate the area. As long as the mark for your drill point will be on the tape, you're golden. The tape will do two things: it'll make it harder for your drill to wander and the cuts will be cleaner.

Step 2: x marks the spot. You can either built your own template or buy one of those nifty and not too expensive gadgets to make sure all of your handles will be installed in the same spot on each door. Pick a spot, mark the tape.

Step 3: Drill, baby, drill! Take a deep breath and bring on the drill. Slow and steady wins the race; just aim for your mark while keeping the drill nice and straight and drill that dreaded hole. Frankly, it was only scary the first time. Once I saw the method was working, my confidence went through the roof.

Step 4: Admire the hole you drilled without breaking the cabinet door.

Step 5: Peel off the painter's tape and screw in your handle. Voila! All done! Step back and admire your handiwork.

[Tada - New and improved. Now -with- handles!]

The handles are a smash hit and both my men were very excited about them. Best compliment? Little Man's very enthusiastic "See, Mami, you can do a man's job too!". Sometimes I really wonder what goes on in his head ...

Friday, May 27, 2011

Laundry room II

You know a room is most likely not a real room unless there's some sort of storage. And while some rooms can get away with a basket or a single drawer as storage, most rooms require a little more oomph in the storage department to become more sufficient/efficient/whatever-cient.

Case in point: the laundry room.

I love having both, washer and dryer inside a room with 4 actual walls. At Silver St the hook-ups were set up on the back porch which was enclosed with lattice panels and it worked for doing laundry if you didn't mind losing the occasional sock to the squirrels (Husband's white sport socks were a popular choice for nesting material] and having to wash off your washer and dryer from the dirt that collected on top and occasionally treating the rust issues.

[Laundry room: new room, new paint, new floors, new trim]

At the Duckling, the laundry rooms is a fully enclosed area. It began its life many years ago as an enclosed porch and was then turned into a full bathroom so the downstairs could function as its own apartment when the house was converted to a duplex. When we bought the Duckling, we removed the bathtub and added that space to the former teeny mudroom which was just just of 4 sqft (or maybe 5, but not much bigger).

After new drywall, paint and floors and with all the new hook-ups in place this laundry room was off to a great start. Except ... no storage. Wop-wop-wooop.

However, we were prepared. Right from the start aka the demolition phase we'd set aside some of the wall cabinets from the former upstairs kitchen. They are simple but solid cabinets, weigh a metric ton and were in good shape. With just a coat of fresh paint inside and out they'd be perfect to help us out with some storage deficits.

[Husband hard at work]

Husband went off to the orange box to pick up more wood for his library shelf project as well as some cabinet screws and right after lunch we kicked off the laundry room wall cabinet project. Yes, we precariously balanced the cabinets atop rubbermaid containers supported by coffee cans. Not your usual DIY approach but it did work! A couple of cabinet screws and battles with rock-hard studs later, we had cabinets in our laundry room. Let's hear it for storage! Wootwoot!

Next step ... paint! (Notice a theme here?)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

How do you do (it)?

  • One of the things you need to consider when buying a property that is in any way distressed (and we're not talking the faux finish), is how much can you do and how much are you able to do yourself.

    Sure it sounds like the best adventure ever to lovingly restore a house to your dream home and an abundance of DIY projects, both heard and unheard of, might provide you with the time of your life but before you put your signature on the last paper, make sure you're at least -trying- to be realistic.

    If you haven't got a clue about foundations, electric and plumbing and have never touched those things before, skip those DIY videos and self-help books and have a professional do it. Trust me, you'll sleep much better at night!

    Also, realize that every project will usually take twice as long and occasionally will cost twice (or more) than you expected.

    Husband and I are so glad we never ever argued over the fact that we needed and wanted a general contractor to bring the Duckling back to comfortably livable condition. While it appeared mostly dirty and ugly, there were a couple of things that needed to be fixed by people who knew what they were doing, not to mention that we both work and have a child to take care of.
    Other items on our list such as refinishing the floors were projects we could have fumbled our way through but frankly, just looking at the floors I know every penny was well spent. They are beautiful (under all that %%$#@@ drywall dust), and even more important my marriage is intact ;o)

    Renovations can be stressful. All you have to do is watch HGTV's "Renovation Realities" and notice the dirty sidelooks, the exasperated sighs from the spousal unit, the snappy comments, the frustrated groans, tears and arguments. It seriously can be that bad. Will it all be rainbows and lollipops when tackling the smaller DIY projects with your partner in crime? Oh, heck, no! There'll be disagreements and the occasional huff or grump but man, they are nothing compared to those cat fights you witness when people are overwhelmed and getting frantic.

    There are only that many hours in a day so be realistic.

  • Don't hesitate to ask for help.

  • Call in the professionals for the big stuff.

  • Decide how much time you want to spent on projects every day/week/month
    Create a to-do list, sorted either by room (to-do list for kitchen, to-do-list for bathroom, etc.) or by project (paint trim, replace window treatments, etc.)

  • create a budget

Oh, and once you have that all sorted out may I recommend you start with working on whatever storage solutions (closets, shelves, etc.) you want to implement first? You know, before you start painting every single room in your house. That way you'll have a place to put all of your stuff when you move in and won't have to live out of boxes for a couple of weeks.

Not like I'd know anything about that ...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

It's a wrap!

After living at the Duckling for a solid 2 weeks now, we've learned that

  • you can live with half-finished paint jobs

  • you can live with having to zigzag through boxes everywhere

  • the world does not come crashing down if your house doesn't look like it should be featured on houzz.com

  • bicycles in your entry hall still leave enough space to move comfortably

  • it takes the cat this long to get used to the new house (outside, however, is a totally different story)

  • living in the house you're renovating doesn't necessarily mean you will renovate it faster and complete more projects than when you had to drive over every day

  • Drywall dust can and will be everywhere

  • we don't want to live without our water and ice dispenser on our fridge

  • having a functioning laundry room is heaven

We're surrounded by half-finished projects and, now that the initial excitement over finally really living at our Duckling house is starting to wear off, they are beginning to irk me just a little bit. I've been flitting back and fro between a couple of projects, doing a little here and there before something else would catch my eye and attention and guess what?

That ain't gonna work!

Aside from "Do whatever you want" Sunday, I have come to the conclusion that the only way to tackle our house project and make it family visit-able is to tackle one room after another and finish it! No more bouncing around. No more dawdling. No more scraping paint here and there.
Just pick a room and finish it.
Rinse and repeat.

So I went and finished the little half bath downstairs. Yay me!

Here's what was needed to take our little half bath from blah to ta-dah

[Smallest, most awkward to photograph half bath - yes, the outside of the door frame needs to be painted but that's part of the library to-do-list]

  • Separate half bath from laundry room with new drywall

  • remove old wall closet

  • remove old sink

  • re-plumb

  • re-wire

  • Paint walls ("Cloudy Morning")

  • trim out

  • paint trim

  • paint door

  • paint threshold

  • add light fixture

  • new sink and faucet from Vintage tub & bath

  • add small frame-less mirror (Target, $17.99)

  • little shelves (Family Dollar, $5)

  • add window treatment

  • add stripey rug (Fred's, $4.99)

[The other half of the half bath]

  • add basket for toilet paper and extra towels (on hand)

  • hang art (a gift from a very talented friend who is an actual artist

  • accessorize shelves (items on hand)

That's a lot of steps for a room that's all of 3ft wide and 6ft long ... (aside from our closets, it is the smallest room in the house).

So are we really really finished? Well, for now we are.

At some point we'd like to knock out the ol' tile and replace it with simple painted drywall for a clean look on the walls (right now it's tiled halfway up) and either try a wood style Allure flooring on the floor or a pretty slate tile on the floor. And I think the light fixture needs a little help.

The cut glass dome isn't too bad - it actually works well with the vintage charm we have going on in there - but the bright shiny new brass is not my 'thang' and doesn't go with the chrome of the faucet soooo ... I'm thinking silver spraypaint. What do you think?

The husband starts to twitch nervously every time I let the word "spray paint" slip ...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A little old house of your own

[source: Wells Fargo Mural]

Originally I had a different entry planned for today but there were so many questions swirling about on various forums that I think I have to post this one first ..

"Advice from a novice historic home buyer"


"Buying a Fixer-Upper without having to rob a bank first"

There seems to be the misconception going around that you need a hefty bank account before you are allowed to even think about buying a property that needs work. Fortunately that is not true.

I say fortunately because not only is there a way for the historic home lover to buy a 1915s Bungalow or 1880s Victorian without having to wait for a huge inheritance or a winning lottery ticket to come their way, it also is essential to moving a lot of properties in today's real estate market.

While there are numerous home decoration and renovation blogs the sad truth is that there are also a lot of people who had to give up on making any improvements to their homes. Some even had to stop working and maintaining their homes entirely thanks to the economy tanking and taking the housing market with it (or was it the other way 'round?).

Either way, there are a LOT of distressed properties on the market. Whether it's a foreclosure with a leaky roof, an auctioned off 1980s Ranch with a missing ac compressor or a darling Victorian in need of new wiring and plumbing - they all need work and it doesn't come for free. What's a home buyer to do?

The magic words are "FHA 203(k) loan". This rehab loan was created by the Federal Housing Administration and is designed for people who want to rehab or repair a distressed property to use as their primary residence. Purchase price and rehab costs get wrapped into one mortgage package with one monthly payment. While it's not for the typical investor you -can- buy a multi-family residence, live in one unit and rent out the other(s) [up to 4 units max under this loan]. Since 203(k) loans are endorsed by the government, they encourage lenders to offer what's usually considered a slightly risky deal.

You'll have to poke around a bit to find a lender who has experience with such a rehab loan - not every lender offers them - but once you find one and meet the usual FHA requirements for a loan you're are usually all set to find the distressed property of your dreams! We had the same experience applying for the 203(k) loan that we had with a regular FHA loan: smooth sailing if you meet the typical FHA loan requirements.

There are two types of FHA 203(k) mortgages: regular and streamlined. The only difference is that regular 203(k)s are for properties that need structural repairs (foundation but also removal of walls, etc) and streamlined are for those that need only non-structural repairs and do not exceed $35,000 including all fees and a 10% contingency fund. The loan does not only finance the big ticket items such as electric, plumbing, foundation and so on, you can also finance new kitchen cabinets and appliances, interior and exterior paint and much more with it.

You don't have to use a contractor but you have to show that you are qualified to do whatever work you proposed. We felt that having a general contractor was well worth the extra - and what we considered reasonable - expense: their experience and advice not to mention their efforts in orchestrating the timely execution of work done by sub-contractors was invaluable.

Yes, there is extra paperwork involved which is why an experienced lender as well as an experienced contractor (experienced with both, the kind of house you're rehabbing as well as the 203(k) paperwork and funds draw process) are a must but other than that this is a very do-able project and not as far out as some people might make you believe. No, really.

Step by step:

  • find your historic neighborhood: each one is so different and unique.(optional but recommended: rent a historic place for a test run and find out if you can live with the many quirks of a historic home)get your paperwork in order and pre-approved for a mortgage.

  • make a list of things you are looking for in your home

  • start looking for a home using a real estate agent who knows your target neighborhood. It really makes a difference!

  • find a good contractor who has experience with historic homes. Recommendations from neighbors in your historic neighborhood are usually your best bet. It also helps if your contractor has dealt with the accounting system of the 203k loan before.

  • Once you find "The One" meet with your contractor for a first walk-through. Have a list ready of which things you noticed/want done as part of your renovation loan. Compare notes with your contractor. He might recommend works you haven't considered yet

  • Make an offer (and have it hopefully accepted)

  • Get your home inspection. Do not, never ever skip this step. Try to find an home inspector who has experience with historic houses and the way they are built.

  • Sit down with your contractor to modify the renovation bid to include issues found during the home inspection. Your lender might require you to add items based on the inspection report.

  • Tackle all necessary paperwork. Most of it will just happen naturally (title search, survey, etc.) . A 203(k) loan will also require an appraisal - basically your lender wants to make sure that they'll be able to recoup the money they are lending you so they have a professional appraise your house and

  • Close on your house and begin your rehab!

That wasn't that difficult, hm?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Mo' ol' house quotes


The houses built by our ancestors were better ventilated in certain respects than modern ones, with all their improvements ... The great majority of the American People, owing to sheer ignorance, are, for want of pure air, being poisoned and starved; the result being weakened constitution, frequent disease and shortened life.

Catherine E Beecher and Harriet Beecher, The American Woman's Home

Old houses, I thought, do not belong to people, ever, not really, people belong to them.

Gladys Taber, Stillmeadows Daybook

A Vermonter had bought an old run-down farm and had worked very hard getting it back in good operating condition. When it was back in pretty good working shape, the local minister happened to stop by for a call. He congratulated the farmer on the result of his labor, remarking that it was wonderful what God and man could do when working together.
"Ayeh", allowed the farmer,"p'raps it is. But you should have seen this place when God was running it alone."

Allen R Foley, What the Old-Timer said

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Gettin' the handle on

Remember my gushing about those beautiful vintage brass hand rasil brackets from Van Dyke's (here and here)?


(best Agnes impression) They're so fluffy I'm gonna die!

No, really! They are! Look!

They are even prettier close up than they were in the catalogue picture. They're heavy and solid, too. And for $12 a pop, you really can't complain.

And here is one installed with the old handrail.

And here's our stair case in all its beat up, splotchy glory.

At one point we want to restore the railing leading down to its old beauty, just like railing of the cantilever balcony you can spy in the upper left corner. Until then I'll continue to gush about those pretty pretty brackets, alright?

Next step - can you guess it? Paint!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Spillin' over

When Sustainable Springfield turned an empty lot in our neighborhood into a community garden, we couldn't wait to sign up for our own plot! Unfortunately, we had to wait a whole year before our dream came true but since January 2011 we've been happily gardening and planting veggies and fruit in our own little plot piece of Springfield.

[Little Man prouldy presenting our sugar snap peas in early April]

[Our raised bed at the community garden in early spring]

So far we've planted sugar snap peas, strawberries, different kinds of lettuce, arugula, bush beans, cucumbers, summer squash, zucchini, swiss chard, scallions, tomatoes, basil, parsley, peppers and cantaloupe. Some of these we have been enjoying on a more or regular basis. our sugar snap peas were especially prolific but often our harvest didn't make it home for cooking. We simply snacked on them raw, picked off the vine right then and there!

Over the last two weeks our plants have really taken off and our plot started to resemble a jungle rather than a kitchen garden. Since our butterfly garden kit still hadn't shipped yet, I decided to thin out the plot and re-plant some of our veggies at the Duckling house. If it worked - great! If not, well at least we'd be preparing the planting area for its future design. Right?

Sunday, Little Man and I started weeding. What kind of looks like a ratty lawn is really just a collection of assorted short weeds ... oh, and fire ants which we've been battling with a poisonous bait. They are evil and their bites can even leave scars (True story! I have the scar to prove it!). Luckily (for us), they seem to like the bait just fine as shown by their eagerness to drag the little oatmeal colored crumbs into the mound and the silence that follows after just a day. No more fire ants, thank you very much!

[Before: The weedy mess we're dealing with]

After weeding for several hours and catching this year's first sunburn, fertilizing, planting and mulching we ended up with this:

[Always a bag short of a fully mulched bed ... ]

At least it's clean. Now it's wait and see if the veggies we replanted will catch on and thrive in their new place. Wish us luck!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

8 steps to front door happiness

When we bought the Ugly Duckling it more or less wore this title for a number of valid reasons. Not much had been done to pretty up our now Darling Duckling and as you can see, this was especially true when it came to the entry door situation

[Before: Brown door, dirty broken screen door - no love]

That's a a cropped screenshot made possibly by Google maps' street view. I was obviously too caught up in making things better to snap a Before picture of the door.

[In Progress]

After moving Griswold to his new location, installing outdoor lighting and removing the shoddy good-for-nothing screen door we painted the door

in Valpar's historic red (read about it here).

We also hooked up a vintage door bell button and removed the ...ahem, rusty drawer pull that served as door handle.

Husband did a ton of research and then presented me with a couple of options to choose from and with our newfound love for antique brass we settled on this Kwikset lock set here:

Thanks to the really hard wood, it was a bear to install but husband labored on and in the end he was victorious! This set is one of the few sets with a matching dead bolt and a lock. Most of the time you only get one or have to jerry-rig your own combination.

Of course this wouldn't be the Duckling if it weren't for some touching up. Woodfiller, then primer and finally 5 coats of red paint were needed to blend in the areas around the old lock and ... ahem, pull with the rest of the door.

[After: So much better]

There you have it: "8 steps to front door happiness"

- remove broken screen door
- paint door frame white
- paint door red
- move Griswold, the mailbox
- install door bell knob
- install new door lock and handle set
- add old planter with new plants
- add new door mat
- add door wreath

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Cat's MIA-ow

Boots, our resident feline and furry family member, enjoyed the whole moving process even less than we did. She wasn't overly excited about trading her familiar comfortable digs with the Ugly Duckling but we didn't give her much of a choice on the matter.

The fact that she doesn't like the travel box at all didn't really help either. Ever since we used it to whisk her away to the vet to have her fixed, the travel box and even more so being locked up inside of it is a sign that the world is coming to an end and is heralded to one and all by the most pitiful yowling.

Alas, into the travel box she went, end of world yowling ensued and the adventure she could have lived without, thank you very much, began. We really tried to make it as easy on her as possible. Really. Her new life at the Darling Duckling started in our Master Bedroom with our old bed with 'smells like family' not yet washed bedding installed and a pile of dirty family laundry in place for additional comfort.

I kid you not. She (literally) digs that kind of stuff. Her kitty heaven will consist of mounds of dirty laundry smelling like family. There have been numerous times both she and I shrieked running unexpectedly into each other: me reaching for the darks to toss into the wash and Boots's dream interrupted abruptly because I thought of her as a towel.

Anyways, here she is, meekly hiding underneath the covers

[Yeah, that is so not a staged shot: mismatched bedding, no bed frame in place
and a miserable, depressed looking cat ... we slept just fine though]

Fortunately, Ms Boots seemed to be on the way to recovery: every day she'd perk up just a little more and even venture out into the hallway peering down the stairs to the - yet unknown - territory on the first floor.

Until the day the cable guy came ...

I guess the noise from attempting to drill holes into our house upset her little world too much and off she went in search for that perfect hiding spot. When I went to check on her, she was no where to be found: not underneath the bed, not in a closet, not in the Little Man's room, not in an empty suitcase. The pile of laundry was cat-free and there was not the meekest meow anywhere to be heard.

However, knowing her penchant for dirty laundry I decided to check the pile one more time (washer and dryer installation were still a few days aways so there was plenty). Maybe she'd dug herself into it and I'd missed it the first time around?

Watch out: dirty laundry picture ahead!

[Yeah, gross, I know ... ]

See that little hole? We peered through that to check out the situation underneath the tub (all nice and dry, by the way, so no worries there). My first thought was "No way, she couldn't have ..."

Famous last words.

That's when I discovered this

[Close-up of the ittibitty hole: Yes, that's soft white belly fur stuck to the edge
of the hole and waving in the breeze]

Oh no, she didn't!

Unfortunately she had indeed.

Ms Boots had squooshed herself through the tiny hole into the dark safety of the space beneath the built-in tub. With a bit of effort and a flashlight I was just able to spy the tip of her furry tail. Suffice to say, I panicked a bit wondering how much of a blow to the budget it'd pose if we had to rip out the bathtub in order to rescue our kitty? I mean, you couldn't let her stay in there. What if she was stuck for good? A dead mouse in the wall smells to high heaven, I don't want to even imagine how bad it'd be if a 20 pound cat went the same way...!

No baiting, no begging and no amount of pleading made her come out.

In fact, as the day progressed and afternoon turned to night, she obviously felt rather at home in her little space and she started moving around. That must have been the time when she discovered that there's an entire in-between level to our house thanks to the hung ceilings and interconnecting wall spaces that openend up a solid 1,100 sqft of cat crawl space to her.

Which she happily explored. It sounded like we had a supersized mouse roaming the inside of our house.

Well, to make a long story short: all is well that ends well. Around 9pm Boots managed to discover the larger crawl space above the laundry room which comes with a scuttle hole. Thanks to the magic properties of Salmon Creamcheese I managed to bait her close enough to grab her by her scruff and haul her out of her world of darkness and into the light. Hallelujah!

[Keeping an eye on what's going on on both levels]

So much about her escapade. Life has almost returned to normal for her. Sure, there are still those weird boxes everywhere and the food bowl keeps moving around but all in all, life's good as long as you have a family providing you with a steady supply of dirty laundry.

Well, that is if your name is Boots ;o)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

We've got a connection

We've been back in touch with the ether for a week now but every time I think about it, it makes me giggle. Why, you wonder?

Alright, let me relate the tale of the day the Cable Guy came to visit the Darling Duckling.

`Twas Friday, and the mourning doves
Did gyre and gimble did he came:
All heatin' was the bricket stove,
And the home raths outgrabe.

"Beware the aged wood , my son!
The studs that stand, the joists that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal drill in hand:
Long time he tried as best he ought --
No chance - paused he by the door,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he drilled,
The ancient wood, with heart of steel,
fought tooth and nail,
And smoke wafted as he kneeled!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal drill went snicker-snack!
A hole here and there ahead
He went a-drilling back.

"And, has thou slain the age old wood?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
He chortled in his joy.

Yeah, I know. That was bad. I sure hope Lewis Carroll will forgive my butchering of the Jabberwock's poem. Anyways, the cable man came all set to hook us up with Internet, Phone and TV (we're junkies like that). After poking around the house and obviously happy to hear about where we wanted things placed, he went right to work, updating the cable mess outside before coming back to drill the necessary holes. Right.

He brought out the big drill with a drill bit the length of my arm and then some. Holy Cannoli, I thought he was going to drill all the way to China (or Germany for some extra channels perhaps?).
He moved a couple of boxes to find a convenient spot above the baseboard and next to the window to drill the hole for the phone line, aimed and started drilling.

And drilling.
And drilling.
And drilling.

Until he was leaning against the drill with all his weight at a 25 degree angle. I was wondering if the last load of laundry was finished so I'd have a clean towel to wrap around his bleeding head in case the drill finally went through the wall and he bashed his head against the window frame.

Luckily, the Darling Duckling was looking out for him and us.

There was simply no drilling through that spot he'd chosen. It smelled smokey, there's plenty of dry wall dust on the floor but I guess he'd hit a stud and drilling through those is an artform.

[Hole No. 1]

"What on earth did they use to build this house?!"

Famous words ...heh.


Never heard a more smart-ass answer than that, haven't you? I'm not sure he believed me at first. He tried another spot on the other side of the window (same distance so I guessed he'd hit the stud on the other side ... which he did) and then a few inches next to that hole.

The siding didn't give him as much of a battle and he finally broke through! There's much cheering and rejoicing. I also warned him that he'd only get ONE. SINGLE. SHOT at drilling through my beautifully refinished floors to run the cable for the TV. Fortunately, Cable Guy now knew what to expect and while it took a while he did manage to drill a hole through my floors and subflooring without turning them into Swiss cheese.

[Hole No. 2 and hole No. 3 with cover plate]

You know, we choose flat finish paint in order to tone down some of the drywall imperfections but right now it's a blessing to have it because touching it up is so much easier. And for some odd reason, there's always a whole lotta touching up going on here ... hmmmph

Monday, May 16, 2011

"Em-Brass-ed" to admit

The average builder's love child appears to be glossy shiny brass. It's everywehere, it's usually your most inexpensive choice of finish and it lasts, much to a new homeowner's dismay: brass hinges, brass door knobs, brass lightfixtures and more in your ebdrooms, your kitchen, your bathrooms and your livingroom. There's no escape! All you can do is frown, shudder and either dig into your wallet to buy replacements in bronze or chrome or nickel or whip out a can of spray paint.

Lately, however, I have noticed something scary.

No, really.
Something earth shattering.

I find myself ... hold your breath! ... liking brass.

There, I said it! "Brass" and "like" in the same sentence. And the world is still revolving around the sun. Phew! Lucky me!

It all started with these guys here

[Floral pattern handrail brackets - Source: Van Dyke's Restorers]

When looking for an option to affix our stair handrail to the wall in a much more pleasing manner than re-using the very industrial and pretty ugly steel brackets I ended up browsing the vintage options on the Van Dyke's webpage. Those floral pattern brackets caught my eye - nice and solid and the price was absolutely right ($11.99 per bracket). Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, our current go-to finish "Oil rubbed Bronze" was sold out but the antique brass finish looked so close, yet gave the pattern much more impact due to being lighter in color that we decided to give it a try. Van Dyke's customer service has always been great that we didn't worry about issues returning them in case we didn't like them.

Here they are again, with the ugly shiny brass one removed, for direct comparison. The antique brass finish is the one on the left, the oil-rubbed bronze one on the right.

[Brass Bad Boy vs Bronze Boomer]

When they finally arrived in the mail, we were ecstatic! The color is best described as a warm golden brown allowing for much greater contrast within the design of the item. Crevices are darker, closer to an oil rubbed bronze finish while areas exposed to light glow a warm chocolate-brown with hints of gold. Husband and I are definitely sold on vintage brass. Pictures of our stair handrail and its brand new sharp-looking brackets will follow soon - promised!

In the meantime I managed to snatch up a pair of tall vintage brass lamps with a lovely aged patina at the Good will pound store for $2 each and a vintage brass oval tray with mirror for $1.99. Pictures to follow soon (hopefully tomorrow). We're still firm within moving chaos's hand and certain things (ahem ... digital camera download cable ...ahem) are somewhat difficult to locate.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The allure of flooring options

I don't know about you but every time I head over to either the orange or the blue box to pick up one little thing, I end up losing 2 hours between the shelves. I simply get carried away nosing through fixture options, researching door options in a spur of the moment decision, marvel at the number of knobs and pulls and get sucked into the paint selection aisles fondly petting paint chips.

During one of those extended visits I also hit up the flooring aisle and stumbled across the resilient flooring options.

I usually abhor vinyl and linoleum, especially after having to live with it for a while and seeing it at the Duckling before we ripped it out, but the resilient vinyl plank flooring under the name "Allure" did catch my eye. I even snatched a couple of samples to take home and was pleasantly surprised that if you looked down at a wood-style sample casually dropped on the hardwood floors of our rental you were hardpressed to out it as vinyl.

Intrigued I showed it to the husband, prepared with cost rundown and online reviews. We stewed over it for a while, then decided to go for it in our laundry room. After all it is specifically advertised for high traffic areas (check - the laundry room is also the gateway to the back yard), areas with higher moisture (check - laundry room, 'nuff said) and comes with a 25 year warranty (no worries until after the Little Man finishes college).

The online reviews we discovered also encouraged us: ease of installation, looks great, price is right, no expensive prep work. All said and done we went to the orange box and ordered enough Allure resilient plank flooring in "Slate" to cover our laundry room.

The boxes shipped right from Georgia in time for Mother's Day and since we're running dangerously close to not having anything to wear unless we get the laundry room finished and the washer and dryer hooked up again, dear husband went right to work!

[Clean sweep!]

After cleaning the subflooring in the laundry room and making sure no untoward nails were poking out where they shouldn't, we ripped into the boxes.

[It's getting late - apologies for the dark pictures]

The instructions are simple and very straightforward although husband mentioned he'd wished for some extra information. I think the only information missing on the package I feel we could have used would be the suggestion to start by the door you walk into the room rather than the opposite wall. Dear husband did a great job laying the flooring without it, though.

[Husband hard at work]

Rather than using doublesided tape to fix the first plank into place, we used tack nails to make sure it wasn't going anywhere. The plansk attach to eachother, not your subfloor or existing floor. No messy glue and no future owners cursing you for slathering everything with hard to remove glue. Yay!

Once the first row was in place, things went smoothly and surprisingly quickly. The plank is easily cut with an Xacto or carpet knife and the staggering of seams happens almost naturally if you cut your plank at the end of the row and use the small piece to start your next one.

[Awful After shot: It's dinner time, it's dark and there's nowhere to put the empty boxes until trash day]

All done, just in time for dinner! This was quick, easy and painless for us beginning DIYers and it looks and feels very nice. It looks like a hybrid between grey-stained concrete and painted wood floors depending on how you look at it. Sometime during the week Phil will swing by to trim out the room and we'll be open for laundry business again!

Friday, May 13, 2011

The fireplace that is - of a sort

Ahhh, the fireplace. Yes, that one had us stumped from the moment we set eyes on it. I mean, yes, I know this is Florida and a fireplace isn't really a "sine qua non", a must-have item in your home without which you cannot exist but who'd remove the firebox and then brick up the opening of a humongous brick fireplace that is THE absolute focal point of your livingroom?

Not me.

You probably wouldn't do it either but in the Duckling's past somebody did just that.

Now what to do with it? I went into some of my musings here and here but this problem occupied my thoughts for quite a while. What to do? Our budget wouldn't allow us to do an entire remodel of the fireplace. Or a rebuild. Leave it as is? No way! So one day - while browsing houzz.com for ideas and inspiration - I came across three magical words: Wall Mounted Fireplace.

That sounded doable. Very doable. We'd get the looks of a fireplace and thanks to advancement in gel technology even the crackling of an actual fire without having to worry about chinmney liners, vents and/or gaslines. Searching the internet for types brought up a wealth of different styles for any size wallet. This could actually work!

I managed to snag a great deal on a simple, almost craftman-style copper-colored wall mounted fireplace with a whole box of gel cans on Amazon.com

After busting out the bricked up opening where the original firebox used to be (read more about that here) we covered the whole with a piece of plywood and sealed the edges against drafts from the chimney with "Great Stuff".

[All sealed and carved to shape]

I enjoy messing around with spray foam insulation. It's like Playdoh for adults except you have to wait until it skins over before you can touch it without getting gooey sticky hands. Funny enough, it also keeps growing so you end up having to hack and carve it into shape.

Since you could see the spray foam-ed seams through the front of the wall mount fireplace I gave it a quick coat of black paint.

[Ready, set - fireplace!]

After the paint had dried I wedged and shimmed the wallmount fireplace into its new opening and caulked it into place. While I'm not concerned about it starting a fire at the drop of a hat - these things are meant to be hung on your wall after all - I did use caulk especially made for fireplaces. [Almost done: Before caulking]

And just like that we have a fireplace of a sort. The cost break down runs along these lines

  1. Great Stuff (2 cans) $7
  2. plywood scrap (free on hand)
  3. fireplace caulk ($5)
  4. wallmount fireplace ($70)
  5. hours of labor husband spent busting through brick and wife hauling brick: priceless

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Good-bye Silver St

Dear Silver St. House

For the past 6 years you have been our home in Historic Springfield. And what a great home you have been!

[Lovely original windows and hardwood floors in the livingroom]

[Hallway with tall tall ceilings]

I still remember the first day we met you. Our lease at an Arlington Apartment complex was nearing its end and we'd started looking for another place to move to. Some place nice, close to work, that wouldn't feel as crowded and anonymous.

[The Butler's Pantry came with a portal to another dimension -

or how else would all of our stuff have fit into it?]

Browsing the paper for ads I discovered that there were affordable rentals available in one of my favorite historic neighborhoods - we'd been cruising the blocks of Springfield on the weekends to marvel at the architecture and tree-lined alleys and liked the eclectic mix of urban vibe and suburban quaintness. Toss in the view of tall office buildings over the verdant tree tops - kind of like New York's Central Park area - and we were sold.

[Original Victorian Coal Fireplace in the Master Bedroom]

[Gonna miss my jungle view from the kitchen]

We fell in love with you the moment we walked up the stairs: hardwood floors, a sun-flooded den toward the front of the house, a humongous front porch and great bedrooms.

[Our front porch aka the livingroom]

You wooed us with your historic charms: the hex tile and clawfoot tub in the bathroom, the tall ceilings and the Victorian fireplaces with their cameo-style covers. And you came with the sweetest landlady we could hope to find.

[Our bathroom - tiny but sweet]

Just like our Darling Duckling now, you felt like a comfy well-worn slipper, the kind you return to after a long day's work and slip into with a sigh of contentment and relief. You taught us about life in a historic home and played a big part in us wanting to stay in Springfield and to own our own historic home.

You were home to us for 6 years, and we will treasure those years always.