5.15.2015

RUSTIC INDUSTRIAL KITCHEN


There's something about this kitchen. For a long time, I wasn't sure it was going to work out. Early on we discovered half the room had no foundation, and then there was the fireplace fiasco, and we seemed to hit a dozen other speed bumps along the way. And now somehow, in the blur of the past 6 years, we're done and everything is legit! 

We still need to install the pulls on the cabinet doors under and flanking the range top, but for now I'm just thrilled that all the tools and dust are finally gone. (The kitchen has been our makeshift workshop--again--for about 6 months now.) 

In addition to having floor drains, which allow for easy cleanup, we also have a ceiling outlet hanging over the island. It's not the prettiest thing, but so very useful!

I made the little sink skirt out of a canvas drop cloth last week. I'm still undecided about whether I like it or not, but I thought some prospective buyers might not like seeing exposed plumbing. It does add some softness to the room, which is kind of nice in relation to all the concrete and stainless steel. 


I didn't do the stained stair runner as planned, because I didn't know if that would be universally liked, but I still love how this staircase and pantry corner turned out.


I know it's not everyone's style by any means, but I'm really happy with how it turned out overall! What do you think?

5.14.2015

THE BIG REVEAL: MASTER BATHROOM

Ez has decided his favorite room in our house is the master bathroom. It's a tough space for me to photograph with my limited skills and the lack of natural light (this room's biggest drawback), but I think you can get the idea...



 Some fun facts:

  • The bathtub was a craigslist score for $125. (Thanks for picking it up for us, dad!) It was originally painted bright yellow. 
  • The swing arm light above the tub is from Restoration Hardware.
  • The mirror was a free hand-me-down from Ez's aunt. I had looked high and low for a mirror for that oddly shaped space, and nothing seemed to fit right. Then I yanked this one out of the guest room a whim. Perfect! 
  • The marble countertop is a remnant from the bar at the new Petit Louis restaurant in Columbia, Maryland. Ez's dad did the plumbing for the restaurant and bought the leftover piece from the tile guys. 
  • All the rustic wood trim was salvaged from various parts of our house.



If we were staying in this house, I'd hang a pretty piece of art in an antique frame above the tub and get an interesting rug for the floor, because I recognize that it's seriously lacking in color and personality at the moment. And I'd continue asking for the skylight I had really wanted in here. (We couldn't add any new windows because our log guy said it would compromise the house's structural integrity.)





I really love getting ready in here every morning! Our new home's bathroom is cute and retro with original black and white tile, but it's a tiny space. This is one room I'll definitely miss when we move, and one we're really proud of. It's been a very long time coming, and I'm thrilled to share it with you!

And, as a reminder of how far we've come, here are the few pictures I have from "before":

There used to be a staircase going from what is currently the dining room up to this room. We took out the stairs and closed up the hole, and that area is now the bathroom sink and shelving. 

This is my mother-in-law, and the wall behind her is where the bathtub is now. The 6' ceilings had to go. 


Not the best angles for comparison, but then again there's no comparison! 

5.13.2015

SETTLING AND UPROOTING


Remember how I said we were settling on our new house in July? Well, scratch that. We just confirmed that we're settling on May 22 -- just 3 days before my due date. (If we've learned nothing else from our adventures in this house, it's that, in true gluttons-for-punishment fashion, we tend to bite off way more than we can chew.)

Our house will officially be on the market tomorrow! The realtor and photographer came yesterday, and we've been in a tizzy lately trying to get camera ready. I did what I could to purge, declutter, stage, and deep clean a little bit every day over the course of the past few weeks. Whenever I overdo it, I pay for it with a sleepless night of hip pain, so it's been a long process just to accomplish little things, but thankfully this final push has coincided nicely with my nesting urges. Ez was still finishing up installing the master bathtub when the realtor pulled in the driveway, but we made it! The effort has been worth it though, and the house is finally looking the way I've been envisioning it all along.

Though we still have some tiny details here and there, we can officially call this house DONE. Can you believe it? I'll try to post lots more photos over the next few days, because the vibe in here is just so good.

Lately I've been trying to find last minute "staging" items like lamps and mirrors that will both cozy up our rooms for showings and that we know we'll use in the new house as well. Last weekend I did manage to score this beat-up old mirror at an antique store for $18 for our entry.



I'd been all over town -- Target, HomeGoods, Pier 1, etc. -- and hated everything I saw. (How can things that cost as much as $250 still look so cheap? And when did I become such a lamp snob?) As a last-ditch effort, I popped into the local antique barn and tried to home in on any mirrors I saw, ignoring all the other cool stuff I would normally look at. (So hard!) I found this at the end of the first row, 10 minutes after walking in the door. Mission accomplished, even if it reflects a slightly hazy and distorted reality -- which is really why I like it anyway.

As predicted, the dining room remains one of my favorite spots in the house. Though a little controversial at the time, I maintain that the planked walls were a good idea. (It helps that Joanna Gaines sings the praises of shiplap on every episode of Fixer Upper!)


It's weird to finally be at the settling in and decorating phase of this project, knowing that we'll be packing it all up in settling in somewhere else in a matter of weeks. It's simultaneously feeling more and more yet less and less like home.

3.26.2015

COOL

This old blog has been growing some moss lately, but I got an email today letting me know it was featured on Porch.com, a home network partnered with Lowe's, as one of "The 10 Blogs Every Old House Lover Should Follow."




They even called us charming!

Thanks, Porch people!

3.25.2015

Under Contract


It's true! We're buying a new house -- a well-kept, 60-year-old, end-of-group brick townhouse, in a busier suburb with a postage stamp of grass, off-street parking and a significant reduction in square footage.

I know some of you thought we'd never follow through on that threat, but it's actually happening!

We are still finishing up the final details of our current house before we can officially put it on the market in the next couple weeks, but the very right house came along (we toured about 15 similar homes) and we have some time to get ours sold since closing on our new place is not scheduled until July. Of course something could fall through between now and then, but right now the plan is full steam ahead.

And yes, I'll show you pictures of ol' 3820 when it's done! There's a lot you haven't seen yet.

I'll admit to the irony -- most of our friends are leaving their urban and suburban homes to flee to the country these days, in search of bigger, more elaborate houses and more land, while we're going the opposite direction. In fact, the house we're buying belongs to friends who essentially want what we currently have, except not quite so far from the city. We've thought long and hard about this though, and we feel this decision is what's best for our family. And we're very excited!

FAQs

Considering we're going against the flow here, most of our friends, family and strangers think we are crazy. In response, here I will attempt to address the FAQs we're hearing over and over:

Really? After all the hard work you put into your house? 
Yep. After a certain point, the excitement of renovating turned into a slog, as long-time readers know, and it's hard to get the joy back. It's been 6 years. The house looks great, but we're just done. And this move is not just about the house itself -- it's about lifestyle. We want to reduce Ez's commute so that he can get two hours of his life back every day and be a part of our kids' activities. (Johnnie started dance this year!) We also want to move from a place where we'd be considering private schools to an area with award-winning (free!) public schools.

Won't you miss your kitchen/bedroom/custom features?
Yes, to a degree. Mostly, I will miss our bedroom with its high ceiling and beautiful old beams, and our spacious master bathroom. However, we'll be trading those things for other conveniences. For example, I am really looking forward to the more open floor plan in our new house, so I can keep an eye on the kiddos in the living room while I'm in the kitchen, etc.

How will you deal with having less square footage?
Even with another baby coming, our current house is just too big for us -- we simply don't use or need the extra space we have. The new house has a finished basement with a family room and 4th bedroom, so we will actually have more rooms than before. They're just a bit smaller and more efficient. This blog post about downsizing sums up our feelings very well.

Won't you miss your huge yard? 
Not really. Most of our time outdoors is spent mowing, trimming and keeping up the massive yard. Our new yard is small but flat, fenced in and has beautiful trees, so it'll be a fun change. I'm still hoping to find a sunny spot to grow some veggies. Plus, we'll be able to walk to the playground for a change of scenery or visit the grandparents!

Do you really want to deal with having neighbors so close and being in a busier area? 
Yep. We are looking forward to being much closer to a much bigger variety of stores and restaurants, and we're excited to have a more walkable lifestyle again. The neighborhood we chose is very family and community oriented, so there are block parties during holidays and a more neighborly vibe with plenty of kids around. After feeling somewhat isolated out in the country, we are excited for a more energetic neighborhood.

Won't you miss having your family close by?
Very much. This has been the hardest part of the decision. After the baby comes, at this point I am planning to work part-time -- one day a week in the office, and the rest of my hours from home. (Thank you, employer, for being so flexible and awesome!) I still plan to bring our kids to their grandparents' once a week when I go into the office, and we still plan to attend the same church, so we'll still see them quite regularly.

So that's that. We definitely have a lot to handle right now with only 9 weeks to go until my due date, a house to prep for sale and other to buy, but I'm thankful that these are circumstances we chose. Though I feel stressed at times, there is a lot of freedom in being able to choose your future path and work toward your goals as a family.

Are there any other burning questions that I missed?


2.26.2015

MASTER BATH SNEAK PEEK


The master bathroom is becoming everything I hoped it would. Ez finished up the shelving nooks a few weeks ago, and I snapped this photo 5 minutes later on my phone. He claims these shelves are the best work he's done in the house yet, and they do make a truly huge impact both aesthetically and functionally.

Because the nooks weren't very square in this very old house, he made plywood boxes to fit and framed them with reclaimed wood. They blend in really well and are pretty much perfect. I had originally wanted floating shelves (kind of like this), but our stud situation wasn't ideal and everything was so off square Ez would've had to custom shape each shelf so there wouldn't be huge gaps between the shelves and the wall in certain places. He came up with this as Plan B (he's great at those), and I love how it turned out with the framing around all the edges.

I'm waiting to show you the whole bathroom until the claw foot tub is installed, the nail clippers behind the sink are put away, and it's all more put together in general. Right now it's pretty bare bones, but it's still one of my favorite rooms in this house.


1.02.2015

AT LONG LAST: A PORCH RAILING


First of all, let me wish you a very Happy New Year from our little corner of the world. I hope you've all had a fantastic set of holidays! Ours had some highs and lows--one of the lows being a late-night trip to the ER and a diagnosis of croup for Johnnie (who is thankfully feeling 100% better now), and one of the highs being the long-awaited completion of our front porch railing.

This railing was such a challenge. (Ez requested that if anyone asks how long this project took us, I should tell them anything but the embarrassing truth.) The brick, selected to match the house's original chimneys, is quite soft, and finding a way to firmly anchor the newel posts without cracking the brick proved difficult. Our first attempt, using the standard black metal newel posts (shown here) that matched the railings, failed because it required sinking four screws for each post, and a few of the bricks cracked during the drilling. As a result, we had to have the brick man come and replace six bricks--this time with one big hole pre-cut into each one. This new method necessitated a different type of post that could be anchored with one long threaded rod sunk a couple bricks deep. Our only option was a chunky pressure treated newel, which we happen to like exponentially more than the metal newels.


Hooray for Plan B being better than Plan A in every way! Once the wood newels are stained to match the logs, I think it will look just right. In addition to being the far sturdier solution, the wood newels make a more substantial statement visually than the dinkier metal ones. I'm so glad Plan A didn't pan out. Plus, the house looks almost done now, right? So much improvement with one project! (Also, SAFETY! WOOHOO!)

FYI, all the railing parts were off-the-shelf from Lowe's. Note #1: because this seems to matter more and more to blog readers nowadays, this post was not sponsored and we purchased everything ourselves. Note #2, and a tip: for a project like this one, you really need two people. One person can do it, but two people can do it three times faster.

Finally, for those interested, my Christmas/winter decorating took about 15 minutes (including screwing in the hooks for the door garland). Since our only evergreen tree (i.e. my source of free holiday decor) fell in a tornado last year, these decorations cost me between $25 and $30 in pine from the local market--$18 of which was just for the pre-made wreath. It's definitely not the fanciest house on the lane, but I think it works and looks like we at least made an effort this year. :)


Pardon the in-progress mess and oversized light bulb (it's dark way out here in the sticks)... 

I especially love the window boxes. I was going to just take them down until spring, but instead I chopped up two $4 pine swags and jammed the branches into the soil. Boom. Done. This is not the best photo, but it's my favorite thing. 


So that's the railing. Can you believe we finished something? It's been awhile since we've gotten to cross a project off the list. Let me tell you, it feels WAY better than falling down the steps.

12.02.2014

CABINETS AND CHRISTMAS THINGS

Is blogging dead? I don't know, but my blog is certainly taking a back burner lately. Speaking of burners, we've been stoveless (again) the past week. I snapped this with my phone on Saturday, one of the rare days when I am actually home during daylight hours.


Ez is currently building the cabinets for underneath the rangetop as well as the small cabinets flanking either side. (Our stove had previously been sitting on a semi-level stainless steel work table--workable but not ideal.) We'll be using butcher block for the countertops and a combination of white-painted pine and salvaged planks for the facing. Butcher block and reclaimed wood are probably on their way out, trend-wise, but if they will work in any house it's certainly ours.

I am looking forward to having this fairly major improvement checked off the list. It'll be much more convenient for cooking (though I've been lying around lately more than I've been cooking) and much tidier too. Having a place to put things is always nice, especially because I'm kind of a messy cook.

This is also one of the critical projects on our Resale To Do List. I will spare you the full list, but it includes things like closet shelving, installing the master bath tub, filling nail holes and painting baseboards, etc. -- mostly manageable things, I think. I have not been much help so far considering the extreme nausea and exhaustion, but thankfully I do feel a lot better than I had been. I'm officially in the second trimester, and I am spending less and less time on the couch just in time for the holidays. Which is really good, because the clutter and dust bunnies have been piling up, despite Ez's dedicated attempts to pick up my slack.

Aside from cleaning, Johnnie and I have been slowly working on our Christmas tree the past few days. In 8 years of marriage, this is only the second time Ez and I have put up a Christmas tree. Between continual renovation and spending Christmas mornings elsewhere, we haven't felt like putting in the effort. Now that Johnnie is 3 and gets excited about every little thing, we decided to stop being so austere. She picked out the colorful balls at Target, and together we cut the matching paper strips to make the chain. She's getting so good with scissors!

HomeGoods stools for reaching upper branches! And we still need to stain the steps and build a railing...
And while Ez was working on the kitchen cabinets, J and I also baked salt dough ornaments, which we then spent hours painting and glitter-gluing within an inch of their lives. After I shellac them, they'll go on the tree as well. So our bright and colorful tree is still very much a work in progress. Much like everything!


10.24.2014

FIVE THINGS FRIDAY


Despite the debbie-downer tone of my last blog post, I haven't meant to take such an extended break from blogging. It has been a very refreshing and productive break, though, and if you're reading this I'm grateful you've stuck with me. What have I been up to? Well...

1. This month I've been helping to edit my brother's doctoral dissertation during my free time, which has been both enlightening and challenging. I like to edit perhaps more than I like to write, so am I allowed to say the process has even been a little bit fun? It's almost done, and I am relieved--but not as much as my bro is, considering how long he's been working toward this goal. He's been a college student for 18 straight years, nine of which he's also been a professor/instructor. It's time to wrap this up already, and I'm glad to be of help.

2. As of September 1, I've taken on an entirely new role at work, on top of my old one. Unfortunately it did not come with additional prestige or pay yet, but it did come with a new budget to manage, two domestic trips so far (along with an upcoming trip to London), and what feels like endless proverbial cat herding. I am basically winging it, but the older I get the more I realize I'm not alone in that. It's actually going slightly better than I expected, so WOOHOO!

3. This month we also got new gutters and downspouts on the house. It's taken a good two years for the gutter man to finally make good on his promise to come "next week," but if such things can be called beautiful, these really are. (Our gutter man is the same guy who did the custom steel roof on the kitchen bump-out.) This spring I hope we can finally get that last row of chinking done...



4. I'm also working on growing the newest member of our family, due next spring! I'm not completely through the first trimester just yet, but since I've already told both immediate family and work, I figured I'd let all of you know too. It hasn't been the most relaxing time to be nauseated 23 hours a day, but there's never a good time for that I guess. And if I've felt stretched and busy, our superhero Ez has been on overdrive -- working his normal long hours, commuting an eternity each way and coming home to take care of his tired, queasy wife hunched over a laptop and a trash can simultaneously, and a bored and hungry three-year-old. Johnnie is completely thrilled about the "baby in mommy's tummy" though, and so are we.

5. This weekend I turn 31, and I have barely thought about it. In fact, I keep thinking about weekend plans/To Dos and forgetting about it altogether. I'm thankful for another year of life of course, but I don't have any profound sadness or excitement about this particularly birthday. There are so many other important things on my mind!

So that's the update. It's been such a big month!

Is anyone still reading? How are you guys?




9.09.2014

STANDARDS OF DOMESTICITY



I started writing this post two years ago and couldn't bring myself to finish or publish it, because I didn't want to push negativity out into the world. However, my feelings about this have only intensified over time, and in light of mega-blog Young House Love's announcement about "taking a break" today, I decided to finish this post in the hope it will resonate with someone else out there.

*

Renovating with a six month old, 2012

A couple months ago there was a post on Apartment Therapy that bothered me so much I still think about it regularly. It opened like this:
I feel like I am late getting to the painting game with my 19-month old. She is still enthralled by crayons, but it seems I have recently seen a slew of blog posts talking about painting with kids under two. Tomorrow I am determined to make it happen. 
It's sad and telling that this person, despite admitting their kid was perfectly content with her experiences, allowed a "slew of blog posts" to guilt them into making an unnecessary mess happen tomorrow.

Oh boy.

"Lifestyle blogs" have exploded since I first started reading them several years ago (and then casually writing this one back in 2009). As a result, blogs have increasingly become a way to prove yourself as the crafty homemaker, the courageous DIYer, the bold tastemaker, the hands-on mommy, the urban homesteader, or whatever your aspiration may be. If you were to Google "DIY" + anything at all, you'd undoubtedly unearth tidy how-to instructions (and step-by-step watermarked photos) by a cheerful blogger on how you, too, can make it happen with your own two hands. Admittedly this has been helpful in our home renovation journey, but generally speaking I'm sort of over it.

There has been an evolution. Instead of merely reflecting our lives at home, blogs (and now Pinterest, which came onto the scene after I started writing this post) are shaping them. Babies have started celebrating their birthdays with more stylish and lavish parties, with sophisticated themes and all the details artistically photographed (and, of course, blogged.) When Johnnie turned one, a Pinterest-savvy coworker asked me what her party theme was going to be. I said, "balloons and cake?" She responded that it didn't sound very exciting. "It will be for Johnnie," I said. (And for the record, I was right! What a sweet day that was.)

After awhile, it was not enough to have a nicely decorated home; to get all the blogging cred, you had to sew your child's quilt yourself, with fabric you bought with a coupon you kept tucked away in your special hand-bound coupon organizer. The insides of kitchen cabinets have become photographed just as frequently as the outsides, showcasing how there are no skeletons of disarray hidden in any closets. Christmas trees are not just tastefully decorated; the ornaments are handmade and sold in bloggers' Etsy shops. People began decorating their dining tables for dinner parties they weren't having just so they could take photos for their blog. (That one really gets me.)

Somewhere along the line, the keepers of the blogosphere (mostly women, but some men too) have adopted a new form of domesticity. It's cheery and has a can-do attitude: We bake bread. We raise chickens. We celebrate every holiday with a craft. We paint and organize and sew, we decorate and re-decorate, and we carry a camera to document it all. But then, when we realize our 19-month-old has never held a paintbrush like all the other bloggers' kids, or we realize nobody likes Keep Calm posters (and now chevron) anymore, guilt and even shame creep in. There's a lot of superficiality and performance underlying this shiny new standard of domesticity, and when you inevitably fall short somewhere (who can keep up?) -- or when your aesthetic missteps are documented so publicly -- the oppressiveness of constantly striving for perfection or attention begins to feel a little overwhelming.

As George (my favorite character) says in You've Got Mail, "The internet is just another way of being rejected by women." As bloggers, if we don't measure up to the standard -- even if we're the only ones in our households who are holding us to it -- page views drop, comments wane and maybe GOMI points out our bad decisions. Even worse, rejection will also come from within ourselves, because we're the ones extolling this domestic virtue through carefully curated public promotion. And because (as bloggers) we are both the creators and consumers of blog fodder, we are never ever done fixing up our homes (or whatever your "passion" is) or grasping for page views to show them off. Such a vicious cycle.

As someone who has spent considerable time living in a house with no heat and cooking soup in a coffee pot, I had to start removing myself from the endless stream of blog inspiration, aspiration and self-promotion awhile ago. I still look at Pinterest for very specific things like recipes or room layouts, but I'm so tired of aspiring! Blogging has been a therapeutic activity for me, but being (even a small part) of the blogging community has also been somewhat poisonous at times. I mean, somewhere, some blogger is writing a post about how you can "get the look" of their newly renovated bathroom -- complete with tile and wallpaper they were given for free by manufacturers -- while I (and maybe you?) have been furiously googling for coupon codes and peeing in a bucket while my bathroom is out of commission. How am I supposed to paint with my toddler and make my own laundry soap in these conditions? How do I afford both the designer trash can and the organic hand towels? (Fingers crossed that I win them in a blog giveaway!) Why can't my kid just like wooden toys instead of plastic things that blink? How does the construction dust get inside the microwave? The domestic standard perpetuated on the internet has been and is still out of reach for me, considering my unique circumstances, talents (or lack thereof), resources, time constraints and interests. Though I'm drawn to beautiful things and the calming thought of a curated life, admitting to and accepting my limitations -- and cutting back on my blog and Pinterest consumption -- have helped to unload a lot of guilt from my apron pockets.

Whew!

In the meantime, I have seen numerous small-time bloggers work their way up to impressive success, somehow navigating what I consider to be a rather exploitative industry that asks you to sell your personal website and your persona to shill new product lines at Target or wherever. Yet because they are bloggers, and blogs have been touted to be more trustworthy and personal than mainstream media, it's packaged to seem like everything is genuine, and that this is real life. But usually it's not. Lifestyle blogging has, in some ways, become the reality TV of real domestic life. Instead of sharing our real lives, we're staging them and passing them off as genuine. And we're dragging our families along with us and curating their lives to the point of farce. And frankly, the idea of performing my life instead of living it is a little depressing.

All of this is to say: A lot of people are trying to sell us these idealistic standards -- along with all the products and accessories required to achieve them -- and we (especially women, and even more especially mothers) need more "shoulds" in our lives like we need napkin rings for every season. We all have context, baggage and extenuating circumstances. One size will never fit all, and the formula will never add up for everyone the same way. I think on some level we all want to be the best version of ourselves, but that looks so different for each of us. I guess, after all these words, my point is that there's a strong Martha Stewart-inspired "ideal" out there that just won't add up for everyone -- myself included. So if your Dream House Pinterest board makes you feel depressed, consider deleting it. If my eternal home renovation makes you jealous of my awesomeness, by all means stop reading this blog! Discontentment is not healthy, and you're probably already doing a great job of keeping your home and family from falling apart -- which, some days, is all you can realistically aspire to.

Now I'm not saying people shouldn't make money from blogging, or that all blogs are evil or anti-feminist or whatever, or that all bloggers are perpetuating this mythical standard. (I know some people who fully embody this domestic lifestyle in a genuine way, showoffs.) I'm just turned off by the frivolity and materialism that I'm seeing so much of; by the idea that my worth or success is tied up in my domestic/decorating/homekeeping skills; by endless staged and sponsored content; by the idea that nothing is ever good enough; by guilt when things aren't up to par.

Also, I do still read some blogs. These days I am drawn most often to the regular old personal blogs, the ones written by normal people doing normal-people-stuff: finding the perfect pair of shoes, having babies, eating good food, renovating houses, writing thoughtfully about whatever they're thinking. They aren't hoping for a book deal, a product line, free tile (does the Tile Shop actually sell any tile, or do they just give it all away to bloggers? serious question) or hundreds of adoring comments on every post. They aren't prescribing anything or presenting themselves as domestic role models, but reflecting on who and where they are, and sharing a real piece of themselves. And they aren't urging me to aspire to be like them, but to relate to them. The authenticity is refreshing.

And so I leave you with a song: "In My Mind" by Amanda Palmer, in which she comes to the conclusion that all her aspirations are silly because she doesn't actually want to be the person she has been aspiring to be. Take note, blog friends, and leave the guilt on the shelf at Home Goods with all those meaningless tchotchkes you don't really want to dust around. Then invite some friends over for a real dinner party -- and, unless you really and truly love to cook, don't feel guilty at all for ordering pizza and letting the Cards Against Humanity box be your centerpiece.

xo