Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Antiquing in New Orleans

When we visit New Orleans, I always like to spend a bit of time in the antique stores.  I rarely buy anything, because nothing is a deal.  I appreciate this only because this is a city that loves its antiques.  Antiques are everywhere in both residential and commercial decor, so it's a very lovely and inspiring place to vacation.

Magazine Street has plenty of little antique stores like the ones in the photos above.  It's sort of like New Orlean's version of Chicago's Magnificent Mile, but it goes on for many quieter miles and has no skyscrapers.  Eventually it terminates at Audubon Park along the Mississippi.  

There's lots of nice contemporary boutiques too, and I've bought some nice dresses there on past trips.  However, this is the first time I've bought something substantial from the antique stores!

We stopped by a creeeeepy antique store, with faded anatomy posters and a rusted metal dentist chair in the window.  There were goat skulls and rusted unidentifiable pieces of metal.  We poked around a bit but were going to leave quickly, except someone was blocking the door.  The pathways were very narrow in there, and when the exit was finally clear, I almost tripped over this:

It's a summer cover for a fireplace!  It covers the firebox when you're not using the fireplace (which in our case will be always and forever, since I don't currently have an inclination to spend thousands to rehab the chimney).  The store had 4 of them, so I picked the best one, and paid only half the price I've seen anywhere else.  Surprisingly, a great deal!

The picture below shows what it looks like when installed.  Our mantel looks a lot like the one pictured below as well.  But we are still trying to figure out how to reassemble the tricky thing!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Seeking: The Perfect Corbel

We've hit a hiccup in the design of our arch.  Everything worked out fine (measuring issues, always measure twice and cut once!) but we need to choose a corbel with a narrower width.  The one I had originally chosen was 8" wide, and we need 4 to 5" wide instead.

I get indecisive if I look at something too long, and reading all the tiny little measurement numbers caused me to dawdle through all the options just long enough to make me reconsider the classical acanthus shape that I had originally chosen.  Below are options that would fit our measurements, I like the "Damon" corbel on the right side the best.  It looks most similar to the one I originally picked out.  I like how it terminate at the bottom in a leaf shape instead of a roll (unlike the left two) and I don't much care for the kind of gloppy "egg and dart" molding at the top of the Attica corbel.

Although I like the Acanthus style, I debate with myself about whether it is right for the house.  Our house is Craftsman-era, that means linear, boxy lines.  It came about at the end of the late Victorian era in stark contrast to the over-saturated interiors of the 1890's.  Walls were painted, never papered, and wood was stained not painted.  Trim and molding were simpler, rectangular shapes.  

When I started looking, I had convinced myself that the Acanthus style was classic.  Having existed in architecture since Ancient Rome, it's not at all new.  The word "classic" actually means "perfect" and when we talk about the Classical Era in art and architecture history, what we're actually saying is the "perfect" era, or at least as perfect as the early art historians thought art and architecture could be, which is why they named it as such.  So, it might be right for the house, in that it is a classic style.  Plus, the rectangular molding at the top lends some gravitas to those somewhat flowery leaves.  I don't really know.  However, I did start looking at other options that seem more in line with the other trim and molding in the house.

Below are the options that I found.  The "Bedford" bracket below is very true to the house, with a shape that's still very pleasing.  I keep trying to picture it with the arch above it and it sort of confuses me though - maybe it's for a more rectangular opening?  I need to draw it out and see how it looks.

I also like the "Arts and Crafts" corbel, named after a similar house style to Craftsman.  It just seems a *touch* boring though, and I have to prime and paint it, which is boring.  The others come already primed.  

My favorite is the far left "Hampshire" corbel.  It might be the perfect compromise - it's rectangular at the top, it has the leaves at the bottom - but they're oak leaves - which is lovely, and also more geographically correct!  I really love it, but I have to see if I can convince Ben about the shallow 2.5" depth.  Not sure if that will work.

Edit: Ben agrees with my choice!  Wow, I did not think that would happen.  Found the corbel on Amazon Prime, so I get free shipping and Amazon points.  For those of you that do as much Amazon shopping as I do, I really recommend the Amazon credit card.  You get 3% back, and it's calculated monthly, and appears on your Amazon account as a credit (with no expiration date).  Plus, Amazon has almost anything, including architectural details, lighting, etc.  Three percent adds up when you're making big renovation purchases.  Also, another tip, search directly, don't try it through Google Shopping.  Google Shopping must not like Amazon, because they never list them as a seller.

Purchased and due to arrive soon!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Building an Arch

Time to [finally] close off the first-floor entryway!  We've had some sawed-off timbers and a hole in the ceiling since this summer, when we tore out a wall that was in that spot.  Not at all pretty, but it functioned as a hole to walk through, so we did other things first.
The below pictures show a very unfinished arch.  This is all we were able to put up Sunday night.  I thought it was interesting to see how the center of the arch is built up with wire mesh, so that it holds the plaster in place.  

Drywall board and plaster will go over the top of this plywood wall.  Once those are dry, then some trim and corbels.  To get the trim to arch, we will be cutting it into very thin strips that will easily curve.  

Here are some photos that I referenced for inspiration, I like the look of dental molding with acanthus leaf corbels.

This is the corbel that I've picked out:

It's available for $35 at Architectural Depot.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Furniture Shopping!

We took a 45-minute trip this weekend to the Restoration Hardware outlet store, where everything was 40% off of the final sale price, which made it all the equivalent of 75%-90% off the original price -- all discounts taken into account, this was Restoration Hardware for the price of IKEA.  What more could I ask for? Well, maybe a bigger car...

The first thing I spotted were some bentwood chairs.  I had been looking for a pair of these for some unobtrusive kitchen seating.  I don't plan to eat in the kitchen, and I was just planning to have the stand-alone prep table, but I realized after actually living in the house that we do like to keep each other company in the kitchen, but sometimes we need to get out of the way.  My kind of cooking is fast - I'm always chopping something while something else is on high heat, lots of Asian cooking and one-pot vegetarian meals that go really quick.  Ben's kind of cooking is more restaurant-style, he tends to take up a lot of space with 3 pans and an oven all going simultaneously.  We need to stay out of each other's way, and having a couple chairs beats sitting at the dining room table expectantly.

These have pretty caned seats, authentic lines to them (no ice cream shop hearts here), and for $30 (80% off original price) they were cheaper than even used ones on Craigslist!  And I don't have to paint them!  Grabbed two, put them on hold by the cashier, kept shopping.

We also found this daybed for the upstairs foyer.  It was on final-final sale with a bunch of red and yellow tags on it.  Nothing else had red and yellow tags on it - so it was kind of scary.  Even though everything in that store is final sale, so I don't know why this one was so oddly labelled.  I sort of backed away from it, but Ben was passionate about this piece of furniture and from this point on, he stopped shopping with me and just stood and stared at it for about an hour and half.
So while he was taking it apart and putting it back together, I used the time constructively, to get price quotes on other daybeds, which is what I knew we wanted for the upstairs foyer.  Was it cheaper than antique ones on Craigslist? Check.  Those were around $1000 !!  Was it cheaper than IKEA?  Significantly.  Was it pretty? Yes. Did it match the ideas I had for that room.  Yes. Does it fit in the car?  Maaaaaaybe.

Since we have ultimate faith in our car's fold-down seats, we put that on reserve too.  

And finally, I saw this cast iron pedestal table:

This didn't catch my eye right away.  It was in the middle of a bunch of end tables, and I couldn't see the base until I looked closer.  I had been looking for a round table for the center of the downstairs foyer.  I wanted it to be round and not huge so that I don't run into it.  But I also wanted it to be distinctive, as it is the first thing you will see when you enter the house.  So, not an IKEA table.  And I couldn't find anything I liked on Craigslist for any price.  At 80% off, this table was under $200.  I'm of the opinion that if a new piece of furniture is sturdy, attractive, and under $200, it's a good deal.  I bought this table too, and the more I think about it, the more I like it.  It's cast iron!

Then we precariously loaded all this stuff into our car, and drove home with my knees against the dashboard.  Happy Saturday!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Goals for 2015

My friend Heidi, who has a real blog that is so awesome that people actually pay her to write it, just made a list of her goals for 2015.   You can check out her blog at  It's a lovely production, by a genuinely nice human being, who happens to have the best business cards I've ever seen.  

But, by all means, if your interest is at all piqued by my murkily-lit pictures of dusty electrical wiring captioned with incomplete sentences that are copy-pasted from emails to my mother - read on!  

Anyway, I enjoyed reading her goals.  I realized I rarely ask other people what their goals are, I should though, because it's wonderful to check in and hear about the process as well as the end result.   I like the idea of people knowing what my goals are for the year: success or failure, it's motivating.

 2014 was a hard year for me.  We did a lot of great things: not least of which was finally saving up some money to travel, but this year I had such a hard time balancing full-time construction with full-time work.  We'd work 9-5 and then come home and do construction til 10 pm.  Occasionally, if we had deadlines, I'd be cutting drywall at midnight.  Also, the only time we actually enjoy the work is on the weekends, so we tend to isolate ourselves then and work straight through them.  Many times on Mondays I'd be more tired than before the weekend.  Because 2014 was such an intense year of exhausting busyness, I've let things slip, and so I definitely have some things to work towards.

From one of my all-time-favorites, A Field Journal

Also, I haven't yet compiled a list of 2015 goals, which is out-of-character for me.  I blame it on the pink champagne.

1. Be more social. 
We've been bad friends, which is inexcusable.  I suppose I've always loved entertaining at home, we love to cook and make cocktails, and I like controllable noise levels that are conducive to conversation.  I've got just 2 more projects that I think are important to transition completely out of "construction zone" - the foyer thresholds, and that darn dining room ceiling hole.  Once those things are over, I want to start entertaining at home again, regardless of how self-conscious I am of unfinished projects.  But, even if those things hit a hiccup, we need to start planning ahead again with a calendar, for dinners out or picnics in nice weather or concerts.  We'll get there, it's my #1 goal, scouts' honor.

2. Garden. Take two. 
We grew a garden last year, and we did get quite a bit out of it, but we did a couple things wrong.  First, we were learning how the light in our backyard works, and I'm thinking we'll just have to buy tomatoes or find a more shade-resistant variety.  Second, we just flat-out wasted or gave away a bunch of stuff, because we just had a grill and no kitchen for most of summer.  What do you do with swiss chard on a grill?  Should've frozen it though, because I wish I had it now!  Side note: Our gardening lives were 100% improved when we bought starts for $2 or $3 a plant at a nice organic garden supply store in Naperville.  So much easier and more fun than watching seeds molder.  The heartiest starts are the widest, not the tallest.  We still grow radishes, peas, carrots, lettuce, and greens from seed, but we get starts for herbs, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, strawberries.

3. Canning.  Can something, anything.
I really want to can something.  I feel like this would be a wonderful and useful hobby, but I just need to get started already.  I always end up just making preserved lemons, which don't require cooking or sealing, so I'm not really canning and I need to just do it already.  Does anyone else want to learn to can?  Or hang out and help me and we can share the proceeds? I have a big kitchen now.... I have no excuses.  I even have boxes of mason jars.  This was one of my 2013 and 2014 goals too, so I have especially failed at getting this off the ground.

4. Houseplants
I want houseplants - whether this means reading up more about houseplants or buying new ones every 6 months after I kill them, I'm going to figure this out.  I do not have a natural gardening ability, but perhaps this is learnable.  After all, I read that if leaves are brown, you are probably over-watering your plant, not under-watering it.  Definitely did not know that.

5. Clean and organize the storage areas of the house.
Ohhh, this is a scary project.  We moved everything around so many times to accommodate construction that I don't even know what's in there anymore.  The boxes are coated with dust.  Everything needs to be cleaned before it is put away again.  Awful project.  Will start pantry now (after I finish painting) and the rest of it in the spring.

6. Early riser.
We need to get our act together on rainy days and cold days, and still wake early.  We're so good in the summer, with time to take the dog and have breakfast on the beach.  Need to find motivating things to wake up to in the morning, and give ourselves time to enjoy them and get ready on time.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Shower!

Renovating an old house is something I've always wanted to do.  I've never been scared away by peeling paint or rusty radiators.  However, if I had millions of dollars, I would not be living in the house while I renovate.  It is pretty awful to have all the dust and tools and holes in the ceilings while trying to live peacefully.  But I don't have a million dollars, so I soldier on through heaps of construction detritus.

Also, the wait times are excruciating. I bought this shower fixture at least 6 months ago, because we had to put in piping that lines up properly before the drywall even went in-- but before it could be installed, there was literally months of tiling.  Sooooo much tiling.  Tiling since November.

And this pretty thing just sat in the box for 6 months.  I just prayed that it worked after that much storage, because you can't return things that old.

But now, I get to shower here every morning!  Under a rain showerhead that makes me feel like Cleopatra.

Also, in case you're disoriented, this is the much-discussed shower of marital compromise.  And for more of the whole bathroom design, which is nearing completion, check out this post

Sunday, January 11, 2015

DIY Mirroring French Doors with Mirror Spray Paint

Last summer, we got two matching sets of French doors on Craigslist for a steal at $100 for all 4 doors. It was the cheapest price I had seen by far and they were real solid wood doors, not that hollowcore stuff that I am trying to eradicate.  We picked them up from a shady European guy whose clothes were all extremely tight and he wouldn't help lift them.  

Turns out he was a bit of a jerk, because he didn't tell us that all of the doors had been cut at weird angles such that they were no longer square at the corners.  Plus, if you just go to Home Depot and buy doors, they come already swinging by hinges in a perfect door jamb that you just slide into place as one big piece.  I mean, it's all made of plastic and costs 5x as much, but it's really easy to put in.  If you just buy loose doors on Craiglist, then you have to build your own door jamb.  

This involves actual chiseling.  

Ben had to measure (and re-measure) and cut each piece of wood perfectly.  For French doors, the measurements have to be perfect.  If the doors close too tightly together or too far apart, they won't close properly.  Plus everything has to be level, lined up, and square.  And when you start with doors that aren't square, that's no small task.  Then he had to chisel in a spot for the hinge, so it lay flat against the wood.  Not too deep, not too shallow, and matched perfectly with the other half of the hinge on the door.  x6. With a chisel and a hammer.

After he gracefully completed this insurmountable task, he had to hang the doors, which means shepherding the hinge halves into each other, all 3 sets, while holding a heavy solid door that's breakable, and of course I'm no help at all.  But we did it!  Even though I hurt my toe a little, and was told "You don't have a future in this…"

Mirroring the French Doors:

The doors came with clear glass.  The first set was perfect as-is for the upstairs sunroom, since it lets all the light into the bedroom.  But this set was for the coat closet, and since I didn't want to make the vacuum cleaner and coat storage into a display case, this set needed something to opaque the glass.

Ben was Team Frost-It.  He thinks frosted glass is the best thing in the world ever since he took a shower in a fancy hotel suite and the whole wall floor-to-ceiling was frosted glass.  So one is totally naked in front of a huge picture window, but not really, because the window is frosted.  You can see how this might become a life-changing event.  No?  He wants to frost all the glass in the house indiscriminately, but I think frosted glass is best left in a bathroom or maybe on a light fixture, but that's pushing it.  

I was Team Mirror-It.  We had mirrored French doors in our last apartment, and everyone was always saying, "Oh, what's through these doors?" like it was a ballroom instead of a coat closet.  Plus, on a practical side, you can check the collar of your coat or the throw of your scarf!  I am always so practical, like when I bought a 100-year-old 2-flat to convert into a single family home instead of just buying a regular house.

There's a few mirror spray paints.  One is Krylon Looking Glass Mirror Spray Paint and another is Rust-Oleum Mirror Effect.  I used the Rust-Oleum Mirror Effect spray paint to mirror French doors.  I was at Home Depot, and that's the kind that they had.

Rust-Oleum Mirror Effect Spray Paint

I am reasonably satisfied with the end results.  There was really no tutorials on how to mirror French doors so I gave it my best guess.  The effect is like mercury glass, it's more wavy and stippled than a mirror.  But, it gives a better reflection than mercury glass.  I can definitely see myself in the mirror and check my coat collar or something.  

Here are some tips if you want to attempt this project yourself:

1. Clean the glass extremely well.  I cleaned it twice and still have some smears in the corners of some of the panes where I could have cleaned it better.  Plus I used organic glass cleaner.  If there was ever a time to buy the full-chemical Windex, this was probably it.  Regrets.

2. Wait for the doors to dry fully.  They felt dry to me immediately after cleaning, but they have to be really dry.  Wait an hour or so after wiping the windows clean.  I sprayed too early the first time, and the paint ran in rivulets down the glass.  I had to wipe it off and try again later.

3. Use extremely thin coats of paint.  You should be moving the can of spray paint extremely quickly over the glass to achieve this.  It should be like a very light mist on the glass for the first coat.  I would do one coat making my way horizontally across the door from side to side and then go vertically from pane to pane to get two thin coats in.  That was the first two coats, I'd wait for those to dry, and then I'd do one at a time after that, waiting for each to dry.  

4. Because you're painting the back side of the glass that will be the mirror, the first coat is most important.  That's why it should be so thin.  Perhaps a bit of practice on another piece of glass would be best, so you can see how thin the consistency of the paint is.  Much thinner than regular spray paint.

4. If you do get a drip, stipple it a bit with a paper towel.  This is my own personal choice, but I thought stippling with a paper towel makes it look a bit more like mercury glass, and I liked the look better than a drip.  Then do another coat, making sure to coat more thinly this time.

5. When the paint is completely dry, paint the back of your door.  There are two reasons for this.  One, this product is one-way mirror, so on the back side it is matte gray and transparent. Two, I don't know what this stuff is made out of, but it is not very durable.  It's almost like an oil or it has a lot of oil in it.  It actually rubbed off and left gray oily residue on our hands when we installed the doors 8 hours later.  So paint the back of your door to hold that stuff in.

I used two cans of paint for this project.  So it cost me $16 total.  Plus, I love to spray paint, it's the only construction-project-like-thing that I actually enjoy.  And now I can see my reflection in my doors.  Is it perfect? No.  But for $16 and a quick fix, I think it looks really nice.  I can always replace with actual mirror if I so desire, and it was worth a try to satisfy my curiosity.  I will keep fiddling with them a bit and see if I can make them perfect.  Will update.

A Rehabbed Pantry

When we moved in, we got this beautiful pantry upstairs:

Downstairs was a different story…

There were only two shelves, the rest had been pulled out, and the two that were left were hacksawed off at rough angles to accommodate a fridge in the pantry.

So, we had always had plans to replicate the upstairs pantry with new shelves, and today Ben achieved that!

Surprisingly, it only took him a few hours to put in all these shelves, and they look just like upstairs!  He's so talented!

We did do a couple small deviations from the upstairs pantry.  Ben added the triangle-shaped supports under the center of each shelf.  The shelves upstairs are held in only by small rectangles of wood at each end.  It's surprising that they've stayed in place for 70+ years and are so sturdy, but that was old construction and the wood was thicker and better quality than what you can get now.  So we opted for a bit more bracing to prevent any bending or bowing.  

We also are doing a cabinet instead of drawers for the cupboard under the window.  I think a cabinet will be better for holding kitchen appliances and baking trays than a set of drawers.  Ben made the top of the cupboard from two stair treads!  Such a clever idea, as they are extremely thick and sturdy, with a beautifully rounded edge that will make a nice workspace.  The new home of the Kitchenaid mixer! 

It still needs some more paint (I got tired and decided to write this entry instead), and some sunlight, and cupboard doors, some trim around the door, a proper light fixture…. but I can't wait to set up a little baking corner by the window.