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Who we are

We’re a pair of married college teachers just out of grad school who are in the process of fixing up our first house, a 1910 center-entry Colonial Revival. It is in need of some loving attention — but aren’t we all? This blog is a place for me to articulate and chronicle the process of making this place ours.

Radiators

So I was browsing through the American Radiator Company’s “Complete” catalog, which is available in full scanned version here, and it looks like our downstairs bathroom radiator may be installed sideways! Note the original ad (with my highlighting) below:

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And the view in our bathroom where three large ones are installed one on top of the other:

downstairs bathroom radiators

Never even crossed my mind that they could go in a different way. I suppose it makes sense that the top pipe curves to the left though, since that would be “down” into the floor. Oh my. I had a moment of panic but then realized if they’ve made it okay for 104 years now, they’re probably alright to last a while longer.

You can see a few before and afters of this bathroom, including the mirror glass we put in the old window to cover old wallpaper, here.

Thanks to Anna of the amazing blog Door Sixteen for posting the radiator catalog link in her awesome post about having old radiators powdercoated – my dream to do throughout this house one day!

Toddler Tree Party

Our firstborn was about to turn two, and we wanted to give him a birthday party about something he liked. I know that in a year or two we probably won’t have much choice about what “thing” he’s excited about for a party theme, but for this year it was still kind of up to us – so we went for something he always loves to talk about when we are out for a walk or a drive: TREES.

toddlerpartybanner

We had so much fun decorating the dining room up for our “tree” theme. I was so glad it wasn’t still all painted bright blue and salmon pink.

One weird thing is that I was doing a lot of my planning for this party over Christmas break and basically everything tree oriented was also bedecked with candy canes and Santas. I couldn’t find any tree-oriented invitations at any of the usual sites I like to peruse: Minted, TinyPrints, etc. Only Christmas trees or whole gardens.

Luckily trees are very, very forgiving to paint or draw. So I pulled out my watercolor set and poked around a little making some sketched trees and letters and numbers.

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Then I scanned them and combined a few, playing around with photo processing software to make our invitations:

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Since the place we were printing them, Costco, let you print the back for free, I added a photo from our summer trip to Westonbirt Arboretum and a few party details on the back.

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We uploaded them as a 5×7 jpg file and they printed in just a few days, on nice thick paper with rounded corners and free envelopes, and all for a very affordable price compared to the sites I usually look at, or even compared to printing something at home from Etsy.

Since the holiday break is a time when I really should be planning my courses, procrastination meant I did all kinds of little prep things ahead of time that were time consuming but big time fun for my DIY crafting heart.

I decided to make tree crayons.

I ordered a bunch of inexpensive bulk crayons – restaurant packs of 4 colors – from Amazon and broke them up to make tree-shaped crayons for the favors. I have heard that as kids get older there are tons of broken excess crayons and extras from restaurants and whatnot, so I look forward to doing this again sometime. It took about 4 crayons to make one chunky toddler tree crayon. I used this silicone mold and baked them at 200 degrees for about 12-15 minutes. The baking part was too messy and hot to do with toddlers but I think this could be a fun supervised craft for kids maybe ages 4 and older? Also I learned you should do all of the lighter colors first as any small bit of darker wax mixed in leaves a mark on them. No big deal but good to note for the future. Another thing I realized part way through is that the wax is very sloshy when they’re full – instead of melting 4 crayons, for the last few batches I just melted three in each, which made for a shallower crayon, but then when I took them out of the oven and while they were still hot and liquid, I broke a single crayon in half and sank both pieces deep into the pool of melted wax in each mold. This filled up the volume but meant they weren’t as hard to get out of the oven splash-free. Notes for next time, I guess. Anyway it was fun! They don’t take long to cool and you can pop them out and color away.

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I ordered some inexpensive brown organza bags from eBay and stuck in a little memo pad for a cute toddler tree favor that will hopefully be used up and not just turn into knick-knacky clutter.

Though I know crayons can become clutter too! There’s no escaping it really.

We made “Ranger Badges” with printable name tag labels (Avery 8395). 

I found a big green fabric remnant at my favorite local thrift store for $1.75 and one evening when my mom was visiting we cut simple leaf shapes out of it – we ended up getting 100 leaves out of it – more than we needed. We strung them around and made them into a banner, as well as tacking them up onto the wall as part of our big paper tree in the corner.

Here’s the spread of “tree” themed foods – mostly just green things, or natural things. The tree trunk is brownie, though in hindsight I wish we’d cut it into smaller pieces since only a few people broke off any to eat. The cupcake frosting is from this recipe and I used AmeriColor gel paste food coloring which gave a good saturated color without that weird “dye” taste that some food colorings have.

Here were our drink options, which we called the hydration station: apple juice boxes for the kiddos, Sprite bottles for their pretty green glass, and some sweet tea and ice water for the grownups:

More of the food spread, again going with the green theme – snap-pea crisps, our son’s quirky favorite snack of green olives, and some pretzel “sticks” that also had delicious guacamole foliage my friend Kelly made and brought along for dipping:

I wanted some kind of large tree for the wall, but the options at the party store in town were all too much like inflatable palm trees (college town problems) and the like – and they started at $39.99 which… no. However, I noticed that the long brown sheets of paper that come as padding in Amazon boxes had a sort of barklike texture, so I saved a few and the day before the party my friend Sian and I went ahead and tried tacking some up on the wall along with the extra fabric cut-out leaves. We just used masking tape to hold things up, and it was all very forgiving.

It turned out pretty cute and was a nice anchor point for the room. The poster I wanted (Sequoia National Park WPA poster from the 30s) was not available online in a big size for less than $80, which, well, no, so I just printed a mock-up version for the party on our regular printer via blockposters- it had paper cut lines all through it so it wouldn’t work for a real art print, but it was definitely good enough for a party decoration.

Since my son has been enjoying a few “glue dot” type crafts at preschool lately, I thought we could probably do one as a craft activity for the group, gluing leaves onto some basic bare trees. I was going to buy a leaf punch but realized I would probably not use it very much so instead I found an Etsy seller who sells prepunched leaf shapes to use as confetti. No buying paper, no punching, no mess! They arrived quickly and were great.

They seemed like a hit – we had about 8 toddlers at a time doing the craft (on a vinyl tablecloth on the floor) and with their parents helping it all went pretty great! I don’t want to put a picture of anyone else’s kid on a public blog but it was really adorable to see them all hard at work.

drying art

Here are some of the masterpieces drying on the sofa back.

We had a great time and it was wonderful to see our dining room having fun with a big crowd the way it sounds like it used to back in the 1910s.

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Happy 2nd Birthday to our little forest ranger! We love you!

My favorite photo of the day – our 2 year old and his beloved grandma “Gaga.”

And one last picture… Something about this one just cracks me up. After most everyone had left, we found him munching away on some broccoli and apparently thinking things over. We had a great day – happy birthday little one!

So when I left things at the end of part one, we had a dark blue painted front door (no more flower mural), which was a step in the right direction.

But although I was glad to be done with the flower painting, and liked the color (Sherwin Williams Naval) it was still a little unfinished feeling, with sort of a “blank” look to me because of that big wood panel in the middle:

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Whenever I’m lucky enough to travel someplace with pretty architecture, I like to take photos of my favorite doors and doorways. One of the loveliest cities in the world for pretty doorways is Bath, near where my husband grew up in England. There are so many gorgeous doors there in all that beautiful Georgian architecture.

Here’s are a few I fell in love with this summer in Bath and Oxford:

Bath Door 1

Bath Door 2

Oxford Door 1

Oxford Door 2

Look at the history! The glassy paint! The great mail-slots and knockers and hand-crank doorbells. In fact, when I couldn’t find anything particularly inspiring in our local hardware stores, my sister in law mentioned a place in Bath called The Knob Connection which specializes in “door furniture” which sounded like a place that took things seriously. And they even have a website! I was thrilled.

Since our house had many years of ownership by a prominent medical family in town, and I think the style is really beautiful and timeless, I was very interested in a “doctor’s knocker” – like on the white door above – these were used to mark the doors of physicians long ago so that in an emergency you could tell where a doctor lived even in a strange town. I love historical quirky things like that, so when my sister-in-law offered to visit the shop for me, I asked her to check out this one in person.

Another one caught my eye too, though, and it’s the one she said was much nicer in person: this “English rose” round knocker. The provided photo really isn’t doing it any favors there, which is why I had initially been looking at the other one more seriously. But my sister-in-law visited the shop and decided to buy it then and there and send it over as my Christmas present, since my husband’s parents were coming over for Christmas, she asked them to pack it and bring it over – it definitely weighed down their luggage, but I’m so glad they brought it!

Although the bolts to mount it are too long for our door, so I really need to shorten them (or buy shorter ones) I went ahead and mounted it right after Christmas. I just laid a piece of paper against the back of it and used a pencil to mark the two places I would need to drill for bolts. Since I really REALLY did not want to mess up the placement of the knocker, I made a color copy of it (just laid it on the scanner bed of our printer/scanner/copier and hit “Color Copy”) for a 1:1 model of it I could reposition lots of times on the front door with tape.

When we got it where we wanted it, and had the holes marked well, it was just a matter of drilling through the door. Again, since this door has a dumb plywood panel as its middle, rather than some gorgeous piece of antique wood, I wasn’t too worried about going through the door.

And drill I did! I really need to get some larger drill bits for our drill, because as it was our largest wasn’t quite large enough and I had to keep wiggling it around to make the hole bigger, which took forever and seemed like a pretty inexact way of doing it.

Nonetheless, I was happy with the results!

knocker installed

When my sister in law bought it the knob-store owner told her that it was cast from a mold of an old Tudor-era door knocker, and that’s why the bottom rose looks worn, because the original one was worn down from years of use. Who knows, but I liked the story. Best Christmas present ever!

The door almost felt done, but when we removed our storm door our mail carrier became concerned because our old mail-slot was very small – about a 4.5″ opening – and he was worried about leaving larger mail outside without the storm door to hold it in. So, because I didn’t want to reattach the ratty storm door, or buy and hang another one, I decided to look for what our options might be for ordering a larger mail slot.

After a little internet research and Pinterest window shopping, I ended up looking at the selection from Signature Hardware. They had at least a few options in various styles for old houses, and the prices were fairly reasonable for solid brass door “furniture.” Since our goal was to have a LARGER opening, the styles were a bit more limited, but we ended up liking this one quite a bit:

post slot from Signature Hardware

It had the larger dimensions we needed and the color seemed somewhat close to the knocker we already had. I noticed in the comments that it was somewhat confusing to install but thought I could probably handle it.

Ha, ha, ha.

While this is a very PRETTY mail slot, and there were instructions available to print from the website, the installation process was incredibly difficult.

You have to cut a hole for the mail to go through, so using our jigsaw I enlarged the current hole. This part was pretty nerve-wracking because it was in the thick, old, wood part of the door rather than the thin plywood part. However, what REALLY made it hard was that the hole had to be WIDER at the top so that the post-flap had clearance to fold in, but narrower in the middle so that the mounting bolts could grab into it. It was NOT well or simply designed at all. Because I was worried about accidentally making the hole too LARGE, I ended up slowly, slowly chipping away at it, holding up the mail slot, chipping away a bit more, holding up the slot again, etc. I ended up hand chiseling quite a bit of the part around the top, which took SO much longer than I had imagined. But finally it was up, albeit in the middle of a big mess of 103-year-old sawdust everywhere.

mail slot installed

I still feel like it could be a slightly better fit, and would like to get a larger drill bit to counter sink the spots where the plate screws in just a bit better, but it’s very stable as is and sometimes good enough is good enough for now. Additionally, the big inner flap is a nice bonus over our old one, which only had a flap inside the front door. This one is large enough for even wide manila envelopes and slim packages to go through. A big change, and we haven’t had any complaints from the mail carrier yet. (Phew.)

post holding mail

The added weight of the brass mail slot even holds outgoing mail, which was never an option before. Kind of neat.

So here’s the door now, knocker and mail slot in place:

front-door-after

Note that strong afternoon sun, the reason the original wood frame was so damaged. Hopefully this new look will last us a long time.

This is the story of a door. Part One.

So here’s my confession. During our recent house exterior repainting, we painted over an old wood door. We painted over wood sidelights, and a wood transom.

That’s right, we painted wood. Old wood. Some of it was even pretty wood.

You see, our front door is objectively not great. At one point, we think it must have had a glass panel inset into it. It might have matched the flower pattern in the sidelights and transom. That would have been pretty awesome. But by the time we got this house, the panel of glass – or whatever it was – had been replaced with a big piece of plywood. And the plywood had been painted with a mural of flowers.

Like most people who buy old houses, I love the look of gorgeous old wood. And believe me when I say that I love how our house is full of old wood – the floors, the furniture, the piano. If it were a door like this, you can bet we wouldn’t have been painting over it. I think there’s very little that beats the look of a gorgeous wood door surrounded by painted sidelights and a painted transom. I also really like the look of a painted door with painted sidelights and a painted transom. But the one look I’m not a big fan of is the missing combination above: a painted door with wooden sidelights and a wooden transom.

And that’s what we inherited.

front door before

Here are the issues above, as I saw them:

1) Sun damage to the wood sidelights and door, getting progressively worse from top to bottom. The top third was pretty okay – if it had all been like that we would not have painted it. But compare the wood from the top to bottom:

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2) Mural on front door. Again, this is a matter of personal preference, and I’m sure it probably looked nicer 20 years ago when it was first painted, but the sun fading had not been kind to it, and to be honest we just ended up hanging a wreath over it as a cunning disguise 99% of the time.

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Mural? What mural?

3) Ugly old storm door missing paint in areas due to bird poo from many years ago, also causing uneven amounts of sun damage to the door (see above image). Closed at a slight angle which caused scratching to the frame, and was not securely lockable against toddler escape.

4) Lack of interesting brass door knocker.

5) Very small mail slot that caused our mail carrier significant amounts of annoyance.

So our options were:

1) Replace the front door with one that was wholly wood and the right era/design for the house. Strip and refinish the wood sidelights and transom, and commit to an annual re-coat with UV protectant to protect them from damage from the strong sunlight on our south-facing porch.

2) Paint it all.

Guess which one won in the budgeting department?

But.

Let’s talk about wood purists for a second. There are people – and I mean a LOT of people – who think that under no circumstances should anyone paint over wood, ever. We even heard cautionary tales from neighbors about that one house where they painted over a wood front door and people are still talking about it fifteen years later. And we were both raised by wood purists. So even though it was a pretty obvious decision from a budgeting perspective, and there are TONS of beautiful painted doors we love and have photographed on our travels, we actually took FOREVER making up our minds about it. It was by far the longest part of the decision making for the entire house, and the thing the two of us went back and forth about the most. We even had the painter paint it halfway and then made him stop so we could be sure that we were sure that we were sure. One of us may have been 39 weeks pregnant at this point – I won’t say who – and perhaps used that as a slight leverage for her (or his) perspective. But it’s all done now.

We decided to paint it.

Based on the popular photo we saw from this post at On Sutton Place, our first color choice was pretty easy: Sherwin Williams Naval. And just four coats later (next time I would definitely go with a TINTED primer to help reduce that number)… here we were:

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Coming soon in Part Two (who would ever have guessed the front door would need 2 posts?): the storm door dilemma, the search for an interesting door knocker, and the soul-trying saga of installing the new mail slot.

One great moment I almost forgot about from the house painting process:

The side supports for our front steps had been coming apart for years and were in pretty terrible shape:

ImageThis was not the great moment.

Eventually, of course, we’d love to redo the front steps in a beautiful way, and also redo the sloping path to the sidewalk to match. I have a Pinterest board full of inspiration ideas like this one for that project, but unfortunately ours was a budget of realism already stretched, rather than Pinterest dreams.

So, since this poor beat-up little side support and its twin are actually not at all load-bearing or important to the house’s structure, we were thrilled when our painter offered to just clear out the rotted bits, frame up a little piece of wood inside, and patch it all back together so at least things looked whole again.

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Aside from the dead February landscaping, much better I think! Thank you, enterprising painter!

But the great discovery was what he pulled out when he was rebuilding it: a piece of the original trim boards, painted a vivid emerald green!

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We even joked about its similarity of the Pantone 2013 color of the year, Emerald.

It’s fun to imagine what this house must have looked like, long ago, before the stucco, with its pea green siding (discovered during the chimney rebuild in 2008) and this emerald green trim. Maybe something like this? Oh for a crystal ball.

Other house colors we discovered along the way were mostly in the white-cream-tan-yellow-orange family one would traditionally expect with stucco around here. Here are a few shots we got along the way:

Trim colors through the years:

palimpsest_paint

House body colors (on top of the stucco – the green was all under it) through the years:

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And just as a reminder, here’s what it all looked like before and after our most recent paint job.

As I wrote about last time, as the painting process was getting underway, we have been looking forward to having our house repainted for years now.

We are so grateful to say it is now completed!

A true before and after

Final color choices were:

Main body of house (stucco exterior): Benjamin Moore Mesa Verde Tan (AC-33)

Trim (white): Benjamin Moore Bavarian Cream (OC-123)

Foundation / Porch floor: Benjamin Moore Clinton Brown (HC-67)

Porch Ceiling: Benjamin Moore Blue Hydrangea (2062-60)

Front Door: Sherwin Williams Naval (SW 6244)

When we bought this house back in 2008, the exterior color – especially the dark trim color – was definitely a negative. Everyone says you have to learn as a prospective buyer to “look past” the paint colors, and everyone is pretty much right. Here’s what it looked like way back then, on our very first visit.

Mostly pretty dark grey

In some lights (this was a warm sunset time of day) more brown?

The paint wasn’t in great shape at that point, though it was mostly fine, but then we bought it and moved in and did other things and all of a sudden five years and five winters happened, which of course deteriorated it further:

By this point though, we had finally saved up enough to start getting estimates from local painters. We had 3 different people come out who were recommended by neighbors, friends, and the owner of our local Benjamin Moore paint store. We preferred having a single person or small company do the work rather than a bigger crew, even though it would take longer. In the end, we didn’t choose the lowest estimate, but we chose the person who seemed the most interested in our house, the one who took the most photos, had the most ideas, and wrote up the most detailed estimate. He really seemed to care about the house, and getting things right. When the project is all completed, I’m hopeful we’ll feel we made the right choice. I certainly feel that way so far.

So the first step was deciding on colors. We enjoyed playing for a long time with the Benjamin Moore Personal Color Viewer online, which lets you preview different colors on your actual photos of your home. After a few days of flinking around there, we had a few top contenders, but of course you can’t know for sure until you see a few painted on your actual house, with your texture, your light situation, etc. Still it was fun and gave us some ideas.

Mostly it gave me the idea that white trim was going to make a big, big difference.

Admittedly, these are a little cartoony. (Especially note how I sort of “invented” a front right pillar there in front of our bushes, but then left the back pillar half hidden.) Oh well! It gave us somewhere to start.

And start we did. Time to get some paint on these walls!

And time to start writing checks. Unlike Home Depot or Lowe’s, it seems like the more professional paint retailers (in our town, this is limited to Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams) don’t mix you up those charming $3 small sample pots of paint. I’m sure they have great reasons, but it was kind of a bummer for my tightwad soul to have to pay for a whole quart of paint ($20+) in each color we wanted to preview. It definitely made us more disciplined about narrowing down our choices somewhat, although of course in terms of the larger house project, the price of an extra sample quart or two would end up seeming pretty small. Good first lesson in the process. :)

A few weird things we felt we had to factor in to our color decision:

  • The stucco texture on our house is very lumpy and shows a lot of contrast between the high and low spots because it gets full sun for most of the day. We didn’t want too light of a color because we felt it made the contrast even more noticeable.
  • Stucco, especially textured stucco, seems to look best (or least weird we think) when it’s painted some type of earth tone. We didn’t want it to completely blend in with green grass, or brown mulch, or tan/grey winter-dead-landscaping around it, but we also felt like some of the more “fun” colors we were attracted to (especially blues and greys) looked like they weren’t right for stucco. Sad but true.
  • The houses on either side of us are lighter — the one on the left is white smooth stucco with red wood trim and the one on the right is a cream-color siding with white trim. So if we went a bit darker with our color (and white with the trim) it seemed like it would be a nice counterpoint to the neighbors’ house, rather than going very pale and having 3 very pale houses in a row.

In the end when we saw them on the house, the decision wasn’t hard.

Pismo Dunes was too pale – it looked almost exactly like the previous color!

It also “washed out” too much next to the white trim, especially in the places the house gets more sun (this photo was taken under the porch roof’s shade.

Kingsport Grey was promising, but seemed just slightly TOO grey, and we wanted to be careful not to let our stucco start to read as “lumpy drips of concrete” instead. Caldwell Green was fun and I actually loved the idea of it next to crisp white trim, but unfortunately the color change from our previous tan/pink to Caldwell Green would have required 2 coats of paint to cover adequately, where all the other colors we chose could do it in one coat. Doubling the paint budget went RIGHT out, especially because the color seemed just a tiny bit too bold in person anyway, to us.

So in the end, the winner for our exterior stucco color was Mesa Verde Tan (AC-33), which had the nice midtone color intensity of the Kingsport Grey but with a warmer, browner tone to it. I had thought it might be too dark, but especially in bright sun it really seemed like a nice happy medium. And it’s definitely dark ENOUGH to make the new white trim, which is actually Benjamin Moore Bavarian Cream (OC-123), stand out bright and clean and hog all the attention, which is kind of what I think it has always wanted to do.

What do you think? :)

It’s not done yet, but the front is getting toward being done, and we are definitely excited about how it is looking so far.

Other colors involved: Porch floor is the Ben Moore premixed porch and floor paint in Rich Brown, though we may still want to go greyer for the second coat it needs anyway, and the porch ceiling – in a small nod to the “haint blue” of beautiful Southern porches I have loved on our travels, is Benjamin Moore Blue Hydrangea (2062-60).

It’s amazing how much brighter things feel — even just from having a lighter porch ceiling the front rooms get more reflected light during the day.

More updates soon as we finalize front door decisions! I can hardly wait for a true “before and after” this time, believe me.

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