Put on your pith helmets and khakis, everyone—we’re about to venture where few have tread: into the untamed wilderness of our attic! You lucky people!
I’ve never had the nerve to expose our attic to the public. I thought I might, once we had turned it from a horder’s heaven into an art studio. But as the years slipped by, I was unsure the attic would ever realize its potential. That’s sad, because it would make an awesome art space. However, while I’ve been slinging paint in the dining room, Eric’s been up there steadfastly trying to make order out of chaos. His efforts deserve recognition.
Okay, got your gear? We’re heading up. Step through the door into the unknown.
The trail is steep. Be careful.
Eric will light the way.
Behold: the detritus of two pack-ratty people. Pretty impressive, isn’t it? Sometimes I worry that it will all fall through the joists and land in the living room. (This is a fear left over from childhood: As a small child I imagined where I would land in the basement if my bed fell through the floor. I would have landed in my dad’s shop, which didn’t seem so scary … as long as I missed the table saw.)
See how far you’ve climbed?
If you’re brave enough, venture a little deeper into the terrain. Watch your step. (Click any image to enlarge.)
It hasn’t always looked like this, of course. You can’t amass such a jaw-dropping collection overnight. When I lived here alone, most of my stuff, much of which had belonged to my parents, was confined to the small end of the attic, where the stairs come up. Family antiques that I didn’t have room for downstairs occupied a portion of the big room, along with archives from my childhood and rolling racks of off-season clothes. And of course there was the requisite Christmas collection. I felt like I had endless storage space, even for a nostalgic person like me who never seems to let go of anything. But, we all know how things tend to accumulate over time.
Then I married a man who out-packratted even me. Well … that’s unfair. Eric had his own houseful of furniture and belongings, and I had a 1400 sq. ft. fully furnished house with three small closets. Everything we couldn’t find a home for downstairs went up to the “endless” storage space in the sky … until even the narrow trail down the center began to fill up. Just looking at the piles of dead electronics, clothes, and books made me cry with frustration and bewilderment, so I seldom went up there.
Rewind to 1984, when I bought the house. The attic was perfectly empty and squeaky clean (for an attic). The dark-stained fir floors and stairs in the small room shone. But in the big room, white fiberboard panels had been nailed to the sloped ceiling, and they sagged from absorbing moisture. It made the space look like a big, white tent. The dormer windows were homemade casements jobs that sagged on their hinges.
We’ve searched for “before” pictures, but we can’t find any. Those were the days before digital cameras. I probably have prints around here somewhere … in the attic.
Insulation was added to the ceiling years ago, but it wasn’t until Eric came along that the beadboard paneling went up. Eric also installed the beautiful new windows in the dormer, which is now my favorite part of the attic.
But … all the stuff remains.
So, what’s the plan?
I’ve always admired this attic from an old Martha Stewart book, How to Decorate. It’s so similar to what ours could be.
Shelves. Slowly but surely, Eric’s moving the stuff away from a section of wall, installing plastic shelves, and putting the stuff on the shelves. More and more stuff is now off the floor and neatly stacked.
Purge. Bags and bags of junk are exiting every weekend. We will (I swear) ruthlessly purge everything else: toss, donate, or sell. Maybe we’ll even have the yard sale that we’ve talked about for 10 years.
Paint. I’ll paint the beadboard glossy white to maximize the light. More painting … yay.
Floor. The mossy carpet will crawl off to the dump. The attic floor in the large room is simply subflooring. We thought about just washing and sealing it, but it has gaps between the boards that you could lose a kitten between … so we’re thinking of covering it with finish-grade 1/4-inch plywood. We’ll paint or stain it and seal it so it’s spillproof enough for an art studio.
Layout. Years ago my neighbor gave me a big drafting table, complete with drafting machine, which he bought at Boeing Surplus. That’ll go in the dormer area. At last, a place to draw and paint! We’ll have a work table for framing and flat files for storage. I’ll create a cozy, funky sitting area at the far end beneath the little windows, with a couple of old armchairs, bookshelves, a table, and lamps, all anchored by an oriental rug. That old faux palm might even find a home. Can you see the potential in this space?
Speaking of kittens (weren’t we?) … my favorite story about the attic involves—surprise—cats! One day many years ago, I was rummaging around in the attic when I discovered a litter of four tiny black kittens in a bag of old dress patterns. The mom cat had evidently gotten in through the dormer windows, which were open for the summer. She was temporarily out when I found her babies, but when she returned, she was a fierce warrior and she didn’t take my presence kindly. I began providing her food and water, but I had to fend her off with a broom to be able to set food down at the top of the stairs. As the kittens grew, I could hear them galloping back and forth across the attic floor. I came home one day when they were about 12 weeks old, to find them all sitting outside on the dormer windowsill. I quickly ran up to the attic and shut the windows. They all managed to shinny down an adjacent tree and I never saw them again. You can tell that in those days, even though I had a cat of my own, I wasn’t really a cat lady. If I found kittens now, I’d try to domesticate them and I’d certainly take them to the Humane Society where they could be neutered and find homes. But, I was clueless back then.
So, there you have it. I bet you’re ready to go back to civilization again. I know I am!
I’ll just put it right out there: I’m a social liberal, usually vote for Democrats, and I’ve proudly called myself a feminist since I was a teenager. That’s why my friend Anita and I decided to join the Womxn’s March on Seattle on January 21. I’m not normally politically active (other than voting), but the one thing I’ll march for is women’s rights, which, after all, are human rights. The last time I was part of a protest march was in 1972, when I was a college student against the Vietnam war.
Before heading out on an urban trek, one has to prepare. The first thing I did was order a pussyhat from The Seam Designs, the first Esty shop I stumbled upon. In about a week, this fetching crocheted hat arrived from Brooklyn, NY. I love these hats. They make a serious statement with humor, and they provide a great visual when thousands of people are wearing them.
I didn’t know that my friend Sandi was busy knitting hats locally. She sent me a few, gratis, which I gave to my marching buddies.
Walking 3.6 miles on a January day in Seattle is likely to be wet and chilly. I washed and waterproofed my winter coat, and fished its zip-out liner off the floor of the coat closet, where it had fallen and been used for a cat bed. Yep, washed that, too … and then spent 20 minutes trying to coax the damned zipper into place. I assembled my ensemble, including a fleece jacket and wool socks, and sliced openings in the index finger and thumb of my fuchsia fleece gloves so that I could operate my phone. I sprayed waterproofing sealer on my favorite Keen oxfords. I wondered whether handwarmers might be a good idea.
I was up before dawn Saturday morning after a restless night. TV news predicted 47 degrees by afternoon. The zippered liner came out of my coat a lot quicker than it went in.
Four of us gathered at Anita’s house, then Eric chauffeured us to Seattle. A couple of miles from the park, sign-toting, pussyhatted marchers filled the sidewalks, and cars clogged the streets. Eric dropped us off with the legions at the bottom of a steep, seemingly endless hill. We followed the crowd up to the park, where we met up with a fifth marcher, Jan.
Judkins Park is a large space, and was completely packed with pink-hatted protesters and bobbing protest signs. Even Rosa Parks was there—one of several huge puppets of famous women. The atmosphere was electric with excitement and anticipation. Everyone was smiling and full of energy. I was encouraged to see nearly as many men as women, and I wished Eric had joined us … but then, we wouldn’t have had a ride. The speechifying was nearly finished (we couldn’t hear it well from where we stood on the edge of the park), and we didn’t have long to wait before people seemed to decide en masse that it was time to depart.
Off we charged! Or rather, shuffled. The small residential streets that border the park were so crowded that we could barely move. We crept our way to Jackson Street, a main road.
The signs were wonderful—funny, touching, unambiguous, and irreverent. I hadn’t seen some of these slogans and logos for decades. One that summed up my feelings was “50 years later and we’re still protesting this shit!” Topics ranged from women’s rights, human rights, immigrant rights, healthcare, the environment, LGBTQ rights, and general dissatisfaction with the Trump agenda.
This was supposed to be a silent march like the civil rights marches of the 1960s, but every now and then a cheer would erupt and ripple through the crowd like a wave. People shouted and cheered when onlookers waved from their windows. There was little chanting, but lots of buzz.
We thought we were toward the front of the pack, but as we marched downhill through the International District, the road was filled with marchers as far as the eye could see. And when we got to the bottom of that hill, I looked back, and there were marchers as far as I could see behind us, too. News reported that the entire 3.6-mile route was filled with participants for some time. March organizers had anticipated 50,000 participants. The final total was 175,000! Way to go, Seattle!!
These incredible dragons guard the streetscape in Japantown.
In some Seattle neighborhoods, freeway support columns are painted with fanciful designs.
Then we turned onto 4th Avenue and marched (shuffled) north through downtown.
Notice the SUNSHINE? What a glorious day! I marched almost the whole way with my winter coat tied around my waist. I’m sure the warmth contributed to the ebullient mood. But mostly, it felt so good to know I wasn’t the only one who is concerned about losing our hard-won human rights and environmental progress (just two of many issues on peoples’ minds).
By the time we reached Westlake Center in the heart of the city, we were less than a mile from our destination of the Seattle Center (the site of the 1962 World’s Fair, now an arts and civic campus). We were headed for a row of Port-a-Potties when a miracle happened: Our co-marcher, Jan, suggested we simply come up to her place. Turns out she lives in a condo overlooking Westlake, just steps from where we were standing. Within a few minutes we were relaxing in her lovely condo, with a view of 4th Avenue and the marchers below. Jan fed us spaghetti and chocolate. We became weary and complacent and, I regret to admit, we decided to walk to Westlake Station and catch the light rail back toward home rather than shuffle to the end of the route.The strange thing is, I could walk 3.6 miles at a moderate pace and finish in less than an hour and a half. But we discovered that shuffling at such a slow pace is really tiring! We were out there on the route for nearly three hours, and that didn’t include the hella hill that we climbed to get to the park. (Lest you think we are just a bunch of wimpy old ladies, three of my companions are half-marathoners. I’m more accustomed to walking a golf course.)
This march was such an uplifting, joyous experience. Everyone was happy and positive and inclusive. It really helped to banish the depression and malaise I’ve felt for the past two months, and replace it with a sense of hope for our country. There were no incidents of violence and no arrests. The cops were relaxed and smiling and had little to do but direct traffic. I’m still basking in the glow of knowing there are millions of people out there who share my point of view and my concerns. Last I heard, approximately three million women and men marched worldwide on all seven continents. It’s up to us to raise consciousness once again. Fifty years later, we’re back not to square one, but maybe square two. Something I never expected. Yes, we can.
What did I do on my holiday break?
A week before Christmas I was determined to sand the repaired fireplace wall. So I did, except for the part blocked by the TV cabinet, which I couldn’t move because of the Christmas tree. My mouse sander is supposed to collect dust, but this stuff was so fine that no filter could contain it. Clouds of the stuff enveloped the living and dining rooms and piled up on the mantel.
I realized with dismay that I posted about creating sanding dust in the living room exactly one year ago, and I’m still working on this crazy project. Maybe it’s time to pick up the pace a little?
My holiday break consisted of 17 blissful days of pretend retirement, during which I was sure I could knock out the dining room paint job. The dining room consists of mostly trim: wood paneling up to 5 feet, topped by dentil molding and a plate rail. Box beams crisscross the ceiling, the east wall is dominated by a built-in buffet, and the north wall features a window seat below 13 feet of windows with those dreaded-but-charming 4-inch panes. That’s a lot of trim to paint white. What could go wrong?
Nothing went wrong … if you don’t count the fact that I’m growing old and my clothes are going out of style and I’m still nowhere near done. (The truth is, my clothes have never been in style.) The plaster-and-paintathon seems to have no discernable end.
To refresh your memory because it’s been so long since I written about the living room color scheme, I’m painting the wood trim Valspar Chef White, and the plaster walls (whenever I finish repairing them) Valspar Jogging Path, a Sherwin-Williams color. In the dining room, the beams are wood, so they’re white, and the ceiling itself is plaster, so it’s gray.
As usual, I started at the top, with one corner of the coffered ceiling. Eric and I wondered, which part is the coffer? Is it the beam, or the cavity? I looked it up so you don’t have to. The coffer is the recessed portion between the beams. Like a coffin.
Progress was painstakingly slow because of the careful cutting in where the colors meet. Painting above my head in imperfect light made that really difficult, and my bifocals are a curse when I paint. I have to scrunch up my face like Popeye to pull a focus. It’s not perfect—don’t look too close!—but it looks pretty darn good.
I find painting with white a little boring. I’m not really a white walls person … but as I got going, I realized just how much the white was brightening up this room. It looked shockingly, glaringly white at first, but it’s growing on me. I may be entering my white period. For instance, when we went to Office Depot to buy Eric a new desk chair, I fell in love with a sleek and sumptuous white leather number that seemed custom made for my backside. I resisted … although I still imagine it at my desk.
After completing the south row of coffers, I attacked the wall paneling. This went faster, but I still had to deal with fussy dentil molding and a plate railing. What makes painting seem so never-ending is that when I’ve covered one wall, I have to go back to the beginning and apply the second coat. Yeah, yeah, I know … I’m whining.
I had good company, though. If Duke could not lie directly under the ladder, he figured out how to lie exactly where I would move the ladder next. He’s very intuitive that way. Shiny black Crosby helped me paint the library door.
Old houses are made of edges and ledges, and they can collect a disgusting amount of dirt, especially with a houseful of pets (I’m not above blaming them). I ask you, how can something splatter as high as a nine-foot ceiling? Have you ever seen a jowly dog shake its head in slow motion? That’s how. Scrubbing and painting definitely freshen up the place.
As soon as the southwest corner was complete, I polished up the treadmill and moved it back in place, sans coats and purses this time. I don’t relish having a treadmill feature in my dining room, but it’s a small house and I don’t have anywhere else to put it.
Tada! One wall complete! The oil paintings are by San Francisco artist Donny Hahn.
It’s now sadly obvious to me that the wallpaper has to go, even though it looks not-too-bad in the photo. Its bronze background is just too dark and heavy for the light gray and white scheme. I haven’t decided whether to simply paint those walls gray or to find some more appropriate wallpaper and face that daunting task again. The area above the plate rail is a perfect place for wallpaper, but if I choose to simply paint, there’s plenty of architectural detail to keep the room from being boring.
After a quick online search, I picked these wallpapers as contenders if I want that experience again. They’re subtly colored, classic, and they’d look great in the space. I like the acanthus because it’s so subtle and textural, and I like the ogee because it has a more modern vibe while still being retro. What do you think? How do you think potential buyers would react to them? (We eventually will sell this house and build our retirement dream home.)
How much can I say about painting? I’ll just tell you that by tomorrow I’ll have completed two walls (one being the opening to the living room, which is mostly air) and five coffers. (I wrote that yesterday and I haven’t painted a stroke.) Next, I’m on to the buffet wall, and finally, the windows. Wish me luck … and perseverance.
To wrap up our break, Eric and I went out on New Year’s Eve to enjoy dinner and some Latin jazz. After two weeks of not wearing makeup, I was reminded again of how much a fresh coat of paint can improve old things.
Now for the important stuff!
Cat stories! Our feral tabby friends, Dash, Dot, and Ditto Morse are three and a half years old, and they still hang out around our house. They are frequent, almost nightly, visitors at our back door, where they expect a good meal of kibble and Fancy Feast. Dash and Dot often nap in the heated kitty shelters on our front porch. Ditto is the most nocturnal; I usually visit with her around 10:30 p.m. Ditto loves for me to pet her and invites it eagerly, lifting her head to meet my hand and getting all excited and wiggly. Dash allows me to stroke his back only when he’s eating. Dot is the shy one; I can’t touch her. They’re adorable.
We treated our house cats to their very first cat tree. Sweet Tara (below) was the first to try it out, and she had the best time! So far, Tara, Crosby, Peggy Sue, and Chex think it’s great. Ginger, Lacy, Rose, and Fred think it’s beneath their dignity.
Every year before Thanksgiving, Eric and I start thinking about what image we’d like feature on our Christmas cards. We enjoy making and printing our own cards. It’s a fun way to work a little creativity into the season. Eric has a high-quality printer, so normally we just buy blank cards and envelopes and print them up. But this year, Eric sent them off to be four-color offset printed because it was actually cheaper. We were a little disappointed in the quality—the color registration was off on the inside message, although the cover images seemed to be sharp. I think we’ll return to our DIY-printing tradition next year.
We couldn’t decide between two photos that Eric took a few years ago. One is Duke, barking at the dining room window against a background of snow-laden rhododendrons. The other is kitty prints in the snow on our deck. So, we printed them both. Why not go with a cat and dog theme? It was fun to match up what I thought each recipient would like most.
You can pick your favorite!
May the wonders of the season fill your heart
Prints of Peace
Happy holidays to all of my blog friends and followers. Best wishes for a peaceful and prosperous 2017!
D’Arcy & Eric and the furry gang at Our Bungalow’s 2nd Century
All summer we were focused on getting the house painted before the weather turned against us, and for the most part, we made it. All summer I told myself that when the rain came, I would return to my plaster repair project in the living room. October and November broke records for rainfall, and we looked out on this drippy landscape from our living room window. It was time.
Last spring I left off with a sizeable hole in the plaster above the mantel, lath stretching across its mocking grin, and the promise of problems just to the right of the fireplace. I’d resurfaced two-thirds of the west wall when summer weather lured me outside.
When I finally did psych myself into restarting, I was so eager to get going that I forgot to take a picture of the whole wall. I continued just as I had before, chipping and peeling away the finish layer of plaster and its paper surface anywhere it was no longer attached to the plaster base coat, which turned out to be the entire wall above the mantel and casement windows.
My intention was to repair and paint the west (fireplace) wall and a portion of the north wall (up to the French doors) before a Christmas tree sprang up to stall my progress—a pretty sporty goal. I will have two weeks off over the holidays, which I’ll use to paint miles of white trim throughout the living room, dining room, and foyer.
As before, I applied two coats of joint compound, smoothed the wet compound with a foam knock-down knife, and, when the mud had set up a bit, gently smoothed it further with a damp wallpaper sponge. The wall still needs sanding, but I won’t have to grind away as much as I did on the south wall. I’m learning as I go, but I’m always disappointed that I haven’t developed a fluid technique … the way professional plasterers swoop the mixture onto the wall with such precision and economy of motion. No, I just plop it on and smooth it the best I can. No magic technique here.
Let’s get back to the west wall and that trouble spot next to the fireplace. When I bought the house 34 years ago, that section had been damp, and the finish paper on top of the plaster sagged in defeat. When I reroofed in 2004 (what I still think of as the “new” roof because it seems like yesterday), the wall surface dried out, thank goodness. However, I knew damage had been done.
As I whacked at the wall surface with a pry bar and a rubber mallet, pulverized plaster poured from the hole. Plaster turns to powder after having been soaked for very long. I knew that I’d wind up with a sizable area in need of patching. I kept going until the plaster seemed firm again. Yes, it was messy.
I was under intense scrutiny throughout the process.
When I used my little shop vac to clean up, it ate the chunks, but I didn’t realize that behind me, it was belching out a cloud of fine plaster dust that now coats everything in the living room and beyond. Thinking that the tank might be full, I emptied it outdoors and discovered inside the tank a filter sheet that I’d never installed. Well, who’d have thought to look inside? I just plugged in the new unit and started vacuuming. Not that it matters … sanding is next, and what didn’t get covered in plaster dust will soon be covered in joint compound dust.
After excavating, some good news: The area beneath the slumping paper was bone dry, and the lath wasn’t rotten. Some bad news: The skinny strip between the window casing and the fireplace felt damp. If the new roof had eliminated the leak that pulverized the plaster, where was the moisture coming from? We looked at the chimney outside. Hey—who forgot to paint this little strip of shingles? It’s so skinny, the asbestos siding people didn’t even bother to cover it back in the 1950s. Eric applied caulk to the gap at the fireplace side. I mentally added the strip to the list of things to paint in the spring.
Back inside, Eric pressed a paper towel into the damp space for several minutes. When he removed it, it was perfectly dry. Was what I interpreted as “damp” simply “cold”? And, it was hard as rock. My pry bar didn’t dent it. I think it’s actually wood. Maybe the plasterers were as puzzled as I was about how to spread plaster in that tiny space. I’m leaving it just as it is.
I scored the top layer of plaster and chipped it away to create a straight edge at a stud. The powdery plaster continued to pour out of the bottom corner of the excavation. Then I gouged the plaster out of the keyways and vacuumed everything up. I was glad to find that no cold air was coming in. It might have been a giant hole in our wall, but it was a tidy giant hole, and even that was an improvement.
Back at the fireplace, I made an interesting discovery: Once I had all the plaster out of the lath, I could peer in behind the lath and see the bricks of the chimney. The painted bricks that face the chimney on the living room side stick out beyond the red brick, as if they’re a thin veneer applied on the portion inside the house. I know they’ve been painted a zillion times, but the increased thickness can’t all be paint! Kind of fun to think that this lath and brick last saw the light of day in 1913, and now they’re back in the dark again. How many years will they last?
This hole was getting too big for me to dare to use plaster patch. I chickened out and we decided to fill the gap with ¼-inch dry wall. Eric cut the dry wall to fit and screwed it in, and I finished up with three coats of mud. It looks pretty good. I’ll know how good when I paint it.
I picked off a good bit of plaster off the north wall to the left of the French doors, too. There was an ancient outlet in the baseboard on north wall, into which we plug our TV and cable box. As I bashed at the plaster, every time so much as a flake fell onto the TV plug, it lost its connection and the TV went off. So annoying.
It’s been like this forever, which makes cleaning that spot a real pain. I couldn’t finish picking away the plaster until Eric replaced the outlet. Why do we sometimes live for years with a problem rather than make a simple repair? Finally, we have an outlet that grips the plugs. Eric saved the Hubbell parallel-and-tandem ungrounded black ceramic receptacle—rated 10 A, 250 V. Notice that it takes plugs with horizontal or vertical prongs. It’s probably original to the house.
Also on the north wall, I finally found out what the bilious green stuff was under the paint. For the first time, I saw a hint of pattern. It was wallpaper, not finish paper or paint! I took the time to pick a section clean so I could imagine the entire living room and foyer, and probably the dining room, too, covered in green paper with cream and pale pink furled leaves. Judging from what I’ve seen of vintage wallpapers, I’d say this pattern was from the late 1930s or early 40s … pre-war.
I was on a roll. I decided to try out the hot mud we bought months ago to patch that gaping grin over the fireplace. I mixed the powder 3:1 with cold water to make a stiff dough. I had six to ten minutes to apply the stuff, so I worked like the devil to fill the hole. It spread like elastic pizza dough, pulling a little as it went. Of course, I ran just a little short and had to scurry to mix more. In short order the hole was filled. Hey—that was pretty easy! Although it’s supposed to set up in about 30 minutes, I let it cure for 24 hours. It was sticky, and I couldn’t work the surface smooth, but that was okay because I covered it with joint compound to match the rest of the wall. Now you can’t see that old hole at all. Wait until it gets painted!
I wanted to end this post with a nice photo of the painted wall … but this is as far as I’ve gotten. Maybe next time! Now it’s time to bring in the tree.
Last week I looked out my office window at a hillside covered in red and gold and green foliage. Just above the hill was a slice of silvery sky and scudding clouds. Above that hung a dense gray curtain, pushing to the east. This was an improvement over the buckets of rain that fell all morning. Such was October in the Pacific Northwest … our wettest on record.
Your question: Did we get the house painted? Yes, we did. Mostly. Enough for passers-by to convincingly say, “Look, they painted their house!” It still needs some touch-up. The attic dormer, the basement window casings, the garage, and the front porch floor will be painted next spring. The cedar shingles on the porches will be stained next spring. The chimney will be repointed and painted next spring. Let’s hope we have an early, dry spring.
I have accepted that I won’t find enough days over 50 degrees this fall to paint the three remaining screen doors, which I intended to paint under the cover of our front porch. But just to look at the house, you might think it’s done. I did get the front screen door finished, but it took forever to dry.
Considering the gloom of this November day, and all the identical days in the long-range forecast, the too-hot-to-paint days of summer seem far behind us. Eric thought he’d get this project done in a couple of months, but the prep work alone took longer than that. The painting itself was the “easy” part, he said, although setting up the ladder, climbing up, painting, climbing down, moving the ladder, and climbing up again doesn’t sound easy.
This is what our normally tidy deck looked like after weeks of painting. The dried paint buckets eventually filled with rainwater.
Eric made successive circuits around the house, painting first Subtle Taupe eaves, then the Falcon’s Aura siding, followed by the Subtle Taupe trim, and I followed behind with the Chocolate Cherry accent color. Eric taped a few windows for me, but soon saw it was a waste of time. “You’re on your own,” he told me.
Bruce Springsteen was born to run. Steppenwolf was born to be wild. Ray Charles was born to lose. And me? I was born to cut in. It is my one true talent. I can think of a lot of other talents that would be more interesting, not to mention more lucrative … but when you’re painting your house, the ability to paint a straight line is a handy trait. I can even do it ambidextrously, and believe me, I’m not ambidextrous at anything else.
I do cutting in, but I don’t do heights. Eric had to paint the attic windows, high on the back gable. I had the temerity to send him back up for a do-over. On some of these windows, I admit, a straight line was out of the question.
My parents would surely be proud that a five-year university fine arts degree produced a capable trim painter. I painted the mullions of one hundred ninety-eight 4 x 4-inch panes of glass. That’s a lot of cutting in. Painting the panes was a slow-moving, neck-craning, cramp-inducing meditation on what makes this house special.
Toward the end of 1983, I got a strong nesting urge to buy a house on my ridiculous shoe-string budget. As I perused the MLS book in a real estate office, I saw a picture of an old house with French doors flanked by high, small, multipaned windows, forming a bold T-shape. That house–I want to see that house.
And here I am, thirty-three years later, so I painted these panes with reverence, even though standing on a ladder for hours makes my body scream. Special thanks to Eric, for all the hours that he put in on this project over the summer, wrestling ladders and equipment by himself while I was at work.
This is my favorite photo of the whole “painful” process. I asked Eric to get a shot of Lacy supervising my technique from the windowsill inside, and he instructed me to hold the paint can in a specific spot.
But enough reminiscing—let’s get to those before-and-after pix!
We’ll start on the south side, which faces the neighboring house. This side’s trim was never painted in 1995 (tsk, tsk), and needed the most TLC.
Around the corner we go, to the east side, facing the backyard. The yellow bicycle is not flying by in a tornado; it’s a whirligig in our garden. Oh, that blue sky …
Next, the north side, which faces our side street. This is the most visible side of our house.
And finally, the west side, the front of our house. All of our time and energy went into painting … now I can see how our gardens suffered and overgrew.
What do you think? We’re really pleased with the new look, although I still wince at how “white” the Subtle Taupe reads (it’s especially white in photos). It’s not quite my original vision, but everyone seems to like it. It’s a pleasure to drive up and see our house in its fresh new coat. Maybe our favorite thing about it is that it’s done. Mostly.
As you know by now, we are masters at finding other things to do while we are supposed to be working on our DIY projects. So what did we come up with on a rainy Saturday when we couldn’t paint outdoors? We took advantage of our Seattle Art Museum membership to attend the members-only debut of Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style.
I expected it to be fabulous. I had no idea.
A wide, quiet hallway led into the main exhibit area. Here was displayed a collection of paper dolls that Saint Laurent created when he was a young teen. He’d put on fashion shows for his sisters, and designed clothes for them. These dolls had never been displayed before, and came from the collection of YSL’s lifetime partner, Pierre Bergé (as did nearly the entire exhibition). Lesson: If your son wants to play with paper dolls, let him.
I was amazed to find a paper dress that I’d owned myself. Not a real Yves Saint Laurent, of course, but a vintage-style knock-off that I’d made in the 1980s. (Something that most people don’t know about me is that from my late teens into my thirties, I made most of my own clothes—everything from jeans and t-shirts to tailored suits and coats. I wasn’t a designer, but I did customize commercial patterns.)
Then we rounded the corner into a bright room and were dazzled by what looked like a stylish party of headless or hairless models.
Before he turned 20, Saint Laurent was hired by Christian Dior himself. Before long, Dior picked Yves to become his successor … and then died unexpectedly, leaving Saint Laurent as the head designer at the House of Dior at the age of 21. I don’t know what you were doing when you were 21, but I didn’t know my posterior from my elbow.
If that wasn’t enough, Saint Laurent virtually saved the business in his first season by designing the wildly successful, flared “trapeze dress,” a radical departure from the constricting styles of the 1950s. However, subsequent collections weren’t as well received and, like a football coach after two losing seasons, House of Dior fired him. Also in 1960, he was drafted into the army, which, as you’d expect, was a disastrous experience for a young, gay clothing designer. After being hospitalized for depression and leaving the army, he sued Dior and won his job back, but he soon left to open his own fashion house, Yves Saint Laurent, with his partner, Pierre Bergé.
In 1966, Saint Laurent was the first designer to produce a prêt-a-porté (ready-to-wear) line at his famous YSL Rive Gauche stores. Departing from haute couture and venturing into retail revolutionized access to designer clothing. (Haute couture means, literally, “high sewing.” Couturiers make custom, one-of-a-kind clothing for high-end clients.)
The Seattle exhibit was organized roughly in chronological order, making it easy to understand how Saint Laurent’s designs were influenced and evolved. The walls of the main room were covered with collection boards, with his sketches at the bottom of the page, fabric swatches above, and notes about models at the top. I loved his sketches. The line work is spare, fluid, and confident. The figures almost seem to move.
Click to enlarge these and appreciate the detail.
He even drew a comic strip called Schmuck and Pluck, although I don’t know the context. I wanted to stand there and painstakingly read it (having forgotten all the French I never knew), but the crowd pushed me on.
Enough of history—the stars of this party were the clothes.
This grouping took me right back to my college years in the 1970s, and my favorite military-inspired raincoat.
How about this appliqued velvet wedding dress? On the front: “Love me forever.” On the back: “Or never.”
In the mid-70s, Saint Laurent found inspiration in the Opera-Ballets Russes. I’d wear this graceful dress today.
A Romanian-styled dress featured beaded and embroidered motifs inspired by Henri Matisse, next to a gold-embroidered evening ensemble. Yves seemed to gaze up from the photo to chat with his model.
One of my favorite designs, but admittedly hard to sit in.
In 1966, Saint Laurent designed the first tuxedo for women, followed by the first pantsuit in 1967, changing forever the way women dress for work (and political debates). Here, Yves and his sister Michele pose next to some of his groundbreaking pantsuits.
I would have loved to wear this black silk evening gown back in my salad days … or now, if only I could fit into it. These clothes were tiny.
A tall spray of hat forms was the centerpiece of the next large room. Along the perimeter were examples of how these garments come to life. First, they’re sewn up in toile (pronounced twahl), a lightweight twill fabric; then they’re remade in the final fabrication. I’d never have the patience to sew a garment twice. I’d dive right into the expensive silk and ruin it. (Actually, I did make a muslin model of an important dress once. I wasn’t pleased with it, and scrapped the project entirely. I’ve messed up many others.) You can see some toile examples in the far corner.
More of my favorites:
These wool jersey Pop Art dresses impressed me with their construction. If you’ve ever tried to sew a smooth curved seam, you know it’s not easy. These seams were nearly invisible, and flat as a flitter. It looked like the colored pattern was printed on the fabric. The sparkly gold tights were a nice touch, too.
I’m not a big jewelry wearer … but wow!
The final hallway, called “From darkness to an explosion of color,” was artfully designed. Angled panels covered in fabric swatches progressed in prismatic order, shielding the upcoming dresses from view. Then, passing each set of panels, we were treated to groupings of dramatically lit mannequins. Had this been a live runway show, the models would be walking past us. Instead, we were walking past them.
Again, I marveled at the exquisite workmanship. Look at this silk coat, as light as a feather. The lapel is perfectly turned and precisely shaped. If you’ve ever seen very high-end clothes (I have only once, long ago in New York City) you’ve seen that they are hand made. Of course, it wasn’t Saint Laurent himself who wielded the needle, but my hat’s off to whoever worked this magic in silk the weight of cobweb.
Every fashion show ends with a bridal gown (or at least they used to—I don’t know if that’s still true, as I’ve never been to one), and this exhibit was no exception. I’d prefer the “Love me forever” version, if I had to pick.
And then it was over. I felt giddy, like I’d spent the day hob-nobbing with people way, way out of my class while wearing clothes I bought at Costco.
We walked, bedazzled, back to our car through the Seattle rain and wind. The spell was broken.
If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that Eric and I enjoy home design tours. We’ve done bungalow tours, modern home tours, and two years ago, a floating homes tour. Ever since then, I’ve eagerly looked forward to the next time we could come aboard Seattle’s iconic floating homes. I thought that because I’d already blogged about this tour, I’d skip writing about it this time … but it was such a lovely day and such an eclectic collection of homes, I can’t help myself.
The tour was sponsored by the Seattle Floating Homes Association. This year, we were asked not to take photos inside any of the homes, which I can understand. Still, I managed to sneak a couple, and I’ve borrowed a few from The Seattle Times. This post will be more of a look at the floating home community and lifestyle rather than interiors.
While 2014’s tour featured homes on Lake Union, this year’s tour focused on the Portage Bay community. Portage Bay is a small, partially manmade lake between large Lake Washington to the east and Lake Union to the west. It’s part of a water passage from fresh water Lake Washington, through the Montlake Cut, Portage Bay, Lake Union, the ship canal, and the Hiram S. Chittenden Locks to salt water Puget Sound. With all the boat traffic, the view is never boring. The University of Washington and the Seattle Yacht Club are just across the bay.
This is the view from many of the homes: the UW on the left, the Seattle Yacht Club on the right, with the Montlake Cut and bridge in the middle. Not bad.
You can rent these little battery-powered boats from The Electric Boat Company in Lake Union. They were all over the place! Why have we never done this?
The floating homes
The homes are incredibly eclectic. Anything goes as far as architecture. Apparently there are few covenants here limiting the imaginations of homeowners and designers. No boring rows of cookie-cutter, neutral-hued houses. That’s one reason floating home communities appeal to me. Everyone is free to express their own sense of style. (Although I did hear from a volunteer that her dock voted to outlaw vinyl siding.)
Each dock, which serves several homes, may operate as a co-op, or like a condo. For instance, homeowners might own the mud beneath their homes (but not the water, of course), while a homeowners association owns and maintains the dock and common areas.
Most homes come with boat moorage. What fun it would be to have a classic runabout like this tied up right outside your door!
Each home is numbered as a member of Seattle’s floating home community. This little red bungalow was full of Scandinavian art and décor.
Nearby was a small, new A-frame cabin. This house was nicely designed, but absolutely everything in it was gray or white, even the artwork. It felt cold inside. Oh, for some color!On the other hand, we toured a modern box that screamed with color—so much that I wouldn’t be able to stay inside for very long. I didn’t feel relaxed with the hard edges and all the color bombarding me … and I like color. I do love modern homes, but for the floating variety, I’m always drawn to the oldies.
I can see us living in this white bungalow with the red roof … and the matching white boat with red Bimini that the owner is inching into his slip.
I liked the casement windows in the house with the red umbrella. Many homeowners left their doors and windows open that day so that we looky-loos could peep into houses that weren’t on the tour.
Look at the interesting curve of this home’s ridgeline.
An impressive collection of Southwest and Native American art and artifacts crowded this Bohemian home. Wouldn’t you like to grab a book and a cup of tea and sink into that chair on a rainy day?
Our favorite home this tour was a cabin that looked small on the outside but lived big on the inside. I was impressed with the spacious kitchen and quirky details like vintage industrial sliding doors (the bedroom door’s glass window said “Employment Bureau”). And of course, the original pine beams.I looked up some floating real estate and was dismayed that the cheapest I could find for sale was over $500,000 (two years ago it was $399,000) … not our price point as we approach retirement. All the homes aren’t tour-worthy. We saw several that are begging for some TLC. With Seattle home prices soaring, it’s likely that even these fixers are out-of-range. Besides, I doubt any dock would allow as many pets as we have.
Some people have walk-in closets bigger than this barge, but a little imagination could make it into a cute getaway.
At the north end of Portage Bay, two bridges dominate the landscape: The massive Interstate 5 freeway, known as the Ship Canal Bridge, and the smaller, green University Bridge. As you approach the bridges, the volume ramps up considerably. Yet, this traffic noise doesn’t deter people from living near them. It’s just part of living at the lake.
The University Bridge performed for us several times. A long and short toot from a sailboat signals the bridge to open. The bridge operator toots back, the vehicle barriers come down, and the bridge gapes open to allow the sailboat to pass … many times per day. As part of the Floating Homes Tour, we even had the opportunity to visit the bridge tower.
Ivar’s Salmon House, the restaurant with the red umbrellas (just right of center) is where Eric took me for my birthday earlier this summer. Our table overlooked the ship canal—my favorite Seattle view.
Container gardening is the only way to go when you’re in a floating home. This resident has a magnificent bonsai garden.
Speaking of containers, this cheery purple house is surrounded by them.Larger homes have larger garden space. The first home we visited featured built-in planters and mature ornamental trees at its spacious end-of-dock location. Two impressive new homes shared this dock, with ample room between them—a different feeling than the crowded docks up the road … and a different price tag.
This lucky little guy does live there.
Common areas on shore are often made into community gardens. Here, a weeping willow and a hydrangea shelter a garden bench.
Or, maybe just an endless staircase. Imagine hauling your belongings in and out here. At least gravity would be in your favor coming home from the grocery store.
Thanks to the Seattle Floating Home Association homeowners for inviting us aboard, and for fueling my floating home fantasies for another two years. We’ll be back again in 2018!
Wasn’t it just a couple of weeks ago that I was admiring our blooming gardens and looking forward to a long stretch of approaching summer? Now, Labor Day weekend has come and gone, the roses are finishing their second bloom, hydrangeas are fading into autumn colors, and everything looks overblown and weedy. Why does summer pass so quickly, but winter drags its feet?
Eric’s paid summer off has ended and he’s seeking employment again, figuring he might as well work as long as I still have to. He had such an ambitious to-do list back in June, when summer loomed long and full of promise: prep and paint the house, finish the basement reorg, clear out the storage units, clear out the attic, replace the backyard fence.
He soon learned what a laborious process it is to prep an old house for paint. It’s taken much, much, much longer than he anticipated, and he says he could work months more just on prep. But we don’t have months more. The paint must go on while we have good weather. By October, we’ll be heading into storm season and outdoor painting will be impossible.
After weeks of pressure-washing, scraping, stripping, filling, and sanding, the trim was ready for primer. I don’t know how to spell the sound that 103-year-old wood makes when it sucks up primer; you’ll have to use your imagination.
One day I came home from work and stepped out onto the front porch. The underside of the eave looked uncharacteristically bright and clean. “I may have to give it a second coat,” said Eric. “Of primer?” I asked, puzzled. “No—that’s the trim color,” he replied. WHAAAAT?? It looked—oh no!—white! Well, not stark white … more like cream white, and definitely NOT what I had envisioned. The Valspar “Oatlands Subtle Taupe” was too subtle.
But, by now we had already consumed a $170 five-gallon bucket of the stuff, and I wasn’t about to ask Eric to repaint with another color. “I’ll learn to love it,” I declared. So far, I love it not, but it’s serviceable and it will stay. Before we committed to the color, I was vascillating. Should I go with something a little darker? My gut told me I should, but I decided to trust the test patch that I’d painted. So, Subtle Taupe it was. Damn—I should have listened to my gut. I am still trying to make peace with what I’m sure people will refer to as “white trim.” The fault is entirely mine … but it will be okay.
Weeks of weather too hot and breezy for painting followed, and Eric was limited as to what he could accomplish. Tick-tock, the summer clock counted down.
On another afternoon, Eric led me to our side porch paint testing lab and pointed to a patch of fresh olive green paint. It was the Mossy Aura from the five-gallon bucket … but it didn’t look like the sample I’d applied. It looked … kinda weak, more like split pea soup. No, no, this would never do! We were both disappointed. What, the paint crew at Lowe’s can’t mix the correct shade even with a computer??
We began to think that maybe we should go with Falcon’s Plume, the darker green, after all. I painted a test patch next to the Subtle Taupe trim. It would look beautiful, although the contrast between field and trim would be even greater than before—the opposite direction of where I wanted to go. Still, the combination would be stunning. And after all, hadn’t we initially decided to go bravely dark?
So back to Lowe’s went the Mossy Aura. The guy in the paint lab agreed that something wasn’t right. That’s when Eric discovered that when you return five gallons of $170 mistint paint, not only do you get your money back, you get the replacement five gallons for $99! Woo-hoo!
The next day when I came home from work, I found this:
Wow, that is … really dramatic! Keep in mind, you’re looking at a lot of competing colors here—not just our three new paint colors, but the current house colors and the colorful mums and chair pillows, too. Try to focus on the dark green, the taupe trim, and the dark red accent. Still … wow. It’s dramatic, yes … but, paradoxically, it makes the house disappear. The windows seem to float free. Well … okay, let’s do it!
Later that evening I blurted out, “I think it’s too dark.” Eric didn’t disagree. But could the paint mixer remix an accurate match of Mossy Aura? And if we need more than five gallons (which was likely), what would be the chances that we could get the same shade twice? It seemed that the perfectly matched Falcon’s Plume was the safer bet.
Lying in bed that night, I had a brilliant idea: The next day I would go back to Lowe’s, where surely our five gallons of Mossy Aura mistint would be on sale for a ridiculously low price. I’d buy the bucket, then we’d mix the Mossy Aura and the Falcon’s Plume and come up with the potentially perfect intermediate shade. Genius!
However, in the morning, the DIY gods punished my money-saving plan by killing our stove. I didn’t intend to go stove shopping that day, but the retail gods came to our rescue and put all the appliances at Lowe’s on sale. Score!
We snuck into the paint department, hoping the staff wouldn’t recognize Eric as the original owner of the Mossy Aura. Of course, they didn’t care and they weren’t paying a lick of attention to us. We snatched up our own paint for $30! In other words, we now had ten gallons of paint, which would have cost $340, for $130! But wait, there’s more! At the check out stand the cashier presented us with a coupon for a $30 rebate, which we can use on the Falcon’s Plume paint. Make that ten gallons of paint for $100.
That is, if the two mixed together resulted in the perfect shade. I’m sure some folks are thinking, “Why don’t they just paint the house, already!” Yes, maybe we are a little bit obsessive about our paint colors. In fact, we are the Goldilocks of pickiness. At the other end of the spectrum is my friend Cathy, who wrote about me in her blog:
She made a potentially boring topic about picking paint colors quite interesting to someone who let the next door neighbor pick the paint color for her house (I said “surprise me” and went on a trip).
Wait—paint color is potentially boring? Not endlessly fascinating? Our eyeballs are pretty calibrated when it comes to color. We want what we want.
Now, to test our custom blend. We carefully measured a 1:1 mixture of Mossy Aura and Falcon’s Plume, and applied a generous test patch to the wall. BINGO!! That’s our perfect color! We christened it “Falcon’s Aura.”
Every time I go out to look at it, I’m happy. Yes, I’m absolutely, positively certain. Did I mention we got ten gallons of paint for only $100?
Ever since I mentioned Andrew Wyeth’s painting, Christina’s World, in my last post, our 2007 visit to the Olson House has been banging around in my head. Much has been written about Andrew Wyeth and his relationship with the Olsons and their Maine farmhouse; this is my impression of our visit.
Andrew Wyeth (1917 – 2009) is renown for his watercolor and egg tempera paintings of rural American life. He met siblings Christina and Alvaro Olson, neighbors of his young wife-to-be, Betsy, in 1939. Wyeth became fascinated with their spare lives and the austere environment of their Cushing, Maine, saltwater farm. He took up a kind of summer residence there for many years, painting prolifically in an attic bedroom studio. The house became a National Historic Landmark in 2011. Now, the property is part of the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine, and is open to the public.
To the casual observer, Christina’s World (1948) is a painting of a thin young woman in a pink dress, sitting in a tawny pasture, turned (rather awkwardly) to look up the hill to her house. Christina was 55 when Wyeth painted her, using a composite of Christina herself and his wife as models. She had lost the use of her legs to an undiagnosed neuro-muscular disease, and didn’t use a wheelchair. Instead, she propelled herself across the floor or ground by using her arms. In this painting, she is returning to the house from visiting her parents’ graves in the family cemetery, some distance down the hill toward the bay.Wyeth created many other paintings and hundreds of sketches around the farm, some of which we recaptured, deliberately or often serendipitously, in photos during our visit.
When we arrived at the Olson House, a yellow school bus was parked in the back. We wandered about the grounds and waited for the noisy kids’ tour to leave before we entered. We hoped to be alone in this place, which felt almost holy. And we were alone, except for a docent or two. How often do you get to be alone when you explore a historic site? Better yet, we had free rein to crawl all over the entire house—all three stories—and the attached barn. No part of the house was cordoned off.
There is nothing I relish more than poking around an old house. The older and more decrepit, the better. The smells and the textures and the worn colors, and the sense that the lives of past residents have somehow seeped into the walls make the house a living thing.
Click on the images to enlarge.
The front hall floor is painted and stenciled with leaves. I don’t know how old this charming feature is, but it reminds me of the leaves our pets track into the kitchen in the fall. I even have a chair like this one at home.
Beyond the stairs is a large, light-filled parlor. The cracks in the plaster feel familiar.
The kitchen, with its monstrous cast iron stove, still holds a few pieces of furniture. The rest of the house is all but empty. Wyeth painted Christina sitting at her kitchen table in “Woodstove.”
Geraniums still grow in the kitchen window.
Beyond the kitchen is a two-room pantry, which houses the sink (a metal-lined wood box) and water pump and a mechanical roller for wringing out the wash. The remarkable turquoise door has been immortalized in “Christina and Alvaro.”
Through the turquoise door is the dim and shadowy barn, which is roped off, probably because it’s in unsafe condition. We stepped only a few feet inside. I struggled with the light setting on my camera, so I asked Eric to photograph this scene and its beautiful light (which he no doubt would have, anyway). It’s one of my favorites. I didn’t know until I researched this post that Wyeth had painted it, too.
Back in the house, up the stairs are Christina and Alvaro’s childhood bedrooms. The tattered wallpaper in Christina’s room has been left to deteriorate, its delicate, faded patterns mingling like a collage. Our visit was several years before we tackled our kitchen remodel. Little did I know that I’d be seeing a similar effect on my own walls in a few years.
In the attic, Eric captured this scene of the room in which Wyeth did much of his painting. It was from this window that Wyeth first noticed Christina crawling through the field back to the house.
On the other side of the attic is another bedroom in which Wyeth created his last painting of the Olson House after Christina and Alvaro’s deaths.
We walked down the hill and into the grassy field. A hay wagon sits approximately where Christina was depicted, although the view of the house has been obscured by trees in the intervening decades. (More likely, Wyeth simply eliminated all trees from the pared-down painted scene. He also stretched the perspective of Christina’s World to enhance the feeling of distance. As I walked further down the hill, the house disappeared over the horizon.) The Olson House website now warns that this area is private property and not to trespass, but the docents encouraged us to go. I wonder if it’s still possible to walk there. It felt like an important part of the experience.
Farther down the hill is the small family cemetery, with a view of Maple Juice Cove between the trees. Christina and Alvaro’s shared headstone is prominent. They died within a month of each other in the winter of 1967 – 1968. In 2009, Andrew Wyeth himself was buried there with them. The three of them seem to look up toward the house.
While researching this post, I learned that the Olson House has recently reopened after being closed for a year for exterior renovation and installation of a fire repression system. While I’m glad the house is being preserved and protected, I’m also very glad that we had the opportunity to enjoy it in its original, weathered state. This photo of the new pine exterior just doesn’t have the same atmospheric appeal.Thanks for indulging me in a little art history nostalgia. I hope you enjoyed the tour.