A week in the desert, part 2: Cosanti

More from our April trip to Arizona …

After our visit to Taliesin West, Eric and I headed to the Paradise Valley area of Scottsdale. I was excited to show Eric a place that had enchanted me years earlier. Cosanti, an Arizona Historic Site, is the home and studio of architect Paolo Soleri (1919 – 2013), who was once a student at Taliesin West. Soleri is best known for his experimental urban laboratory, Arcosanti, 60 miles north of Phoenix.

Cosanti logo inlaid in sidewalk.

The Cosanti logo inlaid in the sidewalk. Can you make it out? [photo: esotericsurvey.com]

Soleri coined the name Cosanti from two Italian words: cosa and anti, meaning “before things” or “against things,” depending on which source you consult.

Soleri and his wife, Colly, bought five acres in Paradise Valley in in the 1950s, long before suburbia hemmed them in. The property is now surround by fashionable homes. In 1970, Soleri began building Arcosanti as a prototype self-sustaining city with a densely settled, small footprint. Artisans at both Cosanti and Arcosanti produce and sell bronze and ceramic wind bells of Soleri’s design to fund their existence.

Stepping out of the car in an unassuming gravel parking lot, we walked under lacy olive trees to the entrance of the Cosanti compound. Suddenly, it’s as if we were on another planet or on a sci-fi stage set. The setting is a feast for the eyes, and a lot to take in.

Entry to gallery at Cosanti.

You’ve never seen anyplace like this! [photo: TripAdvisor]

As at Taliesin West, concrete is the construction material of choice (cheap!), but the effect is entirely different. Soleri experimented with using concrete to construct apses—quarter spheres—most decorated with strange and fanciful designs. The apses are positioned to take advantage of sun in the cooler winters, and shade in the blazing summers. Some of the structures are partly underground for additional insulation. These shelters are made by heaping up a big mound of earth, then pouring concrete into frames laid on top. When the concrete cures, dig out the earth, and you have an apse.

Admission is free, but we chose to pay for a guided tour that had just started.

Just ahead, down an allee overhung with olive trees and sculptures, was an apse filled with our tour group and bronze wind bells. I wished for a breeze, but the hot air was still. I wished I could have all the bells.

Concrete apse at Cosanti

Entrance to a strange land.

We entered the apse. I didn’t know where to look: up at the decorated ceiling or at the forest of wind bells that surrounded us. It felt like a small cathedral … a little weird, a little awe-inspiring, and entirely engrossing.

A bronze wind bell sculpture hangs from a ceiling at Cosanti.

A large bronze pendant dominates the ceiling.

Bronze wind bells at Cosanti.

Wind bells hang from the ceiling like flowering vines.

Bronze wind bells at Cosanti.

A door to more.

White and tabby cat at Cosanti.

The only cat I saw on our entire trip.

Tour guide under apse at Cosanti.

Our tour guide explains it all.

Larry, our tour guide, had worked at Cosanti for 20 years, so he had worked with Soleri directly. He explained Cosanti’s history and architecture, and Soleri’s vision for the wind bells.  Larry referred to himself as an artisan: a person who creates art using someone else’s design.

We moved to the next apse, this one full of ceramic wind bells. And a gorgeous red roof. This was the bell assembly area.

A red stained glass roof and pink bougainvillea under an apse at Cosanti

Red roof and pink bougainvillea.

Red stained glass roof in an apse at Cosanti.

Roof detail.

A chain of wind catchers hangs from the ceiling.

A chain of wind catchers.

Larry led us on to another large apse—the bronze foundry, which would have been off-limits to us had we not been on the tour. The apse looks like it’s made from wood because wood was used to create the form for the concrete. Just as at Taliesin West, white canvas panels provide protection from the sun and a pleasant, even light.

Bronze artisans set up for a pour at Cosanti.

Artisans set up sand bell molds for a pour.

Molds are made from a special sand that can withstand high temperatures without melting. The sand is surrounded by a thick metal jacket for stabilization. There’s a funnel-shaped hole at the top of each mold into which the bronze is poured.

The day was sweltering hot, but the men who poured the molten bronze had to wear heavy buckskin coats, chaps, gauntlet gloves, and face shields for safety. They deftly moved the crucible of 2200°F, glowing yellow bronze from mold to mold, pouring smoothly. I could tell they’d done this many times.

Two men dressed in protective leather pour molten bronze into molds.

Moving the crucible of molten bronze from mold to mold. Sand molds without metal jackets are on the right.

Watching the men pour the silky looking liquid bronze was fascinating in a scary sort of way.

Molten bronze pours from a crucible.

HOT!!

Within minutes, the new bells’ temperature had fallen to a mere 1000°F, and they could be removed from the molds without damage. Wearing heavy gloves, Larry whacked the sand from the casting, revealing a luminous golden bell. When the sand fell from the middle of the bell, it rang in a clear tone. (The sand is swept up and reused.)

The bells are beautiful when they emerge from the mold, but they darken to a gray color as they age. Soleri preferred to use an acid bath to add a verdigris color. Because the color varies, no two bells are the same.

A newly cast bronze wind bell looks gold.

Newly cast wind bell.

Two bronze bells at Cosanti

A newly cast bell (left) and a finished one after an acid bath.

It was beastly hot in the foundry apse, as you can imagine. I backed out under the olive trees, hoping for a breath of air. Behind us hung a large bronze sculpture belonging to the Goldwater family, returned for restoration. You can see its natural gray color … and an iconic Cosanti window behind it.

People stand in the shade of the foundry apse at Cosanti.

Our tour group bakes in the foundry apse.

A large bell assemblage awaits restoration at Cosanti.

A large bell assemblage awaits restoration.

I was a little relieved when we left the superheated foundry apse and ventured further into the compound. We walked through a tunnel whose small entrance and large exit whooshed the cooling air through … a Wright trick. Ahh …

Concrete structures at Cosanti.

A dinosaur’s ribcage? Soleri’s office is behind the portholes at right.

On the other side of the tunnel was an apse where ceramic bells are fired. Behind that was a curious half-underground building that served as living quarters for the apprentices onsite. See those steps that go down into the pit? They’re simply timbers that stick out of the wall. I took a break sitting on the hefty timber railing of the bridge.

Dormitory building with sunken center space at Cosanti.

Dormitory with a rustic Asian vibe. [photo: Tomiaki Tomura]

We exited the earth house through the door at the top of those timber stairs. In front of us loomed the enormous concrete roof over the swimming pool. This mammoth slab is supported on 12 utility poles. Like everything else at Cosanti, it’s been there since the late 1960s. This stuff holds up.

Thick concrete slab forms the roof over the swimming pool at Cosanti.

Wonder how much it weighs.

The wall of a small apse near the pool featured this poem.

A poem is inscribed on the apse wall at Cosanti.

A poem on the apse wall.

We had reached the end of the developed property, and the tour was over. Thanks, Larry! We returned to the gallery, where we’d started.

Siadewalk between concrete structures at Cosanti.

The sidewalk near the foundry apse.

Gallery and gift shop at Cosanti.

“Exit through the gift shop,” we always joke.

Inside the gallery and gift shop at Cosanti.

Inside the gallery and gift shop. [photo: TripAdvisor]

Bronze bell assemly at Cosanti.

A display at the gallery.

We knew we wouldn’t escape without choosing something special to bring home. Because I had been to Cosanti and Arcosanti before, I already had some goodies, so I wanted Eric to pick this one. He chose one of Cosanti’s Cause Bells, which donates part of its cost to a cause of our choosing (ours benefitted the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden). This bell has a varicolored polished finish, a little different than the acid-washed bells. It’ll look good in the modern house we’ll have some day.

A polished bronxe Cause Bell from Cosanti.

A polished bronze Cause Bell.

I’ve had my two Soleri bells, both from Arcosanti, for years. They’ve accumulated more patina as they’ve aged. These bells are LOUD. I used to have them hanging on the front porch until a summer storm blew through. The next morning there was a note from the city police that they caused a disturbance, and I had to take them down. They’ve been in a box for years, but I’m going to put them back up in my backyard garden … without the wind-catchers.

These ceramic tiles are from my first visit to Cosanti.

Blue and green coaster-sized ceramic tiles from Cosanti.

Coaster-sized tiles.

Something about this desert place, with its mysterious symbology and dusty, sunbaked concrete structures from the 60s speaks to the hippie artist in me, and it feels like home. (I was never a true hippie, and can’t really call myself an artist, but I hope to become one when I grow up.) I hope you enjoyed the tour and get to explore Cosanti (and Arcosanti) for yourself someday!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

 

 

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Backyard makeover, part 2

I’ve been eager to get to my big spring project—creating a new landscape for half of our backyard. Now that I’m retired, I have nothing better to do all day than “putter” in the garden … or work like a dawg, whichever way you want to look at it. If you don’t enjoy this kind of stuff, you call it yard work. But if you love it, you call it gardening. I love it, and I’m so happy that I get to do it every day, for as long as my 60-something bod can take it.

Here’s the plan … not necessarily to scale, but close.

Planting plan for backyard landscape.

It’s always wise to start with a plan–although most of this was in my head.

And here’s where I started. What a mess! Last fall while the new cedar fence was being installed, we erected a temporary wire fence to keep Diggety Duke out of this half of the yard. We left it up all winter to keep him from creating more craters in the mud. The fence also effectively kept us out of that half of the yard, and nature took over. I love Nature, but … she doesn’t always consult me on gardening plans.

Overgrown ferns and weeds in corner of backyard.

I had to start somewhere!

The old fence boards sat in a pile for six soggy months. Eric thought maybe he’d save some and make picture frames or boxes out of them. Yeah … maybe someday. He wisely decided to scrap the entire pile. We don’t have time for crafts, and we aren’t keeping what we don’t need. (We already have plenty of that!)

Pile of old fance borads.

The cats liked sitting on this board pile. They were the only ones who appreciated it.

I happily realized that I wouldn’t have to reseed the resulting bare patch because that portion will be paved with diamond turf pavers to provide an off-street parking spot (should we need one), a project that Eric began a few years ago. Ultimately, we will need to seed, but not right now.

Diamond turf pavers.

Pavers will create a secure parking spot.

I began in the far corner. The two sword ferns, which I inherited from my parents’ property, needed their annual trimming. The one next to the gate had grown so much that it interfered with the gate’s swing. It would have to be divided. I trimmed both ferns; the other one (behind the birch tree) had been damaged during the fence project, but these prehistoric plants are tough—it’ll come back just fine.

Overgrown ferns and weeds in corner of backyard.

I had to start somewhere!

 

Fern partially trimmed of old fronds.

Off with the old fronds, exposing spring fiddleheads.

Damaged sword fern with broken fronds.

This damaged fern looks sad but it will recover.

Corner of weedy garden with garden tools.

In the midst of weeding.

Then I weeded and leveled out the soil in the corner until it was below the bottom of the fence. Eric reset some basalt rocks to hold the upper tier of soil and created a short rock wall (to the right of the birch) to hold the new fern. I am lucky to have him to do the heavy lifting, otherwise I’d be in traction now.

Weeded and reshaped rockery.

Starting to look better …

I tried to separate that big ol’ fern myself, but I hadn’t eaten enough Wheaties. It was incredibly stubborn, but Eric finally persevered. I planted it in its new home and surrounded it with a nice cozy blankie of leaf mulch. We only lost a few fiddleheads in the process. Now I’ll have three sword ferns!

I transplanted a hellebore, our prized black trillium, an autumn fern, a tiny purple painted fern, and a variegated hosta to fill in the area. Not done yet … room for more plants!

Backyard corner with fence, rocks, and plants.

Now this space has potential!

Long-haired black cat lying in garden.

Lacy kept me company.

Next, I turned my attention to the corner at the house. I spent three days weeding this garden section. Eric mowed the shaggy lawn. (The fence boards were gone by then.)

Overgrown backyard with weeds and pile of fence boards.

I hate to admit our yard had gotten this bad.

We’d mulched this mostly-muddy garden with laceleaf maple leaves, which helped keep the weeds and mud at bay. The mulch also enriched our soil, which is great anyhow, but now it’s teeming with earthworms, who are wriggling mad when they’re exposed. That makes me happy. (That we have them … not that they’re mad.)

Earthworms in soil.

How many worms can you see? (I did not stage the worms!)

I roughly outlined the course of our dry-creekbed rain garden with a rope, then there was nothing to do but dig for several days. I don’t dare complain about digging in fluffy glacial soil with NO rocks … but I did have to take frequent breaks for my back. My biggest challenge was finding new homes for the hostas that survived the fence project. Several were in the way of the creekbed. On one of my morning walks, I found a beautiful little Japanese maple to be the star attraction of this section. (That sounds like I filched it out of someone’s yard, but I actually bought it from our nearby Ace Hardware.)

Dry creekbed rain garden being dug out of garden bed.

Seen from the bedroom window, the creekbed will follow the rope outline.

Acer shirasawanum 'Sensu'

Acer shirasawanum ‘Sensu’

I lined the trench with weedblock fabric, but I ran short of staples. It didn’t take long for the cats to mess with it.

Rain garden trench with weedblock fabric.

Almost ready to rock and roll!

This project is coming right along … it’s so much fun to go out to the “jobsite” and get dirty every day! Now, BRING ON THE ROCKS!!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

 

 

 

 

A week in the desert, part 1: Taliesin West

What better way to kick off retirement than a vacation? Or, as Eric pointed out, a vacation for him, but just a trip for me. A couple of our friends recently have moved to a retirement community near Tucson, AZ. We could hear the desert calling—as well as the offer of a few nights’ free lodging. Eric and I love the Southwest, so this was an easy decision.

We arrived in Phoenix and drove to Tucson via highways 60 and 79.

Our itinerary started in Phoenix because I wanted to show Eric a few places that I’d enjoyed in the past, but he’d never seen. Our first stop was Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and studio, Taliesin West. (We’ve visited Taliesin, his Wisconsin residence, twice.)

When I first visited Taliesin in the 1980s, it seemed far from town, in the middle of the desert. It’s still in the middle of the desert on nearly a square mile of land, but town has caught up. Scottsdale’s residential communities, swimming pools, and golf courses press against its borders. But when you’re there, you’re in another world.

The driveway wound uphill until Scottsdale faded from view … and we entered a world of rustic rock walls and signature red paint.

Stone and concrete sign at Taliesin West.

Angles, stone walls and palo verde trees.

Wright and his architectural apprentices began building Taliesin West in 1937. Using materials found on the site, they placed flat rock faces against plywood forms, then filled in with smaller rocks and concrete. (Can you imagine hauling these big rocks out of the desert with the sun beating down?) Our tour guide credited Wright for coining the terms “one-man rock,” “three-man rock,” etc. for measuring rock size, but I have not been able to corroborate that.

The logo is thought to have been influenced by a petrograph on the site that resembles clasped hands.

Clasped hands?

Our refrigerator magnet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We entered here, going down the stairs to the gift shop to buy our tickets.

Fountain at the entrance to Taliesin West.

Angles everywhere.

Our tour guide ushered us into Wright’s office, through a classically-Wright low-ceilinged entry and into a tall, airy workspace. The angled roof was made of white canvas, which diffused the harsh desert sun into a soft, bright, and shadowless light, perfect for drawing. And, we all looked ten years younger! (Note to self: New house gets a canvas roof.)

Next, we walked outside, past the drafting studio and large, triangular pool. The wing to the left in the following photos is the drafting studio. Its roof is also canvas, which floods the space with so much light that electric lights are not needed during the day. The architecture and materials echo the shape and texture of the McDowell Mountains.

Stairs and pool at Taliesin West

A glimpse of the stairs to the pool.

Pool and drafting studio at Taliesin West.

Looking back toward the drafting studio.

The main building seen from the lawn.

From the tip of the lawn’s triangle, we walked back to the main building and through a breezeway whose low ceiling created a welcome flow of air. Workers were busy restoring the roof.

Bronze sculpture by Heloise Crista at Taliesin West

Sculpture by Heloise Crista.

I took a shot of the dining room—looking serene and cool in royal blue—through the glass.

Dining room at Taliesin West

Blue-upholstered dining room ready for lunch.

We entered the living room, know as the Garden Room for its view into an enclosed garden. This room was air-conditioned, for which we were thankful. (You can bet it wasn’t air-conditioned back in Wright’s day. This is a comfort added for modern visitors.) The room featured the same white canvas roof panels and Wright’s famous origami chairs, which are made out of a single sheet of plywood, and are surprisingly comfy.

Garden room at Taliesin West

Garden room showing canvas ceiling.

Orange-upholstered origami chair at Taliesin West.

Wright’s origami chair.

Folding screen with layout of Taliesin West as pattern.

One of my favorite details: The layout of Taliesin West makes an attractive screen.

Round vase protrudes from hole in window glass.

When your pot is too wide for the windowsill. (Never mind the rain damage.)

I’ve been to Taliesin West three times since the 1980s, and each time the tour is different because additional parts of the site have been restored and others are closed for restoration. This time, Mrs. Wright’s bedroom was featured. It’s a tiny room with a single bed, but two walls are covered in this colorful Japanese print. She called them swans … I call them cranes.

Mrs. Wright's bedroom at Taliesin West, showing Japanese print wallpaper.

Mrs. Wright’s bedroom.

We walked through a mysterious passage and were told to listen for a fountain. We could not hear the fountain until we came upon it.

Stone-walled passage at Taliesin West.

Don’t you want to know where this leads?

Fountain courtyard at Taliesin West

We stepped out of the dark doorway into the fountain courtyard.

Finally, we walked through another courtyard filled with Heloise Crista’s sculptures and stood outside these intriguing doors. We were about to enter the cabaret, where Wright entertained the celebrities and influential people of his day.

Two of the sculptures by Heloise Crista

Double red doors with Chinese pulls

Entrance to the cabaret.

Beyond the doors, we entered a long passageway with views down into the cabaret. Wright really knew how to create a dramatic entrance. Inside the six-sided room, the acoustics were nearly perfect. We sat in the back and could hear our tour guide whisper.

Slanted cabaret hallway at Taliesin West

Do you feel off-kilter?

Cabaret theatre at Taliesin West.

Sitting in Wright’s cabaret. Entrance hallway on the left.

Detail of cabaret wall sconce.

Detail of cabaret wall sconce.

As we finished our tour, we exited through a long promenade topped with buttress-like wooden beams and lined with bougainvillea, adjacent to the drafting studio. (The tour does not include the drafting studio because it’s occupied by architectural graduate students. We could peek in, though.)

Passageway outside drafting studio at Taliesin West

Down a long walkway under wooden beams.

Steel beams create a breezeway next to the drafting studio at Taliesin West.

Another look at the promenade. The red doors open into the drafting studio. The white squares are shutters for the windows.

If we could have seen the drafting studio, it would have looked like this. Wonderful light! The traditional canvas roofs, which quickly rotted from sun exposure and had to be replaced occasionally, have been topped with protective Plexiglas for years.  We learned that the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation is now partnering with Sunbrella to replace the canvas with UV-resistant Sunbrella fabric.

Drafting studio interior [photo: Steven C. Price]

Students at the School of Architecture at Taliesin traditionally build shelters in the desert surrounding Taliesin West. (The Wrights lived in a desert tent before Taliesin West was built, and Wright famously proclaimed he wouldn’t ask the students to do anything he hadn’t done.) Here’s a fun read that describes some of these fanciful structures:
https://www.architecturaldigest.com/gallery/taliesin-west-desert-shelters

I’m sure this won’t be our last tour of Taliesin West. Maybe next time we’ll explore the desert shelters or take the dramatic nighttime tour. Can’t wait!

I’ll post more desert adventures in between updates about the home front. Lots happening there!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

Spring endings and beginnings

Everyone eagerly waits for spring to come, but I’ve never been as impatient as I’ve been this year. Not for the spring that began on March 20, but the one that began on March 23. That’s the day I retired.

I’ve been anticipating retirement for years, thinking about it daily, picking a date, sliding it to the right. Again. And again. When the large aerospace company I worked for decided to move some 3000 jobs to Arizona (including mine), the decision was made for me: It was time to stop sliding the date and just slide out the door.

Sailboat and Sunset Island, from Key West's Mallory Square

Time for me to sail off into the sunset …

Leaving people I’ve worked with for years, as well as the Midcentury office complex and its beautiful landscaping (cherry trees bursting into bloom) was bittersweet … but I have my own gardens to tend, literally and metaphorically. What intrigues me now is this: Who will I become in retirement? The door is wide open. All I have to do is walk through. And, after working my entire adult life, I must give myself permission not to have a job!

While I won’t predict who the retired me will become, I can tell you I’m stoked to tackle my list of projects and I have all day, every freakin’ day to work on them whenever I want! Or not! I’ll share them with you as they rise to the top.

First up—outdoors: Finish pruning the Japanese maples, and weed, weed, weed! I felt pretty good about the way I tamed the backyard sumo wrestler, so I was eager to go after the smaller laceleaf in the front yard. I found it much easier to prune because it hadn’t had so many years to take off on me.

Now I can actually see the branch structure on the sumo wrestler:

Laceleaf Japanese maple in winter

South side

Laceleaf Japanese maple in winter

East side

In the front yard triangle garden:

Northwest garde in winter

Getting things trimmed up for spring.

Northwest garden in winter

Winter colors

Laceleaf Japanese maple in winter

All shaped up

Boxer looks through hole in fence.

Duke peeks through the cat hole in the fence.

White dog paw sticks out under gate.

Whenever I walk by the gate, I see this.

Boxer lying on pavers behind gate.

View from the other side.

Tuxedo cat between porch slats.

Crosby keeps an eye on things from the side porch.

Next, relandscape the backyard! The poor yard took a beating when our new back fence was built last fall. The rains came as soon as the project started, and although the fence looked great, everything else ran straight downhill. Duke has been confined to the north half of the yard ever since, which has suffered from him doing his business and from his excavation hobby. I’m hoping that closer parental supervision will ease his digging compulsion.

Overgrown winter backyard

The backyard looks awful …

Japanese maple with red buds

But doesn’t this maple look great against the house?

Step one of the backyard renewal is reseeding the lawn. After the fence was built, we kept the temporary Duke fence up to thwart his digging in torn-up gardens. I covered Duke’s worn-out lawn with cedar chips to keep down the mud. It worked well … or so I thought. I began to rake it up and bag it … and the ammonia stench overwhelmed me. Duke has a habit of stepping a few feet off the deck and relieving himself next to the laceleaf Japanese maple. After absorbing pee all winter, can you imagine the odor? It actually burned my throat! It ranked right up there with my other least-favorite smell: mildew. In fact, dog pee ammonia makes mildew smell kinda fresh.

Removing bark chips from backyard.

Raking the nasty bark chips.

Abg full of bark chips in backyard

Bagged.

I persevered and got rid of the bark. I assumed that repeated doses of acidic urine meant the soil should be treated to be more neutral, but when I researched the problem, I found that it’s not the pH, but the constant doses of nitrogen that damage the grass. Most sites recommend flooding the area with water to dilute the nitrogen. Not a problem in the Northwest, where it rains from the middle of October until the 5th of July. (Sort of a joke, but, sadly, closer to the truth.)

Pitchfork and Garden Weasel

Pitchfork and Garden Weasel

The most natural solution is to cover the ground with an inch or so of compost, which loosens and enriches the compacted soil. We picked up a few bags of compost at the store, along with a brand new Garden Weasel cultivator. (I love the way it jingle-jangle-jingles like a pair of spurs.) I got right to work running the Weasel over the hard soil. Fluffing it up only released more of the noxious smell. Then I aerated the patch by stabbing it with our pitchfork. Over and over and over again. The grass couldn’t be more dead.

Soil prepared for compost dressing

Forked and weaseled, ready for compost.

I was worn out by that point, but it was time to spread the compost, which turned out to be the easiest part of the process. Compost has its own pungent odor, but anything’s an improvement over ammonia. (Compost is made from decayed plant matter—it isn’t steer manure.)

Tuxedo cat sprays on plant

Crosby inspects and signs off on my work.

The next day, I started to cough. Despite taking allergy meds, I’m still bothered by seasonal allergies. I already had my usual spring sore throat. But the upper-respiratory cough grew rapidly worse, and I became paranoid. I looked up ammonia poisoning and found that breathing ammonia causes pulmonary edema. Eric pointed out that had I done such a job at work (unlikely as that seems for a technical writer), I would have had to wear a respirator. For two days I worried as the cough worsened. I hadn’t even been in a confined space—I was out in the backyard, in the clean urban air! Don’t worry, though … the cough was only the beginning of a monstrous cold. Nevertheless, if I ever clean up ammonia again, I’ll wear a respirator.

A few days later I re-raked the area, liberally tossed on the grass seed, and waited for rain. Now we’re just waiting for the grass to sprout. And I’m still trying to kick the nasty cold.

Seeded lawn patch

And … seeded!

For some relief, my next post will take us far away from our dreary Pacific Northwest spring.

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

 

 

 

The sumo wrestler

In a recent Sunday edition of Pacific NW Magazine (part of The Seattle Times), local master gardener Ciscoe Morris  wrote a column about pruning laceleaf Japanese maples. I leapt on this article because I am desperate to learn how to properly prune a laceleaf. I’ve tried before with iffy results, and I simply gave up the past few years. We procrastinators excel at deferred maintenance.

If you don’t prune laceleafs, Ciscoe cautions, they grow into oversized blobs that look like sumo wrestlers. Say what? I’ve never pictured my laceleaf this way:

Sumo wrestler with white costume

I’ll never look at my lace leaf the same way again.

But you know what? It’s bigger than that guy!

Large Japanese laceleaf maple in winter

Bigger than a sumo wrestler!

From another angle …

Boxer stands next to Japanese laceleaf maple in winter

Duke is dwarfed by the laceleaf. (Love the textures in this photo!)

Close up, this tree is an impenetrable thicket of branches. In summer, the tree’s dense canopy forms The Clubhouse, exclusive seasonal hangout of our eight cats and their neighborhood buddies. I know the cats won’t be happy if their privacy is breached or the rain is let in, but I’d like to be able to admire the tree’s branch structure as if it were a specimen in a park. Like this one at the Seattle Flower and Garden Show:

Large Japanese maple in winter.

What a beauty!

Where do I start? “Simply clean out the unsightly dead branches and twigs,” advises Ciscoe. Okay … there are approximately 397,564 dead twigs. I’d already raked some of the thatch of dead leaves out of the branches, but there’s plenty more.

First task: Buy a new, sharp pair of pruners at our neighborhood Ace Hardware. I need all the help I can get because my grip strength isn’t what it used to be.

Fiskars pruning shears

These pruners promise three times more cutting power.

Closeup of laceleaf maple in winter

Looking through the branches to the mossy ground.

I tentatively started at the portion that borders the corner of the deck, where the tree needs to be pruned back and shaped so that it doesn’t take over the space occupied by our patio table. I felt confused by the wild tangle of branches that curved every which way.

A yellow line traces a branch in a Japanese maple

This branch loops around back toward its source.

Here’s one of the small branches that doubled back on itself:

Curved Japanese maple branch.

A branch that changed its mind.

 

Sumo wreslters in awkward position.

Ciscoe, I get it now.

After an hour of snipping, this is what I wound up with. It’s a little more open … er, bare … than I’d intended. But, it will look a lot less bare when it leafs out. Where is the sinuous trunk that I’m supposed to be exposing? This tree has the horticultural equivalent of thick ankles.

Pruned section of Japanese laceleaf maple

The once-secret entry to the Clubhouse is now wide open.

To be fair, I bought the laceleaf 30-some years ago as an injured 5-gallon sapling on sale. Its top looked like it had been whacked, and the branches have not grown the way I expect a laceleaf would look. It’s a little quirky, but I think it’s safe to say it has flourished. It is the focal point of the backyard.

Japanese laceleaf with odd branching pattern.

A very confused top branching pattern.

Crosby and Tara came by to help. All of our cats love gardening.

Tuxedo cat on top of Japanese laceleaf maple

Crosby goes sumo surfin’.

Tabby cat in a winter garden with dragon statue

Tara and Carmen Dragon watch from nearby.

Interlude: Four weeks of rain

Back at it on February 10! Finally, a dry weekend. I moved to the garage-side of the maple because I could sit in the sun. I decided to concentrate on just those dead twigs. The long tendril branches have bilateral buds that produce more branches. Often, it’s the middle branch that dies. By removing the dead end, I am effectively pruning one-third of the plant … but I need to remove more than the “split ends.”

Pruning guidelines suggest making larger but fewer cuts, the idea being to create gaps between branches for a layered look. I need to work on that.

Getting cold, I began to grab at the masses of dead branches in the tree’s undercoat, and many of them simply snapped off in my hands. I wondered if this was hurting the tree, but no—it’s actually recommended! So much deadwood came out that the east side soon looked like this after just a few pruning cuts. I was pleased that its density sort of matches the inner corner.

Japanese maple being pruned.

The east side opened up.

Tabby cat under a Japanese maple.

Tara came by to oil a branch.

The next day, the icy wind made me regret venturing outside. I snapped dead branches off as fast as I could, but I just couldn’t handle the cold. (While our Seattle winter is nothing compared to the east coast, I am a weather wimp for both hot and cold extremes. Eric claims I have a two-degree comfort range.) Even though I didn’t use the pruners much, the tree is becoming diaphanous.

Japanese aceleaf maple in midst of pruning.

Becoming more transparent!

I’m wondering when I’ll get my next opportunity to spend time outside without getting soaked or frozen. It had better be soon, because Tara and I want to practice making bigger cuts and creating layers before the leaves pop out. We want to turn this sumo wrestler into a lacy lady.

I’ll have to get back to you on this.

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

5 years later: the kitchen project revisited

When last October rolled around, I thought about how I’d been writing this blog for four–oops, five years. Sporadically, sometimes. (I even began this post way back then.) I started blogging when Eric and I decided to renovate our kitchen. Remember that? Ever wonder how the kitchen’s holding up after five years of use? No? Well, you’re about to find out.

“If there’s anything you don’t want the world to know about in our kitchen,” I warned Eric, “fix it now, or it’ll be in the blog.” My threat elicited no response. So here we go, warts and all.

This kitchen has been lived in a lot. Forty individual feet (eight cats, one dog, and two humans) tramp through it many times daily, in all weather. We cook a lot. The critters are messy eaters. We accumulate too much stuff. We fail to put things away. We are not perfect, and we are not minimalists. This is real life.

Old kitchen needs remodel.

This is where we started in 2012.

Remodeled bungalow kitchen

This is what we have today.

After five years, what’s working well?

Quartz countertops. Best decision I made on the whole project! They are perfect and indestructible. Easy to clean, hard to hurt. And when they’re not clean, the subtly mottled black color of Caesarstone “Raven” hides a multitude of sins.

closeup of quartz counter

Caesarstone quartz in Raven, just after installation.

Linoleum flooring. Real linoleum, not vinyl! Made of natural, fully biodegradable materials. Soft and comfy underfoot. It’s exactly the right look for this Craftsman bungalow. And the classic gray marbled pattern hides, yes, a multitude of sins. The only problem we’ve encountered was our own fault: For a long time, Duke had a rubber placemat under his food and water dishes to catch the inevitable mess. But Duke drinks like a moose drooling in the swamp. Water collected under the mat, causing the linoleum to discolor and roughen. Do not let water sit around on linoleum!

Boxer and cat on new linoleum

We looked so young back then! And so did the cabinets.

Stains from water on linoleum

The linoleum has been stained and damaged by water.

The glass-front cabinets. Eric built new face frames and glass doors for this original feature, and we splurged on wavy “antique” glass. The original doors were wood. The original shelves (these are actually shelves with doors on them, not typical cabinet boxes) are so sturdy that they hold all of my super-heavy Fiestaware and our Seattle-sized coffee mug collection (of which we regularly use maybe eight).

finished counters

We splurged on wavy glass. No backsplash at this point.

White Shaker cabinets and black quartz counters

The same view today.

The original pantry cabinet. I didn’t do much other than clean, strip, and paint Old Mother Hubbard, who holds much of our food and cooking supplies. Like the glass cabinets, I’m happy we preserved this original feature, which, back in the day, was a cold storage cabinet, vented to the outside.

Removing paint from old cabinet door.

Refinishing the tall pantry door.

Tall pantry cabinet in Craftsman bunglaow kitchen.

Old Mother Hubbard today.

Eric’s wonderful cabinets. Eric hand-crafted all of the other cabinets for the kitchen. We learned a lot about cabinetmaking, finishes, paints, hardware choices, and how dang long it takes to DIY your own kitchen. We had professional help with wiring, plumbing, and flooring, but the rest we did ourselves. The only design change I’d make would be to combine the two drawers over the pet food bins into one wide drawer. I’d gain about six inches of space. It never occurred to me in the design stage.

The base cabinets as they were being built.

The cabinet hardware. I wanted to keep the look of the old-fashioned oval spring latches that were on the original upper cabinets. I ordered new ones in brushed nickel, but I didn’t know if they’d last. I’m happy to say, they’re holding up just fine.

Brushed nickel oval cabinet latches

Tougher than I thought!

What didn’t work so well?

Sadly, my vintage sink. I love this sink, saved from the original kitchen … or at least from the 1940s-version kitchen. We had it refinished by Miracle Method, but one guy was training a new guy, and I think they did an inferior job. The moment the warrantee expired, chips began forming, and by now the finish in the bowl is shot. We’ve since learned that some other refinishers don’t guarantee kitchen sinks because they take such a beating. Eric read that refinished kitchen sinks typically last abut five years before they need refinishing. I’ll have this one refinished again, because the alternative—a 30-inch farmhouse sink—would require recutting or replacing the quartz counter and possibly rebuilding the base cabinet. I don’t want to go there. Besides, I really, really love this old sink with its built-in drainboards!

refinished old sink installed

The pristine refinished sink perched on temporary counters.

Refinished sink with chips.

The finish in the bowl is chipping badly.

The bridge faucet. Oh, it works just fine, and I like its slightly steampunk aire, but it’s hard to clean around, and I wish I had a sprayer. If I had it to do over, I’d get one of those big, industrial-looking gooseneck jobs. The caulking is discolored and shrunken, and needs to be replaced already.

brushed nickel bridge faucet

So shiny!

Bridge faucet on antique sink.

Even after a beauty treatment of Soft Scrub and CLR, the stains remain.

Lazy Susan. Susan is so lazy, she needs to be fired. The revolving shelves in this corner base cabinet are attached to a central pole. They haven’t held up under the moderate (I think) weight of the contents. The support pole dislodged at the top and, because the shelves are attached to the door, the whole unit looks cockeyed. Eric wants to remove the inner lazy Susan unit and install two L-shaped shelves that would each support a separate revolving shelf. That means building a new double-hinged door that will open out instead of disappear into the unit as it turns. Rebuilding the innards of an existing corner cabinet sounds awfully awkward to me, but it must be done, because Susan has become a recalcitrant pain in the butt.

Lazy Susan cabinet

Back when Susan was just lazy … now she’s broken.

The wonky cabinet between the stove and fridge still stands, although it’s been missing a rail for some months. Every time I pulled out the towel drawer, the damned thing fell out, and I tossed it in the trash the thousandth time it clattered to the floor. Now the bank of drawers looks gap-toothed. This cabinet warped as it was being constructed, and needs to be completely replaced. Eric didn’t attach it  to the wall in case we bought a wider refrigerator  (our new fridge is the same width). I really need its storage space, so we’re considering replacing the interior with a Rev-a-Shelf unit. That way, Eric would only need to build a new carcass and one front panel—much simpler than constructing all of those drawers. One of these days …

Warped stack of drawers

Functional, but compromised.

The Frigidaire appliances. Won’t buy that brand again! The stove didn’t last more than a few years, and the fridge not much longer. They’ve been replaced with Samsung units that I like much better.

The old pair.

SamSung French door fridge and electric stove.

New Samsung pair.

So, what’s next?

Someday, I hope this project will be a wrap. Maybe 2018 is our year. In addition to Eric needing to reconfigure a couple of cabinets, I still need to paint the doors and window trim. This summer … I promise!

If we get ambitious, we’ll even start Phase 2. We’ll build cabinets to fit on top of the shelf behind the stove and fridge. (The shelf is the posterior of the built-in buffet in the dining room.) This is why we pounced on the glass doors that came out of our neighbor’s house when it flipped. They’re the perfect size! These cabinets will be hard to access, but they’ll be great for seldom-used items or for display. You can never have too much storage.

Finally, can you guess our number-one favorite kitchen item? The island, of course!

Old boxer sleeping on kitchen floor.

Duke, our kitchen island.

Have a fabulous, productive 2018, everyone!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

 

 

Season’s Greetings from OB2C!

Craftsman bungalow on a snowy night

A Bungalow Christmas Eve

Hi, everyone in blogland! We’re enjoying a rare White Christmas here in the Pacific Northwest! Eric and I took a walk down the street to enjoy the crunchy, squeaky snow. I hope you are having a peaceful, magical holiday season, doing all the things you love best. See you in the new year!

D’Arcy and Eric
Our Bungalow’s 2nd Century

Hire a contractor? What a concept!

If you’ve read much of this blog, you know that Eric and I see home maintenance and improvement through DIY glasses. When we take on a project, hiring someone to do it never seems to cross our minds (unless it’s roofing, plumbing, or wiring—then you should always hire someone you can sue). But, when it came to replacing our backyard fence, we quickly decided to hire it out. I’m so glad we did! If we’d taken it on ourselves, we’d still be working on it. What made us hire a pro? Maybe we’re older and wiser … or maybe we’re just older. Even so, it turned out to be a lot of work for us, too.

Old, rotting cedar fence

Vintage fencing.

The old fence dates back to when I bought the house in 1984. My then-boyfriend built it for me, and did a credible job. Fast forward 33 years and the cedar fence is falling down like a pair of old socks, desperately grasping onto bungee cords and anything it can lean on for support. We decided to do the demolition ourselves. “It’s so wobbly, we’ll be able to just kick it down,” said Eric. Goes to show how wrong you can be …

A word of explanation about our sorry-looking backyard. Usually it looks nice, but we have had challenges this summer. Thanks to Duke’s excavation hobby, the gardens began to look more like craters of the moon. Then he began digging pits in the grass. Knowing we would be tearing things up along the fence line, we kinda quit taking care of this end of the yard. I like to think of it as next spring’s landscaping opportunity.

Backyard with trees, grass, and old wood fence

The dilapidated backyard with its dilapidated fence.

Backyard with long grass and old wood fence.

This does not look like a gardener’s backyard.

Rotting cedar fence boards

Something’s rotten …

Eric called a highly rated fence company in June, and was told we’d be scheduled for two consecutive Fridays in late September. It was hard to be patient, but good contractors are busy people. The week before our construction date, we set to work removing the old fence. Our first task was to build a temporary fence to contain Diggety Duke. We bought a roll of welded wire fencing and a bunch of steel poles, et voila.

20170917_110649_resized_1

Installing the Duke fence.

20170917_121223_resized

Duke proof!

Eric was right about the fence boards, anyway. They popped right off, as eager to retire as I am. We stacked them in a neat heap in the yard, where they remain for now, killing the grass beneath. We will pull the nails and store them elsewhere. They’re essentially barnwood, and will be great for picture frames and craft projects. Those that are too far gone will be used for kindling. The pile will not go to waste.

The new, wide-open view to the alley made us feel so exposed. I was a little surprised to see how much traffic went up and down the alley every day. We were eager to regain our privacy.

Demolishing an old wooden fence.

The panels all but fell off.

Old wooden fence coming down.

A new, wide open view.

The fun part was over. We began to dig out the posts, which we found to be set in generous, irregularly shaped chunks of concrete that resisted removal. Did I mention that the rain had come? We’d just survived the driest summer on record, but the instant we went outside to demolish the fence, that was enough to make rain. Not an unpleasant downpour, just a nice, gentle, Pacific Northwest drizzle, which turned our much-trampled fence line and backyard to a sea of mud.

We had the brief, bright idea of simply sawing off the stubborn fence posts and burying the evidence, but even though we were moving the fence line slightly, we found that they would still be in the way … darn it.

Concrete holds a fence post in the ground.

The concrete blob.

Under the fence line was a course of concrete block, which I had installed to build up a planting berm in the corner of the yard. On the alley side was a platform of concrete pavers that Eric had put down to form a level spot for our garbage and recycling containers. It wasn’t too hard to dig these out and carry them to an out-of-the-way spot in the backyard. They’ll be used again. We weren’t excited to discover two additional courses of the same under the first. More digging.

Black and white cat looks at a muddy fence project.

Crosby inspects our demolition progress.

Concrete pavers in muddy yard.

Everywhere I dug, I unearthed more concrete blocks and pavers.

All the while, poor Duke sat in the rain behind his fence, gloomily watching our progress and wondering why humans scold dogs for digging, yet apparently humans are allowed to dig to their hearts’ content. I finally had to put him inside—I couldn’t take his reproachful, hurt expression.

Boxer dog sits sadly behind wire fence.

Aww, Dukey …

After a full weekend of soggy, muddy demolition, we waited excitedly for Friday to come. I worked at home that day so I could watch the crew’s progress. They would be setting posts the first day, and returning a week later to install the fence panels. I don’t have a single photo of the crew at work. I must have been too busy lurking behind the curtains, watching them—no, no, busy working, yes, that’s what it was—to take pictures.

Eric didn’t take any construction photos, either. He must have been working, too.

But wow, here’s the finished product! The crew worked amazingly fast. We’re so, so pleased with the results. The fence now extends between the houses almost to the front yard. We’ll use the narrow section along the side of the house, which is partitioned off with lockable gates, to store things like our long ladders and firewood. It’s already covered in gravel, although it could use more.

In place of our sagging gate, we now have an eight-foot gate on sturdy 4 x 6 posts. It doesn’t sag a bit.

Corner view of new cedar fence.

I like how the panels step down to follow the grade.

New cedar fence showing eight-foot gate.

The gate on the alley.

I’ll wait until next spring to show you pics from inside the backyard. We have a ton of landscaping work to do … but it’ll be raining for the next six months (kidding/not kidding).

The particulars

125 feet of 6-ft cedar fence. Two walk gates, one 8-ft drive gate. $4600. Contractor: Western Pacific Fence, Auburn, WA.

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

The garage catches up

Last summer, you might recall, we painted the exterior of the house.  We ran out of summer before we could finish some of the details, like painting our garage (if an entire building can be considered a detail). So naturally, we waited until we were pressing up against rainy season 2017 to start this painting project. But, look at this little bitty garage! It’s only Model T size, so it can’t take long to throw a coat of paint on it, now, can it? Let’s see how many side projects can derail our progress.

100 year old garage with original carriage doors

Our Model T garage

1.  Power wash.

Washing is really just a starting point for any paint job, not a side project, but it takes time and effort, so it’s on this list. Bonus—it’s always fun to play with water when the weather’s hot. Eric attacked the alley side first, which was caked with years of dust.

Man pressure washes old garage

Playing with water on a hot day

Damaged shingle siding on pressure washed garage

After pressure washing. The corner shingles have been crunched, probably hit by the garbage truck.

2. Hack back the Japanese garden.

Meanwhile, things were out of control on the garden side of the garage. We needed to be able to throw a tarp over the plants to protect them from paint spray, but first we had to be able to get to the plants. We didn’t do much garden maintenance this summer, and it shows. I’ll use my tweaky back as my excuse, and—oh yeah—the un-Seattle-like hot weather. It’s no fun gardening in 90+ degree  sun. Yep, old war horse excuses trotted out one more time.

Overgrown small Japanese garden.

An overgrown mess.

Black and white cat meows as he lies in a garden.

Checkers says, “Don’t mess with my secret sleeping spot!”

Small, old garage waiting for paint

Garden side before paint

As I trimmed and weeded my way down the narrow garden path, I discovered that Digger O’Dell* (as my mom would have called Duke) had extended his excavation hobby to the Japanese garden, which I had feared was inevitable. I found a pit at the corner of the fence, and a trough all along the side of the garage foundation. Eighty-three-pound Duke, with his dig-or-be-damned determination, managed to wedge himself behind the spikey blue Atlas cedar and the bushy spirea, a tight fit even for a cat. Look what he did to my black mondo grass!

I’m trying to save some of it in water until I can replant.

3.  Install a drain pipe along the alley.

Eric plans to bury a drain pipe next to the garage to handle winter runoff from the alley. While digging the trench, he dug up hundreds of day lily bulbs, which we gave away to neighbors. I don’t know why he didn’t subcontract with Duke to do this work.

Looking down the alley side of the garage.

Looking down the alley side of the garage where the drain pipe will go.

Dug-up day lilies laying on a board

Day lilies, anyone?

4.  Renovate the greenhouse.

Then, there’s our little greenhouse, which was built 20 years ago from salvaged windows. It was desperate for attention. The window glazing was falling out, the shingle siding was rotting, and the fiberglass wiggle board roof was oxidized, brittle, and leaking. We couldn’t very well paint the garage without upgrading the greenhouse! That’s where this project really exploded: Eric is applying narrow T-1-11 plywood siding … nothing fancy, but it’ll keep the wasps and rain out. Also, it’s getting a new roof of UV-resistant polycarbonate panels, which we saw on the catio tour this summer. I’ll reglaze the windows and we’ll paint the greenhouse to match the house. This will be the old windows’ first experience with paint. They’re due.

Run-down greenhouse

Sad!

Greenhouse made of salvaged wood windows

Such potential!

Brittle fiberglass roof on greenhouse.

Crispy roof.

Greenhouse with blue tarp on roof.

Blue tarp. Yep, we’re those people.

Before he could begin installing the new greenhouse roof, Eric painted the garage gable, which would be inaccessible once the new roof went on. Our weather was still summer-hot.

Man stands on ladder in roofless greenhouse and paints a wall.

Painting the gable.

5. Straighten up the saggy garage door.

Yes, the garage leans a little. So will you when you are 104 years old. The left door, in particular, is sagging. (We don’t park in the garage. We use it as storage for … stuff.)

100 year old garage with original carriage doors that sag.

A little crooked, but cute as ever.

Eric filled screw holes and moved the top hinge on the left door back up to its original position so it could get a better bite. This helped raise the door a tiny bit, but not enough. Eric has other methods up his sleeve for later.

I kept running into green paint on the garage. The house would have turned green in the 1940s or 50s when the asbestos siding was applied (as did the house next door, which remained green into the mid-90s), because the asbestos tiles were originally green. The garage didn’t get the asbestos siding treatment and has always been sided in the original shingles.

Garage door hinge replaced in original postion

Underneath–green?

How did we do?

We’re still working on it! We’re not finished (with anything), but we’ve made lots of progress, and the autumn rain has held off—so far—no guarantees about tomorrow. Here are some before-and-afters.

Painting the garage doors was my project. It seemed to take forever, and it’s still not quite finished. The center strip needs replacing.

100 year old garage with original carriage doors that sag.

Before

Repainted 1913 garage.

After

The greenhouse roof. Nearly finished, but it still needs blocking between the rafters, trimming, and a gutter.

Brittle fiberglass roof on greenhouse.

Before.

Greenhouse with new polycarbonate roof

After. The new roof even makes the sun shine!

Greenhouse siding. Since the “after” shot, I’ve primed and pre-painted the siding panels, and they’re ready to be installed. Next will be trim and reglazing those windows. We haven’t started the door end yet.

Before.

Boxer lies in front of greenhouse under renovation.

Much has been done since this shot, but Duke looks too cute not to include it!

The garden side of the garage. Both the garden and the garage look better. I really like how the plants look against the new color.

Small, old garage waiting for paint

Before

1913 garage with new paint

After

I got on a roll and weeded and trimmed up the whole garden.

The alley side of the garage. So much better!

100 year old garage with original carriage doors

Before.

Newly painted 1913 garage

After.

Wait—what’s that, just past the greenhouse? My next post, that’s what! Stay tuned …

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
*Digger O’Dell was the “friendly undertaker” in the 1940s radio show, The Life of Riley.

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

Just in time for fall, another screen door

“Little and often make much.”

So says a Chinese fortune paper that I keep on my desk at work. This summer, I have done as little as I can, as often as possible, and I can’t figure out why I haven’t accomplished much! Maybe my pace will pick up once our scorching-hot summer is over.

One of my summer projects was to paint the back screen door, which still matched the previous color scheme. How hard can that be?

Half the summer slipped by before I laid the door out for rejuvenation in my side-porch paint lab. I had barely gotten busy sanding its grubby surface when I noticed that the glue joint above the handle had separated. We decided that the old door had come to the end of its useful life. Time for a fresh start.

At Lowe’s we chose a new pine screen door in the same style as the old one. This time, though, Eric wanted to install a real dog door instead of cutting a flap of screen fabric. We need to keep the fur kids in, yet still ventilate the house. Additionally, he wanted to upgrade the standard screen fabric to pet screen, which is a strong, coarser, vinyl-coated polyester mesh that resists claws. (I highly recommend it.)

Now—watch as a seemingly simple project (paint a freakin’ door!) balloons into a whole summer’s worth of mini projects!

On our old door, the screen was attached with a spline in a groove, making the screen impossible to removable without ruining it. The new door features a routered channel that holds a metal frame, into which the screen and spline is inserted. The whole framework and screen can be removed for painting the door, then reinstalled with screws. Eric says this system has been around for a long time … but what do I know? I was just glad I wouldn’t have to tape the screens when I painted. I hate taping!

Wood screen door without the screen

The door with the metal frame and screen removed.

In his basement shop, Eric customized the door to hold a large dog door, the same kind we have in the back door. He filled the space above the dog door with wood. (In the photos below, the wood door is laying on a plywood surface, making it hard to see details.)

He also had to buy new, larger metal framing for the screen, because the frame that came with the door was too small to accept the heavier pet screen fabric. The larger frame required routering a wider channel in the door. All that gluing, screwing, and tattooing took longer than I’d hoped, but finally our new, custom door made its way back upstairs to the paint lab.

My turn. Notice, I seldom paint alone. If Eric took a long time to customize the door, I probably took just as long to finish painting. I could only do one coat per day, and I didn’t paint every day.

We pin the door back against the house when it’s not in use because there’s only a top step to stand on—no landing and no place to get out of the way of an outward-opening door. When it’s pinned back, the inside of the door is visible from the street, so I painted it the trim color to help it blend with the trim around the back porch window. Initially I thought to paint it the gray-green siding color, but people only see the top of the door from the street, and the pale taupe looks better from the inside when the door’s closed.

At last, the door was cured and ready to be fitted out with the new screen and pet door. Eric did the work on the kitchen floor.

Finally—ready to install! But wait—let’s do some additional fiddling around. When Eric removed the old door, we found that the hinges had been screwed into a piece of shim inside the door jamb. No wonder it never fit right. Eric cut a new trim piece for the door jamb, and I, of course, painted it. Now we could proceed with measuring and jiggling it around until it fit just so, at the right height and depth … are we done yet? No!

To make the door fit flush with the exterior door frame, Eric added some clever bumpers. Can you tell what these are really for? (Hint: They are not rubber baby buggy bumpers.) If you can’t figure it out, go lift up your toilet seat …

Rubber bumper used to dampen screen door slam.

The door always closes quietly.

Door with hook and eye fastener

Interior hardware

Boxer stands before pet door

Duke quivers with excitement as Eric encourages him to try his new door.

View of plants outside screen door

The leafy view from inside.

Boxer peers under wooden gate

What people see from the sidewalk. Go ahead–stick your foot under the gate!

We started this easy project on July 7. We hung the screen door on August 28 … our normal, do-little-often pace. (But we’ve had a hot, fun summer!) Duke is still figuring out how to heft his hind legs through the new door, which is a higher step than the other door. Some of the cats are confused that the screen panel isn’t the way in anymore. Eric and I are on to our next project. We’ll all figure it out …

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it