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

Advertisements

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

Seattle Catio Tour!

I know some of my readers have been waiting for this tour, so LET’S GO!

Black and white cat peeks through Japanese forest grass

Cats want to be outdoors!

Catios—enclosures that allow cats to safely enjoy the outdoors—are becoming wildly popular. So much so that a local animal welfare organization, PAWS, along with Catio Spaces, sponsored a tour of Seattle-area catios. We don’t have a catio at the bungalow (Duke’s dog door gives the cats in/out access), but we have the purrfect place to build one outside our breakfast room windows, if we wish. When we build the Whidbey Island house, a catio will be a necessity because we’ll be near a busy road. Not to mention the coyotes and eagles that roam the area.

So, on a hot Saturday afternoon, Eric and I cranked up our car’s AC and crisscrossed Seattle on a catio tour. What better way to spend a gorgeous summer day?

Our first stop: Magnolia Manor.

Catio under magnolia tree

Magnolia Manor

Beautifully sited beneath a mature magnolia tree, this 8′-6″ x 5′ catio has a southern exposure to the home’s lovely, landscaped back terrace. In the catio constructed of natural-colored 2 x 4s and 2 x 2s, covered with one-inch hardware cloth, and partially roofed with metal roofing, the two resident cats can really feel like they’re up a tree. The structure is supported by pier blocks and floored with wood decking. The cats enter the catio via a cat door in the side of the house, climb a ramp, then traverse a 12-foot sky bridge into the enclosure. Multiple perches, huts, and soft beds provide places to lounge and be entertained by two birdfeeders hanging tantalizingly out of reach. Like all the catios we saw on the tour, this one features a full-size door for humans, which is padlocked for security. These cats were totally relaxed even while a passel of strangers poked around their digs.

Click on any photo to view the slideshow.

Next up: Casa Gatito Madre.

Dark-framed catio built against house

Casa Gatito Madre

This small-but-tall catio is framed with 2 x 4s and 2 x 2s that are stained charcoal gray. Screening is welded wire fencing. Two foster kittens slept, dead to the world, on corner shelves covered in outdoor carpet. Ultraviolet-resistant polycarbonate panels cover the roof. Although the pawprint is small at 5’7″ x 5′, the structure extends 10 feet tall so that the uppermost cat platforms are level with the deck railing, enabling humans on the deck to interact with kitties. Pea-gravel and a colorful rug complete the  floor. Obviously, people have fun decorating these spaces, which are equally part of the landscape and the house.

Serena’s Garden Getaways provide lucky creamsicle cat, Serena, with three awesome catios.

Large catio next to house

Serena’s Garden Getaways

All are designed by her mom, Cynthia Chomos, founder of Catio Spaces (check it out for lots of great photos, ideas, and plans). First, Serena got a window box catio in the front of the house—perfect for keeping tabs on neighborhood comings and goings … especially birds and squirrels.

Window box catio on front of house

Serena’s window box

Then, Cynthia built a 6 x 8 sanctuary catio next to the house. (If the charcoal gray framing and polycarbonate roof look familiar, it’s because Cynthia also designed Casa Gatito Madre.) Eric and I noted what a difference the color of the framing and fencing makes: A dark color makes the frame almost disappear, while natural wood stands out and lends the structure a lighter-weight feeling. If we built a catio, we’d use the same colors as our house to help it blend in.

But wait—there’s meowre! The pièce de résistance is the Catnap catio, a tall, gabled 12′ x 7′ garden spot in a corner of the beautifully landscaped backyard. (I felt like we were getting a bonus garden tour at these three houses.) What a serene place to lounge with Serena. This fanciful space features a grass floor, a spiral staircase for kitty, and a comfy couch for mom. The human door is decorated with another vine-motif panel, which we came to recognize as a design feature of Catio Spaces. Later, we saw similar metal trellises at Lowe’s, so they are readily available to dress up your catio. Imagine, if you’re a cat, the fun of running to your own garden room through the 20-foot honeysuckle-covered catwalk tunnel, which blends so nicely with the fence that at first my brain only saw “arbor.” The catwalk features drop-down hatches for maintenance or cat retrieval. What a paradise!

The Enclosure that Mama Built is a little more rustic, but just as functional as the others.

Large free-standing catio

Mam’s large, freestanding catio

Spanning three levels, cats can exit the house on the top deck, hang out in the area below the deck, and then continue on through a short tunnel to the freestanding catio enclosure. Both the enclosure and the under-deck area have doors for humans. Where other catios feature potted plants, this one borrows foliage from the backyard itself: ivy and rhododendrons grow inside, with shade provided by trees along the property line. A small tree trunk supports a series of cat shelves. Humans can hang out on the Adirondack chair, or on an old wagon buckboard. I especially liked the detail of a salvaged window forming a transom above the door. This structure isn’t as sleek and fashionable as the first three catios, with a homemade mix of materials … but I’m sure the cats love it just as much!

Fort Fluff was built to keep a rescued stray from bolting.

Cation built against yellow house

Fort Fluff

The two resident kitties have a shallow window catio in the front of the house and a large space in the back of the house, both accessible through windows. The owners told us that Lowe’s sells cat doors made to be cut into window screens—what a great idea! (We looked for them, but can’t find them at Lowes or on their website. Amazon has them, however.) With the house’s bright yellow paint, giant potted hostas, and turquoise patio set, this catio has a fiesta vibe. The wooden box with multiple circular cutouts is a clever place to hide. We often cut doors and windows in large cardboard boxes, to our cats’ delight. The enclosure fabric is dark green plastic poultry fencing. The owner mentioned that originally the catio floor was made of organic cat litter, until they found that rats could chew through the plastic fabric to get to the litter. They kept the poultry fencing but changed the floor to cedar chips, which naturally repels fleas (and rats), and it smells great. No more rat problem! This catio’s sunny location can be quite warm, and the concrete block house radiates even more heat. I’d add a roof or awning to this structure to make it more comfortable. Maybe that’s what the umbrella is normally used for.

Our last stop was the Cat Corral, another catio designed by Catio Spaces. Can you tell?

Catio in backyard

Cat Corral

This 12 x 9-foot enclosure (the biggest we saw) features a grass floor. (How do people cut it, I wonder? With a weed whacker?) The catio sits just off the couples’ deck so they can easily sit close to their cats, who enter the catio through a cat door directly from the house. There’s actually plenty of room inside the catio for cats and humans to cohabitate. The interior is spare, with carpet-covered shelves and platforms, but little in the way of hiding places, plants, or décor for either cats or people. And, in the afternoon, the catio is bathed in full sun. If it were mine, I’d add a sheltering roof of some sort, and furnish it with plants and items for cats and humans alike to play with or relax upon. Maybe it’s a new space and the owners haven’t gotten that far. At the time, it didn’t occur to me to ask. Still, it’s a lovely, large catio with tons of potential.

What we learned

Even though Eric and I have good imaginations and construction skills, we picked up some valuable tips on this tour. To create a professional looking catio that you and your cats will love, pay attention to these aspects:

♥  Use 2 x 4s for major framing, 2 x 2s for additional bracing and for attaching fence fabric.

♥  Stain or paint all structural members the same color for a cohesive look. Dark colors recede, light colors stand out. Or, match your house color to help the catio blend in.

♥  Cover the structure in hardware cloth or welded wire fence fabric. Run all the fence fabric in the same direction for a consistent look.

♥  Of course, add lots of shelves and perches for cats, but don’t forget to include some comfy furniture for you so you can enjoy the catio, too.

♥  Make sure your cat can find some hiding spots. Add little cat houses and boxes to explore.

♥  Catios are all about being out in nature, right? Build it under a tree, or use potted or natural plants so that your kitty can pretend he or she’s in their own safe little jungle. Cats love gardens!

♥  Be aware of your site’s exposure. If it gets baked by sun, make sure you provide shade. If you want the cats to use the catio in all wa eather, install a roof to keep them dry.

♥  Brilliant idea—install a cat door in a window screen!

♥  Cats can easily negotiate tight spaces, so you can get creative with entrances and tunnels (the parts you won’t get into).

♥  Add a trap door to a tunnel so you can reach in to clean it or grab your cat.

♥  Everyone appreciates a clean floor. Try wood, stone, pea gravel, grass, or cedar chips. Add an outdoor carpet.

♥  Add art! Cats love art!

Which catio is your favorite? We loved Magnolia Manor not only for its cat-friendly accoutrements, but for its beautiful garden setting under the magnolia tree. As our cats always remind us, “Location, location, location!”

B;ack and white cat sitting on a rock in a garden

Checkers says “Remember–cats love gardens!”

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

 

 

 

The skeeters are coming! The skeeters are coming!

In fact, they’ve been here for weeks, early this year, and BIG. Our record-breakingly wet spring might have had something to do with that. Bugs sent us scrambling to get screens on our doors and windows, but dang it, it’s never that easy, is it?

We’ve had the screen on the front door all winter. I finished painting that one last fall. But the screens for the French doors, which we often open for air (and to let cats inside—they have us trained) have been leaning wearily against the wall in the foyer all winter, waiting for their turn. Their red exteriors were already done, but the interior side needed to be painted Chef White to match our trim, which I’m still laboriously picking away at in between long breaks.

Black and white cat waits to be let in French doors

Poor little Checkers stuck outside!

When I bought the house in 1984, I found screens for all the house’s windows stacked in the basement. Ironically, nearly all the windows in the house had been painted shut. By the time Eric came along, the wood frames were falling apart, but he saved the hardware. Fortunately, the original French screen doors were intact. We rescreened them with “pet proof” fiberglass screen fabric, which is coarse and black. It really works! Our cats abuse it regularly, and it’s held up for years.

Mosquitoes were entering through the bathroom window, too. Eric made  a screen for one of the bathroom windows a couple of years ago, and I still had to paint its interior.

Red-framed bathroom window with screen

Our home-grown bathroom window screen

Old-fashioned screen clip

The old hardware works just fine (interior view of bathroom window screen).

Lastly, the kitchen screen door is still spruce green. I tend to forget about that one because we pin it back against the house when we’re not using it (an odd configuration), and when we are using it, it looks so familiar that I don’t see it. Put it on my list …

I set up my paint shop on the side porch, balancing the long French door screens on our rocky bistro table. Usually I don’t bother to tape, but I couldn’t risk slopping paint on the screen. (I dripped some on one screen despite my best efforts.)

Boxer dog lies beneath screen door ready for painting.

Security is present whenever the queen is in residence.

It took several days and a couple of weekends to paint the doors and give them a good chance to cure before hanging them. I spent a bit of time sanding the crud off of this brass sliding bolt that secures the bottom of the doors on the inside. I quit because A) I got bored real quickly with this fussy job, or B) We decided to upgrade to new black hinges and hardware … take your pick.

Brass slliding bolt

The original brass sliding bolt. We’ll use it somewhere …

Black hinge on French door screen

One of four new black hinges

We replaced the sliding bolt with a new black one.

Black sliding bolt on French doors

The sliding bolt secures the screen doors at the bottom.

But we retained the original high-tech latch.

Hokk keeps screen doors closed.

Refection off the French doors makes the screen interiors appear red. They’re actually white.

I added some colorful flowers to the deck planters and brought out the porch pillows. Ah … it looks so inviting! The side porch is my favorite room of the house in summertime.

Flower planters on porch viewed from inside

Summer flowers

View of porch through screened French doors.

This porch always beckons me.

Bistro table on porch, viewed from inside

Now the bugs stay out.

A finished project! Woo-hoo!!

Uncovered porch on Craftsman bungalow

The porch viewed from the sidewalk.

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

From the inside out: Seattle Modern Homes Tour

C’mon along on the 2017 Seattle Modern Homes Tour! Every spring Eric and I look forward to this tour, which sets us off on a merry chase all over town. Amazingly, Eric seems to know the streets in every neighborhood, so I just sit back and enjoy the ride—and the architecture.

This year we managed to bag all eight of the featured houses, plus lunch and coffee, in the six hours that the tour was open (not always easy or possible).

Seattle is built on hills, so views are everywhere. This year’s tour can be summed up in two words: Views and stairs. Flights and flights of stairs to accommodate steep building lots. Most of the houses on this year’s tour weren’t friendly for aging in place—something Eric and I now keep in mind when we look at a house.

I found myself taking more photos of the windows and views than of the interiors, hence the title of this post, “From the inside out.”

Here are the highlights.

Map of our route through Seattle for the Modern Homes Tour

The 2017 Seattle Modern Homes trail [source: MA+DS]

Mt. Baker

We started on the south end with No. 8, in the Mt. Baker neighborhood.  It wasn’t hard to pick out this house amongst its century-old neighbors. It would stand out anywhere. Clad in repurposed wood siding, the rustic wood theme carried on inside. Maybe a little too rustic—running into the rough-hewn posts could leave you pulling splinters out of your face.

A wooden box on a hill

Mt. Baker 0

I found lots to like about this house: The walnut floors were to die for. The recycled cardboard hanging lamps (which I found online at over $300 apiece) looked warm and beckoning in the open stairwell. It felt open and airy, if  a little lacking in color. The garage, off the alley, was up a level from the front of the house on this steep lot, and accessed by a bridge across the back courtyard, which would make every trip to the garage a little special. But that same steep terrain reduced the backyard to a confining, deep pit of a courtyard. I love courtyards, but I didn’t want to linger in this one. What I really wanted to do was check out the cute shingled bungalow next door. (I bet the neighbors weren’t thrilled when this mod box landed virtually on top of them.)

Click on any photo to view the gallery.

Leschi

House No. 7 in Leschi won the view competition hands-down. From our parking place, I looked right through this house at the Interstate 90 floating bridge (can you see it?). I love a see-through house! I could waste a lot of time just watching the boats and the mountains and the lights of the Eastside and the cars flowing along this artery to the city. I’d never get anything done!

Modern home with view of floating bridge

Leschi

The living area’s wall of windows was just that: a wall. No deck would be built outside these sliding doors—only a railing. I can understand not wanting to compromise that view, but I’d want outside access from the main living space. An awesome deck occupied the rooftop level, but I don’t want to climb two flights of stairs up or down to get to my outdoor space. Bright light from outside made photos difficult. I remember the master bedroom as my favorite room. But that view … I could wake up and go to sleep with that view.

Madison Park

For No. 1, we drove to Madison Park, a truly lovely Seattle neighborhood that’s way, way out of our league. (Truth be told, we can’t even afford to think about moving anywhere within the Seattle city limits. The median house price has shot up to $772,000.) But back to my fantasy …

Modern home in Madison Park

Madison Park

The only view this house has is a spectacularly landscaped central courtyard, around which the house is built. Somehow, that’s all it needs.

We fell in love with this Zen-like house, and from the comments we overheard, everyone else did, too. Besides the courtyard, our favorite features were several high, long windows that made slices of outside into framed pieces of art.

Roanoke

Over the ridge in Roanoke, house No. 5 was a grand old Seattle foursquare. What was this one doing on a modern home tour? The streetscape didn’t give anything away, but I knew something special had to be behind that bright aqua door.

Gray Seattle foursquare house

Roanoke

The bright and light-filled living room featured a beautiful original fireplace that I wished I could have taken home. I loved the mod touch of the chandelier over the dining room table. If you look closely, you can get a sense of how the wallpaper I plan to order will look above my plate rail (more on that another day). Originals flourishes coexisted comfortably side by side with updates. And the original lacy stair railing under the leaded glass window was pure joy. The remodel was confined to the kitchen, the upstairs bedrooms, and the basement. My favorite room in this grand old house was the sleeping porch-turned-office. We liked how the custom storm windows were cleverly installed on the inside. Outside, another courtyard effect with a brick patio.

Lake Union

No. 4 was just a few blocks away on the shore of Lake Union (not far from some of the floating homes I’ve written about). In fact, some high-end homes floated right in the front yard of these condos. Eric commented that when he was in college, he lived at this exact address in a floating home. Back then, according to him, you lived in a floating shack if you couldn’t afford an apartment. Those shacks are long gone, and million-dollar homes have bobbed to the surface in their place. On land, the end unit of this condo building was our destination.

A four-story narrow modern condo

Lake Union

Right off the bat, the entry turned us off. I would be nervous to come home at night to this pinched-feeling narrow passageway. Inside, we climbed up … and up … and up. And then looked down. This view is entertaining all day, every day, with boating traffic passing right in front of your windows. The house had a narrow footprint, so few rooms occupied each floor, but for well over a million dollars, it did include an elevator. From garage to rooftop deck, it’s five floors. Again, love this view, but the extreme vertical layout didn’t work for us.

Wallingford

No. 6 in Wallingford had me fooled. I thought it was new construction, but no—it was a remodel. When we left and I inspected the exterior one more time, I could see vestiges of the original house. But inside it was all modern, all the time. This house was full of color and art. I thought it felt playful and warm, but Eric found it cold. Well … I guess we don’t always agree.

Navy blue remodeled Craftsman

It looks like a modern box, but it’s not.

I particularly liked the dining room, and how its lowered ceiling contrasted with the two-story living room. Its view of the old curly willow tree felt intimate and sheltering. I’m not usually a fan of dark cabinetry, and these made the kitchen feel like a cave, but at the same time, they set off the brilliant green view of the backyard. The countertops were flamed granite: burning bursts out some of the crystals and leaves the granite with an interesting texture.

Phinney Ridge

This modern box, No. 2, was our second-favorite on the tour. The open layout was simple, and the young owner had barely moved in, so there was no staging to look past. The corner lot offered an attractive city view west to Ballard.

Phinney Ridge

A highlight of this house was the grain-matched fir cabinetry. You don’t often see fir as cabinetry (trim is more common). This kitchen glowed with the warm fir tone. The same cabinets reappeared in the bedrooms, in floor-to-ceiling grain-matched glory.

The homeowner had just had the firepit and patio installed. I admired the horizontal privacy fence and the neighborhood ambiance from the deck off the kitchen and dining area.

Queen Anne Hill

Finally, we arrived at house No.3 on Queen Anne Hill, which was another favorite. We liked the dark brick façade—something a little different.

Queen Anne Hill

I sped past the sunken living room with its tall windows and fireplace because I spied a big gray cat in the dining area. When cat made a beeline to his backyard, I found myself in a spacious kitchen/dining room with a stunning tiled backsplash. The homeowner told me she had to fight their architect to install this tile, and I’m glad she won. It makes the room, and echoes the aqua color of some of her collected pieces. I’m an aqua lover, too (harkening back to my mom’s 50s kitchen when I was a kid). The layout of the kitchen/dining/family room space was similar to the Phinney Ridge home. This house also featured a serene master bedroom with an expansive neighborhood view and a wood-paneled ceiling, and a really lovely mural in the child’s room.

Returning to our little town in the valley and our humble abode is always a bit of a let-down after a day in Seattle (the south-county hicks go to the big city). Not because the town itself is disappointing, and we certainly love our bungalow; it’s just that Seattle seems to be so much more vibrant and exciting compared to our sleepy little burg. But, we’re close to retirement and we’ll never be able to afford to trade up to a house in hip Seattle. So we look and drool.

Join us for our next tour in June: The Seattle Catio Tour! Yes, this is really a thing, and we’ll be there to experience it all!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

Salvage Catz

 Our 80-something neighbor, Tom, used to live two doors down from us in a house he occupied with his family since he was a kid in the 1940s. A couple of years ago, Tom inherited his sister’s “newer” mid-century house across town. He finally sold the family bungalow, which hadn’t been updated since the 1960s and was sorely in need of some TLC. A guy named Jessie bought the house as a flip.

 

Small brown bungalow needs updating

Tom’s house

Jessie’s attention was diverted to another project, and Tom’s place sat, gutted, sidingless, and sad, for what seemed like forever. Last summer it became a flop house for homeless people and druggies. Over the fall and winter, Jessie’s crew was back at it, thank goodness, and the house was secured and squatter-free at last. Recently we asked the foreman if we could peek inside, and we were thrilled to see what a nice job they’d done. The house retains its early-1900s charm and general floor plan, but with beautiful wood floors, gray and white paint, and a modern but period-appropriate kitchen. Some family will be proud to call it home.

Updated Craftsman bungalow

Jessie’s house

This house not only belonged to Tom (who taught me how to prune my roses), but another family that I recently learned about. A few months ago I read Midnight in Broad Daylight, the biography of Harry Fukuhara, whose family lived in the house before some of them moved back to Hiroshima just before World War II. It’s a fascinating account—I highly recommend it. I was amazed to discover this personal neighborhood connection to the story.

Jessie’s crew made a debris pile in the backyard, which has been slowly disappearing to the dump. And then—Eric spied something interesting: old glass-front cabinet doors with the original brass latches! Eric asked Jessie if we could pilfer their trash, and Jessie was only too happy to let us lighten their dump bill. So, we sauntered down the alley on Sunday to do some pickin’.

A gravel alley behind old houses

I love alleys. You can see all kinds of interesting things.

Along the way we encountered our tux cat, Crosby, out for a stroll with beautiful Dot, our feral friend. Dot, Dash, and Ditto Morse like to hang out in the blackberry thicket across the alley.

Two cats hangin out in the alley

Alley catz Dot and Crosby

A tabby cat looks out from a blackberry thicket

Dot in the blackberry thicket

We salvaged ten windows for their wavy glass—something you pay good money for these days. (We paid about $400 to put “new” old glass in our kitchen cabinets.) Some were glass cabinet doors, and some were the kitchen’s exterior windows. Coincidentally, the kitchen cabinets and trim are pink, ,just as my kitchen once was.

Back of remodeled bungalow

Is there anything interesting in this pile?

Man salvages old windows from debris pile.

Ooh! Windows with wavy glass!

The windows moved into our greenhouse, because, obviously, you never know when you might need a wavy glass window!

I have no idea what we’ll use these windows and doors for … but now a little piece of Tom and Harry’s house belongs to us. Yay!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it