Tag Archives: Craftsman bungalow DIY

Happy holidays from OB2C!

My living room/dining room painting project is progressing at the usual glacial pace due to all the things we’re finding to do during our holiday break (a dinner celebration, a movie, The Nutcracker, shopping, and just some much-needed relaxing). Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are not impediments to progress, but quiet time to enjoy with Eric and our furry and nonfurry friends. And, admittedly, it’s a reason to clean up the place a bit, because if it weren’t for Christmas dinner, I’d be tempted to use painting and plastering as an excuse just to let it all go. Here’s a favorite photo of our living room from 2012. We have a tree and decorations this year, but it’s not as tidy.

Craftsman living room with Christmas tree and decorations

Christmas 2012

The painting prep has begun, and I’ll share the early paint results next week. But right now, I want to pause for a moment to wish you a very merry holiday season. I hope that whatever your holiday plans, you’re having a wonderful time.

Eric and I photograph and print our own Christmas cards every year. Last winter we ventured out one drizzly night to capture the perfect Western Washington scene. This one became our card for 2015.

Christmas lights reflected in nighttime rain puddle

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

Der Kleiderschrank

What’s big and tall and fills the south wall? Der Kleiderschrank, of course! Kleiderschrank is German for clothes closet, wardrobe, armoire. This one has been in my family for many years. It’s another piece salvaged from my grandparents’ dark and mysterious basement. It probably originated at my great-grandparents’ lake house outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I’ve always admired its simple lines. It’s so different from the other Eastlake pieces that came from “the lake.”

Vintage walnut armoire

Der Kleiderschrank

In Wisconsin, where I was born, my family always called it the kleiderschrank, but, as no one out West seems to know what that is, my tongue fumbles around for a more commonly understood word, until I haltingly spit out “armoire.”

My dad refinished the piece and replaced the wooden door panels with glass in the 1960s, before anyone suspected that antiques were more valuable with their original finishes. Otherwise, I’d have a green kleiderschrank in my living room now … and I’d probably love it. Antique greens are some of my favorite shades. But, if Pop hadn’t refinished it, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the mellow glow of the wood when the lights are on, or the aroma of the old walnut and wood stain when I open the doors, which brings back childhood memories. It’s smelled like this for a half century.

In my parents’ house it held china, much of it hand painted by my great-aunt Alvina. (Painting china was a popular ladies’ craft at the turn of the 20th century.) In my house, I use it to display my small collection of vintage tabletop radios, along with selected china pieces that survived the Nisqually earthquake of 2001, when I came home to find half of its contents shattered on the floor. Eric has added a few vintage cameras.

Front of armoire with reflection of windows in glass doors

Lots of reflection, but you get the idea

It’s also Rose’s safe spot. It’s a long leap from the back of the couch, but 13-year-old Rose can still do it. She’ll have to find another high point while the living room walls get patched and painted.

Tabby kitty sitting on top of armoire

You can’t touch me!

This piece is too big to move, so we have to disassemble it. Remarkably, the kleiderschrank has no nails. It’s all put together with joinery. Watch as we “knock it down into a pile of lumber,” as my mom used to say. Look out, Rose!

I began by taking everything off the shelves, packing it in plastic tubs, and storing it in the library. I’m not keen on cluttering up the library, but the stuff’s got to go somewhere. It’s just temporary, I reassured myself.

Armoire with doors open, showing vintage radios and china

Duke helped me wrap items in newspaper

Knocking it down is an easy job for two people. Eric carefully removed the doors, which are attached with standard inset hinges.

Armoire with doors removed

Doors and drawers removed

Next, we slid the wooden locking pieces toward the narrow end of the rails (toward the back of the kleiderschrank) and removed them. This freed the top of the unit, which we carted off to the dining room.

The top is held on by this wooden locking device

The top is held on by this wooden locking device


Armoire with top removed


The shelves simply lift out.

Armoire with shelves and top removed


A different kind of wooden locking pin holds the side walls to the base. The side walls lift up out of slots in the base.

Locking pin device holds side walls to base

Yes, I see the dust, too.

My dad replaced the back wall with two pieces of walnut plywood that fit into slots in the central spine.

Armoire's plywood back comes apart in three pieces

The back comes apart in three pieces

That left us with the base … and a black cat. Can you make out Lacy peering beneath the center support?

Black cat checks out base of armoire

Biggest hairball ever!

So that’s it. In a few minutes we went from having der Kleiderschrank standing in our living room to lying on our dining room floor like a new piece of IKEA furniture. Who wouldn’t want a dusty antique pile of lumber lying in their dining room during the holiday season?

Disassemb;ed armoire stacked on the floor

“Knocked down into a pile of lumber”

Wall color update

And who wouldn’t want a mantel decorated in festive paint sample containers? Kind of looks like the mascot for the painting Olympics.

Sample paint cans stacked on the mantel

No one else has a mantel display quite like this

Subtle changes are afoot in our color selection! Thanks to my blog friends, Jo from Let’s Face the Music and Jacqui from Home-in-the-Making for suggesting a greener gray to help coordinate the new paint to the existing wallpaper. Their advice sent me back to the stores for more samples. I’ve sampled eight shades of gray for this project—something I’ve never done before (not that I’ve never made a mistake with paint, but usually I’m quite sure of what I want).

Displaying paint colors on computers is almost useless because monitors are hardly ever calibrated for color accuracy, but just for kicks, here are my first color choices (top) and the new wall color (bottom).

I know … they look virtually identical, don’t they? I have no idea how they look on your monitor. On the wall, Jogging Path is noticeably greener than Anew Gray. Suffice it to say, this paint pickin’ exercise drove me a little crazy, and I hope the results are similar to the fabulous, light, and crisp paint job that exists in my imagination. I’m usually good at visualization, so I’m cautiously optimistic. Grays have been tricky.

We’ve lived with these samples on the walls for long enough now that I think we’ve bonded. The winner is the top color in the photo of the mantel, above. Enough sampling, already! Let the fun begin!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

I just wanna paint!

Eric and I are fortunate to work for a company that takes a holiday break at the end of the year. We’ll have a glorious 16 consecutive days off, beginning Dec. 19. What will we do with that precious time? We’ll spend it at home, DIYing, of course!

Lately I’ve been thinking about painting the living room, dining room, foyer, and interior hall. It was summer of 2004 when I last tackled that job, and if I remember correctly, it took me four months to finish it. There’s seemingly miles of trim (and 108 four-in. square panes of glass), so I can hardly expect to finish it in two weeks … but if I’m diligent, I can get a great start. Maybe good enough so that when I sit in the living room, I’ll see only newly painted surfaces and all the work still-to-be-done will be blissfully out of sight, behind me.

For the past 12 years, the living area has been Valspar Oak Grove (not a current color), a golden-brown, very Craftsman-y shade. The trim is a rich, creamy ivory. The colors look something like this … on my computer, anyway.

Oak Grove is a cozy wall color that goes well with the dark reds and greens of our furniture. But when I saw how Nicole Curtis of HGTV’s Rehab Addict painted the Minnehaha House in the first season of her show, I got it in my mind to go with something lighter the next time around, and I feel that time has come. I don’t usually fall for trends, but this room has had me admiring pale warm grays with white trim ever since. If I’m going to go there, I hope the gray trend sticks around for a while.

Formal old-house living room painted gray with white trim

Rehab Addict Minnehaha House [Ariel Photography]

While others were trashing the malls on Black Friday, I was collecting paint samples for the audition process. By the time I pick one, I’ll be able to dump all the other samples in a can and get a free gallon of Mutt Greige.

For the trim I want to use the same Chef White that I have in the kitchen and bathroom. (In person, it reads a lot whiter than this online paint chip.) Finally, all the painted woodwork in the house will be the same color. (Only the bedrooms still have natural wood trim.)


By Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, I had paint swatches on three living room walls. Well, now I was committed. I had to paint. See how that works? (The colors don’t look true in the photo. )

FOur gray paint samples above fireplace

Four shades of gray

But here’s the rub: I don’t think any of these warm gray shades are going to go well with my dining room wallpaper. Shortly after I painted last time, I put up this William Morris-like wallpaper above the plate rail … not to everyone’s taste, but I’ve always loved its acanthus ebullience. The colors tie together all the colors in my house. Fitting the paper around the door and window trim was a tough job, and I don’t want to take it down.

Acanthus wallpaper

Too bad if you don’t love this wallpaper!

I’ll see how it looks, but I’m pretty sure any color I pick will be too light and too gray to complement the wallpaper’s bronze background. That will leave me with four choices:

  1. Leave the paper even though it doesn’t go with the paint. This will eventually drive me nuts.
  2. Replace the paper with a real Bradbury and Bradbury William Morris Willow design. $$$$$
  3. Replace the paper with something historically appropriate, but less expensive.
  4. Remove the paper and paint the wall gray. Best to appeal to potential house buyers someday … blah.

I’ll figure it out later. In the meantime, I have a more pressing problem. Do you see it? Do you see that bulge in the wall’s surface, on the left?

Bumps and bulges in the wall surface

Bumps and gouges

That bubble is not stuck to the wall … and there are spots like that all over the living room. I can account for three layers of paint, but it’s far thicker than that. I believe my plaster walls are covered with a finish paper that was pasted over the finish coat of plaster. Decorative wallpaper or paint was applied on top of the finish paper. There’s only one way to tell. Here’s another big crack and bulge. The thick paper/paint layer is peeling away from the wall at the wood trim. Look closely and you can see the crack extending up to the picture molding to the left and another crack above the door trim.


We gingerly pulled off a piece. The finish coat of plaster came away with the paper and paint! That’s why it looked so thick. And that’s what I was afraid would happen. Now we know why the surface was cracked.

Finish coat of plaster pulled off to reveal brown coat

Right down to the brown coat

What you see above is the rough undercoat of the plaster, called the brown coat. Because it’s … brown. Sometimes animal hair was added to this brown coat for strength, but ours does not have animal hair.

I dissected the brittle plaster chunks as best I could: finish plaster, finish paper, and several coats of paint. The earliest paint seems to be a sick shade of pale green. The same color I turned when I realized the extent of the problem.

Chips of plaster, finish paper, and paint

What’s in this stuff?

Whatever shall I do? More choices:

  1. Pretend there is no problem and paint over it like I have twice before. Ha ha.
  2. Try to carefully peel the buckled areas off without disturbing the base coat of plaster or areas that have not separated. Then apply a new finish coat to match the level of nearby finished surfaces. Someday when it’s done, paint the wall gray. (Will gray still be in style by 2020?)
  3. When the going gets tough, hire a plasterer. $$$$

Of course, I know the answer. I have to keep my eyes on the prize. On a positive note, this condition exists only in the living room (I think), and the living room has only three walls, much of which are windows and fireplace. So I’m hoping the damage is fairly contained [weak laughter]. Stay tuned.

Here are the colors we’ve chosen—ceiling, walls, and trim. What do you think?

Why does every old-house project have to turn into a huge @#$#$% production?? [Sob] … I just wanna paint!!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

The rain will drain mainly in the chain

Gutters: a man’s job. I lived many years in this house as a single woman, and never once did I get on a ladder and clean the gutters. I had to marry—twice—to obtain that service. Thank heavens Eric is proficient at all things house maintenance-related. What would I do without him? I would have vegetation growing out of my gutters, that’s what.

Every time it rains around here (which, in a normal year in the Pacific Northwest, is often), we watch the gutters outside the French doors and the kitchen window overflow and the water splash down dramatically at the end of the gutter run onto the plants below. The plants don’t care for this much, and neither do we.

A couple of summers ago, we bought two nice wine barrels. Eric rigged one up as a water catchment system under the kitchen gutter. It still needs a proper spigot so I can use it for drip irrigation. For now, it just drains through a hose to the sidewalk. It looks cool and saves the rhododendron from drowning.

Wine barrel serves as rain catchment system

Rain barrel outside the kitchen window

We decided to put the other barrel next to the side porch where there’s nice little gap in the bushes just under the gutter. I wanted to remove the downspout and install a decorative copper rain chain instead. Better yet, install two rain chains—the other one over the other rain barrel by the kitchen. Rain chains come in an enormous variety of styles. We chose this Monarch Hibiki design from Amazon.com:

Hibiki copper rain chain

Hibiki copper rain chain

A fairly simple project, right? Just remove the downspout and replace it with a rain chain. Nope … putting it in the downspout hole would hang it too close to the porch. Eric had to remove the old gutter, cut and assemble the new gutter, install it, and hang the rain chain. WHY does it always have to get more complicated? Because it’s an old house.

Eric removed the old gutter. Dirty, as expected.

Old, dirty gutter laying in the grass

Gutter down!

Now we could see the sorry state of the rotten rafter tails, which wasn’t a surprise, but it was easier to ignore when they weren’t visible. Many years ago, someone sistered in some 2x4s so the gutters had something solid to hang from. (They were painted the same color as the house, so I know they’ve been there since before 1994, when the house was last painted.) The sisters looked a little drunk as they staggered unevenly from rafter to rafter.

An old, rotten rafter tail and its sister.

A rotten rafter tail and its little sister.

Eric replaced them with a new generation of sisters who display proper posture.

New sistered rsfter tails for attaching a gutter

All the while he grumbled that he felt like the star of HGTV’s Holmes Makes It Right. Why is it, I asked him, that whenever a man repairs or replaces another man’s construction work, it’s always accompanied by disparaging remarks about the previous guy’s skills? Have you ever noticed that? I’m just happy the work is getting done … and grateful that Eric knows what he’s doing.

Next, Holmes—I mean Eric—covered the rafter tails with a pre-painted white fascia board for protection and to give the gutter nails more solid surface to bite into. Exposed rafter tails are a prominent design element of Craftsman homes, but when they’re covered with gutters, no one can see them.

White facsia board for gutter support.

A fascia behind the gutter

Using the old gutter as a guide, Eric cut and assembled the new gutter parts and sealed the seams. If you’re wondering, I did help: I climbed the rickety wooden step ladder and held the gutter in position while Eric attached it. (I was actually busy finishing our new headboard. More on that in due time.)

I noticed that box-store gutters are smaller than their professional counterparts. I hope it’ll carry a November storm’s-worth of rain runoff. At any rate, the new gutter looks clean and tidy, and it’s not about to fall off.

Man using three ladders to install gutter over porch

Parade of ladders

Time for the pièce de résistance—the rain chain! Installation was quick and easy. Simply drop the hook into the gutter’s opening, attach the top collector cup, and then the chain. Et voilà!

Installing the top cup of a rain chain on a gutter

Makes the old paint look worse

Eric “rolled out the barrel” from the backyard, cut a circle out of the top, and stapled screen fabric over the hole. He cross-wired the rain chain over the opening to keep it from swinging in the wind.

Man cutting hole in top of wine barrel

A wine barrel turns into a rain barrel

Wine barrel as a rain barrel with rain chain

The rain barrel in place

Isn’t the rain chain beautiful, shining in the sun? (Click to enlarge.)

And it works, too! It’s mesmerizing to watch, like a fountain.

Rain running down a copper rain chain into a barrel

Our first rain test

Now I’m paranoid about copper thieves. I asked Duke to set off his alarm and call 9-1-1 if he sees anyone messing with the chain. “I’ve got your back, mom,” he assured me. “I’m on duty 24/7. Nothing gets past me! How about a cookie?”

Boxer dog lying on couch with pillow

Duke on duty

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

World’s Worst Gardener award

Look at this travesty. This used to be my beloved front triangle garden. Now, it’s just a crabgrass farm.

A gray tuxedo cat walks up the sidewalk past a weedy garden.

Our neighbor, Curveball, strolls past the jungle

People love this garden and it gets lots of compliments. But not this year. How did it get to this sorry state? Let’s see how many excuses I can come up with … all of which are at least partially valid. We’ve been busy with a couple of family-reunion vacations, as you know. Work gets in the way Monday through Friday. It’s been so miserably hot—in the 90s much of the time—I haven’t been able to stay outside to do projects, or even to take our evening walks. We Northwest mossbacks aren’t used to this heat!

Plus, something horrible has happened: Crabgrass has invaded our neighborhood. I have lived here 32 years, and we never had it before. It showed up a couple of years ago and now it’s taking over everything! Several years ago, long before the crabgrass appeared, we quit using chemicals in our yard, and now I can’t keep up with the weeds. They are winning. I really don’t know what I’m going to do. Gardening has become so much harder. Having a touchy back and getting older don’t help, either. Do you feel sorry for me yet?

On another record-breakingly hot weekend, I waited for the sun to go behind the big tree across the street, then I began hacking back the crabgrass jungle. I started at the broad end of the triangle, where I had planted an herb garden.

Closeup of crabgrass

There are herbs in there!

I had three things going for me: Our valley soil is soft and rock-free, enabling me to dig and pull weeds with ease. Crabgrass looks fierce on the top, but it has fairly puny, shallow little roots. And, weeding in an herb garden smells great, especially the curry plant. (I recently was surprised to learn that curry plant [helichrysum italicum] doesn’t have anything to do with Indian curry, which is made with a variety of spices. It has a wonderful, pungent curry-like fragrance, though.)

Silvery-green curry plant

Curry plant (helichrysum italicum)

I’m embarrassed to admit that as I ripped out the crabgrass, I uncovered 13 plants still in their pots, that I never got around to putting in the ground. Most of them are dead … the rest wish they were. Fortunately, I think I can still resuscitate a few that didn’t croak.

Several pots of dead plants

Poor things never had a chance …

As satisfying as it was to pull out weed after weed, I knew that with each pull, a fragment of root remained underground, quietly laughing to itself. This is the third time I’ve had to do a major weeding since spring. I occurred to me that we hadn’t mulched this spring. I asked Eric if we’d mulched last year. He held up three fingers. Three years ago?? I think I’ve identified the problem! But that still doesn’t explain why we have crabgrass now, when we never were bothered by it before. Hmm …

I did a little research about my new nemesis. Invasive species are opportunists. They invade because the conditions are just right for them to thrive. If you didn’t used to have a pest plant, but now you do, it’s because something in your garden has changed. If you pay attention, you can learn a lot about what’s going on in your environment. So I listened to my crabgrass, and this is what it told me.

“Hey, lady,” it said, sounding a little like a snarky Jerry Lewis, “You got an awesome lawn! It’s mostly clover, ajuga, buttercup, and dandelions … nice sparse grass—brown and short. The soil is nice and warm and gets lots of sun. And this garden—no mulch to fight through! My parents lived in the West,” he nodded his seed heads across the street. “I thought it looked nice and quiet over here … the kind of place where a grass can really put down roots, where nobody would hassle us. Man, this is exactly the kind of neighborhood we were lookin’ for! My family loves it here! Well, talkatcha later,” it said with a snicker, “I was just about to go to seed.”

And then I yanked it out by its damned roots. Look at this monster digitaria sanguinalis. Who’s had the last laugh now?

Large crabgrass next to my foot for comparison

Take that, you brute!

Indeed, the smart-ass grass was right. Since we quit using chemicals, we’ve pretty much ignored the poor lawn. It used to be nice and thick, but year by year it’s grown patchy and thin from neglect. Weeds blew in from the neighbors’ weed farms. The front yard gets the prevailing wind, while the back and side yards are protected by the house and fence, and have little crabgrass. We water the garden areas a couple of times per week (despite the drought, we have no watering restrictions—yet) because we have hundreds of plants, and we don’t want them to suffer and die. The lawn just catches what it can.

Grass with lots of ajuga mixed in.

Sorry excuse for lawn, but it looks green from afar

The past two summers have been warmer than usual, and this one has broken heat records left and right. We have had two days of rain since sometime in May, and more days over 90 degrees than ever before. El Nino, a warming condition of in the Pacific Ocean, is responsible for this. It’s climate change in action. The perfect storm for crabgrass.

Recently I saw an article about how to avoid this kind of weeding marathon. I leapt on the story, eager to learn the password to lazy gardening. The secret? Get a razor-sharp hoe and go out and weed every day!! Thank you SO much for this tip … as if I have time to do this every day! (Of course, I know they’re right. You’ve got to cut ’em down when they’re tiny and not let the weeds get so big that they can arm wrestle you.) But somehow it pissed me off to read that, just as it does when my investment company suggests I continue working until I’m 70 to maximize my retirement benefits. Oh, don’t get me started!! Any fool knows that a person can’t work full time and weed full time!!

Crabgrass infestation in midst of ornametal garden

Yet more crabgrass

So Eric and I have a plan. First, we will mulch the gardens! We normally do this in spring, but this is war. Then we’ll aerate the lawn and apply a top dressing of compost. We haven’t done that for several years. Come fall and cooler weather, we’ll apply an organic fertilizer and weed control, and overseed the lawn. By spring we should have better grass coverage that’ll help crowd out crabgrass and other invasives.

You might ask why we have a lawn at all. Fair question … We have consciously worked at reducing lawn area over the years by creating more garden space. Our front lawn is smallish, but because we live on a corner, we also have grass parking strips (the part between the sidewalk and the street) on two sides of our property. We need some grass in the backyard for Duke’s benefit. I probably will carve out additional garden beds again in the spring. For the past few years, my MO has been “more garden, less lawn,” but now the gardens are becoming a burden to me. I’ve even been thinking about converting to a clover lawn (heck, we’re half-way there!), but I need to do more research. I’m not sure what comes next … do you have any ideas? Moving to a condo and paving the lawn are not options!


I wrote most of this post a week ago, and with the help of more moderate temperatures this past weekend, we got our butts in gear and mulched the triangle garden and the rose garden.  SO much better!

Even though I hesitated to plant anything right now, I picked up a few flowering plants, both annual and perennial, to fill in some blank spaces (previously inhabited by digitaria and his extended family).

Temps this week are breaking records again, so we won’t get much further until we cool back down. But it’s a start! Someone walked by and complimented me on the garden, so I’m optimistic that we’re on the right track.

Finally, I’d like to thank my hard-working landscaping crew, below. Couldn’t have done it without you!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

My favorite room

When I last wrote about the side porch, it was close-but-not-quite finished. (If you missed them, read previous posts about demolition prep, demolition, framing, and porch decking.)

A large, uncovered porch with a white wood railing but without siding

The porch in June

Eric still had to trim out the square corner posts and apply the shingle siding. That sounds like it should go pretty quickly—it would only take about seven minutes on a home improvement show. In real life, it takes two months of weekends and 86 trips to building supply stores.

The caps on the posts did go quickly. We assumed our gender-specific roles: Eric cut the wood and screwed it in place, then filled the holes with stinky two-part epoxy filler that dries hard as rock.

Click on any photo to enlarge it.

Then I took over with the sander and paint, with the help of my assistant, Tara, who specializes in testing painted surfaces for dryness. Here are her results:

Shingling took a lot longer, and was occasionally interrupted by a trip to the store for more shingles (it took almost twice what Eric had originally bought). Tacking up the alternating 3-inch and 6-inch courses on the straight sections of wall went quickly, but when it came to the square corners, that was another story.

Eric had to do a lot of painstaking cutting and fitting, overlapping the corner shingles in alternating directions (one right, the next left), and fitting the shingles around the railings.

Detail of corner shingles overlapping on alternate courses

Corner shingles overlap in opposite courses

I really should say “painsgiving.” Eric essentially was doing squats as he fitted and applied the shingles, which caused a lot of muscle soreness, accompanied by moaning and groaning. But his thighs and the corner posts look great.

Inspired by some neon-bright plant arrangements I saw at our local Ace Hardware, I got excited about refilling the urns that I’ve always kept on the side porch. I managed to snag enough bright annuals to fill them before the fall mums and ornamental kale took over Lowe’s garden department. There’s an urn on each post, although the west one is obscured by the weeping birch tree. I’m hoping the flowers spill over the sides before the season is over.

Urn planted with pink petunias, lotus vine, marigolds, and small blue and white flowers

An urn tops each corner post

I had to have this plant! I’d never seen a spilanthes (acmella oleracea) before. It’s a Brazilian medicinal herb whose floral buttons are known as “buzz buttons,” “Szechuan buttons,” or “electric buttons.” According to Wikipedia, they produce a tingling, numbing, or effervescent sensation in the mouth, accompanied by excessive salivation. I think I’ll pass, thank you.

Green plant with blooms of yellow buttons with red centers

I drooled over this cute plant.

At another garden store, I found Senorita Kitty and a matching pot. Couldn’t resist.

Colorful Mexican pottery cat and pot with cactus

A Mexican pottery kitty seems appropriate for our porch

Then I went a little wild with throw pillows for the bistro set, and a couple of small turquoise and green planters that go with a red one I already had. I succumbed to some trendy colors that complemented Senorita Kitty, but these are colors that I’ve always liked, anyway. Now our side porch has a summery, south-of-the-border vibe.

A brass lantern and three small colorful planters holding succulents

Colorful pots hold succulents

I still need to decide what kind of foundation plantings I want in front of the porch. Something low and evergreen as a base, punctuated with some taller color. But, I will wait until fall to plant anything. It’s so hot and dry this summer, new plants wouldn’t stand the stress.

At last, we could check off this project as DONE!! It was time for our celebration dinner. Duke supervised the table setting.

Dinner for two on the new porch

Dinner al fresco

Boxer looks over tabale set for dinner for two on the porch

Gonna eat that?

Unfortunately, yellowjackets drove us inside not long after we sat down … but that didn’t diminish our celebratory mood. I wander out onto our reborn porch daily just to admire it. Eric did an incredible job, as usual, and I just did a little polishing … as usual.

It’s hard to look at the “before” photos. We took it from this eyesore …

To this beautiful relaxation spot…

It really is my favorite room!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it



The short story of tall 108

In the corner of our bedroom, in the sliver of space between the driver’s side of the bed and the wall, is a tall, narrow table—a plant stand, actually—that serves as a nightstand. It came from my parents’ house, where it stood in their bedroom, skirted with a lacy doily and crowned with a large sanseveria (snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue). Ever since I refinished the mom-and-pop dressers I’ve heard it crying out for attention and nourishment. The whole table looks parched and brittle, and the top is blotched with water stains, which I can almost guarantee didn’t happen on my mom’s watch. Maybe it came to our family in bad shape. I don’t know its origin. It seemed to appear at some point during my early teens.

plant stand

While Eric was toiling away on the side porch in the 90-degree heat, I decided to give this little table the triple treatment of Murphy Oil Soap, Howard Restor-a-Finish, and Howard Feed-n-Wax—the same team that saved the dressers.

Murphy Oil Soap, Howard finish and wax

Besides, this was something I could do while sitting in the shade … lazy bum that I am. That’s when I turned the table over and learned that it’s table No. 108.

No. 108, plant stand

In just a few minutes the scratches and stains were gone, or very minimized. I might have been able to completely eradicate the water stains if I’d gone to the basement and searched out the steel wool, but like I said, I’m lazy. And it was 90 degrees.

Now No. 108 has a mellow, golden glow and it no longer looks parched. Much better, don’t you think?

plant stnd refinished

It’s hard to get enough light to take a decent interior photo in this corner, but No. 108 looks and feels so much better. It even blends nicely with the dressers, although I don’t know what kind of wood it is.

plant stand, end table

I tell you, Murphy and Howard work anti-aging magic. I have a birthday coming up … maybe they would take 20 years off my face?


Our hottest-day-of-the-year tradition

We’ve had a curiously Southwest-like spring and summer here in the Northwest, with a bone-dry June (June is usually soggy) that’s continuing into July. We had almost as many days over 85 degrees in June as we normally have all summer. Over the 4th of July weekend, we had our ninth day over 90 degrees, with several more to go. Many of us have lost our sense of humor about the situation. I’m finding it a little scary to think about how we and our landscaping will survive our normal drought period, late July through August.

dry plants, rose campion, Japanese blood grass, sedum autmn joy, blue fescue

However, this is the perfect opportunity for Eric and me (well, okay, Eric, since I am a hot-weather wimp) to continue a summer tradition of doing a major outdoor construction project during the hottest weather of the summer. Sound like fun??

Let’s see … there was the fence … and the deck … and the front porch … and the brick front walk … all constructed in 90- to 100-degree heat. Not by me!!

This year, we’re finishing the side porch, which, if you recall, we began too late last summer and had to put on hiatus for the winter.

Here’s where we began this spring, with Eric renting a pad sander and scrubbing a winter’s worth of oxidation off his custom-milled decking.

sanding porch decking

With an eye toward what we think will be a trim color when we repaint the exterior, we used opaque alkyd-based waterproofing stain in barn red on the porch floor. (I’ve always liked a red floor for a porch. The front porch is currently gray, but it’ll change when we get around to repainting.) Two coats should give it a good weather seal … we hope. [Note: The best way to avoid having your backside appear in a blog post is to make sure you’re behind the camera. Sorry, dear.]

alkyd porch stain

porch floor, barn red

Next, Eric framed in the big square corner posts that echo the design of the front porch. These posts don’t provide structural support for anything but the railings. The porch deck is supported by framing underneath.

corner post framing

Everything on the side porch matches the design of the front porch, except that this porch isn’t covered. It’s exposed to the weather, which is our main concern. The top rails are treated 4x6s. Eric patiently applied wood filler and sanded them to disguise the surface cuts.

treated 4x6 rails

Yes, I have helped a little on this project … painting, as usual. At this point, the opaque white-stained railings were merely laying on the framing. Duke wanted to know how far the schedule had slipped.

4x6 treated railings

Eric inserted additional framing to secure the hefty railings and to accept the plywood sheathing, which will be covered with cedar shingles.

corner post framing

Even though only the horizontal portions of the railings were up, it gave the porch a sense of enclosure and a preview of what it will feel like when finished. We felt like we were making progress. One evening while we were sitting in our living room with the French doors open, a couple of people walked by. We heard one of them say, “He’s been working on that for a year!” Well, hmph! That seemed to motivate us.

horizontal porch railings

I was excited as Eric began making the slats for the railing, because they are what give the porch its personality. The slats are 1×8, with a 1-7/8-inch decorative hole. These holes are probably the only round design elements on this decidedly square bungalow.

By this time, the temperature was really heating up, with 90-plus-degree days. The blue canopy was a smart purchase a few years ago. Standing in the shade makes the heat more bearable. Eric tolerates the heat far better than I do. I must admit, I spent large portions of the brutally hot days inside with the AC, pretending to be busy, while in reality I was watching golf on TV with a cool drink in my hand … as Eric toiled outdoors. Every now and then I called him in for a cooling break.

hot weather, canopy, table saw

But eventually it was my turn under the canopy, heat be damned. I painted three coats of white stain on the slats. The job went quickly because the heat dried each coat in minutes. That meant I could dodge back indoors before sweating too much.

porch railing slats, decorative holes

The slats are held in place between two rows of quarter-round, top and bottom. Small spacers fill the gaps between the slats so that winter rain (assuming we’ll get rain again someday) won’t collect in the trough and rot the railing. I still need to slap some white on the spacers.

porch railing slats installed

Now that the railings are complete, the porch feels like a porch, and is functional. We love looking out the French doors and seeing this awesome additional room just outside! It’s more than twice the size of the one it replaced. Plenty of room for our bistro set and a couple of other chairs. Duke and the cats love it.

porch viewed from inside, French doors, Lacy


porch, bistro set, Lacy

Over the next several days, Eric will build the top caps for the corner posts and shingle the walls to match the front porch. I’ll do some touch-up painting and planting. And of course, the construction debris needs to be cleaned away. Ditto the pile of saws, drills, and extension cords just inside the French doors. Only then will we be done. We’ve decided to eat a celebration dinner out here when that happens—not a moment before! We’re so close now! Imagine that—we’re about to actually finish a project!

porch without shingles

As I finish this post from my porch perch, Duke, Lacy, Tara, Checkers, and Peggy Sue have all joined me at various times. I think this porch is a success!

porch, computer, Tara Softpaws



What do you do when your bed gets saggy and you need a new mattress? You shop for a new one, buy it, and have it delivered. If you’re feeling fancy, maybe you even buy a new bedframe to spruce up your bedroom. But us? Nooooo … that would be way too easy. We’d rather find the hardest, most time-consuming DIY solution.

Checkers is a big dude, but not quite big enough to make the troughs that are visible in our bed.

black and white cat on saggy bed

For the past year or more we’ve been grumbling about sleeping in the two troughs of our not-that-old mattress. “Does anyone sleep in the middle?” a salesman asked. “Because the padding will shift to the middle if no one sleeps there.” Well, hell no, no one sleeps in the middle! What’s the point of having a king-size bed if someone sleeps in the middle? You might as well have a full-size bed! The other person would be clinging to the edge! Personally, I like my space … plus, we share the bed with four of our cats, so we sleep where we can fit. But, back to our story …

Eric and I finally decided it was time to test mattresses. We fell in love with the first one we lay on: a firm TempurPedic. Yes, we tested others, but always came back to “the one.” We wanted to buy it right away, but where would we put it? We liked the idea of a platform bed instead of a traditional box spring. So we started looking around. We searched online. We hit all the stores. We thought underbed storage drawers would be a great idea, but that severely limited our options. The few nice ones that we found were so expensive. Then the solution came to us. Of course! Eric could simply MAKE a platform bed! How hard could it be?

We wanted something that would look timeless … at home with our antiques, yet able to transition to a modern house in the future. We found a design at IKEA that we both liked, with simple, straight lines that reminded me of my parent’s 1940s bed.

1940 bed

Now … what kind of wood? Off to the lumber yard. We looked at birch. We’d seen a gorgeous Asian design in birch, and I fell in love with some sleek, natural birch dressers with glass tops at IKEA.

modern birch IKEA dresser

Why not go with something totally new and different? You know how long it’s been since I changed up my bedroom furniture? Never! But then what would I do with my antiques? A modern birch set would stick out like aliens in our house. Common sense prevailed. We looked at walnut. And then we saw the African mahogany. Sounds exotic, doesn’t it? I’m not sure if it’s exotic, exactly, but it sure as heck is expensive!

cart of mahogany boards at lumber yard

So Eric began translating the bed in our heads into reality. Naturally, he took advantage of this tool-buying opportunity to buy the planer that he’s been talking about for as long as I’ve known him. “I have no choice,” was how he put it. Oh, well, okay … if you have no choice!

planer in box

He began spending inordinate amounts of time downstairs in the shop/dungeon, but I didn’t hear any power tools running. What could he be doing down there? You know the old advice about measuring twice and cutting once? I think Eric was measuring 37 times but was still reluctant to cut that expensive mahogany.

Weeks passed. Eric insisted he was making progress, but I had still not seen so much as a footboard. (To be fair, his shop is cramped and he can’t keep all his machines set up at once. And it takes a lot of time to glue and assemble a king-size bed. And to measure 37 times. Not to mention, we have day jobs.)

We returned to the mattress store and reaffirmed our commitment to the mattress. But, they were no longer throwing in the absurdly high-priced matching pillows for free. Here’s the thing: We didn’t want to buy the mattress before we were ready to set it up. I didn’t want the memory-foam monster lurking in the library, nor did I want us to have to muscle it into the bedroom by ourselves, or deal with getting rid of our old set. All elements would have to come together at once. Planets had to align. The dance had to be choreographed.

A salesperson called us when the pillows became part of the deal again. A special offer would be in effect for several weeks, but we had to buy by April 19th. Time was running out. How in the world would we finish the bed frame—which not only needed to be built, but also stained and finished, a process that can’t be rushed? I was stressin’.

Eric said the footboard would be ready for me to stain by Saturday (Saturday passed)… okay, maybe Thursday (Thursday came and went) … or surely the next Saturday. So I grabbed a wood scrap and started testing stain colors. We knew the mahogany wouldn’t match the walnut mom and pop dressers, but we wanted the color to blend. I tried dark walnut stain … and, oh, crap … the color had potential, but the mahogany’s open grain sucked up so much stain in places that it looked as if the wood had been charred with a blow torch. This isn’t 1972 … and that’s not the look I was going for.

bad stain

Apparently, you can’t just slap some stain on raw mahogany, so we read up on the process. It goes something like this: 1. Sand. 2. Stain. 3. Sand. 4. Fill the grain. 5. Sand. 6. Apply sealer. 7. Sand. 8. Apply more sealer. 9. Sand. 10. Apply more sealer. I quit stressing and started freaking out.

We went back to the mattress store, thinking we would order our bed, get the pillows, and delay delivery for a few weeks to give us a chance to finish the bed. It was then that we learned that the pillows are only offered if we bought a set. We didn’t want the foundation … only the mattress. No pillows for us! Demoralized, we drove home, figuring we might as well put off buying the mattress until the frame was ready. Whenever that would be.

So let’s recap: We had no mattress, no free pillows, no bedframe (yet), and disastrous stain results. Oh—and the price of the mattress had gone up $300 while we dilly-dallied about when to buy. Will we ever pull out of this DIY tailspin? Are we doomed to be swallowed by our old bed? Should we turn the shop/dungeon into a chemistry lab and invent our own memory foam?

sagging bed cartoon


 To be continued …






Murphy and Howard take a shine to Mom and Pop

Eleven years ago I had a new roof put on the house. The roofer did a good job on the roof (it’s held tight ever since), but he was slower than molasses getting the job done. And a little screw-loose to boot. He failed to throw a tarp over my south side dormer when he was in the middle of working on it … and that July evening a thunderstorm swept through. The dormer leaked like a sieve. I came home to find a new water feature dribbling down onto my guest bed, and an even more impressive waterfall streaming through the attic. The roofer was an hour away, but he returned with the tarp after the rain stopped, and … well, to make a long story short, eventually everything dried out and this painful incident became simply another flakey-contractor horror story.

Snoqualmie Falls

Snoqualmie Falls [Shutter Tours]

Besides the mattress, the biggest casualty of the fiasco was my mom’s 1890s Victorian Eastlake dresser, which, along with my dad’s similar dresser, were stored in the attic at the time. It made me sick at heart to see its finish ruined, but I put it out of my mind, figuring I would refinish it one day. Mom would have flipped to see what happened to her beloved furniture on my watch.

Does the light from the window make the damage look even worse, or did I somehow choose not to see how bad it was? Pictures don’t lie.

walnut Eastlake dresser with bad finish

When Eric moved in and needed closet space, he took over the spare room’s closet and dresser, leaving me our bedroom’s closet. I pressed both antique dressers into service then, which made the room look like a crowded antique shop, but that’s what happens when you have too many clothes and a very small closet. The downside was that I had to look at the ruined finish every day.

water damage 1

water damage to dresser top

water damage to side

I didn’t know when I’d have time to sand and refinish the dresser, but then my friend Jessica at Cape of Dreams wrote about her trusted three-step method of reviving tired wood furniture. Dare I hope for a quick fix? Meet the mighty trio: Murphy Oil Soap, Howard Restore-a-Finish, and Howard Feed-N-Wax.

Murphy Oil Soap, Howard finish and wax

OMG, Jessica, your system really works!! First, I gave the dresser a nice sponge bath with Murphy Oil Soap. Then I applied the Restore-a-Finish in neutral. (My only other option at Ace Hardware was dark walnut, and although the dresser is walnut, I didn’t want to add color.) It’s a stinky process, as you might expect from a refinishing product, but I had the windows open. The can warns, “This product contains chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer.” No worries—I’m in Washington!

This stuff is nothing short of a miracle. Can you tell what I’ve restored and what I haven’t?

dresser half restored

Finally, I slathered on a coat of Howard Feed-N-Wax, which is made with orange oil and looks and smells so yummy I may try it on toast. What do you think of Mom’s dresser now? Here she is, topped with Eric’s Eastlake mantel clock.

dresser with finish restored

Of course, she made Pop’s dresser look shabby. Before the roofing disaster, I thought it was his dresser that needed refinishing. It had always looked a little faded and uneven, and it also had some water damage toward the bottom. I was so excited about Mom’s dresser, I tackled Pop’s the next day instead of pulling dandelions. Pop’s dresser before:

pop's dresser before

And after:

Pop's dresser after

What a handsome couple! Mom and Pop dressers. My parents would be so pleased.

These pieces are sometimes called bachelor’s or gentleman’s dressers. The small upper drawers are for handkerchiefs.(Considering how many Kleenex I go through in a day, if I’d lived in the 1890s, I’d have had to store my handkerchiefs in a bigger drawer.) Befittingly, Mom’s dresser has narrow, rounded molding and delicate turned accents. Pop’s is more masculine with chunky appliques. Both are walnut. I’m sure they sprang from the source of all my family’s treasures: the dark and mysterious depths of my grandparent’s basement, where furniture from my great-grandmother’s lake house was stored.

two walnut Eastlake dressers

Mom’s has one more unique detail … when I was very young, probably around 4, I grabbed a pin from a dish on her dresser and carved a die into the top—complete with an attempt at perspective! I must have witnessed my parents playing a game with dice and thought it would be a good idea to commemorate it. I was always drawing on something—not necessarily paper. Look closely and you’ll see the three sides of the cube with one, two, and three spots. I got the perspective backwards, but I was impressed with myself. Mom was less impressed. I clearly remember her walking in on me before I could finish my artwork. The critique did not go well.

carving of die on dresser top

I’m so happy to have given these old friends the renovation they deserved. I know they’ll be with me for the rest of my life, even after I have a giant walk-in closet with room for all of our clothes … and 60 pairs of shoes.

[I received no compensation for mentioning Murphy or Howard products in this post.]