I had hoped the stoop project would be relatively simple.

Scrape, maybe a little sanding, repaint, and be done with it.

NotSoMuch. That was wishful, wishful thinking. But hey; a girl can dream.

The arched top of the woodwork didn’t look too bad from the ground but, when I got on the ladder to scrape some of the flaking paint, I saw the real truth.


The entire left side of the arch and much of the keystone was completely rotted. Squishy, crumbling, disintegrating in my hands kind of rotted. Blerg.


It came off in pieces.


Giant, chunky pieces. And we were able to assess the damage. (That’s my dad! Hi, Dad!)


And by “damage”, I mean the lacking left half of my arch. FML. Do you know how much custom millwork costs? Lots. Like LOTS and lots. Plus wood is quite susceptible to rotting.

Don’t get me wrong, I love wood (that’s what she said) but, in this application, it seems expensive and problematic. Historically accurate. But expensive and problematic.

Yes, it can be sealed. Yes, I could use something pressure treated. Or use the right flashing. Or whatever. There are lots of ways to make wood, the historically accurate choice, work. I know. But they all require maintenance. (AKA – upkeep; AKA – continued work hours down the line.)

Here is where the restoration peeps are going to want string me up by my toenails.

I am renovating. I am not restoring.

This was a choice Rob {my wasband} and I had made when we bought the place and I still think it is the right choice. I love the historic details. By no means am I ripping everything out and trying to make the house what it’s not. I am trying to renovate in a historically mindful manner but I am not restoring this home.

To me, that’s a really important point to remember.

I am not restoring; I’m renovating. If I was restoring, I would be using period accurate materials and methods (where possible). I would be doing my best to return this house to exactly how it looked back in the 1880’s when it was built. But I’m not. I don’t want to.

I don’t want to live in time capsule. I like the modern + historic melding of aesthetics and I sure as heck like the modern technologies we’ve developed.

That’s why I chose to replace the arch with foam.

Say what?!

Yup. Foam.

Architectural foam, to be specific.

The idea was first floated by my mother. We were chatting out various options while lifting rotted pieces of wood arch off the top. The arch, for anyone having a hard time with scale, it actually rather large. It’s 77″ at its widest and the molding is about 10″ thick. Chunky, to say the least. Looking at the pieces, it was obvious that the curved piece was likely carved out of a single piece of wood.

With a rowhome, context and surroundings become incredibly important. I am one of 4 houses in our row. Two houses have 1 style arch, the other two have a second style of arch. The neighbor who shares my style arch is RIGHT next to me. Because we match, it’s important to have whatever replacement I chose look exactly how it used to look. Fixing this problem shouldn’t change the look of the house. I want to replace the arch with something that looks EXACTLY like the old one.

Going back to the discussion with my mother. She remembered that the crown molding I used in my second floor bathroom was foam and asked if they made anything like that for the outside. I wasn’t sure but the idea certainly had promise. Foam is great because you can carve it however you like, it’s incredibly light and relatively inexpensive.

Turns out, architectural foam is an actual thing. Used on LOTS of buildings like every single CVS, Walgreens & McMansion. It can be finished to look just like painted wood, so you’ll never know it wasn’t. It is purely decorative, so you can’t use it for anything structural, but that’s not an issue here.

So that’s the latest & greatest. I’m going to recreate my arch out of this stuff –


Once all the eggs & rotten tomatoes stop flying for not using real wood, we’ll chat about the who’s & how’s of making this new arch a reality. Carrie out.

{ducks for cover}

Posted in out front | 16 Comments

So, The Stoop

Just a note – I might not post on a particular schedule, but I promise I’m back. No more giant spans of time missing from action around these parts!

As I mentioned last week, I’m shifting priorities to the front of my house because the City of Newark has taken me to court over a few things.

What things? I’m glad you asked. There are 4 specific violations.

  1. Peeling paint
  2. Rust & loose newel posts
  3. Rotted wood
  4. “Hole in porch”

This is what the house looked like when I was cited –

And here’s what things look like now, after I’ve started demo –

Out front

Things always look worse before they look better, right?

Untitled Untitled

The peeling paint is really a by-product of the wood rotting & the cast iron rusting. As you can see, I’ve already removed most of the rotted bits.


The eyebrows above the front 2 windows are actually metal (cast iron, I believe). Both have been scraped and the far right one has had about 50% of it wire brushed. Time to break out the big(ger) guns. Just scraping & wire brushing is too time consuming.


The missing concrete is (I think) my “hole in porch”.


As you can see, I’ve already started chipping away at the loose pieces and prepping it to be patched.

The iron newel posts are loose and one is rotting away at the bottom.


I’ve spent the better part of 2013 thinking about how to address these issues and what exactly needs to get done. Here’s what’s on the old TO DO list:

  1. Blast/Strip/Sand/Remove old paint from the wood, as well as the paint and rust from the cast iron.

    This is obviously easier said than done. There is A LOT of surface area to strip before I can get down to a good solid surface. I’m also dealing with the highly likely possibility of having lead paint. I haven’t tested but c’mon; the house is OLLLLLLD. Like ‘feed your babies lead for breakfast’ old.

    The paint-removal part of the prep is honestly the biggest job of the whole thing. Literally everything needs to be stripped &/or sanded down.

  2. Fix newel posts & have a gate made.

    This is probably a job for the pros. I don’t know how to work with cast iron and repairing ye-old-newel-posts is not a job for a noob ironwork DIYer. I also want to have a gate fabricated. Back in 2009 (yup. 3.5 years ago!), we miraculously found the perfect piece to make a gate from but never got around to it. My circumstances may have changed but the house might finally get its gate back. Here’s a pic of where I should have a gate, along with a pic of the neighbors who do.


  3. Patch the concrete.

    This one is relatively straight forward. The inspector doesn’t want to see the bricks peeking out from underneath the stone step? Fine. I’ll patch the hole – when it gets warm enough. Have I mentioned February in NJ might not be the BEST time to tackle a major outside project?

  4. Replace the  rotted pieces of wood in the stoop surround & rebuild.

    This. This is going to be interesting. Part of this is already in the works but that’s going to be a whole other post. All I have to say is – my mother is one clever woman.

  5. Get new windows.

    Like how I just snuck this one in there? New windows aren’t a stranger to the overall House-To Do list. I actually talked about pulling the trigger on some back in 2010 (when there was a MUCH better tax credit than there is now. whomp whomp.). Needless to say, we didn’t get windows and they’ve only gotten worse. If you’re sitting on the couch in the living room, you can hear perfectly clear a conversation happening out on the sidewalk. Not a screaming match on the sidewalk – a normal conversation at a regular volume. SO yeah. Maybe new windows while we’re at it. (HEYYYYYYYYY, Project Creep!!)

  6. Repaint.

    Finally. Paint = Project is almost done! It’s a victory to get this far. After conquering the other tasks, I will relish painting. Now, if the weather would only do me a favor and get itself above 50 degrees. You can’t paint (or strip, for that matter) when it’s 30 degrees and snowing.

The most challenging part of this whole process has been the weather. The chemical stripper is to be used at temperatures between 65-85 degrees F and paint is supposed to be 50+ degrees F. Jersey isn’t exactly an arctic zone but we don’t usually see those kinds of temperatures in January & February. But, of course, the city doesn’t much care. I brought up the whole ‘you can’t paint below 50 degrees’ thing the last time I was in court. It wasn’t met with much sympathy. In fact, the prosecutor looked me in the eye and said, “Well they build houses in the winter all the time.”

Did I mention I go back to court February 25? I don’t have to have it completed by then but I do have to show progress – freezing temperatures & snow be damned. If you want sneak peeks at how things are going, you can follow me on Instagram.

So. I that’s what I’m working on figuring out how to do. Build this house in the dead of winter.

Posted in out front | 6 Comments

On 2012 & The House’s Post Break-Up Haircut

2012 was a difficult year. Most of 2010 & 2011 weren’t exactly a walk in the park but I still made half an attempt at blogging. But 2012… 2012 was different. 2012 was coming to terms with the finality of ending the longest relationship of my life, dealing with & removing a c-word of a housemate (sorry Mom but she was) and – perhaps the most complicated – trying to figure out what the house is now.

Of course the house is still a house. But it’s different. My relationship with it is different.

The house was bought in 2009 as a home. A home full of hopes & dreams & a future. It was a project Rob (my former husband & best friend) & I were going to do together. Make “ours.” There were plans for what each room would be – the 2nd floor back bedroom was to be a den/music/TV room; it’s now a guest room & full of displaced kitchen stuff. It was so natural for “us” to have projects and talk about what “we” were going to do to X, Y, or Z. Dream. Plan. Do together.

That’s all changed. From “us” & “we” to “me” & “I”. And that’s been hard.

It changed my relationship with these 4 walls. It went from being “our home” to “my house.” I live here but it didn’t feel so much like home.

Keeping the house has never been a question. I am keeping the house.

But what is our future – the house & I? That’s what I’m struggling with.

Am I renovating to live here fulltime? Alone? With housemates? Will I move out and rent it fulltime? Live here fulltime and raise kids here?

The answers to those questions affect how to renovate. Case in point – I’m renovating the kitchen (yes; still). I LOVE the idea of a pot filler. I think it would be handy and easy. If I live here forever, I’d love to have one.

But, if I end up renting it out to a bunch of college students (the local demographic), I wouldn’t want them accidentally leaving the pot filler running and flood the kitchen.

I’m not putting in a pot filler. And that’s just the superficial, easy stuff.

The bedroom at the back of the 3rd floor, right off the master bedroom was going to be saved and used for nursery. Womp womp. Won’t be needing that anytime soon.

Inherently, I’m a partner person. Try as I might to fight it (and I fight it hard), I need a partner. And maybe that’s what makes everything with the house so hard. I don’t have a partner. It’s MY house. It’s MY call.

That’s not to say I don’t have help with the house. I’m blessed to have lots of help (Thankfully! Gratefully!). Lots of help but, at the end of the day, it’s still only mine.

I used to think, “Whatever you want. It’s your house,” would be liberating and empowering.

I want it to be liberating and empowering. I’m working towards making it liberating and empowering.

But it’s not. Not yet.

“Whatever you want. It’s your house,” is heavy and sad. It’s full of responsibility and obligation. So many “have to’s” instead of “want to’s”.

  • I have to fix the iron railing & newel posts out front.
  • I have to replace the rotted wood arch above the stoop.
  • I have to scrape the peeling paint from the stoop surround and above the front windows and around the windows.
  • I have to repaint everything.
  • I have to fix the hole in the cement at the bottom of steps.

These “have to’s” are coming from the city. The City of Newark is taking me to court because they don’t like the way the front of my house looks. Well, to be specific, I’ve already been to court. I have to go back at the end of February to show I’m making progress.

I – apparently – “live in a nice area” of the city and the way it currently looks is unacceptable to the powers that be. Never mind the dilapidated, bombed-out-looking buildings that I can see from my bedroom window. My peeling paint is a blight on the neighborhood. /sarcasm

(seen here back in summer 2012)

Which means that the front of my house is taking priority over not having a kitchen. Yes. The city is putting my peeling paint over not having a dishwasher. And we all know how I feel about having a dishwasher.

But some “have to’s” are just because I “have to.”

  • I have to fix the roof so it stops leaking around the skylight. The plaster is falling off the ceiling.
  • I have to make sure I’ve actually gotten rid of the rats that used to keep my Garden Unit tenant awake at night. (True story. Yuck.)
  • I have to finally find time to work on and finish my kitchen. Which I demoed in June. Of 2012.

To be clear, 2012 wasn’t all bad. I traveled a lot. I worked a lot. I’m trying to be a better friend to the few friends I have left. But the house took a back seat while I tried to figure out where we were going. We’re on weird ground, the house & I.

I only completed 1 major house project in 2012 and that was the 2nd floor bathroom of last January. That renovation started as a futile attempt at making the housemate thing work out. While having a housemate didn’t work out, I’m glad to have a beautiful bathroom. Even if it is still sandwiched between awful blood-red walls and yellow trim.


So. I’ve been moving on. Slowly working my way toward liberation and empowerment.

I’m choosing to see a city-mandated reshuffling of priorities as a good thing. It took me a long time to come to that realization. In fact, I only got there as I’m writing this post.

And you know what I JUST realized?

The house won’t look the same as it did in 2009. It will look better.

  • The newel posts won’t dangle.
  • The rust & paint won’t be flaking off.
  • There will be a gate. A real gate, down to the Garden Unit!
  • Rotten wood will be replaced and things will be rebuilt.
  • There will be fresh paint and a whole new look.

Perhaps all of these imposed “have to’s” are really just the universe giving the house it’s break-up haircut. That visual change signaling a new beginning. The radical difference people notice and comment on. (For the record, I’m a fan of the post break-up haircut. I went with a cropped pixie cut in 2010.)

I was feeling forced, obligated, annoyed, and a little resentful towards all of these things I “have to” do. But, ok House, I get it. A fresh look to start our next chapter. I think it’s a great idea.

This is my house. This is my home. And I want to.

Out front

Posted in out front | 24 Comments

It’s Electric

The electric in the kitchen/dining room has been, well, a larger project than I expected.

Going into this kitchen project, I knew there would be some electrical work to do but I completely underestimated just how much it would be. Par for the course, with this house.

Before I can tell you about the electric, I need to back up for a minute and talk about the island.

This is how the kitchen looked before demo (and the plan).

kitchen, before with plan

There was a fixed, permanent island separating the kitchen from the dining room. I originally planned to keep the island (basically) because the layout honestly wasn’t that bad, even though it was a little tight.

The whole house only 18′ wide – on the outside. Using 2′ of that width for an island and allowing for easy passage around it didn’t seem worth is. After demo and seeing how open everything was with no island, I decided to ditch the concept of a permanent island and go for a more flexible rolling island.

You’re aware of the Domino Affect right? One change causes another, which causes another, and so on.

This kitchen project has been FULL of them. The island was only the start.

The original, permanent island was home to several different switches and outlets.

  • The ceiling fixture for the kitchen was operated by a switch located on one side of the island.
  • The light for the back porch was on the other side.
  • Three sets of outlets for small appliances were located inside the island and on the back.

These were all functions I needed to keep but, obviously, they couldn’t stay in the island.

And while I was on the topic of changing the electric, I decided to add some recessed cans in the dining room & kitchen. Because:

  1. Why not?
  2. More light is ALWAYS good!
  3. Lets just do it while everything is all open
  4. How hard can it be?

First off, next time I say, “How hard can it be?” just punch me in the face.

“How hard can it be?” ALWAYS takes forever and ALWAYS is way more challenging than it initially seems.

Installing typical retrofit cans in a typical house where you could easily run wires through an attic would probably be relatively easy.

Installing retrofit cans in 130-ish year old row home is a PITA. And I’ll tell you why.

  1. None of the joists are evenly spaced.
    I spent a good 2.5 hours mapping out where each of the cans would be. Making sure they were centered evenly around the dining room chandelier and relatively evenly spaced. My existing joists, however, had other plans. Now they’re not perfectly spaced. It’s not SO bad that most people would notice but you & I will know.
  2. Plasterboard + Lath = Hard as hell & thick too
    Retrofit cans are made to go in normal drywall.

After it was all said and done, I’ve ended up with a plan that looks something like this:

kitchen electric

Clearly I didn’t go into this with a professional electrical wiring diagram or help with a professional lighting designer. If I had, you’d have something more fancy than Word AutoShapes to convey my plan. {Nothing but the best here in Brick City!} You might also have had a more accurate floor plan to work with too but I’m making do with what I’ve got.

Things to keep in mind when looking at this diagram:

  1. It’s not actually to scale.
    I don’t know who did these blueprints but they’re not 100% accurate. More of an idea than something to actually make hard plans by.
  2. It doesn’t show the blind.
    To the left of the kitchen sink the wall actually recesses into the closet about 14″. The switches & outlets and the under cabinet lighting that will be there will be in that blind.
  3. The kitchen wall (where the sink & stove are drawn) is bigger than drawn.
    Either it’s bigger than these plans show or I’m just cramming more stuff in. On that one LONG kitchen wall will go (from left to right):
  4. There will be no fixed island.
    Cause, remember, I’m going with a smaller rolling island instead.

While the kitchen & dining room are really the whole back half of the house, it’s important to me that they be two separate spaces.

I want a kitchen & a dining room.

I don’t plan on painting the two areas different colors or anything crazy but I wanted there to be a distinction between the spaces. I felt the best way to do that would be with lighting, specifically the recessed cans.

I’ll have the kitchen cans & dining room cans.

kitchen electric zones

They’re controlled separately. The kitchen cans are controlled above the dishwasher (eventually, speaking). The dining room cans are controlled over by the fireplace. They’re all on dimmers. The chandelier is already controlled by a switch on the left wall of the pocket door.

The cans are actually already in but the installation deserves it’s own post. They add SO much light and were – in the end – very much worth it.



Now, if I could just pick which light bulb I like best, we’d really be in business.

Posted in 1st floor, kitchen | 7 Comments

Exposing Brick

Before demoing, you never really know what you’ll find. Will you uncover a giant headache or complete awesomeness?

This house tends to favor the “giant headache” side of those odds but that’s probably pretty typical for a house pushing 130ish years old. Certainly the whittled joist I uncovered in the bathroom fell in the “giant headache” category. The stupid pipe ended up only being a minor headache but I certainly waffled my way through that decision. Sort through the archives, I could go on & on.

One thing that this house really delivers complete awesomeness on though is some exposed brick. It’s really super good at it.

Being that it’s an interior home in the row (I have houses on both sides), the only windows are on the front & rear of the home. The 2 side walls top to bottom & front to back are 100% old school brick with plaster parged on top.

The only room that came with exposed brick was the back room on the 2nd floor. Here’s how it looked at inspection:


The previous owner told the tale of exposing the brick like it was the most arduous thing he had ever done. THE MESS! THE DUST! SCRUBBING IT WITH ACID! I stared wide-eyed at the horrid undertaking exposing brick must be and thought exposing any more maybe just wasn’t worth it.

And then I actually tried it.

And wondered what the EFFHOLE (sorry Mom) he was talking about.

Mess? Absolutely!


Acid? Completely unnecessary.

Worst, hardest project ever? Not even a little.

My first go at exposing brick was cleaning up the back of the closet I made for my roommate last year. The room had no closet and we all know girls need closet space. So with 3.5 weeks before she moved in, Dad & I built her a closet. It didn’t get blogged. She’s since moved out and half my kitchen has since moved into that space, so no photos.

My second try was in the 2nd floor bathroom. The plaster parged on that wall was too bad to bother repairing and – let’s be honest – an exposed brick wall in a bathroom is kind of awesome. Down came that plaster.


It’s not rocket science folks. Here’s basically how it goes:

  1. Scrape plaster off wall. I find a floor scraper or spackle knives and a hammer for gentle encouragement work well.
  2. Bag plaster (in lots of small batches, practically using an entire box of heavyweight construction bags. Sh*t is heavy).
  3. Scrub the brick. I like a combination of grill brush & drill attachment (see below).
  4. Vacuum & clean the brick (and everything else; you’ve made quite the mess by now).
  5. Seal the brick. I prefer a low lustre sealer like the one by Behr in the paint section at Home Depot.

Here’s the bathroom wall after it’s been scrubbed & sealed:


On Repointing:

I haven’t bothered to repoint anything thus far. You certainly could, if you cared to. The walls under the plaster were never meant to be exposed. The joints are often uneven, with gaps & holes. Bricks are various sizes; some are cracked. None of my walls look perfect but they weren’t also ever supposed to see the light of day. I like this look. You might not. Personal preference.

If you’re curious about what repointed brick looks like, Wendy & Alex at Old Town Home did it when they exposed the brick in their home office.

In the kitchen, most of the plaster was already gone, with the previously framed wall sitting right against it.


While not scrubbed or clean, it was definitely one of the more awesome demo discoveries. It’s in solid shape, no cracks from settling or gaping holes. Instead of reframing the kitchen, I’m going to reclaim that 4″ (2×4’s studs + 1/2″ drywall of a framed wall) and mount my upper cabinets directly to the brick.

This also gives me an exposed brick wall in my kitchen. Which is kind of totally awesome.

The old framed wall came down easily. I saved the 2×4’s to repurpose.


And I was left with one very dusty (& blurry) brick wall.


After scrubbing though, it looked pretty good!


To clean up the face of the brick, I used a combination of wire brushes.


I find the traditional wire brushes are too stiff for my unfired brick. They leave scratches & gouges in the face which I find unsightly. A grill brush, however, works great! The bristles are thinner & softer and the big square face covers a decent amount of space (as far as wire brushes go).


I also like the wire brush attachment for my drill. It’s much faster & easier than scrubbing by hand and VERY thorough. You have to be a bit careful though! While these bristles aren’t as stiff as my traditional wire brushes, I find they do mar the face of the brick a little.

Sometimes I would get all the heavy stuff off with my drill brush and go back over everything with the grill brush to smooth out any swirl marks left by the drill brush.


After scrubbing, vacuum the ENTIRE WALL and the floor. And yourself.

You have to get off all the dust & debris you just created, otherwise it’ll be sealed to the brick forever and all your elbow grease will be for naught.

And because it was there, I also used the compressor with the compressed air attachment to blow off the wall. That worked great! I’m not saying you should run out & buy a compressor just for this project. But, if you own one, it’s probably worth dragging it up from the basement for this.


After sucking & blowing (that’s what she said) all the dust I sprayed the entire wall down with water and let it dry.

The I filled the garden sprayer with some low lustre sealer.


Sealing the brick is crucial.

Is the natural texture of the unsealed brick awesome? Yes.

Do you want to be cleaning up crumbling mortar & brick-dust every day from now until eternity? NO.

Unless you do. In which case, by all means stop right here and go grab yourself a cocktail with one of them little umbrellas. But I, personally, don’t enjoy cleaning so I’ll be using the sealer thankyouverymuch.

Sealing the brick will also make it easier to clean splatters off of. It is a kitchen, after all. Sure the nooks & crannies will always be there but at least they’ll be more wipeable.

And while you’re at it, grab yourself one of these little garden sprayers. They’re not expensive and they make sealing the brick pretty painless.

I tried using a brush for the sealer up in the bathroom. That wall was about 8.5′ x 9′. It took me 3 hours to do HALF of it (so roughly a 8.5′ x 4.5′ area). I wanted to kill myself (hyperbolically speaking of course).

It took me 20 minutes to spray this entire kitchen wall. The spray gets in an all the nooks & crannies. If there’s a deep hole you can shoot it right in there. The sealer absorbs into the brick & mortar and dries very hard. While not structural, it completely stops all of the crumbling that tends to happen with old mortar.

As I spray, I use a paint brush to even things out and spread the drips so nothing dries blotchy or drippy. The process typically goes:

  1. Spray a section
  2. Use paint brush to back brush
  3. Repeat

Seriously, that easy. I did 2 coats, although I’m not sure I really needed the 2nd one. Better safe than sorry. I used less than 2 gallons of sealer on the kitchen wall.

After you’re done spraying, you can pour the excess sealer back into the jug to reuse. Remember to flush the sprayer out with water right away. Dried sealer would ruin it.

To clean, I fill the sprayer up with water, pressurize it, and spray through all the water. My sprayer has a lock on it so you can set it up to continuous spray. I set it up in the bathtub and let it continuous spray while I clean my paint brush. Just SET IT and FORGET IT! You only have to repressurize it a few times for the whole jug. I run 2 full sprayers of water through it before leaving it disassembled to dry. Turn the shower for a few minutes on after you’re done to rinse any residual sealer out of the tub.

Tools I used:

Here’s a pic of the sealed brick vs. unsealed brick:


The sealed brick looks a little glossy up close but overall, it reads as a very matte finish.

{Sealed brick wall; all ready to go!}

I should note that this is what I do on interior walls only. Exterior walls are completely different and should be handled differently.

The wall is ready! Consider my backsplash officially complete. CHECK!

Now I just have to, oh…I don’t know, build the kitchen.

What your thoughts on exposed brick? Love it? Hate it? Classic look or too played out? Ever expose a wall of your own? I’d love to hear!

Posted in 1st floor, kitchen | 59 Comments

Because Somebody Cares

One of the main impetus for putting in a spigot out front was my stoop. Come the spring & summer, I enjoy sprucing up the stoop with flowers. It all started in 2010 when my mom decided the large planter on the sidewalk needed some flowers. Mom brought up a giant bag of soil & a bunch of flowers and made it look like someone living here cares.


It was a beautiful amalgamation of colors & textures.


flowers after

marigolds and petunias

2011 I had no plan for what I wanted the stoop to look like, so I just went to the nursery and bought whatever I liked.


It turned out ok but not spectacular. Photo above is the day it was planted and below was on Sept. 3, 2011.



It was a mix of coleus, begonias, petunias, sweet potato vine, & something else but I can’t remember what it’s called (the twiggy, tall purple ones). Turns out I really like coleus. Last year I didn’t know to pinch it off, so it got leggy instead of bushy.

{pots on the stoop}


{May 2011}

2011 was the first year I tried window boxes and I don’t think they did so well. I blame the lack of a spigot & the utter lack of any moisture retention by the coconut liners.

{Sept. 2011}

I learned the petunias were ok, as long as I remembered to deadhead them. The begonias & vines grew nicely but I didn’t care for the twiggy, tall purple ones. Everything would have looked better if I watered them more.

Last year’s flowers felt scattered & random with no cohesive look. For 2012, I decided to do all coleus & sweet potato vine. Experience says both do well on my stoop and this year seems to be no different.


I also bought a new planter at IKEA. Found it in their AS IS section for $25. It has a small dent in the top ring but, with that part to the back and a mound of sweet potato vine growing over it, you would never know.


The window boxes seem to be doing better this year. I lined the insides with plastic before filling them with dirt, so they’re retaining moisture better.



The whole front of the house needs attention. Peeling paint and rotting wood are everywhere but at least there are flowers.







The older planter that came with the house has a rather massive crack in it. It’s currently held together with wire ties & a plastic insert to keep the dirt in. The tomato plant I have in it seems to be doing alright.


It’s even got a tomato!


So that’s the stoop. Flowers to distract from the peeling, rotting, crumbling, disintegrating, flaking mess.


What have you planted? Any flowers I should try next year? You a big coleus fan too?

Posted in out front | 8 Comments

The Pipe is Gone

After posting about the annoying discovery of the T that was in the way, you all confirmed what I already knew in my gut.

The pipe had to go.

$500 isn’t a ridiculous amount in the grand scheme of things.


Worth wishing the kitchen had 6 more inches and knowing I could have changed it but didn’t? Nope.

Honestly though, one of the big concerns for me was disturbing my garden unit tenant. We’ve been having issues in her unit (well, the whole house really) and it seems things are finally under control. She has been so reasonable, patient, & understanding about everything. The thought of telling her I had to inconvenience her some more wasn’t a happy thought.

In the end though, it was worth it and not nearly as bad as I feared.

My plumber came yesterday, opened up a manageable size hole in her closet, just big enough to work (15×30″) and I patched it as soon as he left. I wet-sanded the spackle today and repainted before she even got home.

Before | After

There she is! In all her PVC-y goodness.

And this:


is why I couldn’t do the job myself (not that I’m qualified to anyway).

That medieval looking thing is a cast iron soil pipe cracker. The chain wraps around the pipe, applies an insane amount of pressure, and creates a perfectly clean crack in the pipe. Neat.




{Oh hello, Bathroom Renovation! Nice to see the joist-fix is looking well.}



A thick rubber fitting joined the cast iron to the new PVC on both ends. It’s held on with 2 hose clamps.


And here’s where things went a little…well…wrong. And it’s also the reason an actual blueprint or sketch would be helpful. Or maybe just better communication skills.


My plumber thought I needed the pipe to move back as far as possible. Like “up against the big brick wall” back. He put 2 – 45 elbows off the stack in the garden unit and ran straight up to my second floor.



I told him it looked great. It was perfect. I loved it.

Except it wasn’t. And I didn’t. And I even took the tape measure out before he even left but still paid him, assured him things were wonderful, and sent him on his merry way.


In reality, I needed the pipe to stay as far to the right (south) side as possible. The T on the original pipe was what was in the way. I had planned on working around the original pipe anyway. Would more depth be great? Sure. But the upstairs bathrooms have to drain somewhere.

By putting the 45’s on the bottom, it moved the whole pipe to the left about 3″. Thus only gaining me a net of 3″. 3″ for $500 isn’t the same as 6″. And I was expecting 6″.


My stomach was in knots. It didn’t come out as I thought it was going to. I just paid him a substantial amount of money. And – the worst part – I told him everything was great & perfect & wonderful when I knew in my gut it wasn’t.


So I did what any normal nearly-30-year-old would do. I texted my parents.

Lamented the mistake. Confessed I was so disappointed and upset. Threw myself a little pity party and they told me what, again, I already knew.

I had to put on my big girl panties and call him back. Tell him it wasn’t fine and I wasn’t happy.

He was a little caught off guard. I did, after all, tell him 20 minutes ago it was perfect. He told me he would think about it and call me back.

A few minutes later he called me back and said he could probably just turn the pipe upside down. Thus making all the angles the same as the original pipe.

It would be further off the back wall but back to the right where the original pipe was. Perfection. He said to give him an hour and he’d be back. He’d also bring his drill this time to do the spigot I mentioned I wanted earlier that day.

It literally took him less than 2 minutes to undo the hose clamps, flip the whole PVC upside down, and clamp it back into place.


And – MAGICALLY – the pipe was back to cuddling the south side of the house where it belonged. Oh Geometry, you’re so awesome.


Here it is before & after he flipped it upside-down.


See how it’s more to the right in the second pic? SO MUCH BETTER. You can really see the difference at the bottom, using the far right joist as a comparison.

Plus – an hour & a half later I had a spigot on the front of the house.



A first in the 130+ year lifetime of this home. And I don’t have to run up the first flight of stairs to fill up a watering can 5 times a day to water the stoop flowers. Win.


On Having a Plumber: I don’t have many relationships with specific tradespeople, since a do a lot of stuff myself, but I am grateful to have my plumber. He knows my boiler. He fixed my bathroom when I broke it with my ass (and that fix took some serious skills!). He’s a little gruff but he’s smart and experienced and makes time for me when I call. I never have to wait days upon days for him to come. Plumbing isn’t something I have nearly the experience to do myself and learning takes a long time. Leaking pipes behind walls or under floors would be catastrophic. Hooking up a sink? Sure, I could do that. Replacing my main soil stack? NoSoMuch. At least not today.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Stupid Pipe

So annoying.

Before demo, I knew there was a pipe in the back right corner of my kitchen. There was a little hole in the drywall of the useless nook that was previously here and I could see it running vertically up the chase. I gave myself a couple extra inches from the edge of this pipe and planned out my cabinetry from there.



Here’s the thing about my house –

Nothing is EVER as it seems and nothing will ever go smoothly or according to plan. Ever. Ever.ever.

See that little T juts out about 6″ into what would begin the main wall of my kitchen.

In some spaces, 6″ may not seem like much or could easily be absorbed in other places. This space? NotSoMuch.

In this space, that T affects – oh, everything:

  • overall cabinet placement
  • electric – outlet placement and circuit load distribution
  • storage & cabinetry (which is actually different from overall cabinet placement)
  • fridge height & placement
  • how much counter I need
  • how many pieces of kitchen hardware I need
  • traffic flow in the kitchen

That’s basically everything in my kitchen except paint colors & the island. And here I thought I had everything figured out and ready to go.


As I see it, I have 3 choices:

  1. Leave the pipe where it is. Keep everything shifted to the left 6″. Lose the 6″ of counter space and gain the 6″ here for other storage. {This choice also puts the edge of my sink right up against the arched opening for the front hallway. Cozy.}
  2. Build a platform over the T, thus raising the floor up 4″ under the fridge only. This would make my 80″ fridge now 84″ tall {I’m 5’3″ – who needs that top shelf anyway?!}. A platform/ramp would also have to be built for whenever I needed to clean behind the fridge {almost never}. Hope that any future tenants/roommates {if this place becomes a full rental} don’t yank the fridge off said platform.
  3. Pay the plumber $500 to remove the pipe and replace with PVC. This gains the maximum sqft and counter space. It also inconveniences my current garden unit tenant, as I will have to open a wall in her closet so the plumber can get far enough down the pipe to create a clean break {my kitchen is directly over her unit}.

So that’s where I’m at.

6″ of cast iron pipe is ruling my world.

Posted in 1st floor, kitchen | 12 Comments


So I took a trip over to the stone yard to finalize my soapstone plans this past weekend and walked out empty-handed.


They accidentally got some slate mixed in with a shipment of soapstone from India and are selling it for 50% off. Being soapstone experts, not slate, they weren’t able to tell me much about it except it’s incredibly hard (harder than granite).


It does have a completely different texture than soapstone. The slate felt hard and smooth, like granite. It didn’t mark when scratched at. Soapstone, to me, almost feels leathery (which I really like).


I’m still researching, as there seems to be a lot of misinformation out there. But am curious – do any of you have slab slate countertops? What do you think about it?


For those curious about slate counters, I found this post is helpful.

Posted in 1st floor, kitchen | 3 Comments

On Breaking & Entering, Theft, & Vandalism

They say one of the fastest ways to blow your budget & timeline in a renovation is to change the design midstream.

I would say those people would be correct. At least when it comes to the timeline part.

This past weekend, very little happened to move the kitchen forward. The whole – Hey lets totally change-up every single cabinet from the original plan and do it differently! Oh and you need to figure it out before the end of June because the counters are only on sale in June! Have fun!! – thing.

Well I did find floor.

You may have noticed that, while most of the kitchen has the original hardwood, there is a giant gaping hole.


It would seem that this area used to be the old staircase down to the basement (back when the real kitchen would have been down there). You can see the old joists frame out what would have been the stairwell. You can even see a gap in the brick wall where a support would have been and the dark shading on the brick where an old wall used to be.


While cool, it doesn’t do much in the way of providing a solid surface to sit my stove on. Need. Floor.

I’m ok with putting plywood under the sink cabinet but the appliances could – theoretically – be moved out to clean under them. Or so I hear. I’ve never actually moved an appliance to clean behind it but my mother has, so I know it can be done. If I were to (hypothetically, of course) move said appliances, wouldn’t plank wood floor look nicer than plywood? I think so.

One can’t just run to the Depot and grab a box of 100 year plank flooring though.

Where to find it??

Why a house slated for demolition, of course. {enter craigslist, stage left}

Funny story.

Turns out, “salvaged” flooring is really just code for “come demo my house for free and you can have whatever you want.”

{Hey, if it works for getting people to come take giant bushes off  your yard, why wouldn’t it work for demoing your house?}

Saturday, as we roll into this very neat, well-kept neighborhood, the bright noon sun shining, I kept my eyes peeled, counting the house numbers so I don’t accidentally drive by. Well it rapidly becomes obvious that there is no possible way I could miss this house.

The hole in the house where the front door would have been is sealed up with a piece of mint green wood paneling from the den. Leading up to the house, every single one of what were likely brick pavers have been taken. The walkway and sidewalk have been reduced to a 4″ deep moat of dirt that surround the house. The porch is held up by 2×4’s, which look more like toothpicks compared to the stately pillars that once would have stood there.

The 100+ year house looks more like carrion than home.

The earlier text conversation with the property’s owner prepared me a little for what I’d find:

  • Me: Sorry for all the back & forth. Coming down from Newark is just a hassle. Saturday good for you?
  • Owner: Fine. I won’t be there.
  • Me: Ok. Just help myself?
  • Owner: Yep. Be careful.

I think the “be careful” was the tip-off.

So by “I salvaged some floor this weekend…”

I should really continue saying – by entering an abandoned house, ripped up the foyer flooring – leaving massive holes & the joists completely exposed – and peaced out.

It kind of felt like breaking & entering, theft and vandalism… 

But I totally had the owner’s permission, so it was ok.

I found it interesting though that no one in the large, rather expensive-looking neighborhood said anything. Not a sideways glance. Not a curious, “Hey whatcha doing?” No slow drivebys from the cops. “Don’t mind us! Just helping myself to these fine-looking 100-year-old floors! Bang! bang! bang! bang!! Nothing to see here!”

Oh the things I’ll do for free floor.


Speaking of which, hope I took enough! (I might not have.) (Old tongue & groove is a real PITA to take up, by the way.)

Posted in 1st floor, kitchen | 1 Comment