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I started in on my back garden to-do list over the weekend! The forecast was for temperatures in the high 60s with clear skies both days, so I figured it was a good time to take on the white vinyl basement window that’s been sticking out like a sore thumb for years. On Saturday morning we went out to buy supplies, and after a nice lunch at Caffe Macchiato (they have a new vegan menu—very exciting) and a stroll around Washington’s Headquarters, I got to work.

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The first step was giving the entire window and the wood casing a thorough scrubbing. It took me a while to figure out how to remove that screen on the left—I almost gave up, and then I realized you just have to push it outward from inside. Heh. I used TSP substitute and warm water to make sure the entire area was totally free from any kind of oils, grease or anything else that could interfere with the paint’s adhesion. Regardless of what I’m painting, I’ve made it a standard part of my prep work to always clean with TSP substitute first. I don’t have a preferred brand, but I like the kinds that can be diluted with water better. (Note: TSP substitute will also dull the gloss of most finishes. That’s a good thing if you’re planning to paint, but a bad thing otherwise. Don’t use it as a cleaning product unless you’re in prep mode!)

Once every was super-clean inside and out, I forced myself to walk away and let it dry completely overnight. Water is the enemy of spray paint—even more so than dust or dirt—and as tempting as it was to put a first coat on right away, I knew I’d regret it.

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The next morning, I spent about an hour masking off everything I didn’t want to get paint on. I wasn’t too worried about overspray getting on the brick since the window well is recessed, but I taped up some plastic anyway. Ideally this would all have happened before the window was installed (actually no, ideally we would have installed a black window, but I think our choices were limited to white or almond…), but what can you do.

Side note: I keep seeing a person wearing a sumo wrestler costume wig (with blue barrettes) and a pair of white glasses.

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I’m usually a Rust-Oleum devotee when it comes to spray paint, but for some reason my Lowe’s doesn’t carry their plastic spray paint line. Lowe’s own Valspar plastic spray paint gets perfectly good reviews, so I let go of my brand loyalty in favor of not having to also go to Home Depot. The color choice were extremely blah, so I’m glad I just needed plain old black. It cost about $5.

Note that the can says, “no primer needed.” That’s the truth. In my experience, if a can of spray paint says it doesn’t require primer, you’re better off without it. Not using primer goes against everything I believe in when it comes to painting, but it’s truly not needed in some cases. This spray paint is formulated to bond directly with the substrate. Skip the primer.

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I tried to get a close-up shot so you can see how nice the finish is, but it was so sunny out and the gloss black is really reflective, so it’s hard to tell. It really did come out looking like a factory-finished black window. Do avoid dripping, I did four very thin coats in all, 10 minutes apart.

Then we went to lunch at Tito Santana Taqueria (the new tofu scramble tacos are REALLY GOOD) and took a long walk through Beacon while the paint dried.

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Ta-da! The vinyl came out looking great. Nice and smooth. Unfortunately, because the window is double-glazed, there’s no way to paint the white plastic area between the two panes of glass. Of course I’d prefer to not see any white there are all, but it’s not a huge deal. It’s not noticeable from a few steps back.

Obviously it’s too early for me to comment on the durability of the spray paint over time, but I’m not too concerned. We don’t open and close this window, so any wear would come from exposure to the elements. I’ll keep an eye on it, and I’ll report back.

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The paint on the wood casing was looking kind of rough and peel-y (I didn’t paint it initially, our contractor did after installing the window…which was part of a major structural repair job on the back of the house), and it had never been caulked properly, so it was as good a time as any to get the whole window in good shape. I used indoor/outdoor caulk that I had on hand. Check the label when you’re caulking exterior windows—it should be able to adhere to vinyl, wood, and masonry.

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Fortunately we had half a can of our exterior paint (Benjamin Moore’s Black Beauty, Aura semi-gloss) stashed in the basement! I decided to paint the concrete arch at the top of the window, too. That arch was originally wood, and that piece is painted to match the rest of the casings on all of our other windows and doors. It makes sense to have this window match the others! I don’t know why it never occurred to me to paint that arch before.

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Ta-daaaa! Yes, I realize this is a very subtle improvement, but it makes me feel good to have crossed off one of my spring/summer to-do list items already. Of course, the dryer vent hood now looks extra-extra terrible, so I should probably go ahead and cough up the bucks and order a copper replacement. I’ll justify spending $75 on a vent hood by reminding myself that the rest of this little project only cost $5.

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Speaking of looking terrible by comparison, THIS is what our windows look like up close. Oy. We can’t rehabilitate them all ourselves because we’d need scaffolding for the upper windows (and anything we do at the front of the house requires prior historic guideline board approval and a building permit—yes, even just to paint a window), but I certainly can and most definitely should fix up the windows I can reach with a ladder at the back of the house. I’m adding the two kitchen windows to my to-do list! I know it’s a drop in the bucket considering we have 15 windows, but it’s a start—and it’ll look nice from the garden.

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For much of my adolescence, I lived in a house without a shower. The house was built in 1820, and when indoor plumbing was added, a bathroom was built on the second floor. It had a toilet, a chrome-legged sink, and a cast iron pedestal tub. My mother, two of of my sisters and I took turns taking baths every morning. The tub didn’t have a spray handle, so we kept a big plastic cup next to the tub for rinsing shampoo out of our hair with clean water. I’m not going to romanticize things: It sucked. It made getting ready in the mornings a huge hassle, and it sucked. I loved staying over at friends’ houses so I could take a real SHOWER. (And also so I could eat microwave popcorn and watch cable TV.)

When I was 16 or so, we got one of those shower enclosure conversion things, and life immediately got better. Showers! Every! Day! So! Clean! And do you think I ever took a bath in that house again? HELL NO.

Anyway, that was in 1991. Fast forward 17 years to 2008, when we were renovating the downstairs bathroom. Taking that shower out of commission meant that we were limited to taking baths in the upstairs bathroom for however many months (six…) it took us to finish the renovation. Fortunately we do have a hand-held sprayer so no plastic rinsing cups were necessary, but let me tell you…taking daily baths as part of regular grooming and personal upkeep is one thing, but bathing after a long day of demolition and sweaty, dirty renovation work is quite another. One bath to get the grime off, another bath to get the dirty water off, and then a cleaning session to get the haze of grime off of the tub. There was no lazing about in mounds of bubbles while listening to Mets games on the radio with the window open. No, none of that. All business, no pleasure.

So, naturally, once the downstairs bathroom renovation was complete and the shower was back in order, I quit baths like a bad habit. Until last month, I think I’d taken a grand total of maybe five baths in the past five years. How pathetic is that? We put all of this hard work into renovating the bathroom and spent a bunch of money having the clawfoot tub refinished, and I’m not even taking baths in it?!?!

Well, that’s all changing now, and you know what the incentive was? No, not a desire for relaxation, but packaging. Beautiful, minimal packaging from Herbivore Botanicals, who I first discovered via their Etsy shop. Seattle-based Julia and Alex started Herbivore Botanicals three years ago, and everything in the line is totally vegan and completely natural. Now, I don’t want to stereotype too much here, but as someone who is increasingly doing a lot of shopping in health food stores’ cosmetics aisles, I can tell you that “vegan” and “natural” are not usually words that I associate with incredible packaging design. And that stuff matters—it matters to me as someone who cares about design, and it matters when it comes to the perception of animal-friendly and natural products as being part of the world of luxury skin care.

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Let’s talk about that Coconut Milk Bath Soak. It’s amazing. It doesn’t make bubbles or anything like that, it really is a soak. It has the most gentle, calming coconut/vanilla scent imaginable—not like one of those gross, chemical-y “birthday cake”-scented bubble baths. It doesn’t make the tub (or you) weird colors. After getting out of the tub, my skin feels so super-soft…not coated or oily, just soft and fresh. There is a subtle fragrance that lingers, but it’s nothing that would interfere with another perfume (if you’re into stuff like that). The Coconut Milk Bath Soak has turned me into a bath devotee. I am committed to taking baths in the evenings on weekends now!

I bought a couple of other products at the same time as the bath soak—Vetiver Cardamom Luminous Body Oil for me, and Men’s Face Elixir for Evan. We love them both! I use the body oil almost every day now, right after I get out of the shower (or bath). It’s much more viscous than body oils I’ve used in the past, so I do need to apply it while my skin is still warm. It’s done an incredible job of keeping my legs from turning into crocodile skin this winter. The cardamom vetiver scent does linger for a while, but it’s exactly the kind of warm fragrance I love when it’s cold out. When the weather gets warmer, I’ll probably switch to the Neroli Blossom version. Evan really likes the Face Elixir! He uses it every night, and was able to give up the very unnatural nighttime moisturizer he’d been using previously.

I have to admit that after having struggled for so many years to find a facial skin care routine that really works for me I am hesitant to change anything about it. I don’t think I can walk away from my prescription medications without my skin freaking out (the emotional distress of adult acne is something I’ve discussed before, I won’t get into it again now…), but I am going to try to phase out the other products—and phase in more natural, animal-friendly ones. I’m going to start by ordering the Pink Clay Soap and see how it goes. My skin is far too dry and delicate for anything like the Bamboo Charcoal.

How about you? Are there any natural, vegan, non-irritating face washes you’d like to recommend I try? Preferably ones that work well with a Clarisonic (not all cleansers do)—and bonus points if the packaging is nice. Of course.

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Between the front and back of the house, I spent about five hours outdoors yesterday doing a major cleanup in preparation for spring. Aside from a few secret crocuses, absolutely nothing is blooming in Newburgh yet—winter has been dragging on forever, and we’re only just now starting to have slightly warmer days that feel vaguely spring-like. After “finishing” the back garden last summer, I have high hopes for lots of lush, full growth as the plantings we did a year ago start to fill out and get more established.

I am noticing a lot of projects that still need to be taken care of, though, things that we’ve been talking about doing for years but never seem to get around to. Of course the major exterior project that continues to loom is addressing the windows, which need an awful lot of repair work (including having the rotted casings replaced—oy vey)…and, eventually/hopefully, new storm windows. That’s going to have to be put off at least another year because of the expense involved, but in the mean time, I want to tackle some of the more manageable things.

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First things first: WE NEED OUR JUNK GUY. Since we don’t have a driveway, there’s nowhere to put a dumpster (or one of those Bagster things) when we’re renovating. Yeah, we could apply for a permit to put on on the street, but that would have to be for a very limited amount of time—something that doesn’t really work with our snail’s-pace approach to renovation. The only solution we’ve come up with is to put smaller construction debris into contractor bags, stash everything in the basement, and when the basement is full, hire a guy with a huge truck to come and take everything to the dump. That’s worked pretty well for us over the years, but now the basement is full—and the bags and other debris have spread to the garden. See that stack of plywood leaning against the fence? That’s our old kitchen subfloor.

Sigh. So yeah, we need the junk guy to come and take this mess away. Hopefully we’ll only need him one more time in the future, when we do demo work in the basement.

(Hmmm, we also need Verizon to come and take care of that downed telephone line…)

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This basement window was piece of broken glass in a rotted frame covered with plywood when we bought the house, so this little vinyl slider is definitely an improvement over that, but it’s still an eyesore. Rust-Oleum makes a spray paint specifically for painting plastics. I’m just going to go for it. That window will fit right in with the brick if it’s painted black, and that’s what I want.

I also want to replace that temporary (“temporary” = 8 years) plastic dryer vent hood. I’m going super-fancy and splurging on a copper one. We couldn’t afford to install copper downspouts (that’s just galvanized steel painted black—which has held up really well, by the way, in case you’ve considered painting your downspouts), but I’ve been wanting some kind of copper accent on the back of the house somewhere…so, a copper dryer vent it is.

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The steel doors leading to the basement look terrible, but they’re actually in perfectly good shape. The wood framing surrounding them, however, is not. It’s so badly rotted that I can push a hole straight through with almost no effort. Because this is a spot that gets very little sunlight, rain and other moisture tends to sit for longer than it should. Rather than replace the rotted wood with new wood, we’re thinking about using a fiber cement-based product like HardiePanel. It’s paintable, rot-proof, and durable. And, of course, if the new framing and the doors are painted black, they’ll disappear visually. I’m sure the paint will need to be touched up every few years (this is a lesson I’ve earned about black paint outdoors—everything shows), but that’s OK.

Once that’s done, we can fill in the rest of this area with gravel. That’s what we did with the rest of the broken/mossy-concrete part of our garden—we just dumped gravel on top. It looks great, and it helps with water dispersion so rain runs off the way it should instead of pooling up and making mud puddles. Much cheaper than having all of the concrete removed and hauled away, too!

If you’re trying to figure out what part of the house this is, that’s the dining room window above the basement doors, and the kitchen window above the radiator (to the left of the refrigerator) on the right. The brick wall on the left is the side of our neighbor’s house.

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As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, I loathe the exterior kitchen door. The embossed steel panels on the bottom are fake, the plastic mullions are fake, and the whole thing makes me sad. The original door is nowhere to be found. Rather than put in a vintage replacement, we want to go very contemporary and simple—something like this. We’ll get the advantage of a well-insulated modern door and let a ton of additional extra light into the kitchen, without any of the fussy fake-everything elements of the current door.

We’d also like to put in a screen door at the same time. Upstate New York is too full of mosquitoes and flies in the summer to just leave a door open, but it would be so nice to have that breeze! Fun for the dogs to be able to look outside and groundhog-watch, too. We made a pathetic attempt at installing a screen door a few years ago, but we really only got as far as installing these beautiful screen door hinges before we gave up and moved on to something else.

Replacing the porch light (currently just a bare flood lamp) will be a much easier project! I haven’t really started looking yet, but this industrial guy would look great with the currently exposed conduit. I do LOVE that orange color…

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The previous owner put in this back porch (I hesitate to call it a “deck” since it’s only about 5×6′), and while it’s perfectly stable and well-built, it’s got more of that faux-Victorian thing going on with the spindles, and I am not a fan. I’d also like to cover up the underside of the porch, but standard lattice is too fussy. I need to sit down with a pencil and paper and come up with a real plan, but my goal is to get rid of the spindles and have spaced, horizontal slats enclosing the whole porch—from top railing to the ground. Similar to what Morgan did with her front porch, but obviously not up that high. I’ll try to sketch something up next weekend. I don’t think it’ll too difficult or expensive, and it’ll make a HUGE difference.

I’m so excited to get moving on outdoor projects! As exhausted and sore as I am today, it was really nice to be working in the fresh air and sunshine yesterday. Fingers crossed for continued good weather—I really hope there’s some bud and blossom action happening by the weekend. I’ve got a whole list of projects lined up for the front garden, too, but I’ll get into that later!

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Considering how much of my life is spent at work, it’s kind of funny that I’ve never done a post about what my office looks like. Whenever I’m invited by other sites to share my workspace, I feel a little bit disingenuous sending in pictures of my desks at the house and (former) apartment. I mean, truthfully: The “office” at the house has become Evan’s music studio, and we don’t even pretend to call anything at the current apartment an office, unless you’re counting the sofa, which is where I do all of my blogging. No, my work happens in an office-office, one with bad industrial carpeting and a dropped acoustic ceiling and fluorescent lights and all of the other stuff nobody is particular interested in looking at pictures of.

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Last summer, after 15 years spent working in the same spot in the same building (with most of the same awesome people), the entire art department was moved up one floor. Same building, same corner, but 20 feet higher. Aside from the joy that came from sifting through 15 years of accumulated junk and throwing away 75% of it, I decided to commit myself to turning my new workspace into a place I like to walk into every day.

I don’t have an office with walls. All of the designers in my department sit in a big, open room—that was our choice. We like to be able to talk, and we like to have tons of light. The light, of course, is the best thing about this office—it’s a landmarked building (one of the original art deco Rockefeller Center structures, completed in 1939), and that includes the enormous, steel-framed windows. Windows that open, mind you, though I don’t necessary recommend doing that on a windy day when you’re 14 flights up!

Anyway, because I work in an open room with other people (and other people’s stuff), It’s a little tricky to take pictures that show all of my space. I promise I do actually have a computer and a chair and a phone…and a very full inbox.

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I don’t think there’s any way to fight generic office blah other than with bright colors and things that make you happy every time you look at them. “Elegance” is tough to pull off in this kind of environment, and I don’t even bother trying.

Over in this corner, I have an Alexander Girard PLYprint (these were issued by Columbia Forest Products in 2009, and sadly discontinued very sooner after), a bent-plywood “Clouds” clock from my own K IS FOR BLACK shop, a bootleg Andy Warhol poster (more on that in a minute), a letter A print from Ferm Living, and a vintage bus roll that I found at Three Potato Four.

So yeah, the Andy Warhol poster! Hah. If you read Scandinavian design blogs and frequent Swedish real estate websites, then you know that these Warhol posters—part of a series of reprints from a 1968 exhibit at Moderna Museet—are apparently issued to all Swedes along with their birth certificates. In the US, however, it’s next to impossible to get your mitts on one! I had dreams of buying one when I was in Stockholm, but the closest I was able to get to Moderna Museet was taking a longing photo from a window in a building next door.

So I decided to be a loser jerk and make my own. The real thing wouldn’t have fit in this spot anyway, and since the sentiment is pretty much the most perfect thing to be on a book cover designer’s wall, it had to happen. I knew what font they used for the poster, so…OK I’M ASHAMED. A little. But it’s not like I’m going to sell them (and no, I won’t send you the digital file), and if I ever do have the opportunity to buy a real, full-size one from Moderna Museet, I definitely will. Then I’ll hang that one in in my house, and keep the bootleg miniature at work.

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This part of my desk is usually completely covered with book cover comps, but I had to move them all out of frame since they’re for titles that haven’t been approved yet. The work you see there is what became the hand-lettering for this book (just approved yesterday, yay!). My vintage Snoopy came from Three Potato Four, and the snake mug…

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I LOVE MY SNAKE MUG!!! If you’re a fan of Craig Ferguson (and you should be), then you know Craigy is never without his trusty rattlesnake mug. I bought mine on eBay, and it’s identical to Craig’s—with the exception of the gold tooth, of course, which is a Late Late Show props department customization. (Weirdly enough, the snake mug sold by the CBS store is clearly not the same one Craig uses, which confuses me—but I’ll drop this subject now since I suspect it’s not very interesting to anyone but me…)

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Photo by Ali Goldstein/NBC

In case you ever wondered if 30 Rock was filmed on location, the answer is YES, unquestionably! Every time they showed Liz Lemon’s office, I had to smile at the 1930s radiator covers—the same ones are in every office throughout all of the old Rockefeller Center buildings. Same old windows, too.

I put those raindrops on my filing cabinet a few years ago, and they still make me happy. They’re just cut out of white paper with adhesive on the back, nothing fancy. The chair is an Arne Jacobsen Series 7 in a discontinued, terrifying shade of acid green that I love. I found it in the hallway in a storage pile during a company-wide office cleanout years ago, and I grabbed it. It still belongs to the company, of course, but I like having it in my area. The cute raindrop pillow and the triangle wall stickers are from Ferm Living.

I suspect I may be the only person working here with their own rug. It’s the same Nate Burkus Arrowhead rug (discontinued, alas) that I have in my dressing room, but in a smaller size. I would’ve gone bigger, but then my rolling chair would be getting caught on it. Office carpet is almost always a depressing thing, so it’s nice to have a tiny corner of happy floor covering to take the edge off. The bird hanging in the window is an Icelandic Krummi (raven) coat hanger designed by Ingibjörg Hanna Bjarnadóttir.

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If you follow me on Instagram, then you’ve probably seen a lot of pictures of this view! My window overlooks 6th Avenue, and I’ve been documenting what I see out there during every season for the past 16 years. Here’s a compilation of some from 2013…

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BOOKS! I can’t keep every book I’ve designed, obviously, but I hang on to the ones that are in series—multiple titles by the same author—since I often need to refer back to them later. (If you’re interested in seeing some of the covers I’ve worked on, I have a portfolio site.) Speaking of which, I have strict rules about books at this point. I don’t take ANYTHING home with me from work unless I really, really want to read it. I’ve already read most of what I worked on when it was in the manuscript stage, and if I start taking home every book that catches my eye (and there really are books EVERYWHERE when you work at a publishing company—it’s amazing), there will be no more room for people or dogs in my house. I cracked down about 10 years ago, and I’m glad. I love love love books, and (contrary to the Warhol quote) I really do love to read a whole lot, but there are limits.

And on that note, it’s FRIDAY, and I’m outta here! Have a great weekend!

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Sometime late last year, I heard about a new site for buying and selling furniture called Chairish. The idea behind Chairish is that you can shop for pre-loved, pre-owned (OK, used) furnishings without having to sift through a bunch of junk. Everything for sale on Chairish has been approved by its staff curators, who have what professionals in the industry like to call “good taste.” Aside from selecting great stuff, Chairish also screens sellers and handles the shipping (where applicable—local pickup is also often an option), so you don’t need to worry about driving four hours and finding out that the credenza you thought you were buying was already sold while you were on your way there.

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On the selling side, things get really good: You can either take your own good-quality photos of the stuff you’re selling (Chairish provides the silhouetting services!), or you can have a Chairish pro come to where you are and take photos for you if you’re in the Boston, Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale, Greensboro, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, or Seattle areas. They’ll even do all the measuring and description-writing, too, if you want. When larger furniture items sell, Chairish partners with a white-glove shipping company who will come and pick up your dresser/table/sofa/whatever to be delivered to its new owner. I don’t know about you, but the main thing stops me from selling big pieces of furniture online (I’m looking at you, Heywood-Wakefield dresser) is not wanting to have to deal with getting the thing out of my house and arranging to have it shipped. And yes, they have an iPhone app (direct link) that makes the whole process ridiculously easy.

But enough about selling, let’s talk about BUYING! Chairish is hosting a giveaway for a $250 site credit for Door Sixteen readers! You can shop from my collection or from everything else on Chairish.

Giveaway time! Here’s how it works:
Enter your email address on the Door Sixteen + Chairish giveaway page.
Entries will be accepted from April 2nd through April 15.
One lucky winner will receive a $250 site credit to shop at Chairish! Yay!
If you’re the winner, I’ll notify you via email.

When Chairish approached me about putting together a collection of things I love and covet, I spent an afternoon looking at everything on the site. Before I knew it, I had marked 87 things as favorites. EIGHTY-SEVEN. I managed to narrow it down a little bit, and you can see my top 30-ish picks over there. Instead of just leaving you with a collection, though, I thought it would be fun to pull out my 12 favorite-favorites and show how I’d use them in a Door Sixteen-ish way.

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1. Room & Board Harding Queen Sleeper Sofa
2. Pink Dyed Grain Sack Pillows
3. Yaacov Agam Signed & Numbered Serigraph
4. Vintage Brass Candlesticks- Set of 3
5. Original Herman Miller Eames Fiberglass Rocker
6. Vintage Kantha Pillow
7. Walnut Tambour Door Credenza by Milo Baughman
8. Royal Holland Pewter Coffee Service Set with Tray
9. Distressed Pair of IB Kofod Danish Lounge Chairs
10. Patrick Townsend White Orbit Chandelier
11. Black Square Boucherouite Rug
12. Danish Modern Teak Marble Top Coffee Table

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Vintage neutrals + bright textures. Well, if that doesn’t look like Door Sixteen, I don’t know what does. Black upholstery can be very somber-looking, and there’s nothing more satisfying than throwing on a few brightly-colored cushions and watching the whole mood of the piece change instantly. I love the combination of black, wood, and hot pink! I want to curl up on in one of these chairs and wait for someone to bring me coffee.

Shown here: Distressed Pair of IB Kofod Danish Lounge Chairs, Pink Dyed Grain Sack Pillows, Royal Holland Pewter Coffee Service Set with Tray

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Bold graphics + warm wood + metal. I know there are people who can’t get enough brass ‘n glass in their lives, but I personally prefer metals when they’re paired with much softer materials like rich, warm wood tones. I hadn’t heard of Israeli artist Yaacov Agam until I started putting this post together, but now I love his work! Check him out if you’re into op-art and color theory. Great stuff.

Shown here: Walnut Tambour Door Credenza by Milo Baughman, Vintage Brass Candlesticks- Set of 3, Yaacov Agam Signed & Numbered Serigraph, Original Herman Miller Eames Fiberglass Rocker

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Contemporary high-low + mixed vintage patterns. I don’t mean high-end and low-end, I mean literally high in the room and low in the room—something contemporary on the floor, and something contemporary on the ceiling. As much as I love vintage furniture, when you’re using a lot of mismatched vintage patterns, it can all start to look kind of kitschy and retro if everything else in the room is also vintage. Trust me on this—just two contemporary, neutral-colored pieces will take the edge off and make everything feel pulled together and fresh.

Shown here: Room & Board Harding Queen Sleeper Sofa, Patrick Townsend White Orbit Chandelier, Black Square Boucherouite Rug, Vintage Kantha Pillow

There’s TONS more stuff hand-picked by me in the Door Sixteen collection at Chairish, which is where I’m headed now to ogle coffee tables and lamps. I should probably be thinking about doing some spring cleaning and selling a few things, too—our basement has become quite the dumping ground for some really nice pieces of furniture that followed us home but don’t physically fit in our house or apartment. Sigh. Someday!

p.s. Don’t forget to enter the giveaway!

This post was written in partnership with Chairish, but all thoughts, opinions, and selections are are entirely my own.

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Ohhhhh yeahhhh. Last weekend I hosted a big family gathering at my house, and even though I wasn’t in charge of dessert, I selfishly decided to make a little vegan cake so Evan and I would have something to enjoy with our coffee. I’m really not much of a baker, but this turned out so beautifully! It was delicious, too.

OK, so…let’s get my confession out of the way first: I used a mix for the cake part. Yes. I know that baking an actual yellow cake from scratch is not difficult, but we had a box of nice, all-natural cake mix in the pantry already and this was a last-minute plan, so there you go. No shame.

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The mix called for adding water and melted margarine. I subtracted a teaspoon of water and added a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice, and substituted melted coconut oil for the margarine. I love baking with coconut oil! I divided the batter in half, then baked two layers using an 8×2″ Wilton heart pan.

I knew if I waited until the morning to bake them I wouldn’t have enough time to let both layers cool completely before frosting, so I played it safe. I left the cakes on the counter until bedtime, then wrapped them in parchment and foil and refrigerated them overnight. First thing the next morning, I took them out again so they’d come to room temperature.

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FROSTING. Holy hell, this frosting. It’s so good. I wasn’t sure if it was going to come out right so I didn’t think to take pictures until I’d already started putting it on the cake, but it made exactly the right amount to frost two small layers or one standard.

Coconut cream cheese frosting (vegan)
Adapted from this recipe / Enough for two small layers or one standard (or 12 cupcakes)

1 cup powdered sugar (confectioners’ sugar/icing sugar)
1/2 cup coconut oil (must be solid/cool)
2 tbsp almond milk
3/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt

Put everything in a food processor for 1-2 minutes, or until everything is well-blended and smooth. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl, cover tightly, and refrigerate.

After about 30 minutes, mix up the frosting with a fork. It’s going to feel like it’s too runny to work as cake frosting, but don’t worry—once the coconut oil cools and re-solidifies, it’ll be perfect. You just have to periodically mix it as it cools so you wind up with a fluffy end result. I mixed it up every 15 minutes or so for about two hours because I was in the kitchen doing other stuff anyway, but I think it would be fine if you wait a little longer than that. Just make sure it stays in the fridge long enough to be cold and fluff it up every now and then. I left it overnight, then took it out first thing in the morning. After it had warmed on the counter for about half an hour and I gave it another fork-mixing, it was PERFECT.

Note: Taste the frosting, but do not eat all of the frosting with a spoon (even though you’ll want to).

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I prefer the dome-topped look when it comes to homemade cakes, so I only de-domed the bottom layer (then I ate the discarded dome for breakfast, naturally). It’s really easy to do that with a regular serrated bread knife—just get down at eye level and go slowly. Small pieces of parchment paper under the perimeter of the cake will make it easier to transfer the layers to your serving plate after frosting.

(That gorgeous cutting board was made by Ariele Alasko, by the way! It was my and Evan’s Hanukkah gift to each other, and it’s right at home in our kitchen.)

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I am by no means knowledgeable about cake decorating, but the most important thing I’ve learned is to do what’s called a “crumb coat” before frosting the cake completely. It does take more time, but it’s worth it. Spread a very thin layer of frosting across the top and sides using a light hand. It doesn’t have to be beautiful, it just has to lightly coat everything. Put the cake in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes after doing your crumb coat. This will seal the cake surface and prevent crumbs from finding their way into the frosting while you’re doing the real decorating! It works so well and makes a huge difference.

You’ll want to put the frosting back in the fridge, too, if it’s starting to feel a little loose. Don’t let it get so hard that you can’t spread it, of course, just keep an eye on things. If you’re working in a hot kitchen or during the summertime, you’ll definitely need to let the frosting cool down while your crumb coat sets.

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Ah! All decorated! I am not very good at this part of cake-making, but I don’t really care. As much as I admire the artistry of beautifully-decorated cakes, I like to keep things simple. I don’t have any special tools, I just used the back of a wide soup spoon. The sides of the cake were looking a little uneven, so I pressed on some shredded coconut. Carefully transfer to a plate, slide out the parchment, and you’re done.

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Ta-da! The cake sliced cleanly and with minimal crumbling, and it’s a miracle I managed to take these photos at all. My family was all crowded into the kitchen while I barked, “DON’T TOUCH THE CAKE, I HAVE TO TAKE PICTURES FOR MY BLOG!” My brother made rabbit ears behind it.

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SO YUMMY. It might actually be the best cake I’ve ever eaten. It’s definitely the best cake I’ve ever made, and even though I used a mix, I’m still pretty proud. The addition of coconut oil produced a dense but moist cake, almost like a pound cake. That frosting, though—it’s amazing stuff. I want to make another batch for carrot cake! I love that it really tasted like cream cheese frosting without relying on packaged vegan cream cheese. Heavenly.

Most importantly, everyone at my house from young children to grandparents thought the cake was delicious! There really is nothing that makes me happier than feeding people I love.

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Last summer, I did a small budget cast iron radiator refinishing job for our kitchen. Very small—about $28. It went really well—I’ll most likely be doing the same thing for most of the other radiators in the house that are awaiting refinishing. Back in 2008, though, we went with a super-spendy alternative for two of them. We were in the middle of renovating the upstairs bathroom at the time and we’d decided to send out the sink and tub to be refinished off-site, so it made sense to throw in a couple of radiators. I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about what we had done, so I thought I’d do a proper post and show off the results.

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Before (2006) and after (2014)! It’s hard to tell from the before shot, but the radiator had a lot of rust buildup on it. Someone had recently given it a silver re-coat (note the overspray on the wall above), but there were layers and layers of peeling paint underneath. All those layers of paint make radiators less efficient, and as the bottom layers fail further, the top layer deteriorates pretty quickly. It’s a losing battle. At a certain point, you have to take the existing paint off and start over.

We bought the house during heating season, and this radiator’s valve was leaking a ton of water into the kitchen ceiling below it. We have a single-pipe steam system (as opposed to dual-pipe hot water), and I don’t think the steam was even making it through the body of the radiator—it was just condensing at the valve and leaking. Between that and the broken boiler, I understand why the tenants were using an electric space heater back there! We had a plumber in right away to disconnect the radiator and cap the line above the floor so the leaking would at least stop while we figured out what to do with that room.

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We used a local place to do our refinishing, Extreme Powder Coating in New Windsor, New York. They showed up with two burly guys who carried everything down the stairs, out the front door, and into the back of a Hummer. Let me tell you, moving two cast iron radiators, a cast iron sink, AND a cast iron clawfoot tub is no joke. This radiator alone probably weighs about 400 lbs, and clawfoot tubs are around 300…so…yeah. It was hard to watch them go down the stairs. I kept envisioning the guy on the bottom—who was walking backwards—losing his grip and being squashed under the tub.

A few weeks later (it took them longer than expected because sandblasting the tub took some trial and error), everything was redelivered. The detail on the radiator looks so crisp without all of the lumpy paint under it. Sandblasting removes everything down to the bare metal, so even just not having 100 years of filth between the fins is a relief. Powder-coating, by the way, is a relatively safe process in terms of toxicity—unlike spray paint. There are no solvents used (it’s a dry powder that gets baked on), and no VOC emissions. It’s also super durable, so a well-maintained radiator that’s been totally stripped and coated should last a very long time without needing to be re-coated.

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This winter, we replaced all of the vents on our radiators. Depending on the type, vents typically cost less than $20. They’re easy to change out, and it’s a simple fix that will get rid of steam whistling and sputtering. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about when I mention radiator maintenance—if you have a leaky vent that’s dripping condensed steam, you’re going to wind up with rust. Just buy a new vent! Here’s a good instructional video from This Old House.

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This is embarrassing to admit, but the refinished radiator sat, disconnected, in the studio for FIVE YEARS before we had the plumber come to install a new valve for us last fall. We had to change some piping in the basement beforehand, and we couldn’t do that until we dealt with the kitchen radiator…and, of course, the kitchen renovation would up dragging on for an eternity, so…that’s just how it goes. That room has been preeeeeeetty cold in the winters, let me tell you!

I still need to take care of the exposed part of the supply pipe. I’m going to paint it white with a enamel made for metal, and get a fancy brass flange to hide the chewed-up wood around the hole in the floor. I’m thinking about this pretty floral one, probably in white. I need one for the kitchen radiator, too, but I’ll go with bare brass in there.

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Steam radiators need to slope toward the boiler/supply pipe so that steam doesn’t get trapped in the system and condense. When you hear banging in radiator pipes, that’s trapped water that can’t be displaced by rushing steam. Large steel washers work well as shims! See the rust under the feet? Yup, that’s the result of a leaking vent. Fortunately we caught it in time, and the rust hasn’t spread or damaged the coating.

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Most of our radiators were made by the US Radiator Co. in Dunkirk, NY. I had a tough time finding out much history about this company, but I did spend some time looking at their “complete” catalog (PDF). I’m not sure what year it’s from, but it definitely postdates the ornate radiators in our house. My guess is that most of our radiators are from around the turn of the century. I love that something so simple can still provide reliable, efficient heat 120 years after it was built, and that it looks so pretty while doing its job.

Costs for having cast iron radiators sandblasted and powder-coated can vary wildly depending on your location and the size of your radiator, but you can expect to pay $200-300. That doesn’t include the cost of having a plumber come in disconnect the radiator (and, just as importantly, cap the line) and reconnect it/install a new valve later, which can run you up a couple hundred dollars more if you can’t do that part yourself. So no, it’s not $28 worth of spray paint, but if you have a radiator that’s in really bad shape or you’re refinishing a bunch of other stuff at the same time (or if you just have bags of money lying around), the results are excellent.

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Hmmm, I guess it’s vintage ceramics week at Door Sixteen! On Sunday I shared the vintage Mexican nesting bowls I bought (thank you SO MUCH for all of the informative comments about their likely origins), and it made me want to take pictures of some of my other recent finds. I always seem to gravitate toward ceramics when I’m on the hunt, even if I’m just at the Goodwill.

Anyway, how about these espresso cups and saucers?! I bought them from the Etsy seller House of Séance, who have all kinds of great vintage stuff for sale. I love that the triangles appear to be hand-painted rather than silkscreened, making each cup unique. I think geometric designs look best when they’re a bit irregular.

(By the way, I wish I could remember who tipped me off to the Etsy listing for the cups. They sat on my Etsy wishlist for months before I went ahead and bought them, and in the interim I lost track. Thank you, whoever you are!)

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The cups and saucers don’t appear to have ever been used, and they’re in great condition—pretty much perfect, in fact. The bottoms all have intact ‘Design by Jonas Roberts; Made in Japan’ stickers on them. Searching for Jonas Roberts brings up loads of results for mid-century ceramics, and this particular design is either from the 1950s or ’60s, depending on whose information you trust. There’s also a teapot, sugar bowl, ashtrays, and even a lighter with this design—and it came in orange, too. Sale prices are all over the place, but I paid $55 for my set of six cups and saucers—$9/set seems like a huge bargain to me!

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Full disclosure: I made this cup of espresso purely for the sake of taking a nice photo. It’s decaf (ugh…), so I didn’t mind tossing it out after. I would really like to put the cups into regular use, but I want to test the glaze for lead first. This subject came up in the comments when I posted about the bowls the other day, so I thought I’d mention in this post as well. Vintage ceramics very often contain lead (as do some contemporary pieces from parts of the world where lead use is unregulated), and even if the glaze is in perfect condition, lead can leach into your food/drink if it’s liquid/hot/acidic, etc. Coffee is liquid, hot, and acidic, so it’s no joke! Even the porcelain glaze on old sinks and bathtubs can contain lead, which is part of the reason why we had ours sandblasted down to bare iron and powder-coated. As exciting as it sounds, I don’t want to take hot lead baths.

That said, not ALL vintage ceramics are lead-ridden, so it can’t hurt to test and find out. Sometimes the white glaze on the inside of a cup is fine, and the lead is contained in the outside designs only. It’s a judgement call, of course, but in that situation I’d be fine using the cup. I also have no concerns about using my vintage tablewares to serve dry foods (crackers, cookies, etc.). Obviously I make sure that there isn’t any glaze flaking off! If a piece is really rough, it’s relegated to display purposes only.

3M LeadCheck swabs are readily available, not terribly expensive, and seem to get the best reviews of the various lead testing kits out there. It’s not a perfect test, and you may get false negatives if the lead content in a glaze isn’t in contact with the swab, but it’s at least a starting point. When you live in an old house, you kind of just have to accept that lead will be a part of your life—but I think it’s worth being safe when you can. If these espresso cups do turn out to have lead in them, I’m just fine putting them up on a shelf and admiring them with my eyes instead of my tongue.

A couple of weeks ago, the 8th anniversary of our home-ownership came and went. I realized it later while I was looking for a before picture of the dining room, which led to feelings of regret over not having taken the time to better document those days, in both photographic and written forms. We bought our house during a time when I wasn’t blogging publicly. I’d shut down my old blog, and while I continued posting in my private LiveJournal (oh, LiveJournal), I had no plans to do…well, this. That was the right decision for me at the time, but I’m sad now that I don’t have a good record of that time in our lives. Then, as if on cue, I got an email from the real estate website Trulia asking if I’d be interested in writing a post about some aspect of my home-buying experience for part of a series of postcards they’re compiling. Pretty perfect timing, no? So I said yes.

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It’s hard to know where to start with the whole saga without this turning into a third of my eventual memoirs (working title/epitaph: Why Am I Wearing a Cardigan? A Life in Sweaters), but I feel like a little back story is necessary. When Evan and I got married in 2004, we were living in Brooklyn. We’d had to apartment-hop three times in three years, thanks to landlords who decided to sell their buildings. We moved further south in the borough each time, eventually winding up in the beautiful but desolate Red Hook neighborhood (this was before IKEA and Fairway came to town, mind you). Our commutes became hour-plus journeys by bus and subway, grocery shopping felt impossible, the walls of our illegal loft were paper-thin, and it was just time to go.

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Based on little more than my love of Pete Seeger and a few day trips to Dia:Beacon, I suggested we look for a place to live in Beacon, New York. There’s a Metro North station there, which would have us to Grand Central in not that much more time than we were spending traveling to work from Red Hook. We rented half of a two-family house in the village, and we started our new life as Beacon-dwellers who took the train to and from Manhattan every day for work.

I’m not sure what prompted our decision to look for a house to buy, but after about six months of renting, we started looking at houses for sale in Beacon. This was in March 2005, nearly the peak inflation point of the real estate bubble. Home-flipping and renovation shows were taking over reality TV, and mortgages were being passed out with wild abandon. In cities like Beacon, where gentrification had been taking place for several years already, house prices were going up, up, up. I don’t think we really even considered whether we wanted to live in Beacon—we just felt like we had to do something. So we tried. And we failed.

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We looked at every house for sale in Beacon that was close to being in our price range, which I think totaled about four houses, tops. Others that had been listed in our range immediately went into bidding wars and sold for much higher prices. Only one of the ones we managed to visit seemed like what we were looking for (if we even knew what we were looking for—in hindsight, I’m not sure that we really did). That was the one we called the Mint Box: built in the late 1800s, covered in green vinyl, and wreckovated in just about every way possible—right down to a slapdash side addition that was sinking due to a faulty foundation. I don’t think we were in love with it, but we were blinded by the idea of buying a house. It wasn’t about finding the right place, it was just about finding any place. We’d lost all sense of perspective. I think this happened to a lot of people around that time—that desperate sense of needing to buy a house. Fear of missing out taken to extremes.

We made an offer. We had the house inspected. We hired a lawyer. The seller made a counteroffer. We made a counter-counteroffer. And so on. There were lots of problems, things that needed to be negotiated and repaired and cash that needed to be put in escrow—it was complex and it was messy. The house had been vacant for a long time, and the children of the previous occupant were the sellers. Communication was slow. In the midst of all this, we found out that there had been a leak in an outdoor oil tank, which is a big deal. A very expensive cleanup had (supposedly) already been done, but it was paid for by the the seller’s insurance company…who in turn would have forced the sellers to accept a very low offer on the house in order to recoup their costs. Then the sellers refused to produce documentation from the EPA that the cleanup had actually occurred, and also refused to allow our lawyers to speak to each other. It was a disaster, simply put, not helped by the fact that our real estate agent was not doing her job. She didn’t seem to fully understand the home-buying process, or even really care much about whether or not we bought a house at all. We felt like we had no allies to represent us, and we were in over our heads with something we clearly couldn’t resolve ourselves. As much as we wanted to believe our real estate agent and attorney and mortgage broker and inspector and everyone else involved had our best interests at heart—and legally, they’re supposed to—that wasn’t always the case.

So…we walked. I don’t think this gets talked about much because everyone imagines the home-buying experience being like House Hunters, but knowing which house is “the one” is as much about knowing when to let go and move on as it is being aware of your must-haves and wishlists.

Instead of feeling defeated after losing the Mint Box, we were relieved. Yes, we’d lost the cost of the inspection, but we were given a strong dose of healthy perspective on the whole endeavor, and we finally took the time to do what we should have done from the beginning: We spent time talking about why we wanted to buy a house, what kind of house we wanted to own, and where we wanted the house to be. We set a budget based on what we wanted to spend, not how much we could afford if we stretched our financial limits to the max.

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Perhaps the most important thing we figured out was that we didn’t have any particular attachment to Beacon. I grew up in the Hudson Valley and we both felt connected to the Hudson River, and we knew we had to be able to commute to work every day. So what about Newburgh? Why hadn’t we been looking on the other side of the bridge?!

My stepfather, Bernie, has lived in Newburgh for about 70 years, and my mother moved there 20 years ago, so they of course proved to be an invaluable resource when we started looking at houses. Bernie was more than happy to educate us about the City of Newburgh, and to point out significant buildings and their individual histories. We saw block after block after block of majestic Victorian mansions, Arts and Crafts bungalows, and modest, turn-of-the century brick row houses. We saw families hanging out on their front porches, talking to the their neighbors and looking out for each other. We also saw a lot of abandoned properties and all of the classic indicators of urban blight. It was the combination of these things—the architectural beauty, the feeling of a welcoming community, and the desperate need for care-taking—that made us fall in love with Newburgh. We wanted to be a part of the city, and to make a home for ourselves there. It felt right.

The house search in Newburgh was very different than it had been in Beacon. For starters, we wound up with a great real estate agent this time. He was a property owner in the City of Newburgh, and he was relentless when it came to pulling listings for us to check out. He understood what we were looking for, and he wanted to find the right house for us. At that time, many of the house listings in Newburgh showed little more than a tiny, exterior thumbnail image, so we really had to rely on his familiarity with the various properties.

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We were not prepared for what we’d see when we started to enter those properties, however. Unlike in Beacon, where the housing stock was primarily being turned over by owner-occupants, the houses we looked at in Newburgh were mostly a combination of abandoned, bank-owned foreclosures and single-family houses that had been converted to multi-unit rentals. Many of those houses were fully occupied, often by large families with children. And there we were, a young couple looking to swoop in and buy the whole place just for ourselves. It was upsetting. We didn’t want to uproot those families, who in many cases were completely unaware that their homes were even for sale until we walked in the front door. Did we want to be a part of that? Or did we want to try to make Newburgh better for everyone, including the people who already lived there? These weren’t things we’d ever had to think about before—certainly not when we were getting priced out of neighborhood after neighborhood in Brooklyn. When it came to abandoned and condemned properties, we not only felt overwhelmed, we also knew it would be a losing battle trying to get a mortgage that would make sense for us.

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We refocused our search, and eventually found a very nice Victorian row house that had already been renovated! It was a flip project, a formerly-derelict building that had been bought and totally rehabbed—a rarity in Newburgh. The renovations weren’t our taste, but that was all cosmetic. A lot of the original details had been removed over the years, but it was still full of character. The idea of moving into a place right away was very appealing. Remember, at that point neither one of us knew ANYTHING about renovating houses, so we didn’t know what we were capable of. The house was within walking distance to the new commuter ferry that was about to start running to Beacon, too, which was a huge plus. It was listed higher than all of the rehab projects we’d been looking at, of course, but the price was still within our budget (and still much less than the would-be nightmare we’d run away from in Beacon).

So: Offer made, offer accepted, inspection done and paid for, mortgage broker involved, mortgage secured, attorney hired, deposit made…closing date set! YAY! Except not “yay” at all.

The day before our expected closing, our mortgage broker called to tell us there was a problem. Apparently the bank he’d secured our loan with had waited until the last possible minute to pull comps (prices that other similar houses in the area had sold for recently), and they’d rejected our previously-approved mortgage. See, this house was a rarity. It had already been renovated, but it was being held up against unrenovated houses that had sold for half or even a quarter of the price. The bank appraiser wasn’t interested in seeing the house in person or considering the extent of the renovations. They were not going to approve a mortgage that high for any house in that location. Period.

The mortgage broker assured us that this was no problem, and that he’d hook us up with a new bank right away. And then the same thing happened again.

So there we were, having made a deposit on a house that we were not going to be able to buy. It was awful for the seller—who we had met and liked, and who was not at fault and was probably going to wind up having to sell the house at a loss—and it was devastating for us. We had to fight to get our deposit back (we finally did, months later), all the while feeling very sad and hugely disappointed that we were losing another house. This time we really felt it, too. This was in October, the week of my 30th birthday, and I remember lying on the floor in the living room of our rental and just sobbing. The lost money, the stress, the anticipation, the worry, the disappointment…it was too much. It’s easy now to look back and say, “Oh, it was just a house,” but when we were all caught up in the moment, it was crushing. At some point, the seller called us directly and offered to rent the house to us with an option to buy under the terms of our current contract after one year. He was confident that the real estate market in Newburgh would’ve caught up by then, but we weren’t willing to take that chance.

Thinking we were about to close on a house, we’d obviously already given notice to our landlord in Beacon. So where would we live? Well, fortunately for us, my mother and Bernie very generously invited us—including Bruno, two ferrets, and a gerbil—to live in their basement while we figured out what the hell we were going to do. Were we going to move back to Brooklyn? Were we going to look for another rental? We were still in love with Newburgh and we still wanted to own a home there, so we decided to keep looking. We also got smart and hooked ourselves up with a local credit union, whose policy is to pull comps on houses at the beginning of the mortgage process, instead of the day before closing. Smart, right?

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On Halloween 2005, we went to look at two houses. One of them was a vacant, grand Victorian that was way out of our budget (it was later condemned and eventually purchased at auction by some of our amazing neighbors, who gave it the love it deserves), and the other was its back-door neighbor—a two-story brick row house virtually identical to the four others attached to it. House number sixteen.

It had been a HUD house for a while, and then it was bought by a guy who thought he’d renovate it and sell it for a bunch of money. Instead of doing that, though, he rented it to some friends of his and let it fall further into disrepair. I guess he got tired of them asking to do things like fix the boiler, and eventually they found another place to live and he put the house on the market.

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(With the exception of the kitchen photo, I don’t think I’ve ever shared any of these before! They are terrible quality, I know, and wish I could go back in time for an hour or so and take better ones. Alas, this is the best I can do. Incredibly, these photos make the house look like it was in much better condition than it was…)

We were only about two steps into the house when we saw the white marble fireplace for the first time. I remember Evan and I shooting looks of excitement back and forth to each other. The more we saw of the house, the more we knew it was THE ONE, all-caps. It clearly needed a lot of work, but almost everything original was still intact. All of the rooms were perfectly proportioned. The backyard was a mess, but it was a good size and had so much potential. Cast iron radiators, original windows and doors, a big clawfoot tub, ceiling medallions, 10″ baseboard moldings, pocket doors, fireplaces in every room…yes. YES! And it was below our budget.

We made an opening offer. We waited nervously. And then the next day (THE NEXT DAY!) a huge article about Newburgh appeared in the Sunday edition of the New York Times entitled, “Finally, a Confirmation of a Rebound.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

I don’t really have a word for what we felt when we saw that article, but there was definitely panic involved. And, of course, the seller also saw the article—as did some mysterious “investor” who supposedly wanted to buy and flip the house. Of course. So we upped our offer and continued to wait…and…our offer was accepted! (I mean, obviously, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this blog. Spoiler alert!) Yay! Mortgage approved! Comps approved! Yay! Yay!

Nope, still not “yay.” Here’s the part in the story where I resigned myself to living in my mother’s basement forever. I mean, there are worse things (she is a really good cook), but things were feeling pretty bleak. The seller had decided to not sign the contracts because his girlfriend told him he could get more money if he waited longer.

SERIOUSLY, MAN? Yeah, seriously. And then the seller disappeared.

A month or so of teeth-grinding frustration later, the seller materialized and we were allowed back into the house to do our inspection. During the inspection, all kinds of Bad Things were discovered, but none of them were surprising—except, of course, the fact that there was an active carbon monoxide leak and a broken boiler in the basement that was supposed to have been replaced so his friends/tenants didn’t die. Sigh. (He later tried to accuse our inspector of breaking the boiler.)

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Yet another month passed. Clearly there had been no other interest in the house, but the seller continued to drag the process out longer and longer. We still don’t know what was going on, exactly, but we continued to hold out hope because we loved the house so much. We didn’t care about it being an investment for us—we cared about taking care of the house and doing our part to improve Newburgh. At this point it was vacant in the middle of winter, and we didn’t want it to suffer burst pipes or a roof collapse and be condemned like so many other houses in Newburgh.

On February 28th, 2006, we got a call from our attorney letting us know that the seller had finally signed all of the necessary documents, and that our final walk-through and closing would be on March 2nd. We celebrated a little bit, but not too much—after all, a lot can happen in two days.

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Almost exactly one year from when we started looking for a house, the big day arrived, and, in the middle of a snowstorm, we drove to our credit union for the closing—which was attended by no one other than our agent, who didn’t even need to be there—and signed away our bank account for what we would come to call Door Sixteen. On the way home (home!) our car died—which is exactly what you want to have happen on the day you make the biggest purchase of your life, right? I’m pretty sure we just laughed, because we couldn’t handle any more crying.

Then we ran upstairs and ripped out all of the revolting, moldy carpeting in the back bedroom, because ewwww.

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So here we are, eight years later, still in love with our house and with Newburgh—and each other, plus another dog who joined the ranks. Our house has not proven to be a blockbuster investment monetarily. Maybe it will be someday. We didn’t have any reason to think it would be, and since we have no intention of selling our house, that’s A-OK. By 2010, the New York Times had decided that the confirmed rebound of 2005 had become “Newburgh, Where Gang Violence Reigns,” and then in 2013 they said Newburgh “Seeks Renewal Without Gentrification”—which, thankfully, is the most accurate of the three articles (gentrification, of course, is a rather massive subject in and of itself; one that I haven’t even really begun to touch on here). We invested in the City of Newburgh’s future and in the well-being of our community, and we feel very responsible for the care of our own little piece of it all. Our house is in a wonderful neighborhood where we’re surrounded by a mix of multigenerational Newburghers going back a century, families who moved there in the past decade, and everyone in between.

I’m so glad we hung in there and didn’t give up. I think about that every single time I look at the living room fireplace. Door Sixteen is our house, our home—it will outlive us, and we are so lucky to be a part of its history. Everything we do to improve our house is as much about protecting its future as it is enjoying our present.

So, your turn, assuming you made it through this beast of a post: If you’ve bought a house, what was the searching process like? Were lots of tears involved? If you’re searching for a home now, are you pulling your hair out in anguish? I mean, feel free to share even if you had a good old time, but everyone knows drama and anguish is more exciting.

I am blogging on behalf of Trulia, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Trulia’s. To learn more, visit: http://on.trulia.com/postcards.

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I picked up this set of four terracotta nesting bowls yesterday at Newburgh Vintage Emporium, a vintage and antique marketplace that just opened a couple of weeks ago. I’m amazed I made it out of there with just one purchase. So much great stuff! I have a feeling I’ll be going back there every weekend.

The vendor tag on the bowls said they’re South American, but after doing a little research, I think they’re actually Mexican. More specifically, they look like they could either be Talavera pottery (the glaze and terracotta reminds me so much of a set of Talavera plates from Spain that I inherited from my grandmother, but the pattern reminds me of Mexican pottery…though it’s also possible I have no idea what I’m talking about) or like designs I’ve found from Tlaquepaque.

I’m really curious to know more about where these bowls might come from or how old they are, so if you have any knowledge about them, please share!! There are no markings anywhere on them as far as I can see.

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The largest bowl in the set is about 9″ in diameter, and the smallest is 5.5″. The base glaze is a milky off-white, and the design appears to be black—though in areas where it’s bled a bit, it does seem like it could be a very deep cobalt.

They’re so pretty in the kitchen. I’m a little scared to use them for anything other than putting fruit or bread on the table, but they look beautiful just displayed as they are. It seems like a shame to nest them, though—I want to look at them all at once!

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