Archive
The House / Newburgh

doorsixteen_stormwindow_before

I continued with my ambitious back-garden to-do list over the weekend. The last project I tackled was painting the vinyl basement window, and now I’ve moved on to the much more complex, fun, and slightly overwhelming task of repairing and restoring the original wood sash window above it. Window repair is something I’ve talked about before when I showed off the guest bedroom window and the work I did with the three in the living room, but this multi-part project is going to be a little bit different as it concerns the outside of the house. While all but four of our windows look pretty good from the inside at this point, NONE of the windows (or their casings) have been touched on the outside—and they’re all in pretty rough shape.

In an ideal restoration situation, a window and its components would be repaired on all sides at the same time. Because our house is in an historic district, any alterations made to the exterior of the house need to be approved in advance by the Architectural Review Commission. We couldn’t afford to take on the major exterior renovation work our house needed (like repointing the brick, repairing the cornice, and rebuilding the porch roof) when we first became homeowners, so it didn’t make sense to go through the approval process (and pay the $100 fee) just to be able to paint the windows. Also, time is always as much of an issue as money, and with only two days a week to devote to fixing stuff, we’ve tended to make the inside more of a priority than the outside.

Anyway, back to the window repair! The first thing I did was take care of the aluminum storm window. As much as I would LOVE to ditch them and bask in the beauty of exposed sash windows, the reality is that we need them. Our house has 125-year-old single-pane windows and no insulation, and we get a lot of precipitation in the Northeast. For the sake of our comfort, our wallets, and the health of our windows, we need them to be protected. I would LOVE to have custom hanging-style wood storm windows made (like the ones from SpencerWorks…so nice), but that’s beyond our tiny budget, so I gotta make the aluminum ones work for now.

doorsixteen_stormwindow_detail

Not so pretty! The worst thing about bare aluminum storm windows is, well, the aluminum. It’s prone to pitting and oxidation, and even on its best day it looks drab. Time for paint! Assuming the aluminum doesn’t have any kind of coating on it and the finish isn’t high gloss, it’s very easy to paint. You do need to clean it well, though. I don’t like to use steel wool on aluminum because of the risk of galvanic corrosion (yes, I had to look that up), so I cleaned all of the parts of the storm window first with a Scotch-Brite scouring pad and dish detergent/water, and then again with TSP substitute. I left everything in the sun until it was completely dry, then got my tarp set up.

doorsixteen_stormwindow_paint_BA

Not the most exciting set of before and after pictures, but the difference in person is pretty remarkable. I used my old favorite Rust-Oleum Rust Reformer spray paint (aluminum doesn’t rust, of course, I just love the finish of this spray paint when I need a durable, matte black surface), and the aluminum took it beautifully. I should note that I only painted the exterior side of the frame and the bottom the inside—I didn’t want to paint inside of the tracks themselves since that’s a high-friction area.

You don’t have to use spray paint, by the way! You can use the same exterior paint that’s on the rest of your house. I’d suggest using a good spray primer to make life easier, then apply your finish paint with a small foam roller.

doorsixteen_stormwindow_tekbilt

I also gave the screen inserts a full makeover! I did a little research into the Tek-Bilt brand, and as far as I can conclude, our storm windows are about 60 years old. Kind of crazy, right? I think of them as being new and ugly because they’re newer than the house, but no, they’re old and ugly (still half the age of the windows they’re protecting, though!). Aside from the holes, the metal screening has gotten pretty oxidized, which looks crappy from the outside and obstructs the view from inside.

doorsixteen_stormwindow_descreen

Removing the screening is really easy. Find the end of the rubber cord (it’s called “spline”) that holds it in place, use a screwdriver to get it started, then pull the whole mess out. It makes sense to do this before you paint, obviously! If the spline is in good condition, save it. Mine was pretty dry and brittle, so I tossed it. TIP: Bring a little piece of the old spline with you when you go buy more. I didn’t realize spline comes in different diameters until I was at Lowe’s looking at a WALL OF SPLINE and trying to guess which size I needed. (I guessed wrong. Womp.)

doorsixteen_stormwindow_screentools

Supplies! Here’s what you need: Scissors (not pictured), spline, a spline roller, a flat-head screwdriver, a utility knife, and a 5-in-1 tool (totally optional, I just like to have mine handy for most projects). Oh! And screening, of course! I went with charcoal fiberglass screening, which is nearly invisible—and very affordable. If I had buckets of cash lying around I’d go with bronze screening, but you can’t have everything. Charcoal fiberglass is just fine for me.

(Actually NO, if I had buckets of cash I most definitely would NOT being using it to put bronze screening in my 60-year-old aluminum storm windows. I’d use it to have custom wood storms made. DUH.)

doorsixteen_stormwindow_cutscreen

Do a rough cut of your screening, leaving about 1.5–2″ of overhang on all sides. Fiberglass is easy to cut with just scissors, it’s like cutting cloth. You don’t need it to be perfect, so there’s no need to use a straight edge or anything like that.

doorsixteen_stormwindow_rollscreen

Use the convex side of the spline roller to press the screening into the channel on the frame, then use the concave side to roll in the spline. When you get to the corner, use your screwdriver to make the turn. I found it easiest to do one side at at time: Press, roll, turn. Repeat! When you’re all done and the screening feels nice and snug, trim off the excess with your utility knife.

It did take some finessing and re-doing a couple of times to get the screen to fit smoothly and snugly, but it’s not rocket science. This was the first time I’ve rescreened a whole window, and I didn’t find it difficult. Next time, it’ll go even faster!

doorsixteen_stormwindow_after

Here’s a terrible picture of the end result! I can’t show you what it looks like on the house yet because I still have several weekends’ worth of work left on the window itself before I can reinstall it, but you get the idea. It’s going to be a HUGE improvement, from both inside and outside the house.

Next up…sash window repair and painting!! Yayyy!

doorsixteen_basementwindow_BA

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.

doorsixteen_basementwindow_wash

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.

doorsixteen_basementwindow_prep

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.

doorsixteen_basementwindow_valsparplastic

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.

doorsixteen_basementwindow_sprayclose

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.

doorsixteen_basementwindow_afterspray

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.

doorsixteen_basementwindow_caulk

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.

doorsixteen_basementwindow_painting

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.

doorsixteen_basementwindow_afterfull

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.

doorsixteen_kitchenwindow

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.

EDIT: I just found a couple of before-before photos I never blogged before, and figured it made sense to add them to this post…

doorsixteen_basementwindow_2007

doorsixteen_basementwindow_2009

Wow. That photo from 2007 makes me feel so heavy and sad. I don’t know why I didn’t really blog about a lot of the work that was done on our house back then. It felt very overwhelming and scary at the time. The back of the house was in danger of collapsing—those bricks could be pulled out by hand, and if you pressed on the exterior walls, they’d move. Years of ice buildup on the back of the house (caused by a rotted-out gutter and blocked downspout) caused the mortar to fail, and misguided attempts to patch the area with cement instead of mortar led to deterioration of the bricks. The 2009 photo shows the same corner after being rebuilt using all of the original bricks! They had to dig down about 6 feet below ground level to stabilize and waterproof the foundation. After that photo was taken, the entire back of the house was cleaned and the rest of bricks were repointed (and, of course, a new window was installed). Comparing the 2007 photo to the ones above it from 2014 makes me very emotional. You lose perspective sometimes after you’ve been working on an old house for years and years. It’s easy to forget how far you’ve come when you see it every day.

doorsixteen_backyard_fullview2

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.

doorsixteen_backyard_junk

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…)

doorsixteen_backyard_basement

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.

doorsixteen_backyard_basementbilcos

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.

doorsixteen_backyard_grass

doorsixteen_backyard_hinge

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…

doorsixteen_backyard_fullview1

doorsixteen_backyard_porch

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!

doorsixteen_studioradiator_1

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.

doorsixteen_studioradiator_BA

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.

doorsixteen_studioradiator_3

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.

doorsixteen_studioradiator_4

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.

doorsixteen_studioradiator_2

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.

doorsixteen_trulia_2004redhook

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.

doorsixteen_trulia_2005beacon

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.

doorsixteen_trulia_mintbox

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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Something happened with the light this weekend. Despite the three feet of snow still piled up along the side streets in the City of Newburgh, it suddenly feels like spring is coming. The weather was beautiful yesterday, and the daylight pouring into the second floor of our house made want to do nothing but wander from room to room.

I don’t really take many pictures of the house anymore unless I’m working on a specific project, but after eight years, those projects are fewer and farther between—especially since the remaining ones are expensive and daunting, but not necessarily interesting to look at (like replacing our exterior window casings or buying a new boiler…snore + $$$ = no fun). I still love my house, though, and it still makes me happy to share it. So maybe it’s OK to just take some pictures without them being about a renovation project!

Here’s a walk through the oft-neglected second floor of the house, taken while admiring the almost-spring light.

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My fiddle-leaf fig tree is still alive! Miracles. The print is from Fieldguided—I bought it ages ago but just got around to framing it last month.

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Ah, it’s the rarely-seen east wall of the bedroom! I’m still unsure about the Heywood-Wakefield dresser. HAH. I’ve been thinking about either painting it (don’t bother with the hate mail, H-W protectionists, I already know) or getting rid of it since pretty much the day I bought it, but it’s kind of grown on me? I don’t know. It’s not hurting anyone, so it can stay for now. I promise not to paint it. Really. It is an amazingly well-built piece of furniture, I’ll say that much.

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I love you, Tom Dixon Offcut Bench. This is one of the best things I’ve ever bought. It really needs to be seen in person to be appreciated—the fluorescent orange is nearly blinding. I got a good deal on it because it was a floor model and it’s a little banged-up.

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The guest bedroom gets such nice light. It’s in the middle of the house, directly above the dining room. It’s a little shadowy, but the sun that comes in the huge window is beautifully filtered. It’s such a nice place to be. I wish we had more guests. (Sadface.)

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Frames. Everywhere. Always. I’ve been making a big effort lately to get artwork I’ve collected over the years out of storage and into frames, and, hopefully, onto the wall. It never ends! One of these days I need to sit down and make a master list of frame sizes, what I want matted, and what I can frame myself versus having to send to a shop. It’s overwhelming.

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And finally, the studio. I never get tired of this white floor—it’s the best room. It looks bright and clean even at midnight, and even when there are guitars and amps and cables all over the place. Yes, that section of molding is still missing. And yes, that’s OK—it’s good enough.

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For the past six months (and by “six months” I mean my entire life) I’ve carried this looming sense of having forgotten to do something really important, but being incapable of remembering what it is because I’m so overwhelmed by all of the things I either procrastinated doing or discovered I had to take care of at the last minute. It’s a terrible feeling, but it’s one that’s come to define how I (mal)function on a day-to-day basis. Everything is always about catching up. I never feel on top of things. I am always certain I’m disappointing at least one or two or a dozen people, including myself. Any time I feel like I might be getting close to making progress, something happens—usually I get sick (like yesterday, which was spent lying on the sofa curled up with a box of Kleenex and a couple of dogs), but sometimes my website gets hacked or the furnace breaks. You know, normal things that happen to people. When you’re already struggling to keep up with the rest of your life, though, those little roadblocks start to feel uncrossable.

That’s when the recurring dreams start. I have a few that keep coming back to haunt me, but the one that I associate the most with stress is what I call “Forgotten Animals.” In this dream, there is either a small room or a basement or some neglected space in my house that I enter after a long absence, only to discover that it’s filled with animals (usually mice or rats, but sometimes ferrets—all pets I’ve had in large numbers in the past) in cages that are dead, dying, or living in filth and suffering. They are pets I’ve forgotten about that had bred out of control but have no food or water source. I immediately struggle to get their cages clean and hydrate and feed them, but I can’t move quickly enough. It’s a terrible dream, and it’s one that I have at least two or three times a year. It’s not hard to figure out what it means, and I try to take it as a warning.

Well, THAT was a fun therapy session! Anyway, yeah, I need to heed the dream warning. I need to figure out how to get myself organized so I can deal with the simple stuff and not get overwhelmed by the big stuff. There’s no reason to be in a constant state of chaos. I’m not really into resolutions, but I guess I’m kind of making one.

I don’t want to end on a low note, so here are some nice things from this weekend…

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Top to bottom, left to right:

VIVA HATE banner on my living room mantel by Going Steady Shop.
Next up on my reading list, Gary Shteyngart’s Little Failure. Have you seen the trailer?
My new jade plant has passed the three week mark, which might be a record. I’m determined to not kill it.
I’ve been OBSESSED with Patrick Townsend’s Orbit Chandelier for years. This was a very, very nice thank you gift from Victoria, and it’s going up in my living room just as soon as I figure out how to deal with the old, non-standard electrical box in the ceiling medallion that thwarted my efforts this weekend. (Sigh.)
Daniel and Max came down for lunch this weekend. I made fancy grilled cheeze sammiches and we watched Flowers in the Attic. Perfect Sunday?
Nothing really, just admiring the tiles in the living room fireplace. So nice.
Fritz had his 6th birthday yesterday! Remember when he was brand new? (Warning: SO CUTE IT HURTS.)

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Well, I didn’t get everything on my Sunday to-do list crossed off, but I made a decent dent. Daniel came down from Kingston for lunch (we went to Tito Santana Taqueria in Beacon — really good food and tons of vegan options!), and I decided it was probably more fun to hang out with my friend than to organize my pantry for the millionth time. It was.

I did manage to make some progress in the dining room, though! It had kind of become a dumping ground for a long time while we worked (and worked, and worked…) on the kitchen, and once we finished carting all of the tools, construction debris and other crap down to the basement, I could see the room really needed a freshening-up. Nothing major, just a little nip/tuck here and there.

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The first order of business was addressing the lighting. As cute as it was, I never felt like the pendent I had hanging over the table previously was substantial enough. I picked it out before we’d moved any of our furniture into the house, and before I had a good understanding of the scale of the rooms.

A while back, I ordered the Mobile chandelier from West Elm. (Yes, it’s on back order until April, but is April really that far away? It’s not like you’re going to get around to hanging it before then, anyway.) I wasn’t sure if I wanted to put it in the kitchen or the dining room, but they were having a sale and the pictures on the site looked nice, so I just went for it. And then it sat on the dining room table for a couple of months.

BUT! Behold! Look what Evan and I did…

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Ahhhhhhhh!!! I’m in love with this lamp. Love, love, love. It took me a day to get to full infatuation point, though. I initially positioned the arms at varying angles (like in the primary photo on West Elm’s site), which looked really clunky and jaunty and whimsical and Sputnik-ish and just not at all what I like or what looks good in my house. I was ready to take it down and either sell it or hang it in the bedroom.

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But then I straightened the arms out so they were all level and parallel with each other, and it was like a whole new lamp. Really! I’m so glad I didn’t take it down right away. It’s PERFECT. I decided to go with plain, white G40 bulbs (25W each), and I’m just going to cross my fingers and hope that energy-efficient lightbulbs are nicer by the time low-wattage incandescents are phased out. (For what it’s worth, there are current no plans to ban 25W bulbs in the US. The phase-out stops at 40W.)

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To give you an idea of the scale, the Mobile chandelier is about 30″ in diameter at its widest point (excluding bulbs), and my dining table is 95″x40″. The ceiling in the dining room is about 10.5′ high.

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I straightened up the still-incomplete bookshelves next to the fireplace. The three drawings are by Lisa Congdon, my dad, and Jen Ray. The faceted knobs are from Pigeon Toe (I’ve been holding onto them for a project for ages…) and the Kubus candle holder is by Lassen. Some of the best books ever written are by Kurt Vonnegut.

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I picked up a fresh ZZ plant to replace the withered, dying ZZ plant that formerly graced the dining room, and I put my Charles and Ray Eames poster in a frame that I actually hung on a nail that I hammered into the wall! Getting things done, folks.

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Did you notice that big black thing next to the fireplace? That’s the new OLOFSTORP wall cabinet from IKEA, and it is glorious. I had a hard time taking good photos since the light in my dining room is kind of difficult, but you can see it a little better in IKEA’s press photo.

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Click to enlarge! (Photo courtesy of IKEA.)

It’s very nice — definitely one of IKEA’s all-time top-ten products, which is a major accolade coming from me. The OLOFSTORP storage unit/cart is great, too. Both pieces are solid, stained pine with steel hinges. They look, feel and function like simple farmhouse furniture. Very Shaker-ish. Of course, since they’re great pieces that are built to last, IKEA will probably discontinue them within the year. That’s always the case, right? Consider yourself tipped-off and warned.

Anyway, the cabinet!! It’s just right. That space was kind of dead before because the window extends all the way to the corner of the room. The OLOFSTORP is less than 8″ deep, so it doesn’t obstruct the light flow or interfere with the view in any way. I’m a sucker for black-on-black, too.

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The best part is that it holds a TON of stuff. I’ve got all of our wine glasses, highballs and extra mugs in there, plus vases and various dishes I don’t use often but like to have on-hand. Moving all of these things into the cabinet freed up an entire shelf and a half in the pantry, which means I can finally sort out all of my baking dishes and get my spices in order since I’ll be able to spread out a little more.

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The last little dining room update I made was to add these two stools under the cabinet. I bought them at Target’s dorm room furniture line in July. I don’t remember how much they were, but definitely well under $20. At the time I thought I’d make them into a bench or coffee table, but I only got as far as spray-painting the bases matte black. They started out glossy charcoal gray, which didn’t look too terrible — but matte black is nicer.

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See how sunny and nice out it is in these photos? That’s how long ago I bought and spray-painted the bases. Sigh. Then they just sat and sat and sat, disassembled, in the dining room, for six months. I was sick of looking at them and feeling guilty about yet another project unrealized, so over the weekend I screwed the tops back on and called it a day.

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So cute! They fill out the space nicely, and I was able to get a couple of stacks of books off the floor. This makes me feel a little less guilty about not having finished the bookshelves yet. (Note that there’s still one corner of the dining room not shown in these photos. That’s the corner currently filled with stacks of books waiting to be shelved! Someday…)

Unfortunately, because Target’s product turnover is so rapid, these guys are long gone from their website. There’s a chance you could find them on clearance in a store, of course, but I haven’t seen one in my local Target for months. Hey, if you want mine, buy me a couple of Eames LTR tables and we can swap!! HAH. Heh.

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Fritz was pretty distressed about all of the changes in the dining room for some reason. Lots of dramatic crying and staring at the table. I can’t figure this dog out — he’s a Martian mystery. I love him.

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Oh boy. You know how sometimes work vacations wind up being worse than not taking a vacation at all? That’s how I’m feeling about this Monday. I took TWO WHOLE WEEKS off work, and now I’m in a panic about how in the world I’m going ever going to catch up on everything when I get back into the office. Ugh. I’ve been trying to get as much stuff as possible done at the house during my time off, but exhaustion has gotten the better of me and I’m feeling a bit guilty about not having done more. Ugh again.

Anyway, I do have ONE LAST DAY to check things off my to-do list before I have to switch back into work mode, so I’m making a sub-to-do list of what I (reasonably) think I can get done today.

Do these things:
✚ Take photos of stuff for eBay auctions
Take photos of dining room
Brush Bruno
Laundry
Clean bathrooms
✚ Organize pantry
Set up kitchen coffee area
Bring stuff down to basement
Frame and hang at least one more thing
One more trip to Goodwill? Nope.
✚ Sand, patch and prime benches
✚ Make hook for ceramic planter

Do not do these things:
✚ Drink too much coffee

I’m serious about that last thing there. I have been drinking SO MUCH COFFEE during my vacation. Way too much. It’s just so easy and so delicious and so addictive. I don’t want to eliminate coffee from my life, but I gotta get myself back down to a single cup a day. OK, maybe I’ll wait until Monday to cut back, because today is going to be hectic and I want to get a little coffee area all set up in the kitchen and it’ll be right there. But then tomorrow is going to be even more hectic…hmmm. Tuesday? Tuesday. Less coffee on Tuesday.

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So…how about THAT! If you follow me on Instagram, then you may already know that there is now a cute little black SMEG refrigerator living in our house. It was part of the original kitchen plan I made last year, and we felt pretty strongly about making it happen, so here it is. A mere 11 months later! Hah. And yeah, I know, it’s sort of the whole $289 trash can thing again, but that’s why we do our own renovation work and why we only spent $140 on a new floor and slightly more than that for four walls of tile…you get the idea. It evens out, and everything is still under budget.

AND IT LOOKS SO MUCH BETTER. The old refrigerator (still in great shape — it went to live in Kingston with Daniel and Max) was way too big for our kitchen, and it was never full to more than 1/3 capacity.

Somehow I managed to not take a decent full-length photo of the fridge over the weekend, but to answer the two big questions:
✚ Nope, I’m not worried about the bad reviews online. Everyone I know who has a SMEG loves it. I’ll take my chances. If it turns out to be a disaster, I’ll let you know.
✚ It’s not too small for us. Not even the freezer. We’re only two people and the most we ever freeze is a tray of ice cubes and a box or two of veggie burgers. The capacity of the fridge is greater than it looks like from the outside — there’s really plenty of room for everything we typically have on-hand.

Anyway, this is by no means the big reveal, but while I wait on my own indecisiveness before finishing the kitchen for real (LIGHTING!!! and that door, and…), I thought it would be fun to post some then-and-now photos taken from the same positions. Unfortunately the “then” photos are really awful, mostly because they were taken almost as an afterthought during our walk-through on closing day. I have so much regret about not taking better photos before we started in on our seemingly never ending renovation plan, but what can you do? Oh well.

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If anything about the 2006 photos makes some part of the old kitchen look salvageable, it’s just a fault of the lack of detail in the photos. It was disgusting. No debate.

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These photos were all taken on Day One of our kitchen renovation, which was almost eight years ago. All we’d done at that point was take out the old cabinets and the remove the boards that had been nailed into the corner to hide pipes. This was also the first time either Evan or I had been involved in anything resembling a home renovation project, and we were horrified. We were so, so lucky to have had a couple of family members and friends who knew what they were doing and were generous enough to lend a hand. Two hands, even, and for many days. It took quite a while for us to feel like we could do anything by ourselves.

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OK, I still hate the door (we’re planning to replace it next summer), but aside from that? I think this is a perfect corner. I’m so glad we decided to hire a plumber to move the supply line for the radiator over to the right a couple of feet. I know it seems like a minor thing, but having the radiator centered under the window makes an enormous difference in the overall balance of the room. It feels right now.

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I keep scrolling up and down to compare these two photos. We didn’t take down or move any walls in the kitchen (or elsewhere in our house), but it really does look like a different kitchen entirely. This is a small room with three doorways, two huge windows and a huge, protruding (and receding!) hearth, and that meant that we couldn’t go with a traditional layout or standard cabinetry. It was frustrating initially because I was trying to make the challenging aspects of the room less obvious, but once I gave in started turning those things into features — like painting the entire hearth black — it all came together. This is why I love old houses! If you listen to them, they tell you what to do.

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OK, that’s weird cropping, but I wanted to match the original photo! Just ignore the mess in the dining room, too…the table is covered with unneeded kitchen stuff we need to donate. If I back up a bit, though, you can see this corner of the room a little more…

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So much better! The closed door on the left leads to a pantry. The contents have changed (we use it to store food now), but here’s an old post about the pantry renovation. It’s very cute, I must say.

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A few details from around the room, clockwise: Yellow Marais-style stools from Industry West, Drink Local glasses from West Elm Market, wall hooks from Pedersen + Lennard, reclaimed wood knife rack from Furnished Modern.

So that’s the kitchen, for now. It’s still not finished, but the remaining projects are going to take a while. When it’s DONE-done, I’ll take lots of nice photos and break everything down cost-wise as best as I can.