Sunday, April 29, 2007

Main Street: a Photo Essay

Well, okay, that's a little pretentious. I'm not sure it's an "essay" so much as "a bunch of pictures." In any event, here's a little tour of the wonderful old houses in the residential section of Main Street in my new town. (That is, a few blocks from our house.)

Lovely old Greek Revival-style house in sad disrepair. Those stumps in the front yard are the peculiar & inexplicable remnant of an avenue of crepe myrtles.

What do you call this style? There are a number of houses with this look in Elgin--brick, compact, lots of arches. I really like the red arched front door.

Same general idea--next door to the previous.

At one time, we were really considering buying this one. It's a lovely old thing from 1920, but it's SO not perpendicular, and it was pushing on the absolute outer limits of what we could afford. It just needed more work than we could really manage. No matter--somebody else snarfed it up double-quick.

This is one of a number of what I think are Craftsman-style houses on Main St. Main St. was clearly where all of Elgin's muckty-mucks used to live (probably still do, for that matter)--it has the biggest, snazziest houses in town. Since several of these big fancy houses are in (what I take to be) Craftsman style, I assume Elgin had its big boom in the 1930s. Which, come to think of it, seems rather unlikely. Nobody was having a boom in the 30s. Must have been in the 20s, then?

Right next to the big Craftsman grandiosities is this bungalowish cuteness. What a ducky little cottage!

I don't know what this style is, and I have no idea of the time period either--they still build homes that look very much like it. "Traditional Southern Cottage" or some such thing. Charming, though, isn't it? Nice use of ferns.

Here's another in that unknown style--compact, squarish, and brick. No arches on this one, though. Is this from the 30s or the 40s, do you think? For some reason, this style of houses always looks to me like it should have professors living in it.

The cupola (is that what you call it when it's only 1 story? I usually think of cupolas as having 2 stories) says to me "Victorian" but the fat pillars and deep porch say "Craftsman." (I need to get a book on this history of residential architecture in America.) Either way, it must be lovely inside. And what a marvelous, cool porch for having breakfast or dinner.

A cupola and a dormer window! What bliss! This house, unusually, is stuccoed.

For some reason, this house always looks rather British to me. Look at the details in the woodwork between the windows.

Another handsome old Craftsman (I assume) house. It wears April well--the bright spring green of all the new foliage certainly becomes it.

...and another really big old house. The more I look at it, the less I think I know its date of origin. Bottom line is, it's big and interesting. (Not exactly as pretty as some of the others, I think--that brown's a bit austere. But it's interesting.)

And that's it. Isn't my town cool?

On my specific house, we've planted a few odds and ends that really needed to get into the ground ASAP (a rose here, a crinum there), and begun the first round of the Furniture Shuffle. Now that we have floors in the front of the house, we're extracting all the furniture that goes in those rooms and filling them. Hopefully, this will make it easier to empty out the master and study when the carpet guys come (which should be right around the Crack of Doom). Even though chaos reigns in the kitchen, it's amazing how much better it looks now that the oven has been reinstalled and the island and china cabinet were brought in. Let me take that out of passive voice: after Matt & I half killed ourselves, pulled our muscles, and pinched our fingers wrestling in three monstrous leviathans of furniture. After much tribulation, the kitchen is already looking nicer (I scrubbed the island from breakfast till lunch yesterday--much ingrained grease and unidentifiable nastiness--eww.)
As our most inhabitable room, the living room has become our base of operations. A bed and an internet connection: the fundamentals of life.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


This part was easy (except writing the check at the end. And making 4 trips to Lowe's for tile, grout, and hardibacker. And loading and unloading the 70 tons of tile we'd bought. Yeah. Except for those things, it was easy.) It's nice paying someone else to do your work for you. I briefly toyed with taking on the tile myself, but the time, the need for expensive power tools, the wasted money if you screw up... just seemed like false economy, in the end. Also, it seemed like an insuperable pain in the fundament. We've served our DIY time with the paint and the bamboo, I think.

So we go these nice tiles--big ones in the kitchen and hall; little ones in the bathroom (they're porcelain, Mom & Dad, not ceramic. You convinced me.) The kitchen looks SO much more inhabitable now that that nasty old linoleum is no longer visible.
See how much prettier it looks? (Aunt Pauline, if you're reading this, you'll see I took your advice about newsprint in the windows. Only in this case it's tissue paper, as Ladonna had given us a stack for packing purposes. Might have looked a little more polished if I hadn't fastened them with painter's tape. Eh well.) Tomorrow we'll move the island back in, as well as the china cabinet and rocking chair. One step closer to being really, truly, properly moved in! With each step, the house looks better and more... I don't know... satisfying, pretty, pulled together, nice. Anyway, it's gratifying to see the thing I wanted emerge from the thing that was neglected and scuffed and unhappy looking.

Meanwhile, we're still sleeping on the sofabed in the living room.

And we're actually using that weird bathroom/laundry room/mudroom--we're waiting for the grout to set in the other bathrooms, and this is the only one that wasn't tiled. So I shouldn't have made fun of it for being a misbegotten freak of a room--it's actually coming in handy.

I'm sure you'll all feel sad for me when I tell you that this weekend I'll have to finally turn my attention back to... painting. We never finished the master bath, and I have to do the insides of the cabinets there and the insides of the hall closet before we can unpack the things that belong in them.


Friday, April 20, 2007

Moved In

First, a quick update on the bamboo.

Matt installed the bamboo in the living (except for a little strip at the edges), so both rooms are more or less done. We'll need to put in quarter round shoe molding at some later date, but more pressing needs have overtaken us, and piddly little details like finishing off the flooring have been deprioritized.

The floors, I think, look terrific. They definitively assign the house a remodeled--as opposed to renovated--aesthetic, but given that the bulk of our furniture is semi-disposable Danish modern from Ikea, that was probably inevitable. And simpler. I toyed with trying to make the decor more antiquey and traditional, but that would have been difficult, expensive, and maybe not really in character anyway.

We spent Wednesday night, Thurs, and today moving everything from the old place.

We. Have. Too. Much. Stuff.

I'm not moving again until we can afford to pay someone else to do the moving for us. And Matt's really done the lion's share of the heavy moving--after a while I wimp out and do the sissy tasks, like putting down shelf paper and unpacking the DVDs.

The really grim thing is that since the tile and carpet aren't down yet, we're going to be shuffling our belongings from room to room while the installers come in to do their thing over the next few weeks. We're starting to finalize the living room and kitchen, but pretty soon we'll be using them as temporary storage for the towers of boxes and furniture currently stacked in the master bed and study. The thought of all of that extended moving makes me cringe.

We've been sleeping on the sofabed in the living room, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. If you squint, it almost looks a like a residence, rather than a war zone. The paint, which caused us so much trouble, is finally starting to look as I had intended--cozy, warm, fresh, stylish (I hope). The furniture and the bamboo really make it all make sense. That, and removing the blue painter's tape.

That's in the public rooms of the house--the master bed and study are big question marks--I still can't tell how they'll turn out.

In the meantime, I'm getting my daily supplement of homeliness from the living room, where we have a bed of sorts, a clock, and an internet connection.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


words later.

for now just pix.
(words added--04/30)
The house ate my husband!
Okay, metaphorically, there's some truth to that...

I started the dining room by myself. The picture above represents three hours of backache-inducing, fiddly, exhausting labor. You'll be happy to know, however, that the first three hours are definitely the worst. After that, you get a lot more proficient. Here's what I learned:

1) The boards absolutely must be laid in a perfectly straight line. Doesn't matter if your walls bulge in and out like a pregnant elephant--boards must be straight. This requires much creativity with spacers (little plastic wedges that preserve a small gap between the floor and the walls).

2) It's better to hit the nails in too hard than too lightly. If the nail is almost but not quite in, it's impossible to fit the next board over the tongue-plus-nail-head. In addition, if it's almost all the way in, there is nothing for a crowbar or hammer to grab on to in order to pull the nail out. Also, the nails are serrated, so they really don't want to come out.

3) If you can't get the nail out, you may have to rip up the entire board. This is almost always fatal to the board, and imperils the adjacent boards, as well.

4) Breakthrough! Instead of breaking your heart trying to pull out the nail or ripping up the board, use a really huge drill bit to enlarge the groove of the next board where it will have to fit over the nail head. This is much, much simpler.

This is the nail gun. It's huge. And very heavy. And whoever designed it should be smacked upside the head. Here's what's wrong with it:

1) It's very poorly balanced. When you set it down, it usually falls over, which seems unsafe and would really bang up your floor if it happened to fall in that direction.

2) It's only functional when the air compressor has adequate pressure, but the gun doesn't have an air pressure meter. To figure out if the gun is ready to go, you have to go check on the body of the compressor, which is tethered to the wall on a 3-foot cord. Meanwhile, your stupid nail gun falls over. Again.

3) It's designed to fit onto the groove of the board it's nailing, but as the fit isn't very precise, it pops out of alignment at the least excuse, scuffing your board as it goes.

4) It's HEAVY. For god's sake man, lift with your knees, not your back!

However, for all the pain it causes, look how pretty it is when done. So stylish!

I got about 2/5 of the room done myself, then Matt & I worked as a team (way faster, by the way--one of you saws while the other nails, then one of you lays the next row while the other measures the end boards--much more efficient).

Then Matt finished the room himself the next day. Here he is, drill in hand, master of the manor.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The painting NEVER ENDS

It's hard to believe, but 2 weeks after purchasing the house, we are STILL PAINTING. Closet in the study, baseboards in the living room, trim in the kitchen, doors in the study and master bath...

As we have to move out of our rental by the 20th, it's a pretty safe bet that we'll be moving in before the floors are done. Especially as the floor guys won't be able to install that Berber carpet for another 2 weeks(!). So all our furniture will be clumped in a huddled mass in one room while we frantically finish the rest of the house.

The less grumpy news is that the Ks told us we can get cheap Pergo at Costco. In fact, when we investigated we found that they had a style of laminate we didn't care for, but better still, they had real bamboo for less than half the Lowe's price of Pergo. Yay bamboo!

It's so cheap that it's actually only slightly more than our cheap carpet, plus (unlike the carpet) it comes with a 25-year warranty. So instead of floating Pergo, we'll be nail-gunning bamboo. Yup, we're intimidated. Never used a nail gun before. But necessity is the mother of competence, right? Or something like that? And, hey, we've sure learned how to paint these past two weeks. How much harder can flooring be?

On the subject of painting, the yellow closets were such a resounding success that I decided duplicate it in the study with leftover Window Box (not Flower Bucket--I keep getting the name confused.) The picture below gives you some idea of just why Matt objected to this color so strenuously.

Incidentally, Blogger struck a deal with Picasa to compile pix from our blogs into photo albums, so if you'd like to see all my house pix in one place, check out the collected house pix on Picasa.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Yeah, about those hardwoods...

Bad news.

We got a flooring guy out this morning to take a look, and he said that the most we could get out of the floors would be 5-10 years. They're antique longleaf pine subfloors, and because they're a softer wood, and old, and in pretty bad shape, he's worried that the top part of the grooves would begin to crack off if he sanded them, as is in fact already happening in the dining room.

So Matt & I conferred and considered and researched, and we've decided to go Pergo instead. Cheap carpet was also an option, but for the public areas we really, really, really want the warmth of something that looks like wood. And the nicer grade of Pergo is actually topped with real wood, so hopefully it will be a convincing facsimile.

So we're going to install it ourselves in the living room and dining room. (The adventure never ends--it just takes a different path. Did Confucius say that? Indiana Jones? Albus Dumbledore?)

The rest of the house, sadly, will get cheap carpet. If we stay there 5 or so years, we'll upgrade to something a little nicer, but for now we're going with uber-functional Berber. (This is the ugly side of Pergo--the shady compromises required to fund the stuff. Ah, well. Appearances must be maintained.)

Meanwhile, the painting continues!

The Ks came out today. Nice friends! I worked their tails off and they brought lunch, too (tasty antipasti sort of thing with meats and cheese and crackers and spreads and tomatoes and olives and salad mix).

Clever Keith installed our new GSDI-whatsits--the plugs that keep you from getting electrocuted in the kitchen or bath--as well as our schmancy new computerized thermostat. He also figured out which outlets/lights were wired to which breakers, with predictably unpredicatable results.

Keith, Being Electrical

We recycled the reject yellow paint from the dining room in the master bedroom closets, which I think was wonderfully frugal of us. And who doesn't want a bright yellow closet? Or two? Kate would like you to believe that she painted the entire built-in and closets with nothing but the weency little brush pictured below.

"I painted this whole thing with just this itty bitty brush!"

Meanwhile, progress was made in the master bath, which used to look like that (below left), but now looks like this (below right).

Our New Master Bath: Decadently Chic or Just Psychosis-inducing?

When Matt first saw it, he started muttering "REDRUM! REDRUM!" and wiggling his index finger at me. I think it will ultimately be tres elegante, but he thinks it looks like I slaughtered a cow in there. Which is silly. A cow wouldn't fit in that bathroom. A miniature horse, maybe, but not a cow.

I don't think I've posted any guest room pix, somehow, though I've been steadily working away at it. Here's the room itself--you may not be able to tell, but it's painted "Churchill Hotel Ecru" with a "Dune Breeze" ceiling.

Guest bedtroom with lovely (if currently obscured) view of great big cottonwood

The bath has "Shadow" walls to match the little desaturated aqua flowers on the valance Ladonna & I are going to make for the bedroom window (above).

Guest bath

And finally, Cathy came out (again--thanks Cathy!) Friday and helped me trim the living room and dining room. (Just a faintly lemony shade of white in lieu of the original dingy white, but what a difference it made. SO much more stylish and coordinated.)

Anyway, she vehemently hated my attempt to control the burnt orange walls with cherry red trim, which made me lose faith in the whole concept, too. So we're going with good old "Golden Beam," which is what's in the rest of the house. If the study wants to be burnt orange, I don't have the energy left to resist it. Will paint door to match tomorrow, though am concerned about paint's ability to stick to a metal surface.

Feral Burnt Orange Study

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

In continuation (the good, the bad, & the ugly)

Gentle reader, we have hardwoods!

Matt peeled back the carpet in the living room to reveal this--functional, attractive hardwoods. (That stuff running down the right is ancient linoleum. Why just on the one wall? Answer comes there none.)

That's the good news.

The bad news is that he kept peeling:

Not all of the floor is in pristine shape, to put it mildly. There are several boards that are rotten, and some have been replaced with elegant and stylish plywood. So we'll definitely have to get a flooring person out to help us replace the funky boards. I think the project may be complicated by the fact that in both the rooms we've looked at, the boards run the entire length of the room. In other words, if the room is 15 feet long, each floorboard is also 15 feet long. I wonder how hard (read "expensive") it will be to find boards of the right wood and thickness that are 15 feet in length.

...And then there's the dining room:


Archeologically, it's quite interesting. At the bottom right, you can see the outline of a wrench that was lying on the floor when some painters came in and did their stuff. You can see the where their buckets were, and Matt thinks he has identified the ring from a beer bottle.

It's a little like Pompeii--the afterimage of an afternoon, captured for eternity. Or at least until we get our paws on it.

I don't know that it will really be any harder to sand a floor that has paint spatters on it than to sand one that is varnished, but it sure makes the amount of work involved really obvious. Which was not information I needed as WE STILL AREN'T DONE WITH THE PAINTING.

More Painting

Here's our latest progress report. What's not on there is that Matt finished caulking the gaps in the laths of our kitchen ceiling last night. I think it was rather tedious, fiddly work and kind of made him antsy because when he was done he celebrated by ripping the carpet out of the master bed.

Here he is, rolling up the carpet. We still haven't gotten down to the hardwoods--under the carpet is a layer of plywood.

Matt rolling back carpet

He also investigated that weird kitchen subfloor.

Weird kitchen subfloor

Because it is higher than the adjacent floor, we assumed that it was lying on top of some (probably damaged) original wood floor. In fact, no. It's lying on top of nothing at all. Not sure why it's popped up like that. But in a way, that simplifies things. We'll trim it, replace any pieces that are screwed up, and tile or linoleum over it. No fuss about trying to pull the darn thing up without damaging the cabinets, no need to hire a handyman. Much simpler.

Short post today. Have to get back out there and paint! (some more. again. for the 6th day in a row. how can it take this long to paint one tiny little house?!?)

Sunday, April 1, 2007

The Amazing Technicolor Dreamhouse

Much progress was made yesterday with MattU & Bianca's help. All of the major downstairs rooms have their first coat of paint, except for half of the kitchen.

We tweaked our color scheme (the Nutria/Mellow Sage Snafu turned out to be a blessing in disguise. MattV did not at all care for the look of Flower Bucket in the living room, and even I had my reservations--it looked awfully aggressive. Matt went even further and said it looked like avocado--gasp! So we ended up putting Nutria in the kitchen and the real Mellow Sage in the living room. Still can't figure out why something called "nutria" would be green, let alone why anyone would name a paint after a nutria in the first place. But that's neither here nor there.)

Mellow Sage in the living room

The result is that instead of having a yellow house, we now have a green house. I meant to be a little more diverse, but at least gobs of green is better than gobs of yellow.

MattU very obligingly clamored up and down the ladder all day taping the ceiling and edging the walls. Bianca, interestingly, had never used a paint roller before, but she ended up wielding it like a pro. She got a lot of practice in the course of the day.

Here they are, recreating half of American Gothic (half because Bianca never quite managed to look properly dour. We kept telling her "look grim! look depressed!" but this just made her giggle, which wasn't quite the effect I was going for. MattU, who had been climbing ladders all day, was able to summon the appropriate bleakness effortlessly.)

Elginian Gothic

Today was really a footnote to yesterday--I spent it edging and applying second coats to the walls that Cathy, MattU, & Bianca had already painted.

The one exception to the general greenness is the study, which has one coat of (oddly gloppy) paint--it's meant to be a sort of leathery tan, but at the moment it's intimidatingly orange. I think a second coat will bring it a little closer to the intended look.

Note the objectionable Buick outside of the window. One of our neighbors apparently considers our yard to be his parking space. We're working on how to enlighten him as to his misapprehension. MattV has suggested planting a hedge there, but I'm thinking that might not be entirely neighborly. Ditto slashing his tires.

A risqué tan

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