FIVE months later, we completed the bulk of big projects by the end of November. We mopped Bona Traffic sealer on the plank fir flooring, as we backed our way out the front door–headed to a Thanksgiving getaway weekend.
We’re deeply, deeply tired. But have managed to complete six remodel projects: bump outs for our new living room and wood burning fireplace, converting a bedroom to an entryway, designing a new staircase, and creating a dormer for the upstairs bathroom, with subway tiled shower and clawfoot tub for our aching bods.
The holidays came and we had our first roaring fires and gathered our families and friends and neighbors and new remodel buddies –in for food and rest and reflection. Very cozy.
We’re exhausted but satisfied. There a dozens of smaller projects left. Those could take another year, bit by bit. For now, we need our daily lives back. Our painting, our music, our social lives, our quiet time. Our weekends.
Now it’s April. Our Winter rest felt so good. My new focus is the conversion of the garage to a dream art studio- where friends and community can come enjoy art making together!
We are multi-tasking at a whippet’s rate. Super fast decision making on packing and moving out of one house, while super fast decision making on remodeling choices for the house we’re moving into. Whoosh. Feels like a race. Good for the heart.
The remodel project is going extremely well so far, both when measured against the original schedule and budget, and when measured on the fun-o-meter. We’ve had a few design inspirations that should make for a more pleasurable, enjoyable experience for all of our friends and family. And you, if you come visit.
Our hope is to create a French Farmhouse Feel = f3. Why French? Did you know that the French (and many Europeans) would leave their city homes each April and go live in shabby country homes for the season? In their travel gear they brought decor elements from their city homes. They’d live and entertain in a clashing mixture of rugged and romantic accouterments. Goodwill meets Bon Marche. A great match for our working class and artistic lives. So, we’re creating a house that reflects our devotion to eating from the garden, raising a few farm animals, and being stewards of our land at the base of Galbraith mountain woods. We’re creating a house that reflects rustic warmth and earthy elements–and meets Laurel’s love of heirlooms, antiquity, and coziness.
Enough of history.
I’ll have lots more interesting photos soon. The work completed so far :
Removing some cabinets and replacing with old weathered wood beams;
Adding wainscoting to the ends of cabinets and to the inside of cabinet shelves:
Pulling a cabinet from the mudroom into the kitchen, and removing cabinet doors and hardware to create a 3-chamber open farmhouse cabinet;
Adding a bit of French elegance to the tops of square cabinets:
Covering melamine shelving with wood;
Sanding acrylic finish off of cabinets;
Painting with Abbey White chalk paint–to be antiqued with wax coating soon;
Dismantling a skinny island with no food prep space, and designing a hefty 4′ x 7′ island, with drawers, cup pulls, french flourishes and a beefy 2″ butcher block top for food prep;
Closing up a large, unusable closet space on one side–and opening it up on the other side–into our newly enlarged mudroom;
Projects coming up in June-July:
Bumping out 2 exterior walls by 5 feet and adding french doors;
Adding a wood burning fireplace;
Building a new dormer for a space-efficient European-style bathroom;
Creating a brand new entry way with wood and metal clad french doors;
Tearing down stairwell walls to create a more open feeling between the new entry way and living room.
I’ve got a few DIY articles in the works to document how some of these things were done, but I figured I should tell the renovation tale in chronological order, which starts with shopping for the materials needed to rebuild this house with charm and warmth.
When you do a home renovation project, the materials are a huge part of the cost – both to your wallet and to the Earth. A project like this requires windows, doors, plywood, studs, tiles, concrete, lighting and plumbing fixtures, and many other things.
The interesting thing about renovations, at least in Bellingham area where I live, is that people are always doing them. Middle-income couples buy 100-year-old fixer-upper homes and update them into comfortable and energy-efficient places to live. These days with the house market booming around here–the commercial buildings are always being bought, torn down, and remodeled by larger companies.
The result of all of this activity is a huge surplus of building materials. Extra tiles left over from someone who bought too much for his bathroom. Entire kitchen cabinet sets and windows and doors from older homes. Schools being remodeled. (A neighbor replaced his house flooring with the maple from a school gymnasium floor). Even unused beams and industrial-grade components from office construction projects. And of course various fixtures and parts of every type.
These things end up either on Craigslist in the “materials” section, on OfferUp, Facebook Marketplace, or in the recycled building materials store. There is one of these stores in Bellingham where I live, named the ReStore, who’s aisles look a little like this:
Howard and I, through virtual and real shopping, are out daily seeing what we can salvage for our project. Its been quite a score, since in just 10 days we’ve acquired:
Much weathered wood and hard wood for adding elegant flourishes to the kitchen cabinets- 20 cents a foot;
2 massive turned legs covered in fading orange paint for our kitchen island-$5/each (compared with $52 each at Lowes);
4 beautiful heavy-duty solid wood doors of various sizes for $30-60 (roughly comparable to a $150 each at at Home Depot)
A lovely, refinished french buffet from OfferUp, to create one side of our kitchen island- $185;
A barn door, that with some work will be a sliding door for our pantry- $5 (and some serious elbow grease getting off the building it was attached to);
2 miniature barnwood gable “sculptures” from the rafters of a 1900’s cabin- $5 (probably $100 each at an antique store);
The total spending on used supplies thus far about $340, for materials we need, that would have otherwise cost approx $2000. A savings of over $1640 bucks, just for embracing the idea of used rather than new materials, and knowing where to shop!
The limitation when buying your materials second-hand, is that you have to adapt your project to fit the materials, rather than custom-ordering the materials to fit your project. But that is where the joy of creativity comes in to play, so it is good practice for life in general.
For example, our skinny island with a raised bar and no surface area for food prep, needed to be doubled in size. This worked out well, after removing the raised bar and finding the buffet of our dreams to add to that “side” of the island. Unfortunately, the old island and the new buffet are 6 inches different in length. So today, one of our beloved remodelers and I designed the island to begin matching in length by adding turned legs, bumping out one end with wainscoting, and then adding shelves. There’ll be a big gap running down the middle which will be hidden by a thick butcherblock surface. Photos to come. Exciting! Innovative! Deeply satisfying.
Since the recycled building materials store runs on donated items, not everything there is suitable for use in a quality renovation. The windows and doors are surprisingly good, as are the tiles and toilets and some of the kitchen cabinets. But the appliances, lighting, and plumbing fixtures are usually things like green or almond-colored fridges and stoves or gaudy brass faucets. For these things, you simply move on to antique stores, OfferUp, FB Marketplace, or trusty CL.
But by getting some of the most expensive things from these alternative sources, you are really investing in fabulous frugality, and shaving thousands off your renovation project budget.
The roar of hammering and sawing has begun! The reshaping of the kitchen is underway! The reducing of our whale-size house and belongings–down to a respectful salmon-size, is practically levitating.
And, right in the middle of this ocean of movement…. comes a poem. A poem that has me rocking back and forth on a stair, in an empty house, in an evening sunbeam, crying. It gently strips away everything, back to a key ingredient for everyone I know–and especially the elderly and the teens I know and love. Love yourself. Love yourself. You only get one life, and its completely yours, for your own creative meandering. Embrace the whole agonizingly exquisite thing.
LOVE AFTER LOVE
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
“to make living itself an art, that is the goal”~henry miller *
When lifes in an easy groove, its satisfying to make ART out of life. But when I’m swirling in unexpected change, money fears, and legal contracts– art will come later. Or will it? Maybe my new house project is my art. Let me explain. We are moving. We are simultaneously buying a house to remodel, and selling a house –FSBO style–all at once. Its been a wild ride. There has been crying, hysteria, late nights, elation, and whiskey.
We’ve been searching for our forever home for 3 years now. The goals have been to radically downsize, enjoy our commute, get away from the freeway noise, remodel/design for maximum happiness, and have a mightily reduced mortgage when we’re all done. After a 3-year search, we finally found it. Well, we finally found the house the inspires the energies it will take to remodel it. And boy, do we have some renovations in store for it.
Doesn’t it look like the sweetest blue farm house in the woods? Here’s the catch: we are downsizing from a modern 3,400 square foot home with 4 bedrooms and 3 1/2 baths with a Frank Loyd Wright view–to a 1,500 square foot, 2 bedroom, 2 bath home–with an unfinished large garage and attic.
The original plan was to take 3-4 months planning things out and giving ourselves time to contemplate facing the implications of downsizing our living space by 1,500 square feet. Moreover, we are looking to reorient the efficiency of how we actually live. But then the big modern house we’re living in suddenly sold. One day we hosted an Open House, then next week we were in fast, personal negotiations with our buyer (more on FSBO later). My husband and I reassesed. We decided to be a bit more adventurous and just go for it: full-power renovations, starting as soon as possible.
So what are we doing?
This 2008 blue house is a textbook example of “tract house.” Every friend who walked through helping us decide, was, well, underwhelmed. No character, no charm, drinky living room and kitchen, low ceilings, fake flooring, Lowe’s finishings. Bleh.
However. Drum roll please. The location is heaven. The placement of the house is on a generous 2 acres in the woods. If you know Bellingham, our home sits at the base of the beloved Galbraith mountain in the Pacfic Northwest. There are miles and miles of wooded trails out our back door.
On the downside, the kitchen is annoying, there’s no space for a nice sized farm table for friends to gather around, there is no living room space, and there is no master bath, just a tragicomic room with a slanted ceiling over the shower. All the flooring is faux plastic wood with this creepy sheen to it. The front door is distinctly invisible, bizarrely located, and unused. The room over the garage is unfinished, unheated, and inaccessible–except for a tipsy ladder act. Crazy. The house was designed by a guy, and so the garage is huge and magnificent and was full of his motorcycles and cars. Here is a photo of the current South-west side:
The most obvious fix is to bump out the walls on two sides, giving us room for our farmhouse table, a living room to play music with our friends in, add a wood burning fire place to reduce heat consumption –and increase the happy coziness factor. We’ll remove the front door (locating it on the other side of the house where it belongs greeting people). This will allow us optimal light fixture placement, and room for two sets of french doors and a large Eastern facing window that will give us much light and heat for free – forever.
Upstairs, we’ll add a dormer, tear out the existing awkward shower, and install an efficient European-style enclosed space with clawfoot tub and shower head. Soaking in the tub, a large picture window will reveal tall firs to ponder. Next, a small dormer housing a doorway will connect the attic space (over the garage) into the house. Can we all say “cool guest bedroom” together?
After these most invasive parts of the renovation, everything else should be pretty simple: tearing out stairwell walls to open up the space, building a nice new island with a fat wood slab on top, and adding some farm charm finishes to the kitchen.
On the exterior, I have plans to move the 4 humungous garden boxes from the driveway–to the other side of the house near the kitchen where they belong. We’ll create pathways, fencing, gardens for increasing our grown food, and reducing our food budget.
One final–admittedly, the most exciting personal project for me–will be to remodel the garage into a large open, heated space for hosting personal artwork gatherings as well as music circles. So, the insulated garage needs a gas stove, french doors and windows, along with partition wall for a woodshop area. Outside the french doors, we plan to add a Pergola and vines to bring natural shade for outdoor living. I can already feel the warm breeze as I open the southern facing french doors of the art studio, and step under the Pergola to take a seat in the shade –and finally relax.
Our fabulous contractor has agreed to “rough in” all the engineered projects and get them through the permit process. He starts June 1. Then he’ll pack his tools and move on to many others who love his work. From there, we will roll up our sleeves, take back the projects, and become the badass do-it-yourselfers we aim to be. Searching for cheap materials is lifelong hobby. We’ve got several friends and my talented brother coming to contribute to the finishing. The end result of this big construction project should be a house that is ready for the next 100 years of its life, with a thoroughly personalized, bright and artistic new design and a fairly reduced level of energy consumption to go with it. Stay tuned for more updates as the project progresses.
I recently saw this hashtag on Instagram and a photo that embodied it. Since then, I’ve been on a big kick to figure out what it means. Here’s a succinct, beautiful description:
“Most of us today are consumed with speed. We work quickly, play quickly, love quickly – all while multi-tasking. We drive in the fast lane and eat fast food. We text instead of talk, pursue quantity instead of quality, and swallow life whole instead of taking the time to savor it.
All this speed takes a toll. Our relationships suffer. Our productivity suffers. Our finances suffer. And our health, both mental and physical, suffers.
The antidote is to slow down. Yet with so much speed embedded in our DNA, slowing down can be a real challenge.
The very word has negative connotations. When we think of slow we typically think that someone is dumb, or that we are falling behind.
But in the context of how we live our lives, slow can save us.
Carl Honoré, whom the Huffington Post calls the godfather of the Slow movement, says, “the central tenet of the slow philosophy is taking the time to do things properly, and thereby enjoy them more.”
So slow isn’t dumb, it’s purposeful. And slow won’t cause you to fall behind, it will allow you to catch up – with your friends, your family, your digestive system.
A slow life restores balance. Some things we do want to do quickly, but not everything. Ride your bike. Take a walk. Hell, stay home.
In a slow life you will pursue mastery in your work. Gaining comprehensive knowledge and expert skill will become more meaningful than mindlessly climbing a ladder.
Likewise, your work will not define who you are. Granted it’s a significant part, but only a part. Your character is more important.
In a slow life you will gather with your friends and family and laugh, cry, hug, cheer, and simply be there for one another. You will listen as earnestly as you speak. Your relationships will come to mean more to you than your job.
In a slow life you will focus on food. You will value its cultivation and preparation as much as you relish the meal. When you think of food you will automatically think of friendship, rather than associate it with something fast.
In a slow life you will choose a home and a community that nurtures you and your lifestyle. Quality and comfort will become the touchstone of your physical surroundings.
In a slow life time will become circular, rather than linear. As opposed to a simple unit of measurement, the concept of time will expand for you as anxiety turns to joy.
A slow life is a simple – though it need not be a spartan – life. The quality of the “things” in your life will come to mean so much more than the quantity. Clutter means chaos.
A slow life is more healthy, more jubilant, and more compassionate. It is less stressful, less taxing, and less harmful.
A slow life is a better life.”
The central tenet of the slow philosophy is taking the time to do things properly, and thereby enjoy them more.
I’ve said before how I love James Altucher‘s thought process–even if it is off-grid, cryptic, or unsavory to listen to (his personal stories and insights are painfully hard-earned). He is an Idea Machine. Here’s one that is so super fun I had to write it out:
Making your ideas have sex. “Idea Sex.” Here’s Altucher:
“Stan Weston had an idea that would change the lives of little boys forever. He knew that girls liked to play with dolls. But boys had no dolls to play with. Boys liked guns and action. Dolls + Action == ??He made a doll based on a soldier, gave it a plastic gun, and called it an “action figure”. He named it GI Joe. Stan Weston didn’t come up with the newest newest new thing. All he did was combine the simplest concepts and made something that millions of kids loved. ‘The best way to make a living with your imagination is to develop innovative applications, not imagine completely new concepts.’”
That’s it. Make two lists of what people love. Combine them. Have fun. The best ideas always come from mating. Think of Hollywood. When they pitch an idea its never just “I have this idea”. Its always “It’s “Tarzan” meets “My Dinner With Andre” ”When you says “its like X +Y” then people all lean back and their own elegant imaginations begin to dance with your ideas.
Mating two unlikely bedfellows, for fresh possibilities. Like
Peeping Tom + social platform = Facebook.
Peeping Tom meets Photo Camera App = Snapchat.
Here’s some things I’m wanting to innovate new forms or processes for:
organic building structures
systems for creating
systems for planning
reducing Iphone addiction
getting in the woods
Feel free to apply x+y to these for me, and leave innovations in the comments. I’d love that!
Example: I need someone to shop for a car for me. I have to let this old Beetle go. But you’d have to really know me and care that I got something that makes me happy. In return, I would paint them a picture. Or something else personal. Where is the online business for that? Online friending crossed with meaningful services.
Here we have a bit of idea sex: how to paint something others like + how to use your photos. This is how I see Ivy Newport’s online class “figurescapes.” She takes printed pictures, makes copies, uses gel medium to adhere, embellishes with drawing, and then paints the pictures. A little unlike “paint by numbers” which was another version of idea sex from the 60’s: maps + paint + numbers= possible okay painting.
Here’s a couple of my paintings. I love seeing process, and so always try to show my own.
This piece was created over a couple of days, while I retreated to my summer getaway on Vashon Island. Its where I was born. This is the first year, since I had my son, that he did not come with me. I missed him so much–and all the rituals we usually share. Someday, when he’s not committing adolescence, and grown out of teenage hood, we’ll share our beach walks, our trips to the tea shop for reading & Majong, and our beach fires again.
This year, I truly did enjoy painting and breaking for beach walks. Eating minimally, journaling, reading Billy Collins’ poetry and laughing out loud with no one. Reading a whole biography of Annie Liebowitz. Painting some more. Podcasts. Listening to the soft waves while going to sleep at night. Feeling the passage of time. So bittersweet.
“This was Florence, the flattering and suspect beauty this city, half fairy tale half tourist trap, in whose insalubrious air the arts once rankly and voluptuously blossomed, where composers have been inspired to lulling tones of somniferous eroticism.” ~Thomas Mann
My son is a rock climber. His hands are indiscernible from The David’s. Well, I think so anyway.
Soaking it up
From Florence, we travelled to San Gimnano for the day, but ended our travel at Frallarenza, our agritourismo farm. We stayed here in Orvieto for a perfect week.
“In Italy, they add work and life onto food and wine.”~ R. Leach. From our tourismo garden, served on pottery made by our host, Selena.
The stunning Orvieto Cathedral
The damp, dark, and extremely cool underground well. We walked all the way down for the dank views.
Make a wish
Our lovely, perfectly Italian cooking lessons with Selena and Francesco. Tiramisu with heavy cream first, so it can chill while we make several other pastas, sauces, and vegetables.
Rolling and shaping the Gnocchi, together
We had Gnocchi with a red sauce and also a pesto sauce. Mashed potatoes and flour (gf). Delightful, rubbery noodle balls.
Stopping for a shadow photo, late in the day, along cobblestone alleys. This is my first experience in Europe, in Italy. I’ll never forget that every hillside town consists of 800 year old streets and buildings of stone. Quite profound, when you think of the kids growing up in this sort of heritage.
Rome for a day. I’m overwhelmed by crowded cities. We planned a single night stay here. In 97 degree weather, we agreed to see the Colleseum, The Trevi Fountain (at night) and the Vatican. Inside the Vatican museum is this stellar spiral walkway. Better than the ancient art, as I grown tired of the endless Madonna and Child theme.
Our final week in the Amalfi Coast. A bright Jesus at a small cathedral in Praiano.
Truly remarkable stone houses built into the stoney mountains. Many, many stairs throughout Amalfi, laddering up and down from house to house.
We hired a small boat to ferry us from Praiano over to the town of Amalfi. Home to Lemoncello, fine paper, tiny roads and breathtaking charm. 52, made a dream come true.