Saturday, September 20, 2008

Face Lift, Part II

Well, it took a little longer than he expected (eight days instead of three), but the new front door is now painted, installed, and weather-stripped. I have to say, it turned out even better than we hoped it would. For a complete set of before-and-after pictures, go here.

Next year, we'll work on getting the front windows and window frames to match the entryway. Rob is game for working on those as well, which is great.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Face Lift

Cosmetically, the biggest liability our house has is the front door. It literally looks like it's about to fall off. The frame is full of rot, as is the door itself, and the transom window is yellowed, opaque, and depressing. From the beginning, we realized that once the plumbing and electrical infrastructure was taken care of, this project needed to be near the top of the list.

The biggest part of this job was research. We liked the overall look of the door and the frame, and wanted to try and get them restored as close as possible to their original forms. When Betsy and I first started shopping around, we went to several door and window outlets, as well as Home Depot and Lowes. The only options there were bland, tacky metal doors with completely utilitarian frames; no customization available. These were a far cry from the ornately carved-wooden details that were a main feature of our current entryway.

The more Betsy and I looked around, the more we realized that this was not a job for our "learn-as-we-go" M.O., so we went with a professional. Rob Plunkett (no relation to the Raiders quarterback) came recommended from our friends Andy and Meg. He had redone their door frame, and although it was a modern, simple design, it looked great and was done right. We had him take a look at our door, and he was up for the challenge. He thought some of the frame was salvageable, but the rest he would re-create with new wood. The door itself would have to be replaced completely (we figured that). We decided that Betsy and I would get the materials and Rob would do the installation. This is when our real work began.

We were basically buying this new entryway à la carte: we got the door from a place in Northern Liberties, the door knob and lock from Lowes, the mail slot and door bell from a place in Portland, Oregon (everything local was too big for the door), the custom glass from a place in South Philly, and the paint from yet another place in South Philly. Rob handled the lumber for rebuilding the door frame.

It took several months to get everything together, but finally our work is done and Rob's is beginning.

Stay tuned to see how it turns out!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

New Couch!

Unless you don't mind waiting almost 4 months for delivery, you probably don't want to order a couch (or anything else) from this place. That said, it's a lot more comfortable than the old one, which came with the house.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Garden Variety

Mid summer here on Wolf Street, and thoughts naturally turn to the outdoors. In our case, outdoors is an 8x12 patch of concrete with a grill, a table, and some chairs. Our regular readers may recall that last summer we put up a fence along one side of the patio - I'm sure you'll be happy to learn it hasn't fallen down yet. This summer, we've decided to plant a garden. But instead of buying (or building) planter boxes to put on top of the concrete, we've opted to dig up portions of the concrete and plant directly into the ground. This idea stemmed from a conversation Betsy and I had with my aunt Kathleen at my brother's wedding last year. She was telling us about how amazing her garden was, and that she was sure it was because she had the concrete removed and planted directly into the ground. I remember this vaguely, but Betsy remembers it vividly. From that moment on, we were definitely digging up the patio.

When spring came, we talked about how we might go about digging up the concrete: rent a jackhammer? Hire a contractor? We kept visiting the subject, but could never come to a decision. Finally, as April turned to May, and our resolve was starting to weaken, we decided to give our friend Kevin a call. Kevin is a general contractor, and we figured he'd at least be able to give us some advice. He suggested a combination of a crazy-sharp saw to score the cement and a sledgehammer to break it up. Unfortunately, his crew had just quit so it was to be just me and him. (On the up side, it was cheaper to hire just one guy instead of three.)

After several scheduling delays, we got to it on a drizzly weekday morning. First, Kevin scored the outline of the garden with the saw while I sprayed the blade with water from the garden hose so the blade wouldn't overheat. A metal blade cutting into concrete with cement walls all around is pretty much louder than the loudest thing you can think of. Louder than standing next to an ambulance siren. Louder than a very low-flying helicopter. Louder than Dinosaur Jr and My Bloody Valentine at City Gardens in 1992 (and a lot less pleasant). After a minute, I called time and went to get my ear plugs. I couldn't find any for Kevin, but apparently he's used to this, which had me wondering how he had any hearing left at all.

Once the concrete was scored, the fun began - hitting the concrete with a sledge hammer. That fun lasted about 5 minutes until the fatigue set in. And we still had about 90 minutes of sledge-hammering to go. We switched off every 10 minutes or so, with the person not on hammer duty at the moment sweeping up the shards of concrete into a bucket and then dumping them into contractor trash bags. Kevin knew of a place that would take broken up concrete for $25 a ton, or something like that. Fortunately, we had less than a ton, but it didn't seem like much less than that.

Finally, after hammering, picking, and digging for almost 2 hours, we ended up with this:

As I was leaving for work later that day, our next door neighbor, Ann, came out and said she used to have an in-ground garden in her back yard, but the basement kept flooding so they had to have it cemented over. I said, "Nice timing, Ann."

I didn't really say that.

Anyway, after removing all the sandy dirt and small rocks that were in the holes, followed by the careful arranging of way too many pieces of slate around the perimeter, followed by 30 forty-pound bags of top soil, we began to plant. The left side was for flowers, and the right side was for vegetables and herbs. To start with, we stayed mostly with herbs, but we did put three tomato plants in. The end result is this:

Not bad, eh? These pictures are from about a month ago, so there have been some developments since then. We'll save that for another post, though.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

If you've seen one Dr. Phil, you've seen 'em all...

So, healing is boring, it turns out. Healing Waters was our color of choice for the accent wall in the bedroom. But it looked like we had made a nursery and were about to move in a big stuffed bear and apply a ducky border. Pickle is too old for a nursery. So it was back to the drawing board. I thought of layering Healing Waters over Underseas (theme: water!), but Ed thought of mixing our own concoction of the two in an old cookie jar. More color control. And now we give you our own blue. It's not too green and it's not too baby. And we've named it Pepto Blue. Pepto Blue -- kind of retro, kind of kind and good for what ails ye.

(And kind of looks like the Cira Center in a storm.)

Monday, March 31, 2008

Choosing Color - Together!

It's been Ghostship for almost a year and a half now. Icelandic-ly delicious, no? Until push came to shove and the paint was about to be up there on the bedroom walls, all around us, while we slept. Like a blanket of ghost. I got cold feet. Iceland cold. Maybe I heard one too many ghost stories as a child.

Or, maybe I've been watching too much HGTV - but I started thinking about the transposition of warmth and the shade that passes between two hues and architecting atmosphere. And, well, Ghostship is cold, right? So, I went all Bobby Brown on Mr. Hogarty and decided a warm orange, like a mix of mangoes and sun, was in our sleep future. And Mr. Hogarty indulged me - until we put our sleep future up on the wall and it didn't look right either [see 2nd and 4th colors from right in picture]. When it comes to orange, what is good for the back patio - orange! - is not good for the bedroom (as they say) and though the shades were called something like Sienna's Miller and Hut's Desire, they are actually more like orange-y brown and brown-y orange. We thought we learned our lesson there, but then we went back for Tanbark, which is (see brownest shade in picture) pretty damn dark/bark as well.

Why is warm in theory, dark on walls? Oh, paint/color theorist - read our blog, leave a comment and answer my inquiry.

Ed and I wanted no VOC paint and found an affordable line at Sherwin Williams about 8 blocks away. We used their website a lot, especially the handy "Color Visualizer' -- a tool that allows you to paint and re-paint (and re-paint and re-paint and take a break, watch a movie and paint and re-paint) the walls of a generic room choosing from any of the 700 colors with names like Shipshape and Ship's Mate and Procreate and Head of State, to name a few. But not only could we not find a generic bedroom on Color Visualizer that looked like ours, the virtual paint never looked the same when we got it home and put it up. Choosing a color ALONE is a hard task; choosing a color together is like trying to buy one pair of jeans that you can both wear -- ridiculous. One person has to persuade and the other person just has to go with it. Or, get sick of it and walk away. And come back an hour later and say, "Are you still using the Color Visualizer?" No, no, I'm really not.

But, the tall tale spins positively because, if we had just stuck with the icy boat, we would have never come up with Moroccan Brown and Underseas. See? [Pic soon]. We get our warmth and a little chilliness mixed together. Imagine a submarine off of Tunisia. Or a frigate at the Cape of Good Hope. That will be our bedroom. Warm. and cold. And Warm. and cold. And WARM...

And for now we have our own Cy Twombly-like wall [see photo above]. Coincidental and odd because underneath the primer on this same wall, which was also once under 4 layers of wallpaper [see post titled "I fought the Wall and the Wall Won"], there is a heart drawn in pencil and inside the heart, some chicken scratch that says, (to the best of my knowledge): "When I grow up, I want to be a undecipherable." And each word has a pencil line drawn through it. Very Cy.

Or maybe our attempts at Cy Twombley imitation should have gone on the other wall where - under 4 layers of wall paper again - we discovered a picture of a woman with no head; just a skirt covering a pretty big butt and some shapely legs. That one is a lot more Picasso...or no, that other guy...DeKooning.

Post post: No color theorist wrote in, so we did not know that Underseas would be too green to mix in well with the red, warm mud walls of Morocco. More research revealed that Home Despot also has no VOC paint called "Freshaire", and since the Deep is open on Sundays we were forced to buy paint that features in depth interviews of political leaders and topical and cultural icons and TG fawning over anyone remotely related to The Wire. The color that we picked for the accent wall is called, "Omar Coming". Not really, it's called: 'Healing Waters'.

The guy at the Deep told me that since their business is mostly contractors, I was only the second customer to buy no VOC paint in the whole two months that they've had it. The price is almost twice as much as what we paid at Sherwin Williams, so....go to Sherwin Williams. Or Greenable in Old City, though I've heard that that one is pricey too.

But I can't think about the cost now. Let the Healing Waters flow...

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Our Bedroom is Like The Grapes of Wrath

Redoing the master bedroom is a project that has now taken at least 6 months longer than we thought it would. We've stripped several layers of wallpaper off the walls, repaired the plaster underneath, installed supports for a ceiling fan, demolished the current closet and rebuilt the shell for a new one, and put a new ceiling up.

Through all of this, the part that has been the biggest pain in the ass is the sanding. Betsy has written before about the dust that permeates our lives, and sanding those walls did take forever. However, that task cannot compare to sanding the ceiling.

When you sand a wall, you are next to it. The plaster/joint compound dust falls between you and the wall. When you sand a ceiling, you are on a ladder, directly beneath it. The dust falls into your eyes, ears, and nose.

Now, I'm not an idiot - I'm taking precautions by wearing a mask and safety glasses. I'm also wearing a hat. But there are some complications. First of all, I can't wear my contact lenses while sanding. The fine dust that's in the air immediately starts irritating them, and they get dried out. So I need to wear my glasses. On top of my regular glasses, I wear the safety glasses. As I breath in and out, the air I exhale gets pushed out the top of my mask and fogs my regular glasses. To combat this, I push my glasses far out to the tip of my nose. This pretty much eliminates any peripheral vision. The safety glasses get covered with dust almost immediately, so every few minutes, I need to stop and, using my index finger, wipe the safety glasses clear. But they never really get clear.

My friend Andy suggested putting a sanding block on a long pole, and sanding from the comfort of the floor, but I just don't see how you could get any leverage that way. It would be nice to not have to climb down the ladder and move it a foot this way or a foot that way every 5 minutes.

Anyway, the ceiling is almost finished. After that, the room gets a serious cleaning and the fun part begins - painting!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Momentum Killer

If you've finally managed to work up some enthusiasm for a day-long spackling session, and then this is what you see when you open the door, it's a real bummer.

Nothing kills the momentum like an open bucket of rock-hard joint compound.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

False Starts

There was a lull, sure. I'll cop to it. Because you're not always working toward being in your house. Sometimes it just sits there, like base camp, for you to drop your stuff off or eat a meal. Sometimes there's too many things happening away from the house. Outside. The rest of life. Weddings, funerals, shows, parties and the great Southwest, for example. What do we care what shape the house is in...we're never in it? That was this summer for us; we were out. But now we're back.

Aside from having a lovely summer and being places I'd never been before - Vegas, Santa Fe and Taos -- we gained a new member of the Hogs and Herbs family. A 17-pound lionine mister who even has fur on the INSIDE of his mouth and a face that looks like a cigar blew up in it. When we talk in his made-up voice, it comes out sounding like Edward G. Robinson, and he becomes a small, but street-wise gangster character named Pickles Mcgee, see?

He doesn't do much toward fixing up the house. He can't weild a hammer or climb a ladder. He can't sand or plaster. And if you count pooping in the house as not really helping but hurting, then well, he's still occasionally hurting. But he is good at sniffing. He can find a baked good on the street that's been buried under leaves for 2 days (more common than you'd think in South Philly). And he also does a mean Dick Cheney imitation. Really, ask him some time.

But despite the travel and Pickles nonchalant attitude toward home improvement, we did do some stuff. We pulled up rugs. We lucked out; the floors are hard wood, warm tones with an oak inlay. They are in good shape. We improved the bathroom, with new lighting fixtures and a big white mirror. We bought some art for the walls at a Space 1026 auction. Oh, and we picked up a tree for the front of the house that looks to be a ficus. It begs the same question as our new dog: Why would anyone throw this out?

Addendum: It turns out, WE would throw it out -- the tree (not the dog). It seems to have just come into our house to shed every single leaf it had and then die. How did the previous owners know it was about to become a large potted stick? And did they walk by our house on trash day and laugh.....and laugh....and laugh?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

State of the Art

Betsy and I had a party this past New Year's Day, so we had to get the house into some sort of shape to have people over. Not that we haven't had people over before, but this was the first time a lot of people were coming over, and it was the first time most of them had seen the house. So in addition to cleaning the the hell out of the place (at least to our standards), we realized we really needed to hang some art on our totally bare walls.

This had been on our minds for a while, so we were somewhat prepared. A few months ago, we went to an auction at Space 1026 (a Philly art collective) and were able to pick up some pretty cool pieces for a pretty reasonable sum. For Christmas, Betsy's present from me included several framed and matted photos from our vacation in New Mexico this past summer, along with a really cool "See America" print featuring Carlsbad Caverns, which is a reproduction of an advertisement from the Works Progress Administration. We also had a couple of very nice watercolors painted by Betsy's dad, along with some paintings I inherited from my grandfather. Pretty much all of these went up the day before the party, and it really made a difference. Even though the same crappy wallpaper is up all over the place, the house really feels more like it's our own.

But we're still looking forward to seeing what it looks like without the crappy wallpaper.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

2008 = Time to Freakin' Renovate

We haven't posted here in a while. Perhaps you thought that we were so busy fixing up the house, we just didn't have time to get on the web and write about it. You would be so wrong if you thought that.

There hasn't been much house activity since last spring. Come summer, we found ourselves constantly traveling to bachelor/bachelorette parties, weddings, funerals - there weren't many open weekends. And then we got a dog, who has become a fantastic excuse for procrastinating about anything.

There were a few little projects here and there, and more plastering and sanding of the master bedroom, but when the summer hit, it became too uncomfortable to work in that room. We managed to get new sheet rock up on the ceiling (worthy of its own post some day), but that's about it. And to be honest, after sanding or hoisting sheet rock for several hours, the last thing either of us wanted to do was write about it.

Perhaps another reason for our failure to update the blog is that we were trying to write an entire essay for every post. Our draft folder is filled with half-written epics we became bored with before finishing. Some of them will end being salvaged, I'm sure, but I think the key is to keep things short and to the point. Installing a dimmer switch does not warrant 5,000 words.

If we can put together a little post at least every week or so, we'll be happy and you'll be kept up to date. So stick this in your RSS reader and check back with us every once in a while; if you don't see anything new, feel free to harass us in the comments (as some of you have already done). We don't mind the encouragement.