Category Archives: renovation

mantel story(ies)

I started sharing a few mantel photos on Instagram, and I thought I’d pull together a few more in a post here. M was working on the mantel in our room, but that story actually begins in the living room just below it.

The photo above is from our beautiful living room when we first bought the house. Stunning, I know. You can see the line of where the mantel used to be affixed to the plaster, but it was actually hanging out in another room of the house when we first saw the place. The fireplace was never a traditional fireplace in the wall. Instead there was a freestanding stove that sat in front of it, with a flue that went up and turned into the wall (and chimney flue inside it) at that hole you can see further up the wall.

We refinished the mantel eventually, and reinstalled it once we furred out all the exterior walls of the house and reinstalled all the trim. We found a cast iron summer front in an antique shop in our neighborhood, and attached it to the wall inside. These summer fronts were used to close up real fireplaces for the summer when they weren’t in use – but in the case of simple, working class homes like ours, the heat source was from a stove, so no summer fronts were needed. But because the house is Second Empire, and Victorians love their ornament, there is still a mantel!

There were actually quite a few mantels in our house. The first floor mantels were more decorative, with a simpler design for the second floor unit. You might remember that we installed an interior stair on the fireplace wall of the middle room in our house, so those mantels were not needed. We moved the more decorative mantel from the first floor up to our bedroom and installed it on the wall and painted everything white. I know it looks sort of strange to have a “fake” fireplace, but it’s really not that weird in houses from this time period around here. We always thought we’d keep our eyes open for another summer front, but we got busy with kids and life and we honestly never poke around salvage yards and antique stores anymore.

But then we installed a real working fireplace in the first floor living room and we had the old summer front hanging out in the basement. A few months ago M attached it to the wall up here, and we’ve just been waiting for the time to figure out a trim detail.

He ended up building up a few pieces to create this frame, matching the egg-and-dart detail on the cast iron. We’ll fill the holes and paint the whole thing black, and it will just blend in and look like it’s always been there. It’s a huge improvement already.

That made me think about the mantel that we relocated up to the third floor when we first finished our attic space and carved out the cutest nursery in the world. Instead of looking for a summer front for this mantel, we chose to do what is typically done in the center of these “fake” mantels – tile! And since I was starting from scratch, I decided to have fun with the tile.

I painted a scene from The Little Prince, and I added several of my favorite quotes. Then we surrounded it with glass tiles in the greens and blues and it came together just like I imagined it. I actually painted the tiles while I was pregnant, and I wasn’t convinced until the end that it was going to work out.

But it was perfect. Then…

…and now!

And that reminds me of a family movie that we just watched that was lovelyl! The Little Prince on Netflix. It’s so beautiful – the characters, the animation, the story within the story. Listening to E saying the phrases on her wall along with the movie was the best part. She’ll probably remember those words long after she leaves this room behind.

sad gate / happy gate

We’ve been knocking out a lot of smaller to-do lists on the existing house while waiting for the bigger project to start. One of those nagging items was replacing our front gate. The photo above was taken during the first full summer we lived in the house (2001) – look at that pitiful mansard and sagging dormer, yikes. You can see two of the four original fence posts in that photo, along with a slightly sagging front gate. The rest of the “fencing” was a temporary wire fence that had been put in place to keep out animals? Look nicer than no fence? Who knows.

The story we were told was that the original fence had been stolen. This was not uncommon in these old neighborhoods where properties stood vacant and architectural relics were worth good money. There’s a street on the southern end of our neighborhood called Cherokee Street that was known as Antique Row, and it was a really booming place in the nineties and early 2000’s. So if you were missing something on your house, that was the first place to check. (I wrote about the structural stars in an old post here.)

We used to spend a lot of time in these stores, looking for old doors and hardware or mantels or other items we needed during those early stages of renovation. I was digging around the courtyard area of one place, and I saw these really beautiful old fence panels leaning up against the fence. After measuring how many linear feet there were – and getting the price for the panels (only $300, which seems crazy cheap to me now, but was really expensive at the time), we bought them. We contacted Eureka Forge and met the head blacksmith there, Todd Kinnikin. He made two new intermediate posts in that long run of fence, and divided the salvaged fencing into three equal sections for that area, plus one smaller section to the left of the existing gate. The tops of the salvaged fence were bent over and pretty beat up, but he straightened everything out, cleaned them up, painted, and installed them. He also made our steel front porch, and the post details there match the intermediate posts on the fence.

It looks really pretty in the snow.

But back to that old gate. You can see how junky it looks next to the fence. It leans, and those hinges are rusty and shot. The rusted chain is a good look too. There’s this pipe that sticks out of the ground to provide a place for the gate to latch, which makes the whole gate look like a cobbeled together afterthought. It doesn’t swing out anymore, and gets caught in odd angles when swinging in. We’ve tried several times over the years to get Eureka Forge to make a new gate for us, but Todd has passed away, and his son runs the business now and they are always swamped with work. It just never seemed to be a huge priority.

But this summer one of the brackets gave out on the shorter fence panel to the left of the gate, and M took the whole panel off to make sure that it wouldn’t “walk away”. So it looks really bad now with the missing fence panel and sad sagging gate. It was the kick in the pants we needed to get this work done.

I contacted two ornamental iron companies, and after a few weeks I received quotes back from both. They were pricing the repairs to the brackets and installation of the missing panel, and we also asked for a newly designed gate that would match the details of our existing fence. Both quotes were pretty similar (and both left me longing for those 2001 fence prices!), but we went with Classic Metal Craft because they had the most detailed quote and also didn’t look at me cross-eyed when I asked for shop drawings. The catch was they were 14-15 weeks out on their schedule, so we’ve been looking at this eyesore for months.

Two weeks ago they picked up the missing panel, and did final field measurements, and last week I received the first round of shop drawings.

It was pretty exciting to see just how GOOD the new gate was going to look compared to that old one. They had done what we asked – matched the details of the existing fence for the gate design. But when we looked at all the other wrought iron fences/gates on our street, we noticed that all of the gates had something different that helped to distinguish it as an entrance – an arched or pointed top. Since we have an arched top window detail on the house, I sent back this sketch with a revision idea. I also noted that their drawings were missing the bottom detail of the fence.

They revised the gate drawings and they look amazing. We inquired about the need for a cross brace, and they showed it on the drawings, but they said there are enough welds on the gate to prevent sagging over time. But we’re going to leave it there as an insurance policy. It’s a detail on most of the gates on our street.

Look how good the gate looks in the context of the rest of the fence. I can’t wait for it to be installed.

I optimistically bought the pine roping this year for the fence. We might go ahead and install it on just the long part of the fence for now, but I’m hoping that the gate and missing panel might get installed before Christmas. We’re planning some projects for the front of the house next year – historic replacement windows and erecting scaffolding to repaint the trim. It’s been sixteen years since we last did that, so three cheers for good prep work and paint! We’ll have to rip out the bushes, and so I’m also hoping to get a landscape plan in place for what I want this front yard to look like. I’d also love to remove the neighboring chain link fencing and install a simple black iron fence on the sides at the same time. It’s a snowball thing, I know, but I can imagine how much it will enhance our curb appeal, and how good it will look for our Thursday night blues gatherings when it’s done.

bathroom update ideas

Magazine Cover

It was past time for a refresh on the cast iron surfaces in the bathroom, so I cleared everything out on Wednesday night and Thursday morning Surface Specialists showed up to reglaze the tub and sink.

IMG_5869

And by the end of the day the bathroom looked like this:

IMG_5903

IMG_5905

IMG_5906

I’m going to clean and reseal the floors next – you might remember that I did that with vinegar and baking soda in our master bathroom when we redid that room, and it made a huge difference. Even a year later, it still looks amazing.

But while everything is out of the bathroom, I’ve started thinking about doing a refresh in there. I’m still kind of torn on it – I really love this room and neither of the girls have complained that they’ve outgrown it. But the cubbies look a little worn, and could use a paint refresh. Which would mean getting five new cans of paint color matched to the originals because we no longer have this paint.

So I’ve been tossing around some thoughts in my head and wanted to share them here:

Girls Bathroom

The stripes still look great, so they wouldn’t need a refresh. If they did, I would NOT repaint them all again. Once was enough! But I am wondering about using Lisa Congdon’s Little Village wallpaper. The wainscoting is really high in this room, so there’s not a ton of space that would need papering. I think that would keep the cost down somewhat, and I think I could install this on my own. I’ve loved this paper since I saw it, and I think it would nod to the gray in F’s room without actually using gray paint in this room.

Wall Paper

Lisa Congdon’s Little Village Wallpaper (Peel and Stick)

Then I’d leave the white wainscoting white – as well as the ceiling and floor – and would just introduce color on the underside of the sink and the base of the pedestal tub. I’d like to use a blue – something that leans toward aqua without being too bright. A blue that ties the two girls rooms together – plus it’s their favorite color. The sink below is too periwinkle, but I dig the wall color.

hanging-sink-carla-lane-interiors-33

Carla Lane Interiors

Also love this blue – and I like it with that indigo wall that just happens to look exactly like our bathroom wainscoting!

Blue Tub Remodelista

Via Remodelista

This image gets sort of close to the look:

blue-bath-freestanding-bath

Cast Iron Bath Company

Then there is the question of the cubbies – maybe I paint them all white, and then the objects in them really stand out (and maybe not in a good way). Or maybe I paint them a color and let the white towels and glass jars etc. stand out. I could do the same color as the tub base, or a little lighter or a little darker. Just thinking about some of these ideas.

indoor-pool-room-lockers

via Decor Pad

I don’t want to paint the wainscoting gray, but I loved this image because I think the wallpaper with the gray lines would look really sweet with all the white. I could also do a white tub and just have the color on the cubbies, that could look nice. And I love that towel so much. The girls have the worst hand me down towels right now – which is sad because it’s also our guest bathroom! It would be nice to have some decent towels up there, and I love the stripes. Stripes off the wall, stripes on the towels!

wainscoting

via Remodelista

Bathroom-15

And would it be SO crazy to add pegs to the girls bathroom as well? I feel like they should just be in our bathroom, but I swear they are the most life changing thing in our house as of late. Maybe the girls would magically become organized and hang up their damp towels!

Okay, that’s what I’ve got for now. Just some Friday night rambling as I catch up on podcasts and put off bedtime.