Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Egg Chair

We've realized early on that our cottage style furniture will look out of place in our new mid-century modern home.  But according to Emily Henderson (my favorite design guru) furnishing a large house costs upwards of $200,000 (gulp!!) and that certainly isn't realistic for our place!  We're too busy buying windows and toilets!!

So, I've started scouting for deals.  I picked up some very cool chairs at a yard sale (yup, that works with my budget).  And I've been scouting outlet stores and clearance sales for serious bargains.

And then I read about a mega Yard Sale that was held to benefit reuniting families that have been separated.  A sale and a cause?  Well that's pretty cool.  So I headed over - making sure I was one of the first people to walk through the door.

That's when I saw this chair.  I'm pretty sure it's a copy of Arne Jacobsen's Egg Chair.  Designed in the 50's, it was created for his hotel design of Royal Copenhagen hotel (Architectural Digest recently did a big story on it -  And it is so darned cool!!

There was just one problem.  It's purple.  Not a soft, pretty lavender, but a bright, in your face purple.  And I HATE purple.

But for $195, how could I say no?  So I paid up and loaded it in my mom-van to bring it home.

He likes it!
Normally, my husband Richard is not quite as excited about my bargains as I am.  But in this case, he too was smitten with the uber cool design (and the fact that it was a great deal).  He also really liked the color.

Now I should mention, Richard is color blind.  But for some weird reason, purple is a color he can see pretty well.  And when you're from New Orleans and have a family that is obsessed with LSU, purple is a pretty popular color.  He pointed out that we could get a gold pillow and he could use it to watch LSU football games.

This is not going to happen.....

So I'm looking for help.  The fabric is a beautiful wool mohair, the color just needs to change.  Does anyone have any experience dying upholstery?  I've read articles that say chalk paint is fantastic.  And other articles that say chalk paint is horrible.  I've also read about spray dye made especially for upholstery fabric.  But have any of you experimented?  Any real experience and dos/don'ts would be appreciated!

I figure I don't have anything to lose.  I can try changing the color and if that doesn't work, maybe I'll have to figure out how to re-upholster it.


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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Fast Forward - So Much Progress!!

You may have noticed green leaves on the trees in a lot of the photos I've posted.  That's because we started this project back in July!  So much has happened since then and it's time to bring you up to date on all the work we've done.

As a result of all the issues we found, we ended up replacing the entire electrical system in the house.  That's a lot of wire and a lot of work.  But now everything is updated and we can feel safe and secure.

We filled in the indoor garden to reduce the moisture in the living space.  As we improve the tightness and energy efficiency of the building, this will be critically important.   It was a big job, but really unifies the space and lets us add a staircase from the living room to the kitchen, creating a circular flow on the first floor.

And we updated the bar - it used to be accessed by narrow doorways from the kitchen and dining room.  We widened those doorways and opened up the front wall, so you can 'belly up to the bar' with your order!
See the new staircase on the left?  And check out the big new window in the kitchen!

This is truly an open floor plan - no windows at all!!
Next, we replaced every window, skylight and door in the house - and added a couple of new ones.
How many guys does it take to install a new giant sliding glass door?  Evidently 6 (one inside)!!
Look at that view through all those new glass doors!!!
The new giant front doors (and the window above them) really make a statement!

This new window provides a view of the courtyard from the kitchen.

All the bedroom windows have been replaced with new fire code compliant windows.  They let in more light as well (and we added a skylight in this one!)
As a comparison, look at how much the new window and skylight have changed this room! 

We created transom windows from the living room to the long hallway - bringing some nice sunlight into the space.

We're adding a contemporary gas fireplace to the den - which should make it a cozy spot during our cold winters.  It's hidden behind all that cardboard so the glass front doesn't get broken!

And we have lots of new drywall!  Seriously, how can he stand there on those things???
This was a BIG squirrel infestation area - like new with fresh insulation, electrical and drywall
We also made a lot of energy improvements.  We installed a new high efficiency gas boiler.  We also had the ceiling filled with dense pack cellulose insulation.  And after much consideration, we installed a central air conditioning system.  15 years ago, I would never have dreamed we would need AC in Maine.  But after this recent summer with the wave of heat and humidity. we decided it was now or never!
This is what it looks like when there's a small hole in the  wall when they're blowing in cellulose insulation!  
We also added insulation to the roof and a new rubber membrane roof covering.  Oh, and 5 new skylights!

So while this might look like it went quickly, it's about 5 months of work, 6-7 days a week.  Did it all go smoothly?  No!  Did we have challenges!  Yes!  But like all renovation projects, the key is to figure out how to adapt when things go wrong.  And despite the hiccups, the project has made great strides!

Is there more to do?  You betcha!  But we've come a long way!
Prepping the floor for hardwood

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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Renovation Realities and the Too Clever Squirrels

We've renovated many old houses over the years and have a pretty good idea what it entails.  But with a house that was built in the 70's, we assumed it wouldn't have some of the challenges that we usually see.  After all, in comparison with the early 1900's houses we usually tackle, this one is practically new!

But we were wrong.

And the biggest issue?


This property is a squirrel paradise.  The giant oak trees that are all around the house drop thousands of acorns.  Heck, we even have an oak tree growing through the deck, with its trunk going through the porch roof.

Squirrel latrine between the studs
And they obviously see this house as their home.  We have found squirrel nests, squirrel 'highways' full of acorns running across the interior of the house, squirrel damage in many walls and major damage to the electrical system.  We've opened up bay after bay to discover squirrel tunnels in the insulation.  When we pull out all the stinky, wet fiberglass, we find a similar mess.

Case in point, this is an exterior wall of the house.  They've chewed the insulation completely off of the wires,  chewed new openings and left behind piles of acorn husks.  As a result of the damage, we've had to rewire the entire house.  Ugh!!  

And the squirrel urine smell is pervasive.  We've tried a variety of remedies, but have resigned ourselves to having to tear out the walls and sheathing to eliminate the odor.  This was not part of our original scope of work, but it has to be done.
The squirrels chew right through the wall studs
What are we doing to solve the problem?  We started a squirrel relocation program right after we bought the house, but they've proven amazingly hard to trap.  Countless mornings, I'd arrive at the job site to find the trap sprung, the peanut butter gone, but no squirrel.  Seriously, they're the Harry Houdini of the squirrel world (and their friends Chip & Dale the chipmunks are pretty agile as well).

And as luck would have it, we've captured a couple of raccoons (or maybe just one that got caught twice!).  I didn't relocate the raccoon, since he wasn't living in the house.  But now that he's developed a taste for Hannaford peanut butter, he'll come up to the house, flip the traps upside down and then scoop the peanut butter out with his little hands.  Smart!!!  And makes me CRAZY!!!

Hardware cloth across areas that show squirrel penetration
And since we know we can't ever catch all the squirrels (the local news has been full of stories about the explosion of the squirrel population this year), we're trying to squirrel proof the building as much as possible.  That includes lining exterior portions of the building with aluminum flashing and hardware cloth.  We're hoping that will keep them out.

'Don't want to scare you'......never a good start to a text....
Oh, and where there isn't squirrel damage, we have rot.  One day I got this message from my electrician.

We dashed over to the house to see the bad news for ourselves.  He had discovered the top plate, which should be made up of 2 2x4's stacked together, had almost completely rotted away.  In turn, that rot had impacted the rafter tails, resulting in a major structural challenge. (we had noticed the ceiling bowed in that area, but now we understood why!)

Top plate has disappeared and lower plate is seriously compromised
This used to be 2 2x4's stacked on top of one another.  Now it's just sawdust and rotted rafter tails

Here's what the wood looks like when it has dry rot due to water damage.  If you touch it, it disintegrates into dust.  Sobering indeed!

The solution?  Tear out the ceiling and 'sister' new rafters next to the old ones, while jacking up the rafters to add new top plates.
New top plates and 'sistered' rafters (attached to the old rafters, running the length of the roof) to carry the roof load

And that wasn't all.  I dearly love the round 'bubble' window, that gives so much character to the front of the house.  It's a dramatic focal point!  The owners told us they added it, when they discovered you couldn't see cars pulling up in the driveway - it lets you peek around the corner to see who's coming!  But our electrician noticed water coming in through the electrical outlet directly below it during a rainstorm.  When we opened up the wall to investigate it - well, you guessed it, everything was totally rotted away.  The sheathing was gone and only the tar paper was still in place!  (more about the bubble window later - I'm still trying to figure out how to retain it as an architectural feature).
The sheathing has completely rotted away under the bubble window - leaving just the tar paper!

We also called Justin Pizzolato of Maine Green Energy Audit to do a 'blower door' test to see how energy efficient the house was.  To do this, you close up all the doors and windows and put a giant fan (aka blower door) in the front door.  It sounds like an aircraft engine as it starts up and creates a huge vacuum throughout the house.  If the house is really tight, you can build up quite a bit of negative pressure.  If it's leaky, you'll see and feel air movement (cobwebs start blowing around in corners!).  The absolute minimum to do the test is  50 pascals and in our case, we barely reached it with 48.5.  So we obviously have some work to do to seal this place up!  We could see cobwebs moving up in the skylights.  And we could feel lots of air coming in around doors and windows.

We also used an infra red camera, to see where the insulation needs to be improved.  To make this house truly energy efficient, it needs a lot of changes.  So we will be replacing all the windows, doors and skylights, as well as adding insulation throughout the building envelope.  And we will be replacing the original heating system.  This is obviously a huge investment, but we're thankful that Efficiency Maine offers rebates on some of our investment, to encourage us to be more energy efficient!

Add that to all the usual updates - new bathrooms, new kitchen, new roof and this has turned into a major project.  Stay tuned, there's a lot more to come!!

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

But Does it Look Like Formica - Conundrums of Designing a Mid Century Kitchen

My mid-century roots started with my parents sofa - check out that fabric!
I've designed a lot of kitchens over the years, but never one with mid-century styling.    But I got to thinking - I grew up with mid-century kitchens, maybe they could provide some inspiration? Just look at that MCM fabric on the sofa when I was a baby.  That's the real thing!

The earliest kitchen I can remember from my childhood was in the late 60's in Maryland.  It had metal cabinets that my mother painted turquoise and stainless steel countertops that she would scrub with Ajax every night after dinner.  The smell of Ajax (does anyone still use Ajax??) still transports me back to that kitchen!!!

Yup, this was our stove with white push buttons on each side

Our next kitchen was around 1970 (Colorado).  It had a turquoise stove (she really loved that color!) that had white push buttons along either side for the high-medium-low settings.  It also had white Formica countertops with little flecks in them.

This was followed by a galley kitchen in 1974 with boring brown cabinets and Harvest Gold Formica countertops.  They looked fantastic with the Avocado Green appliances and matching shag carpeting throughout the house.
Dad carving the Thanksgiving turkey circa 1974
Just take this Brady Bunch kitchen and swap out the Burnt Orange counters with Gold and you've got it!
Source:  Hooked on Houses
This was a big color departure for Mom.  Farewell turquoise - hello mid-century trinity!!
Okay, on second thought, maybe those kitchens won't provide the inspiration we need.  I really don't think I want to use any of those ideas and I still dislike that color palette!  The only idea that might have some merit is the countertops....hold that thought......there may be a kernel of design inspiration there.

Now here's the conundrum.  We want to stay true to the mid-century design intent of the house.  But we really don't want a slavishly mid-century kitchen.  And I'd like to stay away from bold colors on major elements like cabinets and appliances - we can do a lot with accessories to introduce color (so forget about that turquoise or avocado green stove!).

So I started reading and pinning and coming up with ideas.  And I found some pretty great inspiration!

This kitchen has a lot of elements that appeal to me.  Maybe because we have a similar ceiling line and big sliding glass doors.  I also like the mix of the dark and white cabinetry and a big, dramatic light fixture.

Or this one, again, with dark cabinets mixed with white.

This is also a nice inspiration.

And so the design started to take shape.  We taped it out on the floor and the walls, to see if it would be comfortable for us to work in.  And after a few tweaks, we were pretty happy with it.  (You'll notice the pipes sticking out of the concrete floor.  That's where the plumbing was laid under the concrete in the original kitchen and to keep things simple, we will be leaving the kitchen sink in the same spot.)  And the tall pencil line you see on the back wall??  That's going to be a giant window that will provide some ventilation and a view of the courtyard.

First and foremost, we're going to use dark slab front cabinets (solid quarter sawn oak, stained walnut) for the base and around the refrigerator and white cabinets for the uppers.  I know you see a lot of veneered cabinet fronts, but we wanted to stick with all wood.

I'm still agonizing over hardware.....I like the sleek look of no knobs at all - with pressure latches - but think that might be awkward (and would we have shiny spots where we pushed to open them all the time?).  So maybe some slim, finger pulls?  Hmmm.....   Thankfully I don't need to decide that for awhile.

The island will have seating for 6 (count em 6!) people!!  I love having a place for friends and family to gather around.  We do a lot of entertaining and since everyone ends up in the kitchen anyway, this will be a big space for a crowd.

And since the kitchen connects to the bar and the mudroom, we've included them in the design.  We will put giant, 8 foot tall pantries in the mudroom.  This will give us a lot of additional storage.

The Bar cabinetry and wine fridge
And we're going to use the original bar sink for the bar and add new cabinetry and a wine fridge in there.

Finally, I want to include an accent for the backsplash.  So behind the range, I'll be installing this amazing tile from Walker Zanger.  It caught my eye when I first saw it.....and when I looked it up online I discovered it's part of the Stardust pattern.  It pays homage to David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust character and is inspired by 1970's interior design.  Seriously???  It's perfect for our project!!
Photo:  Walker Zanger
Once we decided on the cabinets and backsplash, we needed a countertop.  And as I started doing more reading and research, we realized that something that looks like the Formica of my childhood would probably fit the bill.  But we want to use a quartz product, to make maintenance easy.  After looking at different options, we decided on this quartz called Winter Storm.  It ties beautifully with the backsplash, but has enough speckles in it that it won't show every single crumb.  For the tall counter in the seating area, we're debating butcher block or stainless steel.

The last piece of the puzzle is lighting.  With our tall ceilings, we want something that's a bit of a 'wow' from a mid-century perspective.  Richard and I spent a ridiculous amount of time on this, but finally found something we both liked -  a sputnik style fixture (hmmm....maybe that ties to the space exploration theme of the tile!).  Now, the basic rules for choosing lighting is to add the number of feet that make up the length and width of the room - and take that number in inches as the size fixture you should look for.  In our case, that is 15 feet plus 20 feet = a 35 inch diameter fixture.  But with our tall ceilings, I was worried it wouldn't be big enough, so I made my homemade sputnik - which looks a bit like a kid's bad science project - and hung it up so we could check it out.  Seems silly, but it made us confident enough to order the fixture.
My pathetic science project!!  Sputnik light fixture mock-up!!
How will it all come together???  This mood board captures some of the elements.

Now the cabinets, appliances and lighting are on order and we're ready to go!  Hopefully we have captured that mid-century vibe, but with some modern elements as well.

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