Wire Duct Jail

Playmobile makes scary criminals. Photo credit: pj_vanf via Foter.com / CC BY

Playmobile makes scary criminals. Photo credit: pj_vanf via Foter.com / CC BY

This story isn’t about remodeling but it’s too funny not to share!

A friend of mine said she found some neat ideas for making Halloween decorations on Pinterest. (Yes, it’s way too early to think about Halloween but she’s one of those people who always plans way ahead.) She told her daughter about it and they decided to make pumpkins out of duct hose. Her mistake: asking her husband to order the duct. Instead of this, they ended up with this. Evidently, the daughter was very put out because there was no way to turn that into a pumpkin and the husband felt like a bumbling idiot.

But my friend decided all was not lost. She got some Playmobile and Lego people, painted their “clothes” bright orange and turned a horizontal cable management system into a tiny plastic jail! She said her daughter had so much fun playing “jail” that she went out and bought her this Playmobile police station to go with it. The husband enjoys playing “jail” too; he gets to live out all of his “NYPD Blue” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” fantasies.

Who knows — that little girl might become the Police Chief of Astoria, Oregon one day.

Tools for the Trade: Brushes

In home remodeling, you will use brushes often. Paintbrushes are just the beginning. You’ll need brushes to remove debris from old cast iron clawfoot tubs, scrubbing fireplace tiles, spreading epoxy and gently cleaning antiques. I’ve recently discovered an excellent source for brushes and I’m excited to share it with you all: Gordon Brush.

Gordon Brush is located in California and maintains a widely varied inventory of brushes. Additionally, they make custom brushes so if you need something unique for a very specific job, Gordon Brush can help. Plus, I get way better deals from Gordon Brush than I do from stores like Micheal’s or Home Depot. I ordered brushes from them so now when I go antiquing I can clean my purchases as soon as I get home.

Feast your eyes:

I used a very fine soft brush to clean this pin I bought.

I used a very fine soft brush to clean this pin I bought.

With a Nylon brush I made these 1930s cast iron sconces look like new!

With a Nylon brush I made these 1930s cast iron sconces look like new!

I used a fine paint brush to wax the leather on this chair after I cleaned it.

I used a fine paint brush to wax the leather on this chair after I cleaned it.

Electric? Gas? Why Not Both?


No, I’m not talking about stoves. I’m talking about lamps that were engineered in the early 20th century, when electricty was becoming more common in homes but wasn’t yet reliable. Many lamps were designed to provide either electric light or gas light; if the electricity went out, you had the option of lighting the gas jets — that would be handy even today. You’ve probably already seen lamps like this but didn’t notice them. After gas lighting was phased out, people recycled the old gas lamps by wiring them for electricity. If you have a chandelier and notice that it has valves, know that those aren’t just for decoration — they are the valves for adjusting the gas. In lamps that are wired for electricity, the valves have to stay stationary. Turning the valves could damage the wires.

Lamps that were designed for both gas and electricity are even easier to spot: they feature lamps that point down (electric) and lamps that point up (gas jets). After AC current was invented, electricity became far more reliable, and people stopped using gas entirely.

gas electric lamp

However, many houses from the Victorian and Edwardian eras still have the gas pipes in the walls, and in many cases, the pipes still draw gas. Can you imagine? A house still drawing gas for lights no longer in use, 100 years later? Spooky. Then again, that does make it much easier to bring back gas lighting.

“Who’d want to do that?” you ask.

People who have old houses and appreciate authenticity, that’s who. In these two videos, you’ll see gas lamps in action. Many of them are the dual gas/electric kind, with just the gas jets lit. Gives you an idea of what life was like in 1901!

I’m a little jealous of that porch.

Back from the Brink: Saving Abandoned Homes from Demolition

I hate to see old houses face the wrecking ball. Some abandoned houses are too far gone or too expensive to restore (although if you have the money and the technology, why not do it?!), but if a house is relatively structurally sound and has some unique features, it should be saved. It’s hard work, but the transformations are so much fun to see!

Flavel House Updates

Photo credit: A.Davey / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: A.Davey / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

If you live in Astoria, then you know all about what’s going on at the Flavel House. For my readers who don’t live here, the Flavel House is a historic mansion that has been abandoned for 25 years. Captain George Conrad Flavel had the house built for his family in 1901. His grandchildren skipped town in the ’90s and left the place to rot. They had good reason to do what they did. The Harry S. Flavel, grandson of George, was a little nuts. In 1947, he went after somebody with a hatchet and the rest of the family pretty much hid away in the house after that. In the ’80s, he beat the hell out of some guy’s car and stabbed him. He went to prison from that one, and was released in the ’90s…and that’s when the family hit the road.

The house sat and decayed for a long time, developing a really scary look. We Astorians have been curious about it for years…until now! Last year, a fella named Greg Newenhof bought it and is working on restoring it. He’s even hosting tours of the place. It’s pretty interesting — the Flavels left all their stuff behind and it spans multiple eras. Many people I know are excited to see inside.

Greg and City Lumber have done a TON of work on the place. Just check out this huge list of jobs they’ve completed on the house in the last year. When a house sits for that long, it takes a lot of work to bring it back, so it will still be a while before the house is returned to a state of glory.


Can You Cut Water Bills with Harvested Rainwater?

Yes you can! In recent years, many people have been setting up systems to harvest rainwater to hydrate their gardens. With a rain barrel, you can collect rainwater that runs off of your roof. The rain barrel has a hose attached, so you can water plants directly from the barrel. This is probably the simplest way to harvest and use rainwater. But it’s not the only way!

Some people take it a step further and use rainwater for indoor uses like washing dishes and clothes. It’s even possible to harvest rainwater for drinking.

You may be wondering if rainwater is safe to drink. It usually is. But to be sure that it’s free of pollen, dirt and other pollutants, you can connect your rainwater harvesting system to a reverse osmosis system. This video will show you how it’s done!

You can potentially cut down on your water consumption by 40% when you start harvesting rainwater. Pretty nifty, huh? You could save about $15 a month! That might not sound like a lot, but it adds up fast: $180 per year! It may not sound like much, but you could get some cute new wallpaper for that amount! Harvesting rainwater can improve your life in all kinds of ways!

Zip Ties for Home Repair

Sometimes you need to make a small home repair and don’t have time to run to the hardware store. And sometimes, you need to make a significant home repair and can’t afford it. Zip ties aren’t exactly the most elegant solution, but they are super easy to install, easy to remove, cheap and effective.

Check out this video:

The quality isn’t great. For most of the video, all you see is this guy’s garage door. But you do get to hear an interesting discussion about repairing a garage foundation. One guy shows the problem to an expert who recommends installing a series of zip ties. I really wish they would have actually shown how that was supposed to work. If you really can fix garage foundations with zip ties, I’m going to buy a bunch of custom printed cable ties with directions printed right on them and sell them right off of this blog. I’d make a mint!

This slide show from Bob Vila’s website shows some ways you can use zip ties around the house. Keeping a workbench neat and helping plants climb trellises are not new uses for zip ties (though they are good uses!). However, this article shows how you can use zip ties to unclog sink drains, which is pretty darn neat — it spares you from having to use pipe-eating chemicals like Drano and having to look at some cranky plumber’s fanny crack.

My favorites household uses for zip ties are the creative ones, especially ones that involve upcycling. I just LOVE this mat made of old hoses and zip ties. It looks just like the braided rugs my mother used to make out of old scraps of fabric, and it’s perfect for using on a patio! 100% weather proof! Amazing.


Etched Stainless Steel Backsplashes

Why is it that decorated trends from bygone decades often seem so ugly? Take the ’90s: floral wallpaper borders, sponge-painted walls, kitchens full of fake ivy…when I think of these things, I can’t help but ask: what were we thinking back then? If your kitchen is a ’90s time capsule, I bet you’re aching for a renovation. Fortunately, there’s an easy — and elegant — way  to get rid of at least one ugly ’90s feature. Cover up that dull, hunter-green tile backsplash with something sleek, sturdy and easy to maintain: an etched stainless steel backsplash.

Photo etched decorative panels make excellent backsplashes. Etching can produce unique, intricate designs, while the steel panel is super easy to clean. Plus, it’s a cinch to install. If you don’t want to pry those old ugly tiles off the wall, you can simply install the backsplash on top of them. Drill four holes, screw in four unobtrusive bolts and you’re done!

Here are some examples of attractive etched stainless steel backsplashes:

Moroccan Stainless Steel Kitchen Backsplash, 30"x48"


Twister Stainless Steel Kitchen Backsplash, 30"x48"
Scalloped Stainless Steel Kitchen Backsplash, 30"x48"
Chevron Stainless Steel Kitchen Backsplash, 30"x48"

Update: My Friend’s Inn

It’s been a very long time since I posted anything about the B&B my friend opened. She bought a large old Victorian house and restored it to its original glory and enlisted my help. It was a big project; in fact it is what inspired me to start this blog in the first place. The very first post I wrote was about whether we should put a commercial water softener in the Inn. (We did install a water softener and it was a really smart decision. Linens stay like-new a lot longer when you wash them in soft, mineral-free water. It might not sound like a lot but it has helped my friends save money in the long run.)

It has been almost two years since we started work on the house. The work was hard and there was a lot of it: we pried up linoleum, steamed off wallpaper, sanded floors, and hunted for Victorian fixtures in salvage shops. It was both the most tiring thing I’d ever done and the most fun. It wasn’t easy getting it to look like this, but it was sure worth the effort:

Photo credit: Patrick Q via RemodelHackers / CC BY-NC

Photo credit: Patrick Q via RemodelHackers / CC BY-NC

The inn hosts about 30 guests each month and is doing exceptionally well. If you’re interested in checking the place out, there are a couple of events coming up.

4th of July Garden Party

Sip lemonade and enjoy some petits-fours in the inn’s backyard!

Sunset Barbecue

Celebrate the end of summer by eating hot dogs by sunset at the end of August.

Harvest Tea

Enjoy everything that fall has to offer! Apple tarts, pumpkin bread, cider and more!