Patios: Sit Outside for a While

This patio could be yours.  Photo credit:  / Foter / CC BY-NC

This patio could be yours.
Photo credit: / Foter / CC BY-NC

Building your own patio can be a lot of work, but it can also be very rewarding, since building it yourself means you can built to match your exact specifications. If you want to replicate the yellow brick road in your yard, you can! If you want to build a swirling fairy land in your yard, you can! And — most importantly — if you want to keep costs down, you can do it by doing it yourself.

What You’ll Need

Patio Bricks

Before you can put out patio furniture, you’ll want to lay down some patio bricks. If you don’t, your guests’s chairs will sink into the dirt, and you don’t want that, do you? It’s fairly simple to lay patio brick: just design your layout, put down some sand and lay your patio bricks on top of it.


When you put in a patio, you need a privacy fence. You just do. You don’t want your neighbors nosing in on you when you’re chatting with friends over a bottle of pinot grigio. Good fences make good neighbors, and good neighbors make good patios. Or should I say, invisible neighbors  make good patios.

A Grill or Fire Pit (or Both)

What is the point of a patio if you’re not going to cook outside? Put in a fire pit or chiminea and have charcoal-blackened pizza crusts every day of the week. Gas grills work too; someone asked me about making sure propane tanks work and I gotta say I don’t know. Use a sniff leak tester to check for leaks or something.


Edge your patio brick configuration with flowers. Choose something low maintenance like creeping phlox. Or something fancy like roses and wood chips — but you gotta prune those roses, otherwise they will reach out and snatch your guests’ pant legs.


String lights, citronella candles, whatever. Lighting is what gives your patio ambiance on warm summer nights.

Mid Century Modern: Trendy or Tacky?

That TV show, “Mad Men” mad mid-century modern popular again. In case you’ve not been paying attention, ‘mid-century modern’ means furniture made in the middle of the 20th century. It’s actually a pretty broad category — some people say it covers everything from 1933 – 1965. It’s kind of odd — a couch from 1933 looks a lot different than a couch from 1965. “Mid-century modern” could mean very different things to different people. However, I think for the most part, people think of this when they hear the term:

Clean, simple lines. No ornate carvings. Light-colored wood. Very 60s, very chic.

I saw someone on the Facebook saying that “mid century modern is just the tacky furniture our parents had.”

Well, let’s see. If your parents bought furniture in the 50s or 60s, then you probably bought yours in the 80s. Eesh. What an ugly decade that was. If you think mid-century modern is tacky, well, then your whole perspective is skewed. But I guess we’re destined to hate what our parents had, right? If your parents bought mid-century modern, then your parents’ parents probably bought…art deco?

Photo credit: Anetq / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo credit: Anetq / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Oh yeah. That’s just horrible, horrible! (I’m being sarcastic.)

Sump Pump Efficiency

sump pump

There are few things I find less interesting than sump pumps. I never anticipated writing about sump pumps on this blog. But someone sent me an email about sump pumps and I feel like I owe it to my readers to answer their questions, so here I am writing about the achingly dull topic of sump pumps.

“How do I install a sump pump?”

Find the answer to that question here.

“How can I improve pump efficiency?”

I think that comes down to making sure you’ve purchased the right sump pump to begin with. However, I read that replacing some of the internal bushings with Vespel bushings can help improve pump efficiency. I haven’t tried it myself though, so I can’t honestly say if this is true or not. You’ll just have to try it yourself.

“Who needs a sump pump?”

Anyone who gets water in the basement and a) has a finished basement 2) stores stuff in the basement c) has a basement. This is Oregon, after all, and basements are less common out here on the West Coast. Which is one more reason why I am not interested and not qualified to write about sump pumps.

“Where can I buy a sump pump?”

I’m sure Home Depot has them. Honestly, you must be older than me if you asked this question. I’m an old lady but I still know that I can find out where to buy things by using a handy thing called Google.

That’s all I have to say about sump pumps for today. Now I’m going to look at wallpaper swatches just to get my mind on to more interesting things.

Nifty Hanging Pot Racks

I’m not much of a cook. The only thing I can make from scratch is Spanish Rice, and it always — always – comes out crunchier than it is supposed to. I lucked out — I got married in ’68, and in ’71 they came out with Hamburger Helper, and that saved a lot of family dinners from disaster. The pre-Hamburger Helper years were rough — lots of burnt casseroles and overcooked beef. But my husband wasn’t a complainer.

Fast-forward 40 years. My granddaughter is in her 20s and she just loves cooking. I bought her a set of Calphalon pans for her birthday and she was thrilled. But her apartment doesn’t have very much storage space and she says it’s not good to stack pans with nonstick coatings. She says it makes the coating come off. She told me she wanted to put in a hanging rack for pots.

So we took a trip down to Home Depot. She didn’t like any of the racks they had to offer. I told her that she wouldn’t be in this apartment for long — she should just pick something that works.  But she insisted that she had to have something unique, so we went back to her place and she went on Pinterest. She found some really neat-looking hanging racks made out of old ladders and decided that was what she wanted.

I have to say, even though I still don’t think it makes sense to put this in when she’ll likely move within a year, I really like how it turned out.

hanging pot rack

How to Build a Hanging Pot Rack Out of an Old Ladder

It’s pretty easy.

Step 1: Drill two holes on each end of the ladder (that’s 4 holes total.) You’re going to use these holes to attach a chain to the ladder, making an inverted V shape. The ladder will hang from the ceiling on these chains.

Step 2: Attach the chains.

Step 3: Add hooks to the rungs of the ladder. The pots will hang from these hooks. You shouldn’t need to screw them in if you’ve got solid S hooks.

Step 4: Mount brackets to the ceiling. Be sure to measure so that they’re the right distance apart.

Step 5: Attach chains to brackets. Voila! Your ladder pot rack should now be hanging from the ceiling.

Step 6: Hang up your pots!

Step 7: Cook me some dinner! I’m in the mood for something with Stroganoff in the title.


Let’s Talk About Sinks

Photo credit: Alan Cleaver / Foter / CC BY

Photo credit: Alan Cleaver / Foter / CC BY

A sink is like electricity — you don’t give it much thought until it doesn’t work. But when you’re remodeling your kitchen or bathroom, the sink you choose can make all the difference. You might think that a sink is a sink, but there are lots of different options, all designed to help you achieve a certain look and feel.

1. Deep Drawn Sink Bowls

Stainless steel sinks are made via a process called deep drawing. Drawn shells are seamless and are available as single or double (or triple or quadruple, if you’re setting up a restaurant) compartments. Double compartments are nifty, because you can wash your dishes in one compartment and set them in a drying rack in the other compartment. It saves space and  makes dish washing efficient. Stainless steel sinks offer that modern look, though they offer more function than fashion.

2. Farmhouse Sinks

For some reason, farmhouse sinks seem to be really in right now. They’re basically just really big sinks, most of which are porcelain but there are other options. They do offer kind of a quaint charm. The problem with those kinds of sinks, though, is that it is really, really easy to let dish piles get out of control. A smaller sink forces you to do dishes more often, lest the pile spill over onto counter tops. If you’re not a diligent dish-washer, the farm sink may not be the way to go.

3. Drainboard Sinks

If you’re going for a retro 50s look, you’ll want a drainboard sink. Made from cast iron with porcelain enamel, drainboard sinks feature — you guessed it — drainboards on both sides. And drawers/cupboards underneath. Their adorable look isn’t the only reason to go this route — they are very practical for storage and space-saving.

4. Pedestal Sinks

A pre-war (which means pre-WWII, not pre-Gulf War or pre-Vietnam) look will require a pedestal sink. A pedestal sink can sit on a single pedestal or two legs. Either way, it will help you achieve the look you’re going for, whether it’s Victorian, Edwardian or Art Deco.




Bring Back Them Ol’ Coca Cola Lampshades

If you bought a house in the ’80s, chances are you had plastic Coca-Cola lampshades hanging in there somewhere. If you had a rec room (or rumpus room as us old farts call it) you probably had a Coke lampshade or two over your pool table. If you were a bachelor and didn’t have a woman’s touch to refine your decor, you might have had them in the kitchen. The house we bought in 1981 had — inexplicably — Coca-Cola lampshades on the porch. And we left them there for many, many years.

They were made to look like stained glass, and had black plastic seams that were supposed to look like lead. They were white, green and red with little tulips on the sides, and “Drink Coca-Cola” on the front. The tops had a sort of tulip-shaped flare. They hung from the ceiling on gold chains.

Our old lamps looked just like this.

Our old lamps looked just like this.

They were sort of charming in a way. But they also collected dust. The faux-lead seams peeled off. The white panels became discolored. And they made our porch look very, very dated. So we took the Coca-cola lampshades down and replace them with something a little more crisp and contemporary:

Photo credit: RecycledStarDust / Foter / CC BY

Photo credit: RecycledStarDust / Foter / CC BY

It’s an inexpensive option from Ikea. Easy to take down, easy to clean, easy to install. I like them alright I guess.

But sometimes, I miss those ’80s coca-cola lamps. My kids miss them too. In fact, my son protested vociferously when I took those old things down. But if I put them back up, I’d have to live with my porch looking like the set of Cheers.

And I just can’t do that.

Restoring a Victorian Greenhouse

Photo credit: kulp / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo credit: kulp / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about the Hidden Springs Inn, the Victorian mansion that my friend bought and renovated and turned into a bed and breakfast. I’d like to say I haven’t written about it because the work is done and I’ve moved on. Well, that’s true, but it’s not the whole story. The truth is, my friend and I had a bit of a falling out while I was helping her restore the house, and I didn’t write about it sooner because I was just too gosh-darn mad. I won’t go into the gory details, but here’s the gist: I did a lot of work on that house for free — which was fine, I’m retired and restoration is kind of my hobby — and she promised in exchange she would hire my nephew to manage the place. My nephew has a lot of hospitality experience but the crappy chain hotel he’s been working at forever won’t promote him. So the Hidden Springs Inn would have given him the chance to advance in his career and enjoy a nicer working environment.

But at the last minute my friend reneged and hired someone else. After all the carpet staples I pulled, floorboards I sanded and wallpaper I hung…well, let me just say I felt betrayed. When I found out what she’d done, I walked right out of that house and drove away without a word.

We didn’t speak for four months. That’s when she called me to say that she’d had to fire the manager she had hired — she found out he sexually harassed the hotel maids. She apologized and said she should have hired my nephew in the first place and wanted to know if he was still interested. As it turns out, he was more desperate than ever to leave the crummy hotel chain, and took the job as General Manger of the Hidden Springs Inn.

The Greenhouse

Now I’m back at HSI. At the back of the property, there’s an abandoned greenhouse that we haven’t done anything about.  Now that there are guests coming to the Inn, we have to do something. It’s not safe for guests to wander in, though it’s far enough out of view of the main house that no one seems to notice it — that is probably why the city never ordered us to tear it down.

Well, we’re not tearing it down. We’re restoring it instead. My friend wants to grow vegetables, fruits, edible flowers and herbs that can be used to prepare meals for guests. Here are the steps I took toward restoring the greenhouse:

1. Cutting away any vegetation growing on or around the structure — this took a whole day.

2. Measuring areas where glass is missing to determine which size panes to order. This took another whole day.

3. Replacing weak structure beams. We were lucky — the original structure was pretty solid so we didn’t have to repair very much of it.

4. Adding a misting system that hangs from the ceiling and waters the plants.

5. Adding waterproof lighting that can illuminate the greenhouse at night.

This project took about a week. When we were done, we filled it with tomato plants, eggplants, hanging baskets of herbs and even orange trees that we had shipped up from California. The HSI guests are loving that their food is grown on-site.

I’m just happy that things are back to normal with my friend and that things are going well at the Hidden Springs Inn.

Exposing Brick

Photo credit: bourgeoisbee / Foter / CC BY-NC

Photo credit: bourgeoisbee / Foter / CC BY-NC

Tools for Exposing Brick

Exposing brick previously hidden behind wall board is oh-so-fun. And it’s pretty easy to do. Here’s what you’ll need:

1. Safety gear: respirators, rubber gloves, goggles — exposing brick kicks up a lot of dust, and you don’t want it in your eyes, mouth, nose or throat.

2. Hammer and crowbar: these are the tools you will use to rip through the brick.

3. Wire brushes: Clean the bricks and remove excess mortar with a wire brush.

4. A sponge: You’ll want to wipe down the bricks with a wet sponge after you have gone over them with the wire brush.

5. Sealant and a paint brush: After you clean the bricks, you’ll want to cover them with a sealant.

It shouldn’t take more than a day, however the time it takes does depend on how big of an area you plan to expose. I advise people to do projects like this in the summer time, when they can open the windows and have good ventilation throughout.

Why is Exposed Brick So Popular?

People do like exposed brick. But what is it about exposed brick that people love so much? I’ll tell you what: detail. Warmth. It’s a classic look that outlives trends. Whether it’s a Brooklyn loft or a finished basement, exposed brick really completes the look and feel of a room.

Exposed Brick: Beyond Walls

Most of the time when we talk about exposed brick, we’re talking about uncovering walls or chimneys or fireplaces. But you will find exposed brick in other places too. Observe this chic exposed brick ceiling:

Photo credit: coco+kelley / Foter / CC BY-NC

Photo credit: coco+kelley / Foter / CC BY-NC

I wish this were my kitchen! Don’t you?

Stick-on Backsplashes

Photo credit: chotda / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: chotda / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

I was watching TV with a friend when a commercial came on. The commercial showed a woman ‘remodeling’ her kitchen by putting up a stick-on backsplash. My friend turned to me and asked whether I approve of stick-on backsplashes.

“I don’t,” I told her. “I really and truly don’t.”

It doesn’t matter how trendy the “backsplash” looks or how good the trompe l’oueil tile is. Artificial things look artificial. Laminate floors are not as nice as hardwood. Pleather does not feel like leather. Faux wood panels make a room look cheap, and wallpaper that is made to look like exposed brick is just…depressing. And since I don’t like any of those things, why would I approve of a stick on backsplash?

What Good Backsplashes are Made Of

Why fake sucks: fake stuff is made to be installed quickly and easily. But quality takes time and effort. There’s really no way around it. If you go the easy route, it will show. Put in the time and hard work — and marshall some skill — and that will show too.

My favorite ideas for backsplashes include:

  • Mexican talavera tiles
  • Reclaimed barn wood tiles
  • Mosaic tiles
  • Mosaics made from old broken mason jars — wouldn’t that be fun?!
  • Pressed tin — but the real stuff only, not that thermoplastic look-a-like shit

Mosaic Madness!

Ever since my granddaughter introduced me to Pinterest, I’ve spent nearly all my free time looking at stuff. My oh my people have some fantastic ideas! Right now I’m looking at ideas for patio mosaics. A patio mosaic is a great way to brighten up your outdoor space and give it a Spanish/Moroccan/Greek sort of look. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Tiled risers on outdoor stairs. When you put mosaics on the risers of your outdoor stairs, you’ll draw people into your house like never before!

2. Turn tree stumps into art. It’s sad when you have to cut down a tree, but there is a silver (or multi-colored) lining! Turn the top of the tree stop into a gorgeous mosaic!

3. Use glass beads and pebbles to create a fairy tale back yard! This is just so darn pretty.

4. Put colored glass into a cement wall. Make a gorgeous stained glass wall in your hard. It would be perfectly fabulous for California, wouldn’t it?

These are just a few, but it’s sure giving me ideas. And since I have a plain old unadorned cement staircase in my backyard, I think I’ll bedazzle it with some mosaic tiles!