Restoring the Harry Flavel House

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

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

I had the oddest dream last night — I dreamt that somebody decided they wanted to make a reality TV show about restoring the Harry Flavel house and asked me to be on it. In the dream, I was tearing layers upon layers of soggy floral paper off the walls when the wall caved in and trapped me under it. None of the camera men would stop filming to help me.

Oh my word. I can’t tell you how relieved I was when I woke up and realized it was just a dream. I guess that’s what happens when you spend an entire evening watching nothing but HGTV.

As scary as my dream was, I have to admit that for many years, I have fantasized about restoring the Harry Favel house. Every time I drive by it, I imagine transforming those weather-worn walls back into pristine white ones. I imagine prying boards off of the windows and hacking away all of the brush. From the outside, the house still looks structurally sound. The leaded glass windows are mostly intact. The interior would be the hard part — it’s full of rot and junk that the Flavel family left behind after they decamped.

Of course, it’s not up to me to restore the Flavel house. A restoration crew has been hard at it for months! The house was sold earlier this year, and workers are doing everything they can to bring the place back to life. You can check out their progress here.

I think everyone in the city of Astoria is happy to see this restoration happen. In this town, we care deeply about historic preservation — and that big rotting house made us all feel a little ashamed. Of course, legal red tape had a lot to do with it. The Flavel family still owned it. The city had lots of liens against them for not taking care of the property or keeping it up to code. Part of the deal to auction off the house was agreeing to let the Flavel family slide on some of those city fines.

The house spent 20-odd years in a state of neglect, so the restoration process is going to take a long time. Thankfully, the guy who bought it has a very realistic understanding of how long it’s going to take and how much work it’s going to be. Here’s a tip: if you don’t have a lot of experience with restoring old houses, don’t take on a house that’s been severely neglected. The poor house will just end up abandoned all over again, trust me. Leave the hard houses to the people with the most knowledge, experience and fortitude.

Crisis! Fixing a Stained Floor

A friend called me in hysterics. She was in the middle of redoing her floors. She’d ripped up the carpet and had sanded down the original hardwood floors. She brought in a couple of different cans of stain so that she could decide on the right color. Well, one of the darn things leaked. As luck would have it, it was the darkest of the stains she had purchased. It left a big, round, almost-black stain in the middle of her floor. She decided her only choice was to stain the floor that color, but after she was finished, she discovered that the ugly black circle still showed through.

I told her: we’ll stain the floor again and hopefully that will take care of it. We put down a second coat of stain and then sealed it with polyurethane varnish. The stain was still visible, but only noticeable to those of us who knew it was there. In the end it worked out nicely. The floors ended up looking like floors you sometimes see in 100+ year old houses. In centuries past, architects sometimes used wood that was salvaged from old ships to create hardwood floors. I told my friend she could say this about her floors and no one would be the wiser.

While the floors were drying, we took the leaky stain can back to the store and demanded a refund. Manufacturers are supposed to make sure cans and containers don’t leak. Smart manufacturers use leak detection equipment to inspect every single container they make. This equipment helps prevent situations like my friend had with her floors.

We were able to obtain the refund from the store but when we wrote to the manufacturer we recieved no response. From this I have concluded that I will no longer purchase nor recommend this particular brand of paint.

Your home is too important to settle for interior products. You have to live in it and look at it every day. Manufacturers who don’t care about their products won’t care about your home either! Only bring home the best!

Finished Basement: Basement Bar

When my friends decided they wanted to redo their basement, the first thing they decided on was a basement bar. They wanted their basement to be the kind of place where they could relax and entertain friends, just like their parents had in the 1950s. However, even though the bar was the first thing they decided on, it was the last step in our project.

To find a bar that would fit into the new basement, we visited very architectural salvage store in Oregon and even a few in California. Eventually, we found what we wanted online and sent away for the perfect basement bar. It came from a salvage store in Ohio.

We installed the bar in a corner and installed a beautiful light fixture above it. We saw this online and decided to make our own version of it — we thought it would complement the wagon wheel chandelier nicely. Using the Amazing Tile & Glass Cutter (yes, that’s actually what it’s called), we cut the bottoms out of five wine bottles and wired them up. We placed Edison light bulbs inside the wine bottles and attached the bottles to a wooden plank. (Reclaimed wood, like the rest of the basement.)

Behind the bar, we installed simple open shelving to hold things like martini glasses, swizzle sticks and, of course, spirits. There’s also a mini-Kegerator behind the bar, so that guests can enjoy beer on tap. A mini-fridge stores things like limes, lemons, cherries and other garnishes, including all the crazy things that people put in bloody Mary’s nowadays. There’s also space for snacks like pretzels, potato chips and the like.

My friends are planning to break in their new basement on Halloween. The bar will be decked out in orange twinkle lights and cheesecloth ghosts will dangle from the chandeliers. (Of course, the old Relaxacizor we found in the basement, and decided to keep for display purposes, will be the scariest thing down there.)

An unfinished basement or attic is untapped potential! Fix them up and experience everything that’s great about your home.


Basement Finishing: Laundry Room Shelving

The great basement remodel continues! We’ve made great strides in making the basement a comfortable, attractive entertainment space. However, this basement isn’t all about entertainment. The basement also is home to the laundry room. We’re not making any big changes to this space but we my friends do want it to be better organized, so today we installed some metal shelving that can hold things like detergent, dryer sheets, laundry baskets and all that good stuff.

We decided that mounting the shelf on the wall would give us the most efficient use of space. To do that, we drilled some bolts into the wall and installed self clinching nuts in the shelf, and then simply joined the nuts and the bolts. Self-clinching fasteners are great because they are easy to install and mount flush with sheet metal. They also fasten without the need for extra parts or screwing around.

Once we got the shelf up, we had to start on the next big task: getting rid of the old washer and dryer and installing a new one. (My friends really are going all out for this remodel.) They had a pink Frigidaire washer and dryer that they had had since 1961. The washer still seemed to work ok, but the dryer took three hours to dry the laundry. So the vintage machines had to go. It reminded me of the post I wrote a while back, about how sometimes it’s better to have new stuff vs. retro stuff. And I do love retro stuff.

A Note About Laundry Rooms

Some people have really perfect-looking laundry rooms, complete with all-white decor and antique laundry basins on display. They look nice but I don’t really give a hoot about how my laundry room looks. I don’t spend a whole lot of time in it. I put my clothes in the wash and don’t come back until it’s time for them to go in the dryer!

I know for some people it’s important that every room of their house be instragram-able or whatever (my granddaughter tells me this is important. I don’t know what it means really.) but first and foremost, the rooms in your house should make it easy to do the things you need to do in them. Don’t prioritize that expensive wallpaper over a good mattress. Don’t choose a trendy countertop material over something that can withstand the occasional knife gouge. And don’t spend a ton of time making your laundry room pretty if your washer and dryer don’t work!

Photo credit: Maegan / Foter / CC BY

I don’t know anyone whose laundry room looks like this…and that’s ok!Photo credit: …love Maegan / Foter / CC BY




Basement Finishing: Reclaimed Wood

Everyone nowadays wants to use reclaimed wood for their renovations. What is reclaimed? It’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s wood that people have taken from other places, such as:

  • Old farmhouses
  • Old barns
  • Rail road ties
  • Old furniture
  • Old hardwood floors

My friends and I have moved on to the next phase of redoing their basement. Right now we’re gathering up reclaimed wood for the walls. We’ve decided to go with barn doors. I’m a little concerned that covering the walls in barn doors will shrink the room somewhat. But their basement is pretty spacious so it shouldn’t be a huge issue. When it’s finished, it will be cozy.

Covering every wall is going to be ambitious. We might have to do one or two walls and then do the rest in some sort of neutral paint or some jazzy wallpaper. In fact, I’m trying to figure out a way I could work in one of these Birchwood friezes from Bradbury & Bradbury. I think that would be gosh darn gorgeous. I don’t know if my friends will go for it though — that wallpaper ain’t cheap. But if I could, I’d use their wallpaper every time I had a wall to cover.

But I’m getting way ahead of myself. Before I can put up any wallpaper — or barn doors, for that matter — we have to get these barn doors sanded down and ready to go. They’re old and pretty splintery. A couple of them also have a lot of chipping paint. I don’t want to strip the paint away — a little variation will add character to the room. And I don’t want to eliminate the ‘weathered’ look that these have. But I don’t want them to have nasty splinters either. So I’m going to gently sand them by hand. Yeah, it’s going to be a lot of work, but, hell, I’ll burn some extra calories in the process I guess!


Basement Finishing: Cook Floor

This basement finishing is becoming a big project — the biggest project I’ve taken on since I helped another friend turn an old Victorian house into a bed and breakfast. This week, we pulled up the old linoleum and put down cork flooring.

Installing cork flooring is quite easy.

1. Fit the tiles before you lay them. What’s great about cork is, when you need to cut it, it’s easy to do. Much easier to cut than ceramic tile.

2. Sand the floor. Make sure the floor is smooth!

3. Add the adhesive. Prime the floor with an adhesive.

4. Stick the cork tiles down. Stick the tiles down onto the adhesive.

5. Finish the floor with a urethane. This seals the floor and protects it.

Cork is Better than Lino!

Linoluem was popular in the mid-century because it was easy to install and take care of and available in all kinds of colors. But now it looks dated and cold. Plus, the colors people liked in the 50s are not in style today. Cork flooring is far more versatile.

Photo credit: thekirbster / Foter / CC BY

Photo credit: thekirbster / Foter / CC BY

This linoleum probably looked smart the day it was laid down. But it hasn’t looked that way for a long, long time. With proper care, cork floor will keep its warm look for years to come.

Found in the Basement: Relaxacizor

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about finished basements. This week, a friend called and said he and his wife are going to finish their basement and wanted to know if I’d be able to help them with the planning. I said sure. I had no trouble selling them on my ideas: they loved the cork floor idea and the wood paneling for the ceiling and walls. They did me one better though when it came to lighting: Sheila (the wife) found this old wagon wheel and a bunch of old lanterns. They’re going to turn it into a chandelier. They’re also going to put in a wood-burning stove and a basement bar. It will be the coziest joint in town!

But I’m ahead of myself.

I went over this morning to help Sheila clean out the basement. We were both shocked at what we found. Something straight out of the 1960s:

A Relaxacizor.


It was in this plastic case that was just covered in layers upon layers of dirt and the hinges were all rusted. When we opened it, it was this scary-looking thing with knobs and wires…like something a spy might use to torture an informant.

“Did you know this was here?” I asked Sheila.

“No,” she said, “it must have belonged to my mother.” (The house that Sheila and her husband live in used to belong to Sheila’s mother, who passed away a couple of years ago.) “Do you suppose it’s worth any money?” she asked.

“I think it’s illegal to sell them. The FDA banned them in the ’70s.”

Sheila frowned. She watches a lot of Antiques Roadshow and is always hoping to cash in on some old piece of junk. The problem is all she has is junk.

“What am I supposed to do with it then?”

“I don’t know. Let’s try Google and see what it says.” (My granddaughter teaches me so much!) Sheila and I went online and we saw that there were indeed people selling old Relaxacizors on Etsy.

“Maybe you can try to sell it,” I said.

“But if it’s illegal to sell them, won’t I get in trouble?”

I shrugged. “It’s been a long time since these things were taken off the market. Most people who buy them probably won’t use them. Just let them sit around as conversation pieces or something.”

Sheila paused and I could tell she was thinking hard. “Maybe I should keep it. As a conversation piece.”

“Good idea. We’ll look at some shelving options so you can display it.”

So there you have it. When Sheila’s basement is done, it will have cork floors, wood paneled walls, a wagon wheel chandelier and a vintage Relaxacizor on display. Well, why not.

Roof there it is!

My granddaughter told me the title would be funny. I don’t know why. 

Recently, someone asked me whether or not she should put a metal roof on her new house. I had no answer. I’m  a DIY home improvement enthusiast, not an architect. I told her that there are many custom steel fabricators out there who could build her a lovely metal roof. Then she asked if I knew what the benefits of a metal roof are and I told her no, I don’t, and I’m old, so I’m not going to go out of my way to learn.

Ask me about stripping wallpaper or refinishing wood couches or shopping for antique drawer pulls. But metal roofs and wind turbines and solar power panels — I don’t know squat about that kind of stuff.

I do know something about the different shapes of roofs. And I can write about which ones I think are the niftiest.

1. Mansard roof.

A pretty, French-style roof that is also kind of haunted house-y. Photo credit: Universal Pops (David) / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

A pretty, French-style roof that is also kind of haunted house-y.
Photo credit: Universal Pops (David) / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

2. Spanish Tile roof

Makes you wanna be somewhere sunny. Photo credit: TempusVolat / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Makes you wanna be somewhere sunny. Photo credit: TempusVolat / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

3. Saltbox roof

For that old-time New England look. Photo credit: Joel Abroad / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

For that old-time New England look. Photo credit: Joel Abroad / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

4. Rainbow roof

Just kidding…this is a real rainbow roof.

What are your favorite types of roofs? East Asian hip and gable? Onion domes? Conical? Let me know in the comments section!

Finishing a Finished Basement

Most basements are utilitarian. They’re spaces for laundry, workshops, storage, and dusty exercise equipment. Some people want more out of their basements. Are you ready to finish your basement? Here are my suggestions for making a grubby old basement into a cozy relaxation space.


Odds are your basement already has florescent tube lights. Not exactly cozy, but unfinished basements are for laundry tubs and decommissioned Nordic Tracks. Cold, harsh florescent lights are just fine for those kind of basements. But if you want a space that you can use for TV, drinking with friends and scarfing down pizza, you’ll want to soften that bright white glow. Drop the ceiling with some nice wood paneling and cover the florescent lights with acrylic lenses.


If your first instinct is to put carpet on your basement floors, please book an appointment with your local neurologist. Even basements with the biggest and best sump pumps can flood. Moldy carpet will make your young’uns sick as dogs and the basement playroom will become a death trap. You could go with tile, but that’s a bit cold especially in colder months. And linoleum is…well…linoleum. My favorite flooring for basements: cork. Cork is easy to maintain and provides warmth. It’s also nice and cushion-y. And it looks nice!


Glass block windows are nice. And, I think, mandated by law in some states. I could be wrong. But glass block and masonry windows are simply to install. For an extra touch of ambiance, opt for colored blocks.


Personally, I like finished basements to have a cabin-y feel. Wood paneling is a simple way to achieve that. And not that cheap veneer crap. Get real wood panels. To make your basement look really nice, get some re-claimed wood from an old barn or abandoned farmhouse or something.

Other Stuff

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I love all things retro. So it shouldn’t surprise you that I recommend building a 50s style basement bar. They’re just so darn nifty. Your friends will agree. Oh, and put up a dart board. And maybe a pool table.




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.