Secret Sauna?!!!

If you’re a regular reader, you know that I’m helping my friend turn a Victorian house into a B&B and we’ve been having a blast. But things went from fabulous to un-freaking-believable when we uncovered something we never expected to find: a secret sauna.

On the third floor, there are two bedrooms and one large bath that both rooms share. It’s been closed up for a long time, as the third floor wasn’t used much when the house was a community center. I went in there armed with a bucket of Lysol and scrubbed down the tiles in the shower. As I cleaned, I noted a strange seam in the wall. At first I thought it was some sort of makeshift repair job. But then I looked and saw this little notch in the wall — one that was too small to be a soapdish. I reached down and gave it a little tug, and the section of wall slid open to reveal a dark wood paneled room.

I couldn’t believe it. A sauna? A secret sauna? I called my friend over and we stood there, slackjawed. See for yourself:

hidden sauna

Photo credit: Todd Huffman / Foter / CC BY

Photo credit: Todd Huffman / Foter / CC BY

Photo credit: Todd Huffman / Foter / CC BY













We put in an order for a new sauna stove (who knows what happened to the original one) and we’re debating whether to replace any of the cedar paneling. My friend also needs to figure out how guests can share it. She might just have to hang a sign on the door that people can flip over to signal to others than the sauna is in use.

A Secret Sauna — Why?

Saunas are a great feature to have, especially in a B&B. But I can’t figure out why you would want to hide one. But as an unapologetic fan of bodice rippers, I like to imagine that the sauna was built so that star-crossed lovers could have secret, illicit trysts away from the prying eyes of the rest of society.

Finally, a Name!

My friend has finally decided to give up on the “Astoria Community Inn” name for the B&B. Believe it or not, the sauna inspired her to pick a new one: Hidden Springs Inn.

Sounds romantic, doesn’t it?

Reader Question: What Kind of Lampshades for My Bathroom?

A reader from Minneapolis writes:

I recently moved into a new apartment. The bathroom mirror has these two lights, but there are no fixtures on them. I would like to get some sort of lampshade or something. I mean, I don’t really like staring at naked bulbs and burning my retinas. But I really can’t decide what type of fixtures/lampshades to get. Nothing really matches the bathroom. What do you think?


Muddled in Minneapolis

bathroom mirror with missing light fixtures

Muddled in Minneapolis sent in this photo of her bathroom mirror.

Dear Muddled,

What you have there is a classic Art Deco bathroom. Know how I can tell? The tiles. The little black and green tiles are very Art Deco, very 1930s. I think that might be why you had a hard time finding something that matched the bathroom. You were looking for something that went with the color, right? But any green light fixtures you found just didn’t go? Well, instead of finding a light fixture that matches the color, find one that matches the era. There are plenty of Art Deco light fixtures at antique shops, salvage shops, on ebay, on Etsy — they are everywhere.

Still not sure what I mean? Here are a few examples.

Photo credit: Fabio Bruna / Foter / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: Fabio Bruna / Foter / CC BY-SA

…If you’re feeling adventurous. ;)

Fire Pits: The Finishing Touch Your Patio Needs

It’s October, which means it’s getting to be that time of year — time to haul patio furniture back into the garage. However, it’s possible to get a little more mileage out of a patio, and get more use out of it during the colder months (or at least spring and fall): add a fire pit.

How to Build a Fire Pit

Building a fire pit is actually really simple. In fact, when I was a kid, we dug a hole in yard and ringed it with rocks. We spent an entire day near the shore, gathering rocks that were big enough. Our fire pit wasn’t anything fancy, but there was one thing we knew for sure: there wasn’t another fire pit like it anywhere in the neighborhood. If a trip to the seashore to gather large stones is too time-consuming for you, you can do what many people do nowadays and build your fit out of patio blocks.

The first step to building your fire pit is to dig a hole that is about 6 inches deep. Then, arrange the patio blocks around the hole. When you add the next layer of blocks, be sure to stagger them, and do the same with the third and fourth layers.

See how easy that was?

Some fire pit kits will come with paver base and caulk gum. You can use these if you want, but it isn’t absolutely necessary. When my daughter and her husband built their fire pit, they just went to Home Depot and bought patio blocks. Sure, their fire pit isn’t cemented down, but it stays in place just fine, and they saved money by buying just the blocks.

Other Types of Fire Pits

You don’t have to do any digging to add a fire pit to your patio. There are many fire pits that you can purchase that are freestanding and come in a variety of styles. This is a great for people who a) don’t want to build or dig a fire pit and b) like to rearrange things. If you have a freestanding fire pit, you can pick it up and move it. Can’t do that with one that you’ve dug, paved and caulked.

Fire pit table - glass

Source: Serenity Health & Home Decor

Fire pit tables are also really nice — although I honestly have to say that they are a little too chichi for my taste. However if you’re going for an elegant look, a fire pit table might be exactly what you need to pull the whole thing together.

Make Some S’mores!

It doesn’t really matter what kind of fire pit you have — if it’s an open flame, you can roast hot dogs or marshmallows over it. (Speaking of S’mores, you haven’t lived until you’ve tried these s’more recipes!) It will keep you warm even late into the night while you sit around it, chatting with friends. My family made quite a few memories sitting our our simple fire pit. The fire pit that you choose will do the same for you — I can guarantee that!

Christmas Lights Illegal? Pick Sticks.

My granddaughter just moved into a dorm for her first year of college. The dorm rules say not to hang Christmas lights — they are a fire hazard. But, she says, many students do it anyway. (Just as they will have candles, smoke “funny” cigarettes, and swipe beer from older kids. Isn’t that what college is all about?) It seems like it would be entirely possible to hang Christmas lights and get away with it, but my granddaughter doesn’t want to  risk getting a fine, so she asked me to help her find something that would make her dorm room groovy without getting her in trouble.

encapsulite stick lights

While she was home visiting this past weekend, we sat down and did some research. She concluded that she wanted to illuminate her dorm room with stick lights from EncapSulite. Stick lights are fluorescent lights that can be hung or mounted. Encapsulite’s stick lights come in 20 different colors, ranging from “emerald” to “acid yellow”. My granddaughter chose “ice blue”, “royal blue” and “candy pink.” Her dorm room is going to be so far out, she’ll never want to leave it!

The stick lights are shatter-resistant, so we hope that the college won’t object to them. My granddaughter pointed out that the college rules don’t say anything about stick lights, so she can skate by on the technicality if they question her about them. (God, I hope she doesn’t decide to go to law school!!)

Stick Lights for Any Room

The more I look into these stick lights, the more I’m impressed with how versatile they are. Just imagine how they would look hanging over a pool table, or lighting up the walls of your husband’s man cave. They would be perfect for an attached garage or finished basement. They might even be a tasteful addition to your living room.

Here are some examples of decorating schemes that incorporate stick lights (from EncapSulite’s Facebook page.) These are mostly commercial venues, but you get the idea:

stick lights from encapsulite pink

Stick lights strung from the ceiling can lend a modern, energetic effect. (Photo: EncapSulite)

encapsulite stick lights unicorn

EncapSulite stick lights make this unicorn REALLY pop.

For a Victorian Bathroom: Stained Glass Blocks

While deciding what to do with the bathrooms at the Astoria Community Inn — the B & B I am helping my friend to restore — we pored over hundreds of pictures of Victorian homes. Naturally, we decided on a claw-foot tub and pedestal sink. We also found some really beautiful tiles, similar to these.

But we struggled to decide what to do with windows. How could we maintain privacy while maintaining a stylish, authentic Victorian look? The answer: stained glass blocks. We settled on a simple checkerboard pattern: two panes, 12 squares each, with different colored glass blocks. The future guests of the Astoria Community Inn will be able to enjoy sunlight streaming through red, yellow, green and blue glass blocks without having to worry about their privacy. It will look something like this, but nicer:

victorian stained glass bathroom

Photo credit: davsot / Foter / CC BY-NC

B&B Remodeling: Progress Report

So far, things are going well with the Astoria Community Inn. However, I haven’t given up on convincing my friend to come up with a more appealing name, one that doesn’t make people think about old hippies and sweat socks. The trick is going to be coming up with a great name that is so spot on that she can’t steam roll it. I have a couple of ideas, but I’m hoping that my readers — you — will be able to toss out a few suggestions.

So far, I’ve come up with these:
Autumn’s Edge Inn
Meadowlark Manor
Sunstone House

(The meadowlark is the Oregon State bird, and sunstone is the Oregon state gemstone. “Autumn’s Edge” is just something I made up.)

I really think I can get my friend to choose one of these over “Astoria Community Inn”, but I’m not sure which is the best. I like Autumn’s Edge and Sunstone House the best but I can’t decide between the two. Help!

70s Revival? Say it Ain’t So!

70s color scheme and decoration

Is this how you want your home to look? IS IT?! Photo credit: notanartist / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

The nice thing about grandchildren is that you can give them back. Play with them, enjoy them, and when they spit up, cry or turn into surly teenagers, hand them back to their parents and go hit the casino. This strategy has worked really well for me and my grandkids — until now. My grandson (my son’s oldest boy and the oldest of my grandkids) is moving in with his girlfriend and I’m having a hard time containing my disapproval.

Don’t get me wrong. The girl is sweet as blueberry pie and I’m no prude; by all means, get acquainted with his toenail clippings and weird collections of action figures before you tie the knot. But she is insisting on redecorating their apartment and has chosen to do it in 70s revival. Now, if you lived through the 70s like I did you will probably agree that 70s decorating schemes should be left in the past. Just like that fondue pot that’s tucked into the dark recesses of your closet, most of the decorating trends that came out of the 70s are best forgotten. I mean, let’s be honest: “avocado” green, harvest gold, brown — those colors all look like they came out of a diaper. That’s super gross, I know, but that’s the point. The 70s color palette was offensive in every possible way and was an example of what happens when people allow themselves to become enslaved to fashion.

And don’t forget what a pain in the a-s-s shag carpeting was. You couldn’t just vacuum it. You had to vacuum it and rake it so that it wouldn’t look flattened. And if your kid spilled Froot Loops on it, you could kiss your morning goodbye because you’d have to spend hours untangling that mess. Luckily, the grandson’s apartment has hardwood floors, so an area rug is as “shag-a-delic” as their place is going to get. They also have stainless steel appliances which will not be swapped out for avocado green ones any time soon. And the lease says absolutely no repainting.

All the girlfriend can really go is hang some curtains (she’s leaning towards something like this) and buy a boxy orange sofa. My dilemma — talk her out of it or bite my tongue — seems to have resolved itself.

In the spirit of promoting family harmony, I’ve decided to get them a lava lamp.


If You’re Gonna DIY, Do it Right!

cooking with an iron


My granddaughter sent me this link: 20 of the Most Ridiculous DIY Fixes You Will Ever See! While I do admire some of the ingenuity shown in these photos — anyone who tries to cook stew on an upside-down iron propped up by a boot deserves a hat tip — these “fixes” are catastrophes waiting to happen. Replacing car parts with Pringles tubes? Hanging busted lawn chairs from a metal frame and calling it a swing set? A video game controller to replace handlebars?

Your kid is gonna fall on her head and get a nasty bump. But that builds character, right? The kind of character that leads people to try to cook stew on irons? Well then. Mission accomplished.

How to do DIY Right

You can fix your own car. You can build your own swing set. You can make dinner when your stove is on the fritz. But while crazy DIY fixes are creative, the correct DIY fix will a) last and b) not cause your car to explode. So how do you DIY when you don’t know how?

1. Google. You can fix anything if you do you research and follow directions. My granddaughter says you can even Google to find out how to get viruses off your computer!

2. Ask. Need a wrench? Ask a friend. Not sure how that works or where that goes? Ask a friend. Know someone who is really good at fixing the thing you need fixed? ASK!

3. Take your time. If you’ve never done it before, it will be frustrating. It will take a few tries. It will take reading the instructions. It’s ok. You can do it. Just don’t expect to get it done super fast.

If you read this blog, it’s because you’re interested in doing it yourself, and I’m sure that means you want to do it right. Don’t worry — you can do this! But NO SHORTCUTS, ok?

B&B Update: Ballroom!

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I’ve been helping my friend restore an old Victorian house so that she can transform it into a bed and breakfast. For years, the house was a community center, and after that it belonged to a lawyer who only used two rooms on the ground floor. The rest of the rooms on the ground floor and the upper floors were mothballed.

While we were checking out the second floor and making plans for changes, we encountered a strange, expansive room with high ceilings and cheap linoleum tiles glued to the floor. We realized that the room had been a rec room back when the house was a community center, but we had to do a little digging to determine what the room had been when the house was first built. It turns out that it was a ballroom!

After some discussion, we decided to restore it to its original state. My friend will be able to rent it out for events and she’s very excited about it. She told me she couldn’t wait to decorate it for weddings and high school proms and other fancy events. I told her I couldn’t wait to pry up those tiles!

I got in there with my hammer and chisel and the tiles came up easily. I was thrilled when I saw the original cedar planks underneath. It took quite a bit of time and elbow grease (I think I lost ten pounds!) to sand off all the glue but when we saw the floor all smooth and sanded and ready to be refinished, we knew it was worth the effort. As I write this, the room is closed up so that the new lacquer can dry.

Of course, the work didn’t stop with the floor. We had to remove the ugly florescent lights and pull down the drop ceiling. What was above the drop ceiling, you ask? An amazing night-sky mural, that’s what. I hate it when people buy old houses and show them no respect when they repurpose them.

Anyway, we found an old picture of the house and are planning a trip to the salvage stores to find chandeliers (that’s right, this room has two!) that are similar to the ones that were in the original room. We’re also going to restore the old coat room, which means we need to replace some of the old coat hooks that went missing. We also need new wallpaper but we’ve already decided on the Centennial roomset from Bradbury & Bradbury. The last thing we’ll get will be drapes.

Soon, it will be as if the ballroom’s transformation into a linoleum-tiled room full of Foosball tables never happened!



Restore, Don’t Remuddle

Remuddle. It’s a cute way of saying “ruin a house.” But there is nothing — NOTHING! — cute about remuddling a house. The results of remuddling are often ugly at best and heartbreaking at worst. I can honestly say I’ve lost friends who remuddled vintage homes because I couldn’t keep my trap shut. But you know what? Friends don’t let friends add clunky, stucco additions to stone cottages or turn lovely, open-air porches into boxy home gyms or whatever. If I say to you, “don’t do that ugly thing to your house,” you can be damn sure I’m doing you a favor. 

Not convinced? Avoiding coming home to a house that looks like Jabba the Hutt should be reason enough not to remuddle, but in case that’s not enough, here are a few reasons.

1. Nobody wants to buy a remuddle. You might sell your house one day, right? Well, consider that people will drive right past a house with an ugly exterior. No one wants to undo all of the “work” you’ve done on your house. In the end, the value of your house will come down and you won’t get as much money as you think you should. Restoring, however, will bring the value up.

2. Remuddles are laughingstocks. Do you want your house ending up on somebody’s blog? The answer is no. Trust me, this is the architectural equivalent of appearing on Glamour‘s “Don’t” page with a black bar over your eyes. People will refer to your house as “the really ugly one”. Is that what you want? To be the people who own “the really ugly one?” Didn’t think so.

3. Your neighbors will hate you. Refer to the image. See how the remuddle towers over the cute, well-maintained prewar house? I can guarantee you that the people in the prewar house are no longer on speaking terms with the owners of that remuddle.

4. It’s mean. If a house is too small, buy a bigger one. If the house is a mid-century rambler and you’d prefer something more modern, move on. Don’t saddle a small house with awkward additions or shoehorn an older house into a new design. You will fall short of your vision. Far, far short. If you can’t appreciate a house for what it is, for chrissakes just don’t buy it! Let the little house or the 50s house got to people who will love them for what they are. Don’t be cruel to a house that’s true! (My granddaughter is reading over my shoulder and rolled her eyes. She doesn’t appreciate Elvis, but to me he’s still king!)

Clearly I have strong feelings on this issue. However, it’s easy to avoid remuddling if you follow the three Rs: Respect, restore, refine. Emphasis on the “respect.”


Vintage Appliances

So you want to achieve that vintage look. You can hang “atomic” curtains and replace your kitchen table with chrome and Formica, but if you’ve got a stainless steel stove and fridge, you’re only going to achieve half of the look you are going for. That’s fine, I guess, unless you’re a stickler for authenticity and you want your kitchen to wrap you in a warm blanket of nostalgia every time you step into it.

You might wonder whether a vintage stove would actually work. Well, according to this Slate article, vintage stoves can be better  than contemporary ones. From the article:

Vintage stoves are different. Mine runs solely on gas and is solidly built, with plenty of cast iron and with serious insulation so that it retains heat and cooks splendiferously. It has a built-in clock and timer as well as a shelf that folds out when I need more space while using all four burners. And it is so functional. Unlike vintage refrigerators, which are energy sucks with only enough space to keep milk from spoiling and to freeze a tray of ice, these stoves are totally suited to the way we cook today. When I’m having a dinner party, I can be roasting duck legs in one oven while lemon-curd-and-almond cake bakes at a different temperature in the other. Admittedly, the stove lacks a grill, but I do have a grill pan that heats fast and stays hot on my venerable burners.

Things were often built better back in the day. The Magic Chef stove that my mother had was sky blue and matched the fridge, the cabinets and the kitchen table. She was so proud of that kitchen. My parents bought their house in 1953 and my mom had the kitchen redone to match the kitchens she saw in magazines like Lady’s Home Journal. It was just a little woodframe house from the outside, but on the inside it was as modern as Teflon. And it still looked fabulous, even after it had gone out of style.

Now, these stoves are “in” again, not just for their functionality but for their classically attractive appearance. If you’re thinking about getting one, I say go for it. You may be worked that a stove that old won’t work, but it may work better than what you’ve got now.