For Reference: Victoriana Magazine

My oh my I have been a busy bee lately! The Hidden Springs Inn passed inspection, but we still have a long way to go before it opens. Furniture, linens, curtains, and all kinds of things still need to be acquired. Rooms need to be decorated. Stationery needs to be chosen. Once we do all that, we can start planning menus, a grand opening, special events…all kinds of good stuff!

That’s why I’m really happy I came across this online magazine called Victoriana. It’s a super handy reference guide to all things Victorian, which will really help a lot when we have to decide what kind of ferns we should buy for the rooms, or what kind of cakes we should serve for high tea.

My friend, who purchased the Inn and drafted me to help renovate it, is toying with the idea of having Downton Abbey viewing parties as a way of attracting new clientele to the property. I’m behind this idea, and thankfully, Victoriana has a ton of Downton Abbey stuff in it. So we should be good to go!

I’m really excited to be done with this project. It’s been a lot of fun — a lot! But I’m ready to see the finished product. And to have time to watch “Judge Judy” in the day time again.

How to Get Fireplaces Working Again

restored fire place

Seriously. How gorgeous did we make that look?! Photo credit: slimmer_jimmer / iW / CC BY-NC-ND

A friend of mine recently decided he wanted to get the old fireplace in his living room working again. The previous owners retrofitted it with a fake one (the kind behind glass that you turn on with a remote.) He plans to remove it and restore it to its original state as a wood burning stove.

He called me up and wanted to know what to do.

I told him I had no idea, but that I would do my best to help.

So first we set about prying the fake fireplace out — it had been crammed into the recess of the fireplace. It took over two hours and a lot of sweating and lot of swearing, but we finally got the darn thing out. Let’s just say that the installation of the fake fireplace was artless.

After we took out the fake fireplace, we had to re-open the original flue. The flue had been sealed off when the fake one was put in. That wasn’t such a fun job, either. But after we got it done, we got to get down to the fun part: shopping.

We found a new fireplace grate, a screen, and a set of pokers. We also looked for new tiles to place around the fireplace. The house was built in 1899, so we found some lovely Victorian tiles – I’ve become an expert on Victorian-era decor!

We put the new tiles around the fireplace, and lit a fire. It was wonderful to sit around a REAL, crackling fire. So much better than a phony one. We even opened the screen and made s’mores!

Sorry for the short-ish post today. The inspector is coming to Hidden Springs Inn in a few hours, and we have to make sure everything is in tip-top shape!

Detroit: A Re-modeler’s Paradise

My granddaughter sent me this link and wrote, “You should go fix up this house, Grandma!”

What I wouldn’t give to be able to do that! This house in Detroit — a paradise city for people like me who like to make old things new again — is a lovely Tudor selling for a mere $48,000. $48,000! The article says that the house is “suffocating under layers of musty carpet.” I swear, I can smell the mildew! In my mind, I’m already on my hands and knees with a utility knife, ripping away stained dusty moldy carpet, revealing the beautiful oak floors beneath! The room with the warm, wood paneled walls looks especially wrong with carpet in it. In fact, ripping out that blah blue carpet might be where I start!

carpet is bad

Source: Curbed Detroit

I’m not stopping with the carpets, though. I’m also prying up that horrid tile that looks like it was laid in the 1980s. And WHO in their right mind uses the same tile for both the floors and the countertops? Hideous! It has to go. The floor will be replaced with bamboo or cork, and the counter will have some faux granite or something. Definitely nothing that matches the floor. Honestly. If you look at the photo, does it not look like they just had extra of that tile, and decided to slap it up all over? Eesh.

When I’m done with the kitchen, I’ll re-tile all three bathrooms. Yes, all three. No house should have salmon-colored tiles covering almost the entirety of two bathrooms. And dingy yellow isn’t a good look for any room. So I’m chiseling those tiles off the walls and floors, and am selecting something new — something clean, bright and not overwhelming. The trend seems to be moving toward having one wall tiled in bright, colorful and even iridescent tiles to accent the other walls, which are tiled in plain white tile. Like this. I think that’s a great look and would serve this house well.

Lastly, I’ll find a replacement for that sad fire place in the basement.

With all of the rundown properties in Detroit, I could go hog wild! And unlike people who want to “flip” properties to resell them, I’d be doing it purely for fun. I wonder if I could get a government grant?


gingerbread trim

Photo credit: m01229 / Foter / CC BY

It’s that time of year when coworkers complete to construct the most elaborate gingerbread houses. The time of year when teachers instruct students to “glue” graham crackers onto the side of milk cartons with frosting (does anyone still do that?) And the time of year when time-pressed people buy gingerbread house kits at the supermarket.

Of course, if you own a Victorian-era house, you’ve got another kind of gingerbread on your mind. Depending on how long the house has been standing and the number of iterations it has gone though, the original gingerbread may be weather-beaten, damaged or missing altogether. So how can you fix this?

Weathered Gingerbread

If the gingerbread on your home is gray with peeling paint, start by removing it. Because gingerbread is an embellishment that is added to houses — not built into them — taking it down is relatively simple. Once you’ve got it down, simply sand it down, repaint it and after it dries, add it back to your home’s exterior. DO NOT try to do this without taking the gingerbread down first — sanding gingerbread while standing on a ladder is dangerous and completely unnecessary. Moreover, you’ll do a better job if you take it down first.

Damaged Gingerbread

Gingerbread sometimes breaks. If you’ve got gingerbread with broken spindles or missing pieces, remove it and find a carpenter who can recreate and reattached the missing part.

Missing Gingerbread

Your home was built in the Victorian era but the gingerbread went missing long ago. Why? Maybe it disappeared around the time that Victorian architecture went out of style. Maybe it was in bad shape, and rather than restore it, the homeowners decided to just get rid of it. Or maybe they needed extra cash and decided to sell it. It doesn’t matter, really. You don’t have to have the original gingerbread to restore your house to its original Victorian glory. Salvage stores — stores that take things like porch pillars, mantle pieces and stained glass out of old houses right before they’re demolished — sell salvaged gingerbread.

If you’re shopping online, this is a good place to start. There are quite a few pieces of salvaged gingerbread on eBay also. In short, you should be able to find enough pieces in salvage to fully decorate your house and bring back its 19th century beauty!


No Space for Turkey? Expand That Kitchen!

turkey TV dinner

If this is your idea of a turkey dinner, you probably don’t need more space in your kitchen. Also, that flattop haircut gives me the willies. Photo credit: classic_film / Foter / CC BY-NC

Time really flies. It seems like I only just wrote a Halloween post, and already it’s the day before Thanksgiving. I can’t keep up. I’ll fall asleep on Christmas and wake up in time for Memorial Day. Time seems to move faster every year, doesn’t it?

Anyway, Thanksgiving, more than any other holiday, really puts your kitchen to the test. What does your kitchen need to pass the test? Space. Space in your oven to fit the turkey, space to fit that big commercial-grade oven into, and lots — and I do mean lots! — of counter space. But if you don’t live in a big McMansion with a fancy island in the middle of your kitchen, how can you create space in a smaller, older home?

1. Make existing counters bigger. By adding a bigger counter top (and building out the bottom so that it doesn’t tip over) to an existing counter, you can double the space. That means your pies can cool while you whip the mashed potatoes.

2. Hooks. Remember when Jane Leeves was on Seinfeld as Jerry’s closet organizer, and she suggested to Jerry that he should put “a series of hooks” in his closet? It makes more sense to do that in your kitchen than it does in any other part of the house. Why? You can hand pots from hooks. Put the hooks in the ceiling, hang the pots, and get them down when you need them. That frees up space in cabinets for other stuff.

3. Build new counters. If you can sacrifice a few feet of space, you can build an additional counter top with storage underneath. I did this in my own kitchen. I added a counter to the breakfast nook. Now I have tons of space for letting bread rise, rolling out ginger bread, stuffing eggrolls, whatever. You WILL lose some space in your kitchen when you do this. You just have to decide what you most want to do in your kitchen: mince or waltz?

4. Try some of these. My word, these are clever. I especially like the one that turns decorative fake drawers into real ones. I’m going to do that in my kitchen — that will be my “Black Friday” project.

Anyway. That’s all for now.

Happy Turkey Day!

Hidden Springs Inn: The Gift Shop

The Hidden Springs Inn, formerly known by the tentative and ridiculous name Astoria Community Inn, is progressing right on schedule. Floorboards have been sanded and refinished, linoleum squares have been pried up, wallpaper has been taken down and paint has been stripped. We still have a long way to go: new wallpaper has to go up, the ballroom is going to take months to finish and the kitchen needs to be brought up to code.

victorian christmas ornament

Maybe we’ll sell this type of ornament in the gift shop! Photo credit: Iva’s Creations / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

But we’re taking a break from thinking about all these things and focusing on something a little more fun: the gift shop. My friend, who is restoring the Inn, asked whether I thought a gift shop was really necessary. I told her it probably wasn’t necessary but it’s a nice thing do have for your guests — after all, people forget things. You can sell deodorant, razors, travel-sized toothbrushes, and supplies for when Aunt Flo visits. But you can also offer nice gifts like mugs, t-shirts and custom tote bags embroidered with the Inn’s logo. Teddy bears for the kids, coloring books, snowglobes. Art prints depicting Astoria’s seascape. Bottles of Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley. Soft cases to replace luggage that got damaged in transit. Locally sourced candy, keepsakes and Christmas ornaments. Maybe even some photos of the house when it was first built…and books depicting life in the Victorian era. Novels by Oregon writers…the possibilities really are endless!

Custom T-shirts and Totes as Promotional Items

It will be a while before the gift shop is fully stocked and functional, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get some custom sewing done now. The custom totes and t-shirts we plan to have made with the Hidden Springs Inn logo will make excellent promotional items. We can use them as giveaways; a free tote bag is a good way to get people to remember you. If we use tote bags to raise awareness about the Inn now, by the time we’re ready to open, people will already know about us and beat a path to our door!

 Where Does a Gift Shop Go?

The house has a lavish double parlor (bring on the weddings/proms/high school reunions!), a light-filled drawing room and a sunny dining room. We didn’t want to use any of these rooms for anything other than entertaining guests. So we decided that the larger-than-average mudroom, off of the main foyer, would make a respectable gift shop.

One of the challenges of taking an old house and turning it into an Inn is respecting the original purpose of each room, while making each room functional for a new purpose. The previous owners — the people who turned the house into the Astoria Community Center — were not respectful of the house. That is evident int here decision to cover the old ballroom linoleum and paint shuffle board lines on the floor. That’s part of what is taking us so long with this project — undoing what was done to the house.

But it will be all worth it in the end.

How do you Fix an Ugly House?

What do you do with an ugly house? It can take a lot of work to revamp or un-muddle an ugly facade, but no matter how nice your house is on the inside, it’s hard to take pride in a house that makes passersby cringe.

Ugly house in minneapolis

Photo source: Google Maps.

Note the image above. That, friends, is one ugly house. God only knows what was done to it to make it that way — I’m sure it was a much more attractive house when it was originally built. No architect in his/her right mind would intentionally construct something so heinous. I’m guessing it went through many changes over the years; right away you can tell that some of the original windows were replaced with smaller ones. That kind of lazy, careless, shoddy remodeling is evident throughout. Does this fit? No? We’ll work around that.

Let me tell you friends: there is no “working around” in DIY remodeling. You measure twice, cut once, and for chrissakes do it right.

Fixing Past Mistakes

If I were going to try to make the house in the picture less ugly, I would first try to find photos, blueprints and whatever I could get my hands on to get an idea of what the house looked like originally. Like I said, architects usually don’t purposefully design houses to be ugly — after all, they want the house to sell. Often, what makes a house ugly is what is done to it after it has been lived in for a while. If you uncover the architect’s original intent, you’ll probably find a house that is at least moderately attractive.

As soon as I figured out what the house was supposed to look like, the next step would be to strip away all of the “improvements” that were made to it. Of course, with this house, the first thing to go would be that horrid gray siding. Then, I would put in windows that actually fit. I’m putting the house’s completion date at around 1900, which means it would have had a porch, so I’d knock down that ridiculous entryway that was clearly shoved on there the same time they put up that putrid siding. Also, that jutting rectangle probably looked something like this originally, so I’d want to get it back to that as much as possible. Last but *certainly* not least, I would replace the porch.

It would cost a pretty penny, that’s for sure. But I think everyone who lived nearby would be grateful to me for turning an eyesore into…whatever the opposite of an eyesore is.


Haunted Victorian Mansions

Special Halloween Post!

haunted house

Photo credit: scorpiorules58 / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Victorian mansions are things of beauty, but there was a time when turrets, gingerbread and mansard roofs went out of style. So out of style, in fact, that Victorian mansions became permanently associated with haunted houses. There’s a fascinating article on that traces the history of the Victorian house from its origins in the 19th century as a “McMansion” for the noveau riche to default haunted house. The whole article is worth a read, but, basically, the history goes like this: in the 1930s, it was time for a new direction. To usher in the new, it was necessary to make people hate the old; artists, writers and architects successfully convinced people that Victorian architecture was “vulgar”. After it went out of style, writers and artists began to use Victorian houses as settings for scary stories, like “Psycho” and “The Addams Family.”

And voila. The Victorian-manse-as-haunted-house meme was born. And permanently embedded into our culture.

How Victorians Came Back

Though we still associate haunted houses with Victorian mansions, Victorian houses are not longer hated. In fact, many such houses have been beautifully restored, sold, lived in and loved. So how did the Victorian mansion come back after going so completely out of style?

One word: hippies. In the mid-60s (just a few years after “The Addams Family” first aired), young bohemians began to move into the Haight Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. The Haight was cheap — and full of old Victorian houses. You could rent an airy old Victorian with window seats for next to nothing. The hippies didn’t care that the houses weren’t fashionable. In fact, many hippies liked to wear Edwardian-era clothes. (For more on this, read The Haight Ashbury: A History by Charles Perry. Also, I’m proud to say I spent some time there myself, years ago.)

The Haight quickly became the center of the 60s counterculture, and people flocked to it. The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane all took up residence in the Haight — in those “vulgar” Victorian mansions that popular culture deemed creepy. They made Victorian architecture cool again. (It makes sense when you think about it — pop culture said Victorian mansions were ugly and creepy, so of course the counterculture rejected that notion by living in Victorian mansions. Brilliant.)

Of course, it would be a few more years before Victorian mansions started to undergo restorations. The Haight was still pretty rundown into the 80s. But now, everything has been renovated and you can’t rent anything in the Haight for less than $3,000. The pattern is always the same: first come the artists, then the hipsters, then the developers.

Victorian Mansion Appreciation

I, for one, am happy that Victorian architecture regained the appreciation that it deserves. How sad would it be if it went completely the way of the dodo bird?

Now, we have the best of both worlds: we can enjoy Victorian mansions as creepy, haunted places and as beautiful homes. Works for me.

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


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?

Photo credit: Todd Huffman / Foter / CC BY

Photo credit: Todd Huffman / Foter / CC BY

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. ;)