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. ;)

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!