No, You Cannot Do Your Whole House in ‘Shabby Chic’

Shabby Chic — taking a piece of painted furniture and sanding it to make it look old — is an aging trend. When you do your entire house in Shabby Chic, it gets old — real fast. I’m not saying Shabby Chic pieces can’t be cute. But the idea is to have one piece in your house that’s Shabby Chic. That way, it looks like you have this one, old, well-loved piece of furniture. If all of your furniture looks this way, it looks, well, fake. Choose one piece that you really love.

But, hey, that’s just one old lady’s opinion. Do you disagree? Let me have it in the comments!

Shabby chic. It's a nice look, but don't over do it.  Photo credit: PetitPlat - Stephanie Kilgast via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Shabby chic. It’s a nice look, but don’t over do it.
Photo credit: PetitPlat – Stephanie Kilgast via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Historic House Parts

Photo credit: ktmadeblog via Foter.com / CC BY

Photo credit: ktmadeblog via Foter.com / CC BY

I just discovered my new favorite website! It’s called Historic House Parts and it has everything you could possibly need for restoring a Victorian house. And I do mean everything: from metal castings like drawer pulls and strap hinges to ceramic parts like wall sconces and decorative tile. I have been combing through this site all morning! I’m actually thinking of ordering a light fixture or two.

When restoring a house to its original look and feel, you often need to replace items that have gone missing. While you may not be able to find the exact sconces/bathroom tiles/door knobs that your house originally had, you can find antique parts from the same time period — if you know where to look. Architectural salvage stores are another good source for antique parts; if you’re in Oregon, consult my handy list of antique, salvage and vintage shops.

When shopping for an antique part, don’t limit yourself. If you don’t find exactly what you want at your local salvage store, you don’t have to settle. Try sites like Ebay, Etsy and Historic House Parts. Of course, there’s never a guarantee that you’ll find the exact part that you need. But renovation takes a lot of time, effort and money. To get the most out of your investment, it’s vitally important that you don’t cut corners. And that includes shopping for those just-right antique pieces.

Upcycling

Sites like Historic House Parts are a great source of parts that can be upcycled. If you’re not familiar with upcycling, check out these stunning examples. I helped some friends in the past with some upcycling — when I helped my friend redo her basement, we turned an old wagon wheel into a chandelier and an old Relaxacizor into decoration. Upcycling is one of my favorite things that the young folks are doing these days.

Restoring Furniture

Historic House Parts is a great source of antique drawer pulls which is great when you have and old dresser and need to give it new hardware — and new life. In fact, Historic House Parts has everything from Colonial style drawer pulls to Art Deco drawer pulls. My granddaughter thinks it would be a fun idea to put different drawer pulls all over a dresser — no two pulls alike. I think that’s a fun idea!

7 Things that Ugly Up Your Home’s Interior

Photo credit: Katie@! via Foter.com / CC BY

Photo credit: Katie@! via Foter.com / CC BY

Last week we talked about remuddles — homes ruined by thoughtless remodels and additions. However, a home that’s ugly on the outside is much easier to live with than one that’s ugly on the inside. At least if it’s on the outside, you don’t have to see it when you’re inside. I always used to tell my son that a woman who looks great on the outside but has a nasty personality will become ugly inside and out one day. Same goes with your house. If it’s nasty on the inside, fix it up!

There are many things that can make a house ugly. Here are just a few:

1. Linoleum. Nicole Curtis has explained why we often find beautiful hardwood floors under fugly (my grandkids taught me that word) linoleum. In the mid century (think 1950s and 60s) women wanted something that was different from what their mothers had. Slapping linoleum onto hardwood floors was an easy way to accomplish that. Linoleum, when newly laid, can be bright and cheery. But over the years it becomes dingy. Unlike a hardwood floor, you cannot sand and refinish linoleum to revitalize it. The only thing you can do with it is replace it or get rid of it all together. Please, if you have linoleum floors, peel them up and refinish the wood underneath!

2. Dated wallpaper. This can be tricky, as things do come back into fashion. Many wallpaper manufacturers are offering ‘retro’ wallpapers from the 50s, 60s and 70s. Does that mean if you have wallpaper that dates back to those eras that you should just leave it? Should you replace 90s wallpaper with a 70s reproduction? I’m all for retro stuff but you have to be careful with that stuff — if it was a bad idea the first time around, it will be a bad idea this time too. Choose retro wallpapers with caution. And get rid of anything that would have made Scott Baio feel at home; if you have that ‘brushstroke‘ wallpaper from the 80s/90s…please please make it go away.

3. Wall-to-wall carpet. I do not intend to malign all carpet. But the wrong carpet can really ruin a room. If you wake up in a room with a sea of emerald green carpet, will you be happy there? What if it’s a faded purple or bright red? These are trends from days gone by, and they should go by, completely. Laying down carpet is a huge pain in the ass — that’s why it doesn’t pay to be trendy when choosing it. After all, that’s why some people still have ugly green carpets — because ripping them up is too much work. This article provides a handy guide for choosing the right carpet. 

4. Interior remuddles. Remuddling doesn’t just happen outside. People remuddle — albeit on a smaller scale — inside also. Does the house have amazing plaster ceiling medallions? Don’t you dare put in a drop ceiling — especially one with acoustic tiles that make your home look like an office. Do not cover up cool features — don’t hammer rectangles of cheap paneling over the spindles on your staircase. Oh, and if you have amazing inlay in your hardwood floors, NO TILE, LINOLEUM OR CARPET FOR YOU!

5. Lack of drywall. This isn’t a design choice that people make. But I have seen houses that have been gutted down to the studs and for some strange reason stay that way for a long time. DO NOT QUIT YOUR REMODEL AT THIS STAGE. If you have taken down drywall, fix whatever you need to fix and put it back up. A house without walls is pretty uninviting.

6. Spackle patches. It is not acceptable to simply slap spackle over a hole. Plug the hole with spackle, then sand it and repaint that part of the wall. You would not believe how many people skip those last two steps. Don’t do that. It looks baaaaaaaaaaaaad.

7. Fuzzy toilet lid covers. I just really hate these.

 

 

Happy New Year: Resolve Not to Remuddle

‘Remodel my house’ doesn’t crack the list of top 10 New Year’s resolutions people typically make. However, I know darn well that there are folks out there who say to themselves, ‘this is going to be the year that I turn this crackerbox into my dream house!” While I’m all for remodeling, I want to send a message of caution to those folks: by all means, beautify your house but please — please — beware of the pitfalls of remuddling.

Remuddling is MEAN

You know when you put outfits on your dog and he gets that embarrassed look in his eyes? That’s what remuddling does to your house. It takes away your home’s dignity. Houses that didn’t need restoration before someone remuddled them sure as hell need it after. Nothing good comes from remuddling. If you’re not convinced, check out these examples:

Notice the porches. The one on the bottom shows you what the top one looked like originally...before they crammed that ugly stucco box into it.

Notice the porches. The one on the bottom shows you what the top one looked like originally…before they crammed that ugly stucco box into it.

What were they thinking?

What were they thinking?

If you can't make an addition match the original house, don't add it!

If you can’t make an addition match the original house, don’t add it!

Woof.

Woof.

What Causes Remuddling?

Honestly, I think it boils down to two things: laziness and cheapness. If you’re building an addition on your house, take the time to make sure it matches your house and spend the money to find the materials that match the original ones. I think many remuddles are the fault of slumlords who want to increase the square footage of a building so they can squeeze more money out of it, but don’t give a hoot about how it actually looks. Remuddles also happen when people try to make repairs and do it on the cheap — without caring how it looks or desiring to preserve the home’s original details.

How to Avoid Remuddling?

The easiest way to avoid remuddling: just don’t put additions on your house. If your house was meant to have that extra room, the architect would have put it in the original blueprints.  The fact is, the person who built the house was probably better at designing houses than you are. Leave his/her vision alone. Also, recognize that a porch is a privilege — do not board or brick it up! Please! Before you do something that makes your house ugly, consider selling the house to someone who will love it for what it is, and buying a new house that has that extra bathroom you just can’t live without.

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Christmas Ornaments

You know you’re getting old when all the stuff you grew up with is being sold as “vintage.” And you know you’re really old when they’re sold as “antiques.”

Nearly every ornament I hung on the Christmas trees we had when I was growing up is now available on Etsy. When I was in my teens, my mother sent me to the hardware store to run an errand, and at the checkout counter, there was a display rack full of JewelBrite plastic Christmas ornaments. They were these hexagonal dioramas made out of translucent, colored plastic with mirrors and plastic poinsettias inside. I thought they were so cool. I had some babysitting money, so in addition to the new mop my mom wanted, I came home with a box of brand new ornaments.

When my mom saw them, she wrinkled her nose and said, “Why did you buy those ugly things?” But she said nothing when I hung them on our tree. Now, those same ornaments are on Etsy for the low low price of $12.00. It’s not a huge increase in price but since I only paid about $3 for them, it’s not bad.

Photo credit: daybeezho via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo credit: daybeezho via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

While my mom wasn’t crazy about my JewelBrite ornaments, she loved Angel Hair — the white spun glass that she put on the tree to make it look like it was covered in snow. It always looked more like giant gobs of cobwebs to me. But my mom liked it. She had to wear rubber gloves while she put it on the tree and wouldn’t let my little cousins get anywhere near the tree, lest they touch the stuff. But, hey, it was fireproof!

Of all the ornaments from back in the day, my favorite where the funky ones that you’d hang just above a light bulb. Back then, we used lights that got hot, unlike these cold-but-safe LEDs we use now. The heat from the light bulb would cause the metal pieces inside the ornaments to spin. I thought those were so much fun. And of all the old ornaments online, those seem to be the ones that are worth the most.

Lucky for me, I don’t need to buy any of these, as I still have them, stored in the same cardboard box my mom had back in the 60s. The one thing I don’t have any more…is the Angel Hair.

Aluminum Christmas Trees: Back and Better than Ever!

When I was in high school, my dad came home with an aluminum Christmas tree. They were all the rage at the time, but my mom hated the tree. She eventually chucked it out, but she ought to have kept it. For a long time, aluminum Christmas trees weren’t worth a darn; for most of the ’80s and ’90s you could have snagged one at a garage sale for next to nothing. But they’re popular again, and their price has gone up. Just a couple of weeks ago, my granddaughter bought one off of e-bay for $75.

aluminum christmas tree 1964

She got lucky. Some trees sell for a lot more. If you want an Evergleam tree with 94 branches, be prepared to shell out upwards of $400. And if you want a pink, green or blue aluminum tree? That’s going to cost you quite a bit of bread.

TV shows like Mad Men can be credited with the increase in interest in mid-century modern furniture and designs. In this still from the show, you can see an aluminum tree in the background as the Sterling Cooper staff does a Christmas conga line.

mad men aluminum tree

Aluminum trees weren’t in style for very long. Evergleam, inventor of aluminum trees, made the first one in 1959. The trend was pretty much over by 1967. A Charlie Brown Christmas played a significant role in killing the trend. In it, Charlie Brown bemoans aluminum trees as part of the over-commercialization of Christmas and the culture of consumerism. Millions of Americans saw him choose a scraggly real tree over the fancy aluminum ones that were popular at the time, and decided to follow his example.

Well, now aluminum trees are back. What would Charlie Brown have to say about it? Things are a lot different now than they were in the ’60s. While at the time, aluminum trees might have been considered gaudy and commercial, they can actually perform an important function today. Every person who chooses an aluminum tree over a real one, that’s one less tree cut down! And in the age of climate change, avoiding cutting down trees is very important.

Plus, many people who live in apartments can’t have real trees because they are fire hazards. An aluminum tree can really brighten up any space! With fewer branches than a real tree, aluminum trees are great for showcasing ornaments. If you buy one, let me offer you a few decorating tips:

  • Glass ornaments look best. Leave off the funky old ones, like the keepsake Crayola ornaments and home made pine-cone-and-glitter ones.
  • In the 60s, it was fashionable to choose a single color ornament and put only those on the tree (see image above — the tree has only green balls on it). I suggest a decorating with your favorite glass ornaments and accenting them with some single color ornaments. 
  • Skip the lights. THIS IS A MUST. I have seen aluminum trees with electric lights on them but you absolutely should not do this. Aluminum can cause electric lights to short circuit. Back in the day, color wheels took the place of electric lights. The color wheel bathed the tree in colored light, and rotated so that the tree went from amber to green to blue to red. For a subtler way to add color to your tree, put up some lights NEXT to (NOT ON) the tree. The foil needles will pick up the light and twinkle.
  • Enjoy! I’ve always loved real trees, but aluminum ones do make natural ones look kind of heavy and dark. The foil tree will brighten your holiday season!

Restoring the Harry Flavel House

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

Photo credit: A.Davey / Foter.com / 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.