Restoring a Victorian Greenhouse

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

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

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about the Hidden Springs Inn, the Victorian mansion that my friend bought and renovated and turned into a bed and breakfast. I’d like to say I haven’t written about it because the work is done and I’ve moved on. Well, that’s true, but it’s not the whole story. The truth is, my friend and I had a bit of a falling out while I was helping her restore the house, and I didn’t write about it sooner because I was just too gosh-darn mad. I won’t go into the gory details, but here’s the gist: I did a lot of work on that house for free — which was fine, I’m retired and restoration is kind of my hobby — and she promised in exchange she would hire my nephew to manage the place. My nephew has a lot of hospitality experience but the crappy chain hotel he’s been working at forever won’t promote him. So the Hidden Springs Inn would have given him the chance to advance in his career and enjoy a nicer working environment.

But at the last minute my friend reneged and hired someone else. After all the carpet staples I pulled, floorboards I sanded and wallpaper I hung…well, let me just say I felt betrayed. When I found out what she’d done, I walked right out of that house and drove away without a word.

We didn’t speak for four months. That’s when she called me to say that she’d had to fire the manager she had hired — she found out he sexually harassed the hotel maids. She apologized and said she should have hired my nephew in the first place and wanted to know if he was still interested. As it turns out, he was more desperate than ever to leave the crummy hotel chain, and took the job as General Manger of the Hidden Springs Inn.

The Greenhouse

Now I’m back at HSI. At the back of the property, there’s an abandoned greenhouse that we haven’t done anything about.  Now that there are guests coming to the Inn, we have to do something. It’s not safe for guests to wander in, though it’s far enough out of view of the main house that no one seems to notice it — that is probably why the city never ordered us to tear it down.

Well, we’re not tearing it down. We’re restoring it instead. My friend wants to grow vegetables, fruits, edible flowers and herbs that can be used to prepare meals for guests. Here are the steps I took toward restoring the greenhouse:

1. Cutting away any vegetation growing on or around the structure — this took a whole day.

2. Measuring areas where glass is missing to determine which size panes to order. This took another whole day.

3. Replacing weak structure beams. We were lucky — the original structure was pretty solid so we didn’t have to repair very much of it.

4. Adding a misting system that hangs from the ceiling and waters the plants.

5. Adding waterproof lighting that can illuminate the greenhouse at night.

This project took about a week. When we were done, we filled it with tomato plants, eggplants, hanging baskets of herbs and even orange trees that we had shipped up from California. The HSI guests are loving that their food is grown on-site.

I’m just happy that things are back to normal with my friend and that things are going well at the Hidden Springs Inn.

Exposing Brick

Photo credit: bourgeoisbee / Foter / CC BY-NC

Photo credit: bourgeoisbee / Foter / CC BY-NC

Tools for Exposing Brick

Exposing brick previously hidden behind wall board is oh-so-fun. And it’s pretty easy to do. Here’s what you’ll need:

1. Safety gear: respirators, rubber gloves, goggles — exposing brick kicks up a lot of dust, and you don’t want it in your eyes, mouth, nose or throat.

2. Hammer and crowbar: these are the tools you will use to rip through the brick.

3. Wire brushes: Clean the bricks and remove excess mortar with a wire brush.

4. A sponge: You’ll want to wipe down the bricks with a wet sponge after you have gone over them with the wire brush.

5. Sealant and a paint brush: After you clean the bricks, you’ll want to cover them with a sealant.

It shouldn’t take more than a day, however the time it takes does depend on how big of an area you plan to expose. I advise people to do projects like this in the summer time, when they can open the windows and have good ventilation throughout.

Why is Exposed Brick So Popular?

People do like exposed brick. But what is it about exposed brick that people love so much? I’ll tell you what: detail. Warmth. It’s a classic look that outlives trends. Whether it’s a Brooklyn loft or a finished basement, exposed brick really completes the look and feel of a room.

Exposed Brick: Beyond Walls

Most of the time when we talk about exposed brick, we’re talking about uncovering walls or chimneys or fireplaces. But you will find exposed brick in other places too. Observe this chic exposed brick ceiling:

Photo credit: coco+kelley / Foter / CC BY-NC

Photo credit: coco+kelley / Foter / CC BY-NC

I wish this were my kitchen! Don’t you?

Stick-on Backsplashes

Photo credit: chotda / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: chotda / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

I was watching TV with a friend when a commercial came on. The commercial showed a woman ‘remodeling’ her kitchen by putting up a stick-on backsplash. My friend turned to me and asked whether I approve of stick-on backsplashes.

“I don’t,” I told her. “I really and truly don’t.”

It doesn’t matter how trendy the “backsplash” looks or how good the trompe l’oueil tile is. Artificial things look artificial. Laminate floors are not as nice as hardwood. Pleather does not feel like leather. Faux wood panels make a room look cheap, and wallpaper that is made to look like exposed brick is just…depressing. And since I don’t like any of those things, why would I approve of a stick on backsplash?

What Good Backsplashes are Made Of

Why fake sucks: fake stuff is made to be installed quickly and easily. But quality takes time and effort. There’s really no way around it. If you go the easy route, it will show. Put in the time and hard work — and marshall some skill — and that will show too.

My favorite ideas for backsplashes include:

  • Mexican talavera tiles
  • Reclaimed barn wood tiles
  • Mosaic tiles
  • Mosaics made from old broken mason jars — wouldn’t that be fun?!
  • Pressed tin — but the real stuff only, not that thermoplastic look-a-like shit

Mosaic Madness!

Ever since my granddaughter introduced me to Pinterest, I’ve spent nearly all my free time looking at stuff. My oh my people have some fantastic ideas! Right now I’m looking at ideas for patio mosaics. A patio mosaic is a great way to brighten up your outdoor space and give it a Spanish/Moroccan/Greek sort of look. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Tiled risers on outdoor stairs. When you put mosaics on the risers of your outdoor stairs, you’ll draw people into your house like never before!

2. Turn tree stumps into art. It’s sad when you have to cut down a tree, but there is a silver (or multi-colored) lining! Turn the top of the tree stop into a gorgeous mosaic!

3. Use glass beads and pebbles to create a fairy tale back yard! This is just so darn pretty.

4. Put colored glass into a cement wall. Make a gorgeous stained glass wall in your hard. It would be perfectly fabulous for California, wouldn’t it?

These are just a few, but it’s sure giving me ideas. And since I have a plain old unadorned cement staircase in my backyard, I think I’ll bedazzle it with some mosaic tiles!

Stenciled Mirrors

mirror with stenciled design

Photo credit: camille iman / Source / CC BY-NC

I suppose you know all about this Pinterest. Well, I didn’t know a thing about it until my granddaughter showed me. Last Sunday we spent about three hours looking at it. There’s some neat stuff on there, but I have to say, it sure made my eyes tired to look at those pictures on a computer for so long. However, I did see something in there that looked really neat: stenciled mirrors. It’s a neat way to add a really stunning decoration to your house, and it looks easy enough to do. In fact, my granddaughter has decided that stenciled mirrors is going to be the Christmas gift she gives to family members this year (she’s crafty and always likes to give homemade gifts.) She’s excited. And I’m excited because it means I get to spend the day with my granddaughter at the salvage store. Win-win.

How to Stencil a Mirror

From what I understand, there are two ways to stencil a mirror: spray painting or hand painting.

Spray Painting

This is the easiest way to do it, and will yield a simple, uniform design. Simply lay the stencil on the mirror and spray paint it. Use frosting spray to create a classy, understated frosted look. Or chose gold for an opulent, romantic gilded look.

Hand Painting

Hand painting a mirror, like all hand painting, will take more time. However, it’s the way to go if you want to make a more complex, multi-colored design. For this you will need a miniature brush that can fit nicely into all the nooks and crannies of the stencil. It’s more work but worth it, especially if the end result looks like this.

Choosing a Stencil

It’s amazing how creative people are with these stenciled mirrors! Some people are really into stenciling French words on their mirrors, while others choose fancy damask patterns. But if you want flowers, trees, birds, butterflies, hearts, leaves or even Mexican Talavera patterns, there’s a stencil for you!

A stenciled mirror is a great way to spruce up a guest powder room. Or hang on in the entry way as a unique way to greet guests when they arrive. Personally I don’t know if I would want one in my house — I guess it’s a little too trendy for me — but I do think these look nice and are definitely worth the effort.

What to Do with Old Gas Lights?

If your house was built in or around 1900, odds are it had gas light at one time — and the original gas pipes are still in your walls. The thing about gas light is that it looked cool, but was kinda dangerous. I mean, could you imagine having gas piped throughout your house? So many opportunities for disaster. Don’t get me wrong, gas light can look really cool, like those old gas street lamps that some cities have kept in tact in their more historic areas. However, they can also look nightmarish. Remember the whorehouse scene from Oklahoma!?

Gas lighting in the 'dream ballet' from the film adaptation of "Oklahoma!"

Gas lighting in the ‘dream ballet’ from the film adaptation of “Oklahoma!”

Ok, so I don’t think anyone in their right mind would actually turn up the flames that high. But many gas-powered light fixtures did feature flickering flames. Pretty as a candlelit Christmas tree and just as risky.

Gas Pipes: What to Do?

If you have gas pipes in your house, you’ve got three options. 1) Remove the pipes. 2) Reconnect the gas lines and restore gas lighting to your house. 3) Leave well enough alone.

Removing Gas Pipes

You’ve probably noticed that in some areas of your house, there are capped-off ends of pipes protruding through your walls. Those are your former gas pipes. Honestly, the smartest thing to do is have a licensed plumber take them out. That’s the quickest and safest way to do it. However, if you decide to do it yourself — and please don’t do this if you’re new to DIY home repair — follow these tips in this SF Gate article. Very useful, very thorough.

Restoring Gas Lights

Back in the 60s, many hippies who moved into the Haight Ashbury restored gas lights to the run down Victorian mansions that they lived in. I may or may not have experienced this first hand, cough cough. Victoriana/Edwardiana was very popular with the hippie crowd for some reason, and people wanted the full Victorian experience. Restoring gas lights can really give your house an authentic look and feel. Plus, with gas lights you have more control over the amount of light, and it can be softer than electric light. But you gotta be careful. I always think back to that scene in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” in which the mom threatens to “turn on every gas jet in the house,” meaning she would kill herself and her children by flooding their tenement flat with gas. (Ok, so gas light is kind of a morbid fascination of mine. It’s still cool to have gaslight in your house. So long as you don’t screw around.) Once again, if you do this, you really have to be careful. And be prepared for your gas bill to go up.

Leaving Gas Pipes Alone

You do not *need* to remove the gas pipes. Odds are they are just pipes at this point. The capped-0ff pipes can serve as a quirky reminder of the house’s original lighting scheme. You can paint over them. No biggie. However, there is a possibility that some or all of the pipes are still connected to a gas source, in which case it’s inflating your gas bill. Removing the pipes can bring your gas costs down if in fact gas is still flowing through them.

A Word About Gas Fixtures

If your house has the original light fixtures, then they were reconfigured to supply electric light in place of gas light. It may be possible to make them into working gas fixtures again, but don’t quote me on that. Obviously you want to keep your fixtures original but if that’s impossible, you can find intact gas fixtures on Ebay.

 

 

Sweet Salvation: Salvage, Vintage and Antiques

Photo credit: AbrilSicairos / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: AbrilSicairos / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

When you’re restoring a house back to its original state, it’s important to get stuff that matches the period that the house was built in. The best way to do that is to head to a salvage store. We’re pretty lucky in Astoria, because we have Vintage Hardware. It’s great — so great, in fact, that New York Magazine listed it as a thing to do for out-of-towners. While working on the Hidden Springs Inn, I ventured to Vintage Hardware once, sometimes twice a week. The store had everything we needed to complete the Victorian look we wanted for the hotel.

What Can I Find in a Salvage Store?

You can find lamps, tchotchkes, rugs and other decorative items at antique stores. If it’s big stuff you’re after, you’ll need to head to a salvage store. By “big stuff” I mean:

  • Doors
  • Trim
  • Gingerbread
  • Mantle pieces
  • Mirrors
  • Stained glass windows
  • Light fixtures, including sconces and chandeliers
  • Sinks

You can also find little stuff, like tile, doorknobs, drawer pulls and small but important things — these are the little details that will help you create an authentic, period look.

Other Oregon Salvage Stores

If you’re outside of Astoria, there are salvage stores throughout Oregon — there’s sure to be one near you. Here are a few:

Happy shopping!

 

 

Quick Fixes

Because Easy Mac is a quick fix. Get it? Photo credit: JeepersMedia / Foter / CC BY

Because Easy Mac is a quick fix. Get it? Photo credit: JeepersMedia / Foter / CC BY

Sometimes, you just don’t have time to do things perfect. Sometimes you need a quick fix to solve a problem temporarily until you have time to come back and get the job done right. Here are some quick fixes you can use:

  • Cover exposed nails with electrical tape
  • Patch nail holes with toothpaste
  • Talcum powder can stop your floors from squeaking
  • Scrub sooty fireplace bricks with a paste made of cream of tartar and water
  • Spray squeaky hinges with WD-40
  • Mineral oil can freshen up your cutting boards
  • Peppermint oil can help repel roaches
  • Put down Borax to get rid of ants
  • When a mouse runs into your living room and paralyzes with fear, put a piece of Tupperware over it and then sweep it into a paper bag. The same can be done with bats.

Of course, these fixes are temporary. You will need to cover those exposed nails with wood filler. You’ll have to Spackle those nail holes. And for God’s sake, if your house has a brick exterior, invest some time in tuck pointing it to prevent mice from getting in in the first place. Preventing bats, that’s a bit trickier.

Brush Up That Clawfoot Tub!

Clawfoot tubs. They are so elegant. And they pretty much always look good when they’re clean and neatly restored. Observe:

blue room clawfoot tub

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

Lovely!

Photo credit: Secretly Ironic / Foter / CC BY

Photo credit: Secretly Ironic / Foter / CC BY

Funky!

A red clawfoot tub. That’s how you take something classic and put a modern spin on it.

Restoring Clawfoot Tubs

If you buy an old tub and plan to retrofit it into your bathroom, or if you buy an old house with an old tub in it, you might find that the tub is a little scuzzy. But the thing about clawfoot tubs is that they are super easy to restore. Check out this episode of Rehab Addict in which Nicole Curtis uses a wire brush to remove dirt and debris from an old tub, then spray paints it silver and black to create a classy look for a bathroom.

Additionally, this youtube video provides a comprehensive guide for restoring clawfoot tubs, including using steel brushes to clean out the foot brackets.

You should have concluded by now that one of the things you will need, along with spray paint, some good porcelain cleaner, and elbow grease, is a good brush. If you’re lucky enough to have an old fashioned neighborhood hardware store near you, I suggest you high-tail it over there and ask a knowledgeable salesperson about brushes for clawfoot tub restoration. Another option is to go online and check out an industrial brush manufacturer and see if you can order the brush you need directly from them.

Beyond White

We usually expect bathtubs to be white but as you can see from the photos above, there are so many other possibilities and opportunities to give your bathroom the look and feel you want. And I think clawfoot tubs are unique in that they are versatile enough to have dragons painted on them. Do you think that would work on a square acrylic tub? I sure don’t.

Missing Feet

If your clawfoot tub is teetering on three legs, don’t stress. Spare clawfeet are everywhere. Your local salvage store should have a selection. And if it doesn’t, you can find what you need on sites like Ebay or periodbath.com. Be sure to brush the feet smooth, spray them with primer, and then cover them in whatever color you fancy.

Original is Beautiful, but New is Good Too

Just like Nicole Curtis, I’m a stickler for original. If a house was built in 1900, the railings, windows, sconces and floors from 1900. If it’s a mid-century modern, it should have a wood-paneled basement bar. And if it is a 13th century castle…it should be cold and draughty and have weeds growing out of the roof.

Original does look best. But there are times when new is necessary. Such as:

Drop ceilings: It’s a tragedy when crown moldings and medallions get hidden by drop ceilings. But in old apartment buildings where there isn’t sound-proofing, modern amenities — such as stereo systems with loud subwoofers — can cause real problems. Without sound-proofing, you might come home every day to your neighbor’s pounding bass. Sacrificing the original ceiling for a drop ceiling that will dampen the thump can really improve your quality of life.

Appliances: I love a vintage Wedgewood stove. And it looks cool when you have a 1900s stove in a 1900 house. But your health safety have to come first, and modern stoves are designed to be clean and safe. Antique ice boxes are cool too, but if you get one, use it for more decorative purposes, not for all of your refrigeration. A sub-zero might not be period, but if you can afford a sub-zero, get one.

antique stove

Energy: Nobody talked about climate change in 1900, because there weren’t cars and people hadn’t burned gallons upon gallons on fossil fuels. That’s not to say that people then were concerned about the environment. I’d be that Victorians were far worse litterbugs than you’ll ever see today. Still, there was not climate change then, and therefore no movement toward green technology, and so Victorian homes did not have solar panels on the roof. But that should not discourage you from putting solar panels on your Victorian home, if you are striving to reduce your carbon footprint and can afford solar panels.

Are the other examples where it makes sense to sacrifice an original feature for a modern innovation? Let me know in the comment section!