Fixer Upper: When It Goes Wrong

HGTV is my go-to station while running on the treadmill, and my favorite show is probably Fixer Upper, starring America’s sweetheart couple, Chip and Joanna Gaines.  I don’t know when that couple sleeps, especially Joanna:  wife, mother, baker, designer, blogger.  I hope they really are as nice as they appear on the show; I would hate for them to implode the way the Flip or Flop couple did.

Anyway.  Joanna Gaines has great taste; I may not always like her design choices, but I can also see that other people do, and I can admire without wanting my house to look like her staged houses.  But then there is the Chapman House:

Credit: Rachel Whyte, from
Photo credit: Jennifer Boomer/Getty Images, from

The original house was a ranch style house with an atrocious second-story addition …  not much you can do about it, but the exterior renovation on this part of the house looks good.

The porch, on the other hand … I am going to assume Joanna had a temporary blackout.  Why would she think a gigantic unpainted rustic porch more appropriate to a Colorado mountain cabin would be a good thing to tack on a mid-century ranch?  This is the sort of addition that on another HGTV show would be the first thing to be torn down.  I can think of different porch designs that she (or rather, an architect) could have added to the front to balance the house.  This is not it.

The Chapman House porch reminds me of another spectacularly bad renovation in my neighborhood:

The Ski Jump House

This house is part of a post-war development where most of the houses were uninspiring Minimal Traditional style homes ranging from 800 – 1000 square feet.  The neighborhood is a bit run-down with most of the houses being student rentals, but that is probably changing just because of the ridiculous housing boom in the city.  The original house can still be seen, with new windows, new French doors, new stucco, and of course, the enormous ski jump masquerading as a porch.  This house has been a work-in-progress for a year; I wish they had stopped a year ago.   Or done something like this house, a block down the street, renovated with added square footage over the same time period:


The owners kept the integrity of the original house, and respected the over all spirit of the post-war neighborhood.  Well done.


A Maker

Just recently, a couple of weeks in fact, I became aware of the term “maker” as applied to crafters/artisans/diyers . . . .  I like it.  I am a maker of things useful and otherwise, interesting and otherwise, beautiful and otherwise.  I make.

Cavy On
A Floor Mat for the Guinea Pigs!

Pattern:  The letters are from the Moda “Spell it with Fabric” blog hop, reduced to 3/4 size.

Fabric:  The blue background fabrics are from Amy Butler’s “Daisy Chain” collection; other fabrics are stash scraps.

The Cavies (aka guinea pigs Tula and Chia) live in the basement in the summer; their house is at the bottom of the staircase.  I made this floor quilt for the landing in front of the cage, partly for The College Kid’s amusement, but mostly because I have never made fabric letters.  The backing fabrics are Joel Dewberry home decor weight scraps, the batting is also made up of scraps from other projects, and the binding is made from one of Mom’s nightgowns.  This was a fun project, and the letters were addictive to make.  I also sewed a whole set of letters at full size for one of Emily Dickinson’s pithy poems . . . .  that one is a “someday” quilt.


Our subdivision used to be farmland.  I have a copy of an early 20th-century parcels map, and if I squint hard enough, I can almost make out the owner’s name.  The last owner used the land as horse pasture, and she still lives in her Minimal Traditional farmhouse at the north end of the development.  An artist and her husband live two houses up from us, and they were the very first residents of this subdivision.  They were vintners before they relocated, and she told me she wanted to be able to see and touch her neighbors.  She can just about do that: we are all about 6 feet from each other — and that might be a generous estimate.

One year on, we also have fences, some more obnoxious than others.  Fences define, separate, protect, tantalize.  The “best” sort veils the house, giving the curious a carefully calibrated glimpse of the house and the property in much the same way as a half-drawn curtain at a window.  And of course, the inhabitants, for their part, get a properly filtered view of the world.  A small tour of the fences in our neighborhood:


This house is on a corner, and they do have a toddler and a yappy dog, so perhaps all good reasons for a solid fence.


Open metal fencing that matches the balcony railing.  The renters do not have a dog, but the Wyoming owners do.  Someday we may even meet them (the owners, that is).


The split-personality fence: the rustic post-and-rail fencing matches those along the bike trail, but the solid wood fencing along the front is an odd choice.



The Moat Fence (not quite finished), because this house is The Fort and it guards the entrance from the bike path into the subdivision.  This is the biggest house in the subdivision, and is on the biggest lot.  The owners, being friends of the developer, did not have to follow any of the standard house plans.  Apparently they also did not have to follow any HOA guidelines — not that there are any right now, but even if there were, they would not have had to follow them.  They are that special.  The Moat shields the owners from prying hoi polloi eyes, but only partially.  I guess if they had actually completed the perimeter fence, they would lose the view that originally prompted them to build on this piece of land.


And the award for the most practical fence goes to The Shed Fence.  One dog, one child, and apparently Many Belongings requiring more space than provided by 4 bedrooms and a basement.  The mellow HOA didn’t know anything about this one either.  The neighbors’ view from the other side:


I really think we need clotheslines.   Continue reading

Reduce Reuse Recycle Project: Part 4

When we remodelled the kitchen at our old house, the designer made a measurement mistake that made it impossible for us to reuse the old island top on top of the new island base.  We put the countertop in the garage and every once in a while, I would call up our favorite contractor (whose heart is in carpentry) and ask him to build us a base of some sort.  A few years later, we now have a repurposed quartz countertop coffee table!

Basement sitting room
Basement sitting room

He built the base from maple scraps he found at our local Habitat store, and I think it goes beautifully with the dark table top.

We found the auditorium chairs at Wool Hat; the store owners got them from an elementary school somewhere on the eastern plains.  I recovered the seats with fabric from old curtains, and to prevent the chairs from tipping, our contractor gave us some teak slats (saved from a remodelling job at a 1970s house) that we screwed to the base.  The chairs are remarkably comfortable if you are the right size, say a child or a small adult 🙂

And now, the basement really is finished!

Finished: Basement!

We built our new house knowing we were going to have to finish the walkout basement so The Teenager would have somewhere to live.  DH and I wanted single-floor living, and we got that in 1250+ square feet main floor:  master bedroom suite, his-and-her offices, a guest bathroom, and one continuous space for kitchen, dining room, and living room.  The plan is compact and efficient, and we both like having no hallways.

The basement is pretty much the footprint of the house, minus the crawl space under my office.  We did not finish the basement at the old house because it already had 2000 square feet of living space, and the crappy aluminum windows leaked in big rainstorms.  By the time we built the new house, the city had adopted new building codes that required a comprehensive drainage systems around new constructions.  This is especially important because our new house is about 100 yards from the innocuous-sounding Spring Creek.

Our favorite contractor (who did all our remodels at the old house) finally got going on our basement in mid-February.  Eleven weeks and $32K later, I am declaring the basement DONE!  Well, except for the glass surround for the shower stall, which is being fabricated even as I type . . . .  I hope.

DH's Exercise Room
DH’s Exercise Room

Why yes, those are interlocking play mats from Home Depot 🙂  We had an extra curtain rod, so we are using it to store exercise bands.  The floor here (and everywhere in the basement) is polished and stained concrete.  It turned out beautifully, but had I known about the xylene solvent (“It’s a double benzene ring,” said my brother the chemist) and how toxic-smelling it would be during the first 10 days, I would have had asked for the polish without the stain.

The exercise room is in a Jack-and-Jill setup with The Teenager’s bedroom.  The bathroom is spacious, and is perhaps nicer than our master bathroom:


The Teenager chose the cabinet, in “Purple Gloss,” which looks like a dark eggplant color.  It is indeed very glossy!  It has a solid surface top with integrated sink.  We asked for the extra-large sink, and a good thing because it is the only one in the house large enough for washing sweaters.


The shower base is also solid surface, and because this is a teenager’s shower, the tiles are very large for minimal grout lines.  The decorative strip is made up of glass tiles in shades of pale grey, with blue accent tiles that were left over from her bathroom remodel at the old house.

Storage cubbies!
Storage cubbies!

Our contractor hates wasted space, so he built these cubbies to take advantage of the space under the staircase.  The short side of the space is in The Teenager’s room:


She now has more storage space than she has ever had, but no doubt she will manage to use it all.

Finally, gratuitous pictures of sewing projects:


I sewed the curtains from IKEA linen and the last of my bicycle-themed quilt scraps.  The Teenager chose the fabrics, so I think she actually does like those curtains.

Floor quilt
Floor quilt

This was the third quilt I ever made, and not as successful as I originally envisioned.  I was in my orange phase at the time 🙂  However, it does work well in her room to cut the chill of the concrete floor, so all good!

Final thoughts:

I would not recommend doing this, but because of our timeline, I picked the floor color, the wall paint, and the bathroom colors independent of each other.  It worked out, but while I like the floor color (supposed to be “terra cotta”), I think I could have gone with my original choice of turquoise!

The Drying Tree

About 5 years ago, a Danish family (the father was on a temporary job assignment in town) moved into the street behind our house.  Because they were European and thus much more aware than Americans of the concept of limited resources, one of the first things they did was put up a clothesline.  I admired them for their effort, but I of course did nothing in my own household.  A couple of weeks ago, perhaps more on a whim than an actual conscious desire to do good, I began to hang our clothes outside to dry.  Who knew the Marshall seedless ash would be absolutely perfect as a drying rack?  It provides shade so the clothes don’t get sun-bleached, and as a side benefit, I think the grackles have been staying away because of the flapping laundry!

DH sits on the Energy Board as a citizen volunteer — he is greatly concerned about the “big picture” problem of energy consumption.  If he were a historian, he would be a “big picture” narrative historian and ignore the whole trend of history from the bottom up.  The point is, he worries about how to get “people” to change their behavior and do the right thing for the environment, and thinks my efforts are minuscule.  Well, of course they are: how much impact am I making by saving one gallon of water a day because I keep a bucket for used dishwater that I later throw on various garden plants?  I have control only over my behavior, and that one gallon is one gallon; if I thought of that one gallon as a percentage, I would be paralyzed by the sheer scope of the problem, and that bucket would end up in the landfill.  And I would be back to throwing the laundry into the dryer, and thinking that after all, what did it all matter?

CSA Week 3:  spinach, arugula, broccoli rabe

Week 3 recipes:  broccoli rabe savory bread pudding; spinach fettuccine with arugula and tomatoes; vegetable biryani with spinach; truffled mac and cheese with spinach

CSA Week 4:  hakurei turnips, baby kale, strawberries, broccoli, garlic scapes

Week 4 recipes:  sauteed hakurei turnips and turnip greens with scapes and thyme, warm kale salad with kalamata olives, steamed broccoli