Apartment Life

Since getting the Hill House a little more than a year ago, I feel like I’m basically never at my apartment. For the most part, that’s fine. When Friday comes around, the only thing I want to do is get upstate, and on Sunday, I just want to come back as late as possible. But, between being gone all weekend, and a crazy schedule during the week my apartment became a place to sleep and shower and a dumping ground for my stuff. I was never there to clean up, re-organize, even put my laundry away, so it quickly turned into a slum and I hated being there even more.

I made a little list of some things around the apartment that I wanted to do to make it a place I wanted to be again. Nothing major, but a few little DIY’s to make me want to live there again.I decided to start with my bedroom, since it’s where I spend the most time.

All the light fixtures in my apartment are from 1990 and were the cheapest/lowest grade available at the time, so I want to start swapping all of those out for something a bit nicer. I have 9′ ceilings, so I went with a hanging pendant. I found this one at Lowes on sale. I think I’ll need to get a medallion for the ceiling or something to avoid repainting the whole thing, but still an improvement!IMG_5613

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There’s a little alcove area in my room that makes any kind of furniture placement difficult. It’s ended up as a holding place for lots of bulky and unattractive things. I thought this would be a good place to do some built in shelves and make the alcove seem more purposeful. The problem is that it’s only 8″ deep, so rather than rip down all the boards, I went with a standard 9″ width. They stick out a bit but I don’t mind how the shelves look and they can always be changed later.  IMG_5439I put a 12″ wide shelf above my TV so I would have at least one that was wide enough to hold some bigger bins and boxes. I thought that putting shelves so high up might make the room feel smaller, but it does the opposite, it makes you realize how high the ceilings actually are. IMG_5515I picked up the baskets from Target and from Lowes. They don’t all “go” together but it works and I have more than enough storage for the crap that was in the corner before. IMG_5617

This shelf/hooks thing I found at Home Goods for $25, it’s perfect for holding my clothes that I’m too lazy to properly put away and will look chicer than covering my bike in laundry, which is how it’s been for the past year.

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 Definitely making some progress. With all the new storage space it should be easy to stay organized and keep at least my bedroom from feeling like I’m a real life version of Marjory the trash heap from Fraggle RockIMG_5668

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“Finishing” the kitchen

The kitchen is finally together! Everything that I hated about it when I moved in is now gone forever, and I’m very happy about that. The appliances older than me, the laminate counters, the blue floral wallpaper, the dark wood, the sun bleached and peeling linoleum floor. Let’s take a moment of silence to remember the past.

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The counter tops and replacing the tile backsplash were the last two major hurdles in the kitchen. Through the whole process, as soon as one project would be finished, everything else would look even shittier by comparison. It was finally time to get it all “done” once and for all. This kitchen gets a lot of action, and it’s really hard to cook in a construction zone. Now that there are no more big projects to get done in here, I no longer have to stress about making coffee in the laundry room, or going to the diner for every meal.

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The reason I’m calling this “finished” instead of finished is that the backsplash behind the stove and hood is still not done yet. For now it just has a piece of cement backer board up to cover the damaged wall from the tile demo. I actually don’t mind how it looks as-is. It kinda goes with the countertops. Obviously it will be tiled over and finished off, but I’m in no rush, and am still debating over tile choices. There’s also some little touch up paint spots to be done, but nothing that would really disrupt use of the kitchen, and nothing that’s crying out as hideous anymore.10389679_10205279438254601_3495290950865964672_n10624695_10205279439654636_3412310410330428571_n

So there it is, in all it’s glory. Now on to the next major project…..

I’ve got wood!

Well, the kitchen’s got some wood. After doing the countertops, the next project to be done was the backsplash and tiled wall. It was a horrible tan floor tile and was long over due to be ripped down. The tiles came of relatively easily, but a few spots ripped up the drywall behind. leaving it patchy and large areas of thinset still on the wall. They weren’t in horrible shape, but not good either. To get the walls to the point of taking a new tile evenly would definitely be a project in itself.

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Originally, I had planned on doing all subway tiles for the backsplash with a dark grout. Classic and clean, much like the kitchens below, which had always been the inspiration for mine, with the dark lower cabinets and the concrete countertop.tumblr_mv4rcwhtKR1qf82imo1_500

tumblr_mtoxkrsqtM1qf82imo1_500 tumblr_n2n5oyQUNF1qf82imo1_500 Since my concrete counters didn’t quiiiiiiiite turn out looking like these, and the whole kitchen was starting to feel a little industrial, which is not really the best fit for a cabin in the woods. The combo of the condition of the walls, and the industrial vibe made me think I needed to go a different direction, which is where the wood idea came in. I figured it would warm things up a bit and it would be easy to install. After some googling for inspiration, I found a few options that I thought would look good.

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My initial thought was salvaged wood. I figured it would be cheap, a bit grayed out to go with the rest of the kitchen, and I liked the varying lengths and widths. The trouble was, where to find all this. I know in upstate NY, there’s a ton of places to get old wood, but the trouble is taking the time to find and clean up enough of it to do the whole backsplash and wall, in total, about 40 sq feet. There’s actually a company called Excelsior just down the road from the Hill House that specializes in reclaimed wood, so I figured this would be perfect. They’re only open monday-friday, which is a bit of a bummer for a weekender, but it just happened to work out that I had a monday off, so I made an appointment to check out the wear house. I found tons of great options, and got an emailed quote the next day. Perhaps I’m totally naive, but I was kind of shocked at the quote I got, which was about $7.50 per square foot. It still would have been only about $300-350 to do the backsplash, but this seemed like a lot of money for what was basically trash. There are literally hundreds of falling down houses, barns, chicken coops, in the area that have tons of exactly what I needed, but again time = money, so I guess that’s why this would have cost that much. The people at Excelsior were super helpful and great to work with, but I’m too stubborn (cheap) to pay that rate for what I could have ripped off of my friends dilapidated garage.

BUT, I’m also lazy and was tired of having the kitchen in shambles and didn’t want to wait until I could source all this shit, so it was time to consider other approaches. I had read on other blogs that people did horizontal paneling, or floors with ripped down sheets of plywood just face nailed to the surface, and thought that this could look okay, it would be much more basic looking but would be easy to install and would add some textural interest at least. A quick trip to Home Depot later, I had my solution, but it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. In their lumber aisle, I found some really nice pieces of cedar. This cedar wasn’t red like most I had seen before and they all had a really nice grain pattern. They were less than $6 per 8′ 4″x2″ board, which meant it would be less than $90 to do the whole kitchen. I figured that even if I dint end up liking it, I could always paint it white like I had planned, or I could stain it darker or a different brown.

IMG_5017I borrowed a friend’s nail gun (best invention ever!) and used a circular saw to cut the boards into random lengths for a staggered pattern. They all look a bit rough and rustic, with holes from the finishing nails and some gaps where the boards or wall weren’t quite straight, but I don’t mind, it’s a little more like the reclaimed look than a polished finish. They totally give the kitchen a warmer feeling and add a bit of an organic element back in so it’s not industrial feeling. They even some how make the concrete counters look much better to the point where I’m not ready to rip them out and put in some kind of expensive marble. YAY!

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For now, the wood is unfinished and I really like the color and matte finish on it. It being a kitchen and messes happening, I’ll probably need to put some kind of finish or sealant on it for protection, but I don’t want the wood turning reddish or going yellow like with a poly. So for now, here’s my naked wood. IMG_5031

DIYuck – Concrete Countertops

Have you ever seen the Debbie Downer skits on SNL? If you haven’t do yourself a favor and watch them now. That’s what this project ended up being. A big fucking Debbie Downer. I’ve made every face Rachel Dratch makes in those skits while looking at these countertops. I think this is my first DIY-Fail. Well, maybe not a fail exactly, but this project definitely didn’t come out the way I expected and I don’t think I’m happy with the results. Womp womp.

DebbieDownerI was really excited about covering the existing formica countertops with Feather Finish concrete and had planned on doing it from the moment I bought the house. It’s a DIY I had seen on like a million blogs, like this one, this one, this one and this one. They all look awesome, easy, cheap, everything you want out of a DIY. My countertops were none of those things except cheap.  I’m not sure where this project went wrong.

Firstly, I used Henry Brand Feather Finish (made by Ardex) which was available from Home Depot, instead of having to order it online. Most of the other blogs used the real thing, which seems to be a much thinner consistency than the Henry product. But at least one blogger used the Henry stuff with better results than I had, so maybe that and the dry-time was part of the issue. Maybe I didn’t sand enough (5+ hours!) maybe I sanded too much? Who knows. They came out MUCH more textured looking in color than I was hoping for.

Here’s the before pics. There were two different countertops, one was a fake butcher block pattern on laminate, and the other was a weird fleshy tan color. They were in decent shape, so they had been livable for a while, but they were time to go. Also, check out the awful, floor tile backsplash. Everything left from the original kitchen was a weird skin tone. As part of the prep for this job, I tore the tiles off the wall where the counter top connected. There had been a backsplash piece of laminate that went up the wall too, that had separated from the counter, leaving a gap so it got ripped out as well.

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The skim coating of the concrete went on pretty easily. The rounded edges and vertical pieces were a bit of a challenge, I ended up just rubbing the concrete on with my hands. *pro tip, always wear rubber gloves, concrete ruins your hands. IMG_4539.JPGEverything was looking good, the color was a nice consistent gray, everything was evenly covered, I was optimistic. I did about three coats of concrete over everything. The coats were drying quickly, so I waited maybe 5-6 hours between coats a couple times, maybe this was mistake #2 and I should have waited longer? The problem with DIY at a weekend house is you are always up against the clock to get your project done before sunday night. Otherwise, what would take 2-3 days ends up stretching out over a month, which is exactly what happened with this project.

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When the sanding started is when this project seemed to fall apart. I started with a power sander and a 60 grit sand paper to knock down the higher points in the concrete and quickly switched to a 150 grit. The weird textures started to come out in the concrete which I hadn’t seen on anyone else’s blog! You could see trowel marks, scratches, all kinds of patterns. There were a few spots that had gouges that I needed to patch, or some of the vertical areas where sanding went all the way through, back to the counter tops. When I patched these areas, they were really obvious when I started sanding again.  A few areas started to come through as that pretty, polished cement in a nice consistent color, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t get the whole countertop to that point. The more I sanded didn’t seem to be making any kind of impact.

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The pics below are the “after” for this project. Not so pretty. I finally resigned that the color wasn’t getting any better and this was as good as it gets for now. On the positive side, they were smooth, solid and felt nice. They just didn’t look so nice. I used a gloss concrete sealer for 3 coats. I was hoping this would just darken everything up and make it look better, but it didn’t really help anything. I then did a coat of carnuba wax over everything to help them be extra water resistant. IMG_4994.JPG

IMG_4995.JPG Here’s a close up of the detail so you can see the weird textures and patterns. You can see some of the spots that came out nicely polished, you can see some of the ugly patch spots. Overall NOT what I was hoping for or expecting. I’m not sure why everyone else’s blog DIY’s came out so differently. These might not be around for very long, maybe I’ll rip these out and put something nicer in, or maybe I’ll eventually try a concrete stain and see if that will improve things. Whether these are an improvement over the crappy laminate is up for debate. IMG_4945.JPGSo, this project took forever, was a mess (concrete dust ALL over the house) and then the end result sucked. Basically the complete opposite of what I was expecting. DIY-FAIL

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Summer Wrap up

Godamnit I suck at blogging regularly. Not a single post since being in Detroit… A whole slew of things happened this summer. Here’s a recap of some of them.

Newest and most exciting is the NEW CAR. Yup. Got a Land Rover LR2. The mom-car ’02 Camry has been retired and upgraded for 4 wheel drive and heated seats. This winter will be a lot more comfortable. So. Excited.

IMG_4485.JPGMost of the changes in the house over the summer have been pretty small. Most of them have taken place in the kitchen, including the new floor, new white sink and new faucet. Still have to get to the counter tops, the back splash and a few touch up spots of paint.IMG_4346.JPG

IMG_3820.JPGFew changes to the outside of the house too. New house numbers and a new light on the front porch. Much better. Lots of landscaping too, but I dont have many pics of that. IMG_4335.JPGA little before and after. I think the old light still had a price tag from a garage sale on it. Gross.IMG_4132.JPGAlso, we’ve got a small angel that likes to hang out on the front porch now. He likes to eat the bird seed left out for him. He takes naps in the sun. Let’s just hope he doesn’t move into the attic for the winter, because then I will have to end him.IMG_4332.JPGThe half bath was finally “finished”. If you remember, there was horrible blue formica surrounding the sink, a huge mirror, horrible light fixture, wall paper etc. This has actually been pretty finished since x-mas, but missing the details like the trim. I also installed a new door so the old plastic accordion door is gone! Will post some pics of that later. IMG_4216.JPGEqual opportunity nudity. Everyone needs a little T&A in a bathroom. IMG_4030.JPGThe brick in the nook got painted. It was really ugly and dirty and is really weird and porus. It’s not nice like the brick on the front of the fireplace. Looks much better now that it’s white. Also added a new (trash-picked!) chair. It’s rattan and has mid-century lines. SOMEONE put a pillow on it. IMG_4509.PNG

Work has been INSANE, which is both great and exhausting. I feel like I missed the whole summer. I didn’t get to a beach once, and I missed a lot of weekends at the house. But someone’s got to pay the billz.

I went to Paris and London. This is my “Hi Mom” pic. *Side note, I really should get that dent on my forehead botoxed out.

IMG_3857.JPGI made it snow in August in Connecticut. IMG_4469.JPGI made friends with a horse named biscuit. IMG_4284.JPG

Other fun things, the Dutchess County Fair happened. And a bear met a bear. IMG_4294.JPG

I just kept thinking about how pretty these cows would be as rugs. That’s horrible right? I bet they’re delicious too. IMG_4303.JPG

On a rare weekend that I was stuck in the city, I saw the Jeff Koons show at the Whitney. It was pretty amazing. Someone I know needs to buy this piece and put it in the middle of a circular driveway in front of their mansion, probably in Miami, but maybe in Bel Air. It would be super cunty, in the most amazing way.
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Lindsey, Darin and Marshall came up for a weekend. It was great to see them, and we went on a killer hike with an amazing view.
IMG_4244.JPGBest part of the summer so far has been all the back yard dinners with some pretty amazing people, and some mediocre ones too. IMG_4198-0

Maybe there will be some new posts soon. Who knows!

Let the Landscaping Begin!

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As we wait for spring to fully reveal exactly what’s growing around The Hill House, we’ve also begun filling in some of blanks around the yard. After countless trips to Lowe’s, I think we are finally getting somewhere!

Tackling “Low Light Landscaping”

One challenge is that much of the property is shrouded by trees and we’ve had to look into low light and shade friendly plants and shrubs. Hostas, Elephant Ears and ferns seem to do best and also get along well together.

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Eroding those Erosion Issues

After removing an ugly green wire fence that separated the yard from a rather steep hill leading to the woods, we had to come up with something that both provided a separation barrier as well a root network that would keep the hill, well, together. Creeping Jenny and English Ivy is what’s we went with. Let’s hope they stick. Literally.

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Oh Deer!

So we live in the woods – which means anything we plant basically will become a salad for deer and bunnies. After much research we discovered that nothing is truly deer “proof” but certain plants are resistant to a point. If they are hungry, they will eat anything.

We nixed cedar – which deer love and went with evergreen and spruces for the front of the house. Weeping spruces and dwarf mugi pines added some height and much needed texture to the front porch, and also sit in one of the only full-sun spots on the property.

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Azalea bushes provide a pop of color – and who knew they were actually evergreens? Euonymus and Blue Rug Juniper will also provide some year-round eye candy that will hopefully stay off of Bambi’s menu.

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When it came to an herb garden (below) we chose strong smelling and tasting herbs because they apparently aren’t favorites of deer and rabbits. Thyme, cilantro, rosemary, sage, mint, lavender and catnip are what we went with. We will have to see what survives the deer taste test and what doesn’t however.

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Stay tuned for updates. What worked, and what didn’t. As well as what the heck has yet to be identified – or even revealed – around the property.

Spring and Curb Appeal

All the snow has finally melted and I can finally see what the property actually looks like again! I closed on the house in October, so I’ve really barely seen the property when everything was green and blooming. Besides removing all the silk flowers that were shoved in the ground around the house, and removing all the plastic yard ornaments and tchotchkes, I’ve done absolutely nothing to improve the outside of the house.

This past weekend we finally got to start to clean up the yard and break out some new patio furniture. The astro-turf that was covering the front and back decks has been ripped out and the decking seems to be in pretty great shape. Picked up some of my favorite outdoor chairs from Ikea and a few large planters that will soon have something amazing and interesting in them to frame the porch. There’s now a few bushes in the front planters as well. Some Blue Junipers in the front for some low coverage and some Yellow Euonymus in the back for a bit of height and year round color. I wanted shrubs in the front so when it’s winter 6 months out of the year, the front of the house won’t look so barren and dead like it did this winter.

*Side-note the bottom step is not as fucked up as it looks in this picturefront20140425-172951.jpgI bought these house numbers before I even closed on the house. It only took me 5 1/2 months to put them up. At least now people will be able to find the house without driving past and circling back.

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This little door to the garage hadn’t been opened in about 30 years and was half buried and blocked by some sort of wild shrub. It’s far to cool to be non-functional, so I dug it out, removed the shrub and made this mini blue stone entranceway so it stays functional. 20140425-172627.jpg

 

With the yard clear of snow and leaves, you can actually see what’s growing. There’s a flower bed in the back by the porch that has a variety of little things popping up.20140425-172642.jpg

 

New fire pit in the backyard, just doin it’s thang.

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Tony planted a little herb garden off the back and edged it with stone from the yard. Let’s hope it doesn’t get eaten by deer and bunnies.20140425-172730.jpg

Hung the new hammock too. There are two trees in the backyard that are perfectly spaced for a hammock, it’s like they were asking for it. hammock deck

Even managed to squeeze a mini hike into the weekend. There’s miles and miles of empty forrest behind the house. I love that I can hike out of my back yard for hours and never see anyone.
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Hopefully within the next few weeks all the trees will have popped and everything will be green again. I can’t wait until it’s warm enough to get my feet in the creek without losing them to frostbite.  Spring is here goddammit even if it’s still 40 degrees out.