Friday, June 26, 2015

Dressing Room Dreaming, Or: How To Dress A Room

What is it about imagining... or re-imagining... the spaces in our homes that excites us? I think, for me, it's the allure of realized possibilities. There's something so fulfilling about seeing a room in my mind and then later walking into that room with my feet. You know, after all the planning and dreaming and working.

I've had so much fun these last few weeks thinking up uses and decor for high-ceiling rooms in this house. Hours have ticked by as I've sat online browsing, pinning, and shopping. What could be more fun, right? So I was thrilled when reached out and asked me to take part in their Mix n Match Design Challenge, Shabby Chic Style. The goal: to pull from Chairish's drool-worthy Shabby Chic offerings and put together a room that shines.

I'm not sure about you, but lately I've had dressing rooms on my mind. These days, we're in such a rush to get out the door that I think we've lost the essential (and calming) ritual of dressing with care. We no longer have beautifully laid out dressing tables, we have tangled straighter cords and jumbled makeup bags. And who here puts perfume on in the car? Yeah. I say it's time for a dressing room/ dressing area / dressing closet revival.

Here's my dream: a small space with a glittering chandelier and a tall antique mirror. I want a rug I can paint my nails on and somewhere comfy to sit as I pull off my heels. I'd love a big dresser for organizing underthings and a wide bowl on top for jewelry. And to top it off, I want great lighting, some fluffy pillows, and a silver dressing set like my Great Grandmother, Mary, used to have. So after a few moments of dream-and-click on Chairish, this room presented itself. I give you, the dressing room:

Oh, but there are so many gorgeous spaces you could create with a little paint and some gorgeous Chairish items! Here's what I loved instantly:

The older I get, the more I find myself being absolutely fearless when it comes to incorporating different styles, periods, and colors/textures in my rooms. Fearless. For example, above I mixed vintage pieces with modern accessories. I put a resin bowl on a French dresser and a European shabby chic settee over an Oushak rug. The key to dressing our rooms is simple: go with what speaks to you. Pay attention to scale, color, and texture, and only bring home what you love. In the end, the mix-match of a space is what makes it home anyway. It's what speaks to who you are and where you've been.

All this room/home talk reminds me: I have to get back to work. The hardwoods get refinished tomorrow! I'd like to thank Chairish for the opportunity to participate in the Design Challenge, and each of you for hanging in with me during this chaotic move in. Here's to all of us as we dream up beautiful spaces and create homes that shine! -Brin

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Study

A good library will never be too neat, or too dusty, 
because somebody will always be in it, taking books off the shelves
and staying up late reading them.
-Lemony Snicket, Horseradish

Works continues, morning and evening. It never stops. I don't either, usually, until late evening, when all I want to do is take a cold shower to knock off the dirt and grime and sweat before falling between cool sheets and sleeping beside the roar of a fan.

Ah, summer in Texas in an old house.

Big progress has been made this week in the Study, where dark, moody, gray/green paint has been rolled onto walls and woodwork has been sanded. (The picture above is after the paint but just before the sanding.) It's a race to get it all done before we bring in the giant floor sanders this weekend and prepare for the floor-to-ceiling bookcase. I can't wait.

I told a friend yesterday that, in lieu of a vacation, all I want to do this summer is read. Just... read. Curl up in a huge chair with a glass of something cold and read until it's too dark to see. I want to stay in this new room and take books off shelves until late. I want to be the somebody that's in it and messing it up and keeping the dust away. Summer for me, as a child, always meant a few things: endless reading, ice cream or fresh melon, and the sound of cicadas. And the occasional trip to the lake to swim. My hope is that after the Fourth of July weekend, the house will be ready "enough" for us to move in some furniture and let the reading and ice cream and listening to the cicadas' song begin.

It's a lofty goal, but we're getting there.

In the meantime, I've started making decisions about the kitchen and rolling Westhighland White by Sherwin-Williams on the walls. It looks so much more clean and airy in there now. After the floor is sanded and sealed this weekend, it'll be time for base cabinets, a sink, and the appliances. It can't come soon enough! 

Speaking of decisions, I've been thinking about finding glass cabinet pulls for the drawers and doors to match the originals that survived elsewhere in the house. Every single door here has the original glass knob and skeleton key locks. The hutch has its original glass pulls. So does the bathroom cabinet. The hardware on the cabinets we had to replace weren't original; someone had attached cheap, retro-looking pulls at some point. They weren't worth saving. So... glass again? I'm thinking it over....

So there's a quick update and here's a promise: once things calm down next week, we'll go back and go over this, slowly, and tell more stories.

Until then, happy start to your summer! -Brin

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Ruins We Toil To Rear

Our works decay and disappear
but God's gentlest works stay looking down
on the ruins we toil to rear.
-Walter Smith

In researching this old place, I recently came across this aerial photo. It's undated, but I can tell it's from several years back: trees are smaller or stand in places they no longer stand... the house is a different color... landscaping is different. I intend to show this photo to longtime neighbors and get their best guesses on the year it was taken. But look! The path! There it is, uncovered. I'm glad, for some reason, that we found the path before the photo. The discovery is half the fun.

Speaking of fun discoveries, a worker found an old, beautifully written pie recipe in the kitchen wall. I intend to frame and display it. The recipe was found as we removed the kitchen cabinets and gutted the room to reveal the original floor plan (and original hardwood plank floor!). That 3 AM leak the night before we moved in uncovered a history of water damage, corroded pipes, and compromised lower cabinets. As it turns out, some were rotted. Others were nailed shut. One had a petrified rat in the back. (I wasn't in the room for that one, but I heard the grown man scream when he found it. Ugh. It makes me shudder even now.) We stood and discussed only for as long as it took to determine that most of the cabinets would need to be rebuilt or reinforced, and at that, I made the call to pull them. We saved what we could for other areas/projects.

As disconcerting as it was at first, the total kitchen gut has made me excited about the prospect of incorporating an attic find into the rebuilt/restored kitchen. While snooping around upstairs, we found heavy, carved wooden pieces. Huge. Heavy. The carvings and shape match the original carved pieces of molding above the front door and that hutch built into the corner of the dining room. I'm excited to discover their original purpose (window cornices, maybe?) and find a place for them in the house once again. 

I'm still working in the library/study today, and hope to have the painting finished tomorrow. I'll show you soon. Ah, the ruins we toil to rear. For as long as ever, I've wanted a dark, brooding, leather and book sitting room/library to curl up and read in... or to send the men off to once dinner is over and the women want to chat in private. This little room off the dining room is perfect for both. Pictures tell me that the room hasn't been used as a bedroom, at least not in recent days, and the previous owners used it for storage. I can't wait to see it become usable living space again, especially as a European-looking study!

I need to stop typing and start painting. Guess I'll get back on the ladder now. Enjoy your day, and we'll talk soon.  -Brin

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Stone Path

Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate
And though I oft have passed them by
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.
-J. R. R. Tolkien

We have discovered a stone path.

It seems obvious now, being cleared and all. But two weeks ago it wasn't. I was headed back to the house from the little shop when suddenly, I saw them: the corners of two square stones, touching as if they meant to. I thought it was odd... why would there be two half-sunk stones in the middle of a yard?

Ah. But there weren't just two, there were hundreds. The path is cleared now. How long has it been, I wonder, since it last was?

My sister came for a visit yesterday and was astonished to see it. When did y'all have the time to lay this? she asked. I smiled. We walked it from the corner of the shop all the way to the steps of the long, glassed-in sun room and inside.

I have plans for three small gardens here: an ivy + rose garden with a gazebo on the north side, a vegetable garden on the east/south, and herbs and trailing things in beds and corners all around. This past weekend, some chives, mint, sage and homemade butter-colored lantanas went into the ground next to the steps off the path. They're flanked by butterfly bushes. I'll wait and see how they fill in and then edit from there.

As you may have heard, Tropical Storm Bill is lumbering through. It's raining now- hard- onto ground that was at saturation point weeks ago. This is stranger than any summer I remember. After the rain clears and the heat lets up, we will begin garden plans in earnest.

Until then, we wait.

I'm painting the library/study today and am so wishing it was already done so I could curl up in there and read until dozing off. For now, the lamp light is cozy and rain drums at the windows...

From my rain-soaked path to you, take care today.  -Brin

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Front Room and the Dining Room ... and This House Hates Paint

As promised, some pictures.

(Hello. Hello there, you. Doing well? Hope so.)

I won't show you the "before" of the Front Room yet. Maybe ever. I don't know. There's something about the picture that troubles me in a way I can't put my finger on. Most of the time, the glory of home renovation is showing the pathetic "before" and dramatically unveiling the "after". I think, instead, I will show you a Then and a Now. How's that for a beginning?

So here we are. The Then. This is standing in the Dining Room and looking into the Front Room. Notice, if you will, the original oak parquet floors. The built in hutch in the corner of the Dining Room. The massive, multi-paned windows that leak in sunlight and, at night, a hazy glow from the old gas-turned-electric street lamp out front. Notice, too, the definitive 10 foot, 5 inch ceilings and the tall baseboards with bottom trim removed. And I suppose you can't help but notice the GE Artistry stove still in its box awaiting its turn to be part of the kitchen renovation.

Much more on that later.

Now, here we are in the Front Room, looking north toward the old fireplace and the 6-foot tall, thick-as-winter-lake-ice mirror:

The whole place has had to be coated with a thick glossing of Kilz. As in, we're 12 gallons in so far. The previous owners smoked. By smoked, I don't mean they lit one after dinner and walked the house, trailing ash. I mean, they didn't have jobs and did nothing but sit inside and light up, pack after pack. (This is via the neighbor, Miss Nelle. I have to introduce you to her soon.) The first week, all I did was wash: walls, floors, windows, bathrooms. I mixed vinegar and Dawn and watched the nicotine come down in heavy brown streaks. The gunk coated every knob, every floor board, every ceiling fan pull, every window. We haven't moved in hardly any furniture yet, and what we have moved in is mostly boxed or shrouded in plastic. 

But anyway. The Front Room. Here's a closer-up of the the woodwork, the built-ins with the two shelves that refused to budge, and the mirror, all taped up and ready to paint:

And let's talk a moment about paint. Oh yes. Let's.

You know how one usually picks paint? You see a color you like (maybe on Pinterest or in a magazine or on a movie or a friend's house), you find a paint swatch or the paint's name, and you go to the store and have it mixed and come home and paint your walls and enjoy it for years.

Ha. Yes. No.

This house HATES paint. It tries to turn everything putty gray. Or purple. Must be the light?

Here are the paint colors I tried:

Revere Pewter (too dark)
Eider White (too pink?)
Glacier White (too stark)
Big Chill (too chilly)
Accessible Beige (really? too blah)

and finally, Incredible White, which I bought 5 gallons of, left with the guys who were painting, and went to the landfill to single-handedly unload a truck load full of disgusting-ness left in the home when we got the key, only to return 3 hours later to find the walls painted VIOLET.

Incredible White? Incredible lavender, more like it. I ran back to Sherwin Williams and grabbed Neutral Ground and ran it back to the painters and swore that even if it came out electric pink, it was staying on the walls because I coudn't spend a single dollar more on paint for the house to reject.
So. The trim and woodwork are painted Westhighland White, and the walls are painted Neutral Ground by Sherwin Williams. So far I love the way the paint looks in the Dining Room when the newly-wired lights are on. During the day with only natural light, it still looks a little pinkish/gray putty to me. But it's staying up. Once furniture, rugs, books, pictures, flowers, and dogs are in the room, it's going to look just right. It will. It just will. Here it is (sort of), as it stands now. Except now I've Kilz'd that awful mosaic thing in front of the fireplace opening on the floor until we can get around to tiling it. Looking forward to that!

Next on the list is the floors. We're going to refinish them in the front three rooms this weekend. They are coated with a film of nicotine, and they were heavily scratched when the folks moved out. More on floor refinishing this week!

So there's a quick run around the front two spaces. Please forgive my mood. I just opened a can of Tea Chest paint to paint the study, and guess what? The house HATES it.

As soon as I put on my shoes, I'm headed back to Sherwin Williams. They seriously know me there now.

Comments? Suggestions? I'm all ears! -Brin

Friday, June 12, 2015


The beginning is the most important part of the work.

So I'm here. I'm here at the new house. It's surreal. I wander down the crooked hallway and through wavy-glass windowed rooms and can hardly believe it. I'm in the new house.

Thank you for your patience these past days as we moved and began the staggering task of... beginning. The most important part of the work. I appreciate you standing by and apologize for the time away.

We moved later than we anticipated, mostly due to the owner not getting herself moved in time. She called me at 1:30AM the night after she was supposed to be out and wailed about a leak in the kitchen and water everywhere. And so it began. We got here the first morning to a puddle standing in the kitchen floor, an air conditioning system that wouldn't work, and several other wonky things- a shattered glass door knob that sliced my hand open, a seeping toilet that soaked hardwood floors, a kitchen faucet that wouldn't give up any water. Needless to say, the first week I managed 5 separate repairmen- plumber, electrician, AC guy, handyman and a painting crew. Oh. And the yard man who goes by Yard Dawg. I think his name is Gene, but everyone calls him the Yard Dawg.

Oh yes. We'll get to all that later.

Since it was so warm and chaotic inside, I kept myself outside as much as possible. There are at least 100 projects out here to tackle anyway. The first thing I focused on was the tangled, listless front flower bed. I'll show you that soon. The second eyesore that begged my attention was the the little shop building at the back of the property.

Above is how the previous owner left it. Here's how it stood after being mostly cleared and ready for makeover:

I think it took me 5 hours, 7 contractor bags, and several wheelbarrow trips to remove all that mess. But look at her now! This little shop will be part my potting shed and part of the wood shop. (It's bigger than it looks- maybe 15' x 20'?) Now I just need some inspiration- what do you see on or along this broad wall? Please do share.

During the excavation of the shop grounds and after a visit from Yard Dawg, I also discovered a stone path. It leads from this west corner of the shop up to the door off the sun porch into the kitchen. I love it. Must show you that soon, as well. You can glimpse a peek in the corner of these photos.

Despite all the mini-emergencies of Dreaded Moving Week, I felt that old familiar feeling again: that house affection that plants itself in your soul and scatters its seed to every part of you. I'm in now, y'all. It's here. It's beginning.

Hope you're ready for this new adventure. 

Have a great weekend, and we'll talk much next week, Lord willing. -Brin