Category Archives: home improvement

tall or short?


Hey all, I’m doing a survey. I’m trying to gussy up my craft room a bit, which includes getting a new table. The question is, do I want a regular table or something counter height? Would it give my back a bit of a break if I’m standing at a counter or sitting at a table? Lower tables are easier to come by, but higher tables are kind of nice. HELP!

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let there be (recessed) light

The electricians finished today. Normally having your house rewired is one of those absurdly expensive undertakings with almost no visible reward except for the comfort of knowing that your house probably won’t burn down now due to electrical malfunctions in your 100+ year old wiring. However, when we got the estimate, the electrician recommended having recessed lights installed in the living room and dining room. I was hesitant at first, and not just because he was trying to upsell a project that would add another 30% to the bill. I have definitely felt like the first floor tends to feel like a dank and drab pit, but putting in recessed lighting just felt like such a can of worms. I’m gonna be perfectly honest, sometimes working on this house feels like putting lipstick on a pig. When you’re trying not to do a complete gut job, it’s really tough to know how much to do before the house starts to feel incongruous. Like super modern stainless steel kitchen + dinged up molding with nine layers of paint and uneven walls isn’t terribly appealing. Yes, that looks fabulous in magazines, not so much in my own house. So I felt like recessed lighting was just going to draw attention to the fact that the rest of the house looks like crap. Ok, so I’m being a tad unfair. But it just seemed like a modern feature that would feel out of place among the hodgepodge.

Still, Bill the electrician insisted that I think about it, that it would actually probably make the room feel bigger and the ceilings feel higher, and would add to the charm without overshadowing it. Bill’s a good salesman. But to his point, they were poking a bunch of holes in everything, so why not poke some more.

SO we did it. And you know what? It is AMAZING. I never knew lighting could make me feel this way. The first floor now feels open and airy and fancy. I finally feel like I’m living in a big girl house. Not to mention we now have something to show for that humungous check we wrote.



Dining room lighting - after

I wish I knew how to take photos that would give you all a sense of the difference, but I did my best here. I guess you’ll all just have to come to the party. Yes Leann, we’re having a party! Spring Fling in late May – pencil us in. That should give us *just* about enough time to clean up the plaster dust.

guest room: before and after

Before the holidays we had our contractor do some work on our bathroom and guest room, so I should probably catch up on that.

As I look back at the old photos I took when we first set up the guest room, they *almost* make it look not terrible. That is, until you see the close-up shots. But we knew eventually we’d have to rewire the electric, replace the light, and do some serious patching. We spent what felt like ages working on spackling, sanding and painting, but in the end it just never looked right, I really hated the color we chose, the map was just a bit too much for such a small room, and a roof leak ultimately gave us the excuse we needed to get the work done.




Guest room - before

Guest room - before

Guest room - before

Guest room - before

Guest room - before

Guest room - before

Our contractor rewired the room (oh the endless saga of knob and tube wiring), skim coated the walls to make them all nice, put new trim around the windows and baseboards along the floors, removed the monstrosity of a built-in air conditioner, and hung a ceiling fan.


guest room after

guest room after

It’s not quite a done deal – it still needs some things hung on the wall, a dresser for storage, and some new curtains. The computer station is a temporary thing, necessitated by the fact that both Greg and I worked from home after the snow storm last week and would have been throwing elbows in the office together. Although I must say, there is something about having a simple and clean computer set up that is so much more conducive to constructive computing than the state of chaos that our office is currently in.

Overall I love the room. I love the color and the lack of clutter – it feels very fresh and relaxing. Now if only we could figure out how to make the rest of the house feel this way.

the good, the bad and the ugly

I have a confession to make.  I HATE my craft room.  Hate it.  It makes me really not want to craft.  It’s a constant disorganized mess.  It doesn’t feel comfortable or welcoming or conducive to creativity. 

Let’s dissect things, shall we?

1. I just have way too much crap, which is sort of ironic because I seem to have mountains of supplies but never what I need at that moment.  

2. I never painted the trim, and it’s just a grimy mess.  Not to mention this crazy situation happening around the window: 

3. I’ve had a giant half-dead plant hanging around up there for ages that just doesn’t want to die.  Dead plants are bad feng shui.  

4. I have this wall of bookshelves for storage, but I’ve never been able to find the right kinds of storage boxes to put things in.  I also just can’t seem to find the right method for grouping things together:


5. I have this old Ikea dining table in the middle, which is a decent size but a little wobbly and, I don’t know, just not a great table for crafting. I also have additional boxes of crap sitting under the table – clothes that don’t fit “yet”, clothes that I’ve told myself I’m going to alter into something else, clothes that need to be mended, empty photo albums, random craft supplies I’ve inherited.  It means that putting the chair under the table doesn’t work so well, and it also means that tumbleweeds of dust and animal hair accumulate around the boxes:

6. I have the old Klackbo chair, which I do really like, and I thought I’d keep it up here as a comfy reading chair, but let’s face it, rather than reading in it, I just use it to stack piles of transient crap that have no home, including stuff from my old desk at work, mail that needs to be filed, and a box of old papers underneath that need to be filed or shredded or something:

7. I have this closet that goes way back into inaccessible crevices, and that I haven’t really found the proper storage solution for.  Right now it’s full of things that won’t fit anywhere else, stuff from the wedding, old wrapping paper, etc:

8. It might also have to do with the fact that it’s a located on the generally unpleasant third floor, where the walls are unpainted, the office is a disaster, the hallway is strewn with unhung artwork that I don’t even like anymore, and the ugly linoleum floor is peppered with dust bunnies, stray kitty litter and cat food bits:

9. I think honestly one of my biggest problems is that I just don’t do enough crafting to use up any of these supplies that I keep accumulating.  But again, I don’t really do enough crafting because my craft room isn’t conducive to crafting.  But it’s not conducive to crafting because it’s too full of crap because I don’t do enough crafting to get rid of the crap.   AAAGGGHHHH!!!!

Ok, so here’s what I *do* like about it:

I like the wall color I picked, a nice fresh minty green.  And of course it would look more fresh if I painted the trim a nice fresh white.  I like the shelves, because they’re not too high so they don’t overwhelm the room.  But that’s pretty much it.  

Any ideas folks?  I could really use your help on this one.  How do I make this tiny room into a more comfortable, inviting and productive space?

The 2011 Challenge

Folks, the Passyunk Palace weighs on my mind in a lot of ways. I know that a home is a constantly evolving thing that can never truly be considered “finished”. I’m ok with that, and if it were I’d probably get very bored very quickly. My problem is that in the three and a half years since we’ve moved in, I have never felt that the house has even reached a good jumping-off point for changes. Yes, we’ve had a lot of things done to the house, but they’re still half done. So for example, we had a contractor remodel the guest room and bathroom, but we haven’t done much since then other than slap a coat of paint on the walls. We spent a fortune having the kitchen redone and I don’t even have a curtain in the window. I feel like we’re still in the remodeling phase and I can’t even feel comfortable transitioning to the real “decorating” phase. As a result I have all sorts of ideas floating around that I can’t explore yet, and the house doesn’t really feel like home.

Added to this is the general feeling that I’ve been losing focus in the past few months. My days don’t really add up to anything and I don’t really feel like I’ve accomplished anything in quite a long time. Most nights I come home from work, make dinner, maybe do some reading or watch a movie, maybe vacuum or dust, but my weeks sort of pass by and in the end I feel like I can’t even say what it is of any real value that I’ve accomplished in that time.

So, what is to be done about this? Well I’ve decided that to get myself focused and back into the game, I’m setting a challenge for ourselves: Greg and I must finish everything on the house to-do list by the first day of summer, June 22nd 2011! (Do you like the way I’ve included Greg on this, despite the fact that it’s me who feels unfocused?) I think an official challenge like this might reinvigorate me to get things done in the new year, and a deadline (that I will blog our progress toward, of course) is the perfect clincher.

So this leaves us with about 21 weeks to complete the following list. At which point I can change my focus over to the more fun details of frivolous decorating (and re-doing things I wind up not liking). Not too bad, presuming we can quit our whining and get off our asses. Oh, and maybe as added incentive, we’ll have a big party when it’s finished!

Here’s our updated to-do list:

Living Room
new tv & stereo stand
– strip and repaint fireplace
new armchair
– paint ceiling trim
– paint front window frame
– paint and add legs to record storage

Dining Room
paint walls
– new sideboard
new windows
– frost windows
light fixture
– paint hutch
– skim coat walls
– repaint
– new rug
– new basement door

gut completely and new everything!
radiant floor heat
new floor
new drywall
brick up north window
new ceiling
open up archway
new cabinets
subway tile backsplash
paint walls
paint trim
paint door
stain outside of door
– shelf in window
– curtain
– artwork
– mug storage
– reseal counter tops
– touch up paint

Front Entrance/Vestibule
table for mail, keys, etc
– paint entryway table
– hooks for coats
– retile
– paint/wallpaper vestibule

scrape wallpaper
– spackle holes from wiring
light fixtures
– paint walls
– paint stairs
– table at top of 3rd floor
– new shelves/table in 2nd floor hallway
– 3rd floor hallway curtain

Powder Room
– wallpaper
– new floor
– new door

– shelves in closet
new windows
quarter round
– new door
– artwork over bed

Dressing Room (now closet)
scrape wallpaper
quarter round
new window
rewire light fixture
– dresser situation
new doors
– get rid of door
– accessories storage

Laundry Room
– more storage boxes
– curtains
– artwork

Guest Room
empty out boxes
rewire light fixture
quarter round
sand walls
new windows
– new door
new outlets
get rid of old wall air conditioner
– dresser
– artwork

remove/replace paneling
vanity & sink
– shelves
new medicine cabinet
new window
– new door
rewire light
– paint trim
– hang shelf
– artwork
– shower curtain
– curtain
– touch up tub

wall shelves
shelves in closet
quarter round
– re-hang door
more storage
new windows
– add more outlets
– get rid of crap
– touch up paint
– hang artwork
– better closet storage
– new filing cabinet
– get rid of old computer
– paint small storage dressers
– new curtains

Craft Studio
scrub floor
paint closet
put up shelves
new window
– paint trim
– new trim around window?
– closet storage
– better storage boxes
– new desk/table
– big pinboard
– curtains

paint cinderblock
trellis for privacy
– new gate door

Everywhere Else
– house numbers
fix wood piece alongside 2nd floor roof
replace stack pipe
– get rid of old washer and dryer
– clean and reorganize basement
– new storm door
– new front door/paint front door
– paint trim around front entryway

What do you think? Are we up to the challenge?

another nail through my wall

After 3+ years of living here, I still feel like I haven’t entered the “decorating” phase of home renovation. Why is that? Even though many of the rooms are for the most part “done”, we haven’t done much with them beyond the painting phase. Although maybe the issue is that as soon as we get a room painted and “finished” it proceeds to collect mountains of homeless crap and in the end I’d rather just close the door on it. And there’s also that dreaded feeling of messing with the plaster, it feels so permanent. But sometimes you gotta just take the bull by the horns and put a few holes in the wall. I was cleaning the bedroom today and for the fiftieth time had to vacuum around the two paint-by-numbers sitting on the floor and I thought, dammit, I’m just going to hang these up. They didn’t come out perfectly (I hung them too high – classic decorating mistake) but they’re just two tiny holes that we can patch up later. For now at least I got them out of harm’s way AND filled up that giant space on the bedroom wall.

paint by numbers in the bedroom

a laundry list of things to do

We’ve got a big new project brewing that is going to change our lives forever! And no, it’s not a baby.

On the second floor we have this middle bedroom that we’re currently using as a “dressing room”. We have some dressers, a couple of clothes racks, and a whoooooole lotta dust and general grossness. I hate that room. I prefer to pretend it doesn’t exist and spend as little time in there as humanly possible. The paint is peeling, the walls are crumbling, the lighting is terrible, and there’s a gaggle of dust bunnies in any given corner at any given time, regardless of how often I vacuum. It’s one of those rooms where if you drop an item of clothing on the floor, it needs to be shaken out rigorously to get the dust and animal hair off it. Or really it needs to be thrown back in the laundry, which brings us to our second problem.

The washer and dryer are in our even grosser basement. There is no five-second rule for dropping something on the floor down there. If you should happen to let a pair of undies slip through your arms on their way to the dryer, just give it up, they’re goners. On top of the general unpleasantness of doing laundry in the basement, our dryer broke a few months ago, which means everything gets line-dried. Our towels are crispy, our sheets take two days to dry, and underwear really just never snaps back to its original form, leading to an inordinate amount of wedgies, and even once dry, our clothes smell like a gnarly basement. On top of which at this point, I’m convinced the washer doesn’t really wash anymore, so the dog and cat hair remains embedded in every fiber of every garment we own, and everything smells vaguely like moldy water. It’s really a sad state of affairs at the Passyunk Palace.

We’ve had the idea for a while now to convert the “dressing room” into a laundry room/linen closet/walk-in-closet dealie. The dryer issue has sealed the deal and made us speed up our plans. Since the room has two doors – one that goes in from the hallway, and one that goes in from the bedroom, we’re going to split the room in half and have one side be a walk-in closet for the bedroom, and the other side be a laundry room and linen closet from the hallway.

I have very high hopes for this project. In addition to being able to conveniently and thoroughly clean our clothes, the closets are going to open up a whole new world of storage possibility. I’ve been daydreaming about things like having shelves full of neatly folded stacks of sheets, rubbermaid bins full of extra blankets and pillows, boxes of off-season clothes, hanging space for winter coats, a permanent home for the vacuum, and a shelf full of extra toiletries. For once in my life, I’ll be able to buy a 12-pack of toilet paper!! And yes, I realize I should be a little concerned over feeling so happy about 12 packs of toilet paper. The upshot is that we will be finally getting closer to cleaning up the house – having a place for everything and everything in its place. Because right now we don’t have a place for anything, and everything is just hanging out in plain sight. And it’s making me crazy.

So consider yourself among the privileged few to see the “before” shots, as this room is the biggest embarrassment of the house and is normally off limits to visitors:

laundry room - before

laundry room - before

laundry room - before

laundry room - before

laundry room - before

laundry room - before

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one step at a time

Hey, did I mention that we (sort of) painted the stairs??? It still needs a good deal of touching up, but that will have to wait until after the holidays. At least now I don’t feel like it’s a giant eyesore in the middle of the living room. When we started out prepping, we were taping up, and we stopped and were both silent for a minute, and Greg said, “I can’t BELIEVE we didn’t have Henry Sanding Floor [our floor sanding guy] do this.” Which was word for word *exactly* what I had been thinking at that same moment.


staircase - before

staircase - before

staircase - before


staircase - after!

staircase - after!


oh sweet completion

Bedroom: done! And just in time for a weekend visit from my brother and his family. There’s nothing like having overnight guests to get your ass in gear with the house. Although it was stressful toward the end when we were quickly running out of time, now we can sit back, relax and enjoy our lovely new bedroom. I wish these pictures came out better, but we’re hard put to find a sunny day in Philadelphia these days.

The room isn’t actually 100% done, but it’s mostly set. All that’s left is putting shelves in the closet, new curtains, and a rug. Oh, and replacing those ugly doors, but that’s a slightly bigger project.

I dare say that this was the smoothest experience we’ve had with the house. We took our time, did everything about as properly as possible, and didn’t settle for a color we didn’t like, even after painting almost an entire coat. We completely emptied out the room and covered the entire floor with plastic – a much better method than trying to work around the bed and hopping from one piece of plastic to another, spilling big globs of paint in between. Granted, it feels like it’s taken forever, but I think it’s worth it in the end.

And now a well-deserved rest this weekend.

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another day in the office

Well, I am considering the office about 96% done at this point. There are some small straggling tasks, like hanging artwork on the blue wall, but we need to figure out a frame situation for some of our prints first. For now at least, it feels like the most complete room in the house, and lying on the tiny couch yesterday afternoon drinking a beer and listening to the hail storm was quite pleasant.
Also I should note that this marks the first time we’ve intentionally hung something on a new nail instead of just haphazardly sticking something on a pre-existing hook or propping it up against a wall. It feels like such progress!

Wallpapered the closet, although I’m still not entirely satisfied by the boxes we bought to go in the closet, which still don’t quite fit:

Organized the book shelf:

We purchased this tiny couch from Ikea, because it fit nicely in the room, folds out into a bed, and Greg has a fascination with tiny things.

Another thing we still need to do is move our nicer newer Mac computer up into the office, but first I need to try to convince Greg that it’s time to get rid of the Dell. Greg is sentimental about very strange things, like shoeboxes and boogie board shirts from when he was 12, and apparently computers. He’s holding onto this thing despite the fact that it takes twenty minutes to open iTunes, ten minutes to load up a web page, and an hour to shut down. I’m only exaggerating a tiny bit. All of this added to my most hated thing, this undulating sea of snarled wires:

Sometimes I swear I’m willing to deal with the health effects of having countless wireless laser beams shooting through my brain just for the sake of getting rid of all of the cumbersome and unsightly wires in my life.

So here’s the list:

finish installing quarter round
prime trim
paint trim and doors
touch up paint mistakes
wallpaper closet
buy rug
– put other computer in there
– hang artwork [partially done]
clean and rearrange bookshelves
– new curtains