April 23, 2014

patio and more patio

 I've been getting some estimates for our fence, patio, and landscaping and I gotta say, it's tough. I can imagine buildings, homes, interiors, but I have no idea what I'm doing outside. I mean, last summer was the first time in my life that I turned on a lawn mower. I killed a perfectly healthy lilac tree, let pests completely eat the azaleas, and went through more hanging plants than I'd like to admit. With each landscape contractor that comes out to see the work, I get a better grasp on what it is we're actually going to do. I started off with a just a simple rectangular patio in the back of the house, nothing too complicated, nothing too exciting. The more I talked to the contractors, the more I understood how we can use our yard to its full potential. I can honestly say that I'm officially excited about our yard!

I sketched on the plot plan we got from the surveyor to make sure things were somewhat to scale. Our Realtor recommended that we get a survey done of our property borders before we bought the house, and it turned out we owned a 4' fence in the back of the property. 

Pro of owning fence: we can make it pretty
Con of owning fence: we pay to make it pretty

I won't bore anyone with all the patio versions I went through, so here's the final concept:

Here are the existing and future plant bed locations aka dirt and mulch:

Here's what it will look like with all the existing and future plants and shrubs: 

Here's where the patio furniture will go, grill and seating area in back, dining area on side, fire pit near shed: 

And finally, here's who we should/need/must talk to about putting up our new fence: 

The landscape contractors have been so slow getting us estimates, so that's been pretty frustrating. But I think the most difficult thing will be talking to all the neighbors about the fence. We met the two neighbors on the left and right sides, but have never even seen the ones behind our house. I'm thinking it might be awkward knocking on their doors and telling them about the fence, but a note in their mailbox would be just plain rude. 

Speaking of neighbors, do people still come over with cookies to welcome you to the neighborhood? We never got any. I've decided, if someone new moves into a house next to us, I'm going over with cookies.

Here's a general list of things that have to be done along with the landscaping and patio:
- pick out plants, shrubs, hedges
- plant everything
- bury two gutters
- level yard
- fix grass after patio is done
- fix step next to front porch

We have our work cut out for us ...

April 10, 2014

slow bathroom progress

The hallway bathroom is taking forever to complete, but it's okay because I know how (hopefully) awesome it'll look when it's done. The hardest part, the floor, is all finished thanks to my talented brother-in-law. 

Here's what's on the list:

- replace tile floor
- replace tub faucet
- replace sink faucet
- move and replace light
- remove cabinet doors
- baskets for shelves
- longer shower curtain
- hooks for back of door
- pick paint colors
- prime and paint

I keep noticing little details that need to be worked out as I make my way through these changes. A replacement tub faucet has been hard to find since we have two separate handles for hot and cold water and most stores have one control for both. Most major brands don't even make this kind of faucet anymore, so we are limited to looking at the big box stores. We're not ripping out the subway tiles since they were freshly done before the house went up for sale, but I wonder why they weren't done up to the ceiling. 

The towel rack situation was also tricky, because there really wasn't a good place for it. I ended up taking it out and going with towel hooks on the door. Finding the right size baskets and containers for the shelves was a challenge because the space is limited, but Target happened to have matching baskets that fit those awkward shelves. It always looks worse before it gets better, right? I'm not sure what I'm going to do about the curtains yet, whether I take them out, change them, or keep them.

I'm painting the inside of those shelves with Sherwin-Williams Relaxed Khaki, the same color we used in our master bathroom. The rest of the walls will be Sherwin-Williams White Duck; it ties together the dark floor, beige details, and white trim and tile.

I think maybe with a few more rainy days, I'll be able to complete everything. This might actually be the first room that is 100% done!

April 8, 2014

damage a dog can do

I've lived with dogs since I can remember, but I wasn't prepared for this kind of damage.

 Our Mila may be small, but she's very ambitious. Nothing is too large or heavy for her, and no obstacle too difficult. She is fearless, stubborn, and smart, which makes for a scary combination.

I remember we had a black poodle named Bobik when I was very little. Shoes were his delicacy. Our childhood dog, Saba #1, was very well trained and never got into anything. When we came to the United States we got Saba #2 (yes, and there's actually a total of three Sabas now). Her choice was laundry, preferably dirty, but she didn't discriminate. She stopped chewing things as she got older and is still the perfect dog, even at almost 14. We could deal, all it took was putting away our shoes and laundry and we were in the clear with all our dogs.

Mila on the other hand, she'll try a little bit of everything. She's into wood one day, wicker the next, leather shoes (only expensive ones, she has standards), laundry on laundry days, trash when it's available, plants when they're freshly watered, and books, because she likes to read when we're not home. 

Update: The picture above is the leaning Sloane bookshelf from Crate & Barrel. This color is discontinued but I was able to get replacement shelves for $25! Yesss!

I didn't get a picture of the shoe basket after it was destroyed, but let's just say there was very little basket left. The new one I got from HomeGoods is metal, so she moved on to other things.

I got a bitter spray but the moment I use it, she moves on to something new. We kept her in the kitchen and put a gate up everyday, but she started escaping and I began noticing some teeth marks on the cabinets. Baskets and books are easier to replace than our kitchen cabinets, so we gave her the run of the house. I know there are dogs that can do much worse, but I think her tiny size threw us off. How can something so little and cute do so much damage? Here's to hoping she grows out of this chewing phase ... please let this be a phase.

Sorry she's not sorry.

April 2, 2014

landscaping, patio, or fence

So here's the deal, this winter has been seriously brutal. It got into record books as the second snowiest winter, and they've been updating those books since 1884. Let me also say that 2010 has a hold on number one, which is only four years ago. This means that my want to have an awesome yard for the spring, summer, and fall months is really a need. It's now April and I haven't done anything house related in what feels like forever. That to-do list is starting to make me cringe.

Since being outside is a priority for us right now, we started to think about our yard and what we could do. While our house may be imperfect and incomplete, it's still looking a lot like home to us. Our yard on the other hand ... it's not home at all. There's giant spiders living in our patchy grass, we have no patio to hang out on, and we have no privacy in our side yard. Everything is really under-cooked and needs some major TLC.

This year we want to get one or two projects done: landscaping, patio, and/or fence. In a perfect world, we'd get it all done at once, but these things are labor intensive and very expensive. A year ago the husband thought we'd do all the heavy lifting ourselves, but he quickly realized how backbreaking landscaping is. He and my brother-in-law took out a bunch of shrubs around our house this summer, and let's just say ... never again.

Here's our pleasant patio: overhead wires, dirt patches, overgrown shrubs, trash cans. Paradise.

Here's what I think:

Here's what it could be:

That's Photoshopped if you can't tell, and that table is not to scale. Joking, joking. Obviously the fence would have some texture, the umbrella would have to be reconsidered because of overhead wires, and we'd place some large pots with tall plants along the house and fence. One of the landscapers said this space reminds her of a cute and cozy back patio you'd find behind a Philly row home. I love that!

Trying to make sense of our awkwardly shaped side yard is also a huge challenge. We thought we would put up a fence around the entire yard, but I found out that we'd have to apply for a zoning ordinance. Our yard is not a true corner lot so we'd need a 30' setback. That's ridiculous. Between the lot shape, the slopes, the existing plants, and the pests eating our shrubs, I realized how little I know about landscaping.

We'll remove the grass near our shed and the shrub at our porch:

Here's a privacy hedge I initially thought would work (Emerald Green Arborvitae):

Here's a more natural looking privacy hedge (Viburnum) that the landscaper suggested:

All this is way over my head so we'll need to really trust the landscapers. That also means we'll need landscapers with some imagination and knowledge ... and probably spend some more money. Tackling this project piece by piece makes the most sense in this order:

1. fence
2. hardscaping
3. landscaping

After doing some online research and seeing what people spend on their landscaping, it seems prices are all over the place ranging from $1,000-$100,000. There are many variables, so we're getting three quotes that are broken into the three categories (fence, hardscaping, landscaping). And no, we're not spending $100,000 on landscaping, that's just crazy.

Getting excited! Can't wait for barbecues and fire pit s'mores!

March 5, 2014

a doxiepoo and allergies

 This post is about our fluffy new dog, Mila, and what we did when the husband's allergy doctor said 'you should never get dog, ever'.

Getting a dog was a huge deal for me and the husband, but for two completely different reasons. I grew up with dogs and I wanted to have one eventually, but the husband is very allergic and was obviously not as convinced. After a lot of discussions we decided to do a test run and either foster a dog or adopt a really low-shedding one and make sure the rescue would accept it if things didn't work out.

We realized it's difficult to find low-shedding breeds that need a home nearby. Most were Shepard and Pit-Bull mixes and most rescues refused to consider us because we don't have a fenced yard. I get the fence thing, but it's an unfair requirement and I still get angry about it. Anyway, one day sometime before Christmas, I got a call from my previous boss who told me his wife had rescued a dog from an abandoned house in Camden. The dog had everything we were looking for, female, young, small, and seemed to be a low-shedding poodle mix. The next morning, we drove to meet the dog and took her home with us, it was meant to be! She had been in a crate for days without food or water and her fur was knotted ... it was heartbreaking to see such a cute little dog abandoned.

She obviously needed a haircut and a good bath. I knew it would be a pretty short cut but I wondered what she would look like when it grew out a bit. I googled 'poodle grooming' and found some pretty hilarious cuts:


I don't know, I'm loving 'Cupcake'! I told the groomer to keep it short since she had a lot of knots, and to keep the ears a little longer so she doesn't look too shaved down. Here she is after a fresh wash and cut:

Now that she's not a huge fuzzball, we think she's a 10-month old Dachshund-Poodle mix, a.k.a. Doxiepoo or Doodle. We both obviously fell in love, but the husband's allergies were still the main concern.

What we did:
- The husband has been getting allergy shots and continues to get them.
- Got a heavy duty air purifier for our first floor and leave it on 24/7.
- Got a Dyson and make sure to vacuum at least once a week.
- Dust and swiffer all hard surfaces about twice a week.
- Didn't allow Mila upstairs, which is carpeted, for the first month.
- I wash her once every 2-3 weeks and brush her once a week outside.
- Slowly introduced her to the upstairs, from minutes to hours at a time.
- Eventually moved her crate upstairs to sleep overnight.

The results: 
- The husband went from constantly using his inhaler the first two weeks to not needing it at all.
- He avoided holding her in the first month and now can hold her with no reaction.
- She is in her crate overnight in our room and the husband has no allergic reaction.
- If she licks his hand he gets a rash, so he makes sure to wash his hands.

We did everything we could to keep the dander to a minimum and our efforts weren't for nothing. I did a lot of research and was hopeful, but I'm still really amazed how quickly the husband was able to hold her and not have an allergic reaction. We're glad we proved the doctor wrong, because neither of us would even consider giving up Mila now. It may be pretty cliche, but having a dog has taught us a lot. We knew it would be a huge responsibility, we can't just go do whatever we want, whenever we want because she needs to be fed and walked, so we're definitely learning a lesson in selflessness. I also noticed some really great things, like spending a lot more time outside going on walks, always keeping our home tidy since she likes to chew things, and personally, learning to not take life so seriously. She chewed up my fav boots? Oh well stuff happens, Nordstrom will take them back. While I learned to chill out, the husband learned that he actually loves dogs (or maybe it's just our dog).

How can you not love seeing this face every day?
(And here's a bad phone pic of her most recent hair style ... yes, she's as fluffy as she looks.)

February 12, 2014

kitchen reno lessons continued

I wanted to finish off the list of things we learned during our kitchen renovation. As insignificant as some of these points may seem, they felt like huge decisions that we needed to research. And as easy as it may be to make design decisions for someone else, it's really difficult when you are your own client. It's a whole different game when it's your money on the line, and every little detail becomes a huge project. So as promised, here's the second part of our kitchen lessons list (and here's a link to the first part):

10. Sink Pulls or No Sink Pulls

Lesson: There's no right or wrong choice.

Our stainless steel sink was included with our counters so we never really thought about choosing a farmhouse sink, kind of like this:


Speaking of old-timey sinks, I have friends who had an old fireclay sink (thanks google) in their rowhome, and glass shattered in it almost daily. Apron sinks are kind of trend right now, and they're really beautiful, but a little research will tell you they're really unforgiving when it comes to glass. Anyway, since we went with a regular stainless steel sink, we weren't sure whether or not to add knobs on the cabinet front. The panel in front of the sink is not functional so the knobs are useless, and I found an equal amount of examples with knobs and without knobs ... so, we just chose what we liked better.

11. Precious Space

Lesson: Take advantage of every opportunity for storage and measure your appliances.

We are really limited on space, so making use of every little corner was necessary. One overlooked area is the space above the refrigerator. Cabinets are not built to match refrigerator depths and heights, so we actually had to pick out and buy a fridge before we chose the wall cabinet above it. What you don't see is that it's actually built-out because there was no cabinet depth that matched our huge refrigerator. The cabinet above the fridge is amazing ... it holds all kinds of things that aren't used daily, like a roasting pan, fancy napkins, place mats, etc.

12. Convenient Shelving
Lesson: Fancy drawers are worth it.

Those pull-out shelves? They were well over $100 each, but were they worth it? Absolutely! When it came to convenient shelving, I knew it had to be done. The way I see it, you cook every day (in a perfect world ...) so you'll need to hunt for pots, pans, and lids everyday. I'm all for organization so this was a total no-brainer, I can find everything fast and don't have to reach far into the cabinet for anything (which is a win since I already need to climb the counter for the top shelves).

The above example of convenient shelving proves that anything is possible. We were told by two of the contractors that we couldn't do a half pull-out shelf because there was no space. They both wanted us to upgrade the corner to some crazy shelving that would pull out some crazy way, and of course, cost more than twice as much. Well, the contractor we went with did a little tweaking, he moved the oven a tad to the left and voila, we have a half pull-out shelf. Our corner is not wasted!

13. Slow Closure

Lesson: It's nice to have, but not necessary like everyone says it is.

We kept hearing from everyone that we must get the slow-close hardware on our drawers and cabinet doors. Here's my opinion, it's pretty cool, I can slam everything shut and it won't make noise, but does it improve the function of our kitchen? No. It just makes it quieter. We like the slow close, everyone's impressed by it, but really, it's not that special.

14. Counter Seams
Lesson: There will be seams and typically they won't be obvious, especially with quartz.

Most kitchen counters will need seams somewhere so that the stone doesn't crack. Usually it'll be around the sink since that's the thinnest and weakest spot. We chose quartz so the seam is not as obvious as it may be with granite, but either way, it's not a big deal. Seams don't take away from the look of a counter and sometimes they actually add some interest, like this butcher block:

domestic imperfection

15. Floors
Lesson: There are infinite options, choose what speaks to you.

The floor was the easiest choice for us, we saw it, loved it, and ordered it on the spot. However, we did look into other options before deciding on porcelain tiles. I did research on cork floors, wood floors, bamboo floors, and finally tile floors. There were pros and cons to everything, but ultimately, we chose tiles because they were easy to clean and basically water proof. We thought about adding radiant floor heating, which would have been easy (the contractor claimed), but we opted not to. I'll admit, it would have been nice to have that in the winter, but it's really not a necessity.

16. Trash and Recycling
Lesson: Make sure you know the size of the food disposal.

We were going to put our trash under the sink, but realized that the food disposal was way too big for anything else to fit. We worked with what we had and added a low bin for recycling, which ended up making life a lot easier. On a side note, Ikea has nice recycling bins that stack, unfortunately they don't fit under our sink.

17. Cabinet to Ceiling Transition
Lesson: The molding doesn't have to be flush with the ceiling.

I know some people like the molding to hit the ceiling, but in our case, we decided on a 'shadow line'. Our ceiling is not even, which is pretty common in old homes, so it would be a huge effort to make it flush. One contractor said his labor fee was high because it included things like replacing the ceiling to make it even ... um no. That's the beauty of our home, crooked ceilings, slanted floors, and cracked plaster walls. This is really a personal preference, but I don't mind a 'shadow line'.

18. Island or No Island
Lesson: If there's space, absolutely. If it's a little tight, get a small island!

I'm obsessed with kitchen islands, they're amazing. I don't care how big or small, they are all so incredibly useful. Yes, they take up space and it's really obvious when there's more than two people crammed in our kitchen, but I still wouldn't give up having an island. It's my go-to when I unload groceries or the dishwasher, it's where I chop things and make dough, it's just perfect.

A very short list of what I'd do differently: 

- I would paint right after kitchen was complete, because at this rate, it'll never get done.
- I would change the exterior door during the reno to avoid awkward gaps between the tiles and door jamb.
- I would caulk between the backsplash and counter instead of just grouting.
- I would skim through the appliance manuals right away, because there's features I didn't know about.

February 7, 2014

new island counter

My parents have always been huge fans of renovations and they see huge potential in literally everything. And this is where I realize that I'm more like my parents than I ever thought. They were one of the main reasons I started this whole blog thing, so they could be in the loop on our plans, progress, and finished projects. Even though they have tons of great suggestions, we update things as we have time and money, so it's been slow following up on their visions. The one thing both my mom and dad kept insisting was that we add a hard surface to our Ikea kitchen cart. I put it on the bottom of our list since I felt we had other projects I'd like to finish first. 

I actually liked that the cart was all wood and all one color, but it wasn't useful as additional counter space. The wooden top is porous and very soft, so I didn't use it often. It just so happened that my dad was getting some things delivered from Poland, so he figured he could order a slab and ship it along with everything else he was already getting. I gave him the measurements of the wooden top and thought the slab could have a cutout to fit over the cart instead of permanently gluing it. He sent me the website of the manufacturer and I picked out a few options that I liked. My dad ordered two, one that I picked out, a light marble, and one he picked out, a gray quartz. To my huge surprise, I like his pick better! It has a more uniform look, like our existing quartz, and the gray ties in our stainless steel appliances. Since it fits over the wooden top, we can take it off or switch it out with the lighter marble top. It may sound crazy to order such a small piece of quartz from Poland, but it's actually a lot cheaper and the quality is amazing. Plus my dad offered, so why not?

It's so convenient that I find myself using it every time I cook, it's not just extra space for when I unload the dishwasher or groceries. Before, cleaning was a pain, paper towels would shred on the rough wood and drinks would leave rings. Now, it's as easy to care for as our existing quartz counters. 

I also wanted to mention a little trash update we did, since it's right next to the cart. We had a plastic narrow trash can before that was fine but kind of annoying to open. When we added little Mila to our family, this trash can became problem. She quickly realized that if she attacked the trash can, it would fall over and she could have fun with all the awesome things we threw away. 

So we got a new one! I got it at Bed Bath & Beyond and it was expensive, but luckily it was a floor model and I had a coupon. 

So thanks to my parents, we have an awesome cart with a pretty counter! Now we're just hoping the little one doesn't figure out a way to knock over this trash can ...