March 30th, 2010 §
So I took two days and headed back to northern Virginia to take a break from the house and the mounting pressures of my other, actual job. And you thought all I did was work on this house! HA! As if. I just wanted to be alone, to not talk to anyone about anything more complicated than whether I wanted tripe or tendon in my pho, a brief conversation I don’t have the luxury of in my now decidedly rural province.
Northern Virginia was, perhaps, an ill-conceived place to seek relaxation. As soon as I got on home ground, I wanted to keep riding right up Arlington Boulevard to my crappy old apartment, I-66 traffic and Metro terrorists and screaming Moroccan babies be damned, where I had my cozy nest and friends around the corner and awesome Mediterranean food right outside my door. And art museums. God, I miss my favorite painting at the National Gallery.
I hate how this house has become the focus of my life, and apparently the only thing I can talk about. I am like someone who has a kid and only talks about babies, only my baby won’t grow up to properly dispose of me in a nursing home. Which may or may not be a bad thing, now that I think about it. Regardless how my mortal husk ends up, if anything this project has shown me how ill-equipped I am to handle the sustained stress that comes with trying to do anything big. I thought this would be something I could manage, that I had subjected myself to and weathered enough change that I could sail through this challenge, but I was sorely naive and falsely confident. It was too much, and too long, and I failed miserably to protect myself with what I know works: the social support of friends, exercise, a diet that agrees with my body and an insulating barrier of blessed silence.
There are supposedly six weeks left in this project. I have never been so exhausted in my life.
March 24th, 2010 §
Kitchen cabinets went in over the last three days. This is all there will be. Open shelves will go to the right of the window over the sink and perhaps to the right of the vent hood, depending on whether I like the look. I like the idea of my headspace being open and free. It’s going to take some serious planning to get my extensive collection of cookware and dishes into this system, along with all the crazy exotic foods I like to collect, but I am hoping that I will be able to do it! There will also be pantry space in the laundry room and into a little built-in cupboard in the hallway to the left of the photo above.
Many of the base cabinets are drawers instead of shelves, and I hope this will make their contents more accessible.
I can’t wait to see what it looks like with the beams uncovered and the hardwood floors let out from underneath their protective papering. Speaking of hardwood, flooring is finished on the first floor and the action has moved upstairs.
Master bath. With new tile—I don’t think I ever got around to doing a post on that. Probably for the best as I’ve asked my builder to redo the niches four times and they still aren’t the way I want them!
Master bedroom looking a bit like a beautiful lumberyard! And on that note, I leave you with some of the first signs of spring at the farm: a rapidly greening pasture and the flowering quince by the mailbox:
This is a huge old bush, and it was mostly obscured by rampant honeysuckle vines until one day last summer when I took after it with my clippers. It took many tractor buckets full of vines to cut the quince free. Honeysuckle is notoriously hard to eradicate, but I have been keeping a close eye on this quince and am ready to spring into attack mode should it rear its tendrils again. I could tell that the quince was thrilled—shortly after I hacked away the honeysuckle, it shot up with new leaves even though it was almost fall. It will be interesting to see if it fills in a bit this summer now that light can reach its interior…or whether I will have to do more extensive pruning to help refine its shape.
March 17th, 2010 §
Oh happy day to arrive at the house to see this sign on my front door, courtesy of my builder. The hardwood floor installation began yesterday.
When I walked in the house last night, I loved it immediately. Like couldn’t stop looking at it loved it.
I picked a mix of random-width (2″, 3″and 4″) red and white oak, #2 (character) grade. That means it’s got knotholes and wormholes and darker staining and random colors and grain patterns, including beautiful tiger and bird’s-eye designs. Each board is unique and they are all beautiful.
The plan is to run the hardwood absolutely everywhere in the house, including the kitchen and bathrooms. I wanted the floor to create a sense of flow and openness in a pretty small house, and I didn’t want jarring disconnects between spaces with different flooring. When it is all installed, I plan to finish it with a German oil/wax product that’s big in Europe (Pallmann Magic Oil) that will impart a very, very subtle white liming effect to the wood to just highlight some of the grain. It’s also nontoxic, unlike traditional stinky polyurethane.
Next up—the rest of the house, including the kitchen. Cabinets are set to be delivered tomorrow, to join the growing stash in the garage:
March 11th, 2010 §
Drove up to the house late tonight in the warm dark rain. Toads of all sizes hopped in my headlights and I wove to avoid the stiff-shouldered crawlers and the spread-eagled splat. It was an amphibian slalom for my shock-worn death wagon.
On the porch, in the moist pitch dark, their voices rose around me. I have not heard that sound in oh so long.
I think every toad in the county was on the road tonight. I started counting but I ran out of numbers. Little tiny ones that mirrored raindrops when they jumped and big orange ones the color of the mud from which they crawled. Where are they all going, these squat, hormone-driven, headlight-facing little creatures compelled out of the snow and into the spring?
March 8th, 2010 §
Unexpectedly, picking paint colors was one of the most maddening tasks of this whole construction project. First there was the expectation. I have waited my whole life for walls of my own and I love paint colors, so naturally the concept of narrowing an entire paint deck down to three or four shades was close to torture. Then to chose colors for an entire house without ever living in it, and without having much furniture around which to build a color theme, compounded the agony. Add to that the open-concept plan of the house, with one room running into another and many rooms visible from multiple doorways. Toss in the prospect of making a five-figure mistake. Then the painters labored at the first coat while I was at work, and I’d show up in the evenings to find whole rooms done before I could call time-out. The deck was stacked against me from the get-go. I was so anxious about the painting that I slept fitfully for two weeks, entering my foyer again and again in a half-awake dream state to find my beautiful house ruined by poor color choices.
And so it should come as no surprise that I flamed out on this task. My favorite color, a dark coral, looked so garish in the laundry room that I wanted to commit murder the instant I saw it. The pale gold that is so lovely in my office under incandescent light became a vomitous lemon yellow in my sun-flooded library. And in my master bathroom. And in the guest bathroom. I chose a lovely gray blue for the kitchen walls before I went back to my file of hundreds of inspiration images to find that what I really liked was a white kitchen. In fact, the homes that I am most drawn to are relatively neutral, in order to provide clean backdrops for beautiful art and textiles and lots of rustic natural wood.
So I called in reinforcements in the form of my first house visitor, my mom’s friend Roseanne. With Roseanne’s home decor expertise we evaluated more paint colors and I presented an amended plan to my painters. And the results of this second try, I am happy to report, turned out just fine. And, if I get in the house and decide I don’t like the wall colors, what my mom has been saying for weeks is true:
It’s just paint.
(But lest you or I breathe a collective sigh of relief, I am not out of the woods yet. There’s the whole exterior of the house to paint next!)
March 7th, 2010 §
Spent yesterday in the beautiful new crawlspace wresting a dehumidifier around all the HVAC ducting. Then back at the house today to do some preliminary grading. We wanted to raise the soil grade under the front porch before the tongue and groove flooring was installed, but before doing that we had to clean up tons of construction debris from around the foundation. I had budgeted a couple of hours for this project, but like with everything having to do with this house, it took much longer than anticipated.
There was much clean-up to do—from raking trimmed pieces of siding material and lumber out of the dirt and grass to picking up countless nails, many of which came out of the driveway. We also pulled tons of rocks and chunks of concrete away from the foundation. Then it was time to dump many tractor buckets of soil (saved when we dug the crawlspace deeper) through the porch joists.
And then came the fun of a long afternoon spent shoveling soaking wet clay into position to obtain the proper grade around the house for water to drain away from the foundation and not stay puddled against it. Man, that clay is heavy and even with two tractors and various helpful attachments (e.g. York rake), I am beat. In fact, little muscles I never knew I had in my forearms are so protesting as I type that I am signing off until another day. It didn’t feel like much changed until I looked at the before photo (above) and after (below). But in reality my parents and I got a lot of cleanup done around the house, and with each bucketful of crap we tip in the dumpster, the house morphs from construction scene to home.
March 3rd, 2010 §
Big day yesterday as the exterior heat pump compressor showed up. The house now has lungs and is breathing on its own.
Yes, it was snowing (again) when I took that photo.
March 3rd, 2010 §
March 3, 6:14 p.m. Runaway calf beside the road. This little baby would have looked cute with the Bonafide brand on her butt, and I’ve always wanted to add cattle rustler to my resume. Too bad she wouldn’t fit in my station wagon.