basement scavenging

One of the most amazing things about every visit that I make to my mom is that I invariably come back to my home with my car packed with goodies. My last visit was no different.

One of the reasons I went to visit last weekend was that my mom had a lot of scrap metal she wanted to get rid of. She casually asked me at one point to go into the basement and get the pressure cooker from a storage closet. About twenty minutes later, I finally came up from the basement, laughing. Because this is what I found:

2013-06-01 13.00.04Three pressure cookers and one electric double broiler. I’m glad that neither my mom nor I are on any terrorist watch lists.

The coolest thing I found in that closet, though, came home with me.

2013-06-04 20.05.52This juicer was my grandmother’s, making it from around the 1930s. While the paint may be mostly missing, there is no doubt how awesome it is. And, with a little bit of cleaning, it will still be usable as the handle is still fully functional.

Between estate sales and my mom’s house, my kitchen is becoming an assortment of antique, vintage, and just plain old funky kitchen accessories, and I couldn’t be more pleased.


new year, new room reveal

When we first looked at our home, one of the things that attracted us was the sheer size of the living room. The decor, however, was…. not us.

from the real estate listing

A year ago Thanksgiving, we started peeling wallpaper in the living room.  Needless to say, we were in over our heads.

Closeup, complete with grime from previous owners.

Closeup, complete with grime from previous owners.

Luna really didn’t mind the room, but I couldn’t stand the grimy, metallic wallpaper, even when we began setting up the room with our furniture.


I tried everything from hot water, to a steamer, to fabric softener, to vinegar. NOTHING helped take this paper off. Long, sweaty hours over a period of months were spent dedicated to the frustration of getting the paper off. It was March before the room was even 3/4 of the way stripped.

Layer upon layer of wallpaper HELL.

Layer upon layer of wallpaper HELL.

That was when we hired a painter to do the ceiling.

I’ll be the first one to admit that painting a textured plaster ceiling is a pain but doable. In our case, though, we had a blackened stain about three feet in circumference right over the fireplace that we had no idea how to deal with. In the end, it was well worth it to leave it to the pro – a local painter recommended by our plumber – who not only treated the stain and made it disappear, but also leveled the texture where he could and caulked around any areas of the molding where it had separated.

Ceiling in progress.

The biggest challenge was the prep work. Washing the walls with TSP meant taking painstaking care in protecting the original wood floors, which was one of the few things both clean and in immaculate condition when we moved in the house. We ended up draping/taping down 4 mm. sheet plastic and left it down throughout the washing, sanding, caulking, and painting.

Surveying what lie before me in my sexy painting jeans.

The most frustrating part of the room was that once I got the paint on, I noticed that there were odd waves in the wall where the TV would be going. I contemplated just leaving it, but in the end, decided I wasn’t going to leave the room half done. So out came the spackle again.


I like spackle!

When it came to picking the paint color, we were set. While we picked Behr’s Arctic Ocean, we had the paint mixed at MAB which was well worth it for the size of the room and the coverage we needed. At an estate sale last year we scored the beautiful rug that became our inspiration for just $100. The rest of the room was easy, too. The sofa was my grandmothers, the settee was a $20 score at an estate sale, the secretary $150 from an estate sale, and both radiator covers were purchased together for less than $100 at Philadelphia Salvage. They needed love, but I’ve become a pro at refinishing metal covers.

Just a little dirty...

Just a little dirty…

Add in my grandparents antique radio, and our existing TV and stand, and some art, and voila! Room! Well, almost.


The goal was to have it done by this Thanksgiving when we were hosting the Man’s aunt, uncle and two cousins. There was some last minute touching up to do, but the cats were more than happy to help.

"This drop cloth was for us, right?"

“This drop cloth was for us, right?”

I sent my mom some preview pictures to see what she though, and what we realized immediately was that I needed valances. Desperately. I have never had much luck buying fabrics online. Instead of guessing, I ran down to my living room, took a picture and uploaded it to my computer. Using the “pop out” feature on the website I layered the two to see the effect. I highly recommend this method, as unscientific as it may be.

screenshot decorating

screenshot decorating

And it was done, and soon after decorated for Christmas. And we couldn’t be happier. Enjoy!

peacock prints: $12 at Michael's

peacock prints: $12 at Michael’s

Valances from $34 per panel

Valances from $34 per panel

stockings: $8 ea. at Target.

stockings: $8 ea. at Target.

Fireplace Candelabra: $79 at Crate&Barrell

Fireplace Candelabra: $79 at Crate & Barrel

radio, sofa, coffee table, and lamp table: grandmothers. map print: $20 at estate sale

radio, sofa, coffee table, and lamp table: grandmothers. map print: $20 at estate sale

secretary with antique books, purchased and already owned

secretary with antique books, purchased and already owned

A Merry Christmas & Happy New Year: priceless.

A Merry Christmas & Happy New Year: priceless.

I think this room has been one of the biggest transformations so far. We are still contemplating painting the fireplace white, but that can wait. While a year is a long time to renovate one room, I’m glad I took the time, and I think that the end product was worth it.


Looking for fabulous

It’s been a while since I started my kitchen project. Just about a month. And while I would love to say it’s done and I’ve been cooking like a fiend and just haven’t had time to update my blog, I can’t. Well, I could but it would be a blatant lie. And now I need help.

In reality, what I’ve been doing is decorating the kitchen. You would think that you just need to put your appliance back where they belong, throw a couple nice towels over the towel bar, and voila – kitchen! And I could. I could share all my pictures now and be done with it. But what is lacking in the kitchen are the finishing touches.

Right now we’re looking for a telephone, a poster, and a clock. Simple, yes, but because I’m trying to keep the kitchen accents period appropriate, I have become psychotic.  Right now, my search for the perfect telephone is consuming my internet time.

I thought of buying a reproduction Bakelite telephone, but with so many eBay and Etsy people selling the real thing, I decided that an antique is the only option.

This morning on CBS Sunday morning, they did a story on kitchen islands. One of the people they interviewed talked about how the kitchen became a social space and how a kitchen can be “functional and fabulous too”.

So here is where I need help: where do you find your antiques? Anyone have some fabulous sources that I could check out?

spring cleaning

I’ve always enjoyed the act of organizing, cleaning. There is a peace that my brain finds in my hands moving deftly to put papers in their place, stack magazines by genre, line books up neatly on their shelves by color or size. Clutter sets me on edge, makes me uncomfortable. There is a certain pride I have in having everything neatly in its place when people come to visit, and often when someone comes over I will apologize for the house being “under construction” or messy.  I guess other people take comfort in the fact that my house often looks “normal” – papers out, shoes in the hallway, jackets thrown on the back of chairs.

If renovating a house has taught me nothing, it has taught me to accept the state of the house. Combining the furniture the man and I owned with what we inherited of my German grandmother’s – Oma – has been the biggest challenge.  The man and I have always been drawn to antiques, furniture with a history. And when my uncle Dieter offered to give me everything of Oma’s, I jumped at the offer. Not surprisingly, though, the early 20th century furniture of Oma’s didn’t match the Ikea furniture of my early 20s.

Craiglist has been my best friend, and with spring cleaning in full effect, I’ve started posting some of our old furniture. Last spring I was able to sell two dining chairs and a filing cabinet, but was never able to sell our couch.  After five different revisions of the ad, trying to catch the attention of people surfing the listings for a good buy, I finally posted an ad that described what the couch really was.

Loving Couch To be Adopted by New Home – $300

Selling my loving, comfortable, huge, Ekeskog Ikea couch

This couch took care of me when I fell down an escalator and could only sleep flat on my back, held me as I cried because of a sad movie or the loss of a loved one, and seated friends and family for get togethers, gab sessions, and game nights.

My couch is no longer needed though. She has a smaller replacement and needs to find a new, loving home to go to. She is a pretty girl in good condition. The pictures don’t do her justice. Her cover is fully removable and washable (and I’ll make sure she is spic and span prior to pick up). Because of her large size, she takes up way too much room in my basement and needs to find her new home ASAP.

I really was reluctant to get rid of it. That couch had been through a lot with me. In a house full of antique beds, dressers, prints, and books, all with their own stories, my couch had its own story. And now it will have a new one.

It always strikes me as silly the things that I am sentimental about, but the spring cleaning continues. As we plan a garage sale, I’ve added soup bowls that I used as a little girl, my first set of copper bottom pots, and travel mugs that I used in high school, to the piles of artifacts of my past life that I’m parting with.

My couch was a adopted by a woman who has relocated to Pennsylvania from North Carolina to take care of her ailing parents.  She has another adopted couch that will keep mine company. She is building her own home, just as the man and I are trying to build ours. When it came to haggling over price, she offered me about $100 less than I had asked in my posting, and after a few minutes I gave it to her for $50 less than she offered. Knowing that the couch was needed made me feel better about it. And now it will have a new history.

And the spring cleaning continues.


The simplest makeovers are often the easiest ones.  We have a center hall colonial, which is exactly what it sounds like.  When you walk into our house, our tiled center hall is large, with a radiator to the right, and coat closet and the stairs leading to the second floor straight in front of you.  The previous owners added a chair rail, with a textured wallpaper below it, and a striped wallpaper above.  It may not be exactly our style but despite the abuse the rest of the house has been through it is in surprisingly good shape.

All of the woodwork needs to be cleaned and painted, including the stair risers which are horribly scuffed and discolored. That’s an upcoming project. The biggest eyesore by far, though, was the radiator cover. We don’t keep much on it – just a silver tray for the mail and a plant. But we still wanted it to look nice. And the one that was there was boxy, dirty, and had screens that were punctured.  While it had been painted white at one time, it was now far from it.

The screens were the biggest obstacle.  Having refinished three radiator covers in the house already, I knew that sanding globs of paint off of them was difficult to say the least, as well as taking hours of work. I also learned from redoing the one in our main bath that they had been painted with latex. The minute you started sanding or cleaning, the paint would start rolling up and peeling off. New radiator screens are anywhere from $18 to $36 per sheet, and with the size of this radiator, the cost of replacement was going to be over $100 before paint.

In a lucky trip to ReStore, we found the solution.

I have always loved metal radiator covers. They almost always have a beautiful shape or screen design, and the lids typically tilt up for easy bleeding – much easier than having to pull out the whole cover. This one was scuffed, had a little bit of rust, and had a little bit of discoloration. But it was solid, and a beautiful shape.  Even better? It was $45. 

Armed with 100 and 220 grit sandpaper, an orbital sander, and Rustoleum Universal Gloss Spray Paint (with a spray trigger – so much easier!) in white, the project was underway.  The sanding is by far the most important process. Small paint bubbles, rust, and dirt all have to be removed carefully.  The whole cleaning process only took about two hours. The painting was the difficult part but not why you might think.

Because we bought the piece on Black Friday, the cold weather was soon upon us.  My spray paint projects (you’ll find out after a while that there are A LOT of them) all happen in our garage, so the cold weather is an issue.  They aren’t lying when they tell you it has to be 50 degrees or warmer.  If you ignore that and decide to paint anyway, you’ll be cursed by dimples in the finish and paint that doesn’t cure. If you go to do a second coat and it’s not cured, the ripples will be horrible. Not to mention you have to sand those areas down again and start over. If it’s just over 50 degrees, chances are the garage might be colder inside, so you still have to make sure you keep the cans warmer (I put them in my pockets when they’re not being used) and if it’s sunny out leaving the radiator (or any project) in the sun for a little bit helps to warm it up.

So over two months, I only had a handful of days that were warm enough. But the final product was well worth the wait.

The sidenote is that this radiator not only looks clean, beautiful, and more in keeping with the house, but also gives off a LOT more heat. With more screening and less wood, the metal radiates so much more warmth than before. On any given night, one or both of our cats will be laying in front of it. (And they’re also happier because they can now retrieve the toys that they knock underneath.)

Total cost? $45 for the cover and just under $18 for spray paint and spray sealant.

The effect? Gorgeous. Priceless. Perfect. Next step? Framing a print for above it.


I grew up in a 1927 Dutch Colonial which my mother and father spent painstaking hours restoring. My father, a cake decorator by trade but not by schooling, went to work six days a week at a bakery, starting his day at 4:00 a.m., returning home from work at 2 p.m., and continued work on the house most nights and weekends for as long as I can remember.  When he died in 1996, it still wasn’t finished.

As a child, my house was filled with the sounds of the table saw and my father methodically sanding and planing doorways, baseboards, and any piece of wood in the house that didn’t move.  The smell of his bakery whites and fresh lumber were comforting and constant. And the light over his basement workbench inevitably burned well into the night.  When we went on vacation, we usually made time to visit one historic home or another – the Hudson River’s beautiful 1804 mansion named Boscobel, the House of the Seven Gables in Salem, Orchard House where Louisa May Alcott grew up – and every time we would jokingly warn my father he couldn’t bring a screw driver, couldn’t take any of the doorknobs or light fixtures. And I remember car trips around town on “big trash day” where we would pull over so dad could unscrew sashlocks or chains from discarded windows, or take glass door knobs off of doors that had worn out their welcome. Everything architectural became a treasure.

I find myself doing much the same thing these days. My purse has become the homebase for architectural digs. It houses a notepad that has measurements of windows, doorways, and wall spaces, just in case. Sometimes it has the random screw that needs to be matched, or a paint chip for a room that needs the perfect accessory. Going to an estate sale is just as thrilling as getting invited to a college party used to be, where finding new antiques is like meeting new friends. I find myself wondering the story behind the possessions that I acquire, wondering as I walk through the home what the family who has moved on was like.

And I could spend hours at ReStore, a Philadelphia architectural salvage store. And I have. Armed with my tape measure and notebook and husband, I have lovingly run my hands over banisters that have lost their homes, and fingered glass tiles are no longer lining someone’s bathroom walls. And sometimes I wonder whether the radiator cover we bought used to be a favorite sitting place to someone else’s cat. Because mine are very grateful for the extra metal warmth.

And I wonder what my father would think of my newfound passion.