Thursday, October 20, 2016


My husband moved a ton of rocks this weekend. That's not an exaggeration or a figure of speech: he literally moved 2,000+ pounds of rocks, stones, and slate into our backyard this weekend. We now have a slate patio and a meandering path in the yard. Let's jump to the good stuff, and then I'll backtrack and tell you about our process.

Here is what the yard looks like now:


Now for all the gritty details:

After a summer of tedious tasks like stripping paint and patching plaster, we were feeling frustrated about the lack of visual improvement to our house. For the sake of our emotional health, we decided we needed a "quick win": a project that would boost the appearance of our home and provide us with a satisfying sense of accomplishment without requiring an enormous investment of time or money. In other words, we needed a project like those featured on HGTV, where a room/house/yard is completely transformed in a mere 72 hours.

Since we bought this house, we've talked about installing two patios in the backyard. Our backyard has two sections: an upper level near the house, with walkways and a small patch of grass. Right now, this is where we keep our barbecue, saw horses, and some construction materials. It's not a particularly pretty space. We'd eventually like to have a large patio up here.

Our yard also has a much larger lower level; it's reachable either by a short flight of stairs or by walking down our gravel driveway. We also envisioned a small patio in this lower level. When we moved in, this was just an enormous patch of grass. About a year ago, my husband S created a vegetable garden with raised beds. He also created a diamond dust path from the driveway to the garden. Since then, he's slowly been planting perennials and natives to make our yard a haven for all sorts of critters.

Backyard, Fall 2015. Looking towards house.

Backyard, Fall 2015

We hadn't planned to do any major work in the yard this year, since we have so many unfinished projects. But over the summer, my husband and father-in-law installed a slate patio in the backyard of his childhood home. My inlaws had quite a bit of surplus material, and generously offered it to us. They even offered to drive the slate to our house. Our largest car is a Honda Civic, so we especially appreciated their offer to help with transportation. Suddenly, the patio project seemed like it could be our "quick win." With the donated slate already in hand, we would just need to purchase diamond dust and any other decorative rocks we wanted. The cost of the project would be relatively minimal.

Thanks to a fair amount of planning, this project came together over the course of four long, sweaty non-consecutive days.

Day 1 (Saturday):
This first day is spent mapping out the patio and prepping the ground. As I mentioned earlier, we'd eventually like to have two patios: one on the upper level near the house, and a smaller one on the lower level. We decide to start with the smaller patio, based on the amount of slate we have. S charts out a 10'x10' square between the oak tree and the dogwood. Our goal is to create a patio large enough to accommodate some outdoor furniture (either a dining set or a lounge set), without significantly decreasing the amount of grass. We also talk about creating some paths: one from the stairs to the patio, and another towards the side of the yard.

Our backyard slopes away from our house at a pretty steep grade. This is great from a drainage perspective. However, it's a challenge when you need to create a flat surface. Most of day 1 is spent creating a level space for the patio. S ends up creating a 4-6" berm and filling in the 10'x10' space with dirt to create a smooth surface.

Day 2 (the following Friday):
S has taken a vacation day to work on the patio project. I'm feeling pretty grateful: not a lot of people would be excited to spend a vacation day pushing around rocks, but he is. As I leave for the office, the local quarry delivers three yards of diamond dust. This will be used under the slate tiles and in the walkways. All the diamond dust will eventually make its way down the driveway, then back up the yard towards the patio area.  Here is a visual of the long journey that S and that diamond dust will take together, over and over again:

While I'm at work, I get a text from S. He wants to know what type of rocks should go around the edge of the patio. We agree on pond stone, as well as some larger rocks mixed in for texture and visual interest. At lunch, I go outside and snap a picture to send to S. These are the larger rocks I'd like to see interspersed with the pond stone. They are apparently called river jacks.

This picture feels like such a fashion blogger cliche...

I return to our house 11 hours later, and the yard has been transformed. More than half of the patio is complete and both paths are in progress. I'm so thrilled that I forget to take a picture.

Day 3 (Saturday):
S continues laying the slate tiles on the remaining portion of the patio. I'm now able to witness how labor intensive this process is. Much of the day involves tamping the diamond dust before installing the slate to ensure the surface is as level as possible. Several times, I catch S lying face down on the ground, trying to get a good read on the level (or perhaps he is taking a much-needed break...I can't be quite sure). He also continues filling in the pathways with diamond dust, and tamping those as well.

I have a dentist appointment first thing in the morning, so I'm out of the house for three hours. My dentist is 40 miles away, and this is one of those times when I'm kicking myself for not finding a local dentist after we moved here. Apparently, I'm too lazy to research a new dentist, but not too lazy to drive an hour for a dental cleaning. It figures.

When I'm back home, S is putting pond stone and river jacks (those larger ones I requested) around the edges of the patio. Based on our bank account activity, I now know that S went to Lowe's six times on Saturday. He also went to the garden center three times. We needed a ton of rocks for this project, and you can only load so much into a small car. Luckily, we live close to both stores. But now there are even more rocks that need to be moved from the driveway to the yard. I help by moving 50 lbs of pond stone. S suggests that I leave this part to him; apparently I am lifting with my back and it concerns him.

Here is the part where I totally pull my weight: I leave for another three hours for a riding lesson. If you are thinking that I sound like a prissy princess, I can't say I blame you. La-di-da. My husband is moving rocks to build a patio. All by himself. I'll just go off and ride some horses. Isn't this a relaxing weekend?

For the sake of clarity, I should explain that the riding lessons are an occasional thing. This is only the third time I've ever ridden, and I'm very much a beginner. I received a package of lessons as a gift from S (as if you needed any more evidence that he's a wonderful husband). The lessons were not cheap, so I want to be sure I use all my lessons before they expire at the end of October. I'd love to continue riding in the future, but I'm not sure whether that will be possible. It's quite a commitment, both of time and money. By the way, if you'd like to see a picture of me riding, feel free to check out my Instagram account.

On my way home from the stables, I stop at an orchard to pick up S's favorite variety of apples, as well as some hard cider and some cider donuts. If there is ever a day when he should feel free to indulge in comfort food, it's today. Back at the house, I trim back some of the dying plants and rake the leaves from the front yard. Then I head inside to straighten up the kitchen and start dinner. Tonight, we're having margherita pizza (for homemade dough, I like this recipe from Smitten Kitchen). If I'm not helping with the manual labor, the least I can do is to prep something tasty and filling for us to eat. 

At the end of day 3, the yard looks like this:

Day 4 (Sunday): 
A pallet of fieldstone arrives from the garden center. Our neighbors must think we're planning to build a wall. My father-in-law also stops by. He and S have plans for a few hours in the morning. While they are gone, I paint window sashes in our basement workshop and do some laundry. When S returns, he moves the fieldstone, arranging it along the edges of the patio and paths. He also uses it to create a boundary between our grass and the mulched flower beds. This, along with more tamping, takes most of the day. I run errands and make another filling dinner: kale caeser salad and roasted butternut squash soup with bacon.


We have a few odds and ends to finish up before we'll call this project complete. Next spring, we will add some furniture to the patio so that it is fully functional (the adirondack is just there temporarily to show scale). But this project has definitely satisfied our need for a "quick win." Feel free to tell my husband he's a rockstar. I'm probably biased, but I tend to agree. 



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Friday, October 14, 2016

The Tortoise Wins, Right?

Sometimes I think that I should have chosen a different name for this blog. The Papered House is fine, as far as names go. It's accurate and descriptive: it's true that our house was completely covered in vintage wallpaper when we moved in. It's also true that I spend far too much time and energy thinking about what type of wallpaper I'd like to install when we're at that stage of the DIY process.

To say that I'm a wallpaper nerd is an understatement. Case in point: for my birthday last year, my husband S bought me a 300-page book on the history of wallpaper. It was shipped from the UK, because no copies were available within the US. I've been known to exceed our cell phone data plan while browsing William Morris and Sanderson wallpaper designs. If I ever win the lottery, my first purchase will be hand-painted de Gournay wallpaper murals for our dining room (actually that's a lie. First I will order orchestra section tickets to Hamilton. And then, I will buy de Gournay).

Although I wasn't clever enough to remember the more common meaning of a "papered house" when I selected the blog name, now I take perverse pleasure in imagining some 19th century rascals dressed like the cast of Newsies covering our Victorian house with toilet paper. I know that's a highly improbable scenario. In all likelihood, the primitive toilet paper available during the late 1800s would have been expensive enough to prevent frivolous use. But reality aside, imagining this scenario gives me the giggles nonetheless.

Anyway, The Papered House works fine as a blog name. But if I had known then what I know now, I might have named this blog The Tortoise House. You would then know to expect verrrrry sloooooow progress from us. I'm a big fan of managing expectations.

This is how I often feel about the pace of our DIY projects:

We sometimes feel like we're spinning our wheels with this house, and it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We have learned that instant gratification is not compatible with rehabbing an old home. When I'm feeling frustrated with the pace of our rehab, occasionally I'll give myself permission to take the night off and relax after work with a glass of wine. But more often, I tell myself, "this house isn't going to fix itself." That saying is a constant mantra in this household, and it's usually enough to kick myself into gear and get back to the task at hand.

Since I last posted (in June), we've made progress on several big projects. Actually, I should say that my husband S has made progress on these projects. As much as I hate to admit that he does the heavy labor, it's true. I'm in charge of painting, cleaning, and otherwise containing the chaos that comes with having an open project in nearly every room. In the past few months, "we" have installed new electric for five of the seven overhead lights on the first floor. The overhead lights in the kitchen and back porch still need new wiring, and then we'll be ready for inspection. Since we were already drilling holes into the plaster in order to install the new wiring, we decided it would be a good time to repaired cracked plaster ceilings along the way. So far, the ceilings in the dining room and front hall have been repaired (though I still need to sand, which tops the list of my least favorite projects). In between those projects, we have also continued to chip away at other tedious, time-intensive projects on our list, like stripping and repainting all the original molding and restoring our windows.

Unfortunately, this summer we also encountered several house-related setbacks. I had a long, protracted post written about those frustrations, but I'll save that for a different post. Spoiler alert: it involves a slate roof, leaky pipes, an old HVAC system, and structural concerns about our porch. I think it's important to be transparent about the challenges of owning and rehabbing an old home, so I'll publish that post at some point. But today is not that day.

I'm determined that this post will be about the things that are going well at The Papered House. Like the family room! Our family room is coming together quite nicely. Our goal for this room is to give it an Arts and Crafts/Mission-style aesthetic, while still coordinating with the rest of our decor. We aren't done yet, but here are a few shots of what the family room looks like today:

Paper House Family Room Vintage Wallpaper

Papered House Family Vintage Wallpaper

As of my June post, we had checked off the first six steps in rehabbing the family room, including:
1. Install two new outlets. Run new wiring to overhead light (will be active after inspection)
2. Remove all the baseboard, window casings and door casing
3. Purchase, cut, prime, and install new window and door casings. Patch nail heads and caulk if needed
4. Repair plaster using Big Wally's Plaster Magic. Patch and sand walls after repair
5. Prime two walls (other two walls will have existing wallpaper)
6. Paint two walls (other two walls will have existing wallpaper)

In the past three months, we checked off the next six steps on our family room project, including the following: 

7. Paint new molding
8. Repair ceiling plaster. Patch and sand ceiling after repair
9. Prime ceiling
10. Paint ceiling
11. Restore three windows (strip paint on sash, channel, and sill; apply new glazing; install new weatherstripping, sash cords, and new parting bead; prime and paint sash, channel, and sill)
12. Install wallpaper border to coordinate with existing wallpaper and wall color

When we moved into this house, there was crown molding in this room. Like the existing baseboards, window casings and door casings in this room, it was clearly not original. However, all the woodwork was covered in chipping paint that was beyond repair, so it had to be removed. Rather than installing new crown molding, we decided to hang a wallpaper border from Bradbury & Bradbury. We used the "Aster Border" in Aesthetic Green from Bradbury's William Morris Woodland Roomset. We couldn't be happier with how it complements our existing wallpaper and the color on the walls (Craftsman Gold at 70% intensity from California Paints).

These pictures also show the detail of the new Craftsman-style trim that we installed around our doors and windows. We're so happy with the new trim. This was a design that my husband S created after researching and speaking with an Arts and Crafts expert. He spent a lot of time down in the basement using the saw to cut this molding, but it was totally worth it (says the lady who has only used the saw once in her entire life).

The antique swing-arm curtain rods were an eBay purchase. We have very similar ones in our bedroom (those can be seen here); we like the style, and the price was right. For the three sets in our family room, we paid just $60 including shipping. There is a downside to buying antique hardware: several of the brackets are a bit cock-eyed and bent, which causes the rods to be out of alignment. We might tinker with them in the future to see if we can get the curtain rods to appear more level. For now, they are fine. The curtains are a sheer linen fabric with embroidered medallions. They previously hung in one of our guest bedrooms, and were a last minute purchase at HomeGoods when we were hosting houseguests. Initially, I just hung them in the family room as placeholders, thinking they might be too modern for the family room. But now that they are there, I like them. S pointed out that the medallions on the curtains are similar to the medallions on the wallpaper. He's right. 

We still have a few tasks remaining in the family room. Some of these tasks are small, like hanging artwork. Other tasks, such as stripping and repainting the doors, will take more time. We've decided to hold off until stripping the doors until winter. There are five(!) doors in this room and we need to make some space in the basement workshop to strip them safely. We've also decided to prioritize some of the more time-sensitive tasks before winter sets in.

This weekend, we are tackling a number of exterior projects. It's also time for us to decorate for Halloween! In the meantime, I'll leave you with a creepy picture of our family room just after dawn. Tell me this does not look like the promo poster of a horror movie.

-The Papered House dares you to pull a Halloween prank. Go ahead, try it.
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