1902 Victorian

Bringing our old house out of the disco era and back into the Victorian.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Recommended Reading

I just finished reading (actually listening to ... I like to "read" audiobooks during my commute) Palladian Days, by Sally and Carl Gable. I normally don't enjoy non-fiction, but I wasn't bored for a minute during this story of an American couple who buys a 450-year-old Italian villa for their summer home.

My house is 103 years old, a youngster compared to the Gables' Renaissance villa, but I found a lot of similarities between our situation - all old house owners' situations - and theirs. They face many of the same issues all old house owners do - how do you modernize, how do you repair without compromising the historic integrity of the structure? How do you protect your house if the government decides they want to build a soccer field on your property? I can definitely identify with the Gables' infatuation with learning the history of their house and solving its mysteries.

And they have the typical complaints about previous owners - when the villa was turned into a parish kindergarten prior to their ownership, the penises were sanded off all the terra cotta cherubs.

Of course, they have bonus struggles - like learning to speak Italian and the local dialect, Venetan, enough to communicate their renovation needs.

I've never been to Italy, but the portrait the Gables' paint of Italian life and the amazing historic villa make me want to book a flight and go there right now. I want to see Villa Cornaro - yes, they give tours. It was designed by Andrea Palladio and "introduced to Western architecture the two-story projecting portico-loggia motif. Palladio's device influenced Western architecture for hundreds of years, becoming a recurrent feature in Georgian, Adam and Colonial American architecture." Wow. Talk about living in a slice of history.

Click here and here for history and photos of Villa Cornaro.


Monday, June 27, 2005

Almost Done

Saturday morning I woke up with a sudden, feverish need to work on the kitchen. In spite of the fact that Darwin didn't share that need, we got a lot done this weekend.

Most of the stuff we did was finishing touches. On Saturday, we started the day by sanding the glue residue from the laminate that was stuck to the side of the cabinet. Then I primed and painted it and the rest of the trim for the cabinet doors. We also took off all the already-finished doors, so Darwin could sand the edges smooth, and I could prime and paint. We had an assembly line going. I also primed and painted the backs of several of the doors that I missed on the first go-round this winter.

That night we had to knock off early to get ready for an Italian Mafia pool party at our neighbors' house. Much food and fun was had by all, though we did not adhere to the "g-strings and speedos only" rule.

Sunday we slept late and then I cracked the whip, and we got back to work. Darwin rehung the cabinets and applied the rest of the trim. I gave the trim another coat of paint.

And now, my friends, the kitchen feels so much closer to completion. All we have left to do is replace the floor, scrape and paint the ceiling, paint the woodwork, paper or paint the walls, replace the countertop, attach the cabinet knobs, install the backsplash, wire for the garbage disposal, and install the lighting.

See, almost done.

But I have a way to make myself feel better. Let's compare the before and after:


Thursday, June 23, 2005


Yesterday I went to Hobby Lobby for some fabric, but they're having a good sale this week, so I had to pick up some other things, too. Like some new throw pillows (50 percent off) in the green and gold Sherwin Williams says coordinates with our red walls. We needed something to dress up our dullsville sofa.

I may drag Darwin back with me today or tomorrow (before the sale ends) because we kinda need another floor lamp for the living room (also 50 percent off) and because I found a cabinet for our DVDs. Having a tower o' DVDs against the wall really interrupts the feeling of the room. This cabinet has glass in the door, so you can still see the DVDs, but they're not so in your face. It's exactly the right height and width (we need something tall and narrow), and it's about the right shade of stain to coordinate, though it's all straight lines, while everything else in the room is curved. We'll see.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Seeing Red

Red was the theme of this weekend. We both got slightly sunburned from our day at my parents' pool, and we painted the living room Cajun Red. Thanks to Bungalow Addict for posting about the Sherwin Williams historical collection, which is divided into styles (arts and crafts, Victorian, suburban modern, colonial, etc.). Cajun red was on the Victorian palette.

We normally use Benjamin Moore paint, but I liked the fact that the Sherwin Williams stuff made it so clear which colors would be appropriate in our house. Next time I might choose a color from the Sherwin Williams stuff and match it to a Benjamin Moore color. We're very happy with the color; it sets off the woodwork and makes the room stand out ... it makes the other rooms look awfully dingy and dull in comparison.

We were hoping - with our pink primer - that we would only have to do one coat. In some spots - and if you don't get too close - the one coat looks fine. Unfortunately, we used every last drop of paint in the bucket, and there are still some uneven areas.

So we figure we'll have to do a second coat with another gallon. *sigh*

Oh well ... it looks good enough for now. We are tired.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

Last night we watched Stir of Echoes on DVD. A scary movie, right? But at the parts where I was supposed to be sitting in tense anticipation, I was saying, "Look at that awesome bathtub!"

It was a good movie in its own right, but old house lovers should watch it just for the beautiful house and its fixtures. Of course, the house suffers some damage in the course of the movie, but at least the fascinating sinks and the bathtub remain intact.

And let's talk about the ghost for a minute. Before we moved into our old house, I actually feared that we would unwittingly move into a haunted house, and I would never get a good's night sleep again for lying flat on my back peering into the darkness. Yes, I've watched too many scary movies.

In the old days, I would've turned on every light in the house after a ghost story like Stir of Echoes. But - even if there really are such things in the world - our house feels empty and safe. Maybe it's because so few people have lived here - we are only the third family in its 103-year history - or maybe, like The Sixth Sense and the medium on A Haunting in Georgia suggest, it's because ghosts (or spirits or whatever you want to call them) are attracted to people who can sense them.

If ghosts do exist, and if that theory is true, then I am offended. What do the ghosts have against me? I want to see one! I'd like to have just one ghostly experience of my own, so I could decide what I believe.

I believe there are too many strange instances in the world to discount them all as hoaxes or overactive imaginations, but I don't know whether it's more related to a person's mind or if it's really some type of spirit. A paranormal psychologist-in-training led a ghost tour on our honeymoon in Charleston, and she said something interesting - it's a fact that energy cannot be destroyed but only changed, so where does the energy go when someone dies?

I definitely believe there is much more to the human mind than we realize. I believe in psychic connections, etc., though of course there are plenty of frauds in the world, too. My only vaguely psychic experiences have been of the usual variety: I pick up the phone to call my sister, and she's already on the line because she just called me and I picked up before the first ring. But is that just a coincidence?

Also, I have deja vu quite a bit, and I also usually remember my dreams. Each time I experience deja vu, it's not as "I've been here before." I can distinctly remember dreaming it. I've researched deja vu a little, and one theory is that it happens when some elements of this moment are so similar to a past moment that the two get mixed up in your mind, making you think you've been here before. I believe you dreamed it; most people only vaguely remember their dreams or don't remember them at all, so it would be common for people not to know where this memory came from.

So what do you believe? Ghosts, deja vu, psychics, telekinesis - are they real or a bunch of hooey?


Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Return of Tina Tingles

The heat gun and I spent a lot of time together this weekend. After the all-day paintfest on Saturday, Darwin wanted to retire to the couch and watch TV on Sunday. I, on the other hand, still felt restless.

The only thing I really could do was work on stripping the entry hall paint, so that's what I did.

Here's my progress so far (not shown is another doorway that's in about the same state of strippedness as the one on the left)

Notice how the stripping stops at a certain height on each piece of trim. That's how far I can reach without getting on a ladder. I don't do well with heights, so I'm putting that part off till last.

When I got bored with stripping trim, I decided to try out the heat gun on the 1890s walnut bed I bought at the Antique Alley sale. It has what a friend told me is called "alligatoring" (or something like that) - little bumps in the paint caused by long exposure to gas heat (or something like that) - so I wasn't sure how it would do.

The paint was very weird. I'm used to my woodwork, where there is only one thin layer of paint (no primer), and the heat makes large bubbles that come off in flakes. This paint was sticky and gooey and didn't flake off at all. When I aimed the heat gun, all the little alligator bumps started bubbling, and I had to push the scraper along as far as I could, pushing the paint goo ahead of it, then wipe off as much as I could on a piece of cardboard I kept nearby for this purpose. Much of the goo stayed stuck to the scraper. It was hard to get the details because you couldn't go back and forth at all - only in one direction and only one swipe.

So now I'm wondering ... is this difference in texture related to lead paint vs. non-lead paint? Or maybe really old paint vs. not-so-old paint. Has anyone had experience with stripping the two? On the mantel, there was an older layer of paint under the current white layer, and it seemed to be a little stickier, too.

If it's true that lead paint reacts to the heat gun by getting sticky and gooey, I don't feel worried about the lead dust effects at all. This stuff created virtually no dust because it hardened into hairball-like pellets that would only create dust if you stepped on them.


Monday, June 13, 2005

Pink is My Favorite Color

I hope this incongruous color scheme shows up on your monitor:

We decided on a whim Saturday to begin painting the living room. We tested out and loved Benjamin Moore's Georgian Brick (from its Historical Collection) a while back, so we used the rest of the sample to tint the primer. Our living room is now a lovely shade of pastel pink. See how nicely it matches the earth tones of the curtains?

Eeeeeiccckk. I tried to get Darwin to go back to Tuscaloosa on Saturday night to buy the actual paint, so we could paint the room on Sunday. But it turns out only one shop in town sells Benjamin Moore, and it closes at noon on Saturday. All the shops in the surrounding towns were closed by this point (4:30ish) also.

So the pink stays for a few more days. I'm tempted to invite people over to see the "fabulous" new paint color in our living room and watch them struggle to come up with a compliment before I confess it is only the primer.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Subway Countertops?

We are finally getting some motivation to work on the kitchen again. We pretty much halted work on it back in March when we ran out of trim - again. I couldn't face the prospect of more priming, and besides, every time we went to Lowe's we forgot to buy more trim. (Of course, Freud says there are no accidents.)

I think we needed a break from the kitchen. The lovely spring weather - unusually cool for Alabama - helped us both get interested in gardening and major pruning.

But now we're turning our thoughts to the kitchen backsplash. Darwin has a friend at work, a freelance tile-layer, who is willing to help us install it for free since Darwin fixed his boat. Hurray! Free is good.

I found subway tiles in the perfect color - Ice White, somewhere between bright white and almond - at American Olean, though I haven't yet sought out a price. Has anyone used the subway tiles from American Olean (they call 'em Greenwich Village)? Are they a good choice?

Hand in hand with the backsplash is the decision on a countertop. Since the beginning, I always voted for wood, and Darwin usually hated that idea but couldn't really come up with a better one. Then we came to a consensus way back in January that we would get wood. But the countertop guy in Eutaw never called me back with an estimate. I don't think he was very eager to do the work, and anyway it's nearly impossible to get a craftsman to do anything for you in Eutaw. They are in extreme demand. I should quit my job and go to carpenter school.

Anyway, now that we have a plan for the backsplash, we need to do the countertop first. I still like the idea of wood countertops - I just can't picture anything else in there - but the tile-layer guy suggested we continue the subway tile onto the countertops and do a wood edge around the front. It sure would be less of a hassle.

So what do you think?

I went scouring the Web for photos of kitchens with subway tile backsplashes and found this beauty:

That slim black countertop looks so nice ...


Thursday, June 09, 2005

I Don't Want to Grow Up

Last night, Darwin got out his trusty smoking chainsaw and cut some limbs off the way overgrown redtips to make room for a little tomato garden with the tomato plants our neighbor gave us. One of the plants already has a tiny green tomato on it.

While he did that, I curled up on the floor in the dining room with the cats to read my new copy of Madeleine L'Engle's A Swiftly Tilting Planet, which I hadn't read since 5th grade when my friend Robika Modak borrowed it and forgot to return it. (Robika, I hope you Google yourself and find this because I would love to know what you're up to these days. Don't worry, I'm not mad about the book.)

Why is it that books you loved as a kid are always a little disappointing when you read them as an adult? I hope I haven't lost all my imagination and finally become a true grownup.

The book was interesting and all - it's about a teenage boy with special psychic abilities going back in time on the back of a unicorn to change the course of history - but it didn't thrill me to the core the way it once did. I'm still trying to remember what I loved so much about it, but the memory is like a dream that's just out of reach.

In honor of this book and the way I once loved it, here's a list of some of my favorite children's books, the ones I read over and over and still have, their paper covers creased and ragged:
  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor (about a poor black family battling racism in 1930s Mississippi)
  • A Little Princess, by Francis Hodgson Burnett (I also adored the Shirley Temple movie)
  • Anne of Green Gables and The Story Girl, by L.M. Montgomery
  • Many Waters, another Madeleine L'Engle, this one about teenage twins accidentally going back to the time of Noah's flood (it didn't hurt that the cover illustration was two hot shirtless guys in the desert ... OK, I was 12, what can you expect?)
  • The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, by Avi (about a 12-year-old girl on a ship passage to America in 1832 who gets caught up in a mutiny)
  • The Last Silk Dress, by Ann Rinaldi (set in Richmond during the Civil War)

    Won't you share some of yours? OK, I feel like Mr. Rogers now.


  • Tuesday, June 07, 2005

    Tina Tingles

    I'm beginning to feel that the heat gun and I were unwise to start a relationship in the workplace. Now that lovin' feeling has faded, and here we are having to continue working together. It's the little things about him that are starting to bug me, the fried-paint smell that hangs in the air around him, the way he keeps burning me with hot paint specks, the fact that he can't seem to affect the paint on the baseboards.

    Sunday night I tried to add up how many more hours my wood-stripping project in the entry hall will take. I guessed 20 more hours just for the heat gun work (and that's probably a low estimate), and I won't venture a guess about the subsequent chemical stripping and refinishing.

    Since I'm the chief stripper in this house, I think I need a stripper name. According to this quiz, my stripper name is Tina Tingles.

    In all seriousness, I really like my job as stripper-in-chief Tina Tingles. It's something I can do a little at a time and all by myself (wait, that doesn't sound right). For most projects around the house, I have to wait for Darwin to feel motivated. I'm gradually gaining confidence and experience with various tools and processes (hmm, that doesn't sound right either), but I'm still too girly, too afraid of heights, too something for most of the work.

    I'm usually the planner, the supervisor, the tool-passer and the flashlight holder. But on this project, I am the go-to girl, and I like that.


    Saturday, June 04, 2005

    House Work in Miniature

    Last night the Historical Society hosted a dinner with a presentation from a famous (at least around here) photographer who specializes in Southern houses and towns. He showed us a slide show of his work, and now I'm on the prowl for interesting photo opportunities around the house. Our walls need some art.

    It's not exactly art, but here's Darwin in his usual position - talking on the cell phone by the kitchen window, which is the only place in the house that has decent service.

    Today we've been working on my doll house. I'm thrilled because it has been about a year since we last worked on it. The workshop at our former house was deadly hot and mosquito-infested in the summer, so we stopped all progress last June. But our workshop at this house has a window air conditioner! Hurray! It is so much nicer slaving away on the dollhouse in a controlled climate. :)

    Darwin worked on the electricity and got most of the first floor finished. I started shingling the roof with cedar shakes.

    You can see on Darwin's face how excited he is about his work:


    Thursday, June 02, 2005


    Darwin's hearing for his reckless endangerment charge was this morning. The hearing went OK, though the judge yelled at him. But since he had no prior record - not even so much as a ticket - the DA made a deal with him to get two years probation. If he gets pulled over again by a state trooper or in Jefferson County during that time, he'll be sent to jail for 12 months. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

    The fine and court costs were $705, and we have to pay the lawyer $600 (which we are happy to pay because he was worth it). But it could've been worse. The maximum fine for a Class A misdemeanor in Alabama is $2,000 (not including court costs), and he could've gone to prison for a year. Also, since it is a crime and not a traffic violation, it can't affect his driver's license or insurance. Thank goodness for small favors.

    Wednesday, June 01, 2005

    Dirty Romance

    You know how in romantic comedies, they always have the scene where the couple plays in the rain, kisses in the rain, or breaks up in the rain? On Monday, we did yard work in the rain. Does that count as romance?

    Actually, it was kind of fun working in the rain. It wasn't as hot, for one thing, and we got pleasantly filthy. I haven't been truly dirty in a good long while. Maybe since that long-ago field day at church camp where I got someone's muddy sock print on my shirt.

    We cut down the overgrown holly bush (though I made Darwin leave the huge honeysuckle vine where the bird nest sat) and cleared out all the weeds and junk that were growing under it. I'm amazed that neither of us has poison ivy. I plan to plant one of my flowering trees from the National Arbor Day Foundation near this spot.

    Then we tackled the weedy flower bed. Darwin cut down the weeds and used Roundup on them two weeks ago, but he couldn't really get to the roots with all that excess leaves and pine straw in there, so we raked and hoed it all out.

    Then, though Darwin was tired and wanting to wind down, I started hacking at the overgrown holly tree outside the kitchen window. As usual, Darwin couldn't resist leaping in with his chain saw and taking over. We might cut the tree down one day - it's pretty ugly - but for now it's just cleared out.

    After that, we hauled all the limbs and bags of debris to the road, where we made a mountain that blocks the view from the driveway so we are risking our lives every time we leave the house. (Fortunately, the debris-clearing people were doing their thing this morning.)

    Then we decided to cut a few of the magnolia limbs to see what happened. There's a hideous hole in the back of the tree now, but from the front, you can see the house better. Our plan is to cut all the trees and seedlings that have sprouted around the two large main magnolias. It will look funny for a while, but in the end it'll be better. They would take over the whole yard if we let them.

    But for now, we'll enjoy the extra blooms.

    P.S. Today is our third wedding anniversary (five years together total). Happy Anniversary to us! Ah, it makes me nostalgic for the days when we annoyed my college roommate by celebrating each and every "month-i-versary."

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