Outdoor kitchen

Whilst chatting with our best friends in St Louis a few weeks ago, they mentioned reorganizing their kitchen ahead of the arrival of their baby. They planned to store some of their seasonal kitchen items in totes in their basement, like their grilling gear. And, not kidding, my brain short circuited for a full second as I processed the concept of not being able to cook outside ALL of the time. Creating a space for outdoor cookery has been high on our list of improvements for this house. When the pandemic sent us into lockdown last spring, finishing the outdoor kitchen sprung to the top of Aaron’s list.

Let’s dive in with a throwback “before” photo… which is actually a photo of Hank, but because I’m so off my blogging game that this is legitimately the best “before” shot of the area that would become the kitchen.

He’s a handsome boy 🙂

When Aaron laid the deck for the outdoor dining room, he also built the platform and deck for the kitchen. And, yes, this is another picture of Hank, which happens to be a decent “before” shot.

This is essentially our view when we walk from the living room out to the backyard. For those playing along, you might remember that we reconfigured the backside of the house with this in mind during the interior reno.

Let’s get into the details. We knew we needed space for the smoker and grill, storage for our new commercial style vacuum sealer, and lots of countertop. My general opinion is that you can’t have too much countertop in a kitchen. Plus we’ve taken to occasionally frying things and there’s no better place to do that than outside. Ditto for cooking up stir fry dishes in a wok.

We mapped out a few possible configurations, but kept getting tripped up on the size of the smoker. It’s a Yoder that we planned to remove from its attached cart. Ultimately, after lots of research by Aaron, we opted to sell the Yoder and invest in a Memphis Elite pellet smoker and wood-fired grill with a much smaller footprint. And after much deliberation, Aaron nixed his charcoal grill in favor of a small, built-in gas unit. That gave us ample room for a fry station when needed and even space for a small sink.

Construction started with the base cabinets and setting the Toja grid for the overhang. We opted for a smaller version than we used on the outdoor dining room, which was much easier to maneuver.

An aside about cabinet building. I am constantly amazed at Aaron’s abilities. At one point in the last few years, I walked into the garage and he had built a cabinet – seemingly out of thin air. If I had to build a cabinet it would assuredly end in tears and at least one, (hopefully) non-fatal injury. I’m blown away that he can design and build things. It’s like this amazing super power that I get to witness. I digress…

With the structure in place, he was ready to start tiling the counter. We opted for absolute black granite, the same material we used in the indoor kitchen, except in large scale tiles.

The large opening will house the smoker, leaving ample counter space to the left.

On the right side of the kitchen, there’s space for a small sink and the small gas grill. The cabinet on the far right will house the vacuum sealer on a slide out shelf for easy access.

The back and top are lined with strips of ipe, the same material as the deck, which adds some nice natural texture above the black stone.

After that I seem to remember basically walking outside one day to a finished kitchen… and my photo album seems to support that memory. But I know Aaron spent some time installing the smoker and grill AND a fair bit of time creating the front cabinet panels. The slats were meticulously designed to ensure a completely seamless look. Four doors are hidden within, offering access to the cabinets and clipping in place with magnets. So I’m sure there were hours of cutting, nailing, and painting… but we’ll just pretend his super powers let him snap his fingers and arrive at this.

Amongst the kitchen build, we finally decided on a planter arrangement to fill the gap between the kitchen and dining area. We opted for Mexican river rock as a base, which ties into other planters in the backyard and is one of our favorite stone options. We topped these with pots we gathered from HomeGoods for an herb garden, but which worked better here. Then we added lavender and trailing rosemary, irrigation and some uplights. And, yes, you may notice that two of the lavender plants succumbed to lack of water between purchase and planting. We replaced them with greener versions, which adds some nice contrast against the silvery ones that survived. The shot below gives you a better  view of the dining room, planter and kitchen all together.

I love how the avocado tree encroaches a bit.

 

Ok. Are you ready for some before/after goodness?

That is one sexy kitchen… and (fair warning)… it might be sexier at night.

If you stop by and we don’t answer the door right away, it’s because we’re outside…

Can you blame us?

Dining outdoors is the best dining

Between the four seasons (sometimes in one day) and humidity, I like to joke that Missouri only has about 5 completely perfect days a year. While that’s a bit of an exaggeration, the SoCal weather, specifically in a nearly coastal town like Camarillo was a huge draw for us. We have our house open as much as possible and I never mind the extra dusting. It’s a fair trade off for enjoying the fresh air.

I tell you all of this because the exterior of a house, specifically an area for outdoor dining, was on our wish list during our home search. In fact, we were so enamored with the backyard on a home in Camarillo that we made an offer despite the fact that the house was only 1,400 square feet with a funky layout and much too small kitchen. That’s how hard we fell HAAARD for the backyard.  Thankfully, we didn’t get that house and instead inherited this:

 

Which wasn’t exactly a move-in ready dining area (we tore out the built-in, small, sun drenched exterior table pretty quickly after moving in, but it was potential, and you know how much we love potential! The view above is looking out from our living room. We removed this door and replaced it with French doors, anticipating that some day this space would be our prime outdoor entertainment area. This post will orient you to the outside door placement if you want a refresher.

You won’t see these raised beds in many previous posts because they got pretty gnarly after years of neglect.

So when we hired a crew to clean out our backyard planters, we had them rip these out as well, which gave us the blank slate we were looking for.

Over the months, the design for this space went through many iterations. We considered tiling the whole patio, but eventually settled on a raised deck with a pergola. The space was so long that it gave us a chance to add a built-in seating area, which would allow us to move our fire pit into this entertaining zone.

Construction kicked off with Aaron setting the footings and removing the brick light posts.

After that he framed the deck.

Here’s a look at the built-in benches getting roughed in. This will make a lot more sense a few pictures down.

Next he started adding the electrical and lights.

Before you ask, the deck in the back left of the photo is a kitchen. It is equally drool worthy and will get its own post. For now, let’s focus on lighting. We opted for lots of layers so we could provide the right glow for any occasion. Ambient uplighting comes from these really cool puck lights.

Next up was decking with our favorite outdoor wood: Ipe. We’ve been enamored with this wood since we used it on the garage and fence at the firehouse. It’s a great candidate for California because, among other attributes, it is termite resistant.

We opted for a clean look by covering the whole deck with full boards. You’ll see these lines carried through the rest of the deck when I get those photos up 🙂

Here’s a better shot of the benches. They’re a step down from the deck and sit flush with the yard. The hatch on the left allows for access to necessary electrical bits and will get covered by the cushions.

Then it was time to oil, which is the absolute best day when working with Ipe. Soooooo prettttty!

With the deck in place, Aaron turned his attention to the pergola, which was inspired by Costco. What? Inspiration is all around 😀

While browsing Costco one weekend (remember the days when you could leisurely shop?), we noticed they were selling a pergola kit. It was fairly reasonable and got Aaron thinking that it would be faster and potentially cheaper and easier to use a kit. The Costco option didn’t work due to the size and style, but Aaron turned to the interwebs and found Toja Grid, a modular, sleek pergola system. The hardware pieces allow you to connect 4×4 or 6×6 lumber in a variety of configurations. We opted for 6×6 to give the pergola enough visual weight for the space we planned to cover. The posts and beams got a coat of Sherwin Williams Woodscapes in Black Alder, which is becoming our go to exterior coating and color.

The pieces went together as expected, but we ran into a complete work stoppage when we realized that there was no way for us to safely raise the first set. The height, weight, angles, literally everything were working against us. Once again, the interwebs came to the rescue. Aaron was able to hire a few laborers to do the (literal) heavy lifting and get the pergola in place.

With the structure in place, we started adding in the decor:

  • Table – Design Within Reach 1966 Collection, bought from the local DWR outlet which can be a dangerous place to browse
  • Chairs – Wayfair
  • Pots (various, but lots from HomeGoods) and plants (my favorite is the New Zealand Christmas tree)
  • Lights – Costco
  • Sunshade

Much improved view from our bedroom below:

The fire pit seating got light gray cushions made from Sunbrella fabric.

The daytime photos are stunning, but the evening pictures may be better thanks to the lighting. It’s hard to choose which I like better… I imagine it’s like having children. You appreciate them for different reasons.

Now you can see the layers of lights. String lights keep the overhead lighting from being too heavy and a dimmer allows for brighter light during meals. The uplighting will run the whole perimeter of the deck (which will cover the entire patio – more photos soon!) Downlighting highlights that the dining room is raised and also washes the back of the fire pit seating.

Ok, I lied. I like the evening photos the best. Don’t tell the daytime photos I picked a favorite.

MUCH more to show you out here, including a magazine worthy outdoor kitchen that was Aaron’s first COVID project, which has allowed us to enjoy it all summer.

Current status

Note: It’s been awhile since I’ve come to this space… so long that it feels like a completely different world. Last time I was here, we weren’t living in a pandemic and George Floyd was still alive. Both things will come to define this year. For the most part, Aaron and I have been fortunate. I work from home now, opting for a uniform of tights and t-shirts. Like many others with remote-capable jobs, I feel tethered to my computer for long hours and some days are truly a struggle. Meanwhile, this country is simultaneously waking up and closing their eyes/ears to the systemic racism that people have faced for decades. We’re in the former group, a work in progress like most people, but unapologetically rooted in the belief that Black Lives Matter. We also believe in science and facts, which still feels like a weird thing to have to defend.

In the midst of all of this, blogging about my house felt trivial… and more often than not, I was left with very little energy or emotion at the end of the day. As recently as earlier this week I thought, “The blog is dead.” Putting words to that thought made me stop and really consider if I was done here, and I decided that I wasn’t. I want to be here in spite of everything going on – mostly as an outlet where I can put some positive energy to pull me out of much of the negativity waiting for me in the world.

While I sincerely hope that the November 3 results in a much needed change to the occupant of the White House, I know that the work doesn’t end there. We’re in a marathon to change America for the better – to create a more perfect country where our ideals are truly available for all. And because it’s a marathon, we all need time and space to step out for a minute, to recharge. So I’m here to do that for me and if my ramblings help you do that too, welcome friend.

This post was inspired by Redfin, who has suddenly broken through the Gmail barrier and lands their emails in my inbox (rather than the black hole that is promotions folder). I don’t mind. You probably already know I have a thing for real estate, and the emails make it easy to keep up with the houses selling in Camarillo. I feel like I’ve adjusted to the California real estate market, but every once in a while I see a listing and react with “they’re listing a 3/2 1,200-sq-ft house for WHAT?” It was one of those listings, that made me visit our home’s Redfin post to double check the size of our lot. And the listing pictures gave me such a kick that I decided to give you a current status look at where we are vs the listing photos. We had more than one COVID construction (COVID-struction?) project so there’s plenty of new content for any of you who have been stalking my Instagram or just generally wondering what we’ve been up to on the home renovation front. This will give you a taste and I’ll swing back with individual posts (and more photos) on some of the major areas that I haven’t posted about.

Let’s dive in, because the front of the house got a major facelift… and we didn’t do most of the work (gasp!)

The updated paint is a little hard to see in the after shot (more on that here) but the lack of grass is pretty apparent! We were so excited to pull the trigger on a xeriscaped front yard AND pay someone else to do the work. The front beds are still a work in progress. We also have plans for the entryway and a new garage door at some point.

Stepping into the main space of the house, it was fun to remember what was where and try and get the same angles. My lens wasn’t quite as wide, but I think you get the idea.

I really want to pull out the before photos of the living room and give it the post it deserves, because the transformation is CRAZY!

We haven’t talked much about the master bath… mostly because it’s kind of meh. We painted it white and it feels a little sterile and disjointed. I painted the cabinets and hated just about every minute of it. They turned out ok.

Yep! We did it! We finally got the wine room of our dreams. It’s not 100% done (still need to hang some art) but more details coming soon!

I loooooove the changes we’ve made in the backyard.

The only thing I’m not super jazzed about is losing the ivy covered fence. That’s a story for a different day.

So that’s where we are. There’s plenty of projects to dive into and I’m genuinely looking forward to pulling together some before/after shots of most the recent (within the last year-ish is recent, right?) transformations.

Backyard planters – The 2018 bonus project

We haven’t talked much about the backyard even though it was an important part of our consideration when buying a house. When logisitics and budget negated our ability to buy something with a mountain view, we settled on the need for privacy. This house delivered thanks to a neighborhood section full of single story homes and a back fence absolutely flooded with ivy, which adds so much life to the space.

 

We inherited three things

  1. Way more planters than we could ever hope to fill
  2. A smorgasbord of non-native plants that need continuous watering.
  3. Questionable irrigation for said water-loving plants

The irrigation worked somewhat well to keep the plants alive. It worked really well at encouraging weeds. While we focused on the interior reno, the planters were slowly overrun. Our solution: cut the water entirely, saving money and killing the weeds. It worked-ish. Mostly it was a hot mess of plants that we were thankful to have in the rear of our house where no one could see them.

The ultimate plan was to rip out every last plant and replace it with drought tolerant varieties, which we both love. But with everything else on our plate and the sheer scale of the project, we figured this project wouldn’t happen until sometime well into 2019. That didn’t stop us from wishing for a solution (or more time) because we use our backyard a LOT. We moved into our home in July and literally didn’t eat dinner inside until early October. Add in plenty of time relaxing by the fire pit and we logged a lot of hours dreaming about what the backyard would look like… some day.

That day came much faster than expected. Aaron’s business started ramping up last fall. Having some extra cash from that coincided with our neighbor’s landscaping company making some finishing touches in their yard. Aaron asked what it would cost for them to clean out all of our planters, and a few hundred dollars later we had a clean slate.

We had already tested painting the brick a medium gray  in a few sections so we were ready to get rid of all that red.

The hardscape was also fairly easy. We absolutely love blue gray Mexican beach pebbles, but at nearly $10 per bag we knew we couldn’t fill the beds with these. Thankfully white marble chips are about half the price and well within our color story. We opted to do the higher (and smaller) levels of each planter in Mexican beach pebble and the bulk of the planters in white marble chips.

In terms of plants, we decided on a clean look for the planters. We weren’t looking to overfill or buy plants that would spread. We also wanted native or drought tolerant plants for eco and “know your weaknesses” reasons. When it came to the exact plants we were a big basket of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

So we visited nurseries and took pictures and asked for prices and made sure that everything we liked would be good with little water and lots of neglect. Our biggest scores were finding 5′ jade plants for $55 and massive agave that had been neglected so long they literally grew through their pots into the earth and had to be dug up for $35. THESE are our types of plants!

In the far left side of the yard we planted a lemon tree. This was unrelated to this major project and obviously not drought tolerant. But we have always wanted a lemon tree and when in California, as they say. Next to that we kicked things off with a coat of paint…

In the taller section we planted a foxtail agave and a white bushy thing. Up front we opted for fescue (which you will see a lot) and tall squiggly plants.

If you haven’t realized by now, you should not be here for specific plant advice.

The plants for the center section of the yard needed special consideration because our dogs have decided they do not like the dogs that live behind us. One of the neighbor dogs has decided that the right answer to Great Dane aggression is literally pulling sections of the fence off with his teeth. So besides having some patches, we needed plants that the Danes wouldn’t entirely trample as we work on their manners.

Agave plants were the solution. We paired them with more white fluffy plants and fronted it all with fescue. The white plants and fescue on the right side are still kind of intact after several months of Dane re-education. It’s mostly a win.

Moving along the back fence we bought three aloe things and more fescue.

Because repetition in design is good and this agave was mysteriously only $50, we echoed the look from the other corner.

The key hole planter was our biggest challenge because of the sheer size of it. We wanted to make sure it felt appropriately full without spending an arm and a leg on plants.

Our solution was well spaced and various sized agave in the marble chips, backed by two massive jades and more white fluff plants in the Mexican pebbles.

It is one of my favorite sections of the planters… although looking at the photos it makes me want to redo our fence. Don’t look at the fence.

Rounding out the right side, we planted some variegated jade, more fescue and a tall something that I absolutely loved and negotiated hard for. Also of note, there’s a rusty piece of metal (because when one of your best friends hauls a piece of rusty metal out of the ocean and asks you to put it in your garden, you say yes). You may also have noticed that we didn’t paint the brick touching the patio. We have some other plans for the backyard patio, which are  definitely ON the list for 2019 (and kicking off in a few weeks!)

Beige to blue

A few weeks ago, Aaron took a trip down memory lane and reread all of the posts detailing the renovations of our current abode. He “helpfully” pointed out numerous mistakes, like when I told you I’d show you the updates to the master bathroom and didn’t. It’s true that I can sometimes over promise the exact content of the blog, but in this case I said we would paint the exterior of the house in 2018 and we finished with a just few days left in the year.

 

Shortly after we moved in, we selected the new, black roof to go with the as yet undecided shade of blue gray we intended to use. The winner was Glidden’s Approaching Storm, which we color matched to one of Behr’s exterior paint lines. We loved the subtle gray undertones and thought this blue would go well with the dark brown accents, thereby saving us the work of repainting those sections.

The blue looks fantastic with the crisp white trim and black roof! It also makes the brick on the entryway pop a bit.

Ultimately, we didn’t love the blue/brown combo and opted to paint most of those sections blue (to add extra cohesion). The only section we wanted to accent was the front corner windows. We grabbed a medium gray that inadvertently is the exact same color we used to paint the front pots. So clearly we like that color 😉

Over the summer, we also ripped out this bush, which was constantly overgrown looking. Not a great story… which is why it didn’t get it’s own blog post. There was a bush, now there’s not. It looks better. The end.

Ok, fine. It’s not really the end.  We opted to mulch the planter this bush lived in rather than replace it with other plants. We’re firmly set on the idea of doing a drought tolerant front lawn. We have NO idea what that will look like and mulching seemed like the easiest and nicest interim solution. The end (for real this time).

Painting the exterior was actually fairly easy. We opted to roll the three sides with low peaks. Originally, we intended to knock this project out over the week of the Fourth of July, but the weather turned very hot just a few days in. At that point, we decided that no one would notice if the sides of the house changed colors at different times and ultimately stretched this project over the course of 4 painting sessions, the last one culminating on December 28th. #CaliforniaWeatherRocks

We actually did the back of the house first. This area was in serious need of paint thanks installing fresh stucco and wood from moving doors and windows around.

Here you can see where we originally kept the top of the wall brown. After painting the peak on the front of the house blue, we circled back to change this section.

Opting to change the brown peak to blue really extends the height of the house.

This set is a good series showing all of the changes on the back wall of the house, starting with the original configuration.

 

The last side of the house was the most difficult thanks to a high peak and large shed with grooved siding. We opted to spray this section for speed.

We also decided to simplify the look of the sheds by painting the door and corner trim blue. It’s a technique that helped unify the multiple doors in the master bedroom at the firehouse and worked well here too.

So the house is now blue and we love it!

We actually knocked out a bonus exterior project that we didn’t expect to tackle in 2018. More on that next time (for real).