The one time I surprised Aaron by assembling our wine room

When we lived at the firehouse and I gave people a tour of our basement, I would Vanna White my arm dramatically at the would be wine cellar that was just a huge jumble of boxes and say, “This is all wine. We either have a serious collection or a series problem.” The truth is we had both (though not necessarily in the way I was implying). We had a pile of wine in boxes that was so loosely organized thusly: cheaper whites on the right, cheaper reds in the middle, expensive stuff more to the left, “we bought this recently and I’m setting it wherever there is space” kind of on the right and in the middle.

Moving only compounded the problem. We couldn’t tell if wine was covered by the corporate move. To avoid losing our entire lot, I repacked everything into fresh, non-wine packaging boxes. The bottles survived the trip, were stacked into our third bedroom and promptly deprioritized as a project… until Aaron mentioned that he was thinking about buying a case of wine so we “knew what we had.” This was shortly before his weeks long trip back to the Midwest to fulfill fall wedding photography commitments, and it planted a seed in my mind, which was already fixated on “what the hell am I going to do for 6 weeks while he is gone?”

The answer: surreptitiously purchase wine racks, catalog our entire collection and surprise him.


Finding cheap wine racks actually proved to be relatively easy. Costway’s 120-Bottle Wood Wine Rack provided a no frills solution with a lot of space… which I needed because my initial estimate put our cellar around 400 bottles. I ordered four and hoped the “no tools needed” assembly was true.

In the meantime, I set to work unpacking and cataloging wine. I made a spreadsheet outlining the type, varietal, region, year, winery, number of bottles, and cost. The Vivino app was a huge help because it allows you to search their database by just taking a photo of the label. It worked 85% of the time, which saved a lot of googling. Simply working through all of the wine, loosely grouping it and getting all of the packing materials ready for recycling took about 6 hours. In the end, the dining room and part of the living room were overrun. I had to be careful when and where I FaceTimed with Aaron just to make sure I didn’t accidentally give him a peek (much more on that later.)

The spreadsheet allowed me to do very nerdy calculations. Here are some fun stats:

  • Total collection: 445 bottles
  • 76% red wine
  • California rang in with the most bottles from an area at 127, with about half of that specifically from Napa
  • Most bottles from a single winery went to Seufert Winery, a small Pinot Noir maker in the Willamette Valley that we fell in love with during our Pacific Northwest trip.


The third bedroom/wine room instantly became the catch all for things that didn’t have a home. So it took another 4 hours of unpacking, sorting and finding a home for things, like Aaron’s vintage camera collection, all of our decor, our art collection (most of which is too large for this house), before I had a clean slate, which you saw at the top of the post. Then I was ready to assemble the racks! True to the description, these were truly the Ikea of wine racks. They came with 4 legs, 5 shelves, 64 pretty long screws and one, tiny allen wrench.

With the shelves assembled, I *thought* I was finally ready to  load them up and call this project a success. I was wrong for two reasons.

1. 455 bottles of wine technically fit on racks made to house 480 bottles of wine, but that doesn’t leave much room for organization. I had devised a system to group varietals and regions then stack cheaper bottles left to right and bottom to top. I needed at least one more shelf, which I promptly ordered.

2. Loaded up with bottles of wine the Ikea of wine racks didn’t exactly stand up…

They needed to be attached to the wall and for that I would normally turn to Aaron, who couldn’t know about this project. Thankfully my dad was there to rescue me. A quick call helped me settle on 2″ L brackets, with long screws for the wall and shorter screws for the shelves. To be honest my brain remembered all of the measurements long enough to regurgitate them to an employee at the local hardware store who clearly recognized the “how the hell am I supposed to find these two screws in this aisle of screws” look in my eyes. He also helped me select a drill bit because there was no way I was going to find it in the pile of boxes that was Aaron’s unassembled workshop. I did, however, feel pretty smart for lying to Aaron via text and saying the neighbor needed to borrow our stud finder. He didn’t. It was me. #coolunderpressure

I digress. Back at the ranch with seemingly all of the tools in hand, I had to FaceTime my dad to find out how to replace the screw bit (?) with the drill bit (WHY DO I HAVE A RENOVATION BLOG???) and I was off and running. I successfully attached the brackets to the shelves and the shelves to the studs in the wall. There are only a few extra holes in the wall where I misread the stud finder. They’re hidden by bottles so I call that a win.

A few hours of stacking the shelves led me to this gloriousness:

It’s all here and organized and ALL I WANTED TO DO was tell Aaron. Actually that was a theme throughout this project. Somethings you should know about me is that I’m really bad at keeping gifts secret, and I’m really, really bad at lying. To counterbalance this, I told basically  everyone else in my life about this project – friends, family, coworkers. It was the ONLY way to keep my excitement from bubbling over and telling him about it all. It’s a wonder someone else didn’t spill the beans.

But the day he got home after 6 weeks away it was SO SO SOOOOOO worth it. I wish I could have figured out a non-weird way to video tape his reaction. The reveal went down like this.

Me: Casually enter the house, trying not to act too excited “Let’s put your suitcases in the bedroom” (knowing we have to walk by the wine room and expecting him to ask why the door is closed.)

Aaron: Brings a suitcase to the bedroom and walks back to the living room.

Me: A little panicky that he’ll notice some of the random things I unpacked to make space in the wine room but still trying to act casual “Oh, I have a surprise for you in the wine room.”

Aaron: (Basically knowing that it can’t be much because I am AWFUL at surprising him) Oh really?


He was completely floored and called it the best surprise I’ve ever given him. Honestly, I still don’t know if he was more surprised about the actual surprise or my ability to keep it from him. Either way it was totally worth all the time with the allen wrench.

Since then, predictably, we bought the final rack  (to be fair the Cabernet Sauvignon rack was much too crowded… hahaha) bringing the total to 6, and he has purchased more wine. #wehaveaproblem

Three major upgrades

I always struggle with writing about major projects that we contract out. While 100% necessary, they always feel a bit bland to talk about. There’s not much story to “We picked out shingles. The end.” But in the interest of thoroughly documenting the updates to our new space, these changes seemed worthy of a post.

Let’s start at the top (literally). Despite the thousands of words I used to tell you about our location and specific house hunt in SoCal, I’m pretty sure I didn’t explicitly mention that Aaron saw our future home for the first time on inspection day. When we pulled up, the first thing he said was “It probably needs a new roof.” This was quickly confirmed by the inspector and later by multiple roofing companies. However, the sellers will go to their grave claiming the roof was fine. Negotiations post inspection may have been (they were) a little frustrating.

Thankfully, we had enough money in reserve from the firehouse sale to cover the new roof, and Aaron worked his usual sourcing magic to find a great, affordable small business to take on the job.  We opted for their suggested brand (CertainTeed Landmark series) and requested all of the gray/black samples, which gave us these options: Georgetown Gray, Thunderstorm Gray, and Moire Black.

While none of these compliment the current beige on beige on brown color scheme, a new exterior paint job is on the list for 2018. We’re leaning toward a mid century blue gray exterior, but didn’t even have paint swatches at this point. We opted for Moire Black on the roof to ensure the finished look isn’t too monochromatic  in case we go a little more gray than blue when we choose the shade for the house.

From there we just had to watch them work and pay the bill.


We are both very excited to dive into painting this summer. Famous last words, right?

The second upgrade also became apparent on inspection day. We always recommend booking additional inspections for any major systems that may be of concern. Normally these are inexpensive and totally worth the peace of mind. Along with a traditional inspector, we asked an HVAC expert to give the furnace a once over. Besides being old AF (it’s original to the 1960s house), the inspection revealed a cracked heat exchange, which meant it needed to go. After a few bids, we hired Castle Air to replace the system. We were really impressed with their thoroughness, including adding additional vents to achieve better airflow.

The third major change was an upgraded electrical panel and adding a sub-panel to the garage. This gave us enough power to build out the workshop. We even found a local stucco pro to patch the exterior around the new, enlarged panel. The workshop has been Aaron’s main focus in the weeks he’s been in California. It’s crucial to the kitchen/dining room reno we’re planning to dive into in a few short weeks!

Painting is easy when your furniture is delayed

Moving is never easy, but if I have to move I’d like someone to pack my stuff, load it and unload it. In this cross country venture, I got my wish, but we also became acquainted with the many pitfalls of hired help and long distance moves. Some issues were minor, like unpacking the sink stoppers that belong to the master bathroom at the firehouse (sorry new firehouse owners!), and some were major and majorly stressful. Topping that list was this series of events:

Wednesday whilst in an RV park in Arizona during out trek from MO to CA: A friend from work who was also relocating texts to say that I should check on my household goods because she just found out that hers were going to be delayed. I emailed our moving coordinator and she wrote back almost immediately saying our goods would be delivered on Friday as planned. Me: WHEW!

Thursday whilst driving West through Arizona, less than 24 hours after after confirming our delivery for Friday: Our moving coordinator calls to say that our truck hasn’t departed from St. Louis, despite the fact that they have had all of our stuff for 2 weeks at this point. Me: WTF?!

We were without nearly everything we own for a week. In the interim, we pillaged the trailer for cookware, camp chairs, a thin mattress, bedding and eventually pulled all of the cushions out to make a faux couch. And as the saying goes, we made lemonade out of lemons and decided the best use of our first weekend in California was to paint our master bedroom, master bathroom and guest bedroom… because when you move from 5,500 square feet to 1,800 tackling three rooms in 2 days is actually feasible.

Master bedroom

We’ve long been fans of dark walls in our master bedroom, usually some form or gray,  but we’ve even talked about going black. Cut to us at Home Depot pulling all of the gray and black swatches available, when we stumbled on Opera Glasses, in Behr’s Marquee line. This deep blue resonated with both of us immediately, so we decided to break away from our traditional monochromatic leanings and give it a go.

I’m SO happy! I absolutely love this shade of blue. It made the entire room feel more refined. And thanks to the fact that it’s a huge space, the dark color doesn’t make it feel small.

Those dark corners make my heart happy. It feels very cozy.

The photos above are all shot in natural light, but  it’s worth a look at the electrical upgrades we made to the space.

We swapped the ceiling fan for a much sleeker version without a light kit. The lack of proper lighting in this house (and really all California homes) is mind boggling. We will be adding ALL of the can lights (I vow to the renovation gods as I sit here in our very dark living room).  Here we opted for 6 square LED cans, which put out a ton of much needed light.

Aaron also swapped all of the outlets to white, rectangular versions, and he installed our favorite dimmer: the Lutron Maestro IR. Our love for this dimmer is a hold over from my days working in the electrical distribution business where I got to know about all the latest and greatest electrical products. Calm down guys, it is not as glamorous as it sounds, but I did get a pretty sweet employee discount. Even when that discount went away our love for the Lutron Maestro IR kept going strong thanks to the easy light control and remote for adjusting lights from the bed.

Other notes about this room: I wouldn’t consider it to be done. We’re still using Ikea shelves as bedside tables, which I called “temporary” in this post from Sept 2013. We also really need some seating, like a bench at the end of the bed, and I have some art that needs to be hung. I doubt this space will get much more than that before we overhaul it down the road by stealing some of the space for an expanded master bathroom.

Guest bedroom
In the guest bedroom, we stayed a bit more true to form, opting for Behr’s Shark Fin, a medium gray.

Chair rails are not our jam, but removing these seemed like a hassle. Besides the normal drywall work that would be needed, in this room the top half of the wall is textured and the bottom is smooth. It’s really odd and not worth the time or effort to even things out. So, just like in the master bedroom at the firehouse, we painted it in order to get it to blend in with the walls.

This room also got new receptacles, a window shade and a more modern fan and light kit (not pictured). It also houses a bunch of things that are basically homeless, like extra fans and a bunch of weights from our workout room that I can’t decide whether to keep or get rid of. The good news is that the only real plans we have for in here are decorating – art, probably a new duvet, a chair and maybe different side tables. After nearly 4 years of constant, real renovation, it’s nice to have a list for a room that’s mostly “buy things we like.”

So one room is blue, one is gray (and bonus points if you noticed the master bathroom is white with black cabinets… more on that later) and obviously all of our stuff made it to the house eventually.

In which we plant succulents outside and all my dreams come true

This wasn’t the first project we did at the new house. The first project we tackled was painting our master bedroom… and our master bathroom… and, for good measure, the guest bedroom. We tackled those first because we spent nearly a week in our house without ANY OF OUR STUFF. But that’s a story for another day… a day when I have edited “after” photos when my husband lives full time in California with me.

It’s important to share these updates because you may have noticed in the introductory post for the new house that I failed to take good “before” photos of the backyard. Now I can’t do that without bringing you up to speed on these quick updates we made soon after moving in.

Up first: Swapping this table for our fire pit.

While it was great to have this outdoor eating area when we were waiting for our things to arrive, it didn’t fit in our overall vision for the backyard for a lot of reasons. 1. We have a massive slab (aka future table) and designs for a larger outdoor dining room. 2. This seemed like the perfect spot for our fire pit.

The post of the table is cemented in place, so removing it just required a quick tour with the sawzall.

We kept the chairs – 2 for the fire pit and 2 for the interim outdoor dining area.

Project #2: A planter makeover.

There are approximately 1,000 planters/planting beds at this house. While most of them need to be converted in groups, this standalone guy (no pun intended) was an easy target for ALL OF THE SUCCULENTS! I love succulents and have a Pinterest board to prove it. (Ok, that sounds weird, but it is true.) They grow outside here and this may officially be heaven. So you shouldn’t be surprised when you see a lot of these make their way into our landscaping.


Succulents + gray rocks. Be still my heart.

I intended to list the names for all these plants, but those photos are with Aaron in St. Louis. If you’re dying to know, leave me a comment and I’ll swing back with the info. In the meantime, I’ll just be sipping my wine gazing lovingly at these beauties.