Other backyard stuff

When we moved into a smaller home and I stepped out of the photography business, it made less sense for me to have a personal computer. I have a laptop for work and an iPad for most other computing needs (mostly online shopping).  But the change meant that sorting and editing photos became much harder, requiring me to snag Aaron’s computer, which he uses a LOT. Blogging started waning (as you know) and now the backend of the blog is throwing errors when I try to add photos. So, I’m bringing you a very unseasonable post because it was the most complete of the saved drafts. Apologies to anyone experiencing a true winter. The fantastic weather is a hallmark of SoCal and a big draw when we moved and chose those house. We’ve made steady progress revamping the backyard into our ideal oasis, including a stunning outdoor dining area and kitchen. This collection of projects rounds out this stage of the backyard makeover. The circular outcropping of patio has had multiple lives. Originally conceived as a dining space, we promptly removed the built in table and transitioned this to a fire pit spot when we moved in. When the fire pit moved to sit by the custom benches built into the new dining area, we planned to deck this section and install an herb garden. This solution posed a problem because circles are hard to deck and even harder to cap with a face plate. We ended up deciding that paying to have that section demoed was a better plan. We boxed out the herb garden with corten edging, filled with mulch. We snagged some square CB2 planters in varying heights. We ran irrigation through the bottom of the pots. The larger pots have a base layer of styrofoam (repurposed wine shippers) and gravel to add weight. This helps keep them steady and was more economical than filling them completely with potting soil. I ended up with 10 pots and chose different herbs for each. Many have survived several seasons: sage, chives, thyme, oregano, mint and tarragon. The parsley and basil last one season. The dill died pretty quickly. Last year my neighbor gave me a tomato plant that grew well, but produced subpar fruit. The Midwest wins for humidity and therefore better tomatoes. SoCal wins for just about everything else though. So we’ll stay. I’m pretty obsessed with this garden. I love being able to trim fresh herbs nearly year round. Tarragon has been my favorite addition to my kitchen. Chives are a close second, especially in the height of summer when they are prolific. With that done, Aaron finished decking the rest of the patio. Gratuitous dog photo, but also look at the gorgeous deck!

The last upgrade was a built-in watering bowl for Hank. We love having his water outside because jowls = drool. Aaron repurposed a bar sink, built a custom drain mechanism and an ipe cabinet to house everything. Now it’s easy to drain and refill his bowl. The ipe backsplash keeps the over spray off the house.

Hank’s favorite part is drinking straight from the faucet.

Here’s the best before/after pair I could find. The before is a serious throwback – from the listing for the house.

It’s SO nice to have the deck complete! And this photo shows you how well the herbs grow in the 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.

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).

Finding a fireplace

As with most things related to the firehouse renovation, the living room fireplace has evolved as we became acquainted with the space and started looking for options. The one thing that never changed was our desire for a wood-burning fireplace. We both love the warmth (literal and figurative) that you get from a wood fireplace.

As usual, Pinterest was a great spot to save some inspiration, as evidenced by Aaron’s extensive Fireplace board on Pinterest. Not all of these were contenders, but we thought it would be interesting to walk through our thought process.

When we signed the papers on the firehouse, we envisioned a floating fireplace situated in the middle of the room. Something like this:

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Pinterest/Source

Side note: When we bought this place, I wrote a long letter to our future selves detailing all the plans we had for the place. We printed it out, trashed the electronic copy and stored it with a bottle of wine that we’ll open on our 5 year anniversary. We picked 5 years because we would (obviously) be close to finishing this place at that point. Ha Ha HA! Oh, pre-renovation Aaron and Heather, how naive you were. I only mention this because the floating fireplace was definitely a detail included in the letter that clearly won’t be happening.

But, I digress… Floating fireplaces are cool. I’ll also take that tree. Please and thank you.

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Pinterest

After we moved in, we got a better sense of the space. This room is actually on the small side. We always talk about how BIG the spaces are in the firehouse, but if I could add square footage anywhere it would be to the kitchen and downstairs living and dining rooms. The living room clocks in at just 135 square feet, which has to include a sizable walkway to get to the bathroom and stairs.

A central floating fireplace was definitely out. This ultra modern beauty caught our eye next, but was eventually ruled out because of the configuration of the flue.

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Pinterest/Source

We planned to bust out the glass block window to allow for the vent/chimney.

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A fireplace hanging from the ceiling would require busting through the upstairs living room and roof to add the requisite smoke removal. No bueno.

The piece had some mid century modern charm, which we we love. That sent Aaron looking for a retro inspired piece. This Malm was the next thing to catch our eye.

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Pinterest/Source

The simplicity was nice and the price was good, but I don’t think we were ever terribly in love. It mostly hung on as a good, economical back up.

This guy though… this guy is just cool.

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Pinterest

BAM! Fireplace! Unfortunately the multi sided configuration didn’t make sense in our design plan.

Part of the problem we kept running into is that all the cool, minimal, wood-burning fireplaces are made in Europe. Because European design > American design. While we could (and would) ship one over, differences in the fireplace code and the sheer cost made it prohibitive. So I did what anyone does when faced with this problem: poured a glass of wine and pulled up Pinterest. That led me to the Stuv brand, which offered stand-alone fireplaces AND sold versions in the United States.

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Pinterest/Source

We loved several of the cladding options (the material that wraps the exterior of the fireplace) but overall the cost was more than we could spend.

Stuv also offered this really sleek option.

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Source

It comes with a really cool “face plate” that makes it look like a super hero (or villain considering the fire) when it is closed. Plus, you can order a grill kit and actually make food on it. Aaron was basically sold… until we found out it was even more expensive than the other version of the Stuv. Womp, womp.

Around this time we completed our refi and with the prospect of actually having the money needed to do this project, Aaron kicked into high gear. That man can source materials like nobody’s business. Seriously, is that a job? Professional Sourcer?

He turned up these sleek beauties from Wittus.

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Pinterest/Source

We didn’t like that the firebox was so small, and they were extending past the budget we hoped to hit.

With stand-alone fireplaces (except for the Malm) seemingly out of reach, he focused on fireplace inserts. Which led him back to the original Stuv, which was available without the cladding.

Aaron reached out to Stuv to get pricing and see if they would sell direct. They would, but the insert was STILL out of reach. The fireplace is such a focal point, that we decided to crunch the numbers again. After pulling up the spreadsheet, Aaron realized he had money set aside to remove the wall between the kitchen and dining room. Because we can’t tackle the kitchen right now (more on our plans here), that wall is staying in place, and the extra funds put the Stuv insert within reach! Huzzah!

We ordered the Stuv 21/85 sf (single face).

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We absolutely love the minimal design. A slim 1-1/2″ frame is all you see. The glass door slides up into the model and the track is hidden. The unit is fully insulated, which makes installing it to code much easier. This was important because we thought we would be tackling the whole job ourselves. More on that in the next post…

A few Labor Day scores

We spent Labor Day weekend like most other red-blooded Americans: hanging with friends and buying things. Except in our case we were hanging with and hosting some newbies to St. Louis: Kim and Scott from Yellow Brick Home. We thoroughly enjoyed being the first stop on their epic Route 66 vacation and touring them around a few St. Louis highlights… including the firehouse. There are two ways to my heart: chocolate and an intense interest in the firehouse. Kim and Scott definitely brought the latter, soaking in every last detail in every room (and if you know them you know they love details): where we’ve started, what we’ve done, and what we’re planning.

Their only request for their stop is that we do things we would normally love (aka good vintage shopping) and fill their bellies with yummy food. I gave them a few spots to check out while we shot a wedding on Saturday, and Sunday followed thusly:

Kim and Scott were traveling light (thanks to a cross-country road trip and a flight home) but we weren’t so we picked up a few scores at TFA. The first was this record stand.

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We happened upon it first and stopped in our tracks. The shape of the shelves and the wood toppers are just cool. Our initial reaction is always “where can we use it?” and it’s especially crucial right now because we are trying not to hoard any furniture as we look toward the living room/dining room redo. It seemed like a good option for the awesome bathroom (now that we’ve decided that this metal locker is headed for the workshop) as part plant stand/part extra towel and toiletries holder. Plus at $34.50 it seemed like a steal.

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We walked on, which is usually a sign that we’re passing on something, and ended up finding 10 of these Pyrex glasses in the clearance section for just $7.50 a piece.

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We bought our first set at TFA several years ago and they are our go to glasses for brown liquor (which if you’ve seen our bar cart, you know is a substantial part of the collection.) We have snagged a few here and there, but when you live with a klutz (ahem… me) you can never have too many vintage glasses. So the only question was “How many do we buy?” My response was, “Well, it depends if we buy that shelf,” at which point I turn to see Kim and Scott ogling it. When they heard of our interest they said, “You HAVE to buy this!” Ha! Sold. So we scooped up the 4 glasses with the least scratches and the shelf, leaving the building just $70 poorer… which may be a record.

(It’s Hank approved.)

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After sleeping in the next day (P.S. House guests that love to sleep in are my FAVORITE!) I whipped up some brunch at home. (I know a few of you are still mourning the loss of my food blog. If so, make this for breakfast this weekend: Food and Wine’s Brussels Sprout, Bacon and Gruyere frittata and Dessert for Two’s Cinnamon Rolls. We’re obsessed with both. You’re welcome.) Kim and Scott went on their merry way and we checked back in with the interwebs as you do when you’ve been unplugged for 24 hours. Then Aaron (nearly) shouted “Oh my god” in a tone that is either meant to convey “We are about to die” or “Listen to this really great thing I’m about to tell you” … or maybe that’s just me? I tend to be a little bit of a fatalist. I once thought he had been killed by prospective wedding clients as evidenced by this post on the defunct food blog.

In this case, the “OMG” was joyful because he stumbled upon not one, but TWO Craigslist posts for chairs that match chairs we already own. Too confusing? Let me back up. When we scored the desk and the dresser and the other dresser at South Jefferson MCM, we also walked away with 6 pristine, mid century Chromecraft dining chairs.

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If you do any MCM shopping you know finding sets of things is rare. More often you’ll see one bedside table when you need two or three dining chairs when you need four. We walked into South Jefferson, tallied SIX chairs and they zoomed to the top of the wishlist.

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These beauties are destined for the dining room and because we’re not sure how many people that will seat having extras on hand seemed like a good idea.

One set of chairs was available with a table at a new to us antique mall, so we tossed on some clothes, grabbed some Starbucks and hopped down to the General Grant Antique Mall. After inspecting the chairs, we asked whether the seller would be willing to split them from the table. The lady at the desk said a woman asked yesterday and yes he would. We instantly claimed them. (Sorry not sorry lady who initially asked.) And now we are the proud owners of TEN chairs at the staggering price of just $320. #dealoftheyear

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We’re not ones to let the rest of the antique mall go to waste so we wandered the aisles and picked up set of three Pyrex bakers for just $10.50. They match a set I already have and are perfect for individual cherry crisps!

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We also got lost in a booth chock full of St Louis and Missouri memorabilia, eventually walking away with “Thias’ Pencil Sketches of Missouri” for just $12.

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It’s a sweet book filled with sketches and a little history on each scene.

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So those are our finds from the long weekend. It’s pretty funny that half of the items we bought are just extending collections we already own. We’re nothing if not predictable…

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Labor Day feels like SO long ago. Such is our life when we’re in wedding season. What are you scoring lately that you’re excited about?