Monday, May 31, 2010

Real men don't need blue tape

And this is a story of how the best sheetrock and spackle job in the world got the worst paint job in the world.

Actually, the story begins a few years back, when my husband and I tried to repaint our apartment by ourselves. The picking of the colors was agonizing enough, but when we got into the realm of equipment, it got worse. You see, my husband didn't believe in tarp or blue tape. so, needless to say, we ended up in the heated argument over "spending" the money on such trivial and unnecessary "stuff". He thought he painted enough apartments in his life that he knew how to do it right.

It turns out, he didn't, but who's surprised. He was really upset with me for laying tarp and spending entire 2 days taping all the wood trim around the apartment. In a way, he was right - had I not taped everything, the job would have taken a weekend. This way, it took a week. And still I had blue streaks on my baseboard. Don't ask.

Fast forward to this weekend. We decided that the quoted price for repainting our bedroom once the construction was finished as simply too high and decided to do it ourselves. Rather, I hoped to do it myself. Well, my husband volunteered, and you never, ever turn down a guy when he volunteers to do something around the house. My mistake in all this was not supervising the work.

You see, he has this interesting zigzag technique of applying the paint to the walls. The result is not a smooth, even finish one would hope for, but a zigzag pattern of light and dark shades. He also likes to apply a lot, and I do mean a lot, of paint to his brushes and rollers. Dripping a lot. The result - my new, mirror-smooth ceiling is now "crying".

Well, the way I am seeing it, at least today, there are a few benefits to this situation:

1. I might finally be allowed to install crown molding, and

2. We, meaning he, now know better, and might be inclined to listen to directions and instructions with little more attention. For the next time.

And these are our little assistants, cleaning off the paint.

Friday, May 28, 2010

On the agenda this weekend - mulch

Oh, yes, all 15 yards of it. We kept thinking the portion of our property that has flower beds was small, until I started measuring and calculating. Well, it turns out we have quite a lot of flower beds, or portions of the yard that are under a shade so heavy, nothing can grow there.

Because the kids are so small, I opted for the really good stuff: cedar, without any color. Because it's cedar, it doesn't need to be treated with any chemicals, and it's a natural bug repellent. So, I searched high and low for it. About a month. I even drove down to Riverdale to get samples in little sandwich bags. No, I was serious about this.

Most garden centers nowadays carry the mulch only in bags. And for 15 yards, that's a lot of bags. Two of the centers I frequent mostly suggested I talk to the guys at RER Supply, local branch of 1800Topsoil. They said they get their mulch from them, and considering the quantities and quality I want, it's best to go wholesale.

So, we did, and the truck just dumped it in my backyard. Happy Memorial Day to us! And let's get to work!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mansion in May

Walk, run, drive, get a bus, but do whatever you can to get your behind to the Mansion in May. You only have a few days left until it's done.

Organized by Women's Association of Morristown Memorial Hospital, 15th Mansion in May Designer Showhouse and Gardens is at the Fawn Hill Farm in Harding Township, New Jersey. the doors opened on May 1, and will remain open until Monday. Mansion in May is their signature fundraiser and also our most profitable event, generating over $5 million for Morristown Memorial Hospital since its inception in 1974. This year, your tickets will go directly towards the Emergency Room expansion, a very worthy cause.

The 34-acre estate, location of this year's event, originally named Graymar Farm, traces back to 1937 when wealthy businessman Allan Kirby, the president of Alleghany Corporation, purchased part of a large farm located in prestigious New Vernon. The farm remained in the Kirby family until 1980. A few years later, the estate was acquired by its current owners, renamed, and greatly enhanced through a meticulous restoration of the main house and other buildings.

As photography is not allowed, this is the image of the front of the house from the organization's website.

And while it is impressive, you really have to see it now. I was stunned, floored, you name it.

In all honesty, I didn't expect much of this event, even though a friend has explained the entire process to me. The designers pick a room they want to work with. This year, there were 35 of them, so 35 rooms, from Master Suite to the Laundry Room. Designers then use their own funds to make their creation: floors, walls, ceilings, paint jobs, wallpaper, rugs, lighting, furniture, fixtures, accessories - everything, unless the owners specify an element they don't want touched. Then, these spaces are created and we get to admire them for a month.

But, and here is the unfortunate fact, after all is done, if the owners and designers don't reach an agreement on the price, or if the owners don't like some of the creations, they have to be removed. Yes, removed, and everything returned to it's original state. Oh, what a shame that will be for some of these rooms.

One of my favorites, A Library Under The Eaves, had these amazing, bright colors, and I was told immediately that the owners what that installation out. My other favorite, In A Guilded Cage, had 2,500 sheets of gold leaf in its ceiling. I don't know anyone who can afford that. And just imagine the waste of having to remove and repaint all of it.

All in all, despite the terrible directions, and the unfortunate parking situation, and the issue with credit card machine, and the rushing me through the house so they can close it up, it was an awe-inspiring afternoon, and I came home full of ideas, most of which were forgotten by the end of the day, unfortunately. Because, who can remember the details in all those rooms and gardens. Yet, I find myself now browsing metallic paints, pearl finishes and antique glazes, as well as upholstered beds, just in case.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Today, the House was awash in activity. In addition to all the work, the delivery, kids running around, we also had some visitors.

Remember how I wrote about the great, great, great-granddaughter of Harry Fenn (is that enough "grands", or too many?) contacted me recently, having stumbled upon my blog? Well, today she came to see me, along with her parents.

This is us around the kitchen table, going over all the different papers and comparing notes.

And that on the bottom left is the Little Man's head peeking out. He likes cameras.

It was such a pleasure meeting everyone in person! We had a lovely time walking through the House. I told them about everything we had planned for it, what we discovered in our research, etc. They've gifted us with the copies of Harry Fenn's and Alice Fenn Coffin's (Harry's daughter) works they still had in their possession.

Thank you, guys. And we hope to see you again very soon!

Moving forward in style

These last few weeks have been so slow, I was beginning to worry the work will never be done. Guys would show up every so often, spend a few minutes here, and leave. The truth is, they have been waiting for the new door, which was at this point 10 days behind. So, when the delivery truck showed up at our door today, full 24 hours before the new scheduled delivery, it was greeted by jubilation and even screams of joy. Most of those were mine.

The real treat was seeing it being unloaded from the truck.

And the driver was so cool about it. They took down the windows, and as we were happily clapping, he said: "Wait until you see the door. It is magnificent." That was a mouthful from a delivery guy. But, he spoke the truth.

They were custom built by Lepage Millwork, based on the drawings by our architect, Mark Wright, which were based on the original windows, illustration of which I found in the New York Library. Wow! A mouthful.

The new doors and windows are being installed bright and early tomorrow morning. Moving forward.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Our new ceiling

After long last, we have our ceiling back. It is actually nice not to have to smell the insulation anymore while sleeping. Not very serene.

The spackling will be done tomorrow morning. They should be done by lunch, then they leave and come back the next day for another coat. Then they leave it for another day to dry. I'm guessing sanding is day after, and priming on the heels of that. If I counted correctly, they might be done by next Monday. I sure hope so. I am really starting to miss my bathroom.

Now off to pick the paint.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Inspection

As predicted, it went swimmingly. Couldn't tell you the details, because I wasn't there, but I am told he left satisfied with both structural and electrical work. So, I'm happy. He's coming back tomorrow to make sure everything is insulated and ventilated properly.

Good news: sheetrock and spackle should be done on Monday, so we can have our living space back.

Bad news: the door is not coming yet. They are now saying another week.

Well, it is what it is, right?

Monday, May 17, 2010

So close...

Yet, so far. The rain has delayed us again, as well as the inspections. The latest: inspector is coming on Wednesday to look at the structural stuff, then again on Friday to make sure everything is insulated properly. After that, sheetrock and spackle, and I can have my bedroom and bathroom back. Looking forward to that one, because the kids bathroom has been acting up these days.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Shower Yourself in Luxury

Recently, a friend introduced me to a bath-lover's heaven on Earth - a great showroom. Well, she actually introduced me to two great things, some awesome reading material and a great showroom.

The reading material is a new, bi-monthly, publication Aspire, which offers "an in-depth look at great homes and estates, inspiring design and the people who bring it all together", according to their website. As any girl, I love a good glossy, especially the one that has two of my favorite things in it - old houses and great design. So, lots of great photographs. And great writing to boot. They have some of the most sought-after contributors writing for the magazine. The format is much larger than your standard newsstand magazine, probably because you can only find Aspire in your inbox, provided you subscribe to it. And here is a sneak peak of the May issue cover.

And now, the icing. Last night, I've been invited to a design event hosted at Birdsall Bath Design showroom, located in North Plainfield, NJ, on Route 22. The event was organized by the Aspire magazine, with an intent to showcase this beautiful space to the design industry insiders. Not that I am one, but it feels so good to be surrounded by beautiful things, so I'm willing to fake it.

One of the most amazing things about Birdsall Bath Design is that it is the first LEED-certified bath showroom in the country, and it's right here, in New Jersey. The second most amazing thing are the products and vendors featured. This is not your local home center variety, as much as I like them. This is something completely different. The prices clearly reflect it. But, as they say, you get what you paid for. Birdsall designer will come to your house, measure the space, work within your budget, help you with appropriate choices... I mean, think about it. Bathroom is the new sanctuary. And when there are so many choices, you really need help deciding.

Because we are human, living is not just about function - it is about form as well. This has been my mantra for the last few days. And an excuse for thinking about redoing the bathrooms, which are all very functional, but not of the pleasing form. At least to this eye [wink, wink].

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Your Old House Workshops - Part IV: The Exterior

This Saturday, May 15
10 AM to 12 PM
108 Orange Road, Montclair, NJ

This Saturday is the final installment of the 4-part Restoring Your Home workshops, with a 2-hour program on the exterior of your home. Using the Montclair Historical Society grounds on Orange Road as the classroom, we'll walk the exterior, talking about foundations and roofs, and everything in between. We'll hear about some of the recent restoration projects on the grounds, and we'll discuss common historic building materials, common problems, things to watch for, and how to fix problems in a historically sensitive way.

Co-sponsored by MHS and the Van Vleck House and Gardens, the workshops are designed to introduce you to the knowledge you need to plan and execute a restoration or remodeling of your older home.

The cost is $10 per person per workshop. MHS members and Van Vleck House and Gardens members are always free. Please send a note to if you'd like to register.

Monday, May 10, 2010

It's been quiet around here

The carpenters have finished with the framing, and are now waiting for the new door to arrive. They have only been coming in the morning to check on the plastic covers over the frame. Other than that, they haven't been around much. I've been told today that the ETA on the new door is the 14th. Now we wait.

Meanwhile, the electricians have been working on replacing the existing high-hats with the new, insulation-contact rated ones, and installing the new junction box for our ceiling fan. But, then they had an emergency, so they haven't been back since Friday.

Oh, it turns out that all those junction boxes we had in the ceiling were actually dead, thank God. So, they simply ripped them out.

Next steps: new door, removing the drain, finishing the electrical work, insulating and Sheetrock. I can't wait. I really want my bathroom back.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Latest news


Apologies for not being able to update you daily on what is going on with the work. Partly, it's because everything is going really well, and there isn't much to talk about; and partly because I'm really busy with actual work, as in a job that pays for all of this.

Briefly, we've removed the sheetrock and the insulation from the ceiling in what is called a "sitting room" in the Master Suite. Again, once you strip all the layers we found the same thing we found elsewhere - good bones. And with good bones, anything is possible.

One thing that really worried us were 2 uncovered junction boxes, just sort of tucked in between the joists and the floor/flat roof. Not only is this against code, but it's also dangerous. The electrician was all over them the second he walked into the House.

The second thing was this:

Remember that drain we had smack in the middle of the flat roof that nobody knew why it was there, because it clearly wasn't working since it was at least an inch higher than the roof? Well, this is the underside of it. The boys promptly removed it and closed that portion of the roof. But, other than having that drain in my bedroom, what really worried me was it's placement - right next to the junction box that was used for our light.

Well, I am certainly glad the drain never worked. Aren't you?