Front Yard Painting and Landscaping

My 2016 exterior blitzkrieg concludes¬†here, in our front yard. When we bought the house, it looked dated and lifeless. The awning darkened the front (both inside and outside), the bushes didn’t offer much curb appeal, and the siding and stucco were in bad need of paint. Oh, and a section of our roof was on the walkway.

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Julian Collins has been our go-to guy for several projects since buying the house. He demoed our basement and hauled it away, he painted our exterior, and he helped us remove this hideous awning. I highly recommend him anytime you need extra muscle¬†– he’s fast, affordable, and insanely hardworking.

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Jarrod and Julian conquered this awning ‚Äď my contribution was suggesting they use a board to hold it up and push it away.¬†What I lack in muscle I make up for in smarts.

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Removing the awning made a huge difference in our living room and sunroom.

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Our landscapers dug out the bushes in early spring, and then it was time for house painting. (The landscapers took out that dead light post as well, after I had an electrician sever the power connection.)

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I came to a decision on the exterior paint color quickly, which isn’t usually like me! I tried three swatches and had a clear winner: Gunsmith Gray from Benjamin Moore (the bottom swatch). It’s a gray-green; Benjamin Moore calls it a “deep, blackened gray.” The color is¬†from their¬†Williamsburg Collection. The historical vibe works well on our 1913 bungalow: it contrasts the red brick really nicely, and I feel like it adds some much-needed life to the front of the house. The white is off-the-shelf Benjamin Moore white. We used MoorGard Low Lustre Finish in white for the trim, and¬†MoorLife Flat Finish on everything else.

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Julian power washed the exterior and then returned the next day to paint. He charged around $800 for everything: the siding, trim, stucco, and back mudroom. He and a helper knocked it out in a single day, working from early morning until after the sun set.

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When Julian found out I had bought Benjamin Moore Regal Select paint, he said “Thank you, thank you.” Apparently the coverage is significantly better than Behr, which makes his job easier. I definitely¬†noticed the difference in quality when we¬†used it on the garage. So, I’d recommend it and will use it again. If you’re on the north side of Chicago, JC Licht on Irving Park is a great paint store.

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After painting came landscaping. Here’s the plan Monica from Red Stem put together:

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We used all native plants and shrubs, as we did in the backyard.¬†We disconnected our¬†northern¬†gutter downspout from the city sewer system, extended it to the garden area, and buried it so provides water to the garden area. (“DS” in the diagram above – we didn’t end up doing the southern one because we didn’t want to dig under the sidewalk.) This¬†guide was helpful for us as first-time homeowners:¬†Understanding Your Sewer: An Introduction to the Chicago Area’s Combined Sewer Systems. Did you know there are no ninja turtles in Chicago’s sewer system? That’s unique to New York.

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Of all the things we planted, I’m most excited about the multi-stemmed serviceberry tree. It flowers in the spring, produces berries in the summer, and turns bright reddish-orange in the fall. It will grow as tall as our front porch roofline. The cranberry viburnum bushes flower and berry as well, and they’ll grow at least 6 feet tall.

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The Red Stem crew was great. Really nice guys, who shared a meal on our new patio and were so considerate of our yard. I love this photo with Doozy overseeing the job from the window.

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Plants and sedges are interspersed between the bushes. Everything will fill in and fill out in the coming years. I will also replace and enlarge the windows someday with something more bungalow-appropriate (similar to this).

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One last before and after:

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And that is where I’ll leave you for now. I’ll return in early January¬†with a list of everything I hope to tackle in¬†2017. Happy New Year!

Living Room and Sunroom: Progress and Plans

I did a six-month check-in of the kitchen and bathroom, and now it’s time to share photos of the living room and sunroom. This space is the one that’s¬†changed the most since we bought the house. I know these photos may look stark in comparison, but that’s because my grand plans have not yet been realized. GRAND PLANS, Y’ALL.

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Now:Window

Whoa.

The sunroom used to be an exterior front porch. It was enclosed decades ago. The pizzeria window arch crimes were committed in the 1970s or 1980s, I think. I would have totally kept them if they were in a basement rec room, but for our living room: nope. They also blocked a lot of precious light from reaching our living room.

What’s been done:

  • The plaster cake frosting ceiling was scraped, smoothed, and painted.
  • The ceiling beams were painted.
  • The plaster walls were covered with 1/4″ drywall and painted.
  • The window arches were made larger, squared off, and drywalled. The lattice, posts, and fluorescent lights were removed.
  • The panelling on the other side of the arches was removed and replaced with drywall.
  • The doorway to the sunroom was squared off.
  • The faux bricks were scraped off the wall.
  • Curtains were hung.

Other than curtains, I¬†did none of that work.¬†Our amazing painter did it,¬†and he did it for less money than some contractors quoted me for¬†the paint job alone. Eduardo¬†wasn’t cheap because he did shoddy work, either.¬†He was a total pro. I am very grateful that our first experience hiring a contractor was so successful!

I’ve got a lot of progress shots for you.¬†Eduardo started by sawing into the¬†wall to square off the windows.

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After removing the fluorescent lights, I asked him to¬†cap off the electrical wires in the wall so that¬†I can use them to install sconces. Don’t know if I will, but I like having the option.

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The walls were covered in a yellowed-with-age wallpaper that was bubbling in some areas, and melded with the plaster in others.

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I learned while gathering quotes that I had three options for the walls:

  1. Attempt to remove the wallpaper, which would damage the plaster and require laborious work from a skilled plaster contractor.
  2. Remove the plaster walls entirely and replace them with 1/2″ drywall.
  3. Cover the existing plaster walls with 1/4″ drywall.

Different people had different ideas about the best way to proceed. I chose #3 because it was Eduardo’s recommendation, and because it seemed like the correct middle-ground approach. My only regret with this option is that it may have been helpful or interesting to see what it looks like behind our walls.¬†But it also may have been horrifying.

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After the drywall was up, Eduardo slayed¬†the cake frosting plaster ceiling.¬†This is what he¬†used to scrape it off. I can’t even imagine the arm exhaustion.

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Bless this man.

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Ceiling smoothed, drywall hung, and beams primed:

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Now let’s step back in time for a proper Before:downstairs4

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Obviously this is not our permanent furniture arrangement! That’s a junk table left behind by the previous owners that I’ve been using as a desk. And nothing has really been decorated yet, though I did hang up the¬†furoshiki scarf that I framed¬†and my¬†engineering prints.

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What I plan to do, short term (within a year or two):

  • Figure out the living room furniture arrangement and start buying pieces¬†as I find them/can afford them. It will be a mix of new and used things. I’ve got a lot of Craigslist alerts set up!
  • Create¬†a desk area on the south side of the room.
  • Lamps and light fixtures and plants and art.
  • Tackle that terrible sunroom ceiling. Those tiles are glued to the original(?) beadboard ceiling. I’ll use¬†that if it can be restored.
  • Tackle the sunroom floor. The¬†peel-and-stick tiles are in bad shape. Not sure what I’ll do yet: hardwood, tile, linoleum (real linoleum, not vinyl), or I might try peel-and-stick tiles myself as a budget-friendly option. There will be a lot of rugs going on throughout¬†the first floor, so I kinda like this floor space left bare. Especially since it will be filled with plants!
  • Paint the fireplace brick (it’s already painted – that’s red paint with gray paint mortar).
  • Rebuild the bookshelves and condition that wood – it looks parched.
  • Add trim to the windows and doorways.

The openings look starkly modern and characterless right now. They’ll fit the bungalow style¬†better once I add substantial Craftsman trim, which I’ll be doing throughout the house — something like the trim in our previous apartment, or like this:

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I didn’t really hesitate to paint the beams white because the color was a gross reddish-brown and because this room doesn’t get much natural light. The only moment of regret I’ve had was upon seeing¬†Jessica Helgerson’s amazing work in this house:

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Those awesome black beams had me second-guessing, but that ceiling is higher than ours and that space is one thousand times (and one million dollars) cooler than ours. More pics of this former library-turned-house are available in this NY Times feature.

Back to reality!

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As I mentioned previously, the brick on the original exterior wall is real. The ‚Äúbricks‚ÄĚ on the interior side was not. They were plastic!

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What I plan to do, longer term (within two to, I don’t know, seven years):

  • New windows! That huge plate glass picture window is a straight-up Don’t in the Design Guidelines for Historic Chicago Bungalows. I won’t follow those guidelines to the letter — for one thing, they’re overly preachy; for another, this house’s preservation levy was breached decades ago¬†— but it’s a helpful resource for bungalow details.
  • Install a transom-height window in the south wall of our living room.

Adding a high, south-facing window¬†would let in so much light that we’re not currently getting, while maintaining privacy. I actually hung a mirror (which you can see in the photo above) to help me visualize it. It will be approximately 6′ wide by 12″ or 16″ tall. Something kind of like this:

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Cutting a hole through a perfectly functional wall is incredibly¬†daunting, but I think it’d be worth the nerves and the money. I need all the natural light I can get.

Speaking of more light: we¬†removed the awning from the front of the house! I’ll include photos of that change when I do an exterior post. It made such a big difference.

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I’m currently building a long console table so the cats can enjoy the window.

Painting original trim tends to bring out the DIY blog trolls. If you think I did something sacrilegious, please make any comments foul-mouthed and funny.

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New House Tour: Main Floor

Thanks for dining at¬†Palermo’s Pizzeria! Jarrod’s your waiter and he’ll be taking care of you this evening while we tour the first floor of our new house.

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Let’s start in the kitchen. It’s the best room of the house right out of the box, which isn’t to say it’s perfect, but it’s functional and is the closest to being pretty decent!

In case it’s not obvious, that’s not our table nor our curtains. The house had been vacant since October 2014 and was mostly empty except for a lot of junk in the garage and basement. I think this table was an attempt at staging, to make the place seem homier. It disappeared the day before we closed; the junk unfortunately stayed put. (The house was sold as-is, so they didn’t have to clean it.)

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We’re not going to talk about that enclosed back porch right now: please¬†pretend that moldy mess doesn’t exist. That’s what we do every day.

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The kitchen cabinets are¬†kinda¬†nice: the drawers are full-extension and everything’s sturdy, but they were also put together poorly¬†and some weird choices were made. That upper cabinet to the right of the sink, for example, is a base cabinet: it’s way too deep to be up top and Jarrod is definitely going to ram his head into it while loading the dishwasher.

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That island is gigantic. I’m excited to have so much counter space on either side of the stove and four matching stools lined up at the bar.

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Another “Good ’nuff!” paint job from the previous occupant. That door on the right leads to the basement.

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Past the kitchen is¬†the staircase I love, terrible beast of a project that it is. Looks like someone started stripping that sixth baluster¬†and then said “Fuck this!” A few months¬†from now, I’ll probably do the same. My only saving grace is that I don’t want to strip to the point of re-staining (that would kill me and/or I’d set my house on fire), just to the point that it can be a clean paint job. I want the risers and¬†balusters to be white, with the handrail and stair treads stained brown.

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There’s a half-bath next to the stairs. The toilet flushes and the sink drains water, and that’s about all it has going for it currently.

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I’ll make it as nice as possible with a minimal amount of money, and then do¬†a full renovation down the road.¬†This bathroom¬†renovation will take priority over the upstairs one because more people will use it and it currently feels crummier.

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downstairs11Moving on to the living room. I love this view.

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Blogging is weird: it’s hard to know what balance to strike between “We’re excited about this house we bought!” and “Look at this messed up thing! Here’s another bad choice! And why in the hell would someone do this?” Just know that while I point out all the flaws, I‚Äôm excited about the overall promise of the house and still think (85% of the time) that we got a good place! Like George Harrison said in that weird music video that creeped you out as a child: It‚Äôs gonna take time, a whole of precious time, it‚Äôs going to take patience and time, to do it right and undo all the things some idiot did before you.

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This decorative fireplace will be nice eventually. I‚Äôll paint the brick (it‚Äôs already painted – that‚Äôs red paint with hand-drawn gray ‚Äúmortar‚ÄĚ lines) and rebuild the shelves. Art — not a TV — will go over the mantle. Nothing against TVs, I just don’t like them up high.

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I’m a little overwhelmed by how to arrange furniture in the living room. There’s a lot of room to work with, but the space is divided visually by the entryways. Neither half is big enough to contain an entire seating area, so whatever couch + chair arrangement we come up with will have spill into the middle of the room. My friend’s mom (hi, Mrs. Priebe!) is an interior decorator and I’m roping her in for advice.

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The front sunroom used to be an exterior porch. It was enclosed a few decades ago, with cheap linoleum on the floor and cheap acoustic tiles on the ceiling. All of it will get changed in time. It’s a sunny bonus room and I look forward to having some comfortable chairs out there for reading and coffee. And lots of plants!

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The brick on the original exterior wall is real. The ‚Äúbrick‚ÄĚ on the interior side is not.

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Those are plastic bricks, glued to a thin layer of concrete, which was applied to a piece of wall panelling, which was stuck to the plaster wall. Yeesh. This was one of things we were able to tackle prior to moving in, so it looks quite different now. Pics to come!

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The next post will tour the basement and outside, where we’ve already done a lot of work, so there will be before & after photos of some unglamorous¬†but very necessary changes.