Surfaces, 1965-

Me: Ohhh! Look at this Holly Hobby shelf paper! I love it!

Spouse: …

Me: Fine.
Vintage Holly Hobby shelf paper

I would absolutely choose this print for a bedspread. Today. I would.
vintage flowered shelf paper

Why the 1980s veered away from faux mosaic vinyl to hideous grid patterns is beyond me. (Looks a bit like that “Armstrong embossed Excelon tile in swirl chip design” from yesterday, no?)
vintage vinyl flooring

All of this has gone to the great construction graveyard, sadly. Next up: the clean, bright swatches we’ve merrily settled on for our home’s new look. (Also known as: the selection that made it through weeks of yelling, pouting, meltdowns in the immaculate IKEA kitchen showrooms, and aggressively emailed links to Pinterest boards. All of the aforementioned being me. Spouse is innocent.)

“It’s the active room!”

Okay. This is AMAZING. Googling around for info on 1965 asbestos tile, I found this commercial for Armstrong floors. So many things to love, here. That fireplace, for one. Somebody, please dress up in a pencil skirt and come dance with your fella in my living room, m’kay? It’s the ACTIVE ROOM!

What would Don Draper say about that piece of genius?

In fact, that’s exactly what we found under the filthy carpets in the dining room — a wide swath of asbestos tile.

asbestos tile

We’ll be covering directly over that situation with engineered maple planks, which are waiting for us in a local storeroom as we speak!

Besides the bummer of finding hazardous material under the carpets, we were also left with hundreds (and hundreds and hundreds) of tough little staples to pull out by hand. Those blue-green blobs are one row of said staples, with nasty carpet pad stuck underneath.

Here’s me, gleefully pulling up that carpet, still innocent. This is easy, I’m thinking. No problem! I’m humming. Nothing a little ventilation mask and matching pink work gloves can’t handle!

ripping up carpet

All of this brings back memories of the original avocado green shag in my 1980s childhood home–which gave way early on to dark brown low-pile carpets. What were your floors like? What do you wish for now?

The kitchen, part 1

There’s something to be said for an original 1965 kitchen. And that thing is, it’s charming and retro and utterly inefficient (hello, blind corners). The kitchen in our new house did have a few recent “improvements”: a huge, repurposed slab of 1980s wood grain laminate with a massive and unstable overhang (an attempt at bar seating), a filthy and broken acrylic sink, and a single can light wildly off-center of the sink.

In our last house, we’d lived with 1920s cabinetry — heavy slab drawers that scraped wood-on-wood with every pull, sending sawdust into our silverware. Lower cabinets that were a full 10 inches shallower than standard, so nothing really fit. Uppers that came so close to the countertops, they rendered our work surfaces useless. (These useless countertops were also “upgraded” with terrifically ugly, giant granite tiles that hid every splash of goo — which is not a benefit, when you’re constantly setting your hand down into sticky, disgusting spots of unknown age and origin. If you can’t see a spill, you can’t guarantee it will be cleaned up. That granite also broke dishes like you wouldn’t believe.) The layers upon layers of shelf paint were eternally soft, easily dinged, and stuck to the bottom of dishes. For seven years, I did all of our cooking–slicing, chopping, mixing, blending, spooning, lunch-packing, dinner party prep, everything–on a 26×26-inch butcher block. I worked in my own shadow, since the only light was behind and above me.

Presented with the opportunity to demolish a crappy kitchen, we couldn’t get those hammers into our hands fast enough. We could exact our revenge on years worth of privileged, middle-class problems, blow by blow.

Here’s the before (note the gorgeous light fixture and popcorn ceilings! And that, uh, sweet little arched cutaway so the cook can see into the dining room — yeah. It was basically hacked out with a jigsaw.):

ranch renovation, kitchen before

Uppers = down! Carpet = gone! Annnnd, that’s asbestos tile and a huge patch in the floor.Kitchen mid-demo

All clear. Rawwrrr, victory! We ripped out the soffits to create a clean ceiling line and maximize the space for open shelving. At this point, I am dying to take down that gorgeous light fixture and send it to its peaceful grave at the rebuilding center, but it’s the only light left in the room. Baby steps.kitchen demo complete

Up next: how do you design an efficient cabinet plan, and The Great White vs. Stainless Debate.

Found, no. 1

The previous owner of our new house left a few things behind.

There was a random handful of items that could be labeled “The Stuff People Usually Leave Behind, Mostly In That Little Cabinet Over the Stove.” The cheap tealight votives. Bottle of lemon extract. Expired green tea.

Then there’s a teeny, tiny sake cup. Not much bigger than a thimble.

Did she ever drink from it? I imagine her on a blind date. She’s 51 and hasn’t dressed up in a long time. She keeps pulling at the front of her dress because it’s too tight and gaps open between the top two buttons. Her paper napkin is wadded up in her left fist and her orange chicken is sitting untouched in a puddle of cooling, sweet goo. She keeps her ankles crossed.

Her date talks without stopping, shoveling forkfuls of rice into his mouth. A single grain is stuck to his chin. She can’t stop staring at that grain of rice. She wants to reach over the table and flick it away. She brushes her hand across her own chin, in a hopeful gesture of telekinesis. She can’t hear what he’s saying. There’s nothing but that grain of rice, bobbing up and down with every chew.

He finally gets up from the table. He hikes up his pants as he strides toward the men’s room. She is filled with relief. He’ll see the rice in the mirror, surely, and it will be gone when he comes back. She shifts in her seat and passes her wadded up napkin from her left fist to her right. She glances around at the neighboring tables, exhales.

The waitress fills the water glasses from the large plastic pitcher, but it’s mostly ice, and a piece escapes mid-pour and slides across the Formica, coming to a stop at the bottle of soy sauce. Next to the soy sauce is a little sake set, empty. It looks like it’s been there a long time. Maybe it’s decorative. She picks up the tiny sake cup. It fits loosely, upside down, over the tip of her index finger. She let’s it hang there, and wonders at its size. She’s never tasted sake. It must be very strong, if this tiny cup is a serving.

Beyond the dangling cup, she sees her date walking back from the men’s room. He takes long, obnoxious steps and swings his arms in a way that makes people in the booths lean away from the aisle. From yards away, her gaze narrows on his chin — on a small, white pinpoint. The grain of rice still hangs there. Without thought, dipping her hand below the table, she drops the sake cup into the side pocket of her red patent leather purse. As her date rolls up tableside, she rises, pats her hair, slings the purse over her shoulder, and thanks him for a lovely time.

found sake cup

The fireplace

We bought our last house because it would give us significant tax write-offs as a young couple with rising incomes of the original, floor-to-ceiling, craftsman built-ins. The cabinets with wavy glass panes were perfect for antique books and barware. The nooks and drawers let us curate our clutter. Our guests always fell for those built-ins just like I did. They were charming and set our house firmly in 1920.

Big yard aside, I’m pretty sure we bought our new house because it’s a buyers market and a great time to invest of the fireplace.

fireplace

The inspector remarked on the fact that it’s real brick and mortar. It both divides and unifies the living and dining spaces. The brick is also the focal point at the end of the front entryway. It’s kind of the centerpiece of the house, a fact which will have to be played up or down, ultimately (strip the weird patchwork paint? Lightly whitewash?). We love that it firmly says “1965.” And, we also love this mystery:

fireplace niche

Is it a pizza oven? Is it decorative? It has an operating flue and damper. It’s clean of creosote. Research has turned up nothing specific, except for this:

brady bunch kitchenIn case that doesn’t ring any bells:

alice in the kitchen

Looks like the Bradys upgraded to stainless appliances at some point, too.

This is not the fun part

bathroom remodel, phase one.

The landing pad for our leap of faith is a lovely rental. It has huge windows. The sun pours through them and slides across the floor and slips onto my lap on the couch and … oh. The sun. The slices of blue sky I can see from said couch. The frosty white, massive popcorn clouds. The sunsets that just don’t quit.

Our rental also has a sweet gas fireplace, open kitchen, vaulted ceilings, and it’s two minutes from our daughter’s school.

But. It has three bathrooms. This does not go into the “pros” category. There are only three people in our family, and one of them is only 42 inches tall. We do not need FIVE bathroom sinks. Double vanities, you know. For crying out loud. Just stocking the toilet paper takes me ten minutes. I’ll pass.

And it has no yard. People think I mean it has a tiny yard. But it really has zero yard. Well, a strip of grass next to the driveway. It’s in a development planned for high density, or some such, with a communal driveway and garages that all face each other off the back of the houses. The front door opens toward a perfectly smooth, new sidewalk (and those spectacular skies. Did I mention those?) — and a really busy street.

So we moved to a town where the outdoors are glorious, but we can’t actually BE outside at our own home. For a natural born couch-lounger like me, this is deadly. I need a backyard, or I don’t leave the upholstery. And for a kid like ours, who runs up mountain trails with glee, it’s the same thing as confining a border collie to a studio apartment in the city.

Also, I think I mentioned a wistful hope for chickens? Yeah.

Needless to say — when we landed here we knew we wanted to shop for our next house right away. We wanted to get settled. To start layering the memories. To Be Here Now. Top on our list of requirements: a big yard. Also: something newer than 1940, but older than 1980. Two bathrooms. (Just two.) A garage. Not too many projects required — just enough that we could put our stamp on the place. And oh wouldn’t it be great if we could buy at a price that allowed us a full down payment from our little nest egg, plus some leftover for improvements.

First reality check: big yards are fairly rare in this outdoor mecca. Weird. People say it’s because “the whole region is your backyard!” (true) and “our playgrounds are so new and beautiful!” (true) and “oh, they developed the new neighborhoods to bring everyone out front, together — it’s a community building feature” (puhleeze) and even “you’ll be surprised at how cold it gets in the winter. You won’t go outside that much.” (Wait. What? See number 1.)

After much searching, and much indignance at chicken-dream crushing HOA covenants, we discovered what seems to be one of the only mid century neighborhoods in town. That is to say, there are plenty of houses built in the mid century scattered around the area. But this neighborhood was actually a planned, developed area in the early ’60s — and it’s full of low-slung ranches, clerestory windows, entryways — and huge yards.

We refreshed listings obsessively for about a month, and there it was. The house. It hit 89% of our wish list–for starters, a 100×90-foot lot that spaciously holds about 14 towering juniper trees. Also, two bathrooms, three bedrooms, and a super fabulous brick fireplace. And the place was bank-owned. Which means, do a super-thorough inspection (you get it as-is) and expect a lightning-fast closing. And a three digit mortgage, ohmygod. The windows were all way too small, and the chain link fence would have to go, but it was obviously the one.

We closed on November 16. My Pinterest boards suddenly had a place to manifest. Chevron area rugs! Lovingly organized kitchen drawers! Hall closets converted into adorable reading nooks! Industrial-chic pendant lights! It was going to be so much fun!

It is now February 12.

After ripping out the carpet and tearing down the kitchen cabinets and hiring a contractor and painstakingly designing custom cabinets only to hyperventilate over the $8,000 estimate (CANCEL) and going into shock over a plumbing bill and shouting at each other about the electrician’s schedule and postponing giving notice to our landlord AGAIN, this is where we are: insulation and drywall is up. Mudding, texturing, and coating the dining room’s popcorn ceiling is “almost done.” Next is painting, flooring, kitchen cabinets (IKEA), kitchen sink, bathroom vanity, bathroom tile … and so on.

We have five weeks until moving day.

To be fair, project creep was actually fairly minor, but holy hell all of this takes a lot longer than planned. And is way more expensive than even our best, semi-experienced guesses imagined. (This is where my little brother presses his lips together and gives me the “I told you so. Nobody ever listens to me.” look.)

I can now identify wood species at a glance. See, the Big Thing, the Main Vision for this place was to remove the filthy carpet and replace it with beautiful wood floors. The floors, the FLOORS! We just knew they would entirely alter the identity of the house. They would be light and lovely, they would make the rooms glide, one into another, in graceful lines of organic-modern style. Please god, none of that tappy-sounding cheap Pergo shit. The floors would be the very symbol of the success of our life-altering leap of faith.

Five, six, I don’t know seven? visits to flooring display rooms later, I had cried more than twice, and whipped out my claws on a snippy “flooring and room designer” aka bored, wealthy cougar salesperson who thought she could tell ME about grain variations in that tone of voice. Nuh uh.

So the natural-finish, 5″-wide, engineered maple floors are finally ordered. I have been beaten to near-apathy by indecision, waffling, and second-guesses. The spouse’s knuckles are scraped and bloody from multiple late nights spent crawling around in the attic, tracing and building circuits.

Countertops. Paint chips. We can do this.