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Cabin Fever Daydreaming

March 1, 2014

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I know I’m speaking to most of the folks in the United States when I say this has been one long winter. I love this season, but when even I am sick of the brutal winds from the Arctic Circle and the never-ending trickle of lake effect snow from the Great Lakes, you KNOW it’s been long in tooth. Yeah, time for some sunshine, wouldn’t you say?

I usually don’t start my renovation daydreaming this early, but desperation has set in. In the past, we have always done some kind of major renovation project every other year. This is the year, if we are to do things as scheduled… but I’m not quite sure I can manage it. I’m still paying off the kitchen/dining room/insulation/electric renovation from 2010. That baby was expensive. The final projects won’t be as costly or intensive as all we have left to do is insulate and electrify the upstairs, gut and replace walls, and install flooring. But it will still take a large chunk out of my budget, that’s for sure.

We also would like to increase the living space in the house by converting the garage to a family room or bunch of bedrooms or utility rooms (not sure yet). The back door (which has not worked in years) would be the perfect spot for a huge glass door set and a pergola outside. Something like that is too large a DIY project for us, so I have been puttering around reading BuildDirect reviews and etc (check out their Facebook page, too). I’d also like to take advantage of the cathedral ceiling in there. What acoustics it could have!!! Alas, all a dream thus far.

But more practical things await us. Like replacing the original 1855 bedroom doors that no longer work. And ripping out the horrid 1970s linoleum flooring and installing warm carpeting upstairs.

Again, all dreams for now. Lord willing, I can pay off the kitchen loan and then FINALLY finish this place.

And by then, we’ll probably be ready to sell. :-p

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The Walipini

February 5, 2014

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The name sounds a little weird, but the concept is AMAZING! It’s a walipini! Have you ever heard of it before? This solves a lot of problems for us in the Northern Hemisphere.

A walipini is an underground greenhouse. In general, it’s a wide trench, six to eight feet deep, with a slanted, plastic roof. According to, you can grow plants in a walipini all winter long.

There are a few YouTube videos that I found interesting.

The Benson Agriculture and Food Institute has published a guide to building your own walipini. It’s definitely worth a look!

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Bookcases – DONE!

October 11, 2013


And thus finalizes my living room magnus opus: the 17-foot-long, 9-foot-high sets of bookcases made of oak. Voila!

Bookcases done

It’s my first *real* carpentry project. There were a number of bumps along the way and it took me a full year to finally complete everything… but it’s done! And you can probably see that I still don’t have enough room to hold all my books. Some of the smaller collections are stacked doubly. But it’s done and we are thrilled. It really adds incredible architectural interest to the room.

I also installed my cornice boxes (more on that later).

I’m eager to finish up a few more smaller projects that remain undone since 2011 (after we gutted the downstairs and redid the kitchen). There are still areas of trim work to be done…. it just never ends, does it?

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Creating Unique Interior Environments With Real Estate Developer Stephen Finfer

October 11, 2013

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Stephen Finfer has made a name for himself in the Los Angeles housing market by creating unique living spaces that reflect the most current trends and ideas in the interior design industry.

Finfer incorporates cutting-edge designs and added touches to produce one-of-a-kind residential options for an elite customer base in the L.A. area. Here are seven current design trends to help homeowners achieve the same results in their own homes.


The warmth and elegance of brass provides a welcome touch of color throughout the home. Relegated to second-tier status for many years, the antique look of brass has now come back into vogue and can be spotted in lampstands, drawer pulls and many other applications in modern L.A. homes.

Functional Kitchen Spaces

The stark, barren landscapes of the metal and marble kitchen have given way to rustic tiles, slate floors, wooden countertops and other functional elements to give a warm and welcoming look to the modern kitchen. Splashes of color and earth tones offer added visual appeal and allow the kitchen to be a gathering spot for families and friends throughout the year.

Lacquered Accessories

High gloss lacquers are increasingly popular as accents to walls, windows and other focal points throughout the home. When combined with the rich earth tones and vibrant hues in use by professional decorators, these accessories can shine even more. For added elegance, lacquered chests and screens can provide a classic look for libraries, living rooms and bedroom suites.

Vintage Chic

Ornate screens and dividers, brocade curtains and everything vintage is new once more. Mixing modern art with antique furniture can create a unique look and feel for homes in need of a remodel. Artisan furnishings are also popular: these hand-crafted works of art can spice up any interior design plan and offer one-of-a-kind beauty for L.A. homes.

Personal Art

While modern abstract art is popular among many L.A. trend setters, personal preferences should dictate the choice of art displayed in the home. Finding the right mix of old and new can create a fresh look for interior spaces. But the key to success in collecting and exhibiting artworks is in finding the pieces that speak to the individuals living in the home.

Primary Colors

Saturated shades of red, blue, green and yellow can generate visual interest throughout the home. Sticking to one integrated color scheme throughout the home, however, is recommended to create a cohesive theme and to provide a sense of unity in each room and living area.

Indoor-Outdoor Spaces

The warm and sunny climate of Los Angeles lends itself easily to outdoor entertaining. Creating livable spaces on patios, in garden areas and on decks is essential to make the most of the California sun and to create natural gathering spots both indoors and out.

Innovators like Stephen Finfer and others in the real estate industry are incorporating design trends like these into their residential properties and creating unique living spaces for discriminating buyers and renters in the L.A. housing market. By taking some cues from these design experts, homeowners can ensure the most modern and beautiful interior design for their own private residences.

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Find the Kitty Friday and YES We Have Been Doing Something This Summer

September 5, 2013


We got to a late start this summer. With me working, and some crazy things happening the past year, it seems that home renovation has taken a back seat. Make that a stash-in-the-trunk kind of seat. But it IS going on.

I’m finally getting around to patching the siding around the new kitchen window. Well, the kitchen window isn’t exactly new anymore. Remember that 2010 kitchen renovation? It was new then. And I, um, never finished patching the siding til this week. Heh heh.

By the way, can you “Find the Kitty” in this photo?

Fixing Siding

Yes, the house is suffering. I’ve completely neglected the back because the interior has needed so much work. We only have the downstairs completely done… I have such nice, neat little plans to finish the downstairs bathroom, gut and restore the upstairs bedrooms (they are still 1855-style with the original plaster and all), and then get to the siding and porches. But the house has other plans. It’s been clamoring for attention in areas that are NOT in my schedule!

The tub decided to spring a leak (blast those fiberglass cheapos!!!) and ruin the kitchen ceiling. The large garage door spring broke off and we have to manually haul the 100-pound door up and down whenever we want to get into the garage (there’s no “regular” entrance into the garage). The insurance company loudly complained about our “lack of siding” around the kitchen window — although we DO have plywood siding beneath the tar paper but they don’t care, all they see is tar paper so they think it’s just bare wood framing beneath, sigh. Add to the mix a myriad of other problems like flooding damage and the front porch sagging terribly due to excessive water and a washed-out foundation… tired yet?

SO as much as I would love to give the kids a summer vacation where they can play cool video games and play their guitars and keyboards all they want, I must be a meany mom and make them help me. I sometimes feel like the house is going to swallow me up. It’s SO needy. But I love the old thing and it gives me a chance to tinker and build stuff, which I love to do. I just wish it wasn’t so consuming and so durn expensive. I hope that by the time I finish all the “big” renovations, I’ll still be around to enjoy my labors!

What have you been doing this summer? Are you glad to see the season end?

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Rhino Deck: Planning your Way to a Perfect Deck

June 18, 2013

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A long-lasting, quality deck starts with a good plan. Rhino Deck can help you create a backyard living space that’s perfectly suited to your family’s needs.

Your deck is an outdoor living space, and it should be as functional for you as any room in your home. If you’d like to create a deck area that’s perfectly suited to your family’s needs, it’s essential to have a good plan. Rhino Deck can help make determining and executing your plan as seamless as possible.

First, identify your needs. The more specific you are, the better your results will be. Will you be using your deck for cozy family dinners? To host large parties? To house your new outdoor kitchen? To lounge by your pool? Your deck’s function will largely determine its size, features, materials and layout, so pinning down exactly what you need it to do is essential.

Next, consider your specific space. Location, foot traffic patterns, sunlight exposure, existing landscaping, availability of plumbing and electrical fixtures and your home’s footprint should all be taken into consideration to determine and deal with your limitations. For example, let’s say you have a small backyard but dream of a deck that’s ideal for large parties. One option could be to build over most of your yard. Or you could build a smaller deck and find creative ways to make your space work for you, such as creating levels or setting up temporary party spaces.

Once you have your plan firmly in mind, take the time to sketch it out. You don’t need to be an artist. You just need to translate your basic design onto paper so that others can help you execute it. Your city planners or your homeowners association may also need to see a visual of your plan to determine what permits, if any, will be necessary.

Once you’ve determined logistics and created a solid, feasible layout for your deck, you can get started on selecting your materials. First, think practically. Go back to your function and space planning to help you determine what would best meet your needs. High traffic areas require highly durable materials. Areas with high sun exposure need fade-resistant materials. Another factor to consider is maintenance: Once the deck is installed, how much maintenance are you willing to undertake?

Next, think about aesthetics. Your deck space should blend in beautifully and effortlessly with your home and perfectly reflect its style and sense of place. Determining your home’s style first, and then thinking about your personal preferences within the scope of that style, will help you determine what boards, rails, and accents will look best.

Rhino Deck offers three lines of composite decking, with different levels of durability, strength, and maintenance requirements. The company can help you determine what products best fit into your specific deck plan. Rhino Deck also offers a wide range of attractive decking styles, meant to suit any decor. If you need ideas, the Rhino Deck product portfolio is a great place to start.

Once you have all of your deck ducks in a row, all that’s left to do is build, then enjoy your perfect outdoor space.

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Toilet Tragedies and Other Holiday Fun

January 9, 2013


I had always relegated it to urban legend, those tales of Christmas-Day plumbing emergencies… but to my shock and surprise, those things REALLY do happen. And who else would it happen to but ME!!!

We were getting ready for bed late one night when my son ran breathlessly into the room. “The toilet is not flushing and there is water squirting all over the floor.”

{insert screaming, crying emoticon here}

We are a family of six people and our old house has two toilets. The one downstairs doesn’t work so well so the one upstairs is the mainstay. This toilet was installed way back in 1962, however, so you can imagine the amount of water it ate with every flush. And worse, the drains are so poor here that we would have to hold the flushing handle down until all the water was sucked down the bowl. I estimate that the sucker wasted 10 to 15 gallons of water with every flush. Yes, our water bill is atrocious. So I couldn’t say I was sad to see the old porcelain hag go. But at 11:30 at night on a holiday weekend?!?!?! Noooooooo!

Providentially, I had an extra toilet on hand. It was actually a miracle. In late October, Delta Faucet asked me if I wanted to try out their latest toilet, with SmartFit™ and WaterSense® technology! Sure, I said, imagining that I had months to install it….. my my my, such are the plans of mice and men…

We trudged upstairs to check out the damage. I knew the old toilet leaked a bit — the floor is spongy and it squeaks. After a quick caucus, we figured the wax seal beneath the toilet was shot, and since we have to remove the old thing, why not install the new Delta toilet now? The box said it had an EZ Out™ Toilet Removal Kit, so maybe something will actually be easy for us this time?

We rolled up our sleeves and set to work. The hardest part was removing the old toilet. Those screws were welded on by time and eternal moisture problems. Good riddance.


The EZ Out™ Toilet Removal Kit is really neat! It has a stiff block that is actually a compressed sponge. You plunk it into the old toilet bowl to remove all traces of water. The kit also has gloves (YAY for that!) a plastic scraper the remove the old wax ring, and a plastic bag to throw the wax ring away. My son actually got excited (it was his first toilet project) and wanted to scrape the wax ring himself. Son, BE MY GUEST!


Yeah, he looks tired. It was only 2 in the morning… 😐


We unboxed the new Delta toilet and I got my first look at it. Delta had sent me their luxurious Corrente series toilet and it’s beautiful! It’s narrow, so it fits better in the small space. It’s also elongated and taller than average!!! I can’t tell you how important this is. I sometimes get a stiff back in the mornings, and it’s not fun to have to .. well, you know. Those low-to-the-ground toilets are fine for 6-year olds but let’s face it we haven’t had a 6-year old here in a decade. Time for the toilet to grow up.


Yes, the cat made sure we were doing everything just right. She often joins in on our projects, which is OK except when she gets too close to the wet paint or, in this case, the silicone adhesive… *sigh*


The tank is so tiny! It has a special contraption inside — this must be the WaterSense feature. It only uses 1.28 gallons per flush! And the flush is very powerful, so no flushing twice. It works perfectly even with our sluggish plumbing system.


Here Livvy is supervising the toilet seat installation. Delta even provides that in the package!




Now if I can only convince the cat to use the thing…

So Delta saved my skin that night. It was a true miracle that we had the toilet on hand, truly. I love Delta products. I think they are built to last. I have lived in a lot of old homes, and I’ve only ever seen Delta products stand the test of time. We are still using the old Delta faucets here, installed by the previous owners in the late 1960s. They faucets never leak and are still working perfectly. That’s proof of some good manufacturing there.

Here’s the poop on the new toilet we installed. It flushes without any problems and we love it!

  • RSL (Rigid Supply Line) model is available for use where required by State or Local Plumbing Codes.
  • Maximum flush power while saving you money, Delta 1.28gpf WaterSense labeled toilets are virtually clog-free.
  • Features the exclusive SmartFit™ tank-to-bowl connection and SmartFit™ supply line, reducing potential leak points, over-tightening of the fasteners and cracking the toilet.
  • Delta toilet kit includes the tank, bowl, toilet seat, mounting hardware, SmartFit™ supply line, wax ring and SmartFit™ Multi-Tool. No additional tools required.

Oh, and we did find out the reason for the old toilet failure — when we lifted up the old toilet, the drain was filled with a wad of those “flushable” wipes. It was my wonderful job of running a plumber’s snake down the pipe to loosen everything down there. Yeah. Don’t you believe it when those wipes manufacturers say their products are flushable — they are not!

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Tiling a Kitchen with Travertine Tiles

December 12, 2012

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The light pastel shades and subtle pattern of travertine tiles has made them a popular choice for kitchen interiors. Travertine tiles can be used to good effect in creating the classic farmhouse style kitchen decor, in which they are usually complemented by other natural materials like wood and stone. You can eliminate the cost of acquiring the services of a professional tiling contractor by tiling your kitchen yourself. With the correct planning and preparation laying a travertine floor or wall splash back is not as difficult as you may think. Firstly, it’s good to know a little bit about travertine tiles before you use them on your walls and floors.

A little about Travertine Tiles

Travertine is a sedimentary rock formed near hot natural springs. It is a type of limestone, with both these varieties of natural stone sharing similar characteristics including the occurrence of fossils and a porous nature. Travertine tiles are extracted from quarries in large blocks. To counteract the holes in travertine it tends to be ‘filled’ making it a suitable wall or floor covering. Travertine tiles are usually filled with an epoxy resin to give them a greater level of porosity. The next step in making them a practical choice for kitchens and bathrooms is called ‘honing.’ Travertine tiles are honed through an abrasive process which helps to make its surface smooth and even. The extent to which the travertine is honed will determine the finish of the tile. A medium hone creates a matt finish. Travertine tiles with a matt finish are the most popular for kitchen and bathroom floors, where they provide a high level of slip resistance. More extensive honing will result in a high polish. Travertine paving for outdoor areas is tumbled with the use of rock and debris to produce a chipped edge finish and incredibly rustic appearance.

Laying Travertine Tiles on a Kitchen Floor

Preparing the surface

Honed, matt tiles like the Light Travertine Floor and Wall tile are a very good choice for kitchen tiles. Your kitchen floor needs to be prepared first before you lay a single tile. You should ensure that the surface of your floor substrate is flat and even and that the adhesive you are going to use will easily adhere to it. The floor may require priming to make it suitable for tiling on to. The floor must also be fully cleaned with all dirt and debris removed so the adhesive can set evenly.

Marking out and dry laying, cutting tiles

With a tape measure and piece of chalk mark the mid points on all four walls. With the chalk draw lines across the floor from each mark to the mark on the adjacent wall. This should leave you with a grid containing four sections. Dry lay a row of travertine tiles from the centre to the wall of one of the sections. Use tile spacers to establish grout lines. You should then be able to work out the cuts you need to make. Tiling from the middle will ensure that the cut tiles are only used on the outskirts of the floor. Travertine tiles usually require cutting with an electrical wet saw as they have a greater density than standard ceramic tiles. Travertine, however, provides a harder wearing surface than ceramic.

Tiling with Travertine tiles

Choosing the correct adhesive is important in ensuring your tiles adhere to the underlying floor securely. For travertine tiles on a kitchen floor a flexible adhesive is recommended. Tiles can contract and expand with changing temperatures and a flexible adhesive will make breakages and cracks less likely on such occasions. Spread adhesive from the middle and lay the tiles just as you did in the dry lay you had carried out earlier. If you have little experience of tiling or this is your very first DIY tiling job then it is recommended you choose a standard adhesive opposed to a fast set variety. Standard adhesives take a lot longer to set than fast set adhesives which will enable you more time to carry out the job. Remember to start in the far corner opposite to the entrance of the room. This will ensure that you don’t box yourself in and end up having to walk back over tiles you have just laid. Standard adhesive can take around 24 hours to set. Once the floor is set you can seal the tiles. Sealing travertine tiles will prevent the surface from absorbing moisture and staining. Read the instructions on the sealant packaging carefully. Sealant can normally be applied simply with a spray bottle. Once this has dried you can grout the gaps created by the tile spacers. Waterproof grout is the best choice for kitchens and bathrooms. Once the grout has dried this can also be sealed by the same method but any excess grout on the surface of the tiles must be cleaned away first.

Travertine Mosaics

You can complement your travertine kitchen floor with a travertine mosaic wall design. Travertine mosaic tiles create a stylish backsplash above worktops and oven hob areas. Travertine mosaics are attached to mesh sheets which can be easily cut and installed. A travertine tile backsplash provides kitchen walls with far greater protection than wallpaper or paint.

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The Built-In Bookcase Project

October 25, 2012


I have a home office in my living room. Because we shoehorn an office, a school room, and a living room all into the tiny 350 square-foot space, so the room has always been a disaster of clutter and mismatched furniture. This year, I was determined to address the problems.

Earlier in the year, we installed new windows, replacing the 1910 Victorian models. After that, we sewed curtains for the room, painted the walls and painted the trim. Then, I got rid of the monstrous 8-foot hand-me-down blue-and-pink couch and got two small, cushy love seats.

For over a month now, we’ve been building and installing two huge built-in bookcase units. One is 6 feet long and the other is 5 feet. I’ve had intentions of adding such a unit to this room for years. Pre-made bookcases (solid wood only, please!) are prohibitively expensive, and I could not hire a carpenter to do it. So I watched a few videos, read a few how-to articles, and decided to tackle it myself. Due to the “eccentricities” of our old home (that’s the understatement of the year), I had to use my noggin and do a bit of creative tinkering. I won’t bore you with the details here, but I had to use pre-made kitchen wall cabinets instead of base cabinets because wall cabs are only 12 inches deep, which is all I had to work with. We had to create a frame upon which the cabinets would sit, to elevate them to “base cab” height. That took a while because we also had to cut through the laminate floor to secure the frame to the subfloor. I have a very inventive son who is now thoroughly skilled with the Dremel tool. 🙂

Anyway, here’s a pictorial story of how it went.


Living Room before 1

Marking the wall for studs and placement of the cabinets.


One cab installed. ….five more to go…


The husband would come home from work and wonder what I was ruining now, lol. He has a difficult time […]

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Bookcase Progress

October 9, 2012


I forgot to take photos of the bookshelves themselves… we have one of the four units cut and stained. I start assembling later this week.

Bookcase progress

We still have no heat in the living room, so I need to up the ante. Gotta build that fireplace area and then the husband can fit everything else in. Whew. Winter is fast approaching!

In case you’re wondering, that’s Livvy’s bear on the counter. The bear is LIvvy’s “playmate.” She can play kinda rough, though. We took a video of her with Teddy a few years ago.

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