before & after: backyard overhaul

Just in time for summer, our massive backyard overhaul is done!

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What once was a weedy, overgrown, under-used space is now our family’s perfect spot for outdoor fun. I’m already planning a backyard fête for July, but am just as happy simply having a place to kick the soccer ball around with my son. And though I still have a few more plantings to put in — mosquito-repelling lavender around the brick patio, some sun-loving perennials (maybe yarrow or black-eyed Susan) along the side wall — the major work has been done. The rest is just icing on the cake. Here are some before and after shots, so you can see for yourself.

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This is the view from the back deck. On the right, you see a forest of juniper. Near the center is the old trellis, which took up way too much valuable real estate in our yard. It came down pretty quickly. Happily, someone else wanted the roses. We didn’t want them, but still hated thinking that they would go to waste. Now the roses have a new home.

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The broken cement walkway in the yard was another eyesore, as was the shabby, ivy-covered chain link fence on the left side (not that the white horse fence along the back was much better).

imageMidway through the project. All the patchy grass, ivy, and overgrown juniper have been removed and are headed for the mulch pile. The new fence is coming up. I’m dreaming of playing bocce ball. Everything is looking good.

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And voilà! The new view from the back deck, showing the fresh sod and new fence. (The fence has a gate, by the way. It’s just open right now.) You can’t even tell that a cement walkway was there.

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It feels like we gained an extra 10 square feet of yard after removing all the overgrowth. And the plantings we have will really stand out, like the camellias that still surround the elm tree; they were a bit lost before. The lavender will go alongside the brick (visible on the bottom left), which will also bring some lovely color and scent. There’s even room for a raised garden bed in one corner, which I hope to build with some left over pallets.

All three of us — me, Mr. M, and the Kid — are super happy with the outcome. Thanks so much to The Greener Side for helping us get it together!

Outdoor living, here we come!

Cheers,

Nicole

camellias, caladium, and a brief moment of calm

This weekend we were out in the yard again, weeding, removing old branches, and just thinking some more about how to clean up the space and make it work for us. With so many projects — both inside and out — it can feel a bit overwhelming at times. Despite the general disarray, though, we did find some bright spots out back, like our beautiful little camellia, which treated us to some unexpected hot pink petals.

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Camellia blossom in the backyard.

The shrub was peppered with new buds, promising much more beauty to come.

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Camellia buds

Inside, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a caladium that’s been growing like gangbusters and has completely dwarfed an avocado that I’d been trying to grow. Last season, I moved my original caladium into a bigger pot, but left a bit of the soil behind in the process. I then reused the first pot and leftover soil when planting the avocado seed (after weeks of the seed looking like a science project on the kitchen counter). Now I have another beautiful caladium growing alongside the avocado. And they seem to be getting along just fine, especially as avocado plants are rather tall and lanky, and the caladium — with its lovely large ears — more full and showy.

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My caladium. The tall, slender avocado sprout in on the left behind the lower leaf. Farther left is a jade tree. On the right, a mango plant.

My plants reminded me that you don’t always have to know the answer to everything right away, and that sometimes surprises can be good — a reassuring thought to keep in mind with so many upcoming projects, so much work, and so many details to consider.

Cheers,

Nicole

kitchen restoration (part 1 of …)

So, Mr. M and I have decided on our first project for the house – the kitchen!  Now, for the record, let me first state: I love our house.  It was built in 1920, has a wonderfully wide front porch, sits on a corner lot with an old elm tree that provides plenty of shade in the summer, has the original clawfoot tub, transoms over all the bedroom doors, and lots of windows.  It’s a dream to come home to everyday.  Having said that, however, I also must state that the house is in serious need of updating. There’s plumbing issues, asbestos issues, heating and cooling issues, along with more aesthetic concerns, like wood paneling and curling linoleum. Oh, and did I mention that someone actually painted over the glass transoms? Luckily, we’re only the fourth owners since 1920 (the last family arrived in 1963), and so there is not that much to undo. It really is more restoration, but with some needed updating.

imageAs you can see, our kitchen is in particular need of help. And we decided to start here, not only because we entertain a lot, but also because we don’t really have a good place for breakfast or simple meals. Though a challenging space, we think we can turn it around for a modest amount. One way we plan to manage costs is by keeping the current footprint.  The only real movement will be extending an existing gas line to the stove.  (I don’t do electric ranges.)  Other changes include replacing some upper and lower cabinets with salvaged open shelves and a table (to the right of the fridge), and with a buffet and hutch that I picked up at auction and plan to refinish (along the wall with the stove).  To help maintain a decent amount of work space, we plan on getting a 24″ four-burner stove and a counter height table (currently sitting in my father-in-law’s barn in Texas).

The remaining cabinets — those around the sink and over the fridge — will be refinished and painted.  (They’re from a Baltimore company and were made in the 50’s; I simply must keep some of them even if not original to the house.) I’m really jonesing for Farrow and Ball’s “Cabbage White,” but I still I have to try out the samples, so we’ll see.
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The Formica “wood” counter will also be replaced with real (hopefully salvaged) wood counter tops.  We will also address the floor, but that will take a bit more investigation.  Sadly, we believe the original pine floor is sitting underneath a layer of linoleum, with asbestos tile sandwiched in between the two. We would love to expose the original floors, but it’s too soon to tell if that’s an option.  But we’ll definitely be removing the faux wood beams from the ceiling, improving the lighting, painting, updating the appliances, and handling a thousand other things that will come up. In the end, though, I’ll have a proper place to drink my coffee and show my vintage dishes!

imageRight now, we’re deciding on our implementation plan and deciding how much we want to do ourselves. This particular renovation project is on the small side, but we are planning on larger projects down the road, and would like to have a good team in place from the beginning.  Of course, I’ll keep you posted on our progress.  Wish us luck!

Nicole