Category Archives: bungalows

Shedding light on the subject

My sister’s house is a vintage Chicago bungalow. It’s so vintage there aren’t any kitchen cupboards (but the pantry has lots of shelves). Chicago bungalows tend to be long and narrow, and hers is no exception. The central hall was always dark, since the only light fixture was by the foyer. A few years ago she found a really fun way to light up the hall while retaining its vintage charm.

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This isn’t even the entire hall. (Excuse the ladder and stack of drawers in the hall – we were painting her bathroom!)

She had an electrician install track lighting – since the tracks themselves are modern she worried they might look out of place, but you barely notice them – and a dimmer. Instead of hanging new lights, she put up simple fixtures with vintage glass shades. On the dimmest setting, they make a great nightlight, too.

I love vintage lighting, and helped her find a few of these shades at flea markets and antique malls. You can’t really tell in this photo, but the shades are different shapes and have different designs (hoping to get a close up or two of the lights to add to the post). I love the result so much that I would have copied it if a scuttle hole weren’t blocking the middle of my hallway ceiling.

Don’t you love the way old painted glass shades like these glow?

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Upcycling ancient cedar shakes

Thanks to a hail storm, a couple months ago the old family bungalow got a brand new roof. The original part of the house had three layers of asphalt shingles on top of the original cedar shakes, so the roofers did a total tear off.

This little pile accumulated outside my office window.

This little pile accumulated outside my office window.

Being both sentimental and crafty, I decided to save a small box full of cedar shakes in case inspiration struck. I cleaned them with TSP and let them dry in the sun, as advised by the helpful people at a neighborhood hardware store.

Over 50 years ago, a previous owner accidentally started a house fire, so some of the shingles were a bit scorched, but most were simply well worn. I set them on the table and started toying around with ideas. I decided to make frames and wound up buying simple wooden photo frames at the craft store – unfinished wood that’s ready to be painted or decorated.

After  arranging the pieces, I glued the shakes together with strong glue and weighed each frame down with a large book. Twenty-four hours later, I glued the shakes to the photo frame using the same process. I didn’t like seeing the light wood from the sides, so I used good old crayons (black and various shades of brown) to help camouflage the edges.

This is what I came up with:

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I made two, and didn’t even realize that I’d crossed them in opposite directions. I wanted each frame to have at least one scorch mark and a nail hole or two. I made the frames for my brother and sister, so on the back I wrote a note about where the shakes came from. My sister happened to see the shakes piled on the table during my first attempt to nail them together (turns out the wood is too delicate for that). She thought it was a cool idea and suggested gluing them, so she probably wasn’t too surprised to unwrap one!

The frames are light weight, but I really hope the glue holds! (If not…re-glue!)

Next I’ll make one for myself.

What are some creative ways you’ve repurposed something destined for a landfill, and what did you make from it?

Unwelcome distractions

Yep. It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve posted anything. It’s not that I’ve been super busy or anything – I’ve just been overwhelmed with a bunch of unexpected distractions.

Way back on Easter my gas oven started acting glitchy. Sometimes it ignites, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it works perfectly, and sometimes it starts fine but doesn’t maintain the proper temperature. Not a big deal since I don’t bake much in warm weather. Little did I know that was merely a precursor of what was yet to come.

Last month my lone window air conditioner broke. Because the house has unconventional windows that won’t accommodate window units like traditional double hung windows do, the AC was permanently built into an opening where a canopy window used to be. (That’s in the addition, so bungalow purists can rest assured that no original windows were sacrificed for the sake of my comfort.) As if the idea of replacing it wasn’t ordeal enough, it broke just as my property taxes and second-quarter income taxes were coming due (on the same day, no less – the joys of self-employment), which meant replacing the AC had to wait, despite a couple of nasty heatwaves.

About ten days ago – as soon as I started seriously shopping around for a new air conditioner – my 2-year old refrigerator decided to break. That’s one repair that couldn’t be put off.

The first thing the refrigerator repairman said was, “Oh, this is one of those Whirlpool Maytags.” My response: “That’s explains it! First the Whirlpool range, then the Whirlpool AC, now you tell me my Maytag is a Whirlpool too? I should have known!”

According to the repairman the freezer hadn’t been defrosting. At all. When he removed the back panel inside the freezer there was a thick sheet of ice encasing the all of the working parts. It took him over 45 minutes and a heat gun just to melt enough ice away so he could assess the problem. He said it was a faulty thermostat – apparently thermostats aren’t supposed to rattle.

The upside of the service call was the repairman diagnosed the problem with the oven just from my description of its (literally) off-and-on problem. He’d already been there two full hours, and an extra hour of labor plus the new part would have almost doubled the price of the already longer-than-expected service call so I didn’t have him fix it while he was here. With a heatwave and a broken AC it’s not as if I were planning on baking anytime soon.

The saga doesn’t end there. A box fan I’d set near some windows to bring “cool” air into the house in the early mornings and late evenings died. I can’t say that was entirely unexpected, since the fan originally belonged to my Grandma who passed away in 1991.

As soon as the refrigerator was fixed my TV started acting up, too – about 80% of the time there’s sort of a vertical kink in the picture, and it no longer wants to shut off properly. I almost wish the same were true of my DVD player – a few days after the TV began refusing to turn off the DVD player actually shut itself off while I was using it.

Want more? The very day I realized the refrigerator wasn’t cooling properly, I was outside watering my plants and the metal watering can fell apart while I was using it. When the spout fell off it nearly killed my cucumber plant.

Disclaimer: this photo was staged after the fact.

Wait. There’s more. The other day I noticed a petunia in one of my window boxes was missing. Squirrels and cats sometimes get into the window boxes and make a mess digging and throwing dirt around, but if they dig up a plant they typically leave it. This time there was no mess and no sign of the petunia. I looked under the hostas and around the corner of the house. It was gone.

As annoying and frustrating as this string of incidents has been, I’m thankful than only things have broken. Sure, the refrigerator needed immediate attention, but it’s possible to live without an oven and AC for a while. If the TV dies, I have a little 13″ TV I can hook up to the cable in a pinch. Old milk jugs and juice pitchers work well enough for watering plants. The petunia was practically free, anyway, given the bargain I got on my flowers this year.

Even so, having so many things go wrong at the same time is a bit overwhelming. The little things just added insult to injury.

The good news is the refrigerator seems to be working well again, and I had a new AC installed a few days ago. The old one was in so well it took the handyman longer to remove it than he thought the entire job would take. It’s in just in time for the 100-degree temperatures local forecasters are predicting for later this week (I really hope they’re wrong).

It might not be the prettiest thing in the world, but I love my new air conditioner. Doggie Lily – who’s a very furry Husky, Collie, Keeshond blend – likes it even more than I do.

Lily chillin’ in her favorite spot: under my desk

The handyman came back a day after installing the AC to insulate and weatherproof it from the outside.  When a neighbor familiar with my recent run of luck saw his van here again she called and said, “Well, what’s broken now?”

Luckily nothing else. So far.

A Blooming Bargain

Not every house has window boxes, so if you’re lucky enough to have window boxes you really ought to use them. Don’t you think there’s something sad about empty window boxes during the growing season?

Until the other day mine were sad and empty, but that’s because I’m slowly slogging away at painting the exterior trim (whenever weather and time allow) and wanted to paint the window boxes, too.

For some reason, the brackets supporting the boxes were painted brown to match the siding, so while I had the paint out I painted the brackets white, too. I think it makes the window boxes stand out a bit more. (This is when I wish I’d thought to take before & after shots.)

It was also time to replace most of the potting mix in the boxes (I only remove about 2/3 of the soil since the old dry dirt and bits of broken clay pots help with drainage), so I bought two 16-qt bags of potting mix at $4.99 each along with flowers for the boxes and three flower pots:

  • 3 white Geraniums – 88¢ each
  • 1 flat (half flat?) of 12 plum-ish Petunias – $7.99
  • 2 6-packs of white Impatiens – $1.58 each
  • 2 6-packs of mixed Portulaca – $1.58 each

Last year the portulaca did really well in the gorgeous strawberry jars my brother’s family gave  me, but I’m down to one now, so I moved that to side of the porch that gets the afternoon sun. I put the rest of the portulaca and geraniums in terracotta pots and set those on each side of the stoop where the strawberry jars were last summer. Here’s the strawberry jar, but the other pots look scraggly so no photo of those until they fill in:

Hey – check out how great Mark’s new porch rail looks with a couple coats of brown paint!

Best part of all? With a $15 store rebate on the paint and $9.17 worth of unused, unopened merchandise I returned, the grand total – tax and all – was just $3.74.  Don’t you love a bargain like that?

If  you’re lucky enough to have window boxes, too, what did you plant in yours this year? If not, what are some of your favorite summer flowers?

Heirlooms in the making

On Easter Sunday my family did more than celebrate the holiday. My brother Brice, cousin Mark and his wife Mary all kindly came over early to help me with some home repairs.

While Brice, Mary and I were scraping the exterior window trim and prepping it for painting, Mark somehow turned this crumbling 92-year old porch rail that was literally falling apart….

Old porch railing

….into this sturdy new porch rail that’s ready for a couple coats of fresh brown paint:

new porch rail

Somehow Mark beefed it up a bit without losing the Craftsman look and feel of the original design. He had to cut curves to fit around the pillar, which couldn’t be easy since the pillar is slightly tapered.

As if the new porch rail along with Brice, Mary and Mark’s much-appreciated help on the windows wasn’t already enough, the day got even better when the rest of the family came over. We had a really fun raclette dinner and an egg hunt plus a little co-birthday celebration for a cousin (whose birthday was a few weeks earlier) and for me (whose birthday is yet to come).

My sister-in-law Jeanne made a rather fitting carrot cake, but also made us both some really cool birthday gifts. My cousin got a hand-knitted water bottle cozy, and I got these adorable embellished towels….

…..and the perfect gift for a Christmas freak who’s an obsessive knitter:

Yep. A wreath made of yarn! How cool is that?

Someone in the family is always working on something special. (One of these days I’ll get Mark to guest blog about some of his woodworking projects!) It’s especially great knowing a lot of our handmade projects will likely become family heirlooms one day.

I’m lucky to be part of such a talented and creative family. What are some handmade heirlooms from your family? Who made them and why do you love them?

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