Thursday, July 12, 2012

Let's Add Curb Appeal: Before & After Photos

Thank you to so many of you who visited the This Old House website and rated our exterior renovation entry in the Reader Remodel contest. As you know, despite a call from Scott, the editor, we didn't win the truck this year. (Read the full story in my "Did I Catch You at a Good Time?" blog entry.) But talking with him on the phone about our project, and learning that our entry was "notable enough" to gain recognition in the issue, was a nice consolation. Alas, the reveal issue was published in July and we weren't mentioned anywhere. Having a background in publishing I am not too surprised. Some content makes the cut, and some doesn't.

Our exterior renovation included:

  • New exterior paint
  • Finishing and installing a new front door and sidelight
  • Updating house numbers and doorbell
  • Wrapping and trimming-out porch columns
  • Staining the concrete porch floor
  • Laying a flagstone walkway
  • Installing a tongue & groove porch ceiling
  • Installing ceiling fans and porch lighting
  • Constructing window shutters out of reclaimed wood
  • Installing new gutters and downspouts
  • Defining the garden spaces and planing perennials
  • Adding a fountain and yard statues
  • Furnishing the porch

I've been busy keeping up with weeding the flagstone path (despite having laid weed cloth beneath the stones), and watering the garden by hand since we still don't have the front yard sprinkler system up and running. My red potting bench is getting lots of use storing gardening gloves and an antique watering can. It also makes a great Lego table for Rowan and Davison who like to be wherever Mommy is. The bistro set and wicker chairs couldn't have been better picks for porch seating. I've spent hours this summer sitting under the ceiling fans, reading my decorating magazines while the kids have enjoyed tea parties and picnic lunches.

When we bought this house I didn't give the front porch any thought. It had been covered with clutter and camouflaged by green paint. It wasn't until after moving in that we realized the space's potential. And we're certainly enjoying the fruits of our labor on this project.

Before: Every square inch of the house was green.
Also, notice what is missing here? There is no walkway to the front door. 

After: New paint in a much prettier shade of green and a winding flagstone path
lead to a welcoming landing and a new front door.
Dave brought this door knocker of his pilot wings home from for me from Korea.
As soon as we got to FL we had Dermody engraved on the banner.

One of the first things we did when we moved into the house was start painting the exterior. We knew that a fresh coat of paint and a contrasting trim color would help transform the exterior and we wanted to see results quickly. We bought an unfinished wood door and sidelight at a building materials outlet and primed and painted the door inside once it was too late to work outside. Installing the sidelight was a breeze. I actually did it myself when Dave was at work. Cutting the door down to size, adding hinges, and hanging the door was Dave's project, and it was not easy.

This pair of solid wicker steamer chairs were a perfect find
for the porch. They recline and have pull-out footrests. 

The gardens and walkway were really important to me. I wanted to create the feel of a New England cottage-comfortable and cozy. The flower garden is made up mostly of Salvia, Daisy, Mexican Heather, Black Eyed Susan and decorative grasses. Large sago palms, the only two plantings that existed in the original landscape, anchor the two sides of the garden.

With all the other renovations on our list there was no way we could afford flagstone for the walkway-but I really wanted it to complete the look. We removed old flagstone from the backyard of a rental property that we own on the other side of town and used it to form the new walkway. We had just enough!

I found this vintage bistro set on craigslist for $20.
A good sanding and a fresh coat of paint gave it a whole new look.
The vinyl decals add a personal touch.

We repurposed wood from the old deck that we tore off the back of the house to make
hefty board and batten shutters. The shutters are both decorative and functional
and can be latched closed in the event of a storm. The fountain is another craigslist find.  

The porch floor, that used to be green along with the entire exterior of the house,  got a facelift. First, I painted it with a textured porch paint. Then, I applied a deck stain over the paint. I poured the stain on with a small paper cup and spread it around in small sections using a crumpled plastic shopping bag. It looks just like stained concrete!

A potting bench under the window adds a touch of color. 

Welcome home!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Perfect Mudroom: Before & After Photos

I can't believe how many people have no idea what a mudroom is. For as long as I can remember, and even moreso since I started a family, I have dreamt about the perfect mudroom. A mudroom isn't as formal as a foyer, which is a landing just inside the front door for greeting guests. It's not a breezeway, as it doesn't connect a barn or garage to the house. It isn't what Davison thought either. "It's a room filled with mud."

Mudrooms are primarily found in homes located in northern states-which explains my familiarity with them, since I'm originally from Massachusetts. Commonly located just inside the back door, the mudroom is a receiving room for muddy boots and winter jackets during the cold-weather months.

The house I grew up in on Spring Street in Amesbury, MA was a late 1700's colonial. Our mudroom was a small space just inside the back door that was outfitted with built-in peg racks along the walls and baskets for hats and mittens. The knotty pine floors were worn through from all the foot traffic.  There was a pond in our backyard so our space doubled as a place to put on ice-skates and thaw out firewood for the wood stove-our only source of heat. 

My mudroom here in Florida will never experience the commotion that accompanies the cold weather months in New England. It won't see the days of winter boots and waterlogged mittens in need of a thaw. However, it will cheerfully hold the flip flops from our feet and be a comfortable place to brush the white sands of Pensacola Beach from between our toes. In fall it will be packed with school bags, muddy cleats and football pads.

I incorporated every item from my list of "must haves" into the design of our new mudroom. From sunny window seats with flip-top lids for storage, to a place to hang my collection of vintage tourist plates bought over the years at each of our duty stations, everything has its place.

This picture is of the original finished garage the day we closed on the house. It was taken standing in the back doorway. The door off to the right leads to the laundry room. Straight in front of you, on the other side of the wall, is the kitchen. In the end this space will become three dorm-style bedrooms for the older boys on the right, and a mudroom.

This picture is the same view as the picture above, after some work was done. We cut through the wall into the kitchen to make a doorway. On the right Dave framed walls to make the boys' bedrooms. Notice the position of the attic access on the ceiling in each picture-that will help you make sense of the space.

Finally, the space is transformed. Again, this picture is taken from the back door looking in. The opening to the kitchen is not visible but is off to the left along with the laundry room door and the built-in desk area. We did every inch of this work ourselves from framing, built-ins, hanging cabinets and crown moulding, installing the tongue and groove pine on the walls, tiling, painting and of course decorating the space.
This picture was taken from the kitchen doorway
looking toward the back door. Cal's bedroom
door is on the left. The window looks into the
driveway. The back door is to the right.
This is the same view taken from the kitchen doorway
looking toward the back door. Now, Cal's bedroom door is
between two window seats with flip-top storage under the
custom seat cushions. The wall cabinet holds keys, 
outgoing mail and store returns.
A bookshelf built into the 6" wall studs holds books and displays collections. Dave's maternal grandmother's blue glass dishes and my paternal grandmother's elephants collection are displayed on the shelves. A vintage plate collection, one from each state where we have been stationed, hangs on the wall outside Austin's bedroom.
Lockers for each child hold shoes and sporting gear. An old shrimp boat sign reading "Thistle" sits above the lockers adding a splash of color. A primitive painted white bench offers a place to sit.

A hand forged iron wall rack that we had made in Sicily hangs just inside the door.
Hand painted tiles show Mt. Etna in a typical Sicilian scene.

Mudroom Design Must-Haves:

  • Location near the laundry room for washing uniforms and gym clothes
  • Lockers for each family member
  • Shoe cubby for guest shoes
  • Storage for totes and bags for trips to the beach or sleepovers
  • Pet supply storage and hangers for leashes
  • Cabinet for store returns
  • An area for outgoing mail
  • Desk area for the family calendar, lateral files for each child's school papers and permission slips 
  • Area to display artwork
  • Clock
  • Bench for changing shoes
  • Seat near the window for waiting for company or a ride
  • Hanging coat rack near the door
  • Storage for bug spray and sunblock
  • A closet 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Kids For Trade

Living away from family all these years is a bummer. Sadly, my kids hardly know their extended family. They have never had family birthday parties surrounded by aunts and uncles, proud grandparents and cousins to play with. I can count on one hand the number of times they have met Dave's parents or my grandfather, who happens to still be alive.

In contrast, I knew my paternal grandmother like I know my own mother. I spent weekends at her house growing up, and weeks at a time with her at her camp in New Hampshire. When I got older, and she got older, I called her just about every other day. I remember thinking that I would not be able to live without her when she died. But I made it through.

Living away from family all these years has opened the door to awesome opportunity. We have made friends with people that we love so much, and identify with so well, that they might as well be family. These are the people that we talk to every day through text or Facebook or have made the Godparents of our children. Their kids are our kids' best friends. We carry on relationships with these chosen few because we want to, not because blood relation and the branches of the family tree expect us to. They have probably spent more birthdays with my children than my own parents have which is both sad, and a blessing at the same time.

We met Lisa and John when we moved to Sicily in 2007. Coincidentally both of our families had been stationed in Maine at the same time but had never met. My friend Dina, who knew both of us, assured me that we would get along great if we ever crossed paths. In Italy we finally did cross paths and Dina was right.

Dave and I drove three hours east today meet up with Lisa who drove three hours west to meet us for a kid swap. Her kids Sarah, Hannah and Will are the same ages as my Evelyn, Lillian and Rowan and you couldn't imagine cousins who could get along better. I feel an overwhelming gratitude for the life we have been blessed with as a families serving in the Navy. I am honored that Lisa trusts us like family to take care of her kids for the week. I am thankful that my husband is at home to help me with the kids and that we can give Lisa a week off while her John is out to sea. 

So yes, living away from relatives is a bummer sometimes. I miss my friends back home, family and Dave's family too. But the distance the military has forced us to sustain has made us vulnerable-opening the pathway to new friendships that are as strong as family ties. 

  • Two weeks ago Austin drove 8 hours to Orlando to spend the weekend with his best friend Justin, a friend made during our tour in Italy. When we think of Justin living 8 hours away we think of that as close.
  • Last week Abby (Austin's girlfriend of two years who lives in Virginia) and the boys' friend Sarah came to visit for the week. They have visited us 3 times in 6 months. It may be a lot of miles but really Virginia's only a short flight away. I am certain they will remain lifelong family friends
  • Today Austin and Cal flew to Virginia for a few days to catch up with old friends. They called to say it was weird seeing new people living in our house and they didn't like it.
  • At the end of the week Austin and Cal are heading to New Hampshire and then Massachusetts to hike with my parents and have a family cookout at my Dad's beach house. My sister is arranging for the teenage kids of my high school friends to be there too. My kids don't see any of them often enough but when they do, they pick up as if they were never apart.
  • This week we are hosting the McGonagle kids. Next week our brood is headed to Lisa's house for another kid trade.
  • Phil and Amie, Rowan's Godparents, just got orders to Japan for the next two years. We are lucky enough to be stationed 30 minutes away from each other until January 2013.
All of these relationships are possible courtesy of the red, white and blue 
and years of serving in the US Navy!

Dave at Malcolm House's retirement ceremony.
Family vacation with the McGonagles, Outer Banks, NC, 2011.
Lily, Hannah, Sarah and Evelyn

My godmother (Great Aunt Elaine) with Rowan and Davey during a visit to Virginia, 2011.
Rowan and Will swimming in Sicily, Italy, 2009.

Landon's birthday stationed in Brunswick, Maine with the Brock boys, 2006.
Harrison, Liam, Ethan and Landon