Wednesday, December 21, 2011

DIY Santa

A few days ago, we received a mysterious gift card for Home Depot. The card was unsigned and we can't quite figure out who would have sent this to us. We imagine it must be someone who follows our blog so we are posting a great big "Thank You" to you DIY-Santa.

Just in time too! I was just about to head out to HD to pick up a few things for the new kitchen iteration and this helps come in handy. We also scored some very nice cafe curtains at an estate sale and needed some hardware for it.

So thank from from both us. This kind of gift means a lot to both of us as we slug through fixing up this old house.

Happy Holidays and hope to return the favor some day!

And to everyone else, stay safe and inspired in 2012. Surprises always abound!

UPDATE: Andrea tells me the gift card came from her friend Heather living in Portland, OR. Thanks for the nice gift Heather and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 16, 2011


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Season's Greetings

George scraped, repaired, and painted the plaster walls in the Entry Way this week. We decided to hang my cute window as a 'Bienvenue' piece there on the picture rail and changed the design. I envisioned ivy dangling around the frame with flowers along the bottom, and then we came up with using seasonal embellishments. I picked up everything at Michael's and just tied the pieces on with wire and tape.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Le Salon de Sylvia

I've developed a pattern that involves spending time on the computer working on a film or 3D build and then stepping away from it and focusing on some part of the home. The past few weeks had been a good time to work hard on the parlor walls and wood. I decided to jump in and rehab that long parlor wall. After scraping off the old paint, I fixed the cracked plaster areas, gave it a nice skim coat and then we painted it to match the original colors. Then I reworked the wood moulding trim. It all took about 10 days with no great surprises. The window wood was a combination of redwood with some painted pine inserts which I replaced with redwood trim leftover from another repair job.

It finally feels like the furniture my sister gave us now fits well in the parlor. It looks and all feels warmer and the different play of day and night lights seems to change the room in elegant ways.

We've decided to name this parlor after "Sylvia" because nearly everything in there was a gift from her! lol.
We've reached the two-year mark on rehabbing this old Victorian. I think the progress has been pretty good and the house has been kind to us. I hope she likes the results. How about you?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Parlor after 2 Years and the DIY Social

As Andrea and I approach two years in our old house, we pause to focus on one part of the house that has evolved the most, the parlor.

This once completely painted and carpeted area is about 50% completed but you can see in this photo the direction we are going. Nearly everything you see was gathered up from either Urban Ore, Craigslist or was a wedding gift to us. Our efforts involved cleaning and sanding the original oak floor and rehabbing the original plaster walls. Sure, the house is still cold and we need to put in some new gutters but I think its good to have at least one area you can look at to help say to yourself, "This looks pretty good. I guess the hardwork and dust is worth it after all!"

We've also been part of a growing DIY social group in our area. Everyone in the group is dealing with houses with much character but with many issues as well. Many in the group have been DIYing for years and they have lots of great stories to share on almost every aspect of home building and maintenance. For us, as newbies, it's a bit scary to hear some of the potential costs of things ie. lateral line, foundation replacements etc. But when they tell their stories, they mostly laugh about it now and impart to us some great, hard experiences that we take to heart. We are now working on ways to use the Internet better to share our resources. However, the actual meeting of the group (at our secret location) is always the best way to talk and really hear what others are saying about something. Even though I haven't touched our old windows yet, I dread the thought of it but know I can make it happen because some of the others have gone through it or will go through it soon. So I know we are not going to be alone as we stumble into that dark alley I call "Old Window Restoration". lol

The group is based near the W. Oakland/Emeryville border so if you want to join the discussion and get some great tips, visit

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Quick picture post, hike!

We have been enjoying our new patio (gift from my parents) set on our new patio.

Thought I'd post a picture of the biggest sunflower to date! This stalk has about seven flower buds on it and two have blossomed so far.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Art of Craigslist

Followers of this blog know that we rely heavily on Craigslist to find items we need to fix up our old house. One of the pleasantly surprising aspects of going this route is meeting interesting artists working/living in Oakland and Emeryville.

Yesterday, I saw this post:
"Today only, Swarm Gallery is giving away free soil and other landscaping materials straight from the American river valley. Call it karma, call it a lucky day, call it whatever you want- just come down Wednesday (that's today) from 12 to 5pm, 2nd and Clay in Jack London Square. You must bring a way to move and transport the materials. This is going down as a first come-first serve program so come early to get a prime cut. In picking up this organic matter, you will be part of the deinstallation of artist Colin Christy's month long art-eco-experiment "Wild and Scenic".

On the menu

1.5 yards of rich American River soil - perfect for native plants
1 yard of Decomposed Granite/DG -paving mix
5-6 bails worth of loose hay (chickens anyone?)
2 bails of hay
small bags of sand, rocks, gravel
3 25 foot hay waddles
an assortment rare native plant species from gold country

This gallery is about 2 miles from us so I drove over to see if there was anything we could use for the garden. I met the artist, Colin Christy, and we talked about his installation. It was an exhibition that recreated how the river banks looked around the time of the Gold Rush. Andrea and I have been fascinated by this era and I quickly learned about how the artist lived in the gold country for a few months, studying the environment. He brought it over to Oakland and was now making the material available to whomever came by. I selected about 4 native plants and several banks of premium river soil. I took it home and tried to recreate a bit of the gold country riverbed in a shady area of the backyard. I placed some rocks in the center and hope to add gold paint flecks for effect. I also grabbed about 2 big bags of hay for mulching in our veggie garden. All for the cost of 5 lemons from our tree.

But that isn't what this post is about. It's more about the giving nature of artists. Being one myself, it's imperative for me to give of myself to others through my artwork or through my life experiences as someone who as operated in the art world for over 15 years. In talking with Colin, I was reminded of the talks I had with dozens of artists from my time at the NPA, SomArts and other art experiences. I was also reminded of the artist who gave Andrea and me their brand new kitchen cabinets at the beginning of the year and the few other artists I've met while hunting down for Craigslist treasures to furnish our house. The thing that strikes me most about the artists who I meet this way, is there sense of sharing something for the betterment of community. You can tell that money isn't their driving force bur rather a sense of giving of themselves in the belief that what they do is "good karma". More importantly, when these artists talk about their work, they are excited, alert and passionate about sharing their ideas or spirit with the strangers who answer their ads. Turn on the TV or walk into a big store and one gets the feeling that life is all about "making money" or scamming people. What passes for art in our culture is really just celebrity garbage and pop gibberish geared towards obtaining some sort of unrealistic wealth and celebrity.

It just feels "real" to talk to an artist. Real, like churning the soil and planting seeds or cutting wood and it reminds me that their are more genuine people trying to do somethiing creative and positive than their are trying to screw up things for people.

Anyway, if you meet an artist, via Craigslist, take the time to ask them about their work and what they do. You may find some common ground or learn something new. And, if you are able, give something back to them to show that you enjoy sharing as well.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wainscot Wall Update

After painstakingly (it's ALL painstaking!), removing as much of the paint from the original redwood wainscot and moulding, I filled in any cracks and breaks with a different kind of wood plaster and performed some really light sanding to the entire area.

Then one light coat of mahogany stain and about 4 coats of tung oil, which matches the work done to other wood parts of the house. The dark stain goes along way and looks pretty nice plus has the added benefit of hiding repair jobs in the wood.

So now the once drabby white wall has a nice dark wood bottom and we think some kind of vintage, velvet wall paper would work on the upper part. But what colors? What type of style? This is where you could help us finish this wall by throwing your ideas our way. Also, if you just so HAPPEN to have some left over vintage wallpaper, we would LOVE to take it off your hands and give it a new home here. :)

This last image is a photoshopped imagining of how the wall COULD look very, very Victorianish.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Bird Bath and Beyond

George found a bird bath at Urban Ore (for a buck) that needed a little repair. He used leftover tile grout on the dish part to repair the cracks and give it a cement look. Then on the base, he put a little white exterior paint, and some copper faux glaze, and rubbed a little dirt on it for an aged effect. It's a perfect size for this space and I think it gives a Romanesque feel to the area. I found a ceramic bird at Michael's (for $1.50) and set it in the bird bath to try and attract the real birdies to it.

To the right of the bird bath is our first sunflowers.

Then he got busy in the house again and started removing paint off the door frame and wainscoting in the living room. That wall was entirely white. Now it has a contrast with the beautiful uncovered century old redwood.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

one zucchini...two zucchini...

Today I harvested two zucchini's and made zucchini loaf bread with it. It's rewarding to be able to harvest something you grew and cook with it.

We also went to a talk at Lake Merritt today on 'Planning your Winter Garden'. The Master Gardeners' host a free talk every month. Then, this afternoon I planted spinach seeds and more lettuce seeds to try and get them going. I find seeds can be more challenging than starter plants but we'll see. It's the time to grow the 'greens'.

And now for a little garden update:
We have our second ripened-red tomato on the way and about a dozen smaller green & yellow tomatoes on the way. The basil & oregano still look nice and green since giving them a shot of nitrogen fertilizer.

We are about to harvest our first sweet pumpkin which looks like a big round green squash. I will probably slice it in half and bake it. I'm curious as to what it tastes like. (Turns out it taste pretty much like baked squash). There are two or three more zucchini's currently growing.

In the other raised box, 3 lettuces have sprouted and a couple tiny shoots came up of the marjoram and a nasturtium appeared out of the blue. This box is where I planted more lettuce & spinach seeds today since not many germinated the first time. Unfortunately the mint was not doing well in the container on the deck so we moved it to the ground between the new brick patio and the lemon tree. We'll see if it comes back.

The lemons are beautiful. The bougainvillea has taken a slight turn for the worse and we're not sure what happened. The Japanese honeysuckle is growing nicely along the fence behind George's new brick patio. The snapdragons have spread out and taken off. It's a nice feast of pinks and reds.

We notice more activity as the 'beneficials' buzz around the yard. Butterflies frenetically bounce around the different plants, bees do their thing and hummingbirds zip by and kiss the flowers.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Homemade Cafe

Andrea's folks came up for a visit this past weekend and it was a chance to try out the HOMEMADE CAFE on Sacramento St. Andrea and I usually pass by it on the way to Urban Ore and often thought it looked like a nice play to eat breakfast some time.

There is no parking there so we had to park around the corner. On the way, we passed a yard sale. Most of the past yard sales we've been to have been very uninteresting with mostly clothes and kid stuff for sale. However, I noticed a nice big terra cotta planter and scooped it up for $3. The seller was explaining that she had lots of things for sale but I didn't want my in-laws to wait for me to go eat breakfast. As I walked away, the seller said, "Oh, and I have some very nice vintage bricks in the backyard for sale too." A gong went off in my head and I said I'll be back to check that out.

Turns out the Homemade Cafe is about a 30 minute wait so I scampered back to the yard sale and purchased a treasure trove of vintage bricks for $20, most were in full length pieces.

As you know from my previous posting, I thought about flagstone for the patio but these bricks looked very charming and she said she got them from an old train station that was demolished in Oakland.

The day after Andrea's folks left I picked up the bricks and began to layer the new patio with them. Along the way, I discover some interesting details about the bricks.

The one marked IONE is a firebrick from the Ione Fire company. It's one of their earliest fire bricks. This brick was made using the extruded stiff-mud process, wire-cut, and repressed. Our brick was probably made from 1907 to 1908 as a test brick hence the "Pat. Applied For" stamp.

A few other bricks have the word CARNEGIE stamped on it. Andrea asked if that had anything to do with Carnegie Hall and, as it turns out, it does!

When steel magnate Andrew Carnegie began donating part of his fortunes to new libraries across the country, a new brick plant was being erected in Corral Hollow Canyon, about 10 miles southeast of Tracy, in San Joaquin County, California.

Two guys named Treadwell, decided to make bricks from a pocket of coal and clay later called the "Tesla Formation" of Eocene Age (50 million years old).

On August 18, 1903, the Carnegie Brick and Pottery Company was founded with the name that honored the great industrialist and philanthropist who was greatly admired by the Treadwells.

The rest of the bricks are a mish-mash of bricks found on our property coupled with this new trove. There are different shades of red, orange, yellow and white scattered about to give it more character.

I know I mentioned we might put ground cover in between the bricks but further research told me that sand would be the best (and cheapest) way to fill around the bricks.

This project took about 4 days, a lot of leveling and patting down soil, 3 pieces of landscape lumber to frame and $20 in vintage bricks and $3 in sand.

My hands hurt though. lol

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

spider plant...spider plant

George hung our new spider plant from a ceiling hook on the 'new' wall corner.

We put the palm tree back in it's original corner (the other side of the same wall).

We yanked weeds from the cement cracks again and then filled the cracks with sand. For the time being, it looks the cleanest I have ever seen it and I think the backyard looks bigger. And...the snap dragons are doing amazing and the first early girl tomato is turning red!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Getting Tricked into Doing an Entire Wall

When I feel I've been on the computer too long I get up and look around for something to "fix" in the house. These days I try to stay focused on something that can be done in a few hours or maybe half a day.

As I waited to hear back about something I decide I would just heatgun-off some paint from the parlor molding in a small corner of the room. I figured it would take only a few hours but during the process, I noticed that the painted wall was soft and seemed "detached" from the plaster underneath it. I had read items about old wallpaper unglueing itself so I lifted it a bit with a scraper and pretty much the entire 'skin' of the wall peeled off like an onion, revealing this yellow, slightly cracked plaster.

The area looked stable with no big cracks or chunks so I thought it might be equally as easy for one of the larger walls in the room. Boy was I wrong, about two feet of it came off easily and the rest was very much stuck to the plaster.

So What to do now? A quick search on the Internet and within a few minutes, I picked up DIY tips on how to remove old, painted-over wallpaper using warm water, an iron and a scraper.

I started on Friday and finished scraping off everything by early Sunday. I filled in the cracks with new plaster, sanded it down and then we headed over to HD for paint. Andrea really liked the way the old plaster colors looked so we tried to match that with two quarts of different colors and glaze. Andrea did the great work of sponging on the different colors and I followed along with a rag to dab off paint here and there.

So now the old, plaster parlor wall gets a bit of structural repair and new coats of mildew resistant paint with a satin sheen to replace the dull, bland wall.

It took about 3 days and cost just two quarts of new paint and leftover spackle.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Patio for the Secret Garden

Andrea and I have finally found an area in the backyard that seems the most private. It also isn't an area to grow anything well and sits partially underneath the sweet smelling lemon tree. For the past few months, we've placed our cheapo white plastic patio chairs in this area and found we could survey the entire yard from here. So we decided that we would make a patio. We are toying with the idea of using old bricks from fireplaces in the area or perhaps a flagstone with ground cover. I read that this is a good way to keep weeds down and sort of fits the style of the house and yard.

The first pic is the current area that has been leveled followed by the vision of our new patio. Anybody know where we could get free flagstone?