Sunday, December 30, 2012

DIY as Videogame Part 2: Treasure

A good videogame typically offers "rewards" to users who have successfully completed a task or obtained a new skill or level.  Sometimes, "treasure" can be found at predictable spots along the game's path that you can later use for some other purpose or to simply decorate your avatar in newer, fancier ways.

DIY treasure (for us) usually comes in the form of a supporting family member or friend who surprise us with gifts we can use to adorn or fix up the home.  For instance, we visit my sister and brother-in-law for the holidays and they gives us the benefit of their experience and wisdom on home repair and decor. In addition, they often surprise us with antique items we can use to dress up the Victorian home.  They also take us to places where we can discover our own treasure or meet someone who helps us fix one of our long-standing home issues.

In just one visit, we found a great set of thick drapery panels, that we wanted to try and use to separate the entry way from the parlor, at one of my sister's favorite thrift shops.  She also took us to a great antique warehouse named Antiques Then & Now in San Carlos. Not only did it have an amazing range of antiques, but they are staffed by friendly knowledgeable people. Dan (the man), helped us find the correct skeleton key to go with the locks in our Claire Secretary Hutch.  I spent months trying to find the right key and Dan found the correct one in 5 minutes.  This is not an easy thing.  Most people (including myself) think that all skeleton keys are the same and will work with all locks.  In the old days, people needed to have unique keys so that the butler or the scullery maid didn't drink up all the liquor or steal jewelry. If all old locks opened with just one key, just think how easy it would be for a robber to clean up in just one neighborhood!  Somehow, in a sea of skeleton keys, Dan the man found what we needed and it only cost us $2.

Here are recent pics showing the "treasure" we received for our past DIY work.  They include two stain glass windows, Napolean seat/stool and other items. Also picked up some shelf brackets from Mr. Bill and a cutting router, which I'll pick up in the Spring.  Thank you Sylvia and Bill!

 Thick, vintage drapery that fits perfectly in the entryway. Purchased at Thrift store for $15.  Notice the stain glass window to the right.
We were gifted with the soft Napoleon seat/stool and the antique washboard now on top of the bookcase.

Happy New Years to you. Strength and Vision in all you do in 2013!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

DIY as Videogame Part 1

Well, we've had a couple of blog fans wonder why we haven't posted anything since October.

The three main reasons are:
1. I was burning out after 3 years of continuous refurbishng.
2. It gets colder and wetter here and that only enhances 1.
3. I wanted to 'enjoy' the house more rather than leap up and work on something.

During the past few months, I've been able to focus on researching the next steps in our ongoing DIY efforts of our home and also rekindle my passion in doing more challenging projects for 2013.

So how is DIY like a Videogame?  Like a videogame, one can "level-up" after completing some easier, simpler tasks that gives you experience and knowledge to attack something more challenging..  One can also gain "bonus points" for jobs completed successfully like a videogame. For instance, your home value increases or friends and family are "impressed" at what you can do! lol  And, well, DIY can be FUN, like a game, but also, one needs to unplug from this game from time to time or else you will start to HATE the game!  So I gave myself some mind-time do just tons of research on a few major things I plan on doing in 2013.

1. Build Carriage Doors.
We bought a brand new car and leave it overnight in our very small garage. In fact, we bought a certain kind of car so it would FIT in our garage.  It's the Chevy Spark and is a really great, inexpensive car that we are enjoying more and more.  We bought it at FH Dailey Chevrolet in San Leandro and our dealer was Chris Bruyn, who was really easy to work with.  I recommend the car and him. E-Mail
Guide to Subcompact cars
As it turns out, we can't install an automatic garage door that rolls up because of the lack of head clearance. But when one door closes, another one opens (pun intended).  A little research leads us to a pair of carriage doors that opens outward like regular doors.  It certainly would be similar in style to the 19th century carriage door (park your horse and buggy), but these can work with an automatic opener.  I found a great video that shows me how to make carriage doors and plan on doing that first in the New Year.

A few inspiration pics.

Here are some links for you that cover a wide range of garage door options.

A unique way to build carriage doors

Design your own garage door.

We are actually pretty lucky to even have an attached garage in the Victorian.  Most old homes, here in the Bay Area, either have no garage, or are detached far from the house or is just a driveway along the side.  Eventually, we will be able to just drive in and enter our house from a garage doorway.

2. Build a Master bathroom

This would be the biggest project we undertake this year, I think.  It involves many factors and would involve a few more people ie. plumber. But we are confident that we can do most of the work to make this happen and envision a nice, large walk-in shower, large wash basin and vanity and a few other nice things that will be part of our master bedroom. No more walking through the kitchen to use the toilet. The biggest factor is working with a pro to setup the main pipes and making sure everything is up to code for inspection.  After that, we will be ready to install a nice, one-piece shower that doesn't require any tiling.  Home Depot seems to have some pretty good systems.  The 3D home modeling program I use is helping me visualize where everything fits and flows with the rest of the house.

3. Stairs
In order to take advantage of having a car in the garage and have access to our laundry room, we need to put in stairs connecting upstairs with downstairs.  I feel this is something we can do by ourselves but will be a challenge because there are very few places that stairs can go in our shotgun style Victorian.  This project will probably be the most challenging yet most rewarding.

4. Built-in Bookcase and window bench.
I've always wanted to build my wife a little library and hope I can create this in the parlor.  It should also help insulate against the noise from the street. Here is my PS vision for it.

Other Planned Projects for 2013 include:
-New Gutters
-Regrading the Foundation
-Front yard curb appeal (option 1)

-New Gas Fire place and mantle
-Garden Renovation
-New Windows
-Complete Insulation throughout the House

-Solar Shingles/Panels

I think if we can complete all of these (and deal with the vicissitudes of life), then I would say it would have been a successful 2013.  Let's see how that all goes?

Part 2 is coming up titled, 'DIY and Videogame Treasure'!
Stay tuned!

Monday, October 22, 2012

What is "Modern"?

 Andrea initiated an interesting discussion by wondering what "modern" means as it relates to home renovation and decor.

To some, 'modern' means "cold", "bland", "sharp lines", "cheap-looking", "unartistic" etc, etc.  To others, it's "sleek", "open", "hip" etc, etc.

This first picture sums up what we are trying to do with our old lady house.  As computers get smaller and more people gravitate towards laptops, pads and mobile devices, the need for a very large desk is less and less.  Cloud computing even negates the need for printers and other hardware.  In Andrea's case, she is still very much attached to her small slips of paper she values to create personalized letters, art crafts and other small things.

As it turns out, the lovely 1920's era secretary hutch, Claire found for us for free, has suddenly become the perfect desk for Andrea to use.  Now everything fits in all her secret compartments and she can just close up the desk top so everything is hidden. It is now an essential piece of utilitarian furniture that also has obvious hand-crafted elements that make it feel warm and cozy in the spare room.

To me, these feels more modern this way then purchasing a "modern" desk because we are reusing an old antique that has become more suitable for our ever-shrinking technological gear. As we move through the house and make creative decisions on what we should do, we are looking at antiques in newer, more creative ways that help keep our costs down but also add flair and flavor to our living.

This doesn't mean we forgo modern conveniences. I love the fact that we can add paint to the walls that are multidimensional; offering extra protection as well as less toxicity.  Every window we add is energy efficient and we can add different types of insulation in a house that never had any until we moved in.  I suppose we are striving to "modernize" the house in hidden ways yet reuse decorative elements that showcase the value of craftsmanship that was indicative of a bygone era. Eventually, we will add solar power panels that will help generate our own power. We also are growing more of our own food.

A few more examples below as we did quite a bit during October including purchasing a new front window using Home Depot Services.  We are, so far, happy with how that all went and will most likely hire them again to do other services that are beyond my scope and manpower.  When we felt we needed new shutters for the lower half of the window, we found a nice wood vintage set of shutters at Urban Ore and they practically fit perfect.  I once again took the paint off the moulding and we plan on building a bench under the window soon.

Also at Urban Ore, Andrea was excited about these $30 pair of Cafe Doors.  They were in great shape and (once again) fit nearly perfectly in the space between the kitchen and the old part of the house.  When I walk through them, I always want to shout, "Whiskey, barkeep!". lol

Our sunflower "tree" has also grown freakishly large in the front yard!


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Thirty days hath September...

 My favourite poem is the one that starts 'Thirty days hath September' because it actually tells you something.
~Groucho Marx

September was busy with birthday's, planning next projects like walls, windows, and a lateral line, and of course gardening.
We made a custom cement stepping stone.
Heavenly Blue Morning Glory
This native plant filled with buds and blossomed like crazy!

Moving bricks and changing to wood planters

New Clematis plant

Spaghetti Squash jackpot harvest

New planter box with arugula starters compliments of John & Aurora from the  Temescal Crop Swap.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

"Inspiration" with an Accent.

This is Andrea reporting:

All I said was,"This room is not inspiring at all." 

Then the wheels-in-his-head start turning.  Next thing I know, I’m dreaming up colors for an accent wall for the room we refer to as my art room /eventual guest bedroom.  It was like the rest of the house; all original wood trim and plaster walls with bumpy and lumpy texture painted over them in drabby white.

George did his magic and removed all the paint from the door trims and baseboard then sanded and restained them. He even repaired the door jamb that hadn't been repaired in decades.  He skim coated over the plaster walls and lightly sanded them to give it a smooth finish. 

We first rolled on a base coat of a very light peach called 'Naive Peach'.  Then used Vintage Purple and Sunkist Peach to sponge over the base coat. Individually, the colors were nice but sponged together didn’t work so well. Then I saw a peachy rose on the cover of my gardening book and that became the inspiration for my next color selection. I used Orchid Rose and then added Sunkist Peach again over the previous layers. It brightened up the room tremendously and looked very marble-ish.

The other three walls will eventually be a single coat of light ‘Naive Peach’ color. There is a lot more to restore in that room, including hardwood floor under the carpet but I think it’s off to a good start. 

We did a  little furniture rearranging and have now made a quaint sitting area!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Reporter from 'Oakland Local' Comes to Piazza Aguilar

 A fun series of online developments led to a reporter from Oakland Local to come over and take a tour of our nascent backyard( we sometimes call) the Neo-Victorian garden.

'Oakland Local' covers exciting developments happening around Oakland and you can find out about cool things that the "regular" media outlets don't cover.  If you are not familiar with Oakland (or worse brainwashed by the negative PR), this is a good resource to get a REAL picture of the great, new things happening in Oaktown.

Here is the link and photos courtesy of Irene Florez of Oakland Local.


First 10 pics are from our garden

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Reporting from Piazza Aguilar

It's a beautiful 81 degrees here in Oakland and I wanted to try and compose (and send) my first post from "Piazza Aguilar".

It has always been more enjoyable for me to be outside in nature and now I have the laptop out here in our "new" 2nd patio area.

You might recall the urbanite project from a few weeks back.  Well, since then I tried a few different ways to work with the left over slabs I cut to make room for our new tree.  Andrea talked about it a bit more and we decided we would add more slab pieces until it "connected" with the main patio area.  I finally was able to move and install most of it in "Piazza Aguilar", an area directly across from the "Carnegie" brick area I did last year around this time.

This urbanite patio is a mixture of old, leftover bricks, cut slabs of old concrete with all the cracks and seams filled with smooth stones and sand.  It looks a bit "harlequin-ish" but it seems to suit our backyard. Actually, it blends in real well with the concrete that remains and the surrounding old brick flower planters.  Again, we thought it best to install hard flooring this way since we live in earthquake country and trying for the "perfect" cement patio just wouldn't be realistic.  Plus we save money by not having to hire anybody to haul away this stuff.

Oh, and btw, I built a whole new fence!  A nice 30 foot long dog-eared fence was installed over 4 days replacing the possibly 50 year old redwood fence that was falling apart.  I did save a few good boards and they now make a nice table to hold the potted plants in our 2nd patio we call "Piazza Aguilar".

What I like about this new area is that it is a very private spot in the back and a great vantage point to watch the birds fight in the bird feeder (yes, they DO fight!)

Our secure wireless signal works great out here too!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Celebrating Oakland's Tool Library

Those of you who regularly follow this blog are probably already familiar with Oakland's great, Temescal Tool Library located about 1 mile from our house.   How many of you know that it was created in response to the Oakland Hills Firestorm of 1991?  The Tool Library helped affected residents rebuild from that disaster no matter their economic status.

Today this free tool equipment library has been one of the best resources in helping us rehabilitate our 112 year old Vic.  Since we began our blog 2.5 years ago, nearly every facet of our renovations/rehabilitation/rescuing has involved the tool library in one way or another.  We've used their tile cutter to redo our bathroom, their heatguns allowed us to melt off paint from all the beautiful moldings, their cement cutter allowed us to cut out old cement in our backyard for a new tree a few weeks ago. Mostly, we check out a variety of tools that we would need to use maybe just once or twice, in order to get something done.

Not only does this help keep our budget down, it also keeps alive the spirit of community sharing that is sometimes lost in our consumerist, technological culture.   The Tool Library is also much more than the tools that are provided, it is the smart, dedicated people who staff the desk ready to help you get you what you need and teach you how to use something safely and properly. 

Now there are the  'Friends of the Tool Library', a group of dedicated volunteers who work with the Tool Library to help support its efforts as it continues to weather the vicissitudes of  our budget slashing times in Oakland.  The 'Friends' have started their own website that hopes to connect more people with this wonderful resource and to provide support and advocacy for the Tool Library.  Check them out here.

This past weekend featured their "first benefit fundraising event/party for the Oakland Tool Lending Library, which featured a wide array of tools and gift certificates from local vendors, for a silent auction."

Andrea and I went early and enjoyed meeting new people, eating the various potluck meals provided (including delicious snacks made from other peoples' backyard fruit or veggie gardens), and purchased a few small tools that were no longer needed by the library.  We also brought our weed whacker ( a gift from her dad) to donate to the auction.

A surprise early visitor was Mayor Jean Quan who has been instrumental in helping keep libraries operating in Oakland. We chatted briefly and then she went and bought a few tools to show her own personal support for the Tool Library.

We enjoyed ourselves and everybody seemed to be having a good time in what felt more like something you would experience in the main square of a very small town.  Being around other people who work with their hands (and head) building or gardening  was refreshing and it was nice to see people come out to show their support, including the mayor.  I think the 'Friends' did an excellent job on the event and I hope to hear about it more at their regular, monthly get together at the local tavern, which you can also join via their email list on the website.


CREDITS: All photos on this page courtesy of Teresa Mora.  See more photos from this event on

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Piazza Aguilar

It was a brutal week working on the house but working on the garden is a complete joy.

Every week brings something new and just hanging out, pulling weeds or planting seeds reinvigorates our senses.

Enjoy the photos of the summer!