Tag Archives: Bungalow Living

Kitchen REVEAL!

Okay, that title is a joke, in case it isn’t obvious.  This is definitely not HGTV!

In fact I’ve been putting off writing this post because there are so many little projects and loose ends that still need to be tied.  Some drywall needs patching.  Electrical work.  Transition pieces and shoe molding.  But a funny thing happens in the process of renovating a house:  you get to about 99% done, are satisfied with the results, and suddenly it’s a new season and there are new things to worry about.  Like yard work.  Or studying for the bar exam.  Or avoiding the heat.  Or replacing the front door that your dog walker broke.  You know, those things.  So finishing that last 1% may have to wait until it’s cool enough to feel like working hard again.  But I wrote enough about my kitchen reno over the winter that I don’t want to leave you hanging!


Foolishly, I did not take any before photos prior to demolition.  The ones below are from the listing.  Suffice it to say that it was BAD.  We thought we might be able to live with it.  Just take off the cabinet doors, spruce up the paint, etc…but once we got in there we realized it was just one giant, disgusting mess.  The laminate countertops and vinyl floors were peeling off.  I could not unscrew the cabinet doors due to the 17 layers of paint, but luckily they were easy enough to pry off with a crow bar thanks to the poor condition of the wood.  There was so much wasted space.  And the pièce de résistance:  the most dreary foam drop ceiling and fluorescent light you have ever seen had been installed over what turned out to be a charming plaster ceiling with an exposed beam. It was HORRIBLE and just a few updates here and there eventually turned into a complete gut job..down to the studs.


Cabinets, sink and countertop are from Ikea and were installed with the help of a contractor.

Drop ceiling was removed and we installed drywall with the help of some family members who know what they are doing.

The backsplash, open shelving and marmoleum floors were all also DIY and would not have been possible without the help of some wonderful and more construction-savvy friends and family!

The backsplash is made of glass subway tiles.  My kitchenaid was obviously the inspiration for the color :). The countertop is a solid wood butcher block.  The floor is marmoleum and described in further detail here.

The countertops, cabinets, sink and freestanding counter unit were all from Ikea.  While I would have loved quality, solid wood cabinets and what not, it was not in the budget and we also want to keep open the option of an even more extensive kitchen renovation by bumping it out into the laundry/utility room (see above).  Ikea seemed to have the best balance between price and quality and was also the most eco-friendly compared to others of similar cost — formaldehyde free (which is important for particleboard/MDF products!), low-VOC, and they make efforts to source their wood from sustainable suppliers.  I also prefer Ikea’s design aesthetic — I was pretty set on the idea of a farmhouse sink, and they sell one for less than $200, a price that is pretty incomparable to any other farmhouse sink I could find sold at other big box retailers!

Storage in a small kitchen can be an issue but I’ve tried to embrace the idea of having more things exposed — after all, a kitchen is meant to be used!  It also forces you to edit down your kitchen wares to what you really need and keep things clean!  The open shelving was purely a budget decision, but I like how it looks, and it has worked well for us so far. You can find instructions for a pegboard wall organizer à la Julia Child here.

Well there is obviously a lot of work left to do but I wanted to post an update here.  Maybe soon I’ll have a new front door to report on too!




Happy earth day!  It’s a rainy day here where I live, but that hasn’t stopped me from getting my hands dirty with nature :).

Apparently, according to all the home/garden/design blogs I follow, terrariums are the latest new trend.  I’ve been eyeing some wardian cases for some time now, as I have a sunny windowsill in my home that has been crying out for some plants!  When I got one for my birthday, I knew I had the perfect rainy day activity.

Well, a rainy day has finally presented itself after a long dry spell, so here we are.  It was super easy to do and provides so much beauty.  It would be a great activity for kids, too.  Plants are also important for improving your home’s indoor air quality.

Terrariums are a good way to start if you’re new to this whole growing thing — they thrive on neglect and once you’ve set them up, require just a few sprays here and there to keep them happy.


The nursery I went to actually had a whole terrarium section, with tons of plants and supplies all sold together.  I followed the instructions on the package I bought, which pretty much was the same as those in the link above:

-Find a suitable bowl/dish/vase/case to plant your terrarium.  In addition to the case I received as a gift, I used an old vase I had leftover from my wedding years ago.

-Choose the plants you want, some taller, some lower, some green, some colorful…i.e. kind of like the container gardening adage, “thrillers, spillers and fillers.”

-Create your terrarium by adding the following layers:

1.  gravel/stone, for drainage
2.  horticultural charcoal, to absorb smells
3.  sand or moss, to prevent soil from seeping down to the bottom
4.  potting soil (if planting succulents, be sure to choose cactus potting soil)
5.  Stick your plants in the soil, creating kind of a mound in the center or back for more height.
6.  More soil around plants as necessary
7.  Decorative elements such as moss, stone, etc

Spray with a water bottle to keep moist.

It’s that easy!


Green household: outdoor clothesline

I have always been kind of anal about what clothes I will allow in the dryer (read:  none), partly because that is how I learned to do laundry, partly because it prevents shrinkage, fading and wear and tear, and also because dryers are a notorious hog of your household’s energy budget.  Second only to refrigerators in energy usage for appliances, about 6% of your energy bill can be accounted for by your dryer alone.

Since college I’ve had this little (okay, big) clothes drying rack from Ikea.  In spite of the negative feng shui, unless I wanted to impress new guests to my home, it’s pretty much always been open in my bedroom for drying all my shirts, jeans, etc (and also comes in handy when you feel like being lazy about folding clothes).  But it’s not terribly useful for large items like towels and sheets, so I’ve always relied on the electric dryer for those.

But now that I have a back yard, it was time to invest in an outdoor clothesline.  I purchased this one from lehmans.com and had Mr R attach it to a metal pole that was mysteriously sticking out of the ground next to the old wash basin I mentioned yesterday.  I guess it probably was some sort of clothesline before?  The other end I attached to the house.  The line works like a pulley so you can stay in one spot and not have to drag the basket of wet laundry down the line.

I hung my towels out first, and on a hot, dry day like today, they were dry in under an hour. And they smelled wonderful!  I pulled them down when they were 99% dry and popped them in the dryer for 5 minutes to soften them up — they do get a little stiff when air dried.


I realized later that extending the line underneath a mulberry tree might not have been the best idea.  But otherwise it would have had to cut through the middle of my yard.  Oh well.  I guess this just means I won’t be able to use it for a few weeks in June.


Brick spiral garden

In this age of Pinterest there seems to be no end of DIY advice for re-purposing all the old junk you have lying around.  But uh, I don’t know about you, but it’s rare that I actually have all these things — old picture frames, vintage wine crates, pallets, etc, who HAS all that stuff?

But then, on occasion, I come across a project with materials I actually do happen to have.  It is like a lightbulb goes off and I think, HEY, I can MAKE that!!!  And it gets filed away on one of my pinboards, only to be forgotten until I stumble across the object and think, “oh yeah, I should make that project some day…”

Well here is a project that finally came into fruition, thanks to the beautiful spring weather and my eagerness to get into the garden.  I got the idea from this website when I came across it on Pinterest:  tutorial:  spiral herb garden. 

My house came with an enormous stack of ancient bricks in the backyard.  With summer approaching, I’ve been wanting to plant some edibles in my yard, but not until I test the soil and make sure there are no heavy metals lurking underground.  So I had been planning to stick to container gardening for this year, and here was a perfect way to get started.

I chose a sunny spot that was filled with weeds and daylilies like this:

Though the existence of the daylilies seem to indicate full sun, it is hard to tell now before the trees fully leaf out.  So I decided to stick with veggies that (supposedly, I’ve never tried…) can thrive in lower light — swiss chard, arugula, and cilantro.  As the spring and summer progress, I’ll reassess and adapt as necessary.

I cleared and leveled out the ground:

And as the tutorial explained, lay down some cardboard as a foundation and got started laying out my spiral!

It took a couple days to set it all up, with the help of Mr. R.  Finally I filled it with some straw and then a large bag of potting soil.

I started with some seed, but with the extremely hot, dry weather we’ve been having, and considering I am not home 24/7 to keep the soil moist, I didn’t have much luck.  So I picked up some seedlings nearby; hopefully this way I’ll be able to really drench the soil enough to last all day.


Gardening is always a little touch and go, especially as strange as the weather has been this spring.  And I’m new to this whole container gardening thing.  So we’ll see how this works out — hopefully I’ll have some fresh greens soon!

The next object I want to re-purpose into a container garden is what I think is an old wash basin, cemented into the ground next to my brick spiral.  I already had Mr. R drill some drainage holes, but, even in this warm weather, I think I’ll wait till beyond the average last frost date in May just to be safe.


Porch rebuilding part one: steps

The front porch to our house is covered in flaking lead paint and old rickety boards.  Aside from being a major safety hazard, it also seriously diminishes our curb appeal!

But we dream of sipping iced tea on our porch swing sometime soon…so we’ve started working on replacing it.  And this weekend we tackled the first project — rebuilding the steps!  Luckily we had some good friends over to help us so it only took one afternoon.

This photo was taken after we had started dismantling the stairs…but you can see the poor condition they were in.

As long as you don’t have any major excavation or re-building to do, repairing steps is pretty straightforward — it is a project a beginner like us could handle.

But of course, as with many projects, as soon as we start ripping things apart…

we realize we have a much bigger project on our hands than anticipated.

I am not so sure these steps have EVER been repaired in their 90 year history, so I guess it should not have been surprising to find that one of the stringers had started rotting away.  As Mr R discovered at the lumber yard, steps are apparently not made to the same size specifications as they were a century ago…so we will either have to get new stringers custom-cut or rebuild the concrete foundation to the steps in order to fit pre-made ones.

But in the interest of being able to enter the house, we settled on a temporary work-around:  reinforcing the existing stringer with new wood.  In the future, it shouldn’t be too hard to unscrew the new risers and steps that we have painted and have the lumber yard cut some new stringers to our needs.

I just sanded down the old railing and sprayed it with a fresh coat of paint instead of buying a new one:

We painted the tops of the steps Mother Nature by Behr — make sure you get porch paint — and the risers some kind of white.

So much better!

Of course, this just makes my rotting, flaking porch floorboards and railing look even worse, but hey, it’s progress, right?


Garden magic

This yard looks like it has been neglected for a long time, but there are so many amazing surprises that pop up now that spring has sprung early here in the midatlantic.  I’m discovering new things every day!

The dogwood in my front yard has PINK blossoms!  So cool!  Nevermind that it’s March 31 and the dogwoods are blooming…

Here is a flower still unfurling…


Good news:  the lily of the valley is starting to bloom!  Can’t wait to take in its intoxicating fragrance…

Bad news:  there is a LOT of this poisonous plant — more than I want in my front yard — and it’s going to be a pain to remove!

It looks like these azaleas might have white blossoms?

Beautiful iris!

I have no idea what this is.  Any clue?

I’m not sure what this one is either…though there’s my last blooming daffodil in the background!

A line of hostas has popped up along the shed!

Wisteria.  So lovely.

And finally, the last of my forsythia still in bloom.

I HEART spring!


Spring cleaning with Castile Soap

Well the weather has warmed up enough now that I think it is safe to say winter is, for all intents and purposes, over (now watch for a cold snap, I’ve just jinxed it!)  Time to get going on all our spring projects!

It occurred to me the other day that I have over the past couple years accumulated a rather obscene amount of castile soap.  Which kind of defies the purpose of this all-purpose product, but when you find something that works, you just can’t get enough! I’ve found such a diversity of uses for this magic soap that I need to get it in every scent.

I realize that for most people, the thought of using the same product for your hair, skin, laundry, floors and countertops is a bit disconcerting.  Soap is made traditionally from animal or plant-based fats, and in this form has been used for thousands of years as an all-purpose cleaning agent.  In the 20th century, as natural oils became more costly, synthetic surfectants were developed, and changed the cleaning industry as we know it. These synthetic surfectants, combined with fragrances, optical brighteners, phosphates, and other chemicals, allowed new petroleum-based detergents to dissolve messes quickly, keep your underwear gleaming white (artificially, thanks to the brighteners in laundry detergent), and foam up a little easier in hard water.  People very quickly abandoned their boring old soap!

But this all came at a cost — to our health.  If you’ve ever gotten a headache just from walking through the cleaning aisle at the grocery store, then you understand.  According to the Environmental Working Group, many conventional cleaning products “contain ingredients linked to asthma, cancer, reproductive toxicity, hormone disruption, neurotoxicity and other health effects.”

Don’t you think there’s something a little wrong with the fact that the products we used to clean the surfaces we eat off of and the home we live in require a label like this?

There is an endless supply of simple and affordable green cleaning recipes online.  I’ve written about it here.  But this post is devoted to my beloved castile soap.  Not a day goes by where I don’t use it in some way.  I’ve amassed quite an array.  Here is how I use it:

Rose scent
My hand soap and face and body wash.  I dilute it in an old foaming soap dispenser at approximately 10:1 water:soap ratio.  I don’t actually measure this.  I fill the dispenser about a half inch with soap and fill the rest with water.  The point is that a little goes a long way.
Made from coconut oil, with nothing artificial, this soap is so super gentle on your skin.  The artificial ingredients in conventional face wash, such as sodium lauryl sulfate, are actually extremely drying and irritating.  They do more harm than good.  This stuff gets you clean gently and effectively.  My skin has been so happy since using it.
I refill all my hand soap dispensers with this too.  Most store bought soap these days contains triclosan, an antibacterial ingredient you want to avoid.  Not only is it implicated as a possible carcinogen and endocrine disruptor, it is just generally not a good idea to overload on antibacterial agents.  This is what encourages resistance and in the long-term provides NO additional health benefits.
I buy a big bottle of the rose castile soap and it lasts me almost a year.

Citrus scent
This is what I use for the laundry.  It leaves my clothes with a pleasantly clean and natural fragrance!  Here is my post on homemade laundry detergent.

Peppermint scent
Dog shampoo.  If you think conventional human soap is bad for you — take a look at the ingredients in your typical dog shampoo. I have a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, and their fur is naturally oily which provides water resistance.  Regular dog shampoo would strip those oils right off, but using a gentle, oil-based soap gets her clean without being harsh.  As a bonus, I have heard that the peppermint and eucalyptus scents provide some level of pest prevention, though these products are not certified for that.

Baby mild unscented
Sometimes you just want unscented soap.  I keep a small bottle of this on hand for those occasions.

Travel.  I have a small bottle of lavender that I toss into my bag when I’m traveling or going camping.  It’s a travel-size face and body wash, a biodegradable dish detergent when camping, and in a pinch I can use it as shampoo, for washing clothes, and cleaning messes.

I don’t have a favorite for all-purpose cleaning; I usually just grab one already in my stash.  I am tempted to try the tea tree oil or eucalyptus for this, but I don’t need to feed my soap addiction.