Sep 2 2015

Bathroom Before-and-After

The bathroom remodel is done! HOORAY FOR INDOOR PLUMBING!

Here’s the “before” picture, taken when we bought the house:


And here’s what it looks like now!


Another angle, so you can see the decorative tile border just inside the threshold:


Detail of the wallpaper, “Japanese Carp” by Burrows Studio:


Detail of the tilework, from Heritage Tile:


I also want to put in a big plug for our contractor, William Arthur-Haynes of Infinite Builders Group. William is super communicative and always kept us updated with plans and scheduling. Even though our little bathroom was a small project for his company, we always felt like we had his full attention and that our bathroom was just as much a priority as any big corporate project (true story: IBG was also remodeling two floors of the Twitter building in downtown SF at the same time that our remodel was going on). He talked us through all the little choices and details—what color should the grout be, “dove grey” or “charcoal”? Do we want a marble threshold, or oak? We wanted oak, and William milled it himself and mixed the perfect stain to match our existing hardwood floors. And the remodel was completed on time and on budget.

“Communicative,” “reliable,” and “multi-talented” are all important qualities in a contractor. But most important of all, I’ve come to believe, is a deep Rolodex. Well, nobody uses Rolodexes anymore. But what I mean is that it’s not just the abilities of the contractor himself that are important, but the talents of his crew. William brought in dedicated, knowledgeable specialists to do the paper-hanging and tile-laying for us. We have a 1915 Craftsman bungalow and we wanted to bring the bathroom more into keeping with the character of the rest of the house, so William made sure to set us up with workers who knew a lot about that style and period. The fact that he had such good contacts was a huge factor in how smoothly the whole project ran.

And now I have the most beautiful bathroom in the world!

Jun 19 2013

Before and After: Kids’ Room

Haven’t done one of these in a while! Here’s what the the room that’s now the boys’ bedroom looked like when we bought our house:

house 005

house 004

Here’s what it looks like now:



Sol is still sleeping with us, but in a couple of years we’ll swap out Robin’s bed (by the wall) for a bunk bed, so that all three kids can share the room. I don’t know that it’s a permanent solution, but it’ll do us for a while.

Aug 24 2012

Before and After: Breakfast Nook

Of course, every time I think about moving, I look around our house and am struck with pain. I love it here. I’ve just about gotten everything the way I want it! Look, here’s the before-and-after on the breakfast nook:

house 017



Yes, ideally, I would like to change the tile (I’m thinking hex tile) and give it a new coat of paint, but it’s pretty much done. We use this space all the time. (We even use it for breakfast!) The table was Sam’s grandmother’s, the tomato salt-and-pepper set were a gift from his sister, and the orange chairs and clock and phone were flights of whimsy on my part. It just makes me a little bit happy every time I walk by.

Feb 2 2012



This isn’t really a garniture, I just like the word. Or at least, the specific trade meaning of “garniture” is a group of decorative objects made to be displayed together, and this isn’t that. I like the word because it sounds like a cross between “furniture” and “garnish” (it’s actually from the same French root as “garnish”). So it’s like furniture that’s only for garnish. And a garniture must be made of an odd number of pieces: three, or five, or seven is fine, but if you’ve got a pair of something they aren’t a garniture. They’re just a pair. Four of something is—I dunno, a gaggle? Six is just an unseemly profusion. Eight is an orgy. But three, or five, or seven, can be a garniture. The whole thing tickles me somehow.

In other news, my paperwhites are blooming, isn’t that nice?

Jul 25 2011

Living Room Before-and-Afters

So, a year after moving in, we’ve finally got all the boxes unpacked, and my interior-decor vision is beginning to be realized. We got our wallpaper up in the front rooms, and I’m really really happy with the result. Here’s the “before” pic of the living room:

house 009

And here’s the after:

living room

Don’t worry, the shark does not bite. I still want to remove the fireplace screen and replace it with something more appropriate to the period of the house, but I’m basically just so happy to have that horrible plywood paneling gone. Here’s a close-up of the wallpaper—it’s a Morris print overlaid with metallic gold, from Bradbury & Bradbury. It looks great against the dark wood.

wallpaper close-up

We also have the tiny front room set up as a little reading nook:

reading room

This is a Voysey pattern wallpaper. I think it could be overwhelming in a larger room, but in a small space it’s lush and inviting. I want to put up a hanging plant over the big chair, to have something alive and natural playing off the print. I have been really happy to notice that the reading room is actually getting used a lot—Robin calls it his “thinking chair,” after Blue’s Clues, and Sam likes to sit there when he’s browsing the Internet on his Xoom. So that’s turned into a nice, usable little space.

Jul 16 2011

Want a Piano?

It’s a nice Saturday morning here; we’ve got Pappy and Nonna visiting for the weekend, which the kids are thrilled about. They also brought us a piano! It’s been talked about for a while as “Sam’s piano,” as in, “So when are you guys going to take Sam’s piano?” So last night I asked him, hey, how did you get that piano, anyway? “Mom gave it to me,” he said.

“Well, where did she get it?”

“I dunno. She just asked me one day if I wanted a piano.”

Then we did an impromptu dramatic re-enactment of the scene. “Hey,” he said, “want a piano?”

“Yeah, sure,” I said.

“It’s yours.” So now it’s my piano; I guess that’s how it’s done. Anyway, I’m quite delighted to have a piano in the house, as I understand that if either of my children happen to be musical geniuses it will be important to start their lessons early. I am emphatically not a musical genius, so I’m going to look around for someone in the neighborhood who does piano lessons for kids. Also, after its journey across the Sierrras, we’ll need to get it tuned.

We’ve also been getting some projects done around the house. We have a fence for the backyard now, and completed a bunch of interior repairs that we weren’t able to get done when we first moved in; we repainted several rooms in the house, and the wallpaper hanger is coming by on Tuesday. I’ll put up some before-and-after pictures once the wallpaper is in place!

Also, I…have an agent? I guess? Andrew Zack of the Zack Company, the agent I’ve been communicating with, actually sent me a contract to sign. But at the same time I still need to revise the novel to his satisfaction before he’d be willing to shop it around to publishers. So it’s more like I provisionally have an agent, I think. I ought to be really excited but I can’t shake this bleak sense of doom about it—I think I’m just at the point where I’ve been working on this manuscript so long that I’ve come to loathe and despise it, and I’m now having trouble imagining that it could ever really be publishable. This is making it hard to sit down and work on the revisions, actually. I need to just make myself do it.

Update: The piano has changed hands again. “Hey Robin,” I said, as the guys were unloading it from its trailer, “want a piano?”

“Yes!” he cried.

“Okay,” I said, “here you go.” So now it’s Robin’s piano. I can see this being an endlessly amusing family joke, trading ownership of the piano amongst ourselves for years to come…

Jan 31 2011

Miss Manners Takes Me to Task

My love for Judith Martin is well documented, but this week’s Miss Manners’ column is particularly well-timed. See, although we had a wonderful time at yesterday’s group playdate, I was also a little bit intimidated by the hostess’s immaculate house. I still have a long list of projects that I need to get done on our own home—and the backyard is a complete disgrace, with bagged trash and unbagged wood and concrete refuse piled up in several places. I was thinking to myself, I would love to host the next group playdate but I cannot possibly, I would be shamed.

And then Miss Manners goes and tackles this question:

Dear Miss Manners:

My husband and I were recently married. He is a PhD student, and I am finishing my master’s degree and looking for work. Due to our families’ financial situations, we decided to elope to spare them the costs of a formal wedding.

We are on an extremely tight budget and only have two dining chairs, and no money for more. I have always loved entertaining, but now I am hesitant to do so because of our lack of dining chairs.

Can you please tell me if it is acceptable to invite another couple over for dinner if they will be seated in our dining chairs, while my husband and I sit on ottomans? I don’t want to offend, but I would also love to entertain company.

Gentle Reader:

Whew. Miss Manners thought she knew where you were heading and is thrilled to find out that she was mistaken.

Every other letter she has received in which newlyweds (or oldyweds) beg off from entertaining because they are lacking some equipment asks for a free pass not to reciprocate hospitality or suggests a scheme for getting donations from prospective guests.

Yes, of course you should go ahead and entertain. No guest worth having would be the least put off by your furniture arrangements.

So, I suppose the fact that I have not yet managed to decorate the house to my highest ideals does not, in fact, buy me “a free pass not to reciprocate hospitality.” I’ll wait a week or so and then issue invitations of my own.

I do think Judith Martin would give me a gold star for one thing: I sat down and wrote a thank-you note as soon as we got home.

Nov 10 2010

Yard Work

When we bought this house, the front yard was a jungle of sticker-weeds. It was one of the first things the neighbors said to us, after “Hello” and “Welcome to the neighborhood”—”So…what are you going to do with that yard?”

At the time I said something breezy about having it landscaped. And in fact I did set up an appointment with a landscaper. She said it would cost five thousand dollars to haul away all the trash and put in a front yard of drought-tolerant grasses and shrubs with a drip irrigation system and extensive soil amendment. I said, “Hmm, thank you, we’ll think about that.” And we did. We thought, very briefly, about the fact that we do not have five thousand dollars, and if we did, we would have a better use for it than setting up a irrigation system for plants that don’t mind drought.

So between the time we moved in and now, we have done very little to the yard. We hacked down the big thorny things, and then we just kind of waited to see what would happen. Over the dry, hot summer, of course, nothing happened: around here, most plants and grasses go dormant over the summer unless they’re being watered. Now the fall rains have started up, and greenery is sprouting everywhere. So to help it along a bit, we ordered a few things from a native plant nursery, and we have just finished planting them.

My fondest hopes are pinned on the manzanita tree. Here it is, as of today:


It’s the little shrub cowering behind the rock in the foreground. It doesn’t look like much now, but if it thrives, it will eventually grow to be about ten feet tall. In January and February it will bear clusters of beautiful pink flowers that the hummingbirds will fight over. The rest of the year it will have splendid red bark and glossy green leaves, and it will provide berries for chipmunks and shelter for birds. I really hope our manzanita tree is happy here.

That unsightly dead trunk you see in the background will be cut down, one of these days. After some consideration I’ve decided to let the jade plant (the bush on the right) live, even though it is not native to California. Neither am I, after all. If it doesn’t ask anything of me—because it’s not going to get water or fertilizer or any other kind of intervention—then I won’t ask anything of it.

My second-fondest hopes concern our new mountain lilac bush. I took a picture of it too but it was so small as to be effectively invisible. If it grows, though, it will turn into this beauty.

I also planted a couple of different wildflowers, just as an experiment, to see if they can compete against the volunteer grasses:

wildflower plantings

If they do well I’ll get more, and I’m also planning to sow some California poppies from seed. Those guys are really hardy and I think they probably will be able to compete.

In the back yard, my camillia bushes are glorious with flower. Well, one of them is:

healthy camillia

The other one Sam butchered with a pair of gardening shears, despite the fact that I begged him to leave it alone. I literally wept when I saw what he’d done with it.


He says he “got carried away.” I don’t know how a person can reduce a lush, full shrub to a skeleton without realizing at some point what they’re doing, especially when their wife is pleading with them to put down the shears and step away from the plant: I think he kept going just to be contrary, because he didn’t want to be told what to do. I am still heartbroken about it. As you can see this bush is hardly bearing any flowers this year. I think it will grow back eventually, poor thing.

I am obviously still harboring a grudge over the camillia bush, but I have mostly forgiven Sam, not least because I want to get more work out of him. This weekend his dad is coming down to help us put up a fence around the back yard, so I am looking forward to admiring the menfolk as they do all the hard manual labor on that one. Maybe I’ll put on a nice apron and serve lemonade.

Jun 7 2010

Best Birthday Ever!

So I had a fantastic birthday yesterday. Sam’s parents came up for the weekend, and here’s something I knew but never fully appreciated about my father-in-law: he possesses a wide range of incredibly useful talents and skills! And for my birthday, Sam and his father dedicated themselves to completing a number of projects around the home that I’ve been dying to get done.

First, Dave installed the new faucet on our tub. I guess I should back up a minute to explain that when we moved in, the handles were missing from the tub faucet; when I got a plumber out to fix it, he took one look and told me that the whole faucet needed to be replaced, and that he’d be happy to do that for us at his usual rate of $125/hour, once we’d bought the new hardware. In the meantime, we could only take baths or showers by turning the handle-stubs with pliers, which was awkward and annoying. And the water pressure was pretty cruddy too. But when he installed the new faucet for us, Dave somehow magically managed to fix the water pressure too! Taking showers is now a delight, and look how pretty the new hardware is:

Also, there’s a cute little boy in there enjoying the bath. This is significant as Robin’s gone back to a strongly anti-bath phase for the past few months. But the gooseneck water spout is fun for him to play with, and he also likes reading out the letters on the handles.

After doing our plumbing work for us, Dave turned to the landscaping. He trimmed back the trees and bushes in our back yard, and then he and Sam installed my new composter for me:

This is the Green Cone System, which I chose because it can handle types of organic waste that other composters can’t, like meat scraps and kitty litter (if you use compostable litter). The disadvantage to this cone is that it releases most of the composted material as liquid into the soil, not as mulchy fertilizer that you can spread on your garden: but since I’m planning on keeping chickens, I figure I can compost the chicken manure separately and get my good fertilizer that way.

Anyway, there’s no real way to make a composter look particularly attractive, but I love that decorative brick border that Dave put around it! If I plant some flowers around it, I think it’ll make a cute spot in the yard.

Then, Sam and Dave went off to pick up an entertainment cabinet that I’d bought over Craigslist. I’m finding Craigslist to be a fantastic way to locate the kind of solid wood furniture that really suits our Craftsman home, but that’s terribly expensive when you buy it new. Unfortunately, then I generally have to pay movers to haul the massively heavy piece of wood I’ve just bought.

For instance, I’m typing this post at a solid oak desk I bought a couple weeks ago from the City of Palo Alto public library, which was liquidating some furniture on Craigslist. I love the desk:

And they only wanted $150 for it, when similar pieces sell new for a couple thousand. But I had to pay the movers almost as much to get it into our home as I did for the desk itself.

Anyway, I got another good deal on this lovely cabinet for our living room, to hide our TV and provide some much-needed extra storage space:

(Please ignore the fact that we have yet to tear down that ugly fake wood paneling—I have some nice wallpaper all picked out that will be replacing it soon. Also, we had to wedge a strip of wood under one of the feet of the cabinet because our floor’s not level; we’ll be cutting that down to make it less obtrusive.) I’m in love with the cabinet. It was made by The Wooden Duck, a local outfit that does very nice work using locally-sourced reclaimed wood. This particular model is made completely of solid teak. It’s about ten years old and they’re not selling it anymore, because it’s too narrow to fit the modern widescreen televisions. Luckily our old Philips TV is also ten years old, and as it’s still going strong neither of us feel any need to replace it yet. And because our living room was designed back in the days before television, really the only place to put the TV is right against that wall, where there’s juuuuuuust enough room for a narrow cabinet like this one. So! I’m splendidly pleased with it, and almost as pleased that Sam and his dad were able to fit the thing in the back of our Volvo—

—did I mention we have a car now? A ’97 Volvo station wagon, baybee, just waiting for us to paint flames down the sides and install some flashy rims.

As I was saying—I was pretty thrilled that Sam and his dad were able to fit the thing in the back of our Volvo and get it into the house themselves.

And that’s not even all that Sam and his dad got done yesterday; they also brought down some of the ugly window coverings that the last owners left, and put up a new glass shade for a light fixture that had been bare, and a bunch of little odds and ends like that. So, basically what I got for my birthday was hours and hours of other people’s hard manual labor, while I stood around and fanned myself and crowed in delight over the results. It was immensely satisfying. Best birthday ever!

Just to close out this post, here is a bonus picture I took of the view from our kitchen window. Isn’t it pretty? I love those morning glories. (Less picturesque are the dirty spots at the bottom of the window. Sorry about those.)

May 25 2010

Quick Update

We’re busy bees right now. This week we hosted Nanita for a quick visit—she took this cute photo of Robin playing at the neighborhood park. And tomorrow we fly out to Baltimore, for a visit with Nina and Elizabeth and their little boy Silas, and to celebrate as Elizabeth receives her doctorate from Johns Hopkins. I can’t wait to see Robin and Silas interact: Robin’s almost two years older, so it’ll be a little foretaste for him of his new life as a big brother. I think he’ll like it. He’s really interested in other kids now, and generally plays very well with the younger ones.

Of course we’re still getting things into shape on the house. Most of the renovation work is done—the major pieces, like the roof and the fumigation and the floors, are all complete. Contractors and delivery people have been in and out of the house most days since we moved in. Yesterday we got our new fridge, so we no longer have to live out of a camping cooler—and this morning I am experiencing the luxury of doing laundry in my very own washer and dryer. When Sam got home and saw the laundry machines installed, he pretended to be puzzled: “But Shannon, where do we put in the quarters?” I’m sure eventually the thrill of doing the wash will wear off, but for now it’s pretty exciting.