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Front Yard Urban Gardening
Jul 12th, 2013 by

Aerial shot shows the new herb walkway in the front yard garden.

Aerial shot shows the new herb walkway in the front yard garden. (Click to enlarge)

It was the bush that ate Cincinnati.

It was beautiful for about two weeks every spring when it blossomed into a huge white puff, but the azalea bush had overtaken the front of the house. The 7-feet-tall, 7-feet-wide monster was blocking windows and denying sunlight into our lives. So it was time to take action.

BEFORE: This was the front yard at its best, when the azalea bush bloomed for about two weeks.

BEFORE: This was the front yard at its best, when the azalea bush bloomed for about two weeks. (Click to enlarge)

I called Barrett Tree Service to cut back the bush. I didn’t want to kill it, just tame it. Trumbell Barrett, a certified arborist, said the best thing to do was to cut it back, drastically.

All of the wood inside the huge bush was dead so he cut it all back, leaving just the stems with green leaves that were hidden underneath. It should take a year or two to recover and this time I’ll have to be careful when trimming it, making sure sunlight can get inside the plant so that it grows properly and can be shaped and well groomed.

The little bit of grass that surrounded the bush was in pathetic shape, and hardly worth the effort of dragging out the lawnmower to the front of the house. So I decided to dig it up.

I had an ulterior motive: the front of the house is the only part of the yard that gets full sunlight. Now with the grass gone, I had room for a little garden: a little vegetable and herb garden disguised as an English garden. After all, this is the front of the house.

I planted six tomato plants, three basil plants, two mint plants, three oregano plants, a dill plant, a rosemary groundcover, a thyme groundcover, and a sage bush. Surrounding it all are hostas, daylilies, lavendar, and marigolds.

And to make the disguise complete it’s all fenced in with a short, fleur-de-lis, black wrought-iron-looking fence.

AFTER: The front yard seems much larger and even the house seems to breathe a little easier.

AFTER: The front yard seems much larger and even the house seems to breathe a little easier. (Click to enlarge)

I also planted blue morning glories and white moonflowers to climb up the railings on the front steps. The blue morning glories will start to bloom each morning and the white moon flowers will start to bloom each night. I’ve done this before to great effect. (Stay tuned for photos of this summer’s spectacular.)

Next year I may get more adventurous and plant more tomatoes and more vegetables, but this is a good start.

New Paint Job
Sep 29th, 2011 by

Trish with Chris at a cafe in Athens.

Trish with Chris at a cafe in Athens.

Eleven years ago we had our house painted by Chris and Sons Painting, based in Lynn, Mass. Chris, who is Greek, told us then if we ever visited Greece to call him so when we decided to go to Athens and Santorini last April, Trish called him.

We used the same paint colors as last time, but this time we added a fleur de lis design on the stairs.

We used the same paint colors as last time, but this time we added a fleur de lis design on the stairs.

His wife answered the phone in Lynn and said Chris moved to Crete a few years ago but that he’d love to talk to us. He called us several times from Crete and then decided to meet us in Athens. He said it was an excuse to visit his sister, who lives in Athens.

Chris is great. He’s very proud of his Greek heritage and we explored the ancient Agora in Athens, the Acropolis Museum and the port of Piraeus with him.

We used mulberry as the accent color on the bay window.

We used mulberry as the accent color on the bay window.

He was back in town last month so we decided to have the house painted again. He and his two sons, Michael and Kostos, did a great job and one that will probably last another 11 years.

See more old house renovations in the Home Projects section.

This job included some carpentry work too as we needed to replace an eave that squirrels had chewed.

This job included some carpentry work too as we needed to replace an eave that squirrels had chewed.

Stripping Doors of Paint And Redesigning the Dining Room
May 7th, 2011 by

The hand-painted antique cabinet matches the color of the new rug.

The hand-painted antique cabinet matches the color of the new rug.

I haven’t posted anything in more than two months. My wife says, “That’s because you’ve been sitting around doing nothing.”

Oh, the sarcasm.

I’ve been doing quite a lot (which I’ll be posting updates on in the coming weeks), including this. The dining room in our 1848 house in Malden, Mass. was in bad repair: the horsehair plaster walls were crumbling in a few places, and so it was time for a redesign.

At first we considered unearthing the fireplace that must exist inside the wall between the dining room and living room. But after consulting Mario, the fireplace expert, we decided not to do it: besides the expense (upwards of $20,000) it would have required us to cut into some major beams and reduce the size of two already small closets.

Plan B: Call in an old-school plasterer who could repair the damaged walls, rather than putting up blue board over them;  Strip the four doors that open up into the dining room of their layers of paint; Paint and glaze the walls and woodwork to give the room an old-world Scandinavian effect; Buy a new rug and curtains; And one thing I wasn’t counting on was replacing an old hope chest with a painted piece of furniture to continue the Scandinavian theme.

That purchase was made last Sunday when I attended opening day at the SoWa Market in Boston’s South End (Be sure to click on the video I created to see interviews with the vendors).

AFTER: The new dining room with the antique cabinet, painted walls, and bare wooden doors.

AFTER: The new dining room with the antique cabinet, painted walls, and bare wooden doors.

BEFORE: The old dining room after the walls were re-plastered but before the doors were stripped of paint.

BEFORE: The old dining room after the walls were re-plastered but before the doors were stripped of paint.

Resources:

  • Doors were dipped at Minuteman Furniture Stripping in Somerville, Mass. They picked up the four doors and then dropped them off. We kept the natural color and had a light coat of polyurethane put on them for protection.
  • Walls were re-plastered by Fay Brothers Plastering in Dorchester, Mass. John Fay is an artist and a perfectionist. He and his son, Sean, spent nearly a week working on the walls, paying special attention to a curve in one section. He also uncovering a wooden corner bead, which was the old-fashioned way of protecting corners back in the day. They dug this little gem out and now that it’s painted, it’s a highlight of the room.
  • Walls and woodwork were painted by Sitting Pretty in Haverhill, Mass. (978-521-0915). Kathy McCormick specializes in old world painting techniques. We hired her several years ago to match our new kitchen cabinets to the same color and grade of wood as the original douglas fir cabinets in our butler pantry. She’s great to work with and made several sample boards before we agreed on the color and glazing technique.
  • The hand-painted antique cabinet was bought at Tula Antiques at the SoWa Vintage Market in Boston.
Find more design ideas in the Home Projects section.
It’s Time To Start Planning Your Summer Garden
Apr 14th, 2010 by

Prior planning ensures good performance with tulips every spring.

Prior planning ensures good performance with tulips every spring.

Spring has sprung in the RootsLiving tulip garden. And for everyone who has to stay indoors today, here’s a little sunshine break for you.

It’s time to start planning the spring window boxes (here’s some inspiration) and summer garden. Soon it will be Memorial Day and around Boston that’s the usual time to do your planting.

Beacon Hill residents start a little earlier as they prepare their gardens for the annual tour on May 20. Here’s a glimpse from the 2008 Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill Tour.

But everyone would do well to take heed: the growing season is short. Now is the time to plan and prepare. What will you plant this year??

See more photos of the RootsLiving tulip garden.

Bathroom Makeover — What Color Should We Paint the Walls?
Feb 12th, 2010 by

When we did this bathroom over it had a "world map" theme. Our shower curtain had a primary colored map of the world and so we chose wallpaper that also had world maps.

When we did this bathroom over it had a "world map" theme. Our shower curtain had a primary colored map of the world and so we chose wallpaper that also had world maps.

Fifteen years ago we bought our 162-year-old house and had to redo every room. It was mainly cosmetic work, but not in the sense of “Oh, we don’t like that color,” or “That room is out of style and needs to be updated.”

There were holes in the walls; a leak in the roof ruined the wallpaper in the dining room; broken windows in the cellar allowed stray cats to go in and out; a green shag rug on the back stairs (we have two stairways) was soiled by some of those cats; and the upstairs bathroom was filthy and had rust marks on the white and gold wallpaper.

We fell in love with this house because we could afford it and because we finally could stop sleeping on the pullout-couch in our 1-bedroom condominium (we gave our bedroom to our 2-year-old at the time).

We stripped the wallpaper in that bathroom and every room of the house (the living room had nine layers). At the time I couldn’t imagine having to strip wallpaper again, but 15 years later, here I am stripping the wallpaper off the upstairs bathroom: wallpaper we had picked out and hired someone to install.

I hate to replace this great sink, but it offers no storage. Does anyone like their sink skirts?

I hate to replace this great sink, but it offers no storage. Does anyone like their sink skirts?

It’s time to do that bathroom over, again. Although the murky yellow tile is not something I would have picked out, we decided it’s not worth the cost of removing it so we’re just going to live with it. However, we desperately need storage space, so I’m planning on replacing the large wall sink and putting in a dark cherry vanity, as well as one or two other wall cabinets. We’ll also change out the medicine cabinet and the sconces. But our dilemma now is: What color should we paint the walls?

I think green would make a good compliment to the yellow, but which green is best? I went to Lowe’s and picked out four sample pots of paint (less than $3 each) and painted some poster boards to hang in the bathroom. Take a look at the following photos and let me know what color you’d choose. (And oh yeah: we threw in a turquoise color, which is actually named “Glass Green.”) If you don’t like any of these colors, please say so and let me know what color you’d choose.

Believe it or not, this bluish shad is called "Glass Green."

Believe it or not, this bluish shade is called "Glass Green."

If you like this, vote for "Greentree."

If you like this, vote for "Greentree."

If you like this, vote for "Apple 5."

If you like this, vote for "Apple 5."

If you like this, vote for "Olive Grove."

If you like this, vote for "Olive Grove."

Old House Design Tip: Keep It (the lighting) Real
Jul 16th, 2009 by

This early electric style sconce provides great task lighting in the RootsLiving kitchen.

This early electric style sconce provides great task lighting in the RootsLiving kitchen.

When we were remodeling our 161-year-old kitchen, we wanted to keep as much of the old world charm as possible without sacrificing the modern conveniences.

So we picked out a very large and deep white porcelain farmer’s sink. We had custom cabinets built to match the original douglas fir cabinets in our adjoining butler’s pantry. And we decided to refurbish an original jelly cabinet rather than ripping it out even though that would have opened up the space more and given us more options for counter space and work flow.

The original douglas fir cabinets in the butler's pantry were an inspiration for the new kitchen cabinets that were made to look old.

The original douglas fir cabinets in the butler's pantry were an inspiration for the new kitchen cabinets that were made to look old.

But one thing I wasn’t willing to sacrifice was good lighting. I vowed my days of stumbling around the countertops in the shadows cast from a lighting fixture in the center of the ceiling were over. So I started to sketch out where I thought it made the most sense to install recessed lights.

My wife, Patricia, pointed out that recessed lights were a modern convenience and would probably look out of place. She asked if there was another answer. And a lightbulb went off in my head: how about period sconces instead?

This sconce is called "Oregon City" and sells for $209.

This sconce is called "Oregon City" and sells for $209.

I had already bought some period sconces from a company called, Rejuvenation, for a bathroom makeover and was happy with the quality and service. So I started looking through their online catalogue, which is organized in several different ways, including by time period. It wasn’t easy and was time-consuming, but I did have fun following these steps:

  • I first looked at sconces that were in styles in keeping with the period of my home.
  • After finding a few sconces I liked, I carefully checked their dimensions to make sure they would fit the scale of the room. When you look at light fixtures online or in a catalogue it’s often hard to determine their actual size and you want to be sure the light won’t be too big or too small for the room.
  • I then looked at all the available glass shade options. Changing shades can change the entire appearance of a sconce.
  • And finally, I made sure that the four sconces (with three different styles) I chose to hang over the kitchen counters worked well together.

Note: The most important thing to keep in mind is to choose lights that you like the most and fit in with the style of your room. Don’t be locked into picking a lighting fixture just because it was the style at the time your house was built.

The lights work great, provide task lighting just where I need it,  and work as good as any recessed lights but with lots more style and integrity.

(Photos by Mark Micheli)

Check out more home projects

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