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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.

Old Chandeliers For A Period Look
Jul 28th, 2011 by

This chandelier was shipped from California to the Boston area.

This chandelier was shipped from California to the Boston area.

There are 3,292 antique chandeliers listed on Ebay as of this writing. That bodes well for buyers as prices are reasonable or even low.

Look at the ratings of buyers on ebay before you buy.

Look at the ratings of buyers on ebay before you buy.

I bought two this month: one for our redesigned dining room and one for a room Tricia likes to call her “Victorian Dressing Parlor.” With a name like that you’d think we lived in a 10-room mansion instead of a modest,  3-bedroom, 1848 Italianate home in Malden’s city center.

The lights I found on ebay were unique. And the variety — with more than 3,000 to choose from — was better than the local antique market.

The one we chose for the dining room was porcelain with colors that match the rosy walls and blueish/green accents. And the style goes along with the overall design: scandinavian country.

The one we chose for the other room fits the theme of the Victorian Dressing Parlor to a tee: dainty, shimmering, old and gold.

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.
Before and After: Glamour Shots of a Victorian Bath (Audio Slideshow, included)
May 14th, 2010 by

The color of the sconce shades compliments the yellow tile, rather than fighting it. Click photo to watch an audio slideshow on the new bathroom.

AFTER: The color of the sconce shades compliments the yellow tile, rather than fighting it. Click photo to watch an audio slideshow on the new bathroom.

BEFORE: Wallpaper from the bargain bin at the Grossman's Outlet adorned the walls of the bathroom. Click photo to watch an audio slideshow of the new bathroom.

BEFORE: Wallpaper from the bargain bin at the Grossman's Outlet adorned the walls of the bathroom. Click photo to watch an audio slideshow of the new bathroom.

(Watch an audio-slideshow of the Bathroom Makeover Project)

Before, we were surrounded by the world (wallpaper). And it was dark, cold, and dingy.

After (our bathroom remodel), we are surrounded by more genteel times, Victorian era charm to be exact.

About three months ago we decided to give the bathroom in our 1848 home a makeover: nothing serious. We weren’t planning on gutting it. And we decided we didn’t want to spend the money to get rid of all that yellow tile. So we needed a plan that would fit the historic nature of the house and would also give the illusion that we actually chose that shade of yellow on purpose.

With your help, we picked out a wall color (a lemony shade of antique white) and made some adjustments on what fixtures we’d use.

The result: A Victorian-inspired bathroom that uses a bold shade of lavender to bring out the bright side of the yellow tile.

But you be the judge. Does this bathroom makeover make the grade? How would you rate it?

Read about some of the details of the makeover here and then watch this audio slideshow (be sure to watch it full screen by clicking on the four arrows in the bottom right corner). Don’t forget to turn up the volume. And then let us know what you think works, or doesn’t.

Read about the details of the Bathroom Makeover Project

Watch an audio-slideshow of the Bathroom Makeover Project

See “Bathroom Makeover Part 1

See “Bathroom Makeover Part 2

See “Bathroom Makeover Part 3

Happy Earth Day You Pansy
Apr 22nd, 2010 by

To celebrate Earth Day today, plant something.

To celebrate Earth Day today, plant something.

Pansies get a bum rap.

Sure, they’re pretty and delicate-looking but they’re also one of the toughest little flowers. They can stand up to high winds, torrential rain storms, and temperatures that dip near the freezing point. And that’s why if you can’t wait another month for the weather to warm up in the Boston area your best bet is to plant pansies.

Lowe’s and Home Depot already have geraniums and petunias in stock but I wouldn’t risk buying them until the last week in May.

The RootsLiving gardeners purchased a bunch of pansies this week and planted them in window boxes and a few decorative urns. They’ll provide spring color until next month when our attention will turn to warm summer winds.

Container plants are a great way to supplement color in tulip beds.

Container plants are a great way to supplement color in tulip beds.

Tips on Container Planting For Novice Gardeners

Buy a bag of potting soil and fill up the container. Do not pack the dirt down.

Stick your fingers in the dirt and dig a small hole as deep as the dirt/root ball you’ll be putting in it. Now, pinch the dirt up at the bottom of the hole to create a small hill inside the hole.

Tap and/or pinch the bottom of the throw-away plastic container that came with your plant. Gently tip the container over to release the plant.

Split the rootball in half gently with your fingers and place each half of the rootball over the small hill you made inside the hole. (The reason you do this is because the roots of the plant have been squished in a small container and the plant’s survival depends on it being able to extend its roots into the new container.)

Fill in the hole, making sure that where the stem of the plant meets the soil is just a little higher than the surrounding soil.

Water.

Here's a neat trick. This bowl of flowers fit perfectly on top of this urn..

Here's a neat trick. This bowl of flowers fit perfectly on top of this urn.

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