4.23.2014

THIS DOLLHOUSE OF MINE: PART 2

Once the house was clean, sturdy and white, it was time for the truly fun part. I spent a lot of time browsing online for modern dollhouses and wow, Moms be busy out there. There are a lot of amazing houses put together for some very lucky girls. Like this one. And this one. And this one. And sorry, this one. Not to mention, what's available new. Everything from Hape and Lundby made me drool... But I was on a budget. And jeez, Thora is only three afterall.

First order of business was finding the clapboard for the exterior. I knew I didn't want anything narrow or precious, I think of this as a farm house, so I set my sights on 1/2" reveal in 36" long sheets, (a lot like this) which proved a challenge to find. Luckily the Berkeley Ace Hardware was able to scavenge it from a Michigan location or something and between that and what they had on hand it was just enough. Not to mention, they were running a holiday sale which made it a lot more affordable. If you don't know, the Berkeley Ace has an amazing hobby basement. It's a dreamy, dusty time warp.

While I waited for my siding to come in, I started strategizing all of the trim and how to replace the windows and what to do about the floors. I may have gotten a little overwhelmed, mind you I have a deadline-driven job and the aforementioned three-year old to tend, but when it has to, my mind works like tetris. Determined I whittled each detail into separate tasks, in certain order, in allotted chunks of time and bit by bit, I got it done.

I started with white paint. I used the same satin-finish Simply White by Benjamin Moore that's all over our real house because I had it on hand. The ceilings were painted as was around all of the edges and windows. At this point, I decided to paint the roof white too. I debated shingles, but ultimately decided on a white roof. It's a cleaner look and is less-likely to be destroyed, a la, little fingers plucking one by one. As I worked on this house, I realized the key to modernizing is—easy on the details, lady.

Next up, the windows. As I mentioned before, all of the original windows were gone and/or damaged. I tried to get fancy and went to Home Depot and purchased a pricey sheet of plexi. Got it home, cut out ALL of the panes (there were 12) and as I anxiously peeled off the protective covering my stomach ended up in my throat. It was frosted. What?? Clearly, not labeled clearly. The next day was another Home Depot adventure only to learn that they did not sell clear plexi. But great ideas are born of desperation. I made a quick trip to my beloved Michael's and purchased a $3 poster frame. That thin, clear, plexi was/is the perfect solution. I felt a little wasteful tossing the rest of the frame, but it was minimal collateral—those thin little strips of metal. There is more packaging on any given toy at Toys R Us.

Once all of the new windows were measured and cut, it was time to place. Aleene's Tacky Glue has been around as long as myself, so has the logo (Aleene's, let's talk), but don't be mistaken, this is the perfect craft glue. You can see how how my window frames have a little inset for the plexi to sit in. A little dab of Aleene's in each corner, and across the middle on larger windows, then set the plexi on top and let it dry. The glue dries clear, which is nice if it smushes out a bit, but that wasn't a problem anyway.


While glue dries over here, paint dries out on the lawn. These are some of my siding pieces as well as trim for the outside of the windows and baseboards. I ended up using three different sizes for trim. I wanted the windows beefy on the outside, but less-so indoors. But the baseboard needed to be thicker than the windows, not to mention the bathroom was getting wainscoting and yadda yadda yadda, mental overload.

Anyway, I had my own little one-woman production line going on. All of the pieces required two coats of paint. I even used primer on larger items like the siding. Basically, I painted everything before I attached it to the house. This made it much easier in the long run and also gave me instant gratification every time I cut, glued and placed. As in any kind of project, efficiency is all in the prep work.


Flooring. Initially I was going to paint the floors and throw down some carpets. But then I was home for Christmas and happened upon a store I will not mention here due to recent news. And they were having a sale on dollhouse materials, specifically WOOD FLOORS. I'm sorry, this might have been overkill, but I could not pass it up. I bought every sheet they had, giggling all the while. It's a lot like this. I bought the natural version so's I could stain it myself. The prestained stuff is a bit mahogany for me. Putting wall-to-wall wood floors in this house is straight up dreamy. Might I add, incredibly easy to install. Easier than paint. I simply stained it with Minwax (Dark Walnut), then cut to size, smear some Aleene's on the back and press into place. I stacked every heavy book I had in there to make sure there was no buckling. Of course, I did all of this AFTER I did the walls...

Probably the most fun I had was an afternoon at a scrapbooking store on Fourth St. I allowed myself to relax and browse casually and did my best not to get overwhelmed—because scrapbooking stores are OVERWHELMING. It took me, maybe two hours, to pick all of this out. During that time I ran through many possibly design schemes. But in the end, I landed on the above combination. The painterly flowers remind me of Rifle Co., although these are Hello Again by Kaitlin Sheaffer. The patterns were slotted for all of the back walls, while the coordinating solids would be the sides, since I had deemed them unsuitable for paint.

And back to the exterior... After window trim was placed and knowing nothing by hand is perfect and square, I touched up around the trim using the same paint as the siding. This was to hide gaps. Worked like a charm. The grey I chose was my own concoction after I unknowingly purchased a terribly flesh-like off-the-shelf version on taupe. It's just craft paint.

All of the trim pieces were cut to size, then painted, then applied. I was sure to paint all of the cut edges as well so you wouldn't blaringly see any of the natural wood.

As you can seem this is a very scientific process going on over here. Thin wood bends when it gets wet—either from paint or glue (same Aleene's). While it's drying you need to make sure it stays flat, because once it's dry, game over.

The order of interior production went like this: paint to windows to wallpaper to flooring to baseboards to window trim to bathroom wainscoting to done! The order of exterior production: paint to windows to window trim to paint again to clapboard to done!

I can't wait to reveal the finished house tomorrow! But dang, these posts are lengthy as it is. I could talk dollhouses all day and night. Do you think anyone would pay me to do this? Renovating a whole house in my spare time is awful rewarding.


4.22.2014

THIS DOLLHOUSE OF MINE, PART ONE

Sometime in the 6th grade, I pulled a dusty, primitive dollhouse out of our basement and fell in love. I didn't know where the house had come from, we just sort of always had it. My siblings and I, we colored on it, shoved junk in there, but never used it for its intended purpose. But something clicked in my 12-year-old mind and I wanted to save it. And while I was saving it, I wanted to create inside a perfect little world all my own.

This newfound interest also coincided with my fledgling babysitting business. Maybe I was feeling the rush of cash-on-hand? Maybe it was because I had started venturing away from my house, across the field to the new strip mall, and wandering the aisles of Michael's Arts and Crafts? Do you remember when that store was more than scrapbooking? It used to be a mecca of art supplies, crafts, silk flowers and miniatures. Sigh... those were the days. (Subsequently, Michael's also turned out to be my first real job. At 15. I had to get a work permit. Employee discount! And possibly the occasional five-finger discount too. Hmm...)

Anyway, I remember standing in front of those glass cases filled with furniture and those plastic bags of bric-a-brac, so tiny, fantastic, wonderful, filling an entire aisle. I wanted it all. The drawers that opened, the books with actual pages, the tiny cups and plates...

As I dreamed of my dollhouse, I romanticized the quiet life its inhabitants would lead. I imagined I was creating my own heritage piece, something to pass along to someone, my own daughter maybe, someday. And I began saving and collecting. I remember the $20 porcelain bathroom set was SUCH a splurge, but I justified it by making my own shelving, using a bead for a perfume bottle. The dusty blue couch set, a budget compromise. I outfitted the kitchen in oak, with a drop leaf table (not unlike the one I have now) and fridge that used ice, no electricity. And a pot belly stove. The parents' bedroom had a four-poster bed I put together myself. And the nursery, the nursery was beautiful. Delicate and white. My mom jumped on my bandwagon and showed me a shop behind The Last Straw Ice Cream Parlour that was just for dollhouses. There I found wallpaper, carpeting and the clapboard siding of my dreams. I used to wander that shop for hours, not always buying something either. I wonder what that counter lady thought of me!

You know, I also wandered antique malls at that age. By myself. In retrospect, is that strange?

So flash forward a quarter century and here I am with a little lady of my own. Full size, not 1:12 scale! And she's coming up on a third birthday. I give my mom a call and ask her to please, oh please, will you pull that dusty, primitive dollhouse out of your garage and ship it California? And she did.

And woah. What many years in a couple different garages of varying temps can do. Gotta admit, I was a little taken aback at the site of the dollhouse I had cherished so much. All of the windows and all of the trim were gone.

The inside faired much worse and it was looking a bit of a horror show. Not to mention, wobbly as all get out. Was I really going to give this to my daughter? Uh, yes. When faced with a project like this, it's fuel for my motivational fire. The uglier something is, the prettier I want to make it.

Ugly isn't enough of a word here. From the top:

Before: Attic
Before: Parents' room
Before: bathroom (my shelf!)
Before: kid's room

Before: kitchen







Before: living room

Safety was priority number one, so the first thing I did was remove every stray nail and scrape every surface until all was smooth(ish). Then I pulled out some wood glue and my nail gun and restored its rigidity. Solid.

A coat of primer went over every inch, because sometimes, you can't see what's there until everything is white. Primer also worked to deter the musty smell of the wood and obviously, stain block.

After the house was smooth, strong and the perfect blank slate, I realized all of the walls, inside and out, were so scuffed and gouged, that paint would not be enough to give it the clean, fresh, 2014 look I was going for. I had already decided on wallpaper for the back walls, but now I knew I would need to wallpaper all of the walls. And the exterior would get all new siding. I wanted to put clapboard on this house SO BAD when I was a kid. It feels full circle to do it now.

The To-Do List looked a lot like this:

Replace windows with acrylic
Add siding on exterior
Wallpaper all the walls
New flooring throughout
Replace trim exterior and interior - around windows and baseboards
Paint the ceilings
Decide on roof treatment (paint or shingles?)
Furnish!

What's hilarious is I had originally intended this to be a Christmas present and thought I could get all of the above done in a weekend. Ha!!! When reality set in, I decided it was best to save it for her birthday at the end of March. Good idea because I need those entire three months to get this done. Between work, childcare and sourcing materials, this project proved intense. I'll follow up tomorrow with the process of restoring this little house. It was so much fun, you know, if you like this sort of thing.


4.02.2014

FINALLY, FINISHED FLOORS

If I had a time machine there are things I would do differently, or at least, in a different order. The floors being at the top of that list. First-time homebuyers, heed my warning now! Refinish those floors BEFORE you move in.


We have lived in our house over four years and are just now getting to the floors. Talk about a hassle. All of the furniture, the rugs, the clothes, the knick knacks, the BOOKS, everything tucked in the back of closets or hung on walls, all had to go. Go where? The kitchen, the back room, the basement, the garage. Know what else had to go? My kid. So she and I packed our bags and headed to Laguna Beach to visit her grandmother and avoid the dust. My husband? He dragged the mattress to the basement floor and camped out. He also was tasked the job of documenting progress and keeping me posted.

Disclaimer: I am a huge micro-manager. I can not tell you how difficult it was for me not to be here, standing over the job and overseeing the details. I pretty much had nightly panic attacks. Not to mention, Thora wasn't napping on the trip, was extremely clingy, I had work deadlines... anxiety recipe.

Thora's room before. Huge gouge in the middle there.
Four years ago, when we first removed the shag carpet, I suppose by comparison the wood floors didn't seem that bad. Yes they were dirty, worn in spots, there were gouges, places with no finish left, blah blah blah. But generally they were livable. And we had bigger problems to deal with, like the termites and dry rot, not to mention a landlord chomping at the bit for us to move out. So I cleaned them with Bona, threw a rug down and moved in.

Now toss a baby in there, and imagine her learning to crawl. Dragging her soft baby body on the floor you can never seem to get clean, the floor that snags all of your socks leaving you an embarrassing collection full of holes. Not to mention, that offensive tone of orange. In art school I took Color Theory and learned all about hue, value and chroma. Allow me to say, the chroma of this particular orange was off the charts. Blinding.

Now this is what home renovation should look like!
The time had come, the pennies had been replenished. We actually found the person to do the work through our realtor. She's a wealth that one, love that I can call her on a dime for advice and references, four years after the fact. We spent the week leading up to the work moving everything out, then Thora and I headed to Laguna. What a drag.

After we left, Mike finished hauling our stuff and taped everything off. Jose was our man and he set to work right away.

Note how the floor is nearly black in the high-traffic zone. Ew.
The floors were in probably average shape giving their age (almost 100 years!) and the fact that they were standard quality to begin with. White Oak, nothing fancy here! (I love my house's middle class bones.) There were the problems mentioned above, plus some feathering that needed to happen where we removed a furnace...

...and on the other side of the kitchen wall that used to house the laundry, and a pretty serious water leak. I guess all of the floors were original except the bedrooms and hallway, which had been refinished once by some other DIYer. Finished incorrectly, of course. Lots of swirling and something was up with the nails. Jose had to go through each one, dig out dust that had settled under the old finish, and hammer each one down. Egads.

After the initial sanding...


everything was coated in a wood filler...

and sanded again. When I got these iPhone pics from Mike, I about died. This was the exact look I wanted. And here is where I am actually grateful that we waited all these years. Had I refinished the floors in 2009, I would've stained them a very dark, almost black walnut. I was super into that look at the time, Jeff Lewis was putting it in almost every house on Flipping Out. Fast forward to now, and dark floors feel dated to me. I've heard the backlash about dust and I've seen it, over and over and over again. Besides, our house doesn't get the best natural light. Dark floors would've felt like a cave. Yes, a nice, light natural look is the way to go here. And uh, excuse me, isn't the variation of the wood beautiful?! That would've been lost.

And then Mike sent me this picture, and my head almost popped off. WHY does this look orange? WHY is this so shiny? I very specifically remember saying I wanted water-based, matte poly. I did not want oil for two very important reasons. 1. It's toxic and smelly and nearly everything we have done to this house has been eco-conscious. 2. Oil turns orange over time.

Gratefully, the poly is wet in this shot and the finish is truly matte. Unfortunately, assumptions were made, communication poor, and oil was used. Trapped in Laguna, I wanted to pull my hair out. What ensued was a lot of back and forth and anger between myself, Mike, our contractor and Jose. But with the deadline approaching for our flight back and a child having a hard time adjusting on her trip, we had to let it go. And oil it was. And man, it was smelly.

In the end, the hallway and bedrooms look the most beautiful and the least orange. This is actually pretty close to what I had envisioned.


The main living spaces, and the ones with the most beat-up floors originally, took the poly a little differently. It seems the dirtier the wood was, the more orange it became. I don't totally understand why that is, considering he coated everything in a white oak filler. But it is what it is, as Honey Boo Boo's mother would say.

Before and after. Severely less orange.
Know what else they are? Smooth as butter. And easy to clean! It's like having new floors with the character of old floors. I love the nail holes, the variations in the wood. I even love the feathering because it shows how the floors have evolved with the house. I love that we didn't have to tear anything out and that hopefully they will be here another hundred years, earthquakes notwithstanding.