A Study in Botanicals

People used to tell my Granny that she should be an interior designer because she did such a beautiful job decorating her own home. She would respond, “I only know what pleases my eye.” I like that, so I’ve adopted her modest phrase as my personal decorating slogan. Teal ceilings please my eye. So do solid walls of tile. Bizarre? Probably so.

David and I now live in our fourth home (not counting those many months we spent living in hotels), and each new location has given me the opportunity to tweak my decor. I’ve changed some colors and fabrics with each new place, although our main pieces of furniture have remained unchanged.

Our new home has given me a unique challenge. How do David and I, who have transitional design preferences, live in a house that predates World War I? One answer is symmetry, and it is currently on display in our dining room. I chose to hang 18 classic botanical studies, printed from the 1613 originals, in simple frames but to grand effect.

prints+3.jpg
I completed this project one day when I needed a break from tiling the guest bathroom. That’s why there’s a gi-normous bag of mortar and stacks of tiles on the other end of the table.

Once I decided that I “needed” a crop of botanical prints, I discovered I could never afford them in a million years. Small framed prints go for $60 each–and those are the cheap ones! It was time for where-there’s-a-will-there’s-a-way Amanda to make good on her reputation.

First I found a book of botanicals with enough prints in the right colors to tear out and frame. Besler’s Book of Flowers and Plants fit the bill at $10. That was the easy part.

The hard part was finding frames at a volume discount. I spent months off-and-on searching the internet and stores for them. Finally Hobby Lobby had a 50%-off sale on wood frames that would work…as long as I was willing to attach the saw hooks myself. This made the project markedly more difficult, as hanging the collages evenly now depended on where I put the nails in the wall and if I centered the saw teeth. But at $3 per frame, I couldn’t say no.

Then it was time for innovation: the frames I had ordered were larger than the prints, and I absolutely could not afford mats. Remembering the buffered tissue paper I’d ordered when I was archiving my family’s memorabilia, I dug out 18 sheets, folded them in half, and laid them between the prints and the frames’ backboards. For $0, I had a unique look that would preserve my project for years. (Buffered tissue paper takes acid out of inks and paper, meaning my prints shouldn’t yellow over time.)

It took about 4 hours to do the whole project, from tearing out the prints to hanging the frames, and spawned a new personal slogan: “Practice, Precision, Patience.” I’m going to need that one in every room of this house.

Fourth-Day Flood (part 3): Tiles and the Tub Man

026+guest+bath+2.jpg
Wolf in sheep’s clothing: this beautiful, period-appropriate bath renovation hid water damage behind cheap unpainted beadboard and rust under DIY porcelain reglazing.

Maybe the problem was the wall and ceiling color. Both the guest bathroom and the dining room were painted with a drab, flat crimson paint that clashed with everything else in the house…and looked like dried blood.

I see it now: these rooms were ready to make our bank account bleed.

It took 8 months to finish the dining room repairs, and in that time, we still didn’t have a fix for our bathtub.

The first plumber (that genius who had filled the bathtub and reflooded our dining room just “to see what had happened”) said we had a simple problem with seals between the tub and the plumbing. Later when he came to fix it–and the water continued to flow around the pipes after his repair–he informed me that the plumbing was perfect. Instead, we had a hole all the way through the cast iron tub near the drain.

IMG_20160707_131325308_HDR
I don’t do anything halfway. While the tub was in the middle of the room, I removed the vanity, pulled off all the beadboard and moldings, repaired the walls, and tiled floor-to-ceiling.

How do you repair a cast iron tub? I asked around, and the historical society told me about the Bathtub Man. All he does is restore claw foot tubs. It took several weeks to get him out to our house, and when he arrived, he showed me that there was no hole. The problem was the plumbing, not the tub.

So I hired a new plumber–the one the Bathtub Man recommended–and we began 6 more months of imperfect repair after imperfect repair. The plumber would reattach the feet (3 of which had the strange habit of falling off, leaving only 1 foot and the plumbing supporting the tub) and redo the plumbing connections. All would be well for 1 or 2 guests’ showers, and then the feet would slip and fall off again.

As exasperation gripped everyone involved, I decided to call the Bathtub Man back. Armed with more “symptoms,” he was able to diagnose the problem: 3 of the 4 feet did not fit the tub. They looked as if they fit, but they were actually 1/16th of an inch too small. As a result, the combined weight of the tub, water, and an adult would slowly push the feet out from under the tub, breaking the plumbing seals. He could fix it, but it would require welding nickel onto the iron feet to make them the right shape for the tub. (Sounds like a cheap fix, right? Ugh.)

We had a solution, but we also had a deadline. My sister-in-law and her family were going to move in for 3 weeks while they were between houses. I knew there was no way 4 adults and a child could share our master bath for 3 weeks and continue loving one another!

IMG_20160713_133810495
I went for a classic look: floor-to-ceiling white subway tile with a Carrara marble accent.

The Bathtub Man scheduled the 2-day repair. First he would come out, flip over the tub, take measurements, and take the feet back to his shop for welding. While the tub was upside down in the middle of the room, I would tile. Everything. Second he would return the following week to attach the feet and flip the tub. Then I would hire the plumber to come back and reconnect everything. Easy-peasy!

Hiccup 1: When the Bathtub Man flipped over the tub, we discovered the bottom was covered in rust. Mostly surface rust, but some more serious. The 2005 family who had flipped our house had clearly found this tub somewhere, picked out a few feet that looked good, painted the bottom with (I kid you not!) white Krylon, and reglazed the inside themselves with some DIY product…without bothering to remove the drain cover first. Rust, rust, everywhere. I was told to clean and paint the bottom with marine-grade Rustoleum, and the Bathtub Man adjusted his timeline to include some spot reglazing (we just couldn’t afford to redo the whole thing).

Hiccup 2: It takes a long time to lay over 2,000 tiles. I gave myself a week, but it took me almost 4 weeks AND the help of David and Melinda thanks to volume, unlevel walls and floor, and missing insulation. It’s done, and it’s beautiful. And waterproof! But I reinjured my right rotator cuff (torn way back when I was a swimmer), and it will be many months before the pain, swelling, and tingling subside.

Hiccup 3: The plumber couldn’t come out for more than a week after the rest of the repairs had finished, so our family still had to share the master bathroom for awhile. But we love each other!

a2a51134d42831112e0b9f76e4fb95ba-uncropped_scaled_within_1536_1152The bathroom is still a work in progress. I’ve installed a standing shower (upgraded for my tall brother-in-law!); but I still need to paint the crown molding, change the lighting and mirror so they are proportionate with the 9-foot ceilings, and replace the ridiculous vanity. (The back of it is dry rotted and literally crumbled as I pulled it away from the wall, and the top is poorly-sealed wood that holds water.)  But that will require hiring an electrician and calling out the plumber again…but I’m not ready to wash more blood-money down that tub’s drain just yet!

Fourth-Day Flood (part 2): Baseboards and Brass

10636081_10101930986199971_7779676983355075928_n.jpg
For 5 days you couldn’t hear yourself think anywhere in our house as the industrial fans dried out the walls and ceiling space. The effected baseboards were removed to be dried and straightened off-site, but we never saw them again.

If you’ve ever dealt with structural damage–be it from water or termites or what-have-you–then you know that fixing the secondary damage is more costly than eliminating the problem. In the days following the flood, we were led to believe that our biggest headache would be the dining room repair, not the bathroom plumbing itself. (This, of course, would prove incorrect.)

As soon as it started raining from our dining room rafters, I was on the phone with our home warranty company (thoughtfully and thankfully provided by the sellers). Unfortunately, the contractors they provided were worse than worthless. The plumber they made us use recreated the flood the next day, and then declared he could not help because “there might be mold.” The water abatement company they made us hire tried to overcharge us by thousands of dollars and threw away the 110-year-old baseboard moldings they were supposed to dry and straighten off-site. (The baseboards would be the most costly repair: a carpenter had to make a mold and then fabricate them to match the rest of the house.)

The warranty company then refused to pay for ANY repairs; they decided “the plumbing issue was preexisting,” so subsequent damage was not covered by our home warranty. And they didn’t care that it was “their” subcontractors who caused the most expensive damage after the initial flood.

There we were–just one week after moving into our house–with a huge hole in our ceiling, no baseboards, a nonfunctioning guest bathroom, and mounting bills. And so our house remained for 8 months, until we were able to hire carpenters and painters.

1cc19-img_20160716_155741462_hdr
For 5 days you couldn’t hear yourself think anywhere in our house as the industrial fans dried out the walls and ceiling space. The effected baseboards were removed to be dried and straightened off-site, but we never saw them again.

Finally it was time to have some fun! I chose grey-and-teal thermal draperies for the dining room windows then coordinated the room’s paint colors. My mother (and probably everyone else) thought I was crazy when I decided I’d be painting my ceiling teal. Grey walls, teal ceiling, white trim. This was a bold choice because the room can be seen from most angles downstairs.

IMG_20151019_191041156.jpg
It took me hours to polish each piece, but the results are gorgeous. I love how the tarnish remains in the tiny crevices and adds dimension to the pattern, as it does in my equally beloved sterlingware.

Less controversial, but equally impactful to my detail-oriented eye, is my continuing restoration of the room’s hardware. This house is FULL of solid brass, unlacquered hardware–door knobs, casement hinges, window latches, you name it!–that have been covered with paint over the decades.

Until we moved here, I was a vocal brass hater. In our first house, I spent years slowly replacing every monkey-metal doorknob, hinge, and faucet with brushed-nickel fixtures. That cheap yellow metal they produce these days makes me cringe and “colored” my impression of brass. But I’ve done a 180. It thrills my soul that these solid metal beauties are hiding under sloppy DIY projects waiting for me to, quite literally, make them shine again.

I acknowledge that I am strange. I paint ceilings teal, and I LOVE polishing. In college we AOIIs would clean the house once per month, and I was the only person who wanted silver duty. Back then I did it all by hand; this time I had help.

A few weeks before I started this polishing project, David and I bought a nail grinder for Copper that is made by Dremel. I soon realized that the nail grinder could accept almost any Dremel accessory–including polishing wheels! I burned through 30 polishing wheels getting the dining room hardware clean, but the result is worth the time, effort, and cost.

So at the 8-month mark, we had our dining room back. But the upstairs bathroom? Still out of commission with undiagnosed bathtub problems…