New House: Before Pictures

We are well underway with the renovation of the new house! It is very exciting and very exhausting.  Ordering samples, planning, envisioning the design and dreaming about what the house will look like has been a lot of fun.  The more practical aspects like getting the permits, financing the house, dealing with the banks, and not having a complete meltdown about unforeseen issues have all been very challenging.  I will write about all the issues in a separate post.  Here are some before pictures of this house:

This is what the front of the house looked liked when we closed on the house.  The bricks are kind of ugly but full of potential.  I plan on using a natural mineral based lime paint in black on the front facade.  Painting brick generally compromise the permeability of brick and requires a lot of maintenance.  Mineral based masonry paints bond to the brick and don’t affect the permeability of the brick.  We are still not certain if it are going to keep this brick wall or if it would be better to demolish this facade and install a new one.  Either way we are certain we want a black house.

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Front Brick

This is what the rear of the house looked like.  The vinyl clad cantilevered part extends out to the full 16 feet width of the house.  The stucco on the rear and side of the house was in bad shape.

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Rear of House

This is what the vestibule looked like.  There was a lot going on in here. The wallpaper mural had lots of flowers and birds, the wall tiles had been slapped together to sort of match the floor tiles and the ceiling had been dropped by three feet.  The doors leading from the vestibule to the living room had orange glass panels (which you can see in the picture below) gave the inside of the house an otherworldly orange glow.

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View to Front Door

A close up of the vestibule floor tiles.

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Vestibule Floor Tiles

The original marble fireplace mantle was in great condition.  All other original details had been stripped at some point.   I was hoping to save the floor tiles but eventually it turned out that we couldn’t keep them.  The marble mantle is in the basement now and we plan on re-mounting it and tiling the opening.

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Original Marble Mantle

The whole house was covered in an avocado green shag rug! The walls were covered in some plastic coated wood paneling and the 11 feet high ceilings in the living room were covered by a dropped ceiling.

We’ve ended up removing all interior walls, all floor joist, all non party walls on the rear and side of the house and basically started rebuilding from scratch.  The house is finally starting to look like a house-and it already looks a million times nicer.  We’ve turned the 2 story house into a 3 story house and added lots of large windows.  We still have a long way to go.

Here’s a little peak at what the house looks like now-this picture was taken by our contractor from the roof on the 3rd floor.

Roof View

Roof Front View

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New Project

One sunny day, this Spring,  Scott was out for a walk and noticed a real estate agent hanging up sale “For Sale” sign on a house a few doors down from ours.  We called the real estate agent and asked him if we could see the house the same day.  When we walked in to the house we were immediately impressed by the faded grandeur of the house.  What was most impressive though was this gigantic big yard! The yard is 16 feet wide and 45 feet deep which is very unusual in South Philly.  The entire lot is 16 feet wide by 98 feet. Scott and I were saving up to renovate our current house.  It seemed like the better option was to buy this house and renovate it….so we put an offer on the house.  When we got a call telling us our offer was accepted (despite there being multiple offers) the enormity of our project sunk in.  We’ve hired a architect and contractor to renovate the interior and exterior of the house.  However, this back yard is our project.

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The building behind the house is covered in ivy. The ivy is stunning but completely unruly.  The little door leading to the alleys is really cool.  Jai + Kiran are super excited to run around the “secret passages”.

This little door leads to one alley which then leads to three different alleys.

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Skinny alleys:

We have a huge garden project on our hands: we need to dig out all the concrete; remove the crumbling stucco from the side brick wall, and get the ground ready for plants.  We plan on using drought tolerant grass and native perennials to create a wild meadow like garden much like this garden designed by Dutch master gardener Piet Oudolf:

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Image via Gardenista

Faking it.

The irony of following a post titled “Living with Authenticity” with one titled “Faking it” is not lost on me.  I suppose authenticity can include fakeness.

Most of the original row houses in our neighborhood were inhabited by the “working class” population of South Philadelphia.  I had always assumed that our house never had ornate moldings seen in some of the stately homes in South Philly.  That is until I sneaked a peek inside our neighbors house.  The house adjacent to ours, like many adjacent row homes , appears to be identical to ours.  The main difference is that it retains all of its old world charm.  Our neighbor’s first floor is bisected by a long corridor leading through the entire house. We already knew that the previous owners had removed the long hallway in our house, so that was no surprise.   However, I was surprised to discover that our neighbor’s house was abundantly adorned with beautiful and intricate moldings on all the windows, doors and ceilings.  Despite being covered with layers of paint the beautiful designs of the moldings were still evident.  Once I got over the shock, envy washed over me.  Why would someone have removed all of that from our house!

Other than renovating our home to expose its original beauty we’ve never felt compelled to add any Victorian details.  However, after peeping into our neighbors house I embarked on a frenzied search of moldings and ceiling medallions.  I gave up on vintage realizing that it would be too much work to install and instead decided to buy a polyurethane medallion. After much online searching I discovered Architectural Depot which has an extensive selection of period medallions and moldings.

After much hemming and hawing I forked over $25 for a medallion.  When it arrived it looked all wrong and well…fake.  I figured that it would look better once I painted it but it didn’t.  I decided to mix paint and primer to blur the sharp lines a little.  The goal was to make it look like it had been on the ceiling since 1890! I kept painting it until it almost looked like an old plaster medallion.  After we installed it, it still looked fake!  So I spent several days caulking the seams and painting it over and over again.  I  painted and caulked late at night and early in the mornings so that I could really focus without Kiran and Jai wanting a turn.  After a week of constantly looking up to paint and caulk I ended up with a stiff neck and arm pain but the medallion still looked new-ish.  After another week of painting and caulking it is now looking a lot better. This little medallion makes the living room look much grander.

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I have since learned that most of the row homes built around the time as ours  had plaster ceiling medallions which protected the ceiling from the flame of candles.  I think that I will be faking it and adding several more ceiling medallions.

I am not a huge fan of overhead lighting and since this house didn’t have an overhead light in the living room we decided to not add a ceiling fixture.  It would have been an unnecessary expense.  The disco ball, a gift from our neighbors, works great here.

Living With Authenticity.

Living with authenticity is living in a home which reflects and accepts your true life. Similar to the joy you experience when you are your true self; a home that caters to your life can bring you peace and joy.

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The living room is our movie room, play room, reading room, hang-out room, music room, and dance room.

I often have people (mostly my friends or neighbors) ask me to help them with their homes.  Most of the time, as they hopelessly wrangle their hands in despair at the state of their home, I realize that they are trying to live up to certain ideals of what they think a home should be.  Often when someone tells me that they need to move (often to the suburbs); or they want more space; or they need a bigger yard; or they need a bigger kitchen;  I realize their discontent stems from them living in a way that doesn’t embrace their authentic life.

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Jai’s room is our play room, hang out spot, music room and art room.

Living in an inauthentic home is similar to being around an inauthentic person.  They both make your uncomfortable.  Countless times I’ve had people say they dislike coming home or they feel restless at home. The solution to living in an authentic home is not simple because you have to be introspective .  Most people shy away from this.  With our constant distractions by our phones, computer, TV etc. we seek to escape the present instead of revelling in it.  However, if we can honestly evaluate our homes (and our lives because one does lead to the other) and make our homes work for us the transformation is quite magical.  Most importantly this isn’t expensive and doesn’t require moving, expanding or spending a lot of money.  A minimal budget is often sufficient.

The most common issue I’ve realized is uncomfortable furniture.  Please throw out those overly stuffed sofas, or the too modern sofa with very little space to sit on.  Buy a comfortable, slender couch.  There are so many options!

Living in row homes in Philly there is generally no space for a “play room”.  I hear people with children incessantly lamenting the lack of space for a play room.  I say if you simply can’t designate a room as a “play room” accept it and move on.  We don’t have a designated room as a play room and I really don’t understand the need for a play room.  Children should be welcome into all the rooms in our homes. I think it is a common misperception of parents that children need toys to play.  Children can help cook dinner and play in the kitchen with water, bowls and spoons.  They can draw and paint in the dining room.  They can read in the living the room…the list is endless.  What we need to do is provide them with a home that they can enjoy.  I suggest dining tables that can be wiped down, floors like wood or tile that can be easily cleaned and furniture that isn’t too precious .  I am not suggesting clearing away all beautiful objects or breakable objects.  Children appreciate beauty just as much and most times more than adults. Whenever I buy fresh flowers Kiran and Jai always make a small flower arrangement for their rooms.  They haven’t dropped or broken any of their vases.

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Fresh flowers, plants, and foliage bring nature into our house.

Another common issue I see is unused space.  People often have a guest room that lays empty unless they have guests visiting or formal living rooms they never use.   Meanwhile more and more people seem to be finishing their basements and living entirely in their basements! Basements have become living rooms, play rooms, office rooms, and TV rooms.  Meanwhile the living room or guest room above ground, often filled with great light and beautiful proportions remains under utilized.  I’m biased towards basements:  I don’t like to live in them. They are musty and damp and there is nothing that can be done about it.  Whether they are new construction homes, or updated basements in old row homes you just can’t get around the fact that they are below grade and have very little light.  We can use our guest rooms as office rooms, and living rooms can also be TV rooms  or office rooms.  I like the small separate rooms in row houses because they are cozy and offer privacy.  By keeping the separate rooms we can use each room for various things.

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The bathroom is the kids play-in-the-tub-forever room, spa room and dressing room

Your home, whether it is grand or small, whether you rent or own, is where you spend your private time.  It should envelope you with comfort and joy.  Take the time to assess your home and then start your path to living in your authentic home.  Dispel any rules that are floating around in your head telling you how you should live.  Instead take the time to see and understand what you really need.

Current Obsession: William Morris Wallpaper.

Wallpaper is a great way to inject some personality into a space.  I especially love the mix of patterns with wallpaper and art.  For a while now I have been seeing faded, flowerly and exuberent wallpaper designs showing up in otherwise minimalist scandinavian interiors.  After much digging I found out that they are reissued William Morris wallpaper.  William Morris began designing wallpaper in the 1860s!  I love the juxtaposition of the his designs in contemporary rooms.  I don’t have a source here in the U.S. for his wallpaper but I may start begging friend’s and family living in Europe to get me a few rolls.

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source unknown

Limited Color Palette 2.

A while ago I blogged about Malene Birger’s amazing home in Mallorca. She has since then moved to London and her new home is just as fabulous as her Mallorca home.  The monochromatic palette emphasis the eclectic art and furnishings without the space looking cluttered.

I’m not sure how to describe her style: eclectic-nordic? The bed with the Moroccan wedding blanket and natural hued blankets is so inviting.

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It must be so peaceful to relax in this living room. The combination of wood and leather with the vintage beni ourain Moroccan rugs is beautiful.

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The layering of chrome and brass throughout this room is very cool.  The gold toned lamps, the chrome coffee table, the brass candle holders and the chrome arc light all work so well together.

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I wish I could reach into this picture and unravel the fabric neatly stacked on the stool! I am obsessed with hand loomed slightly rough cotton and wool fabric. I am inspired to take my fabric out of the closet and stack them on a chair so that they can be appreciated daily.

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All images via Elle Decoration Sweden

Kiran’s Room Update

The last time I posted pictures of Kiran’s room he was still in what is now Jai’s Room.  We tried having Jai and Kiran share a room.  But that didn’t work out.  Kiran wanted his own space so we moved him upstairs to what used to be the third floor guest room. The only drawback to this arrangement is that there isn’t a bathroom on the third floor.  Our long term goal is to add a full bathroom and  a green house room which would open up to a small deck.  I blogged about a deck waaaaay back in 2010.  We are currently only using one third of the floor space available on the third floor.  The rest of the third floor overlooks the flat roof above Jai’s room.  Many old row houses here were build like a” layer cake” where each floor over the ground floor was set back to maximize light.  Anyway I regress….

To maximize the space we bought the Stora loft bed.  Under the bed we created a reading nook with an old bookshelf, a large cushion, lots of pillows and blankets.  We mounted a reading light and added a vintage lamp for a softer light. On a whim I decided to install unused curtain rods and hung old curtains around the bed to create a cozy living space underneath the loft.

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We hung a curtain of string lights under the bed.  I love how string lights can turn even the most nondescript space into something magical.

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Kiran was very excited to get his own desk after sharing an art table with Jai.  We built a desk with Ikea  Alex drawers and Lerberg metal trestle legs.  We mounted a light on the wall so that Kiran would have more desk space.

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I think that it is important to decorate children’s rooms with beautiful and quality items. Kiran has one vintage wool kilim rug and a vintage flat-woven wool rug in his reading nook. These rugs are beautiful and very easy easy to spot clean.  Also as they are vintage and dyed using natural dyes they don’t emit any horrible chemicals like most new rugs. Kiran has several very low maintenance plants in his room.  He isn’t very good about watering them but I am hopeful that he will start watering them more regularly.

Kiran+ Jai love looking at photographs of themselves and us.  We’ve filled Kiran’s wall with photographs and art work that he had made over the years.

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The narrow shelf next to the loft bed is small enough to fit an alarm clock, a book and a few knick-knacks.  The Ikea light is great for reading and small enough to fit in the tight space over the bed.

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The Trones shoe boxes from Ikea (which I forgot to photograph) under the coat rack is the perfect storage space for Kiran’s shoes.  Now Kiran’s shoes have a place and his clothes and bags have a space off the floor.

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Having a designated space for Kiran + Jai to put their things away eliminates me having to tell them what to do.  I am still working on having them put away their laundry.  I find that they are more likely to put things away when they see us doing it as opposed to us telling them what to do.

We often spend our evenings in this room.  Kiran will draw, assemble outfits or do his homework at the desk. Scott and I read with Jai in the reading nook before Jai goes to bed.

My long term goal for this room (I have many  goals for this house) is to push up the ceiling which was dropped by the previous owners.  I would like to build a small bookshelf over the loft bed and also give Kiran a little bit more space to sit up in bed as he is growing really fast.