A look back at 2020

2020 sucked.

Seems like this is something that doesn’t really need to be said. But just in case there was any doubt.

We are lucky to be have the option to work from home (and thus remain employed) and we are lucky that we have enough space to WFH without being on top of one another. Yet it was a year filled with anxiety, worry and a general sense of dread.

As we spent 99.9% of our time at home, we did manage to get a few projects done.

Right before shutdown we tackled the grape arbor. The somewhat ancient grape vine was precariously held up by a concoction of metal pipes, rusty wire and a broken broomstick. After slowly raising the vines to a point where we could actually walk under them, it was finally time to build a proper structure.

The empty shelves at the grocery stores were the impetus for the the next project: a small vegetable garden. I built these mostly with what we had on hand (bead board, scraps of lumber). I think they turned out pretty good, considering.

Boxes before stain/paint.

I used a dark mahogany stain on the outside (again, what we had on hand) and painted the inside blue with some leftover exterior paint. Not to worry, the boxes are lined and the soil doesn’t come in contact with the paint or stain. The thought behind painting the inside was to make them a bit more durable. As a bonus surprise, I think the color combo kinda works. These were completed at the height of the pandemic here in New York, when the city was absolutely quiet except for the wailing ambulances. We had no idea what the months ahead would bring, and in a small way being able to grow a few tomatoes and peppers seemed like a decent step against the food shortages we all feared.

A mesh top prevents said cat from using our “farm” as a littler box

Next up came the upstairs bathroom. Measuring a whopping 27 square feet, this was the original bathroom on the top floor, however the only original thing left in it was the footprint. The tub, sink and toilet, along with flooring and tiles had been replaced over the years. The shower was leaking into the wall and the tiles around the tub were about to fall off.

The before. Note the two shower heads, because the one on the left was leaking into the walls.

The space was gutted to the brick on the shower side. We salvaged as much of the plaster on the other side as possible New plumbing lines are run and proper waterproofing was done.

It always looks worse before it starts looking better.

We chose to go with a simple classic subway tile on the tub wall. We stripped what felt like 10,000 layers of paint from the window trim and we restored the original window.

Getting there…

Next up, the air shaft. This small and utilitarian feature of the house dates back to when new building regulations relating to air circulation were put in place in the late 1800s. Sure we no longer believe in “the vapors” or the “miasmas” yet proper air circulation was quite the contemporary topic for 2020. In here we stabilized the plaster an added some waterproofing (just in case).

Yes this is inside our house and yes, it’s super creepy.
Looking down from the third floor bathroom window..

There was also time for an impromptu trip to the Catskills to pick up an old toilet from Max at Shadowcrest1901 which may or may not have been the toilet used by Mr. Fleischmann of Fleischmann’s yeast (another on-point 2020 reference).

So yeah. Not a whirlwind of activity, but a few things here and there did get done.

Onwards to 2021, which I hope sucks a little less (and be productive a lot more).

Once Upon a Cabinet

(23 hours in Indiana, +759 miles, give or take)

It all started with a semi-boring weekend afternoon about a month ago. Scrolling through Instagram I came across a massive cabinet. It was perfect for our new kitchen (the one that we’ve been talking about for ages but have not done a thing about). It was beautiful. I had to have it (impulse control is not my strong suit). I sent a message to the shop who had the posting and eventually bought it. It was waiting for us in Franklin, Indiana. 759 miles away, door to door.

IG Cabinet.png

Wouldn’t you drive 12+ hours for this beauty?

The shop, Madison Street Salvage, is a non-profit that supports the restoration of the Artcraft Theater, a historic 1922 Art Deco movie house. Not only that, but the first weekend we could make the trip, the Artcraft would be screening Raiders of the Lost Ark, one of the formative films from my childhood; one that made we want to go into filmmaking. A film I’ve never seen on the big screen. That’s it: Indiana, here we come!

Cashing in on some frequent flier miles, we got ourselves to Indianapolis. From there, we rented a 12′ box truck (turns out you can’t rent a cargo van one way – because of course!). That means driving back in the (dis)comfort and full color smell-o-vision of the junkiest rental truck ever (because of course you’re not getting their best truck to drive it one-way to Brooklyn).

No matter, we got to the shop and the folks at the at Madison Street Salvage couldn’t be nicer. And they have a ton of great stuff. Tons of gorgeous light fixtures too, many restored by Amy, the person behind #52WeeksOfHome. Also? Someone who couldn’t possibly be lovelier and made a point to come say hello while we were at the shop. I mean, what are the odds? How does this happen?

On Friday night, we checked out the the movie. It was nearly sold out and we didn’t even win the contest of who traveled the farthest for the screening. There were people there from Germany and Puerto Rico. How cool is that?


The trip also included deep fried ravioli (don’t knock it till you try it) at Shale Creek Brewing, and a stay at the The Flying Frog Bed and Breakfast. The breakfast  was crazy good – like insanely, ridiculous, absolutely bonkers good.  I don’t have any photos because I was too busy eating a 3-course breakfast. There was breakfast dessert. And breakfast appetizer.  Who does that? (although now that I’ve experienced it, I think everyone should).  The innkeepers, Warren and Sharon cooked up some of the best breakfasts I’ve had in a while or ever – and I’m one of those people who “worships at the church of brunch,” if you  know what I mean.

The following morning the truck was all loaded up and it was time to make the long drive back, but not before we met Dennis, the cabinet maker who made our cabinet using doors and drawers saved from a house in a neighborhood that was demolished after the devastating flood of 2008. We learned how hard it was to match the stain between the salvage pieces and the new lumber, and the many many many times it was sanded to get it just so. The finish on that cabinet is like buttah (that’s butter in Brooklyn).


That’s Dennis, on the right.


The stamp at the back of the cabinet.

And with that, it was goodbye to Madison Street Salvage.


Then it was a lot of this:


And eventually we made it home. The cabinet is in place. Some minor surgery had to be performed to the surrounding trim (not to worry, it’s going to be put back).

The Cabinet

The fireplace will get re-finished at some point (it was poorly stripped by the previous owner). Thinking we might go with a super dark stain. Yes, that’s the world’s biggest shim. Our floors are far from level.

So all in all, it was an amazing weekend. We took a leap of faith and bought a cabinet we thought looked cool. What we found was a well crafted piece of furniture with a great backstory, the sale of which helps support the restoration of the local movie theater. We met a ton of great people united in their love of old houses and old things. It was a great weekend, the kind you don’t have all that often. Sometimes you just have to put logic and common sense to the side and go with your gut. It might be fun.

Much ado about toilets

Progress in the parlor bathroom has been, well…. essentially none. Part of the holdup is that I can’t decide what toilet to buy. I know we want a high tank toilet. But beyond that, the logical brain and the lizard brain are in great conflict.

Scott won’t let me have an actual old toilet (I already made that argument multiple times and have been vetoed every time – something about the possibility of leaking sewage and such). Continue reading

Front parlor floor

Our house has many beautiful period details: mantels, moldings, pier mirrors, wainscoting… but the floors are a whole different matter.

When we moved, every single room had some kind of floor covering. The third floor, was all stick-on tile. The parlor floor was mostly parquet laminate and ceramic tile and the same for the garden level. Unlike carpet, removing sticky tiles or glued-on laminate usually leaves behind a trail of destruction and an unholy mess, so we proceed with caution.

Continue reading