Thursday, April 21, 2022

What is it?

 What would you guess this is?

If you guessed windows, you are correct!  We have a bank of 3 double hung windows in the dining room that are part of a wooden frame and panel wall.  The more we looked at restoring it, the more we realized that much repair work was needed.  Therefore, we began meticulously deconstructing the bank of windows.  This is just some of the parts that make up the windows.  Still to this day I find myself shocked at the craftsmanship that went into simple things.  It is nice to honor this work and history by restoring it and readying it for another century of operation.

Happy restoration!

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Dining Room Wood Finishing

It seemed that the interior wood finishing of our dining room would never get to final finishing stage.  To recap, the woodwork of our 1914 craftsman home was under decades of paint.  We started paint stripping in 2019 soon after purchasing the house.  The situation went from bad to worse.  Turns out that portions of the millwork had been sanded back to raw wood sometime in the 1950s (approx).  There were several coats of lead based paint in direct contact with the wood, which makes it next to impossible to to remove the paint.  Therefore, we resorted to sanding almost all of the millwork back to raw wood in the dining room.

Our goal is restore the millwork back to the early 1900s finishes.  It is becoming harder and harder for the DIYer to find the products necessary to restore woodwork with the finishes that would've been used during that time period.  Todays stains, gels and polyurethane finishes just don't reproduce the depth or richness found in historical finishes. 

In comes Dalys.  Dalys is a small scale finish manufacturer/producer located in the Pacific Northwest.  It always helps to know a guy when you approach a project like this.  Brian is our guy.  During the summer of 2021 we sent a small piece of millwork to Brian at Dalys for finish matching.  We also sent a sanded raw piece of matching millwork to him so that he could test his match.  From there, he sent us the following finishing products:

Here, you see the following products:

  • Benite - Wood conditioner that treats and hardens the wood.  Brian's tests were producing splotched results due to the age of the millwork.  This pre-conditioner treats the wood work and prepares it to receive the final finishes.  It hardens the wood by 10-15%.
  • Aniline Water Dye - This dyes the woodwork the base/background color.  This is custom mixed to produce the red/orange tones that are present in our original finishes.  
  • Oil Based Wood Stain - This is a custom mixed wood stain that brings our the darker tones of the millwork grain.  
  • Blonde Dewaxed Shellac Flakes - Flakes used to mix shellac.  We are still running tests to find the right cut/color of shellac to reproduce the color and original luster of the woodwork.
Just when we thought we had everything ready we discovered that denatured alcohol and related products have been outlawed for sale in California.  WHY?!?!?!?!  Pure grain alcohol or denatured alcohol is what's used to dissolve shellac flakes.  We had to mail order alcohol out of state so that we can mix the shellac.  Just be aware if you live in California you will have extra red tape.  How frustrating.

At this point we have applied the Benite wood conditioner and are ready to do the final 220 grit sanding.  For this process, we are taking it down to 220 grade because we're using a water based dye.  This EXTREMELY dry 100+ year old woodwork wants to soak up the water based dye which can make it much too dark.  The 220 sanding will close the grain and prevent it from soaking up as much dye.  

In the picture with the products you'll see our test board.  Here, we have applied the Benite, dye and stain to an original piece of the millwork.  Always do a test before you apply it to the wall.  Results will vary depending on the species of wood, the age and many other factors.

The next step is to do the final sanding and then apply the dye & stain.  We also need to start the process of mixing the shellac and finalizing a cut and color.  

Looking forward to posting some final results photos in the coming weeks!  2 1/2 years in the making....

Friday, March 18, 2022

Gone Native!

 In 2021 we undertook a sizable project tearing out our front yard and reconcepting it as a native garden.  We have a small front yard of about 800 square feet.  The purpose of the project was to simplify, beautify and reduce water consumption.

The garden really leapt to life and has grown in quite a bit since planting in December of 2021.  We saw the rock swales flood a couple of times this winter which diverts less water into the storm drains.  We continue to water these plants for good root development and expect to be able to cut back on watering later this year once they're established.

We did this project using the Long Beach Lawn2Garden program, and I would recommend it to anyone looking to convert lawn to garden.  The process was straightforward and we experienced no challenges with the process.  

We kept the plant list to plan with few exceptions.  A full list of the plants used can be found here.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Mixed Bag 'o' Projects

 Been some time since we last posted.  Here are a few projects we've been working on:

First, for fun - the catio/passthrough!  We have this single old casement window that was retrofitted into our sunroom windows.  This window proved difficult because it opens out and therefore requires an interior screen.  After two years of considering what to do, we built a custom catio/passthrough!  The passthrough function allows us to pass through kitchen supplies and dishes between the indoor kitchen and our outside kitchen and dining area.  We do quite a bit of outdoor dining and this will get used quite a bit when we host parties.  In addition, it serves as a cat-patio for our two indoor cats.  So far, the cats seem quite pleased with the results!

Not quite as fun, but still rewarding is the restoration of our dining room window sashes.  We are taking them back down to raw wood and glazing/repairing where required.  These redwood original window sashes are in surprisingly good condition considering the 108 years of south facing weather they've received.  This is our first foray into window repair and we've learned a lot already.  Digging into this project, we learned that most of our interior windows are double hung.  We're going to give it a go and restore some of the upper sash window movement as we progress.

Lastly, we've enjoyed spending time in our garden and seeing the hard work from prior years pay off.  Spring has sprung in Southern California!  More garden photos to come throughout the 2022 growing/gardening season.

The focus this year is the completion of paint stripping and wood working/restoration efforts in our dining room.  Late last year we received the stain matching products from Daly's based out of the Pacific Northwest.  We have work to do to custom tint the shellac to try and replicate the luster this house was built with.  No chance of getting bored anytime soon.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Front yard lighting

 Very happy to report that the landscape lighting is in!  Used Volt lighting that's available at a discount for Costco members.  Very high quality - forged brass lights.  Very sturdy and should last a long time.  All low voltage 12v system, so pretty easy to install.  It really adds a lot of drama to the space and makes it "dance" at night.  Fun easy project with a quick payoff.  

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Lawn2Gaden Progress

In early August 2021, we received approval to move forward with our Lawn2Garden conversion.  More info on the application and process can be found in this earlier blog entry.

Once receiving approval, we quickly jumped into action to implement the following landscape plan:

We created this plan with help from Randi at Tree of Life Nursery to set the native plant palette.  I was already confident with what I wanted to do from an aesthetic/hardscaping perspective, but help identifying the plants made the design come together much faster.  

The design contained a number of hardscaping elements that we started implementing in August of this year.  First, we designed a small fence to better define the space.  We spent a number of weeks creating prototypes for the fence to get the height/width/design proportions just right.  In the end, we settled on a 24" high craftsman frame and panel fence made of redwood.  The wide/skinny slats are meant to emulate the wide/skinny shaker siding element on the house.  The copper post caps add warmth and a homemade craftsman feel.  The low to the ground design is meant to add definition without creating a sense of separation.  We hand crafted the fence and all of its components in our home workshop.

The design contained a large swale element that runs through and connects both sides of the front yard.  In addition, we incorporated a berm element to add depth and texture to the overall design.  Both swales are meant to be working elements and required work to tie them in with our drains.  During rains, gutter and driveway runoff is directed to pop-up drains that were tied in to the swales.  This will prevent excess water from entering the storm drains as runoff, and help recharge the soil with water so that the native plants can survive the summer months.  Think of the swales like a battery -- they charge up the ground with water so that the plants can pull from it during times of high demand.  Using a pick axe we began the process of digging through the hard sun baked soil to build the swales.  We used the excavated soil to build berm elements.  It is worth mentioning that we called 811 prior to digging to have the utilities marked. 

We used a long bright orange extension cord to lay out the size and shape of the swales prior to digging.  You can also use a water hose for this.  I find this important as it will help you establish an interesting and organic shape for your landscape elements.

It is also worth mentioning that we pulled in a 12v DC low voltage cable to run future landscape lighting.  We also plumbed the yard with water for any future landscaping irrigation needs.  We expect that we are not going to add irrigation because we are working towards a landscape that requires watering on 30 day intervals or less.  We still decided to plumb water to the area in case it is needed at some point in the future.

Once the swales and berms were established, we installed garden edging and selected landscape materials.  We decided to use the following landscape materials: decomposed granite (DG), river rock (both small & large), bark mulch, and a dessert tan landscape rock.  We will also use a number of small boulder rocks to add visual interest.  We used a landscape edging made of carbon steel that will rust and disappear as a natural element into the landscape.

One of the biggest challenges with a lawn2garden conversion is how to get rid of the grass.  We decided to use cardboard over the existing grass with both landscape rock or bark mulch over the top.  The cardboard will kill the grass off underneath and it will compost into the soil.  We determined this was the easiest and cheapest method for our project.  We had been saving cardboard boxes for a good 6 months for this purpose.  We supplemented our cardboard supply with a number of cheap moving boxes we picked up at Home Depot.

For the swales, we lined them with landscaping fabric prior to pouring in the rock.  Pulling weeds out of rock is not a fun process and we decided that landscape fabric was the way to go for this area.  However, we only used the landscape fabric in as few places as possible because we want the native plants to be able to spread and develop root systems without being impeded.



We are extremely happy with the results.  The berms adds a lot of visual interest and texture.  We are excited about the swales and think they are both visually interesting and useful to capture rain water.  The fence adds a beautiful design element that defines the space and harmonizes with the style of the house.  

We are excited to begin planting.  Earlier this week we reviewed our plant selections and will be making some changes.  We found that the design on paper isn't an exact match to the physical space and therefore needs some minor tweaks.  Be sure to allow yourself enough flexibility to evaluate your plan along the way.  Seeing is believing and designs are meant to evolve.  We expect to start planting in October and will post updates as that progresses.

From a timing perspective we have spent approximately 20 hours on our DIY front yard conversion.  From a financial perspective, we have spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $700 on fencing materials and hardscaping supplies.  Most all landscape supplies were purchased at our local Lowes. 

It is all working!  We've had so many people stop by wondering what we're doing and asking questions.  We’re doing Lawn2Garden of course!  Amazing to see so many people interested, and we hope our project can act as inspiration for others considering similar projects.  Save water and beautify all at the same time!

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Summertime Highlights

 In addition to constantly working on our 1914 craftsman four-square, we do sometimes just step back and enjoy what we've accomplished.  It seems lately that maybe we don't take the time to do that enough.  Perhaps it is a pandemic related behavior?

The native plant landscape we planted in the Fall-Winter-Spring season of 2020/21 really leapt to life!  Here are some photos to show the progress:

View from the side-yard entry gate coming into the yard.  The potted Burroughsia Fastigiata is hands down one of my favorite plants.

This photo features much of the hardscaping that we did ourselves in 2020.  My back still hurts.

In the background, our vegetable garden with higher-water demand plants.  In the foreground, an old peach tree underplanted with California natives.

A vegetable garden closeup.  Mid-right side is the Baccharis emoryi which is a wonderful bee attractor.

In line with our need to enjoy life more and not to just work all the time -- we built an outdoor bar as part of our botanical entertainment backyard complex :).  This project tested our tile and woodworking skills and we couldn't be happier with the end result.  

Bar side: notice the shingles that pattern match the house.  We're very pleased with how that turned out.

Redwood construction.  The door panels are common redwood fence boards that we ran through the planer for a more artsy finished look.

The beautiful tile work that my partner completed.  Very vibrant and perfect for the space.

And yes, we're still working on the indoor paint stripping.  In between paint stripping shifts we like to go  outside and enjoy a cocktail or two.  Or three.  Rarely five.  We have made tremendous progress on the dining room woodwork paint stripping and will soon begin dying, staining and shellac'ing.  We recently sent a piece of originally stained trim in to a stain match expert I've worked with in the past when completing other restoration projects.  Receiving the stain has been delayed because there is a national paint can shortage that is severely impacting small producers.  Who knew!?!?!  Like everything in 2020 and 2021 -- one must apply patience and learn to go with it and not against it.  The delay is allowing us to enjoy more drinks at our custom built bar!  See.... there are benefits to being delayed.  It is helping me be more in touch with the concept of maƱana ~ maybe tomorrow and maybe never.

Hope readers are enjoying the summer as we are.  Keep keeping on.