Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The 2020 Miracle!

I have long wanted a more powerful and larger range.  However, it is hard to justify installing one when you've just moved into a new home and there are so many other things that need to be done.  It is especially difficult to justify when you have a working stove and oven that gets the job done.

Well, then a miracle occurred.  Our oven stopped working this year and it wasn't reasonable to repair.  Therefore, it was essential that we buy a new stove :)

In comes the dream range, followed by the installation of a vent hood and backsplash!  We went with the dual fuel Kucht range, NXR hood and NXR full stainless chimney cover.  The backsplash was custom fabricated by Commerce Metals.

This project tested our skill level.  Retrofitting the house for the hood took much more work than we originally anticipated.  We watched countless videos before making a hole through the lath and plaster ceiling to ensure that we did not damage the surrounding plaster.  We designed custom brackets for the back of the hood to allow it to be secured to the existing wall studs.

I have thoroughly enjoyed cooking on it, and appreciate having the high power burners for searing and for high heat cooking applications.  We also installed the shelving to the left which puts pots and pans, essential kitchen utensils and oils and spices near the stove.  We are extremely pleased with the outcome.

There is much work to be done in the kitchen, but after living with it for a year we plan to keep the exact same layout.  It is a great cooking triangle and has proven to be an efficient space to cook in.  We will be refacing cabinetry by building custom shaker doors, replacing counters and installing new floors.  Much of this work will be DIY in the months ahead.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Water Water Everywhere

 Water water everywhere!  That is if you took the time to plan it.

Southern California presents some interesting irrigation challenges.  Water does not naturally fall out of the sky most of the year, and therefore you pretty much have to irrigate.  A large portion of the decision to go native was to conserve water.  Therefore, does it make sense to plumb water water everywhere?

I went back and forth in my mind on whether to cover this topic on the blog.  I am not an expert and the more I read about the water requirements for natives, the less I understand.  Everyone has an opinion on this topic and yet no one has actual information you can easily use.  

Like I did in the Pacific Northwest, I am installing a system of drip irrigation, as well as mini spot sprinklers.  I have added a number of new functions, such as shrubblers and plant pot sprayers.  In a good year we are out of town frequently, and I prefer that the landscape be self maintaining.  Just last year we lost most of our potted plants after we were out of town for one week in the height of summer.

I am not going to give a comprehensive overview of the installation of our irrigation system in this article.  Instead, I am going to mention some of the products we used, and then I am going to offer to post updates about the irrigation methods after we've used them for 6 months, 12 months and so on.

Almost all of our irrigation products are from  They are an Oregon based company, and I absolutely love them.  Get the catalog and study it.  Order a kit to start, and that will inform the parts and part numbers you need to expand it further.  Here are some of the products that make up the basis of our system so far:

Shrubbler on 5" Stake 360°


Micro-Jet 90°, 180°, 360°

MAJ90 MAJ180 MAJ360

1/4" Soaker Dripline 12" Spaced




There are dozens of other product numbers for EasyLoc connectors, tubing, etc, but again I'm just covering a few of the products I use in the system overall.  I'm happy to answer questions in the comments section about other products/parts in use.

I ended up using hose end timers, and have purchased a number of the wi-fi connected b-hyve Orbit faucet timers.  Again, might not be the easiest solution long-term, but so far they are serving my needs well.  Irrigation companies are not geared for low-water native landscapes and my biggest question was whether I could set it for interval watering with values greater than 7 days.  Good news -- the answer is yes with the b-hyve faucet timer.  I was able to set it for 15+ days between watering cycles.  This will allow me to decrease the watering intervals as the plants mature and their water requirements reduce over time.  Goal is to only have to water most natives once every 30 days.

My advice is to start out with a plan.  Understand the watering requirements of the different planting zones in your landscape.  We have a kitchen garden, the native landscape beds, potted plants and a drought tolerant grassy front yard.  Each of these areas has specific watering needs that differ from one another.  You will have to take this into consideration as you design your system.  A healthy dose of planning will ensure less frustration and failure during and after implementation.

As I learn more from our experience with this system and getting the native plants established, I will be sure to revisit this subject in future posts.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

New Plant Babies

 Few things excite me more than new plants.  Just finished a trip to Tree of Life nursery and brought back the next batch of native plants to round out our landscape plan. Today's finds were:

  • Juncus Patens
  • Satureja douglasii
  • Dudleya Brittonii
  • Dudleya Hassei
  • Ceanothus Julia Phelps
  • Archillea Millefolium
  • Festuca Idahoensis
  • Baccharis Emoryi

We had a good lesson in patience and thinking out of the box today.  Many of our native wish list plants were not available.  Sometimes the nursery has propagation failures or the plants are not rooted well enough to put out into the nursery for sale.  This was the case for many of the plants on the list.  That's okay, as we plan to do this project in layers and who doesn't like repeat trips to get more plants.

Also, we discovered that there are many different Ceanothus varieties.  We were ultimately looking for a Joyce Coulter which is lower growing with a greater spread.  We decided to try a Julia Phelps which is a bit more upright.  Our plan is to train this plant into a larger spread with careful staking and weighting of the branches.  

All of this is a reminder to remain flexible, do plenty of research and be open to alternatives and other ideas.  The world of natives can be a tricky when it comes to sourcing.  There are far fewer nursery's specializing in these plants and therefore they can be more challenging to obtain.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

2020 Retrospective


Well, if you look hard enough you can find beauty in this year.  This was our first full year in our 1914 craftsman bungalow.  Our first two months were spent creating plans for the property and our improvement wish list.  Little did we know that we'd make so much progress towards that list in 2020.  Amazing how much more time a person has at home during a pandemic!

Starting off the list was our studio makeover.  The property contained a building that's 12'x32' and a complete mess.  Originally it was a carriage house, but it had gone through a number of conversions through the years that left it in pretty bad shape.  We carved the building into two sections - a studio and a workshop.  We stripped the building down to the studs and began remaking it into something usable.  In March of 2020, we finished the studio.  The studio serves as a workout space and a home office.  Little did we know that we'd get so much use out of it in 2020!  We have planned the back workshop portion and expect to start work on that project in the coming weeks.  Stay tuned for further updates on that.

In parallel to completing the studio, we started planning out the landscape makeover.  We had a particularly rainy spring in 2020 and experienced some localized flooding.  From that we learned the drainage around our 1914 home was terrible.  Water is the enemy of an old house, so we began the effort of laying over 100 feet of drainage pipe.  Come May 2020, we had gutters installed on all three buildings and tied it into our new drainage system.  It wasn't a romantic project, but will help prevent damage to the old foundation.  It took months to complete, but had to be finished before breaking ground on the landscape hardscaping.

From there, we decided to remove 400+ feet of concrete from the property.  From past experience, we knew this was something we wanted to hire out.  Sure glad we made that decision.  The crew was here for a week removing concrete, and making a long cut down the remaining concrete driveway to install drains.  2020 was the year of drainage.  Glad that portion is over!

Once the concrete was removed, we had a blank slate and could finally start laying in the hardscaping.  We built a paver patio made from recycled rubber tiles, and a concrete paver patio area and pergola.  For this project, we moved approximately 9 tons of gravel and sand using an old dilapidated wheel barrow.  This is one of those projects you reflect back on and swear you'd never do by hand again.  Whew, we are very glad that this project is done and we reap the benefits of our labor on a regular basis.

We are finally at the stage of planting and layering in the softscaping.  We have started this effort and hope to finish it up before the end of the winter.  In the meantime, we've moved our efforts inside and have started stripping the painted woodwork in our living and dining rooms.  

This was a very big year for us.  It was a difficult year, but I can't imagine how we would've gotten through it without all the projects we accomplished.  When I reflect back on 2020 in the future, I will remember it as the year of the pandemic and the year we got so much done at our new house.  Hopefully I'll be doing that reflection while sitting in our beautiful landscape enjoying wine :)

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Potager Nook

Sometimes procrastination leads to the best decisions.  We'd been trying to figure out since this spring what to do with the northeast corner of our house.  This area is part of our kitchen potager garden, and is the utility corner for cable, telephone and electricity.  We tried planting this area with veg, but nothing grew well in the mostly shady area.  It gets flooded with morning sun, and then remains shaded most of the day.


This weekend we built a small brick S curve patio with recycled bricks we had laying around.  Instantly, the area was transformed and now has a purpose.  We tested the nook today with our morning coffee and we love the area!  It is a great spot to enjoy morning coffee and to admire the garden.  Finally, a solution for an otherwise dead and difficult spot.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Potted Plants for Interest


We have a decent amount of concrete hardscape up the South side of the house that we decided to keep for our patio area.  However, we knew we needed to soften this with plants and with the help of Tree of Life nursery, we identified a number of natives that would be good candidates.

Today we got this Burroughsia Fastigiata planted and absolutely love the outcome.  The pot matches the scale, and we are very pleased with the free flow feel and growth pattern of this bush.  It is amazing how a plant in the right spot can change everything.  This pot is along the approach of the back yard landscape, and is serving as great visual interest.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

The Big Day

 Well, we got our first rain for the season and we just couldn't wait any longer to start getting the landscape in.  We made our first big trip to Tree of Life nursery with a focus on getting all of the trees and the plants for one of the main garden beds.  Earlier in the week we received the water feature and got that installed.  The following is a preview of the finished product:

We're happy with the area, and especially like our new water feature.  We think it will add a lot of life to the landscape by drawing in birds, bees, dragon flies, and all the wonderful forms of life that water attracts.  Here is an overview of the plantings in this bed from left to right:

  • Byrd Hill Manzanita (back left)
  • Euphorbia Misera (front left)
  • La Cruz Manzanita (mid left)
  • White Sage (behind water feature)
  • Eriogonum Dana Point (right side) x 2
Here's the original design we're working from and the expected scale when grown in.

We are looking to put one or two Salvia Cedrosensis in the bed, but the nursery was out.

We also got the California Bay, Toyon and the Ray Hartman planted.  It has already completely transformed the feel of the landscape.  All of the hardscaping took a tremendous amount of work, but seeing the plants go in is a real treat.  We are still looking to add some larger landscape rocks to soften it and add a more natural feel.  

More about the plants can be found on this list.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Native Plant Palette Set

 The native California plant palette has been set with the help and direction of Randi Gunder at Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano.  Randi is a Landscape Designer and a tremendous help to us as we evaluate and plan the next steps of our native landscape.

So, why native?  There are many reasons that we chose to go with a more native landscape.  First, I have always enjoyed the great outdoors and am most impressed with mother natures ability to create grand gardens.  These eco-systems always seem to strike a balance and plants flourish.  Second, the native plants of the region are well adapted to the climate, and therefore require much less water and are less susceptible to disease.  Third, I appreciate the small and proportional flowers and showmanship of native plants.  Far to often I see plants that have been bred to produce flowers they can barely hold up.  To me this looks like a Frankenstein anomaly, and I struggle to find the beauty in it.  I am convinced that many of the natives produce better looking foliage with striking colors and textures.  These plants have evolved to protect themselves for survival and the armor that they've built is beautiful and purposeful.  And finally, native plants draw wildlife and insects while maintaining a natural balance.  These are just some of the reasons why we're committed to an 80% native plant garden.

We arrived at the Tree of Life Nursery at around 11am.  From there, we sat with Randi and shared the work that we'd done to date.  She had prepared a base drawing using photos I had sent her earlier.  Fifteen minutes into the design consultation and we were browsing the Nursery grounds discussing plants, textures, insects and fragrance.  This was a really wonderful way to develop the conversation and learn about each others tastes and interests.  In fact, we learned a lot about what native plants make great cocktail infusions.  What a fun idea!

After an hour of discussing plants and looking at all different shapes and sizes, Randi was off to the races heads down building out a conceptual landscape plan based on our likes, the space we have and all the considerations that we discussed.  There was some discussion during the design/drawing phase to clarify and work towards the final product.  This took her approximately 45 minutes, and the final product was this:

To better visualize this, I loaded the plants into a spreadsheet and attached photos.  The IDs in the document correspond to the numbers on the design.  This document makes up the palette that we plan to work with.  We are making a few adjustments and will continue to look at this for the next couple of months as we plan the planting project in phases.

Overall, our experience working with Randi and the Tree of Life nursery was exceptional.  It was exactly what we were looking for.  We had spent months looking at books, but were overwhelmed with the choices and needed direction.  Her help to build the palette was what we needed and we would recommend it to anyone taking on this type of project.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Then and Now

 When living in an old house I like to imagine what it would've been like to live there at the time the house was built.  What is the story that the home tells?  In Tacoma, I lived on D street and discovered that it was  where the street car travelled from Puyallup into downtown Tacoma.  That street was a flag-stop area -- there were no dedicated stations, you would just flag the street car down and jump on.  In Long Beach, the Red Line street car system would've been in operation for 12 years at the time this house was built.  From what I can tell, it would've travelled down Broadway which would've been the nearest stop from our house.

It is crazy to think how things have changed 106 years later in 2020.  First, Los Angeles county became an area completely reliant on the car where as before it had one of the nations most extensive street car systems.  How would've daily life been different without the tremendous reliance on the car?  What about design, would houses, building and retail coridors look different?  Would the area have sprawled like it did, or would it have grown upwards like New York and Chicago?  Would we see urban development more centered around street car lines?

Turns out the last trip on the red line was sometime in the early 1960s.  Just 9 short days before it was completely shuttered, the following video was shot from the front of the red line street car as it departed downtown LA towards Long Beach.  

It is a pretty amazing experience to watch this and to consider how things have changed.  How will they change again and where will they go?

At some point in the future I would like to research this further and learn more about what it was like to live in this home in 1914.  For now, this is a pretty good glimpse into what was and the extent by which it all has changed.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Paint Stripping

 We have started the long process of stripping and restoring the wood work in our 1914 craftsman bungalow.  From what we can tell so far, it appears that the woodwork has been painted at least 40 years which means several layers of oil based paint.

From past experience, I know this is a long arduous process.  Our goal is to strip most of the woodwork in the living room and dining room areas.

We purchased the Speedheater 1100 kit to start the process.  It is a hefty $500 device to strip paint, but if it helps, it will be well worth the investment.

We have been at it for around 30 minutes, and we've already made noticeable progress.  Having used chemical strippers, I can tell you that this is much faster and less messy.  In the next couple of months we will be posting a more detailed review of the paint stripping device as well as more progress photos.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Outdoor Makeover

 Anyone who is a follower of this blog is probably aware of how important I find outdoor space.  To me, it is as important as indoor spaces.  We knew as soon as we set out to buy a house in Southern California that we wanted something that supported outdoor living.  With our little house in Long Beach, that was going to be quite a challenge.  A 6000 square foot lot with a main house, a second ADU house and a sizable workshop/studio building.  That left a small chunk left to design and landscape.

First, we knew the space had to be optimized.  Little space could be left as unused.  In addition, spaces had to be multi-purpose and allow for indoor/outdoor living.  Second, we have tenants in the ADU house, and they need space too.  Access to the ADU house passes through our backyard space.  This needed to be done in a way as to not make it awkward for us or for the tenant since we're passing through each others areas.  Lastly, we knew that we wanted something semi low maintenance, but that also emphasized California native plantings.  With all those considerations, we put pencil to paper.

Our primary design objectives were as follows:

  • To create outside rooms
  • Create a potager/kitchen garden for food and herbs
  • Create outdoor dedicated living room and dining room spaces
  • Use organic shapes to soften the urban box within a box landscape
  • Leverage garden structures to create rooms and visual interest
  • Create a dedicated outdoor workout space that seconds as a multi-use space
  • Create hidden spaces and elements of compression to create surprise
  • Approximately 80% native plantings
During the Winter 2019/2020 season, we produced the following landscape design drawing based on the above objectives:

Top of drawing is East and Left is North.

This drawing has endured months of sketching, erasing, more sketching, and more erasing, so it isn't incredibly easy to read.  This is the second version of the drawing, because as some point we threw out the original version and started over.

Once we had finalized the major aspects of the landscape, hardscape and planting areas, we started out with the big stuff -- removing 400 sq. ft. of old concrete and a lot of drainage work.  While I have done concrete removal in the past, I knew it wasn't something I wanted to do again.  We identified contractors and moved forward with the work.

The following are photos of the landscape at the time of purchase and during/after the concrete removal project:

The following  photos represent landscaping progress made to date in 2020.  We had originally established a 3 year goal to complete this work, but the pandemic in 2020 allowed us to accelerate that and make progress faster than anticipated:

Coming up next... consultation with a local native nursery & landscape designer to create and finalize the plantings.  More details shortly in a future blog post.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

1914 Home in Long Beach California


In October of 2019 we closed on a 1914 craftsman four-square home in the Rose Park South district of Long Beach California.  It is a two-bedroom one bath home on a 6000 sq. ft lot just minutes from the beach.  The home is accompanied by a similar time period one-bedroom additional dwelling unit home in the backyard.  

The main home has many of its original craftsman details, but some have been removed through the years in an attempt to modernize.

Our plan is to live in and enjoy the home, and to restore many of its features back to original.  

Throughout the late 2019 and 2020 timeframe, we took on a full landscape project in the back and side yard.  Our immediate goal was to improve on the inside & outside living concept to leverage the beautiful weather you benefit from when living in Southern California.  Photos and details of that project will be detailed in a future blog entry.  In the coming months we will be working on the California native planting plan.

In addition, the site contains a 12ft by 32ft out building that will be restored into a home studio and a creative woodworking space.  Some of the work has been completed and will be detailed in a future blog post.

We look forward to sharing details on the history and experience of living in our 1914 beach bungalow in Long Beach