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Front Yard Transformation

front before

This was the front “yard” when we moved in.  Under the fallen leaves are flower beds filled with either breeze or gravel, with landscape fabric underneath (8 inches or more down).  There were mismatched concrete pavers, painted concrete and nicely weathered old red flagstone.   The only green things in the entire yard are in this photo.  Lovely mature lilacs on the south side, saved by force by the next door neighbor, and the mess of poorly planned, and totally unkempt xeriscape around the tree.  (For the record, in the listing, the yard was aptly described as “zeroscaped”)

We moved from our rental in December, and I spent the only warmish day digging up stuff I had planted while there, and brought it over to the new place.  I advertised the breeze on Craigslist free stuff, and had a lady come several times over the next few months and took a lot of it.  I removed the landscape fabric and filled in with topsoil, creating a few flower beds, and transferred my haul.  After a while, this is what we had.

front in transition

 I felt  better, but felt a bit overwhelmed.  While some of the breeze was gone, there was still quite a bit of it to go. And larger gravel.  The grey pavers, and assorted mismatched themes going on were wearing my brain down.  I didn’t want to wait ten years or more  to get this corrected just in time to sell the house, like we did in Virginia.   Clearly I needed to call in professional help.

We went to Denver Home and Garden show this February, and after talking to several landscapers I finally decided on these guys.  They created a lovely and elaborate design including fountains, benches and arbors, and  gave us a beautiful printout of the entire job.

Plans

It turned out to be way more money than we wanted to spend.  And, as beautiful as it was, something kept nagging at me. I wanted to be able to work in the garden. I am a gardener, an artist, I  just wanted  a blank canvas if you will.   I wanted to create my own landscape.  So I went back and forth with the designer, and finally pared it down to the basics —  Clear out junk, replace with topsoil, add sprinkler system, and mulch.

They started clearing out the mess in our front yard on July 15.  Here is some of the work in progress.

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Gravel, breeze, mismatched pavers, and subterranean landscape fabric all gone!

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This guy was a beast, moving those gigantic, heavy flagstones by himself (two of the other guys brought them into the front yard together).

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Drip sprinkler system hoses.   And look, the boring, non-flowering ornamental grass is gone.  Hallelujah!

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Forming the new flagstone walk.   We had lots of dust for a few days.

And here is the finished project.

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I love the now balanced, flagstone walkway.   The  original design had a random broken flagstone walkway.  I thought that looked too modern, and that would involve destroying the nicest part of the front yard.  I really loved the old flagstone that was already there,  I had to be insistent that the flagstones be square, especially since when the new supplemental flagstone delivered was in large random shaped, not square slabs.

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I decided to keep the white stepping stones, because I didn’t hate them and it seemed like a good idea to break up the vast expanse of mulched area.  Howard didn’t want any grass in the front, so we will be adding stuff there in the future.

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Another view of the flagstone walk.  I think they  did a nice job of mixing the old with the new.  The border on the flower bed in the right side of the photo will be re-done.  (see below)

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Howard was concerned that the large bark mulch, that I chose to discourage the cats from thinking our new yard was their new litter box, would spread all over the sidewalk.   He used some of the 1000s of pavers that were removed to create  borders  on either side of the flagstone sidewalk.  I couldn’t watch as he methodically laid each piece, using a tape measure, level and sledgehammer.  It came out really nice though, and he will be doing the borders on all of the flowerbeds on our side of the retaining wall.

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To be continued. . .

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Uncategorized

One of the side effects of writing a blog about home improvement, is that you actually get inspired to improve your home instead of spending hours online researching how do do stuff.

Here is the hallway before, dark shades of green, not bad colors, just not very welcoming, and kind of cavernous. After writing about state of color and non-uniformity our main floor, I decided to go buy some sample paint.

LR & hall

 I spent two hours this morning doing this.  I now need to go get a few more gallons of Sherwin Williams Lemon Chiffon paint and finish painting the entry hall.

Photo on 7-22-13 at 2.24 PM #2

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When we moved into our house, there was no back yard.  There was lots of solid concrete, and pavers.

      back patio, before   back before

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The yellow leaves are on a White Ash tree, which was the only thing that was growing back there.   So, if you read my long rambling previous post, you’ll know that a green back yard was priority one.

I tried to imagine removing the pavers, and maybe getting someone to jack hammer the solid concrete, and quickly decided that would be a huge mess, physically taxing, and may take months.  Plus, there was the clean up aspect that seemed daunting.

Seeing as how it was January, and we had just moved in between December 1-31.  We actually had movers on the first, but after about fourteen hours of moving our stuff, They looked like they couldn’t do anymore.  So the month of December included moving the rest of our stuff from our rental, going to Washington DC for a funeral on December 26, and getting some of my art work together for my first gallery show.  I was insane. So I went to Craigslist to find someone to fix our backyard.

 I found Daniel who was able to remove the concrete and pavers, and dispose of them, but he spoke very little english.  Despite that, he was able to convince me that for $1,000 more, he could put in a nice patio and sidewalk from patio to garage.  That sounded good to me, and he could finish it in a week or so.  We decided on pigmented concrete, in a color that approximated the flagstone that is in the side and front yards.  He would also put down sod. The whole job – demo, new patio, grass and cleanup cost $1500  This was done on February 1, 2012, two days after two feet of snow fell here in Denver.  Daniel and two of his buddies came in with a bobcat and moved the snow next to the garage so they could get started.  And they didn’t charge me extra for snow removal!

After they were finished, I went out at least once or twice a day for the next two weeks to shovel snow onto the newly laid sod.  Once it warmed up a bit (which wasn’t long, that’s one of the things I love about living in Denver 300+ days of sunshine a year!) and some of the frozen ground underneath the sod thawed out,  I discovered some craters.   I lifted up the sod over the craters, and dumped several bags of topsoil underneath.  A year and a half later, we still have some dips.  But it is way better than it was.   We have green and even a little flower bed out there.

Here are some pics of the freshly laid sod.  See the snow on the garage roof, next to the garage, and on other side of the fence in our neighbors yard?  Yeah, I shoveled it over the sod, instead of watering.  It was worth it.

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Below left pic of Howard and Sheba is from last summer.  The other pic is from today.  The yarrow in the flower bed is looking lovely.  But, now that our doggie has a place to pee, she is killing parts of the grass.  At least its mostly green, and Sheba can run in the yard without hurting herself.   Ah, the life of a dog owner.

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Back Yard Transformation

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SAM_1988.JPG

I had seen this house online in February 2011, before we even sold our house.  When we actually went to look at it in September 2011, my hand written note on the MLS page was “nice, but weird updates”  The house was strange, but was in very good condition for a 107 year old house.  It has what they say, “good bones”  as well as some amazing architectural features.  For example –

A fantastic built-in Hutch in the Dining room, and a nice entryway with storage bench

  Hutch in dining room   Entryway

Really great windows, all functional

front windows  LR from hall

The basement at one time had been a separate apartment, complete with full bathroom, kitchenette, and a small bedroom with a big closet.   This came in handy when we were re-doing the upper level.

     basement bedroom     kitchenette

The weirdness started in the yard.  The front yard has a nice three-foot high brick retaining wall surrounding it, but it stops before it reaches the backyard fence.  There is about a 6 foot gap, making it useless for keeping our doggie Sheba in the front yard, and making a convenient entry way for all of the kitties in our neighborhood who were using this yard as a litter box.

There was a nice old red flagstone walk from the steps to the porch.  There were also red and grey concrete pavers, pigmented red concrete – painted white, and some interesting white stepping-stones

strepping-stones

Every place where something could be growing was filled with 6-8 inches of breeze (a very gritty sand, used for walkways) or gravel with landscaping fabric beneath that.  There was very little actually growing in the front yard.  There were six mature lilac bushes on the border between us and our neighbor on the south side. They begin where the wall ends.  They are really quite lovely.  The only other green in the front yard was a tree, surrounded by  a white concrete border, filled with xeric plants.  My least favorite is tall, non-flowering ornamental grass.   I am from the east, where grass is what covers your lawn.  It is not generally used as a decorative element in a garden.  The only useful thing growing there is thyme, which I regularly go out and pick to use for cooking.

front before

The back yard was  2/3 paved with concrete, and pavers covering the rest of it.  There was one tree back there with pavers up to about 2 inches of the trunk.   I’m not sure how that little tree survived!

back before2

  The backyard was our first priority, because our poor dog couldn’t figure out where to pee!  Also, she is a retired racing dog, and she usually has a daily three-minute sprint around the yard.  Not doable on concrete.  She was miserable. We moved in in December, and the snow and ice on concrete became more treacherous for poor Sheba, and for us, trying to get to the garage.   I raked up piles of leaves for her to do her business in.  She tried her daily sprint, only to slide across the concrete and scrape her leg up pretty badly.   We had to get something, even if it was just dirt in the backyard.  This became our first project. Post to follow.

The interior, was infuriatingly schizophrenic.  Many things were meticulously remodeled, with no sense of continuity or style.  Walking through the house, I felt as if each room was done in a different decade of the 20th century. Very little of it matched the style or time period of the house (1904), or even a current style.  On top of that, it  was sadly furnished with the most uninspired collection of Salvation Army crap, that could never be accused of being eclectic.   One particularly disturbing piece was a Keane painting of a street urchin hanging over the fireplace.  Her accusing eyes seemed to follow us through the house.

 walter-keane-helpless-urchin

This picture totally freaked out our Real Estate Agent turned friend Joy.  She didn’t like the house from the start, because of the oddities and the creepy painting.  After she presented our bid to the owner, she said something to the effect of, I hope you guys really want this house, because the seller is going to be a royal pain.  This turned out to be the understatement of the century.  After he accepted our offer, I went to take photos of the exterior and met our future neighbor sitting on his porch.  He, trying to be diplomatic, said that the homeowner (who will not be named, hereafter will be referred to as Voldemort) was, to put it nicely  “difficult”.  We subsequently found out many disturbing details about Voldemort –

  • He had taken our next door neighbor to court because he put dog poo in the dumpster in the alley behind the house.  Where are you supposed to put it?
  • He had taken the neighbor on the other side to court over a dispute over the fence in the backyard, and the brick wall in the front.
  • There were at least two neighbors who had restraining orders against him
  • Residents of the Apartment building across the street told tales of Voldemort and his girlfriend having loud arguments in the street
  • A previous resident of the basement apartment said Voldemort would come down into said apartment, unannounced, feeling entitled to invade his tenant’s privacy.
  • At least two previous offers on the house had fallen through, because of this man’s idiocy.
  • Our next door neighbor said Voldemort used to stand on the little balcony out back and stare into their yard. Needless to say, they spent very little time in their backyard.

A week before closing we noticed that Voldemort had removed a porch swing, that was not noted as an exemption in the listing.  Joy asked him about it, and said that he should return the swing, or he needed to bring cash to the settlement, in order for us to buy a new one.  His quote was “If I have to give the Parises money for a porch swing, the deal is off”.  Pretty darn sure, he would have followed through on this.  The man had some balls.

Apparently Voldemort’s grandfather built the house and the ones on either side.  He grew up here.  When his parents passed, he got the house, even though his father wanted to leave it to his girlfriend. The house went to probate, and Voldemort, who knew how to work the system, somehow got the house.  He didn’t want it, but felt entitled to it.  So he spent the past few years preparing to sell it.  This man had zero sense of style, but also was so arrogant  that he remodeled it for himself, not a potential buyer, and obviously took no one else’s advice.

This is where I begin to get so frustrated, because, he restored the beautiful windows and the gorgeous dining room hutch.  Some of the original woodwork had been stripped and re-finished, some was painted over with textured paint, and some was replaced with new, pre-finished wood trim.   He put a chair rail in each room, but used whatever wood trim he felt like.  None of the rooms have the same trim.   He had textured all of the walls (I guess to disguise any flaws in the plaster, personally, I’d rather see the flaws).

I love color, but the entry way and living room assault you with about ten different colors on the walls. Some flat, some shiny finish.  All three of the bathrooms were painted with the same Williamsburg blue, which is nice, but not really an Arts & Crafts color. The main floor powder room also had wood textured plastic trim, and bizarre printed panelling.  This room was so bad, that I would leave the light off when using it.  It was hideous!  This room was project #2 – post to follow.

The kitchen is very modern and streamlined, and not in any way in keeping with the style of the house.  The backsplash is tiled with a grey ceramic tile, that is not dark enough to be interesting.  The wall color matches the tile exactly.  BORING!   The too tall cabinets are custom-built and solid wood.  They are four inches taller than standard. This might be ok if I were six feet tall, but I am 5’4″. Note the gap below the dishwasher, there is also one below the stove.  See blue step stool that I have to use when cooking or getting anything out of the wall cabinets.

Kitchen      see my step stool

Upstairs were three bedrooms, and one bathroom. The one bathroom upstairs was in two rooms with a door removed between them. One room had a toilet, and tub.   The other room had a single sink, a large shower, and a closet (probably that was a the fourth bedroom before he decided to put a sink and a shower in there)  This became project #3.  It took six months.  Post to follow.

Despite all of the craziness of the house and the deranged seller, there were many redeeming qualities about this house.  It is in a beautiful neighborhood.  There is a large park three blocks to the east.  Within walking distance are – three grocery stores, a movie theatre, resturants, dry cleaners, a hardware store and a 100-year-old elementary school (attended by Mamie Eisenhower and Tim Allen!).  Our block has three lovely, well maintained apartment buildings across the street from us.  There are tons of trees, and most everyone on our block takes good care of their yards and gardens.   Add on to that the fact that Voldemort had been trying to sell for at least a year, so we got it for a very good price (over $100,000 less than any house in the neighborhood had sold for in the previous year).  We also had a chunk of cash from the sale of our house in Virginia that we could use to fix the defects in the house.

Luckily for us, we never had to meet Voldemort, though he sent us an unsolicited email trying to discredit our real estate agent.  We ignored him, and let Joy do her job. For her, I am eternally grateful.  And on November 30, 2011 we became owners of this home.

Sheba & Louie

Buying the house

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Stuff to blog / rant about

So I am just getting used to this blog thingie.  In my first entry, I started to get too long winded, and Roxanne made me shorten it.  I have half of another entry, but before I finish that, I decided that I need to just make a list of topics to blog about, so here they are.  In a somewhat organized manner.

–The crazy man we bought the house from – this is the major topic of my half finished entry, so it will be first.

–Before and after transformations

  1. Backyard
  2. Front yard
  3. Powder room
  4. Upstairs bedrooms
  5. Upstairs bathroom

–Dreams & plans for future projects

  1. Kitchen
  2. Craycray things about the woodwork
  3. Dining Room
  4. Fireplace
  5. Garden, ongoing
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House

Houses

Most of you who know me, know that my house has occupied a lot of my creativity, time and money for the last year and a half.  I wanted to have a place to put all of my frustrations, joys etc about this house.  I was inspired by this lady  to blog about it.

History

Howard and I moved to Denver Colorado in February 2009.  We left our little Virginia Rambler in Centreville, Virginia, where we lived for 19 years.  We raised our two children in this single story, no basement, no garage, 3 bed 1.5 bath home in a great neighborhood, with a large, shady wildlife filled backyard.  By the time we left, we had replaced almost everything in the house except for the brick.  Both of our kids were out on their own;  our son in New York City, and  our daughter finishing up her masters degree, and planning on staying  in Edinburgh, Scotland.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA   KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA   KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA   family

That last picture is our last Christmas together in Virginia 2008 (funny how both kids are wearing cowboy boots, though neither of them had yet been to Colorado!).

In Denver, we rented this beautiful craftsman house for almost 3 years —

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Check out that front Door!

 It had beautiful wood work, window seats, and a sun porch that ran across the front of the house. It was nicely remodeled and felt very grand compared to our little rambler in Virginia. When we moved in, I toyed with the idea of making an offer to buy it so we wouldn’t have to move again.  But the longer we stayed, the more we realized that it had been remodeled only for show.  It was like a whited seplchure, full of dead mens bones.

 During the three years we were there, the owners  had to —

  • rebuild two of the bathrooms (1) because the tub in the master bath leaked into the dining room, and  (2) the main floor powder room was built outside of the house with no insulation, so the pipes would freeze each February when the temps got below freezing for several days in Denver.
  • Replace totally rusted out rain gutters (after I told then that rusted through wasn’t fixable)
  • Remove a rotten apple tree  before it fell on someone
  • Replace the backyard fence, which was a hazard as well.

On top of that —

  • the sun porch across the front was falling away from the rest of the house — the owners didn’t seem concerned about that
  • the finished basement was scary and stinky  — previous tenant had a dog that didn’t get out much
  •  the windows, while beautiful, needed major work and lost a lot of heat. I made heavy insulated curtains for almost all of the windows, which had to be opened each day to allow the abundant  Denver sunshine to come through all of the south facing windows & window seats.
  • There was an ugly little slum apartment next door (on said south side), and though the tenants there were fine, the building was pretty depressing.

But despite all of those challenges, I spent many hours in the yard, digging up sumac seedlings, mutant dandilions;  clearing and beautifying the backyard, and flower beds.  Sadly the new tenants have ignored the yard, and I want to cry every time i drive by and see that the yard has reverted to what it was when we moved in.  At least while we were there we made it better than it was when we got there.

 So after renting for three years, we sold our Virginia house and bought this Denver Square house in the  Cheesman Park neighborhood of Denver.SAM_1988.JPGMy intention is for this to be the focus of my blog.   I also have a great family life and a beautiful new grandson, who will also merit a number blog entries as well.

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