Monday, December 6, 2010

A little bit of nostalgia....part 1

I was talking with a friend at work today, specifically about what to do to spruce up her fireplace (she has neither a mantle nor a surround currently).  I explained to her what we did in our old house, namely, adding molding around the fireplace and painting it white to tie in with the built-in bookcases that we had also painted white a couple of years before.

It got me thinking about our old house (in Capitol Hill, DC, less than a mile from the Capitol).  I spent most of the almost three years we lived there getting our living space "just right" for the way we lived in the house - and loving every minute of it.  Here's a little trip down memory lane, courtesy of my realtor, who luckily still had all of the pictures of our old house from when we sold it.  Unfortunately, I don't have any accessible "before" pics, but I will do my best to narrate what we did in each room:

The Front:

The brick was in dire need of a paint job - it was a dull beige with brown windows before, so we updated it by hiring a contractor to paint it a grey/blue (it turned out more blue than grey), hired Windows on Washington to replace all of the windows, and added a few plantings in the nice brick planter boxes which were there when we moved in.  Had we lived there longer, I think we definitely would have replaced the ugly stockade fence with something more attractive, but the (ugly) fence served its purpose, which at the time was privacy.

The Patio:

When we moved in, this area was comprised of a narrow brick walkway leading to the front (side) door, and dirt or gravel everywhere else.  The soil was too rocky and the area was too shady to serve as much of a garden, so instead we hired a contractor to put in a brick patio and retaining wall, which allowed us to add a patio set and grill to this area - this was one of the last things we did before we moved, and sadly, I feel like we didn't get to enjoy it as much as we could have - but I definitely feel like it did a lot to increase our property value.  Note: in an attempt to save money, I decided that I would try to tackle the brick patio construction on my own (with a little help from Robb).  After spending weekends for 2 months excavating the side yard in preparation to build the patio (you should have seen the size of some of the rocks I was digging up!), I eventually realized that this project was way over my head, and conceded to hire a professional.  The professionals had the patio and retaining wall built in under 3 days - I'd like to think that they did it so quickly because I did all of the heavy (digging) labor myself...:-)

We had our contractor replace the existing (teal ?!?) double door and storm door with the above large front door with sidelights to allow more light in to the house - the previous doors were old and very drafty - we definitely saved money on our heating and cooling bills by making this change!

The Entryway:

Our home on the Hill was different from most of the stereotypical Hill row homes, in that you entered it from the side, as opposed to the front.  This resulted in a layout that was more traditional - in our case the stairwell was directly in front of the entryway, the living room was on the right, the dining room was on the left, and to the far left was the kitchen.  We painted the entire downstairs (with the exception of the kitchen) the same color - "Brown Tee pee" by Behr, due to the fact that there wasn't really any division of the living/dining/entry in the way of walls.  Additionally, in the entryway, we hired a contractor to replace the (formerly terracotta) flooring with ceramic tile, which we repeated in the kitchen.  We were able to save money on the installation by purchasing and transporting the materials (tile and grout) directly from Home Depot ourselves, and we were able to cut out the middleman by hiring the company that Home Depot uses for their tile installation services without going through Home Depot.

The console table you see above on the right served as our mail table (we purchased it and a matching coffee table off of Craigslist - it was originally from Pier One.  The baskets underneath we used for shoes, hats, gloves and scarves.  The rack with hooks above the console table held our keys.  The door you see to the left was our coat closet.  Altogether I loved this entryway for both its form and function - our current house doesn't have an entryway like this, and I miss it every time I enter our house, and drop all of my bags in the living room, since that's the room you open the door into with our existing layout.

The Living Room:

This room had great built-ins which we were immediately drawn to when we first looked at the house.  The problem was the fact that they were an ugly brown color, so the first weekend we were in the house we got to work sanding them down and painting them white (we used the same paint as was used for the trim - semi-gloss ultra white - Behr again).  The cabinets under the bookshelves were great for storing our board games and DVDs.  We also ended up painting the trim surrounding the fireplace white to match the built-ins - it was also brown previously.  A natural fiber rug and an oversized sofa and chair and a half completed this room.  We were fortunate that the house had wonderful hardwood floors throughout (other than in the bathroom, entryway and kitchen), so we didn't need to invest a lot in flooring solutions other than rugs.

The Dining Room:

This room was very square in its dimensions, so I knew that a traditional rectangular dining table wouldn't work in the space.  Instead, we opted for a square (when expanded to its full size) 60" table in the room, which allowed for seating for 8 (and served as a great game board for Mexican Train Dominoes - if you've never played before, you're missing out!)

The buffet/sideboard you see in the top picture is actually 2 identical buffets from World Market placed side by side - I couldn't find any affordable buffets that were long enough for the space, so I opted for this option, which really worked out well.  The mirror we scored for FREE from my former boss who no longer had a use for it in her home - placed over the center of the buffets, it succeeds in unifying them and camouflaging the fact that they are actually 2 separate pieces.  I found the accent table and lamp that you see in the bottom picture at TJ Maxx for under $20 each.  The rug under the dining table I found at Home Depot - unfortunately I had to special order it, since it's a square shape.

In the bottom picture, you can also see into the living room, and specifically above the sofa, the family wall that I talk about here.  You can also partially see in the bottom picture (to the left) what looks like a small doorway - that was actually where we accessed the space under the stairs, where there was a surprising amount of storage space - since we didn't have a shed, basement or garage at this house, all of our painting supplies and tools resided here - I don't know what I would have done without this convenient space - granted, it wasn't THAT convenient - I had to scrunch myself up into a ball to shimmy under the doorway into the space, and, once in, I needed to have a flashlight in hand in order to see anything!

The Kitchen:

Moving right along, this is one of the rooms that I'm most proud of, as we truly customized this room as much as possible without actually gutting it and changing the layout.  I am seriously kicking myself for not taking "before" pictures of this room. The only thing we didn't change in this room was the appliances, as they were all brand new when we moved in.  The tile floor matches the entryway tile- it was formerly the same ugly orange terracotta as was in the foyer, and we replaced it with this blue/grey/brown slate-like ceramic tile from Home Depot.  The kitchen cabinets were DARK brown, and had no hardware on them.  I spent a good month - incidentally the month after we got married - cleaning, sanding, priming, painting, and adding new hinges and hardware to these cabinets - and there are a LOT of cabinets in this kitchen by row home standards!  I decided on a cream color ("Queen Anne's Lace" by Behr) that matches the appliances - I wanted the appliances to blend in as much as possible, since they weren't terribly attractive on their own (but they were NEW when we moved in, so it didn't make sense to change them out).   The countertop was a beige Formica when we moved in - we had it replaced with a brown/blue/black granite which complemented the floors really nicely.  The sink was also replaced with an undermount sink and new faucet.  I also had the existing fluorescent under cabinet lighting replaced with much kinder xenon lighting.

The area above the cabinets allowed for decorative storage of baskets, vases, and other big items which wouldn't fit into the dining room buffets or the kitchen cabinets. The cabinet front above the sink we painted with chalkboard paint - this is where I typically planned out my meals for the week (when I was feeling hyper-organized!).

In one afternoon, I single-handedly demolished the previously existing backsplash - it was a series of orange, cream and navy blue flowered ceramic tiles which, while matching nicely with the previous brown cabinets and orange tile floor, didn't at all match the updated kitchen.  If we had lived in the house longer, one of my next projects was going to be installing a glass mosaic tile backsplash in the kitchen, but alas, we moved!

You'll notice that the kitchen doesn't have a window in it.  It was DARK, which was partly the reason that we chose this pale blue color ("Delicate Mist" by Behr) for the walls - it really succeeded in brightening and warming up the space.  Another thing that we did, upon the suggestion of our realtor, was to replace the full steel exterior door (which led out to a pitifully small back patio) with a full glass one - note, that since we WERE living in the city, the full glass door was further protected by a steel security door, but even the combination of both doors allowed for a decent amount of natural light into the room).

One (hilarious) item you can't seen in the above pictures, except for a little bit in the bottom picture, is our half bath.  That's right, we had a half bath in our kitchen - it was big enough for a pedestal sink and toilet and that was it.  In fact, my husband used to joke that you could sit on the toilet and wash your hands at the same time - and you definitely could - but I wouldn't have traded that half bath for anything - it came in handy all. the. time. I don't think we could survive with just one toilet in the house!

That concludes the bottom level tour - stay tuned for the upstairs tour tomorrow!

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