They’re Making My Old Room a Sauna

No that’s definitely not true. My parents are turning my childhood bedroom into my dad’s office. My dad has been working from home for several years now, and usually he helps himself to the kitchen table, which is driving my mom crazy. Especially because he sometimes takes conference calls around 5pm and everyone has to be quiet.

So first they wanted to know when I was taking my crap away. It’s a little embarrassing how badly I kept the space all this time when they’ve been so good to me, but now the room is MOSTLY emptied out, except for books, and a lot of what’s here isn’t mine. We’ll tackle it soon.


The desk is not really comfortable for an adult, so now it’s on Craigslist. The plan is to put an inexpensive new butcher block countertop across this whole wall to make a big built-in desk. I checked out the usual suspects for these: Ikea and Lumber Liquidators, and found that the latter offers one 12 feet long for about $340. Sadly, this room is 12 foot, 7 inches. So I looked into places that would make them to order and… you don’t want to know. Instead, we’re probably just going to use 6-foot sections from IKEA and have seams more or less where they are now. Except the counter will be all the same wood and the seams will be joined together tightly. I’ll varnish it with the poly left over from my floors.

But before we do that the wallpaper has to come down.


And they had an ice dam a couple of years ago and now at least one window needs some prep before it can be repainted.



Underneath, I think we can hack one shallow 5-inch IKEA kitchen drawer for the desk, though it will be 7 inches shorter than the span so there will be 3-inch fillers on either side. Not a huge deal, right? It saves a lot of money over custom cabinetry. We can use nice poplar for the drawer front and the fillers so it blends in with the custom cabinets on either side. One of these, but wider.


Then to finish the room, they plan to paint it the same color as my bedroom in the city. My dad thought thinks I picked a cool color even though I picked a really safe light neutral.


And then my mom wants to get him a comfy desk chair that swivels. But it had better not be too big as they plan to leave the bed where it is.


Then, the shelves for the uppers need some work. My dad built them out of pine and the knots bled through the paint and the shelves sagged so he put corner braces on them and just had me place books to hide them. I think we can seal the knots, work out a better way to prevent the sagging, and add the trim to the fronts of the shelves that we always planned to install. Or we could rebuild them out of poplar or plywood but that seems like too much work.

And while this room is turned into a workshop there’s that critical job of hollow core door eradication. My dad has been hoarding all the solid pine doors he needs in the garage for over 10 years.

What do you think? Any better ideas for this room conversion or are we on the right track?




Baby’s First Christmas


This isn’t what I meant…


No, 2016 was my first time hosting holiday dinner, so I feel very grown up!


And I decided to pretend to be Italian because I live in South Philly (even though my part is more southeast Asian than Italian now). I went all out and served the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. What is this? Catholics believe that you should strengthen your faith through self-deprivation by not having meat on Fridays or the eves of religious holidays, and Italians made a tradition of following the letter of this rule by preparing the most over-the-top decadent seafood dinner humanly possible. I made baccala, salt dried cod with tomato sauce, and lobster bisque. There was a pack of stuffed clams in my freezer after I got them on sale at Aldi 2 months ago, so I finally used them up, and my dad made seafood pasta with a white wine broth, one of his signature dishes, with 4 more kinds of seafood. Some people said that’s cheating but we say close enough. I did follow the rule that Italians really care about and made about twice as much food as we needed.

Then there’s a little Crooked House inside the Crooked House now – my roommate made one out of gingerbread! I said she should have printed tiny little political statements for the rainbow candy in the windows but we’ll call it close enough. She wanted to build it to be broken open like a piñata but she forgot to bake a roof so she just


And because this post is a bit of a catchall, I’ll show you a renovation-related gift I gave my parents this year. Their house was built really nicely in 1951. Alth0ugh it’s kind of nice to have a newish house that was built for TV’s and not for a kitchen maid, theirs was sadly built with flush doors and ordinary looking hardware. Then around 1990 (I think) someone downgraded the doors to the flimsiest hollow paneled doors I’ve ever seen. But at least they don’t have a faux woodgrain embossed into them. My dad has been very slowly replacing them with solid (veneered, finger-jointed pine doors. And by slowly I mean about one door every 5 years on average. Remember, solid pine doors are $60 more than the cardboard ones, so if you have a large house with any upgrades at all and you have these doors… I won’t say what I’m thinking. I’m nice like that. (This is their hallway by the way.)


Back again to door hardware because it’s the most important thing… they still had the flimsy circa 1990 Kwikset knobs even though the house had nice doors for the first time. They can’t have awesome vintage hardware with skeleton keys like I have, so I sought out the best modern hardware I could find. I happen to know that my mom loved the circa 1930’s Georgian brass knobs in my back bedroom.


And so when I was deciding between plain enough to be appropriate for a postwar house and conspicuously fancy, I went with the Waverly handleset from Emtek.


I got them 3 so they can have good hardware in the downstairs hall. That covers what other people see at least. The tragedy of having to buy these new might preclude ever getting them throughout the house but that’s life.

Parties > Pigtails

So yeah, I had a party! I had a post drafted about it but it was boring, so here’s the tl;dr version. I invited 120 people on Facebook. I panicked. I cooked for 30. 15 showed up. It was nice. I think the Crooked House could accommodate 20 or 25 comfortably for this kind of party, or 10 for a sit down dinner. Here’s the living room at the end of the night, still messy after an hour of me and the roommie washing dishes.


Now on to the light fixtures (and yes, you just saw one of them.) Remember the cute little pan light for my bedroom? It had non-original shades and there was an odd gap between the shades and the bells that cover the bulb sockets.

Pan Fixture 2.jpg

I figured out that it had been a bare bulb fixture and that whoever redid it in the 80’s discarded the bobesches and clamped on globe fitters. Once I saw this I wanted to turn it back, but was nervous to buy bobesches online sight unseen. It also shorted out because the paper insulaters around the bulb sockets are gone, the polarity of the wires is backwards (which is fine as long as I know) and my lighting circuit has a ground fault interrupter breaker.

Then my flashy chrome chandelier needed a longer center wire and a new chain and canopy.

Anyways, I went to The Antique Lighthouse in Fishtown. They had brass bobesches that looked good to me. They’re a little too big but they screw on the bulb sockets and I don’t think anyone will notice that I cheated. The lighting shop is attached to a metal finisher, so they also polished and lacquered them to match the refinished fixture. And they replaced the insulators and fixed a crack in the ceiling canopy. So now it’s up and working!


Rewiring the other chandelier was gonna cost me a lot more and I balked. They sold me 10 paper insulators and good chain and I decided to tackle it myself. Luckily, the wiring was in good shape so I didn’t have to fish anything, just put on a new center wire. I bought a ceiling canopy online. It’s not perfect. The canopy is kinda flimsy and the Irishman cut the drywall too big around the electrical box. But it’s up!


and boy does the room look more finished with it.


Also, my fears about this not fitting in with my décor were completely baseless. I feared that it was gonna look oddly flashy but it turns out to be pretty understated. Trading in the country dining furniture for Danish modern might make it fit a weensy bit more too. Like I said before, it was made to have 30 crystals hanging from it and though I’m curious to know what that would look like, I’m not too eager to spend a lot of money restoring a feature that I may not even like. The stars are a garland my roommate had that I hung from ornament hooks through the holes for the crystals.

So this means that the pigtails are gone and every room in the house is now outfitted with presentable lighting. Except the 2 bare bulb fixtures formerly in the basement that are up in the bathroom. The price was right. Maybe I’ll find a suitable replacement soon?



A Grand(er) Entrance

I’m having a party today so of course I decided to paint the vestibule this week. It’s important to put off tidying up with as many messy projects as possible. This didn’t happen along with the rest of the house for a lot of reasons. Okay, mainly just one. I was sick of painting.

Anyways, the walls and ceiling are both gonna be painted navy, a color that my friend picked for a small accent in his house and then agreed to share with me. The trim is all to be the same off-white though I can’t paint the door jamb until it’s warm out. I decided just to first coat the paneling for now. High impact, easy job, right?

Just one problem. The Irishman built me beautiful paneling in here, but he made himself a sketch. On the wall. In red Sharpie. Arg. Well I’ll have to spot prime with Kilz Original, the oil based version. That’ll take care of it, just one extra step. Right. And then… AAAARGH!

Sharpie in Vestibule.jpg

Obviously I had to take this problem to the Google. Might I want to invest in shellac based primer? That’s supposed to be the best. My findings were that oil based is better than shellac because permanent marker inks are alcohol soluble so they will even more readily bleed through shellac. But I should have lightly sanded first and blotted the stains with rubbing alcohol, lacquer thinner, or acetone first. And really thin coats of paint are best. I guess that’s because they dry faster and give the marker stains less time to loosen up and bleed through.

So I invested in a spray can of Kilz. That’ll give me really thin coats and prevent brush marks from building up and changing the texture on the spot primed areas after I paint. And the spray can is a convenient shape to beat the Irishman with. Then I found a can of Zinsser 123 from a year ago when he was doing finish carpentry for me, put 3 coats on, and it was gone! This is interesting because water based paints aren’t supposed to work. I used it because I already owned it and the can said it works on felt tip markers.

And one more thing that’s, well, less unfinished than it was. The front door handle. There was a handleset when I bought the house. With a mismatched lock and missing stain around where the old one was. Then the handleset broke and I replaced it with a doorknob that had been on an interior door. Classy. Especially that hole in the door. (Also note that I’ve decided to ignore stripping residue that’s everywhere)


Now, I really wish I had an OLD front door. This door is not old, and it’s not an authentic reproduction of old. But it’s mahogany and it was expensive (which is odd considering the other workmanship on my street). And I put a Baldwin handleset on it, so now if I end up getting an old door I’m wasting my money. But hey, it feels good and solid. And although it’s not as nice as a mortised handle, it’s the nicest looking one I could find that works.


And here it all is – a slightly more finished vestibule!


Yes, I’m blogging about Christmas decorations

And they no longer include that shabby faux holly wreath I used the last 3 years. Most of my stuff came from my paternal grandfather, which means it hasn’t seen the light of day in 15 years.


My roommate and I got really lucky and scored a huge Fraser fir that’s not overwhelmingly wide. Most of what’s on it is either nutcrackers (because my family collected lots of them for me when I was a kid), awesomely mottled old glass ornaments, or things my aunt crocheted. Well, it would be nice to say my aunt but actually a lot of them came from my mom’s ex mother in law. And she was better at it than my aunt.


I’m loving the retro look. In fact I’d have recreated this picture if I could. “What else did we get?” is definitely the real meaning of Christmas, right? Cue my mom scolding me for being a cynic. That’s my dad on the right.

Christmas with Toy Cars.jpg

But I’d totally have gone for a sparse, irregular tree and loaded it with tinsel if there were any of those to be had. The one I got was less than 2 blocks away and I’ll call it a find. I’d definitely, definitely put out those cars too! Sadly, they’re long gone, and the repurposed tree skirt doesn’t cover the OSB  backing for the tree stand (definitely a my dad job). But that’s okay because I have Victorian toys to hide it! This stove is the best.


And a crèche. There’s a nicer one from my other grandparents but I like this one because when my mom was little she thought Joseph was ugly and had Mary run off with the blond shepherd.



And, drumroll please, I decorated the basement. This might be ridiculous but again it’s a memory from my grandfather’s house in my early childhood.


He built the tables with gas pipe legs (way before it became the cool bloggy thing to do) and wired C6 bulb sockets into it. But the vintage Plasticville houses have little melty marks on them from the heat of those old fashioned bulbs, the colored lights he used look weird, and the wiring is in a terrifying state. So we redid it with some (free!) LED lights. My favorite piece is the Plasticville Frosty Bar, possibly the most 1950’s thing I’ve ever seen.


Now a bit about my grandfather’s house. He wasn’t vain about it like the rest of the family. It was plain, smoke-stained, and filed with unfashionable mid-century modern furniture. (Don’t ask how little my parents sold it for.) And our friends knew his house for having no rules. We could use the swivel chair as a tire swing, make clouds with Grandma’s powder puff, make mud and rivers in the garden, put clothespins in the dryer… he didn’t care. He used to make me sandwiches of Spam Lite fried in bacon grease with Velveeta and yellow mustard. And while there was a procedure to getting the ornaments dispersed just so at my parents’ and grandmother’s house, we did whatever we wanted at Grampa’s. I made one spot look bad on purpose and he didn’t let my mom fix it. And, he used the blinker bulbs in his lights. Because my dad uses a lot of lights strung into neat horizontal rows, this gave his tree an effect of horizontal bands blinking out of sync with each other and the tree looked like a spaceship. It was awesome.

And if this story was special enough to you, the house can be yours!  Remember, you’ll want red linen countertops on knotty pine cabinets and Lane Copenhagen furniture  for an historically accurate look. But skip the carpeting; the refinished floors are definitely an upgrade.

Am I a player now?

First there was Tim. He was in the picture for a solid 2 years, and even though I had to put up with a lot of stupid shit I stuck with him. But he left me high and dry when a better option came along. I never gave him his stuff back.

Then there was Ken. The first time he came over was encouraging and I guess that’s why I kept coming back to him after how many times he stood me up. And he never took it upon himself to tell me – I had to sit at home calling him to find out.

So it may have been underhanded of me when I went after Dre, who Ken knows, and got Ken to give me Dre’s number. But, you know, I’m trying to find someone. I took a day off of work partly to meet Dre. We were good to go the night before but then he ghosted on me, just like the others.


And now there’s John. He stopped answering my calls, too, until I called him from the office. He finally did get back to me and we were supposed to meet. Again, nothing.

I haven’t dumped John yet but I’m already after another guy named John. They don’t have to know about each other. At this point I want to get whatever there is to get from whoever will give it to me. My roommate even knows to leave the door unlocked when John is thinking of coming by.

And if all else fails, there’s one more number I can call and I’ve heard good things. But they’ll charge $75 just for someone to come by before even doing anything. The thought of paying for that just leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but they’re in the back of my mind in case I ever need it bad enough.


But a little good news – I finally found the one! The second John came and got my heat working today!

Yeah, this whole post was about plumbers. What did you think I meant?

But a little bad news. Having given up on professional help, then given up on DIY, then given up on professional help, and so on, my dad and I tried to hook up the thermostats ourselves. What’s the worst that could happen?

Well, we fried the boiler control relay, the damper control, the circulating pump, and all 3 zone valves. I was starting to save money again. That was nice while it lasted. So, a little shocked horror there. But at long last, the Crooked House has functioning central heat. And considering that the boiler was exhausting 3000 parts per million carbon monoxide and the chimney was blocked at the top and had a hole halfway up… well, I’m glad that the small child who used to live here is still alive. And I’m thrilled to finally put away that electric radiator at the bottom of the stairs.

A Large Decluttering Fail

I was all ready to write something boring about getting rid of stuff after a few triumphant rounds to Philly AIDS Thrift and assembling shelves in my basement. I mean, remember my parents’ basement? Not like this you don’t.


And I did a decent job clearing out mine.


More organizing will be needed. I put all the miscellaneous hardware and tools from 3 years of remodeling into one box of horrors. Then there’s another box of things I’ve been too lazy to file! Luckily I have filing cabinets, and these really great tobacco cans with really great labels. You know I put the maroon one where it shows on purpose.


And Saturday I loaded up some fluorescent lighting my dad gave me from his hoard and that mini-fridge that kept my beer cold through the remodel and went to the ReStore. I didn’t think that stuff was a good fit for Philly AIDS Thrift. They priced the fridge at $20, or $5 less than I paid for it. I guess that’s fair.

But while I was there I decided to poke around. I’m not looking to buy any more stuff ever again, but you never know. And among a whole lot of mediocre furniture, gasp. This would be great for someone to have. But not me because I don’t need dining room furniture.


I should check the price though. I mean they must have someone here who knows enough about furniture to price this. And I choked.


So I started pacing. The idea of not getting this bargain was stressing me out. Should I start buying furniture to resell at a profit? I called my dad but he was not on board. But there was an extra 10% off on big furniture that day and I had shrink wrap at home and it’s not that far and then this happened.


Yes, I went to the ReStore to divest myself of a refrigerator and some odd building materials and when I got home I had 2 dining room sets.

The good news is, my roommate didn’t want to kill me. My parents don’t want to kill me. The 2 Couchsurfers who were staying with us while this was happening thought it was a good idea. The room does look a whole lot airier now. (And the table doesn’t look skimpy in real life.)


Does anyone know anything about Vejle Stole & Møbelfabrik Furniture? I found maybe the same table online at over 20 times the price I paid for the set so it looks like I was not an idiot for doing this. Plus this table gets super long with leaves that stow inside it while they’re not in use. And with a little less of Nana’s stuff in the room there’s room for her nice plant stand down from my bedroom. Now can I keep house plants alive?


And the down side. My parents’ basement again.


But there’s something you can do to help. Buy our stuff! Yep, the table is already on Craigslist. And yeah, again, I’m happy about this.