Who said feng shui is calming?

Here I go again. Deep in the throes of fixer-upperhood, kicking and screaming all the way.

After 5 years of really, really not liking my bedroom-turned-home-office, I’m finally trying to fix it. Like every room in this house, it’s less a matter of freshening it up with some paint and more a matter of hard labor.

Here’s where it started. I didn’t clean up before taking the pictures (which were an afterthought), so they are particularly messy and I had already begun moving and packing things. (Oddly, while I pretty much can’t stand clutter/chaos in certain rooms, I am quite comfortable working in a mess, and my desk is usually a shambles — go figure.)

I inherited the not-quite-sage/not-quite-jade walls, woodwork, and carpeting, which actually was the best color scheme in the house. The carpet is in good shape, but has a few stubborn stains in prominent places that just won’t come out despite repeated attacks with everything I could think of.

I don’t even have a decent “before” picture of the other window wall, facing my neighbor’s house. How dumb was I not to take pictures before diving in? But here are a couple views after I had already moved furniture and taken down the roman shade.

My desk unit was purchased to fit my office 11 years and 3 houses ago. Believe it or not, there really weren’t a lot of home office furniture choices back then. This one worked great in that house and even the next 2 houses, but it’s all wrong here. The reddish color matched the woodwork perfectly then…now, it’s really off. It’s also quite big (6’x6′) and made to fit nicely in an open corner, which this room doesn’t have. So it has to float in the middle of the only wall big enough to hold it. That alone bugs me to no end.

This is the fourth wall — and geez, it’s embarrassing to post such messy pictures, but you know I’m not kidding when I tell you my office is usually a mess.

But you may remember that I did clean/organize the closet a couple years ago…let’s look at that again just so I don’t feel so bad.

So, back to my version of home-office “feng shui” (which will reflect none of the principles of actual feng shui).

I started with the windows. We’ve been trying to expose the wood sills in every room (because some were left exposed and some were painted over). But of course, like every other room in the house, the idiots painted latex over oil so the top coat of paint easily chips/scrapes off — except when it sticks like glue — and you’re left with the oil-based undercoat, in this case, a dirty-looking creamy-tan color. I’m not sure whoever painted this primed it first, because even this layer can be (mostly) chipped off.

After chipping as much as I could, I attacked the old finish underneath with stripper. Unfortunately, all I had was the “safe” environmentally friendly stripper, which really doesn’t work well at all.

Here’s what I ended up with after a lot of scraping and sanding — ready for stain & poly.

My philosophy for the rest of the window frames and woodwork in the room (and in the entire house) is to scrape off as little of the bad latex as possible — some has to be scraped, for sure, and all of it sanded to death, but my goal is to spend as little of my precious time on this earth scraping paint as possible. This yields woodwork that looks like this.

I’m sure the purists out there are all tsk-tsking that I haven’t fully stripped the wood (my husband for instance). But trust me, after a coat of Zinsser Bulls Eye primer and a couple of topcoats of our “house white” (Crumb Cookie), it’ll look just fine.

So now, with the windows almost ready to prime, I’ve also started working on the walls. Did I mention they must have had the C-Team plasterers when they built this house? I’ve never seen such a sloppy plastering job — full of scrapes and gouges and divots that previous owners haven’t helped at all. So, in addition to filling the nail holes I made, I’m also trying to fill in some of the worst of the wall flaws — again, without making it my life’s work.

So, that’s where it stands. Still so much work to be done before I can get to only part I really want to do — pick colors and redecorate. Next up is sanding and painting the ceiling, which is probably my least favorite fixer-upper chore ever. Next to scraping woodwork. And painting woodwork. And sanding walls. And pulling down plaster. And inhaling plaster dust. Oh, and breaking up ceramic tile and scraping the mortar off the underfloor. And pulling out and bagging filthy attic insulation and carrying it down 3 flights of stairs to throw away.

On second thought, fixing the ceiling really isn’t so bad in the grand scheme of things.

Here are some other things I’m planning and still pondering:

  • The floor: I’ll likely pull the carpet out, even though it’s in fairly good shape, because the color is so limiting and there’s those stains. Depending on the floor underneath, I may just try to paint it and get a pretty area rug (my overall vision is “cottage”) or Mike may hunt down a nice (neutral) commercial carpet remnant at a good price and we’ll redo the wall-to-wall.
  • The desk: It’s huge, but it cost a lot 11 years ago and is still perfectly serviceable. But it doesn’t fit well in the room. I’d sell it if I thought I could get anything for it, but it’s so big, and I rarely have luck with selling stuff like this.  I’m thinking of painting it — and the lateral file — a cottage creamy white or possibly black!
  • The other furniture: Definitely, some of what I had in here isn’t coming back. But what? The cedar chest? The big wing chair and side table? The oak library drawers? (Where will it all go? Our house is full!)
  • The accessories: After 10,000 hours of HGTV watching, I know what looks good — clean, uncluttered spaces. But I am a collector at heart and have 7,000 chotchkes that I really like. I’m considering installing shelves or getting shallow bookcases along the whole back wall to hold all my pretties in one place and keeping all the other surfaces clear.
  • The window treatments: I’m thinking floor to ceiling drapes on nice chunky poles (translation: expensive and expensive) and some kind of blinds on the windows. We’ll see.
  • The wall color: Green is my favorite color, and it surprises me that the only green in the house is what I inherited with this room! I’m thinking of a nice soft, spring-y green. But I also like that soft robin’s egg cottage-y blue (that Martha made popular a while back). Or a nice latté color?
  • The lighting: Every HGTV designer will scoff, but I’m considering a ceiling fan. (You’d think they’d change their snooty tune due to the green, energy-saving factor of a fan, if nothing else.)
  • The future: Will I go to all this trouble to make my home office my favorite place to be, and then have to get a full-time job because the economy sucks?

On that note, I better stop blogging and start working (on a paying project for a change!). I hope to have a transformation to show you before the snow flies, but I’m learning to be somewhat patient/realistic about such things. Feng shui is, after all, all about the Zen.

Thank God every morning when you get up, that you have
something to do that day which must be done, whether you like it or not.
Being forced to work and forced to do your best will breed in you
temperance and self-control, diligence and strength of will,
cheerfulness and content, and a hundred virtues which the idle never know.
~ Charles Kingsley

Can you dance for joy in 36″ x 43″?

Of course you can!

I’m thrilled to share pictures of our tiny “water closet” creation — formed from space that formerly held a recessed niche for the “icebox” (outside of the kitchen, just inside the back door) and a coat closet in the front hall. We did everything you see ourselves (translation: Mike did everything you see himself) — only the plumbing rough-in was done professionally.

Here’s what it looked like originally:

The hall coat closet.

The other side of the closet, which formerly housed the refrigerator. (The fridge moved into the kitchen where it belonged during that remodel.)

Here we broke through the closet. What you see is our back door and tiny entryway.

If you’ve ever done it, you know what a joy stripping plaster is (NOT).

Always interesting to see what’s behind the walls. (The wiring is new.)

The plumber did a great job in a tight space. (As a reminder, you’re looking through the front of the powder room to our back door.)

Funny, but the little niche in the wall is one of the first things Mike built. (Julius the cat was helping, as usual.)

The room feels bigger than it is because the ceiling is fairly high — under the stairway and landing. Luckily, Mike is good with electrical work — this wire is for the ceiling noisemaker fan.

Look! Walls and a floor — big progress. (Again, this is is taken from the back hallway, looking toward the front.)

More progress! The back wall goes in — no more see-through from front to back.

God, and a lot of time, is in the details.

Hey, there’s that niche!

And so much trim!

Tiling the floor took a lot of effort, too.

In fact, you can see we all worked so hard on this project. (This picture was in the same folder with the floor tiling pix.)

But as with all lengthy, torturous DIY endeavors, the finished product was worth it we think — all 36″x43″ of it.

And now, the big reveal. What’s behind Door #1?

Bliss! (Doesn’t Julius look proud?)

A closer view.

A few details: The toilet rests on a small platform to raise it to “comfort height” – which wasn’t available in the 10” rough-in toilet we bought to save space (vs. typical 12” rough-in).

We used a Porcher “Elfe” sink and, hey, there’s that niche! (As usual, plumbing presented many challenges…needed a special grid drain, not the pop-up drain that came with the faucet, plus huge trouble fitting the trap in the space underneath. We ended up using an unusual contraption called a “bottle trap.” Thank God for the Internet — we are able to solve most issues by researching them online to find advice and fixes and workarounds.)

The tile is pretty — 4″ limestone tiles with a shiny mosaic stone border.

Wood walls, tall wainscot, and trim give a Craftsman feel.

It’s a tiny room, but huge for us. Mike deserves all the kudos for building it so beautifully. (I will take but a few “atta girls” for enduring the process for nearly 2 years.)

So, a party to celebrate might be in order.

Except, well, the sunroom isn’t finished.

We’d look like such slackers.

Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end.
It’s not a day when you lounge around doing nothing;
it’s when you’ve had everything to do, and you’ve done it.
~ Margaret Thatcher

That’s better

Just a brief powder room peek.

Our experiment with metallic (copper-colored) paint didn’t work. The space is so small with a lot of trim, and apparently the treatment works better when you can make long strokes with the special roller instead of trying to work with a brush in small nooks and crannies. We were afraid it wouldn’t cover, so we never did the second metallic coat. Plus the color was just too dark and felt oppressive. So that was 2 base coats and 1 top coat of metallic paint (at $18 a QUART!) down the drain.

We have a small paint store in our basement, so I went shopping and found a simple “Heavy Cream” (from the kitchen ceiling) that works fine on the walls and ceiling. Matches the floor tile pretty well. We still have a couple bells & whistles planned for the walls, but at least this is a better base to work with than the copper.

Yes, paint is relatively cheap (except at $18 a quart) — but the labor is a killer. By the time I’m done putting the final coat on, I will have painted those little walls 7 times. Won’t be the first time we’ve painted and repainted and repainted. The kitchen had 3 different wall colors — plus we started out by painting all the woodwork white before we changed it all to cream. (Did I mention I hate painting woodwork worst of all? My next house will have stained trim — just like every house I’ve owned prior to this one.) We also tried 3 colors in the bathroom before landing on the current one as the lesser evil — not something we ever really liked, and lately we’ve started talking about repainting it. It’s been, what, 3 whole years? You know you’re in trouble when you have to start doing things over before you’re even close to getting everything done once.

On an unrelated note, we bought a cute (inexpensive) bistro set for our new patio area out back a couple weeks ago (20% off at Big Lots) and assembled it today while waiting for the paint to dry. Of course, the patio is still covered in snow. But since we’ve been battling chronic fatigue syndrome (the powder room strain) for months now, a raging bout of spring fever is a welcome change of pace.

Color is my day-long obsession, joy, and torment.
~ Claude Monet

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