Be our guest

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Though the entire concept of “interior design” and, er, decorating is still a new one for me, I’m getting better at the whole visualization thing.

When we bought our house last year, I was most excited about the idea of a blank canvas I could design to my heart’s content. I spent weeks before move-in obsessing about paint colors, art work and color schemes . . . overlooking the fact that we had repairs to make before all the fun stuff could start.

Also, that I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing. At all.

It’s taken almost a year, but we’ve made major progress in our guest room! Our energy had to shift to Mr. Oliver’s room this past spring, but we have the nursery just about finished (and I’ll plan to give you a tour soon). With my mother- and father-in-law coming to visit next week, I’ve felt the urge to push and get our guest space looking nice for them.

We started out with a dusty, closed-off room with featuring walls where the previous owners had painted around furniture. That’s right, friends: furniture lines.

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Painting that room was our first order of business, actually, because it was just so hideous. The dark blue carpet was stained, quite possibly by coffee, and the shelving in the closet had been unceremoniously ripped out. Spencer patiently patched the holes, removed any lingering wood bolted to the walls (hunks of plywood, specifically), and we painted the entire space a cool, calm dark gray.

The antique white bed was a purchase from Overstock, and the tables were recent finds at Christmas Tree Shop. I spent months looking for cute, affordable end tables that would match the overall style of the room, then stumbled upon these when I least expected it. Isn’t that always the way? Bonus: they were the cheapest ones I’ve seen!

Finding yellow lamps to pop the bedspread, purchased at Target, became my recent mission. Every yellow lamp I could find was either a) super expensive; b) the wrong style; or c) both.

Enter Goodwill!

My husband is addicted to the thrifting experience. He adores the thrill of the hunt — the serendipitous way certain items will fall into your lap. We spent many Saturday mornings at a giant outdoor yard sale, combing through others’ trash and treasures looking for it. Whatever “it” might be.

I’ll admit that, in the beginning, these adventures held little appeal for me. I went because I know he loves it, and he does have a knack for finding awesome things quite cheaply. Because he’s so handy, items that are broken or old to others are just brimming with possibilities for Spence . . . he can envision something more. I love that about him.

On Sunday, we were running errands and taking Ollie on his first Goodwill/Lowe’s run when I spotted them: two perfect, vintage yellow lamps high on a top shelf. Dusty and missing their shades, they were nevertheless exactly what I was looking for . . . and I got both for $15.

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We have a little more to do . . . mostly sprucing, like hanging the sheer curtains currently draped on the bed. And all the artwork I’ve found over the last year or so. But the bones are finally there, and I’m loving how tranquil the room is feeling! Especially by soft lamplight.

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We’ve come a long way, baby.

And now I can’t wait to go back to Goodwill.

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Spreading fall to the hall

I held out as long as I could.

With kids lined up for buses on every other street corner this morning, fall is definitely in the air. I woke up looking at the golden light with a sense of excitement — the same one I mentioned last week — and pulled open the front door to let a cool breeze in as Spencer was leaving for work.

We got so much done around the house this weekend. Two months into homeownership, we still have boxes tucked into nearly every room . . . but Spencer finished the pantry, friends, and it is glorious. I know I sing the praises of my handy husband all the time, but trust me when I say that every word is true. The guy is awesome.

As a side note, we apparently have tons of sauerkraut, taco shells, grape jelly and canned corn beef. So if you’re hungry?

Finishing the pantry created a domino effect: we could then finish unpacking all the bags of canned goods, kitchen appliances and other food-related goodness because the contents of the cabinets could be shuffled to the pantry. That means I could continue emptying the boxes in the future library, which has been operating as a makeshift pantry.

Which means I’m one step closer to having a library.

My reunion with my books — now languishing in boxes for three whole months — will be a joyous one.

But back to autumn, the most fantastic of seasons. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t imagining pumpkins in every nook and cranny back when we were just looking at the house in March. As soon as August rolls around, I’m usually dreaming of cool temperatures and county fairs and boots, and this year is no exception.

And I have a whole house to scatter with gourds. This is so happening.

In my pursuit of only buying pieces for the house when I have a “clear vision” for the space (ha), I finally broke down and bought a console table for the hallway. It’s kind of funny to be decorating when you have boxes and stuff everywhere, but whatever. We’ll get there.

I wanted a little table and found a little table, but that little table was just so . . . barren.

It needed pumpkins.

But what doesn’t, really?

I know it’s late August . . . and that I’m quite possibly jumping the gun. But I’m just so pumped and totally in the “pumpkin everything” camp. From drinks to designs to just the burnt-orange color itself, I’m all about fall and gourds and happiness.

And now I can spread that to the hallway.

Seems only appropriate.


Closet concentration

This was the weekend of The Closet.

Because we now have one! And I’m one happy, organized lunatic.

Closet locationSince our first visit to the house in March, I’ve been obsessed with the walk-in closet right off the master bathroom. Like, in the bathroom; you must go through the bathroom to find it. This seemed very convenient and very cool, and I like having one nook for all my getting-ready morning chaos every day.

Though our house was in good overall shape when we got the keys, it was still a foreclosed property that had been vacant for years. The carpets were musty and stained (and have since been replaced); almost every surface, especially the walls, were in need of a good scrub-down and visit with our trusty Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.

Most of the issues were cosmetic, though — including the troubles in the master closet.

The major issue in this space was the dirty, stained and buckling white(-ish?) carpet. The walls were also heavily scratched and dinged-up from what was, I’m sure, constant use — and the whole closet smelled less than fresh. When Spencer began to dismantle the built-in structures for hanging clothes, we discovered they were put up rather shoddily and “drilled” into drywall, not studs.

So. Dangerous, basically.

Here we were in there back in March, two innocent newlyweds with no comprehension of the dust in our future:

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The first step in our closet renovation was to take apart the built-in cabinets, which were very heavy. Spencer and I nearly toppled under the weight of the first one, then worked to get our footing and disassemble that baby with whatever energy we had left.

I failed to take pictures of the closet after we really messed it up — probably because I was in physical pain looking at the destroyed wall where the mirror once hung. Trust me when I tell you it was bad, because I’m realizing that any sort of home progress requires wrecking things completely before they can get better.

We wanted that mirror down. It was, we thought, a simple task . . . because it was just a mirror, and don’t people accidentally break those and get bad luck all the time?

Well.

It was not going anywhere, friends. Rather than try to paint around the mirror, we thought it would be best to take it down and re-hang it later. After a long and complicated battle to remove the glued-on mirror, we broke it. And completely jacked the wall in the process.

Holes. Holes as big as my fist in the drywall.

When my parents-in-law were in town to help us move at the end of June, I asked my handy mother-in-law if she would mind tackling the patching of that closet to knock an item off our to-do list. She and my father-in-law did us one better by patching and painting it the same brown as our renovated master bedroom, and the transformation was stunning already.

That left us with the carpet.

We ripped up most of the existing carpet throughout the house because, yeah, the smell. A cold, musty, lingering odor that could have soured us on the place but was, we felt, a treatable issue. We correctly predicted that stench was hanging out in the carpet because, once removed, we’re fresh as daisies here in Southern Maryland.

Thank goodness.

If I may proclaim my husband’s awesomeness around the web for a moment, we would be in major trouble without Spencer’s expertise, patience and willingness to get his hands dirty. In less than two months of homeownership, he’s put some serious sweat equity into this joint — and the results have been so impressive. Especially to a lazy lug like me.

He tore up the carpet in the closet as well as the tack strips, and the two of us worked to remove all the lingering staples and vacuum all the dust. (Who knew there could be dust under carpet?) A fateful trip to Lowe’s brought laminate flooring on the cheap into our lives, and Spencer got it all installed so we could bring the built-in white cabinets back from a side room. A friend kindly came by several nights after work to help Spencer get everything reassembled and ready for business.

tl;dnr: we painted the room, replaced the flooring and re-installed the cabinets so we could actually hang up our clothes.

And now I have a space for everything — for the first time in my life. My bedroom at home had a very tiny closet, and our master closet in the condo wasn’t much better. I’ve always had my clothes in bins, piles and dressers; there has never been one “home” for everything I own, including purses and shoes and accessories. And certainly not a home where clothes could hang.

But that day has come.

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And my favorite part? That set of four dresser drawers on the left, one of which contains only scarves. One place for my scarves! A whole bin of scarves! I can easily paw through them and find whatever I need, though I tend to always wear the polka dot one. Hence why I left it on top.

Still. Options.

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Though there is still tidying to be done (like hanging the mirror, changing out the existing light for something brighter and prettier, etc.), it’s definitely coming along — and being able to run my hands across the entirety of my wardrobe feels downright luxurious.

I’m not going to lie: I kind of don’t feel worthy of this closet. I’m still getting used to having my clothing out of trash bags and recyclable totes, so . . . yeah. This? A little overwhelming.

But definitely fantastic.

And if you need me, I’ll be hanging tops and rearranging my cardigans . . . again.

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Bees, mop instructions and other house adventures

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If you’ve ever wondered who could possibly need instructions for a mop, the answer is apparently yours truly.

Growing up, I was fortunate to have two kind, loving, giving parents who routinely . . . took care of things. Before I fall too far down the rabbit hole, please know that I am in no way suggesting Mom and Dad sent me into adulthood without, you know, basic life skills. They did not. I learned to drive, balance a checkbook, cook and generally act like a decent human being far before I got married.

What I didn’t learn to do? Clean.

Moving in with Spencer, I needed an immediate crash course in . . . how to scrub a toilet. Over the decades I lived at home, my mom routinely took care of bathroom cleaning. I helped out with lots of other chores, of course — vacuuming, most notably — but . . . well, the only time I can recall breaking out the toilet bowl cleaner was when Mom was ridiculously sick. Company was coming over, so.

I grew up in a household where, if you knew visitors were stopping by, your rump sprang into action. Vacuuming was the first line of defense. Now that friends are coming by to see the new house, I feel ridiculously self-conscious about our construction zone. Spencer keeps reminding me — lovingly, but firmly — that everyone knows we’re in the process of moving, and no one is judging us for having cleaning supplies and rags and water bottles on every conceivable surface.

And the dirt. The dirt.

Our week in California set us back a bit in terms of getting the new house ready for our move, but the break was certainly welcome — and worth it! And we’ve still squeezed in quite a bit of updating in the last few days. We got home on Saturday night and were back at it by Sunday afternoon (jet-lagged, cranky and all), and we’re trying to go by several nights a week to tackle small projects.

Mopping was one of them.

After filling a bucket with equal parts water and Lysol, my husband proffered our brand-new mop. He offered to clean the basement while I tackled the kitchen and, well, there are spiders in the basement, so okay.

I dipped the mop in the hot water. Moved it in swishing circles. Stared at the strips of fabric, now sodden and dark, before plopping the mop on the tile floor. Then I kind of . . . swirled it? Started dripping lemon-scented water on everything? But it didn’t seem quite right. Nothing was getting clean, that’s for sure.

Spencer popped back into the kitchen, ostensibly for a lukewarm drink (no fridge yet), and noticed my confusion. I knew something was off, but couldn’t figure out how I could mess up mopping. To his infinite credit, Spencer did not laugh . . . he simply took the mop from my grubby hands, showed me how to dip it in the water and twist the ringer piece so it’s not just soaking wet and weird, then gave me a crash course in scrubbing.

It was a humbling moment.

But I’m learning. Everything takes time. And if I was spoiled enough to not touch toilets back at my parents’ house, friends, know I’ve gotten my just desserts: imagine trying to clean four disgusting bathrooms in the new house you’ve just sold your soul to buy, cursing the heavens and wondering if you’ve made a colossal mistake. Not because you don’t love the house, but because you really would rather not touch the things you’re touching. Not even with gloves.

I’m being a wuss, I know. You might even be laughing at me. I mean, it’s just a bathroom; I’ll live. But it’s unpleasant.

(And we’ve actually decided to just replace the four toilets and move on. In addition to being gross and stained from standing water and goodness knows what else, two are actually cracked. There is no saving them. Better to start fresh.)


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What else have we been up to? Ripping things out, for one. The stained, smelly carpet pictured above throughout the living room, up the stairs and into the hallway is no more: with the help of friends, Spencer pulled it up and removed nails from the subfloor. Together we vacuumed up all the dust and grime and began scheming our next move, which will involve hiring a professional to install carpet in the living room, guest room and possibly the master bedroom while Spence installs hardwood in the hallway and on the main staircase.

Should be interesting.

(Send margaritas.)

We’ve also installed knobs on some of the kitchen cabinets, so we can now open drawers like civilized people. Paint samples are on the walls of the master bedroom and the guest room, and we’re planning to start painting on Sunday. We also hope to have the flooring chosen by next week so we can get that ball rolling and I’d love to install some lights on the path outside, because nighttime is dark.

But the scariest thing? We’re in a war with bees. I won’t get into the nitty-gritty for fear of terrifying the more fearful of us (read: myself), but let’s just say a colony of honey bees has taken a liking to that cut-out alcove above the fireplace pictured above — outdoors, thank God — and started their honey production. We’re trying to either find someone to take the hive away or remove them ourselves with the help of a knowledgeable friend, especially since they’re occasionally flying into the house through a light fixture.

Bees. In the house.

I can’t.

Homeownership is already challenging so many of my lazy sensibilities . . . and I’ve learned tons, especially because my husband is patient enough to explain tasks to me. I don’t like playing the helpless-damsel-in-distress card, though it’s obvious that some jobs are just beyond my ken. (Also, I don’t like heights.)

But I’ve already wielded screwdrivers and hammers, crow bars and sanders. And I used a hose, too.

I think I like this?

I mean, minus the insects.


Home sweet (future) home

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I’ve been keeping a bit of a secret. Not for very long, mind you, so you can’t really be upset with me.

It’s been, like, four days.

And this is after I kept our house search to myself for a few months . . . mostly because there wasn’t much to report.

Yet.

But now? We got the house!

The bank accepted our offer on a property about ten minutes from where we live now and, if all goes according to plan, we’ll be heading to settlement in late April (!).

It’s a four-bedroom with three and a half baths, a full basement, a bit of land. And room for my library! (A LIBRARY!) Basically, everything we’ve been talking about for years — and in the area we want to be in. Most importantly, it was in our budget.

Basically, a miracle.

Our first house!

And we’ll be moving.

Honestly, since we learned we’d won the bidding war and took my mom to see it (Dad was with us the first go ’round), it hasn’t really felt real. Despite the copious amounts of paperwork we’ve already signed, part of me is still holding my breath waiting for the “sure thing” sensation to wash over me . . . which probably isn’t an awful idea, given we have so much that has to happen before we get to settlement.

Home inspection. Well inspection. Window replacement. Financial stuff. Tons of stuff I’m sure I don’t even know about yet.

I’ve gotten quite an education in just the last three months, friends, and my schooling has just begun.

But before I get all Negative Nancy, I do want to take a moment to be excited. I’m emotional at the thought of leaving our condo so soon after Spence and I have moved in together, but he’s been here three years — and is ready for the joys (and grass-cutting-pain!) of homeownership. And after just moving from my parents’ house in October, the idea of moving all my worldly possessions again — but worse this time, ’cause we’ll have my husband’s, too — makes me feel exhausted.

I can’t deny the allure of our own home, though. A real house. A house bigger and nicer than anything I would have ever thought we could find without bankrupting ourselves, and something we will grow into and personalize and craft in the years to come.

It needs appliances, tons of paint, new carpet. Some TLC after sitting empty for so long.

But no more jerks blasting loud music at all hours of the night! No more randos stealing your parking space! No more shared living space. Listening to our neighbors pacing at all hours of the night.

There are absolutely things I will miss about our condo — and I’m sure I’ll wax philosophical on them in the weeks to come. It’s only natural.

But this place will really be ours. I’m kind of shell-shocked . . . but am learning to give myself up to life’s currents. They’ll take us where we need to go.

I’ve found that to be true. And I do believe that to be true.

So, we’ll see.

Now, who’s got coffee?


Backyard

Backyard view