Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Holidays at Humphrey House

Having passed significant remodeling milestones this year (i.e. having a working kitchen), we've found Humphrey House has become a wonderful home to host our families over the holidays. It started on Thanksgiving with Jen's parents and Jay's mom's family all coming over for dinner. The event went so well (and comfortably fit twelve adults and five children) that we invited everyone back for an early Christmas last weekend (actually, on the solstice last Sunday).

It's funny how well some of the decorations we purchased several years (and apartments) ago work so well in our home, especially around the fireplace in the living room and bay window in our dining room. They look like they were meant to be, resulting in displays that Martha Stewart would even be proud of!

The best part of the photo above is our fireplace. Shortly after purchasing the house, we learned that the chimney lining was missing several flue tiles. Unless we wanted creosote build-up to catch fire and burn down the house (which was tempting at various times in the past four years), using the fireplace is just too dangerous until the chimney is either relined or upgraded with a pellet fireplace insert.

Anyway, as we took our Christmas decorations out of storage and tested light strands, we found one balled up strand that was flickering white lights. Sudden inspiration struck Jen, and she put the ball of lights behind the fireplace screen, which instantly transformed the hearth from a black hole into a darn-near-perfect representation of fire. I still occasionally find myself caught off-guard the flickering out of the corner of my eye and wondering why the room isn't warmer!

After a few years putting decorating on hold, Humphrey House is very thankful for finally being done up for Christmas. It's been so good in fact, that Santa came by a bit early to wish us and our blog readers a Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Solving the Stairway Dilemma

One of the problems with living in a home during substantial remodeling is the sometimes piecemeal approach you must take to projects out of shear necessity and sanity. Case in point: our stairs from the second floor into the family room / kitchen.

This space was unfinished and open for a long time and was often a ground zero dividing line between living areas and work areas for different phases of our remodeling. And not being very experienced in trim carpentry, we never were quite sure exactly how to complete the transition. But after finally consulting with several people (who insisted it was much easier than we were making it out to be), we developed a sort of hybrid solution of various ideas.

First of all, instead of having the handrail terminate directly into the wood jamb and center column, Jay decided to use some extra plinth blocks he had to make a decorative terminal for the handrail, shown in the image here.

We still have plans to do a craftsman-ish trim design on the center column, which will focus on three raised pieces of oak trim, and to echo that triple motif, we decided to arrange the stair banisters in groups of three. Instead of the typical turned oak spindles, we wanted to keep the straight lines of the era and went with 1" rectangular spindles, shown here as we waited for the two coats of "Rosewood" stain to dry. Speaking of this stain color, it took a lot of experimenting to find a stain that best matched the vintage 1912 trim in the house, and we even mixed different stains together. But ultimately, the rosewood came to be the closest match and after a couple of coats, gave the depth and color that we wanted. Best of all, this is a water-based stain (not oil-based) so cleanup and any mistakes were a breeze to handle, and there weren't any noxious fumes.

Anyway, back to our stairs dilemma. While it was obvious that the stairway spindles would attach to the bottom of the handrail, we struggled with how to finish the bottoms. Should we create a bottom rail parallel to the top handrail that would be slightly above the stairs themselves, or should we carry the spindles all the way to the treads of the stairs? We decided to go with the latter.

Of course, none of this could have been done without Kenny's woodworking expertise, and Jay's meticulous attention to the painstaking detailed work of staining trim. Folks, if you're considering installing trim before staining it, please - learn from us and reconsider! It is very difficult and time consuming to go back after having painted to stain (you'll end up having to do a lot of touch up paint anyway!)

Anyway, although it was incredibly labor and time intensive for just a few square feet, we're very pleased with how the stairwell turned out. When its warm again, we plan to create some detail work on the center column that will echo the triple-pattern of the stair banisters. The plan is to have three 1-inch vertical oak trim pieces hanging from a horizontal band that wraps around the column, to lend the room more of a craftsman feel.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Stairway Plant Shelves with an Arts-and-Crafts Touch

Ever since we "finished" our second floor in 2007, there have been a few punchlist items we've been meaning to take care of. One of these was to trim off the sides of our U-shaped stairwell with some finished shelving.

When we expanded the stairs from the original bungalow winder stairs into a standard-width staircase and landing, we had to demolish the old "cat walk" balcony that wrapped around the stairs. However, this left some large, 18" deep shelves flanking both sides of the landing in the middle of the stairwell. These would make great plant shelves as the windows in the stairwell are the only ones that truly face south and receive sun all year round.

While wandering through the trim aisle on a recent trip to the hardware store, we stumbled across this nice 2" oak trim with a very arts-and-crafts floral design cut into the oak. It seemed like the perfect trim piece for our plant shelves!

It may be hard to tell from the photo above, but the trim piece has a nice floral vine pattern that weaves along the whole length of the long shelf. Of course, we stained these shelves to match the rest of the new trimwork in our stairs and kitchen area, using a couple coats of a nice low-VOC water-based stain "Rosewood Red", which matches the original trim in Humprey House quite well.

Here's the finsihed plant shelf, already home to our collection of plants and Jen's herbs just in time for winter!