Mid-Century Modern(ization)

Redefining modern for a family-friendly home

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Summer Planting

I know, I know.  Planting is supposed to be done in spring, or so they tell me.  At least that’s when all  the landscapers sweep in and leave overhauled and beautified beds in their wake, right?  But you know, y’all?  Not everyone has the time (or money) for that. Oh, and it was still snowing in April around these parts, so there’s that. 

Whatever our reason may be, it’s August and we’re planting.  Sue me.


When we moved into this house it was pretty apparent that the hedges hadn’t been tended to in some time and little by little we’ve been working to rectify that.  Last fall ok, winter we trimmed the hedges along the right side of our home (and we could finally see out the bedroom windows!) and sometime early this year we took out the egg shaped shrub that was really all but dead when seen from the back (which is really all we saw when we looked out our large kitchen window and, incidentally, where this photo was taken from).

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Two tasks that essentially took the front of our home from this where we couldn’t see out ANY of the windows…


To this at the beginning of spring 2014.


Less green, but a little more streamlined.  The shrubs on the right did eventually grow back beautifully, I promise.

But there were several other shrub related issues that remained.  Such as, can you spot our front door?  No?  Well, neither could anyone coming to visit because it’s obscured by that colossal orb shaped bush (which I really loved in some ways, but not right there and not from the backside where, like the cone shaped bush, it looked completely dead.  And again, that’s all we could see out our kitchen window).   There was also a hedge of holly which Kirk and I both despise for its prickly leaves that are forever stabbing the unassuming gardener or small child.  Both were yanked out along with a fair amount of ground cover, some stray bamboo that had migrated from the backyard, and a bunch of roots — origins unknown.

A process which looked a lot like this.



And left us with this:


Now, in full disclosure, we did actually have a landscaper come out to give us a quote for digging out these shrubs/plants, leveling the soil and replanting, but …well he never got back to us and it was a now or never type of thing.  So I did what any self-respecting girl with a landscape architect for a father would do.  I called my dad and asked for help.  I sent him some photos and some criterion (drought resistant, deer proof, full sun exposure) and he came up with this great plan of attack.  He sent a list of plant suggestions along with photos and even sketched out a plan for us.   AMAZING.


And JUST what I needed to feel like we could tackle this on our own.  I took this sketch and his plant recommendations to a local nursery and went to town with a fabulously knowledgeable staff person.  We didn’t get all the same plants that my dad recommended because they weren’t always in stock or because I didn’t particularly connect with it in person, but he did give us a good basis for finding replacements.  His emails told us how tall he believed each row of plants should grow be and how far apart to plant which was invaluable intel for a novice like myself!

I did spend a pretty penny there (juuuust over $400), but felt pretty fortunate to find that, this late in the season, just about everything was 35% off.  In fact, the maple tree we got had been marked down from $189 just that morning to only $50!  And I’m sure the landscaper, if he ever called back, would have charged about three times what we spent on just the plants.  All told we bought:

1 Japanese Seiryu Maple tree

3 Japanese Helleri Holly (beneath the kichen window)

3 Golden Charm Cyprus (in front of the white brick wall)

3 Nandina Obsessions  (in front of the Japanese Holly)

4 Liriope Muscari (along the walkway)

3 Blue Star  (behind the Liriope)

1  Woodward Arborvitae (to pair with a lonely one we already had)
When we got home we set everything out — still in their containers — about where we wanted to plant them.  We had to make a few adjustments on the fly because we didn’t account for the buried electric that comes out from the brick wall.  We had to scoot the maple over to the right a little bit and move one of the cypress to the other side of the planting bed.


We didn’t buy as many of the smaller plants for along the walkway as we should have.  My dad’s plan shows 10 and we only bought 7 because A) I thought we could make it work by transplanting some other grasses that we have, and B) they didn’t have the variety of Liriope that I was looking for (silver dragon).  So right now it’s a little thin, but we’re going to see how it grows in and maybe do some tweaking next year.

It didn’t take nearly as long to get everything into the ground as it had to remove what had been planted there before.  We did end up digging out one more shrub at the last minute to help balance things, but in comparison, it all went very smoothly.  And a little child labor never hurt.


And here we are today, impatiently waiting for everything to grown and fill in (and hide the now-exposed plumbing lines!).  The mulch looks red, but I swear it’s brown!  And the maple is about its full height but should fill out that blank wall space nicely.  Also, we were told its bark turns red in the winter which should look awesome against the white brick!



We still need to trim and reshape the remaining mature shrubs, but we’re going to wait until the weather cools off and they go dormant for winter.


Not bad, not bad.  At least we’re not that house on the street anymore.  ;)



How Do You Measure, Measure a Year?

Sorry, musical theatre kid in the house, here — I lived and breathed RENT for a time.  But this post isn’t about living the alternative lifestyle in NYC, it’s about celebrating a full revolution around the sun in our new abode!  Can you believe it’s been a year already?  I can’t.  So, to commemorate, I thought we might take a tour through the house — ‘then’ versus ‘now’, if you will.

Some of these spaces (like Logan’s room) have never even been featured on the blog before.  Other spaces (ok, most) are far from complete, but have still come so far!  We still have a lot to do around here — one of the biggest items being that we need new window treatments in essentially every room (the living room/dining room has new curtains up, but they still haven’t been lined or hemmed).  We are also planning on having the entire interior of the house painted in the spring (it will all go some shade of white) which is why you’ll see paint swatches either taped or painted directly onto just about every wall.  Also, just about every piece of art in our home was hung on an existing nail — all of which are about 12″ higher than I feel they ought to be.  This is another reason I am looking forward to painting in the spring — I’ll finally be forced to rehang everything at a more appropriate height!

So, without further ado, away we go!

This was how the entry way looked when we first saw the place:78

And today (read about our planter makeover here):IMG_6089

Needs a punch of color (maybe a teal or black painted door/wall?) but overall it’s so much lighter and brighter.
  I have plans to make over that $20 vintage console table I just picked up, too (high gloss yellow?) and hang some larger art.

The kitchen then:

And now (read about stripping wallpaper, the new floors, the navy wall, and the charcoal grill):IMG_6106IMG_6105IMG_6104

The great room from the entry way as the previous owners had it:9

And the way we have it:
My fiddle leaf fig tree is still alive!! Barely — it dropped most of its leaves the week I bought it home, but it seems happy enough now — I just try not to breathe too close to it. <–I’m dead serious.

The living room/dining room with the previous owner’s furniture. And cat:IMG_0059IMG_0061

And with ours (read about the hardwood floors, the curtains, the sectional and the coffee table):IMG_6124IMG_6121IMG_3903

Sorry, I forgot to take a current picture of the blue wall — hence the old ottoman and missing dresser above.

Note: I recently moved the credenza/dresser that was in here into the guest room to accommodate a second new (to me) console table — it needs a DIY makeover STAT!  Its lower stature also makes that bicycle art look like it’s taking flight (it needs to be rehung lower).

The laundry room right after we moved in:???????????????????????????????

And today:
See? I kinda painted.  Not really. You may also notice I settled my rug dilemma — thanks, Germaine!

The half bath then:

And today:
New floors, new toilet, new bath mat, and newly painted vanity — I never blogged about any of this. Sorry!  Still begging for a new towel bar and toilet paper holder.  And a new mirror.  And light fixture.  Sigh.

The hallway a year ago:

And today:

The den as it was:

And the den as it is today (see how I updated it without spending a dime!):

The guest room back then:IMG_0050

And how we have it furnished now:IMG_6086IMG_6087
Doesn’t the dresser look great in here?  You can read more about it here.  I think this is my favorite room of the house.  It has fabulous light, and it came together with little to no effort — somehow effectively balancing vintage pieces with some modern, colorful accents.  

Logan’s room before:

And now:
This room will be getting a revamp here shortly — he’s outgrown those nursery paintings!

The yellow bath before we moved in:

And here we are now, embracing the yellow:
Still need to do something about that ancient wall-to-wall carpet.

The master bedroom before:IMG_0054
Bye, bye red carpet!

Our master bedroom today:IMG_6096
One of my least favorite rooms in the house.  If I could put my finger on it, I would change it in a heartbeat, but whatever it is continues to evade me.  (I think it might be the dark furniture, but I’m trying hard to convince myself otherwise because it’s new, it was expensive, and it’s actually very, very good quality stuff!)

The blue (master) bath as it looked a year ago:

And with some new textiles today:
Yep, still pink.

The rear yard in 2013:

And in 2014:
Still can’t access the back yard from 2 of the 3 exterior doors, but at least we got rid of that tree outside of the master bedroom!

The front yard in 2013:

Aaaand the front yard this month:
Yeah, spoiler alert.  Post on replanting coming soon.  (so not as much fun as interiors!)

Finally, just for kicks, our little guy on Acclimation Day (the day we brought in all the wood flooring the week before we closed on the house) last summer:
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And here is Logan this summer — expecting big things for the year ahead:
Yeeep.  Baby #2 due in March!  Anyone care to weigh in on where the new nursery should go? ;)

Wow.  Looking at these before pictures I cannot believe that I fell in love with this house from the MRIS photos.  I swear, I was ready to make an offer on it before we even stepped inside. That ought to show you just how crazy I can get.  Woo-ee!  Sure am glad we went with our guts though — we love this place so much!

I can’t wait to see where another year will take us!


Behind The Wood Wall

There has always been a fair amount of interest in the wood wall that separates our living/dining room and our den, but I recently received an email from a reader that made me realize I have never gone into great detail on the inner workings of this wall on the blog.  My readers clearly have a lot of questions about this wall and I’d like to answer them comprehensively in a single post so that you may find all the goods in one place (rather than getting tid bits scattered here and there as I tend to do).  And so, I am hereby dedicating this post exclusively to the wood wall!  And because reader Jean had so many well articulated questions, I will use her latest query as a basis for discussion.

Jean: Hi Olivia … I’m fascinated by the storage wall between your living room and den… have you thought of dedicating a post to it? I would love to recreate something like that in our funky (not in a good way) mid-century modest. It was built with a kinda-sorta pass-through back-to-back cabinets between the living room and kitchen. Here are my burning questions about your storage wall: Am I right in thinking the panel wall in the living room backs up to the built-ins in your den?

You are correct, Jean.  The 16-paneled wall that you see in the photos from our living room is the same wall that you see in our den.  I think it’s walnut, but I’m not completely sure.  I had a master carpenter in once to make a minor repair to one of the doors and even he couldn’t identify it (wood color changes with age, and this wall is nearly 60 years old which makes it hard to pin point), but he suggested maybe mahogany or rosewood, too.  Both sides of the wall are shown in the photos below.

From the living room:


From the den:


Jean: Does the entire living room wall have storage space behind the panels? That is, do *all* of the living room-side panels slide aside (or up and down?), with storage behind them?

Actually, no.  Only four of the panels slide to access storage from the living room (the bottom four), but 12 panels slide up and/or down — and they do so independently.  I’ve marked the photo below with arrows indicating the way the panels can move.  The X’s at the top indicate a stationary panel.

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The four smaller rectangular panels at the top are stationary.  The second and third rows can slide down to the floor (the top row sliding in front of the middle row, and both finally resting in front of the bottom row) — thereby creating a low wall even in height with the counter top in the den — and essentially creating one great big room with a bar-height console in the middle.  Alternatively, you can raise the center row to the ceiling (and behind of the top row) to create a pass-through to the den.  The lower four panels could technically slide up to access the cabinetry on the den side, but we’ve never seen the need to do that.  It’s much easier to just walk around into the den to access things stored there.  There is no storage behind the upper 8 panels — if you opened them you would just see the back of all my husband’s sports memorabilia in the next room.

On the den side, the lower four cabinets open horizontally along a track.  All four doors are movable — the center two panels can each slide behind the adjacent outside panel or the outside panel can slide over the inner door it rests beside.  Note the panel in the very upper left corner — I noticed in this picture that it’s sagging a bit and you can see light from the other room eeking through — it must not be locked in place right.  Must fix that!


Jean: How does that look up close, are the panels on a track at the floor and ceiling? If so, is the middle row of panels also on a track? The panels look flush to me (or maybe I mean all at the same depth), but I saw a track in one of your pictures.

I think the picture you’re referring to was of the Lazy Susan on the den side of the wall — more on that in a moment.  On the living room side the panels are on four vertical tracks.  There is no track in the floor.   Below is a photo showing the depth of the panels in relation to the track — see how each row overlaps the one below it? They are not the same depth — each sticks out about an inch further than the one below it.  All the panels are held in place by brass latches at the top corners of the panel that slide snugly into the vertical supports.


Jean: The cabinet in the picture showed a lazy Susan, which is just about the best thing ever. Do all of the cabinets have built-in accessories, like the lazy Susan, the glass holder and the LP slats? (Utterly cool!) Or are those things just at the base, on the den side? Are the cabinets accessible from both sides? (Are you able to select an album and nab a drink from the living room side?)

The bottom four panels on the living room side can technically open to access the rear of the den cabinetry — which, yes, house a dry bar with a Lazy Susan and vinyl storage.  There was once a built in turn table too, I hear, but sadly it is long gone.  But like I said, it’s a pain in the butt to yank those lower panels up just to grab a glass — they’re heavy!  We walk around.

Here is a nice uncluttered view on the day we moved in.  The counter is a couple feet deep and below it is the only storage this wall offers — aside from the shelving, obviously.  Note that it also has a built-in florescent light that runs the length of the wall on this side.


Below is a photo of the dry bar with the Lazy Susan as seen from the den — it’s in the cabinet closest to the window.  You can see that the panel seen from the living room is slightly raised and someone is standing over there. Our neighbors still have all the original glassware.  #envious


When I ripped up the carpet I found half a dozen drink stirrers underneath!

This photo shows vinyl storage and space for a turn table and speakers — it’s in the cabinet farthest from the window. Again, you can see that the panel is raised in the back because light is shining through.  We took these pictures during our home inspection so we had everything thrown open. This particular cabinet has a plywood backing and so while the panel behind it does lift, you cannot reach inside to grab a record — I image this was to direct sound forward from the stereo?  Not sure.  The two cabinets in the center just have standard shelving.


I always envisioned this wall being lowered to the floor for parties — In my mind, the bartender or host would stand in the den serving drinks across the “bar” to guests in the living room.  Or maybe it was just lowered to the floor for a more open flow and guests would help themselves.  Who knows!

Jean: Could you post some pictures showing the panels open? Close up pictures would be wonderful! I’m sorry to be such a pest, but I love this concept and I’m excited to learn more! I tried Googling, but after an hour or two I gave up in frustration there are lots of sites with storage-in-walls ideas, but nothing quite so fab as your wall.

I’ve tried to Google this wall type to no avail as well, so I feel your pain!  I actually have no photos of our wall with the panels open because we’ve never fully opened it.  I very nearly opened them solely to take pictures for this post, but I was scared.  You see, our neighbors have the same feature wall in their home, but it has several broken panels and they’re struggling to find someone who can repair it.  Their house lies just behind ours and was on the market at the same time — in fact, we almost put in an offer!  This photo below is of their wall when the house was listed for sale — see how the panels are all resting at various heights?  Apparently they are still stuck like that.  That’s the den you can see beyond the open panels.  I think the horizontal stripes are shelves mounted to the other side of the wall — just like the ones we have in our den.


Sweet couch though, right?  But hopefully, you can see why I’m a bit reluctant to open it at all anymore — what if we can’t get them latched again?

The only other place I’ve seen a wall like this is in a couple other homes in our neighborhood–all the homes were built by builder/developer Gordon Sugar who once lived two doors down from us.  He’s now deceased. 

This house down the road has a similar wall with what appears to be only 8 moving panels — they are larger.  It’s been painted white and it looks like they keep a couple panels partially open to the den to display knick knacks.

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See the light shining behind the vases at the top right of the wall?  That’s the same corner that’s open in the previous photo.  Our good friends across the street has a feature wall like ours once too, but it was removed by the previous owners when then converted the den to a fourth bedroom.

Anyway, I hope this helps clear the mystery surrounding the wood wall!  And, Jean, I hope you are inspired to do something fantastic with your own storage wall.  If anyone else has questions — about the wall or about something else — I’d love to hear from you!

EDIT:  In the comments it was asked that I post a close up photo of the latches used to secure the panels in place.  I finally remembered to take a picture at about 10pm last night so please excuse the lighting–I swear the wood doesn’t look that parched in the daylight!  I think the black strip that you see is a piece of the banding from the pulley system.IMG_6458