When my mom, Erika, invited me to her dinner party, I knew I should bring my camera. Mom always sets such a pretty table.
Mom has had many careers and artistic interests, but her first career in Germany was as a florist. She got her start at 14, working as an apprentice in a nursery/florist shop.
At first they had Mom pulling weeds but quickly realized her talents were being wasted.
Soon she was working on large floral installations for hotels, for festivals, and for special events.
She still can’t resist turning her parties into an opportunity for a little creative fun.
For this fall-themed party, Mom made sure the centerpiece was large enough to be interesting but small enough to be kept on the table when the food arrived.
How She Did It
Mom used an ornamental pumpkin and two small gourds.
First, she cut the pumpkin in half horizontally and hollowed it out. The bottom of the pumpkin would be the bowl to set the flowers in.
Then she lined the bowl with plastic* and placed florist oasis foam in the center.
*Mom advises using a small plastic bowl instead of the plastic lining if you can find one that would fit inside the pumpkin. If you do use plastic lining, it’s also a good idea to have a small plate under the pumpkin in case it leaks.
The lid of the pumpkin is then re-attached off-center with wire, so that there is still an opening to arrange the flowers. The small gourds are set on either side.
All of the flowers and greenery came from her own garden except for the orange Gerbera daisy. She used sedum, hydrangea, maple leaves, and other garden greens.
I’m standing by to see what she does for Christmas!
Our house used to have a Weird Room. It was right behind the kitchen.
Chris would ask me if I’d seen his cell phone and I would say, “It’s in the Weird Room.” Visitors who saw the Weird Room would always ask, “And what is this room for?”
The best way to describe it is that it was a wide hallway that led to another hallway. It was a windowless, interior room that we used as a catch-all for furniture that had nowhere else to go.
Walking in from the back door and through the mud room, you would come across this mess – a wall. On the left side of the wall was the Weird Room and on the right side was the kitchen.
From the first time I walked through the house, when we were looking at it as potential buyers, I knew that wall should be torn down and the whole space made into one nice big kitchen.
Sad Little Kitchen
The little galley kitchen had issues too. Someone had lowered the ceiling by almost a foot. Measuring only about 9′ X 11′, the space was cramped with hardly any counter space.
Having a closer look at the wall between the kitchen and the Weird Room, we noticed it was not as thick as most walls and probably not load-bearing.
When Chris discovered the pipe vent for the original kitchen stove tucked back inside a cabinet in the Weird Room, it confirmed our suspicion that the Weird Room once was originally part of the kitchen, and someone, at some point, found it necessary to cut the kitchen in half.
The house had changed hands in the 1950s and a builder purchased it and subdivided the lot. It was likely that this was when the unfortunate “remodel” occurred.
Tear Down That Wall
Tearing down the wall to get a bigger kitchen was just a no-brainer. It was amazing to me that no one had done so in all those years.
But how to configure the space? It was hard to imagine what the space would even look like without the wall.
For several years, our kitchen remodel was on hold while other projects took priority. Still, sometimes I kicked kitchen ideas around.
Our dining room is small, so it would have been nice to factor in a kitchen eating space, maybe even an old fashioned farmhouse-style dining table.
I ended up ruling out the dining table idea. Not quite enough space. But once I gave up on that, it was easier to come up with ideas. Soon I had a rough idea for a kitchen layout which I sketched for Chris.
But I am such a horrible artist that my sketch only confused him. We realized we both needed a better visual. Chris made a detailed scale drawing of the existing space, and I made arrangements for us to meet with an upscale kitchen designer.
I thought the designer might come up with some brilliant ideas of her own that would blow my plans out of the water. But she just drew up what I had already sketched to use as a starting point.
She did find a good placement for the refrigerator, something that had been stumping me.
We also talked about cabinets and decided that a certain style of cabinets made by Medallion would be a nice fit for our kitchen.
The designer’s drawings were detailed and beautiful. Finally we could see what our kitchen would look like!
Who Needs Reality?
At one of the many meetings we had with the designer, she asked us what our budget was. She said we should meet with the contractor that she liked to work with.
In the meeting, we learned that our budget was not realistic. In fact, the word “reality” was uttered several times during the meeting just to emphasize how out of touch Chris and I were with it.
But we were not going to let a small detail like reality come between us and our dream kitchen. We needed a good Plan B.
Chris Assembles His Dream Team
Chris decided he would be his own general contractor. Being in real estate, he had all kinds of contacts and go-to guys to get the job done: plumbers, electricians, drywallers.
But he needed a really good carpenter, and those are hard to find.
We knew that the contractor we had used for our master bathroom remodel had retired. But what happened to his great crew, especially Bruce, the project lead?
Chris managed to track Bruce down. He was taking on his own jobs now and not working with a contractor. But would Bruce work on our project? Could we be so lucky?
When Chris asked him if he would be interested in our project, Bruce declined.
Again Chris ignored reality. He called Bruce back a little later and asked him a second time. I suspect this call may have included some begging, and I know daily pastries were promised.
Bruce finally took pity on us and agreed to work on the project. And he also had plenty of good contacts and go-to guys. The tables were turning in our favor.
We took the designer’s drawings to Lowe’s and met with their kitchen designer, a nice man named George. He helped us fine-tune our plans.
We learned that the Medallion cabinets we wanted were sold at Lowe’s under a different name, Schuler, at a significantly lower price.
Plus Lowe’s happened to be running a rebate program on kitchen cabinets. This would save us a lot of money without having to compromise quality.
Now we had Plan B ready to set into motion. B for better.
The Florists Cylamen (Cyclamen persicum) is like the tiger that someone is keeping in their apartment as a pet. It is trapped inside, but it really wants out.
Although often marketed as an indoor plant, a cyclamen will slowly wither away in a warm indoor environment as it craves coolness.
But like the apartment tiger, it needs to be saved from itself. It needs to be cool, but also protected from rain, wind, and freezing temperatures.
It needs a covered, protected porch. And the person who can provide this will be rewarded with continuous blooms for several months.
With this plant, location is everything. Last year I had a potted cyclamen on my covered porch next to the front door (in Seattle, hardiness zone 8a) that bloomed from early fall until late spring.
I had another cyclamen on the opposite side of my front door, the side that is less protected and gets more wind, and that plant lasted less than a month.
A Great Container Plant
Cyclamen come in some striking colors – white, pink, red, and lavender. The foliage is also very attractive. They bloom pretty prolifically and continuously in the right environment, and they do well in containers.
They make a beautiful floral accent next to your front door to welcome visitors at a time of year when nothing else is really blooming.
This year I planted my cyclamen with just a little Golden Spikemoss as a contrast, but they can be used with a wide variety of other plants for an attractive container garden. Try them with small evergreens, winterberry, or miniature ferns.
Care and Feeding
Cyclamen that are sold as indoor plants are usually still happier outside in a protected environment as long as the temperature stays above 40 degrees.
Cyclamen sold in a nursery as an outdoor plant usually can tolerate even cooler temperatures. Be sure to read the plant tag.
Cyclamen do best in pots with excellent drainage, and when the soil is consistently moist. But be careful not to overwater them. It’s best to deliver the water close to the base of the plant and not get the leaves wet or they might start to rot.
They like dappled sunlight or light shade. So indirect light or a little morning sun works better than heavy shade.
They need occasional fertilizer, but not more than once a month.
After blooming like mad for several months, a cyclamen may hit a dormant period, especially when temperatures begin to climb. With the right care (discontinue watering for a while, keep out of sunlight, repot and resume watering, put back into the light) you can get the cyclamen to come back for a repeat performance, but honestly I have always found it easier to just get a new one every year.
Call me lazy. But at least the tiger was free from his cage while it lasted.
Chris had this little chair in his bedroom when he was a kid. He remembers his mother, Betty, reupholstering it with the striped fabric.
For some reason, he held onto it. We would use it sometimes as extra seating at garage sales, or as a stool for reaching high places.
For the last decade, it’s been buried under empty boxes in our basement. Recently I decided to organize the basement, and I brought the chair upstairs into the light of day.
We’d just been to an exhibit featuring the work of Danish modern furniture designers – the best of the best from the Mad Men era. Those chairs certainly outclassed our chair, but this cute little guy was sure trying.
After a little research, we learned that we had a “tubular cantilever chair.” The back and seat are attached to a continuous steel frame that then sweeps beautifully to an L-shaped base.
This simple and ingenious design has been around for a surprisingly long time and was actually once the center of controversy.
An early version of the cantilever chair was designed in 1925 by Marcel Breuer, a Hungarian modernist designer and architect. But it is said that his design was inspired by the work of Dutch designer Mart Stam. The two designers wound up in a patent lawsuit in a German court, which Stam won.
Contemporary furniture designers of the time embraced the cantilever concept and were inspired to create all sorts of variations.
Better Than New
With the recent renewed interest in mid century modern design, these chairs are popular once again. So Chris decided to give his chair a little facelift.
First he removed the upholstery his mother had added to the seat, and the yellow bathrug that she had cut to fit as padding. As a child of the Great Depression, Betty never wasted anything.
Then he dealt with the chair back. It still had the original upholstery but had been painted several times. The little steel tacks, a nice decorative detail, had been painted over.
He stripped paint splatter from the steel frame and polished it.
You can see in this photo how the entire frame of the chair is one continuous piece of steel tubing. So with the back and the seat, the chair is made up of only three pieces.
Chris reupholstered the back and seat with a red leatherette fabric. I love his choice of the red – such a versatile color. Now the chair can work in either a whimsical retro setting or in a more serious classic contemporary environment.
The original upholstery fabric was nothing special and there were no maker’s marks on the chair, leading us to conclude that it is not a high-end piece. I suspect it looks better now than when it was new.
I have always had a thing for greenhouses. There is just something magical about walking through a door on a cold winter’s day and instantly being transported to summer, or more accurately to a humid, earthy, tropical climate.
Of course, traveling instantly to the tropics is only one advantage greenhouses have to offer. This greenhouse, at the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden in Shoreline, Washington, dates back to the 1970s and is where cuttings of exotic and rare plants are nursed to success.
Many miracles happen here in this modest, hard-working structure.
But the needs of the average homeowner, the hobby gardener, are usually simpler. A hobby greenhouse could be used for overwintering tender garden plants, forcing winter bulbs, starting seedlings, or giving vegetables like tomatoes a running start in spring and a longer season to produce.
Because of all the great things a greenhouse can do, I have wanted one ever since I first took an interest in gardening.
Fantasy Becomes Reality – Sort Of
Unused and seemingly forgotten greenhouses, like this one at a winery in Woodinville, Washington, hold a special intrigue for me.
What a fun rehab project this would be. I just want to load it onto a flatbed truck and take it home.
And to continue my fantasy, once I was finished renovating it, it would look more like this:
But a girl can dream. And I’m thrilled to report that recently my dream has come true. Yes, we bought a greenhouse! And here it is:
As you might have noticed, it needs a little work. It’s sitting in pieces in our garage waiting for us to prepare the site and pour a foundation.
It’s a small, lightly used Sunglo greenhouse that Chris found on Craigslist. It’s a “lean-to” greenhouse, which basically means it’s half of a greenhouse, attached to the side of a building. In our case, it will be attached to the south side of our garage.
And I plan to make it the cutest, most productive little lean-to greenhouse this world has ever seen. Or at least a better place to overwinter plants than our mudroom.
Once we break ground on the construction, I will be providing updates. So stay tuned!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission if you make a purchase by following these links.
Dining Room Envy
I wish I could say this big, elegant dining room is mine, but it actually belongs to my brother, Dan, and his wife, Maura. With Chris’s help, they found their sweet 1908 cosmetic fixer a few years ago, and they have been remodeling it ever since. Their most recent work is this gorgeous dining room remodel.
Mistakes of the Past
Their dining room had suffered a cosmetic “upgrade” in the 1960’s. Apparently the goal was to make the room look like a cave. The south wall was covered with wood paneling, and the 9’3″ ceiling height had been lowered to eight feet by installing a false ceiling.
The interior moldings around the bay window had been stripped away.
And in this sad state, the dining room sat for 50 years.
Miraculously, the remodeling rampage had ended before the bay window itself could be compromised. The window, with its original cylinder glass, was still intact.
At least that was a starting point. And, with its generous size, this room had loads of potential.
But how to lift this room out of the 1960s and take it back home – to 1908? Dan and Maura poured through design magazines and catalogs. Dan also found real-life inspiration in his own neighborhood.
“If I ever see a pre-1930s house for sale that looks like it’s still in original condition, I’ll attend the open house,” says Dan. “I get a lot of good design ideas – and a few bad ones – just from poking around someone else’s home.”
They decided to install period-inspired paneled wainscoting and a built-in china cabinet. If the original high ceiling height were restored, the wainscoting would look stunning and add texture to the wall space.
Although not a carpenter by trade, Dan had done extensive finish molding projects on several other homes, so he knew the impact that moldings and wainscoting could make in a room. And with so many years of experience, he was up to the challenge.
Out with the Old
But first, he needed to tackle that false ceiling from the 1960’s remodel and bring back the original 9’3” ceiling height. He assumed the false ceiling was a simple suspended ceiling.
But in old house remodeling, you never know what you will find, and nothing is ever as easy as it should be.
It turns out the previous owner was a carpenter. He had built an entire secondary joist system for the lowered ceiling and sheetrocked it with half-inch drywall. He really wanted that ceiling to last!
Dan took on the arduous task of removing this heavy material – mostly overhead work while on a ladder.
Once the false ceiling was removed, Dan hit another speed bump: The previous owner had sheetrocked over the lath and plaster walls, but only up to 8 feet. So the wall space that was above the false ceiling had to be patched with new sheetrock.
The Design Process: A Plan for Success
Finally the room was ready for the wainscoting installation. Before starting, Dan had researched the correct wainscoting ratio – 2/3 the total wall height – for a house of this era.
He made various sketches of how he might build up the wainscoting and plate rail to make them look substantial.
“Only when I knew exactly where every nail and screw would go did I start building,” says Dan, “and the whole thing went together pretty easily that way.”
Since he was planning to paint the wainscoting and moldings, he could use inexpensive MDF for the moldings and trim, and birch wood for the wainscoting panels and the built-in hutch.
Maura selected the period-correct paint colors: Valspar “Seaweed Wrap” for the walls, and “Bistro White” for the trim, wainscoting and built-in cabinet.
Salvage Shop Bargains Take Center Stage
The cabinet was designed around a serendipitous bargain find.
“By pure luck I found a set of four old cabinet doors at an architectural salvage shop in Ballard,” says Dan. “I used two of the doors for the built-in and designed the rest of the cabinet around them.”
An earlier trip to the same salvage shop netted another bargain find: $200 for the “Mt. Tabor” light fixture, originally sold at Rejuvenation for $640. Someone had swapped out the Rejuvenation shades for four antique shades – a nice upgrade. There was a broken light bulb stuck in one of the sockets, which Dan easily removed with needle-nosed pliers.
He ordered the knobs and hinges for the built-in from House of Antique Hardware.
“I like to roam the salvage shops for parts, or even for inspiration,” says Dan, “but if I can’t find any specialty parts I need there I’ll shop online. It helps to do a quick online search for coupon codes once you know where you’ll be shopping.”
All Dan’s years of experience doing finish work, coupled with Maura’s eye for color, have really paid off. The dining room is a masterpiece.
Okay, I didn’t really steal any pumpkins on my recent visit to Molbaks Nursery. But I did steal ideas – pumpkin decorating ideas that go way beyond carving.
Turns out the employees at Molbaks are a very talented bunch, and I’d stumbled upon a display of pumpkins that they had decorated.
This one is smiling, but somehow it’s clown creepy.
This one, just plain creepy – and imaginative.
These two are intricate works of art.
And here is the one that I stole – or at least tried to steal. For some reason I thought, “hey, I can do that.”
I loved the wacky face made up of plants and flowers.
So I got a pumpkin for the head and a small turban squash for a hat. Luckily some of the plants and flowers used in the Molbaks pumpkin were things I had on hand in my own garden: I used hen and chicks (an evergreen succulent) for the eyes and clipped Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ flowers for the brim of the hat. The last summer squash of the season made a perfect nose.
Then I wound up in the basement, sifting through our collection of old hardware, for the mouth.
My efforts yielded this disturbing image.
So what I learned with this one is that it’s fun to use what you have on hand, and there really are no rules.
But there was one more pumpkin at Molbaks that inspired me: This fun planting of mixed succulents using the pumpkin as a potting container.
I found a small, lopsided white pumpkin (called a “ghost pumpkin”) with very cool veining trickling down from its stem. It was such a unique look that I left the stem on and cut the opening for the plant behind it.
The drawback of course is that these pumpkins won’t last long before they start to get mushy. By now all the employees have taken their pumpkins home.
But what a fun way to enjoy the season while it lasts!
*Photos of Molbaks employee pumpkins courtesy of Molbaks Garden and Home, Woodinville, WA.
This is the last of my three-part series on our master bathroom remodel, where we took a small half-bath and turned it into a large master bathroom.
We went from this:
Part 1 covers the planning process, and Part 2 covers the actual remodel process.
The Finishing Touches
In this part, we will zoom in to have a look at some of the little decorative details we added to our master bath after all that heavy lifting was done – the “jewelry,” if you will.
Needless to say, this is the part I had been waiting for. My decorating style is usually simple, timeless and traditional. I’m not a fan of clutter, even if it’s cute clutter. I feel that if you have just a few interesting pieces in a room, they tend to get noticed more.
Using Family Heirlooms
I love to repurpose items and use family heirlooms in new ways.
Here, across from the claw foot tub, we found a great home for an antique dresser that had belonged to Chris’s mother. She had found it at an estate sale, stripped off the white paint and refinished it.
Since most of the bathroom is so light colored – white wainscoting, white marble – it is nice to have a wood piece to add warmth and contrast.
The pitcher and water basin set is also a family heirloom from Chris’s great-grandmother. The set is very old and also very large. We were happy to finally have somewhere to display it that made sense.
I also could display a few small pieces from my collection of vintage textiles.
I had purchased the two blue leaded glass windows 20 years ago – a bargain find from a discount hardware store. I had been schlepping them around ever since, never really finding the right place to use them.
Finally! I had them framed and we hung them above the dresser, a fun nod to the other leaded glass windows in the room.
We have three antique mirrors in this room, two on the walls and one on the makeup vanity. The makeup vanity mirror was a birthday gift from Chris. The smaller wall mirror was a bargain find from a second hand store.
It might seem like a lot of mirrors, but this room can handle it.
An antique mirror in the toilet alcove reflects the vanity and shower stall
A Crystal Chandelier
The wonderful high ceiling was ideal for hanging this Italian-made crystal chandelier.
We finished this remodel several years ago, but since we designed it around the existing style of our 1920’s house, we think it will stand the test of time.
When we think of fall flowers, we usually think of mums and asters. Beautiful flowers, but they have a short bloom time, and once they are done blooming, the show is over. And many mums and asters are annuals, meaning they will die completely in winter and you will have to replant them next year.
A Three-Season Show
This is why Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ is such a rewarding addition to any fall flower garden. For starters, it’s a perennial (in hardiness zones 3-9), meaning it will return for a repeat performance year after year.
It blooms in late summer, starting with pink flowers on bright green succulent stems. It attracts bees and butterflies. As the season progresses, the flower color intensifies into a deep copper by fall.
But the show does not end there. The flowers will fade into russet colored seed pods that add interest to the winter garden and attract birds.
‘Autumn Joy’ looks striking when used as a specimen plant or in borders. With its long season interest and its beautiful succulent stems, it can be combined with summer-blooming annuals and then later with fall mums and asters. It also looks great with ornamental grasses.
Care and Feeding
‘Autumn Joy’ is pretty easy care. Most sedums prefer porous soil, but mine grow in a garden with fairly fertile, heavy soil. The soil is amended a couple of times a year. Other than that, I don’t fertilize the ‘Autumn Joy.’
It prefers full sun to part shade. My biggest and best ‘Autumn Joy’ plant gets late afternoon shade.
And although this plant can adjust to less-frequent watering, my biggest and best also gets consistent water throughout the summer months.
In late winter, once the seed heads start to look worn, I cut the plant down to the ground, being careful not to cut any new growth, and mulch over it a bit with a leaf mulch to protect it.
Once mature, this plant can get 24-plus inches tall, and with its heavy flower heads, it’s a good idea to cage the plant early in the season. Another way to keep it from getting leggy is by pinching back the stems in spring or early summer when the plant stems reach six inches in height, but before the plant starts producing flower buds. This will make the plant grow more bushy and compact.
This perennial has very few enemies. Slugs, snails and aphids aren’t particularly attracted to it.
Another great thing about ‘Autumn Joy’ is how easy it is to divide and propagate. Once the plant gets too large, you can divide the roots. Or, like with many sedum varieties, you can take cuttings and place them in moist soil to encourage root growth. This is best done in spring or early summer.
I’ve never been a huge fan of those ornamental cabbages you see at nurseries this time of year. With their tight little perfect heads, they just look too contrived for my garden.
It’s the ornamental kales that usually get me. With their coarse, looser leaves, they look a little more unstructured than the cabbage. And there are so many varieties now. They grow in plant zones 2 to 11. Here in Seattle, zone 8, they usually work nicely as a cold-season annual.
I love this one called ‘Peacock White.’ Here I just paired it with a trailing Stonecrop sedum (Spathulfolium ‘Carnea’) in a small pot for an understated, monochromatic look.
Then there is the striking Kale ‘Redbor’ (Brassica orelacea ‘Redbor’). I love the purple coloring, which becomes more vibrant as the weather cools, providing a display of color all winter.
In this container, I used ‘Redbor’ kale, Rumex ‘Raspberry Dressing’ (a type of sorrel), a very sweet little ‘Coral Price’ flowering kale, a winter pansy, and a knotweed hybrid from my garden. For a little more contrast, I also added some moss that I found in my garden and some florist’s preserved reindeer moss.*
Sweet and lowdown
I also got some small ‘Redbor’ kales to use an underplanting for the two large containers that sit on either side of the front porch steps.
The purple color of the kale is a striking contrast to the chartreuse green Wilma (Monterey) Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa ‘WilmaGoldcrest’) in each container.
Since I usually put Christmas lights on the cypress shrubs in December, I took the opportunity to shear them into shape now so they could harden off before the first frost. A fun task since this cypress gives off a fresh lemon scent when it’s being sheared. In fact, it is also known as ‘Lemon’ cypress.
Then I added the kale to the containers. ‘Redbor’ kale can be planted deep. I removed any leaves that looked ragged and planted the kales up to their bottom leaves. I paired them with simple orange and black winter pansies.
The cypress, the kale and the pansies all like well-drained soil, so I made sure the texture of the potting soil was not too heavy.
‘Redbor’ kale can get up to 3 feet tall, so these innocent-looking little babies could eventually try to take over the pots and crowd the cypress.
If that happens, but while the soil is still workable, I will transplant them into a flowerbed along one of our walkways, where we can still enjoy the dramatic purple color. By then it should almost be time to wrap the cypress in Christmas lights anyway.
‘Redbor’ kale is classified as an ornamental kale, but it is edible. The flavor is best after the plant has been hit by frost. So if these kales get too out of hand, they are going into the frying pan!
I will leave you with the recipe, below, for my easy kale fritters.
*The ‘Redbor’ kale and the sorrel in the second container shown above are edible, but I would not recommend using them for culinary purposes if, as shown in this example, they have been in a pot with preserved florist’s moss.
Heidi’s Super-Easy Kale Fritters
Now that we have the disclaimer out of the way, here is my recipe for super-easy kale fritters. This is a basic recipe that you can put your own spin on by adding onion, leeks, sweet peppers, or even canned corn. Amounts are approximate and you can adjust them as you see fit, but it is best to use both eggs to help bind the batter. Once you have the batter mixed, it won’t look like much and it certainly won’t look like something that would hold together in the frying pan. But fear not, it will should work.
2-1/2 cups washed and finely chopped kale
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/3 cup multigrain pancake mix (I use Trader Joe’s)
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil
2 handfuls of shredded cheese (Italian blend is best)
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients together except the butter and 1/2 tablespoon of the oil. Heat a frying pan or griddle over the stove and add the butter and remaining oil to grease the pan. Once the pan is hot, spoon out the mixture and smooth it into 4-inch pancakes. Cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side or until done. Makes about 8 fritters.
Healthy and delicious! I like to use ranch dressing as a dipping sauce for these fritters.
For chopping kale the easy way, I use a small KitchenAid chopper similar to this one. I love it, especially since I don’t want to hassle with storing a larger food processor.