Heidi’s November Plant Pick: Cyclamen

Cyclamen

The Caged Tiger

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.

Location, Location

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.

 

Cyclamen with Golden Spikemoss
Cyclamen with Golden Spikemoss

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.


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Mid Century Modern Chair Revamp

Midcentury chair revamp

Chris had this little chair in his bedroom when he was a kid.  He remembers his mother, Betty, reupholstering it with the striped fabric.

Mid century modern chair before revamp
The chair with Betty’s 1960s upholstery work

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.

Proud Origins

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.

Mid Century modern chair cushion taken apart
Unpeeling the layers on the chair seat

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.

old tacks
Removing the tacks from the chair back

He stripped paint splatter from the steel frame and polished it.

Mid Century modern cantilever chair frame

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.

Mid Century modern chair reupholstered
Cantilever chair after new upholstery.
Midcentury modern chair closeup
Close-up of steel tacks after being stripped of paint.

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 don’t think it’s going back in the basement.

 


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Greenhouse on the Brain

Greenhouse - University of Texas in Austin

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.

Practical Romance

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.

Hobby greenhouse:  Greenhouse at Kruckeberg Botanic Garden
Greenhouse at Kruckeberg Botanic Garden

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.

Hobby greenhouse:  deserted greenhouse
Old greenhouse at a Woodinville winery

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:

Volunteer Park Conservatory
Volunteer Park Conservatory, Seattle, WA

Not that our garden would even be large enough for this, the Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle.

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:

Hobby greenhouse:  Sunglo Lean-To
Disassembled Sunglo “Lean-To” Greenhouse

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.

Hobby greenhouse future site
Future site of greenhouse

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!


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Trapped in Time: How a Couple Rescued Their Dining Room

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.

Dining Room Remodel: before with lowered ceiling
Bay window with moldings stripped, and ceiling lowered.
Dining Room Remodel: before with 1960s paneling
Dining room with 1960s paneling

And in this sad state, the dining room sat for 50 years.

Finding Inspiration

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.

Dining room remodel - original ceiling height
Dining room with the original ceiling height exposed
Dining room remodel: refinishing the floors
That’s me, helping refinish the wood floors
Dining room remodel - wallpaper behind panelling
The wallpaper under the paneling. Dan built new framing around an old opening that didn’t make sense.

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.

dining room remodel

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.

dining room remodel

“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.

And I am green with envy.


Here’s a little before and after recap:

old light fixture2

 

dining room remodel

wallpaper behind panelling

 

dining room remodel



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Flower Arranging with Hydrangeas: Three Quick and Easy Ways

Decorating with Hydrangeas

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My mother brought me these beautiful cut hydrangeas from her garden today.  The flowers look so translucent, like they are lit from within.

Mom said that I should put them in water and enjoy them as cut flowers, and that they would eventually dry instead of wilting.

She brought me quite a few, and they are huge flower clusters.  So I am breaking them into three floral arrangements, using some of my favorite vases.

Tall and elegant

For the first one, I am using a large pottery urn – 15 inches tall.  Since the urn is taller than the flower stems, I have filled up the bottom with small florist pebbles.  These pebbles also add some weight so the urn is less likely to be tipped over.

I don’t trust the urn to be water tight, so I am going to inset a jar filled with water for the flowers.  I just have to make sure the jar is small enough for me to be able to fit it in the urn and take it out again later.

Now since hydrangeas are so top-heavy, it’s hard to get them to stay where you want them in an arrangement.  And for this particular arrangement that will be important.

So before I set this little water jar into the urn I will create a grid across the top of it with regular clear tape, which makes it easier to set the flowers in place.

Flower arranging with hydrangeas tape grid
Tape grid over jar

I’ve learned the hard way that it’s best to add the water before making the tape grid.

Now the jar can go into the urn, above the pebbles, and it will only take three hydrangea stems, cut at different lengths, plus a little embellishment from my stash of silk flowers,  to create this arrangement.

Flower arranging with hydrangeas in large pottery urn
Hydrangeas in pottery urn

Sweet and old-fashioned

The second arrangement will be super simple because the hydrangeas will all be cut at the same height and placed in a wide-mouth glass vase.

This vase belonged to my grandmother, and I just love the informal and old-fashioned look it lends to any flower I use in it.

Flower arranging with hydrangeas in vintage vase
Hydrangeas in vintage vase

Because the vase is so wide at the top and the hydrangeas are so top-heavy, they won’t stay in the vase on their own.  And I can’t use a florist frog because it would be visible through the glass.

So I am using the tape grid trick again to keep them in place.

Prim and proper

The third arrangement will be even simpler.  It’s all about the vase I use, which is a small elevated urn.  Then just one cluster of hydrangeas is cut short to sit right on the top of the vase.

Flower arranging hydrangea in footed urn
Hydrangea in footed urn

This simple and elegant arrangement works best displayed at eye level, for example on top of a bookcase.  I love the neat, buttoned-up look of the hydrangea with this urn.

I’m looking forward to seeing how these hydrangeas look when they dry and whether they will change colors.


Resources:

I used my Fiskars Pruners to trim the hydrangeas because they are very easy on my hands.

A unique floral vase doesn’t have to be expensive.  I love these options from Etsy.

amber pitcher brush mccoy pottery greern porcelain vase Hull pottery vase Vintage handblown artglass wedding vase

Amber Pitcher | Bush McCoy Vase | Green Porcelain Vase | Hull Pottery Vase | Vintage Handblown Artglass | Wedding Vase

Okay, the Hull pottery vase IS a bit of a splurge, but it’s pretty dreamy.

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Party Decorating Ideas for Entertaining on a Budget

You don’t need to spend a fortune to create a memorable atmosphere for your guests.  With party decorating, it’s not so much what you spend as how you put it all together.  Here are three easy and affordable ideas.

Idea 1: For a fun inexpensive tablecloth, try a sarong

Sarongs come in so many sizes and patterns and most of them are less expensive than a new tablecloth – and more interesting.  They work as a tablecloth for small tables or as a table topper for larger tables.

(Tip: If the sarong doesn’t stay in place on the table, just use a neutral-colored tablecloth underneath it.)

Party decorating ideas - using a sarong for a tablecloth

This is a sarong I got at an outdoor market in Hawaii for around $10.  For this brunch, I paired it with vintage elements: my antique china, crystal and silverware, and a footed milk glass candy dish as an elevated flower vase.

Which brings me to my second tip.

Idea 2: Buffet table tip – Elevate food to add interest

For your buffet table, make sure your food is presented at different heights.  This creates a far more interesting presentation than if your food is  placed on platters that are all at table height.

Don’t worry if your serving pieces don’t match, and don’t worry if you are using a serving piece for something other than its originally intended use.

For example, it’s okay to elevate an appetizer like bacon wrapped dates by serving them on a footed cake plate.  Next time you are at the thrift store or at a garage sale, look for footed or elevated serving platters.

Party decorating Ideas: Thrift store finds: elevated serving dishes
Thrift store finds: elevated serving dishes

The glass cover, above, although not elevated, lends a vertical element to buffet tables.  You can make your own small elevated serving dish by gluing a small vintage plate to a brass candlestick.  Just make sure it’s stable enough not to tip over if nudged.

Other than food safety, there are no rules here.  So have fun with this one and your buffet table will be more interesting.

Idea 3:  Get creative with flowers

This is a little “old world” trick I learned from my mother, who learned it from her mother.

Times were tough for my mom growing up in Germany during WWII, and her family was barely scraping by.  She and her siblings usually didn’t get birthday gifts, but her mother always made the birthday boy or girl feel like a VIP, starting in the morning when their breakfast plate was ringed with flowers.

Buy why stop at birthdays?  If your event is going to be a sit-down meal, you could add this fun little touch to everyone’s place setting.  You can go subtle with this idea or create a big splash.  The possibilities are endless.

Party decorating ideas:  Nasturtium and salvia with vintage china
Nasturtium and salvia with vintage china

 

You could even use edible flowers like nasturtium, chives and squash blossoms.  (Note: some flowers are poisonous, so if the flowers will be intended for consumption, always make sure first that they are edible.)

Flowers out of season?  Go shopping in your garden for attractive greens to use instead.


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Master Bathroom Remodel Part 1: How We Got Started

Big ideas for our small bathroom: dreaming up our master bathroom remodel

This is the little half bath on the second story that connected to our master bedroom.

Half bath before master bath remodel
Half bath before remodel

It really started life as a walk-in closet, and sometime in the 1950s it was converted to a half bath.  As you can see, it’s tucked into the roofline of the house.  We wanted to bump out the sloping wall along the roofline and convert this little half bath to a full master bathroom, which meant (gulp!) cutting a huge hole in our roof and putting in a dormer.

Not only would this give us enough space for a full master bath, but it would also add an east-facing window to the second floor.  And windows are a big deal to me.

The planning process – my heart was in my throat!

Adding a dormer to the 80-year-old house, if not done correctly, could really ruin its original charm.

I see this kind of thing all the time – unfortunate add-ons that obviously aren’t original to the house, and visually they do more harm than good.  I would rather have lived with the tiny half bath forever than have our sweet old house fall victim to that kind of abuse.

With remodel projects, I always feel more confident if I can really picture the finished product in my mind before we even start.  So I would stand in the tiny half bath and try to see all the possibilities.

Chris drew a template of the entire upstairs area – the finished space and the unfinished attic combined.  We used copies of this drawing to sketch out many possible bathroom configurations.

Master bathroom remodel
Chris’s drawing of the existing upstairs area

Then we would put the sketches aside until one of us had a brainstorm and wanted to add or change something.

We didn’t rush this process.  We looked at books and magazines for inspiration.  We attended several local home tours.  We researched dormers and photographed homes from the 1920s that had dormers we liked.

Finally we had a roughly sketched plan we both liked.  We were ready to get an architect to draw it up.

His drawings included several images showing how the exterior look of the house would change.  It all looked good to me on paper, and I prayed it would look good in reality.

Master Bathroom remodel

Master bathroom remodel

 

Finding the right contractor

For this remodel, we would be, as previously mentioned, cutting a huge hole in our roof and then framing in a dormer.  The dormer would then have to match the existing siding, which was the original stucco.  We would also be adding pipes and drains.

So we decided we would bite the bullet and hire a general contractor.  But how to find a good one?

We sent feelers out to friends and co-workers asking for contractor recommendations.  We cast a wide net from our real-life contacts so we would have several recommended contractors to choose from.

Then we considered the source. For instance, if I knew a particular co-worker to be a perfectionist and/or they had good taste, then we would definitely plan to meet the contractor that they recommended.  Bonus points if this perfectionist co-worker hired the same contractor more than once and was still happy.  Or if someone else recommended that same contractor.

Go with your gut

We scheduled meetings with the top three referrals to talk about our remodel plans.  All three seemed very competent but we just had a good gut feeling about one of them.  We liked him.  And as it turned out, we also liked his crew, especially the project lead, Bruce.

It never occurred to me how much time this crew would be spending at our house. That we liked these guys was a huge bonus because that made it easier for us to ask questions and request changes.  Bruce was honest with us when he knew an idea we had would not work, but he was also very accommodating about changes if they were for the better.

And he liked our cats.

Now that we had the right contractor, our work was done, right?  Wrong!  All our weekends were spent scouting finish materials and fixtures and making decisions.  In other words, shopping.  Oh the sacrifice!  More on this in Part 2.


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Celebration of Life Party: Ideas for Saying Goodbye to a Special Lady

When we lost Chris’s mother Betty earlier this year, we knew she deserved a special farewell.  She would not have wanted a funeral or a sad memorial, so we opted for a celebration of life party to honor all the phases of her 94-year life and all the people she touched along the way.

Summer was coming and we wanted to host this celebration in our garden.  But how to make it special?  How to make it “Betty?”

Using Family Photos

We had boxes of old family photos, some dating back to the 1920s. And luckily Betty was very photogenic.  I was struck by how classically beautiful she looked in the black and white photos.  She looked like a movie star from Hollywood’s golden age.

And some the of the photos from the 1960s, like Betty with a Jackie Kennedy dress and hairstyle standing beside her 1962 Impala, were priceless.  Then there was Tomboy Betty, dressed in plaid flannel on hunting trips with her family.  A prettier tomboy never existed.

Cleary these photos had to be incorporated into the party. But a slide show would have been next to impossible on a sunny day.  So I scanned about 40 of the best Betty photos from all phases of her life and ordered 4 X 6 prints of them.  Then I simply took 8½ X 11 brightly colored cardstock, cut it in half horizontally, and glued a photo onto each piece of cardstock.

Now I had photos with simple mats. And strung together on a clothesline, they would make a colorful banner on one side, and a photo gallery of Betty’s life on the other.

The day of the party, we set up the party tent that would shade the food table, and we strung clothesline around all 4 sides of it at eye level and affixed the photos with clothespins.

Celebration of life: party ideas - use of family photos
Family and friends enjoying the photo gallery

Gifts for Guests

We told our guests that they could unclip and take home any photo they liked. That way they would each have the photo of Betty that meant the most to them and, since it was already on a simple mat, it was frame-ready.

A Place for Memories

Our little potting shed, standing in close proximity to the food tent, become the “memory room,” where we placed more portraits of Betty, her high school yearbooks, ceramic projects, wedding photo, bibles, and other memorabilia. I also put a laptop in there with a running slide show of all the photos I had scanned for the party banners.

Celebration of life party ideas: memory room
Potting shed converted to a memory room

Personal Touches

I rented white folding wooden chairs from a party rental store so that the party had a more unified look, and we scattered small tables and the chairs around the garden.

Betty had a lot of great little pieces of old linen and lace which I, being the vintage textile junkie that I am, had held on to.  I topped the small tables with her vintage fabrics.  I also used her teacup collection to create rose-filled cup and  saucer centerpieces for the tables.

When we lose someone like Betty after a long illness, it’s easy at first to only remember that person at their worst, during their illness.  But a party like this creates a relaxed atmosphere where friends and family can remember the good times and share those memories with each other.

Betty would have loved it!


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