Exploring an Urban Jungle

I love greenhouses and conservatories because they have the power to transport us into a another world:  A world with its own unique climate – one designed to give the plants living there everything that they need to thrive.  

But what happens when someone takes this concept even farther?  When a giant corporation with progressive ideas collaborates with some of the most innovative architects and botanists out there?  

The Amazon Spheres

One beautiful summer day, I stumbled upon The Spheres by accident.  I was rushing to an appointment.

 

I’d seen photos of The Spheres, but I didn’t realize I’d be passing them on my route.  I’d sort of written them off as another one of those poorly conceived pipe dreams that blight our urban landscape.  

But in real life, they looked amazing – fragile, elegant, and unique.  It was love at first sight.

I caught glimpses of the plant life inside.

 

Then from the security desk, which was as far as I was allowed to go, I saw part of the massive vertical garden.  I wanted in! 

But for me to get inside, I would have to get tickets in advance and come back on a designated Saturday.  And I already knew who I would invite:  Someone who enjoys gardens and futuristic stuff – my mom, Erika.

Reconnecting with Nature

The Spheres were designed as a place for employees at Amazon’s Seattle Headquarters to go to reconnect with nature and do a little creative thinking.  Quite the job perk!

But on this Saturday, The Spheres were open to those members of the public who had booked a timed ticket in advance.  Mom and I were among them. 

Once past the security desk, we were greeted by the 60-foot living wall.

 

 

We’d already learned that The Spheres are home to 40,000 plants, most native to high-elevation cloud forests.  And after seeing that living wall, I believed it!

The Spheres’ structure seemed much bigger from the inside.  Aside from the living wall, we really hadn’t known what to expect.  There was a jungle here!

With a massive indoor water feature,

 

Huge tree ferns,

 

And Rubi, the largest tree in The Spheres.  A docent told us she was transported from California via flatbed truck.

Various species of flora are tucked into her trunk.

Lights wind through her upper branches.

Nature and Structure

Modern architecture usually strikes me as cold and impersonal.  Not so with The Spheres.  The curved glass structure (2,636 panes of glass!) lends a quiet, airy backdrop to the natural elements inside – while reminding us that we truly are in an urban jungle set in the heart of a major city.

 

 

 

 

A huge “nest,” one of many creative seating areas for employees, seems to hang in mid-air, reachable only by a springy wooden bridge that mimics a canopy walk.

 

The Right Atmosphere

As with any good conservatory, the comfort of the plants comes first at The Spheres. 

The temperature is carefully controlled.  With all the natural light filtering through all of those panes of glass, I was surprised to see additional lighting.  There were also strategically placed fans and misters.  Often, we were walking through mist.  

Misters working on the living wall.

Inspiration

With any garden tour, I look for inspiration that I can use at home.  There was plenty here, even if it was on a grand scale.

Mom had recently started a vertical garden in her sunroom.  She is using mostly ferns so, as she often is, she is right on trend with the giant living wall –  although visiting here has probably given her a few new fern varieties to look for.

 

As for me, my plant crush continues to be my live Spanish moss.  For the time being, they are still happy on my front porch.  But when I bring them indoors for the winter, I might be looking to set up some scaled-back version of this idea.

Flora growing from a stump, live Spanish moss in the background.

 

I  could go on and on about what we saw at The Spheres, but instead I will leave you with this little slide show (which is just a tiny fraction of what we saw on our visit) in hopes that you might find some inspiration of your own.  

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DIY Vertical Gardens

Vertical gardens are trending, and it’s no wonder since they are a great way to maximize a small garden space or dress up a bland wall or fence.  Vertical plant hangers of all sizes are easy to find.

       

 

Here you’ll find seasonal goodies, my current decor obsessions, and more!

 

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Dan’s Garage Rebuild

Today I have two exciting announcements.  The first is that I’m introducing my new Summer Guest Writer series.  This summer, from time to time, I’ll be handing over the keyboard to some talented voices who will be giving us fresh home and garden inspiration.

Secondly, my dear brother Dan (aka “The Mad Scientist”) is our first guest writer!  I cannot think of a better way to kick off my new series.  Besides always having a DIY project or two going on at his own house (including his amazing dining room remodel), Dan did the window trim in Mom’s sunroom, built my beautiful vintage-inspired greenhouse lights and, more recently, built the perfect corner cabinet for our laundry room remodel.

But right now he is sharing the DIY rebuild of his vintage garage – which he did on a budget with reclaimed materials.  Don’t miss the before and after at the end!

So without further delay, here’s Dan:

My Garage Rebuild

My sister thinks of me as somewhat of a mad scientist, but I’m also a homeowner and occasionally I find myself mired in the tedium that all homeowners face from time to time.

So one day I saw what looked like a little dry rot at the left corner of my garage door frame. Upon closer inspection, I realized the whole front facade was rotting and had to be replaced.

I was looking at two months of nights and weekends working on this. I could have just hired someone but, knowing I was handy enough to do this myself, my frugality won out.

Also I thought it would be fun to give the garage a facelift rather than just replace the rotted lumber.

Garage before rehab.
What I had to start with.

I began searching the web for images of late Victorian and early Craftsman style houses and garages looking for designs or specific design elements I liked.

Once I had several ideas in my head, I started sketching them up. After several re-designs, here’s the plan I came up with:

The Plan
The Plan.

 

Once I had a plan I liked, it was time to develop a shopping list and see what building materials I might already have left over from previous projects.

The plan changed a bit when I realized the old garage door was a custom size. Rather than spending extra on a custom door, I decided to adjust the size of the opening. Losing only 6 inches on each side saved me about $350. I can live with that.

 

 

With all my building materials and a new garage door ready for installation, it was time to start the demolition. Some people love demolition, but I find it irritating and hazardous. But the dry rot hadn’t evolved into toxic mold yet, so…yay!

After relieving the tension on the old garage door counterbalance spring (those suckers could take your hand off if you’re not careful) and relocating a light switch, it was time to put on a dust mask and go at it with a sledge and crow bar.

Sometimes you find interesting things while doing demo. I discovered that the original door spanned the full width of the garage. The previous owner probably had to replace the door, and in doing so made the opening more narrow. It was this previous remodel that was rotting away.

The original lumber that the garage was built with was still in pretty good shape after 110 years. Only the old door trim was beginning to rot. It was pretty easy to replace.

Originally it was probably a double sliding door or a pair of bifolds, maybe something like one of these:

Old garages
What the old door may have looked like.

 

I also found copper framing nails in some places. I never knew such a thing existed.

Wood with a copper nail
A copper nail!

 

After doing a little research, I found out that, decades ago, copper nails were recommended for use in pressure treated lumber, although none of the lumber I had to tear out was pressure treated (which was why I had to tear it out).

Old garage door
Broken, rotting garage door

 

I kept the garbage pile neatly stacked so as not to annoy the neighbors.

 

Assembling the new door sections, tracks and tension springs turned out to be a two-day project. The assembly instructions said I should expect it to take 5 hours.

The amount of hardware that comes with a new garage door is incredible.

 

Garage door hardware
Box 1 of 3!

 

 

With Fall rapidly approaching, I decided to turn my attention to getting the siding and windows installed.

I needed two different kinds of siding, two windows, a little bit of tongue & groove beadboard, and some trim. I decided to go with PVC for the beadboard and trim. That stuff never rots. But I wanted the windows and siding to look like they were original to the garage.

Time to start poking around the salvage shops.  I wanted traditional lap siding for the sections on either side of the door, and cedar shingles for the gable section. I found both for less than half the price of the big box stores.

The shingles were unused, unpainted leftovers from a job someone over-estimated. The lap siding had nail holes and peeling paint but, for the price, I was willing to do a little sanding and scraping.

I bought about 25% more than I needed but, due to splitting and other flaws I didn’t see when I bought it, it was just barely enough.

reclaimed lumber
Needs work, but you can’t beat the price.

 

reclaimed lumber
Here you can see where there was ivy growing.

 

I also bought two windows at the salvage shop. They needed to be trimmed down a bit to fit between the existing studs, but they were in fine shape and required far less work than the siding.

Even the old paint color worked for me.

Reclaimed windows
Just a good cleaning and trimming down to size was all these windows needed.

 

It’s starting to take shape!

 

DIY garage rebuild
It really comes together with the trim in place.

 

DIY garage rebuild
I used a straight edge to keep everything level.

 

Now I had to do the beadboard at the gable above the windows. I made a template out of scrap wood to make sure the fitment was spot on. Then I glued the sections of beadboard together.

Once the glue set, I marked it with the template and cut it down to size. It fit perfectly!

Gable template

 

Gable template

 

DIY garage rebuild
Success!

 

The weather took a turn, so I had to put off the spackling and touch-up painting, and instead work on installing the garage door opener.

I was blown away by the features available on openers these days. I didn’t need WiFi connectivity or Bluetooth, or alerts sent to my iTelphone, but they still make good old fashioned “push a button and it opens and closes” garage door openers.

They just make them better now.

I got one with a DC motor so it can open slowly at first and then speed up instead of just jerking the door open.  That’s easier on the mechanical components of the opener and the door. It’s tiny but powerful.

 

garage door openers - old vs. new
Garage door openers: Old vs. new.

 

garage door opener hardware
Great. More hardware.

 

My original design called for a lantern on either side of the door, but those lanterns would have been right at eye level and kind of blinding instead of shining the light down onto the driveway where I needed it.

So I decided instead to look for something like this:

 

The price for one of these new would  break the budget so, once again, my frugality is getting the best of me.  I’ve decided to make my own.  In a previous post, I made a rustic pendant barn light out of a $14 heat lamp, so maybe you’ll see this build in a future blog post.

But right now, summer is starting to roll around again and I have other projects needing my attention. A homeowner’s work is never done.

In Summary

I wasn’t really looking for a late-summer remodel project, but all in all it went pretty well and there weren’t too many unpleasant surprises. Plus I learned a few things along the way, which is always fun.

Let’s take another look at what I started with.  This was the garage before:

Garage before rehab
Before

 

And here it is now:

After

My design also called for a trellis over the door, but I’ve gotten so many compliments on this from neighbors and passers-by already that I’m going to leave it as-is. Maybe at a later time, if I feel the design is getting stale, I’ll add a trellis and a wisteria to grow on it.  But for now I think this is fine.

 

Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials.

 

Here you’ll find seasonal goodies, my current decor obsessions, and more!

 

Want to see more? Browse my photo gallery or check out these categories:

Our Kitchen Remodel Series
Our Master Bath Remodel Series
Entertaining
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Garden Design
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Lobsters, Lanterns, and Paul Revere

My husband Chris and I are pretty sensible people.  We tend to plan and think things through – usually.  But if you’ve ever read my About page, you know that our decision to buy our 1927 cottage was impulsive and driven by passion rather than reason.

And so was our recent trip back east.

It all happened because of Chris’s latest obsession:  Collecting and restoring vintage Coleman lanterns.

Turns out there’s a club for that – the International Coleman Collectors Club (or “ICCC”).  And just a few weeks ago, Chris found out that they were about to have their annual convention.  In Massachusetts.  A five hour flight for us.

Chris asked me if I’d go with him.

I booked our flights before he could change his mind.

But of course, I told him, we couldn’t go all that way just for the convention.  That would be silly.  This seemed like the perfect opportunity to check a couple more things off my bucket list.

Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor

I feel so fortunate to live on the West Coast where we enjoy beautiful sunsets over the Pacific Ocean.

The last rays of sun at Grayland Beach State Park in Washington State.

But I’m always curious about that “other” big ocean way across the country where the sun rises.  Maine in particular seemed so intriguing and romantic to me:  Rugged coastlines, old lighthouses, grizzled fishermen, colorful buoys – and Acadia National Park.

So as soon as our plane landed in Boston, we headed up the coast to the village of Bar Harbor, Maine.

Bar Harbor, Maine
Bar Harbor, Maine

I didn’t really have time to research Bar Harbor before our trip.  I’d always pictured it as rustic and weathered:  Crusty fishermen wearing heavy wool sweaters and pulling lobster traps off their boats.

But it was more gentrified than that:  Lots of great shops and restaurants, and many intriguing lodging options.

Eventually I did find my colorful buoys.

Bar Harbor, Maine

The best part is that Bar Harbor is at the entrance to Acadia National Park.

As national parks go, Acadia is small.  But there’s a lot to see.  On our first day in the park, we enjoyed the rugged coastline.

We caught a glimpse of the remote Egg Island Lighthouse before a heavy blanket of fog moved in.

Egg Island Lighthouse, Maine

And watched water rush through Thunder Hole.

Thunder Hole, Acadia National Park, Maine

We took a murky hike to the summit of Gorham Mountain – all 525 feet.  We learned that these mountains were once much taller, but over the ages erosion has worn them down to their granite bases.

I liked that we got to experience the Maine fog, even if it meant missing the views.

The next day the sun came out, and we made up for lost time.

We hiked at Cadillac Mountain.

Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park

We explored the carriage roads and magnificent stone bridges at Logan Pond.  John D. Rockefeller, Jr had these roads and bridges built when he owned the land.

Carriage Road, Acadia National Park, Maine

Carriage Road Bridge, Acadia National Park, Maine

And we visited the Bass Harbor lighthouse.

Bass Harbor Lighthouse, Maine

This part of Maine smells so good.  Everywhere we went, we were either smelling the fresh ocean air or the fragrant balsam fir.

The L.L.Bean headquarters are a few hours south of Bar Harbor in Freeport, Maine.  There are several  L.L.Bean stores located there and, when we walked into the first one, there it was again:  That smell of balsam fir.  So I bought it to take home.

I’m looking forward to making sachets with the large bag of balsam fir needles.

We also found a drying rack for our laundry room at an antique store.  It’s still working its way across the country to its new home on the West Coast.

But it’s time to move on to the world of vintage lanterns.

All Things Coleman

We headed to rural, inland Massachusetts – to the tiny town of Winchendon.  Here, collectors of all things Coleman, but especially vintage lanterns, were having their annual convention at the senior center.

Now coming from the Pacific Northwest, where our architecture is relatively new, I imagined the senior center to be a dated one-story  building with dingy linoleum floors.

Here is what I found.

Old Murdock Senior Center

The Old Murdock Senior Center was built in the 1880s and was originally a public high school.

Old Murdock Senior Center

In the auditorium, Coleman collectors from around the world shared their treasures, their stories, and their knowledge.

Vintage Coleman

Vintage Coleman Lanterns

From the unusual to the rustic, it was all here.

Vintage Coleman Lanterns

One of the first Coleman lanterns: An Arc lantern, circa 1915.

We were newcomers to the club, and everyone was so welcoming. On the second evening, we joined them in a “light up” outside the senior center.  It was their way of honoring members who had passed – and it was beautiful.

Vintage Coleman Lanterns

Vintage Coleman Lanterns

But it was almost time to fly home, and we were only about an hour and a half from Boston.

Boston

We’d visited Boston before, and I just have to say that I love Boston. I love the architecture, the people, and most of all the history.  This is where it all began for the United States.

On our previous visit, we only saw the first part of Boston’s Freedom Trail.  So this time we started at Bunker Hill Monument and worked our way back to Paul Revere Square.

We toured the USS Constitution.  “Old Ironsides,” as they call her, is actually made of live oak.

UCC Constitution

Launched in 1797, she was the second battleship ever to be built for the U.S. Navy.  And she fought pirates.

USS Constitution

No trip to Boston is complete without a visit to a colonial-era graveyard.  We visited Copp’s Hill Burying Ground.  Some of the deceased buried here were born in the 1500s!

Colonial Graveyard, Boston

I loved the timing of our Boston visit:  Right before the 4th of July. There is no better reminder of what Independence Day is really about than touring the Old North Church, where the “one if by land, two if by sea” signal was sent from.

Old North Churck

And admiring a bronze statue of Paul Revere.

Paul Revere and St. Stephens Church

So, to my American readers, Happy Independence Day!

And liberty forever.

 

A cannon port on the USS Constitution

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  • Chris loves collecting vintage Coleman lanterns because he enjoys searching for them, and often the ones he finds are very affordable.  They don’ take up much space to store or display.  Etsy always seems to have a fun selection of all things Coleman.   Remember though that there is a lot to learn about safely lighting these lanterns.  Please use caution and do your research.
  • The drying rack I found at the antique store is probably not an antique.  But I love it because it’s expandable, and it has a shelf and pegs for more storage.  It look almost exactly like this one on Amazon.com.
  • The fragrance of balsam fir comes in many forms.  Now I wish I’d bought the adorable cabin incense burner.  I still might.

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Little Treasures in the Park

I love it when I stumble upon beautiful architecture in unlikely places.

In my last post, I talked about our vintage Airstream, which we took on a camping trip to Deception Pass State Park.  We camped in the park so that my husband, Chris, could be close to his volunteer work helping with a fish count in Bowman Bay.

Chris at fish count

And while he worked, I explored the bay.  As expected, I found tide pools, sweeping water vistas, seals, and birds.

But I wasn’t expecting stunning architecture with a link to the past. Right there among the clam shells and the picnic benches, a little window into the Great Depression opened for me.  And although I don’t usually post about U.S. history, I hope you’ll indulge me this time.

Hard Times, Strong People

My discovery began with this sign.

CCC Interpretive Center Sign

The Civilian Conservation Corps Interpretive Center is a nice mini-museum that, in a nutshell, tells a story of human resilience and of how beautiful things can come from desperate times.

It’s located in a former bathhouse built during the Great Depression.

CCC Interpretive Center

Its construction was part of a public work relief program under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal called the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

Young men who joined the CCC worked on improving and developing government lands all across the country.  They stocked lakes and planted trees.  They learned valuable skills while constructing roads, canals, and bridges.

Beautiful Reminders

They also constructed recreational buildings like this one.  They built them with style, and they built them to last.  I love the heavy stone exterior of this building and the extra little detail of having the stones curve in before they meet the wooden crossbeam.

CCC Picnic Shelter

There were a few other gems sitting quietly among the trees.

My favorite was this recently restored – and pretty spectacular- picnic shelter.

CCC Picnic Shelter

CCC Picnic Shelter

The amount and the quality of the wood used in this place is staggering.  I can’t image a public picnic shelter like this being built today.

CCC Picnic Shelter

Family reunion in here?  Sign me up.

CCC Picnic Shelter interior

For a young man trying to weather the Great Depression, a CCC camp must have been a very desirable possibility indeed.  Workers were given wages, food, lodging, and medical care.

CCC Picnic Shelter interior

Most of the men working in the CCC were young – under 29 years of age.  Apparently they were quick studies because their craftsmanship was amazing.  At another nearby picnic shelter, stonework is the star of the show.

CCC Picnic Shelter

CCC Picnic Shelter

The CCC program only lasted about a decade, but it gave us so many little national treasures.  I see structures like these sprinkled in parks all over my home state of Washington, and I always find them intriguing.  Some are just restrooms, but they are the cutest and sturdiest restrooms you’ll ever see.

The best thing about these treasures is that they are accessible to all of us.   So next time you’re in a park, take a second look and see what little gem you find.


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Treasure Under the Sea: The Marine Building

Watching for Architecture

Sometimes in our busy lives, it’s easy to walk the streets caught up in our thoughts, or maybe our cell phones, and miss the architectural treasures standing silently in our midst.

So whenever I’m in a city – be it my hometown or any other city – I try to look up.  I am always on the lookout for the Victorian, the Edwardian, or the art deco.

While in Vancouver B.C. for a conference recently, this old art deco skyscraper stopped me in my tracks.

Art deco skyscraper - The Marine Buiding

What a classic.  My standard procedure when I see a building like this is to check out the lobby.

And when the entrance looks like this, chances are pretty good that the inside is even better.

Art deco skyscraper - The Marine Buiding - entrance

Art deco skyscraper - The Marine Buiding - entrance closeup

Turns out I had stumbled upon the Marine Building, once the tallest building in the British Empire.  It was completed in 1930 and restored in the 1980s.  And, as its name suggests, it boasts a marine décor theme.

Directly overhead at the building entrance is this whimsical terracotta scene.  If you look carefully, you can see all kinds of sea life.

Art deco skyscraper - The Marine Buiding - terracotta detail

The brass doors are surrounded by sea creatures.

Art deco skyscraper - The Marine Buiding - front door detail

And several panels, like this one, pay homage to the sea exploration that shaped the region.

Art deco skyscraper - The Marine Buiding - ship panel detail

A Watery Wonderland

In the lobby, the marriage of art deco style and nautical whimsy continues.

Art deco skyscraper - The Marine Buiding - elevator lobby

Wall lighting comes from the prows of small terracotta ships, complete with nautical figureheads and waves.

Art deco skyscraper - The Marine Buiding - light fixture

The brass elevator doors sport what appear to be underwater gardens.

Art deco skyscraper - The Marine Buiding - elevator door

Between the elevators, whales playfully chase ships.

Art deco skyscraper - The Marine Buiding - elevator detail

While an elaborately framed panel tells office workers where their elevators are, as it has for 85 years.

Art deco skyscraper - The Marine Buiding - elevator buttons

The floor features the signs of the zodiac.

Art deco skyscraper - The Marine Buiding - zodiac floor

And the phone booths are protected by a little ship at sea.

Art deco skyscraper - The Marine Buiding - phone booths

The ceiling is beautifully detailed.

Art deco skyscraper - The Marine Buiding - lobby ceiling

And the elevators are set off by sturdy alcoves.

Art deco skyscraper - The Marine Buiding - elevator alcove

King Neptune is probably around here somewhere, but it would take hours to notice every detail in this lobby.  So let’s go back outside, because there is more to see there too.

A Man-Made Sea Cliff

Not by accident, the exterior of the Marine Building looks a bit like a shell-encrusted sea cliff.

Art deco skyscraper - The Marine Buiding

Panels across the front of the building focus on modes of transportation.  To me, this zeppelin panel epitomizes the art deco ideal.

Art deco skyscraper - The Marine Buiding - zeppelin detail

Marine life frolics above the windows.

Art deco skyscraper - The Marine Buiding - exterior detail

Art deco skyscraper - The Marine Buiding - seahorse

Past and present meet as the Marine Building is reflected in a modern glass skyscraper.

relectionArt deco skyscraper - The Marine Buiding

The distorted reflection is only fitting for a building that was completed around the time of the stock market crash and the great depression.  A skittish public avoided renting space in the grand and expensive-looking building, and it was soon sold to the Irish Guinness family at a loss.

Not that the turtle cares.

Art deco skyscraper - The Marine Buiding - night bell

I was in Vancouver to attend Blogpodium, a Canadian conference for lifestyle bloggers.  As a visiting American blogger, I can say that I found Blogpodium relevant, helpful, and fun.  It was interesting to hear about the creative and unique things that other bloggers are doing in their own little corners of the blogosphere.  And my brain is still processing everything that I learned.

I even won a nice door prize, which I plan to write about soon.

 



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