never had any other desire so that one which I have had always, that I might be master at last of a small house and a large Garden.

-A. Cowley, The Garden, 1666

Monday, September 13, 2010

nook of despair update

We have a breakfast nook in the small house. This 20s feature should be adorable. It is NOT, at the moment, a source of pride and contentment. No quiet bowls of maple scented oatmeal or gently steaming cups of herbal tea are enjoyed there.

Why? Because like most of the small house, it desperately needed renovation. The cabinets where crookedly hung home depot specials with bright gold knobs. The countertop was an unattached piece of emerald green faux marble formica. The chair rails were strangely attached and also crooked. The eating area was a raised platform of questionable construction and blanketed in an even more questionable damp carpet remnant. The dark wood and brass chandelier presiding over the platform was festooned with dusty plastic grapes and was wired so questionably that we had to remove it before the house inspection. There were peeling blue vinyl self-stick tiles over the rest of the floor with a strange overlap tongue of sheet vinyl sticking out from the threshold of the kitchen.
And it was swathed in recalcitrant wallpaper that was patterned with a pastel palette Monet nightmare...

...which was pasted onto the plaster walls with the Glue That Would Not Die.
We tried vinegar water, hot water, and fabric softener...nothing. Broke down and bought a paper tiger and the icky chemical gel...nothing. Anger had me tearing off the floral part, leaving wide tracts of paper backing clinging to the wall.

I decided to refocus attention to other, less maddening, areas to rehab. The nook sat silent and dark; grumpily collecting recent acquisitions, various stacks of papers and flyers, tools and home improvement materials. It sulked, became embarrassing when we had company, and despaired. Here is a glimpse of it during a bridal shower...I had actually hung a curtain over the doorway to conceal the shame.

Finally goaded into action by the stalwart can-do optimism of my mom, I returned to the battle. I brought out the "big Guns", renting an industrial wall steamer from home depot. My mom and I fought the good fight in 90 degree weather, hair curling from clouds of hot moisture, armed with scrapers of all sizes.

And prevailed victorious.

Riding the wave of energy we also tore out the upper cabinets, the platform, and the vinyl tiles.



  1. Cue Helen Reddy ... "I am WOMAN, hear me roar ..."

    Oy, the flashbacks!

    Dear Emily --
    Kudos on the progress. You have to understand the beauty of having a house in the midst of rehabbing ... your guests forgive ANYTHING. You just say the magic words, "We've been so busy working on (fill in the blank) and we haven't gotten to (fill in the blank) yet." They will be so charmed by your pioneering spirit and brave attempts to entertain in the midst of paint cans and spackle buckets, floor sanders and Sawz-Alls, that they'd even stand over a hole in the floor of the powder room when you've pulled out the potty, thinking it a great adventure.

    This is why Uncle Howard and I have always chosen oddball places to live. No pressure for perfection. I can't believe you are there a year already. That went fast! And we haven't seen it yet! This must be remedied.

    Meanwhile --- I DIDN'T KNOW YOU HAD A BLOG. Yes, child, I am hollerin' at ya. When is Aunt Cassy the last to know? :-P

    Don't look back; I am following you. Closely. May I mention you on my blog? So total strangers can stalk you? It's kinda fun.

    Much love, and say HEY to Mike ...
    Aunt Cassy
    PS Come for Thanksgiving? Please.

  2. And my second P.S....

    That is some seriously fugly wallpaper.

    Aunt C.

  3. Hi Aunt Cassy-
    Thanks for the feedback!...I am completely adopting your attitude about invites during rehab madness...if they never see the worst then they won't fully appreciate the improvements right? (Have I mentioned the "library" motif wallpaper that used to be in the bathroom?)
    Which reminds me to reiterate a welcome invite to you and all family members who may be passing through our neck of the woods (or crossing of the trains as it may be).
    Until yesterday, no one knew I had a was my first public day (mostly because I finally figured how to add pictures). I would love to be mentioned on your popular awesome blog...strangers comiserating with your writing is better than the feeling of talking to yourself, yes?
    Save us seats for thanksgiving!

  4. I love your description of the wallpaper! As I've always known, you can write as well as you can craft. :) Go Doris & Em with your bad selves.

  5. Hey Emily!

    We nearly killed your parents when they stayed overnight here on Saturday -- fun times!

    One way to ensure fewer overnight guests is to have the big 4-poster bed COLLAPSE in the middle of the night.

    BTW your Mom is a SOUND sleeper!

    We made grape jam and jelly from our grape vine harvest -- do you want me to clip some vines for you early in the spring for you to plant? They are tough, tenacious vines that require NO care and poop out GREAT grapes.

    I think you need some, don't you?
    Aunt Cassy

  6. Hi Emily -- me again!
    Just wanted to let you know that Dion read your profile and thinks that "Oreo Hamster" sounds delicious.
    Aunt C

  7. EMILY -- do you want chickens? Someone near us is giving away their good layers and a rooster -- neighbors complained. If no one takes them soon, they'll have, as she said, a "sad end."

    I think it's six chickens and da man.
    We'll come to VA with them if we have to -- we've toted enough rescue dogs around that we can do a few rescue chickens.
    Aunt Cassy

  8. Hi Emily!
    I'm holding out hope that the babies will be here for Thanksgiving. Don't really care if Maggie and Garrett come -- just want those babies!

    Aunt Peg says they are all soft and peachy, and make little squeaky noises.

    As for wallpaper -- it's only ALWAYS the enemy when you are hanging it. Ask Uncle H. Otherwise, it can be pretty sweet. I convinced him that this project has merit because there's no full walls to paper -- there's just walls over the kitchen dado, or bits and pieces between cabinets.

    I once tried wallpapering the ceiling in the Lincoln Park kitchen by myself. I still have nightmares.

    Love, Aunt Cassy

  9. Hi Aunt Cassy-
    I've been a bad, bad blogger...but we just downloaded the camera so a bunch of posts in quick sucession coming!
    Sorry I missed the comment about the chickies...we do want chickens but our wee little coop (starring in an upcoming post) is only big enough for a few bantams (3 or 4 I think based on the books Uncle Lindy gave me)!... Let us know if they are still needing a home , are tiny bantys, and can be separated!
    My fingers are crossed for babies at thanksgiving, and I also can't wait to see your kitchen/conservatory redo!