Sunday, December 26, 2010

White (Day After) Christmas

While we spent the month watching news reports of relentless rains in Southern California, record-breaking snow accumulations of up to 9 feet (that's FEET) in the Sierra Nevada's, and a slew of deadly and violent weather systems hitting The Great Plains and Midwest, we New Yorker's managed to make it through most of December unscathed. That was until December 25, when a major storm system brought 20 inches of snow to Central Park, paralyzing a surprizingly unprepared city.

The snow accumulations in The Catskills were not as serious and once everything was covered in about seven inches of snow, it was picture perfect. Of course, now that I've had the pleasure of shoveling my driveway, I regret having the house set back so far from the road (something that I considered a plus when I purchased it). It's the same feeling I get when I fire up the push lawn mower every spring--asking myself why I needed such a big yard. I guess the old adage...the grass is always greener...or conversely, the snow is always true.

Here's some winter views of Trout House. Enjoy!

Monday, December 13, 2010

An Honest Solution

There are very few rooms in my house that haven't gone through some attempt at make-over (essentially the basement and an upstairs walk-in closet.) I started to work in the basement last fall—applying a sealer to the laid stone foundation and a fresh coat of paint to the floor—but had to stop short because of the increasing cold temperatures. You'll see more of that project when spring returns. As for the upstairs closet, I ran out of excuses not to tackle the project this month.

The closet was originally built into a low-sloping, front-facing dormer, giving it a generous foot print (5' X 9') but gradually diminishing height. Among its positive features, the closet was separated from the bedroom by a door and had a double hung window providing daylight and ventilation. The negatives were peeling wallpaper, cracking plaster, and three sliding doors that had become so warped that only one of the doors was able to perform the job for which is was named.

Here is the closet now (right). I hung drywall, taped and plastered the seams, and cut the doors, using the straightest pieces to create a make-shift wood frame to hold a hanging clothes pole. You can still see the brass thumb pulls that served the original doors.

My dream for the space would be to have a modern-day Shaker carpenter build a floor-to-ceiling wall of units with sleek, flat-fronted drawers, storage cabinets and compartments, and a door-fronted hanging closet. Of course, now that I look at the closet in this photo—uncluttered and clean, it already seems to reflect a Shaker-like aesthetic: necessary and useful . . . and in its simple honesty . . . beautiful.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Food Chain. . .Oh Deer!

Tis the season! The days have turned cold, the ground has already been covered with a light powdering of snow, the houses are festooned with holiday lights, and nary a vehicle passes that doesn't have a Christmas tree or dead deer tied to it. Yes, hunting season is here and any respectable buck is up for grabs.

I must admit that I personally enjoy a good deer siting. And, while I rarely see them on my property, I know they are frequent visitors. It's evident in the trails that traverse my snow-covered yard and in the ravaged bushes that surround the house.

This year my Rhododendron bushes are filled with buds and I know that if I don't protect them somehow, those buds will be a welcoming buffet for any passing deer. I heard that covering bushes in burlap could be a good deterrent, so I am giving it a shot. Hopefully it will keep most of the buds under wraps until Spring.

I guess it's just the food chain at work: While some deer will be feeding on my bushes this winter, my neighbors--and hunters throughout the land--will be enjoying the deer that they were able to snag this season. And, life goes on!

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Thrill of Discovery

When you renovate an older home, you often find yourself peeling away layers of history—a timeline of prior repairs and alterations that often uncover popular trends and unfortunate faux pas. Some of the discoveries can be scary (like mouse-chewed, cloth-covered electrical wires . . . just thinking out loud here) while others—glimpses of true beauty.

During a recent renovation of an upstairs bedroom closet I uncovered a jewel of a wallpaper when removing the end caps securing the hanging clothes pole. I was struck by how well the paper had been preserved and saddened by the carpenter's "T" mark that permanently defiled it as a document. I spent some time admiring the pattern: the naive floral design, the perfect hues of green and red, and the circle of off-white colored petals that seemed to mimic a daisy-patterned center. Laura Ashley and Ralph Lauren could have built an empire on a print like this. And, to a certain extent, they did. I tried to visualize the room freshly papered and took my hat off to the previous owner who had the good sense to choose it for this simple country bedroom.

But, now as I finish writing this post and having studied the image even more closely, I am convinced it is not a floral print at all, but a fruit print. Doesn't it appear that the red-shaped forms could be the tops of strawberries? And, the center floral design the bloom associated with the fruit-bearing plant? Would a strawberry-patterned paper still have been a smart choice in a bedroom. Apparently so!

Monday, October 25, 2010

The $40 cupcake

October is one of my favorite months. When I was gainfully employed, I would spend the first week of the month on Cape Cod, quietly celebrating my birthday and taking advantage of the fact that the days were still warm enough to spend hours on the beach and the evenings quiet enough to actually enjoy the restaurants.

October and Autumn also usher in one of my favorite seasonal taste treats—Pumpkin. If there was a 12-Step Program for pumpkin eaters, that would be me in the front row proudly name is Larry and I am a pumpkin addict. I will eat anything pumpkin from seeds to lattes and am just as happy having a store-bought $5.99 Entenmann's pumpkin pie as I am a $19.95 Little Pie Shop version.

So when I spotted Ina Garten's Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Frosting in the October issue of House Beautiful, I knew I was in trouble. Being a "builder" and not a "baker," making the commitment to follow any recipe can be a daunting—and expensive—prospect. By the time I filled my shopping cart with all the ingredients (very few of which I had at home, starting with the eggs) I watched the tab quickly rise to about $40. I was tempted to return everything and opt for the ready-made bakery goods visible in every direction, but stayed the course and took my purchases home to become a student of Ina's. When the room filled with the scent of fresh-baked pumpkin and I dipped my finger in the maple frosting to sample a taste, I knew the cost was worth it!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Pine Needles as Mulch? I'll let you know!

I have an enormous towering pine on the edge of my property that drops a carpet of needles every fall. In the past I've raked, bagged and disposed of the crop, but this year I wondered if the needles could be used as an alternative to cedar wood mulch. And guess what? They can.

Known as pine straw, dried pine needles make a good ground cover particularly for acid-loving plants like rhodedendons, azaleas, berry shrubs and other evergreens. They are completely eco-friendly (since they decompose and add nutrients to the soil), enhance moisture retention, prohibit weed growth and—unlike their wood counterparts—are less likely to wash away during a heavy rain. One proviso: if the needles are green they may alter the PH of your soil, so be sure to use the dried, straw-like needles if you plan to use as mulch. You can find out more at

Monday, October 4, 2010

Trout House Soap

During a recent trip to Minneapolis, MN, and The Creative Connection event, I was able to spend time with the soap queen—Ann Marie Craig—who was selling her artisan handcrafted soaps at the event's three-day HandMade Market. Her Century Farmhouse soaps are simply the best and, as you know from my earlier soap posts, she is the one who inspired me to dabble in a soap making enterprise of my own. (See Can I Make Soap? from January.) I brought some of my sample bars for her to critique and, while she offered some helpful suggestions, she did acknowledge that I was well on my way. Being a creative soul and marketer at heart, I have already been playing with packaging that would fit the brand and vision for my Trout House Trading Co. Here is a glimpse of things to come.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Courtney and Jamie get hitched!

This Saturday, I had the pleasure and distinct honor of attending the Woods-Teska wedding. Courtney Woods and I worked together at Country Living and she was one of the brightest and most dedicated assistants that I ever had the pleasure to work with (a sentiment that was shared by another former boss attending the wedding—Donna Warner, long-time editor-in-chief of Metropolitan Home who hired Courtney about six months before Hachette pulled the plug on that title).

Having worked with Courtney, I had no doubt that everything would be beautifully orchestrated and run like clockwork. The ceremony was held at the same Collinsville, CT Roman Catholic Church that her great grandmother was wed and, the cocktail reception on the picturesque grounds of the nearby Avon Old Farms Hotel. As you can see, the bride was beautiful, the groom handsome, the country setting perfect, and the weather. . . now how did Courtney manage to pull off such a glorious Autumn day? Cheers to the happy couple!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Faded Glory (but not the pretty kind)

At Country Living magazine we learned to appreciate the beauty of distressd finishes, like weathered shutters, hand-worn knobs on dressers, and the look of aged shutters, doors and lawn furniture. But, the peeling paint on my front porch—now visible from the road—was anything but attractive. (For the record, my house was painted a couple years ago by a professional, and while the clapboard siding has retained its paint finish beautifully, the old shake shingles on the front and sides of the porch have not.) So, this weekend, I grabbed the rotary sander, goggles and dust mask, and began the process of removing the peeling paint.

Sanding is not fun. It's messy and tedious, and a lot of work. In the beginning, I tackled the project with full conviction; even contemplating taking the shingles down to the original cedar. It didn't take me long, however, to realize that the work was already more than I bargained for. (By removing all the paint I was also flattening the subtle ridges that give classic shakes their appeal.) I needed to make a decision—to sand down to the cedar or sand just enough to prime and repaint? If you've ever tackled the job of sanding a house, you'll know the option I chose.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Magnificent Obsession

If you follow this blog you already know how much I love to find old discarded furniture that I can restore, refurbish and re-imagine. (My Daybed project on Aol.'s DIYLife is one example). But, this week I discovered a kindred spirit in the Handmade Market at The Creative Connection Event in Minneapolis, MN, when I met Sandy Stone of Sandy Stone Design Studio.

Based in Southwest Minneapolis, Sandy showed some of her imaginative and oh-so-stylish chair make-overs. What makes her work so inspiring is the broad range of salvaged materials that she incorporates in her upholstery treatments. Fur coats, oriental carpets, bark cloth, men's neckties, and even old canvas U.S. Mail sacks, are put into service with unexpected and delightful effect.

I have included a couple of photos, but you can learn more about Sandy's creations in her just released book, "Fabric Remix: Repurpose & Redecorate".

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Bloom—At Long Last!

Remember last year when I posted my "Hydrangea envy" post about watching my neighbor's hydrangea bushes bountiful with blooms and my three-year-old, seemingly healthy plants, revealing no signs of blossoming. Well, I am here to tell you that it's true—all things come to those who wait. Of the four hydrangea bushes that I planted, I was able to produce one bloom late this summer. And, what a beauty it is!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Much Better Fit

When I was remodeling the downstairs bathroom in Trout House a couple years ago the measurements that either the architect indicated or that my contractor interpreted left me swapping out a pedestal sink for the tiniest wall mounted sink that I could find. What resulted was the installation of a beautiful, but oversized Kohler faucet on a beautiful, but undersized Kohler sink.

After years of living with the mismatch, I looked through the sale bins at my local Ace Hardware and found what I believed would be a suitable replacement: a Peerless Faucet with the same polished chrome finish, but more appropriately-sized and with vintage-looking porcelain handles to suit my "quasi-farmhouse" style. What made the new faucet even more appealing was the price; reduced from $59.99 tp $25.00. With the help of my Uncle Bob (who visited from Idaho this week) I was able to replace the faucet easily and in no time at all. I owe you one Uncle!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

An upholstered headboard (my way)!

I hope you saw my daybed project on AOL's new DIY Life website. The bed was made from two twin headboards that I found at a local yard sale for $10. You can learn how it was made by checking out my post: DIY Warrior: Make a Daybed from Twin Headboards. If you're wondering how I created the linen upholstered headboard panels shown left, read on.

The materials you will need include foam core board, batting, fabric, wood trim (I chose half-round molding for this project), packing or duct tape, brads (tiny nails), double sided mounting tape, and paint or stain to finish the trim. In terms of tools, you will need a miter box to cut precise 45 degree angles for corner joints, a hammer to nail the trim to the headboard, scissors to cut the fabric, and a single-edged razor (or an X-acto knife) to cut the foam core board and batting to size.

Step 1: Measure the inside dimensions (height and width) of the inset panel on your headboard. Since the trim needs to frame the panel, you will need to account for the molding width too. Once you have determined the width and height of the panel area, minus the trim measurement top, bottom and sides, mark and cut your foam core board to size.

Step 2: Place your fabric face down on the floor or a work table and position the pre-cut foam core panel on top. Be sure that the foam core is aligned with the pattern; this is especially important if you are using a striped, checked or patterned fabric. Now, using your foam core panel as a pattern, mark and cut the fabric leaving an extra two inches on all four sides.

Step 3: Determine the amount of batting you wish to have under the fabric. I used several layers to create a soft, cushiony look, but you can use less or more depending on your own requirements. You can even create a flat inset by wrapping the foam core in fabric with no batting. When you've determined the amount of batting, place the foam core board on top and cut the batting with a razor or knife to the exact size of the board. If the batting is larger than the foam core board, it will be too large to fit the headboard requirements.

Step 4: Its time to assemble the upholstery. Place you fabric face down on the floor or work table. Position the pre-cut batting on top of the fabric and the foam core panel on top of that. Remember to center everything on the fabric so that you have enough material to wrap all sides of the panel. Now, keeping everything in place, gently pull the bottom edge of the fabric like you were wrapping a present. Be sure to create a clean edge (not bulging ) and secure with tape. Continue working your way around the foam core panel until all sides are secured. It is important that the corners form clean lines on the front side and lie flat on the reverse side. Depending on the weight of the fabric, you may have to use scissors to cut away some of the excess fabric. Once you have all sides secured, check the front to make certain everything is aligned and edges and corners are good, and then secure with additional tape.

Step 5: With the panels complete, its time to work on the trim. Using your earlier measurements, cut the trim to fit the top, bottom and sides of the inset headboard panel. Measure carefully and miter the corners with a 45 degree cut to create a professional look. Test the boards to make certain they fit snug and form tight, clean corners. You should paint or stain the trim pieces before securing them with nails to the headboard. This will prevent you from having to paint alongside your fabric panel later.

Step 6: All that's left is securing the panels to the headboards. I used a 3M Scotch heavy duty mounting tape. (The same one that came in handy for my paint-by-number painting gallery blog post: Great Art for —so much—Less! published in November 2009). Press the panel firmly to the headboard and its time to take pride in a job well done!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Got Soap? Maybe . . .

When I checked my soap mixture 24 hours after making it last weekend (see previous post), I was convinced I did something wrong. According to my soap mentor, Ann Marie Craig of Century Farmhouse, I should have been able to actually feel heat generating from my make-shift shoe box mold. Even though I covered it with blankets and towels, the box was cold and the mixture not thicker than when I first poured it. I waited another 24 hours and noticed that the mixture was getting firmer, but still too soft to attempt removing from the mold. My impulse was to discard the batch, but I decided to keep it covered and wait until the following weekend to see if I actually made soap or if I would have to figure out how to get rid of nothing more than a lye and oil concoction.

I'm glad I didn't follow through on my impulse, because when I arrived at the house today, I discovered that the soap did turn out and was firm enough to remove from its mold. I have cut the block into bars and have arranged them about two inches apart so that they can air dry and cure. That will take anywhere from two to four weeks. Regardless of whether or not the bars will prove soap-worthy, the smell of cedar and sage is divine.

Anyone interested in a soap sample? You'll have to wait, just like me.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Can I Make Soap?

Over the holidays I decided to learn how to make soap. I know you're asking yourself why? Blame it on my current—temporary—unemployed status, the chance of creating my own "Baby Boom" success story (minus the apples, the baby, the house in Vermont, and the female central character), or just spending too much time in the country. Whatever the reason, I was determined to give it a try. Now anyone who knows me, knows that I can come up with a million and one little projects to occupy my weekends at Trout House (very few of them fun or exciting). But there was something about saopmaking—particularly as a winter endeavor—that just felt right. I started to do a little research and called Ann Marie Craig of Century Farmhouse.

I first met Ann Marie (that's her on the right) at the 2006 Country Living Fair in Chicago, where I discovered her beautiful hand made soaps, purchasing several varieties for myself and for gifts. Ann Marie is a self-taught soap maker who has turned a home-born business into a successful enterprise. All of her soaps are made from fine vegetable oils and natural essential oils. She continues to experiment and perfect the art of her craft and often draws on her surroundings for inspiration and ingredients, like using filtered rainwater or snow, sap tapped from local maple trees, and herbs grown organically in her own garden. To stand in front of her booth at a Fair or farmers market is a delight to the senses with beautifully crafted bars in subtle colorations and the fragrant mix of floral scents and spices. One of my personal Century Farmhouse favorites is the Chai Soap.

Ann Marie couldn't have been more encouraging or more helpful. She suggested book titles to read, web sites to check out, resources to shop, and some personal insights into the craft. She also added some words of caution: Soap making is addictive.

The picture below shows the tools of the trade that I had to gather for my first experiment. If you know nothing about soapmaking—like me—a love of chemistry helps, since every ingredient has to be accurately weighed and measured, you need protective eyewear and rubber gloves to make and handle the lye solution, you need to achieve a common temperature for the base oils and dilluted lye solution before mixing, and, when combined, you need to watch the process of saponification (the solution becoming soap) until it reaches "trace." And then . . . and only then . . . can you add the fragrant oils to the blend and get ready to pour the mixture into a mold.

This morning was D-Day. I followed directions to the "T" and after nearly 30 minutes of continual stiring poured the traced mixture (or what I believed to be the traced mixture) into my make-shift shoe box mold, lined with a heavy duty garbage bag. I now have it covered with blankets and towels to keep it warm and within 24 or 48 hours will have my first batch of soap. Or will I? Stay tuned.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Remade in under $50

This cabinet was left for trash in the courtyard of my apartment building in New York City. As you have learned from my previous posts, I hate to see anything discarded, especially when it takes so little time—and money—to make it new and useful again. Since I felt the cabinet would be great for kitchen storage opening up both cabinet and counter space, I wanted the finished piece to be cheery and practical. In just three steps I was able to transform this discard into a keeper.

Step one: The wood stain finish on the inside of the cabinet was in pretty good shape, but the exterior was well worn. I decided to use a brightly colored floral oilcloth (purchasing two yards at Denver Fabrics for $12.90 plus shipping) to recover the doors and a complementary yellow paint to refinish the outside of the cabinet. After a good hour at The Home Depot I settled on Behr's "Chickadee" #350B-7 Semi-Gloss Enamel (1 Quart for $12.98). I applied a primer and then several coats of paint, lightly sanding between applications.

Step two: One of the door panels was missing the screws that held it to the door frame so I could see how easy it would be to recover the panels and re-assemble to the frames. Since the frames were in good shape and would only be visible when the cabinet was open, I left them in their original stain finish. I stapled the oilcloth covering to the panel, pulling it taught as I worked the stapler.

Two things to consider: You want to make the corners tight, square and flat. To do so, you will need to cut away some of the material and then tuck and fold so that you have a clean finished corner (see above left). Think of how you make a hospital corner when putting sheets on the bed. The second thing to consider is the pattern repeat. I finished one panel and then placed it on top of the remaining oil cloth material. By inserting the second panel adjacent to, but underneath the oilcloth (see above right), I was able to move the panels until I had the perfect pattern alignment.

Step three: The final step was re-attaching the wood frames to the back of the door panels and re-installing hinges. I also opted to get new door pulls and opted for wood ones that I painted to match the outside cabinet. (Twenty-four screws and two unfinished wood knobs totaling $10.96 plus tax.) The finished project is shown below: fresh, fun and functional—all for less than $50.