Monday, September 29, 2014

My Public Rooms

I like to think of a house having public rooms and private rooms, although it doesn't quite work that way these days. From bathrooms, kitchens and bedrooms, every room in a house is on display. But up until the last week nothing in my house was ready to go public.
The dining room had promise. It also had a huge chandelier.

I didn't like the colors, I didn't like the fixtures, but I loved the bones of the place and knew my stuff--for years languishing in closets--would brighten and reflect a new life in the house.

For months most of my bright and beloved pieces remained in boxes and remained in the way. Day by day changes were made, cartons unpacked, new furniture added, and I camped out amid the debris waiting until repairs were done, walls were painted, workmen finished tasks and the future began to peek through.

The living room was first, but I was still camping out upstairs as the bathroom and kitchen were remodeled. It was just last weekend that a paint job obscured the chartreuse wainscoting
and it was replaced with a blue Martha (Stewart) and Candice (Olsen) would approve. A touch of this blue was in so many of the paintings I owned that I was sure it was the color to go for.
It screamed for a new color and a new light fixture. It got both.

I am elated it's going so well all of a sudden. Soon I'll probably forget the difficulty of living in the clutter and chaos. There are other things in life besides interior decoration, but when you're submerged in a move, you do tend to forget that. A trip to the "import store," as they call the decor chains on television, results not only in an armful of colorful accents, but also a high you might not have anticipated. The picture on the right shows the redecoration so far; window treatments (very simple curtains in a color called "mineral") and a few other touches remain
My public rooms are almost ready for viewing by the public. A party is percolating in the back of my mind, to be followed by many more.

Looking from the dining room to the living room, Before.

Looking into the living room, now.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Invitation to a Bathroom

My new bathroom is so inviting I took a selfie in the mirror.

The bathroom in the 1890 house probably was originally a hall room--meaning, a room on the second floor at the end of the hall, too small to use for much of any thing. Previous owners had converted it to a bathroom but with lackluster finishes. It looked like an afterthought, and an overcrowded, uninteresting one at that.

My solution was white tiles--subway tiles for the walls and shower--the tub had to be cut in two to be removed--and octagonal tiles for the floor. I'm going with shades of teal throughout the house, and in the bathroom I wanted just a whisper of color above the tiles. There's a huge medicine cabinet, mirrored inside and out, increasing the light to the space.
Subway tiles look clean and shiny and seem to expand the space.
The top of the dresser is a scrap of Carrara  statuary marble from the stone yard.
The ceiling fixture adds a touch of elegance.
Just opposite it is a window. Yes, a big, full length window right next to the toilet. This necessitated some kind of covering even though that window has a beautiful street and treetop view. Nice to look out of, but a bit uncomfortable with the thought of those who might be able to look in. A simple Martha Stewart number from J.C. Penney serves the purpose of privacy pretty well.  I am so delighted with my new bathroom I hope you'll come by to see it sometime!
A white curtain was necessary for privacy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Kitchen's Progress

The kitchen, before
The kitchen in the house was a near miss. Somebody had chosen concrete counter tops and squeezed the rest of the kitchen around them, and it just looked heavy and depressing. The room was not large, but spacious enough if every inch could be judiciously planned.

I hired a contractor good-looking enough to be on HGTV (but I swear that is not how he got the job--he is a skilled carpenter and knew how to make the most of every inch.) Yes, he's easygoing and charming, and that counts, but the main thing was that he was highly recommended as reliable, creative, conscientious, competent--and he knows how to build stuff. Conferring with him I discovered I could save money by buying cabinets off the shelf at the large hardware store, and he could build open shelving above to maximize storage while giving an uncrowded look to the room.

First came the demo, which I guess is a guy thing--he and the team had ripped out everything before the end of the day I closed on the house. It's been six weeks since it looked like this, but for weeks I was in a construction zone and it felt as if I always would be.
Demo done

I had my furniture in but only a hot plate and a microwave, and the refrigerator, which would have to be replaced, sat in the dining room. It was in good working order but did not measure up for the kitchen. I had to shell out for a counter-depth one, which is probably the same size in cubic feet, but fit better into the new design. Weeks went by with me having lunch at local restaurants and camping out in the house. I could make a decent breakfast on the limited equipment, eating lunch out. Not exactly a hardship, but a disruption in routine.

I chose a quartz counter in a neutral color and my contractor and I created a tile back splash that reflected my infatuation for the Pasadena Craftsman look. I picked neutral beige subway tiles and a selection of gently-colored accent squares to be applied behind the range and at random intervals amid the subways rimming the counter.
Pasadena Craftsman look--tiles anyway!

Open shelving

The open shelves work very well. All that is left is the spice rack which will go in tomorrow, below the window next to the stove.

There is a shelf on the other side of the room for cookbooks and whatever gathers there. Since it goes above my custom built-in table where my coffee pot and toaster live, cups and breakfast items have already found their place there.

Breakfast corner

So far, the kitchen is so much fun to cook in it almost feels like it's doing the cooking and washing up itself--I've made an apple cake and have a sourdough in process for some bread in the next couple of days--it won't be long before it roasts a chicken and makes a crème brulée. Where's that soufflée dish I bought as a bride in 1960? I'm sure I unpacked it the other day--but I don't think I've made a soufflée in the last 50 years. It's about time I did another!
The kitchen, After

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Day We Can't Forget

In September, 2001, I was in a very different place for where I sit today. This is what I wrote about this date in 2006:

I was on the first real vacation I had taken in years, beginning with a trip to Northern California for the big outdoor art show in Sausalito over the Labor Day weekend. My stepdaughter Amy had a booth at the show, and I went with her and her husband Phil to stay in a sweet little inn in San Rafael. During that leg of the trip I had managed to hook up with an old boyfriend, himself also single again, in San Francisco. He took me on a wondrous tour of the nighttime city -- wandering into haunts in Chinatown, catching the music in a great jazz club, and eating cioppino at a garlicky little restaurant.

I then went for a week with a friend I had known in junior high and had not seen since. Neil and her husband Neal--yes, they share the same first name--turned out to be delightful grownups--gourmets, nonconformists, and living in the Silverlake section of Los Angeles. They only had one car and they had no television set. They had a charming little storybook cottage with no pets except for the feral cats who lived in the backyard. Neil and I had been having one of the nice catching-up visits that old friends sometimes who have been separated for years are lucky enough to experience. I was scheduled to fly back home through Pensacola on September 13.

On this morning in 2001 Neil came in to wake me up at about six A.M. L.A. time. She told me of the terrible situation in New York. Remember, we had no tv to watch; she and Neal were listening to the radio. Then their friends began calling, realizing that they didn't have a television set, and thinking that would be the only way to learn about what was happening. Neal had worked at the World Trade Center only a few years before; he was beside himself with worry about friends. Neil and I worried about our own safety, and I knew there was no way I was going to fly back home in two days. But I wanted to get out of Los Angeles as soon as I could. Even though there was the sense that all major U.S. cities were in grave danger, Neil assured me that she had a sixth sense about these things and didn't think Los Angeles was going to be hit. Never mind that, no airport felt safe; I had to get home somehow.

Someone suggested the bus. Nothing sounded safer than a Greyhound Bus to me then, the big old lumbering behemoths that used to take me from Fairhope to Mobile on a Saturday afternoon to watch a movie. I knew it was going to be a hell of a ride from Los Angeles to Lower Alabama, but I cancelled the plane tickets and went to the bus station. Neil and I looked around and the little station looked clean and all but empty. This was going to be rather nice. I'd just get off when I got weary and find a nearby motel and get on the next bus going east when I got up in the morning.

Of course the trip did not turn out to be that pat. The first bus from the clean little station took me not eastward to Mobile, but rather to the main bus terminal in Los Angeles, which was teeming with humanity, and scared humanity at that. Luckily I had lived for 14 years in Manhattan and knew how to finesse myself to the head of a line while the crowd milled around looking confused. I felt a little guilty for that, but not much. I also had known enough to pack a small carry bag with enough stuff to get me through three nights and check the big bag straight on through to Mobile. I got a decent seat and stayed on the first miserable bus for an hour or two and got off when it got dark, at a town called Blythe on the California border. I spent the night at a really cheap hotel, compounding my anxiety with a fear of the intrusion of a rapist/murderer, as if I weren't scared enough. But all went pretty well. I wasn’t accosted in the room, and even got a little sleep. I had breakfast at daybreak at a nearby McDonald's and watched a glorious sunrise on the next bus. And so it went. A tour of the Great American West, looking at sunrises and flags flying from all the roadside businesses along the way. Once a kid in uniform got on and sat next to me. I said to him "What are we going to do?" and he said, "Make a parking lot out of 'em." Bless his heart, I thought, he has no idea.

I went through Arizona and New Mexico, and then came Texas. Neil had packed a little food for me, and a bottle of water. She lent me two books to get my mind off things. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and The Liars' Club. Ya Ya worked best--it spoke of home, and supportive women, and an unrealistically competent heroine. I climbed into that book and stayed there the whole trip. I never did finish The Liars' Club, clearly a far better book but not matching my mood.

I stayed on the bus, sleeping through Texas, rather than prolonging the trip by getting off and finding a place to stay at that point. As the bus heaved into Louisiana I did enjoy seeing familiar Southern scenery--marshes, bayous, and Spanish moss. I was getting toward home. I spent the night in a nice town, had one of the best breakfasts in my life, enhanced by the comfort of a small-town diner, with people chatting and behaving for all the world as if they were going to stay together and stay the same on into time immemorial. Being in their company made me feel everything was going to be all right. America was still small towns, contented people, and love. I think the town was Lafayette, Louisiana.  Most of it was washed away a few years later in Katrina, but those people at the breakfast restaurant are still there; I know they are.

It was a sobering trip. I was glad to be home. People wonder what has changed now that everybody is saying that the world has changed. This is it: I have. The props were knocked out from under me and I am not the same person who went to that art show and heard jazz in San Francisco. Everything I do is tinged with the memory of that tragedy and knowledge that although we survived this should not have happened, and that it happened because of mistakes our leaders had made, mistakes for which our whole country is responsible.

Unfortunately, since that day the mistakes have been compounded over and over until there is little credibility for our country and its value anywhere in the world. Politically, from the first there were those who said that we need to wage more wars--do it better, stay the course--rationalizing the original error of our ways. It sometimes seems to me that there will be no way out in my lifetime, and no hysterical behavior on anybody's part is going to change a thing.

This realization led me to another phase of my life, one in which I concentrate on my own concerns. The village that raised this child had become a place I don't recognize and I have left it for good. If I can make my own space better by doing my best, I can only hope that it will have some effect on the betterment of others. That's fair enough.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Taking Care of Oscar

I have had one of these for 30-odd years, and it showed. Over time it had turned green, brown and even black in spots, and there seemed to be no way to clean it. I tried baking-soda-peroxide paste, silver polish, good old detergent and water, but the tarnish it bore was apparently there to stay.

I love the object more and more as the years go by. It wasn't an Oscar at all, but a going-away gift when I announced I would be leaving Geneva after one last bang-up production in the amateur company I had founded in the early 1980s, The Little Theater of Geneva. The bang-up production was Neil Simon's The Gingerbread Lady,  and I played Evy, an alcoholic nightclub singer just out of rehab. As time for my departure drew nearer, the Little Theater and I had a lot of laughs, and this was presented to me at the official going-away party, after which my husband and I were off for a new life in the States. The "Oscar" says at its base, To Mary Lois Adshead/From your own creation/The Little Theater of Geneva/1981- The date of demise is left blank, in the unstated hope that the group would continue forever. I understand it did last for a while, disbanding after about ten years.

Oscars are nice keepsakes, and this one certainly was a conversation piece, sitting among my books on various bookshelves, from Alabama to Hoboken. I've unpacked it here and hoped to give it a nice place in this house, even though I'd noticed it wasn't aging well. Finally I hit on a solution--I'd paint it white and put it on display as a objet d'art.

I didn't know how to go about painting it as it was composed of some very shiny plastic or something that didn't look as if it would accept paint. I asked one of my painters Friday and he said he'd sand and steel wool it until it was rough enough, then hit it with a strong primer. It became a project for a weekend.

I started using the steel wool yesterday. Smooth as Oscar is, he has a lot of corners, crevices, and cracks, and they all were pretty black. I tried fine sandpaper, and that took off another layer of paint, but there was still tarnish lingering in unattractive places. I still couldn't determine what the material I was sanding was. At last I decided to stop scratching and start painting. I applied a coat of primer and he looked quite nice, dull in color but not tarnished. When that had dried I applied a white enamel. And here he is. There are a few drips, and it's a bit messy about his feet, but I hope not all that many people who look at him will be looking at that.

I think he'll look fine in his new incarnation. Still a conversation piece, but at least now nobody will say, "Is that a real Oscar?" which always embarrassed me a bit anyway. I would counter that it was "a gag gift that wasn't really a gag," which I think is the truth. Now I can add the tale for the renovation of the little guy, and he may come to find he is at home in my new life.