Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wood Restoration

It isn't entirely clear to me how you would go about restoring the wainscoting for an entire dining room.  But I do have some experience attempting to restore a much smaller amount of woodwork.

Our home has a small hallway-ish room that connects the dining room to the 1st-floor bathroom, the back bedroom, and the basement.  We call it the "mud room," and we use it for storing bags, books and papers, jackets, rain gear, etc.

The doorways of all the doors in the mud room had been painted over by some prior owner in a somewhat disgusting shade of really dark brown.  At one point, I convinced myself that I'd strip the paint down to the original wood.  How hard could it be?

Turned out to be REALLY BLOODY HARD.

I began by using a standard paint-stripper.  I applied some to a cloth and wiped it up and down the wood. Typically, the paint will bubble up and then you can remove it using a scraper or steel wool.

This stuff bubbled up.  But when trying to scrape it off, it would basically smear around.  Turned out that there was another layer of tan color paint right under the brown paint.

This task took hours and hours.  I confess I gave up on the work for months at a time.  My wife was well and truly PO'ed (as she had every right to be, since I had left the mud room a total mess; at least the lead test indicated there was no lead in this paint).

Finally, when my wife was about 7-months pregnant, we hired some professional painters to paint our son's new bedroom.  While they were at it, I asked if they could take a look at the mess I had made in the mud room.  They agreed to help.

From my perspective, the good news was that this was NOT an easy job for the professionals either.  It wasn't just me - this really was a nearly impossibly tough job!  It took them almost an extra week to finish the task.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Wainscoting, Part II

The history of wainscoting in bungalows -- at least in our neighborhood -- it a bit tragic.  In the 50s-70s, many homeowners apparently tired of wainscoting.  Particularly the fact that wainscoting involved somewhat dark wood shades.

Their solution to this problem?  They painted over the beautiful woodwork.  Usually with white, light green, or light blue paint.  This nearly totally ruined the wainscoting in many of the homes around here.  You can frequently see this when checking out real estate for sale nearby.  I'm always bummed when I see a house that has the original woodwork totally painted over.

Friday, June 24, 2011


I have a confession to make.  Before we got our old bungalow in 2003, I had absolutely no idea what "wainscoting" was.  I don't think I had ever heard the word.

But as I've gotten into the whole bungalow/craftsman thing, I've come to really appreciate what this is.

Wainscoting is basically just paneling.  But it only covers the lower part of the wall (usually between 50-70% of it).  So wainscoting doesn't go up to the ceiling.

The other thing about craftsman/bungalow-style wainscoting is that it can involve fantastic woodworking.  The original wainscoting in a well-maintained bungalow can be gorgeous.

That is one of the things that drew me to our home.  Check out the wainscoting in our dining room:

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Backyard Lighting, Part II

We installed a craftsman-style light just outside the kitchen door to the back deck:

Using an extension cord, we plugged a long string of lights into the new outlet under the deck.  Initially, we had this string of lights on the railing of our deck.  But, we recently moved it to run up the plum tree in our backyard (which grows up through our deck):

Tough to get a decent picture of them at night:

As you can see below, the lights are made out of a lightweight metal with star patterns punched out.  I like to think of them as quasi-craftsman style.  

We're considering getting a string of white lights to run all the way along the deck railing (the quasi-craftsman metal lights only ran part-way along the deck railing).  Maybe holiday-style white lights -- just something to brighten things up a bit.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer Solstice Today!

Summer solstice is the longest day of the year!  

What:  Family summer solstice in Alameda County, CA

When:  Tuesday, June 21st

Where:  Summer solstice will be celebrated in two spots for families.

* Tilden Nature Area has a summer solstice celebration from 6:30-9:00PM.  The event will be hosted by naturalist, Bethany Facendini.  Activities are the following:  a 1.5 nature hike, a campfire, and crafts for children.  Reservations required, please call tilden park for availability.

*  Crab Cove interpretive center, Alameda, also has a summer solstice event.   The activities at this event are for children 3 to 8 and their siblings.  This event will be hosted by supervising naturalist Sharol Nelson Embry.  The event will feature games, songs, stories, and a hike.  This event does not require a reservation.  The address of the event is 1252 Mckay Ave, off Central Avenue in Alameda.

Summer solstice websites:

For information on defining summer solstice, see: solstice-2011

Also, for more information on upcoming summer events in the San Francisco Bay Area, take a look at

Monday, June 20, 2011

Backyard Electrical Work

Fed up with our pitch-black back yard, we were finally able to do something about it six months ago.  When fixing the electrical system in our basement and replacing our fuse boxes (see our earlier posts about that), we FINALLY ran a 120v line out to the back yard.  We put in two boxes.  We intended to use one box, under the deck, for lights that would always stay connected:
This is NOT easy to get to, since it is under the deck.  Lots of cobwebs, etc.  We used an outdoor outlet with a plastic cover.

Those lights could be controlled by one of the two new switches that we added in the kitchen.

The other box would be above the deck for regular use (for example, by plugging in a radio).

At the same time, we ran a dedicated line to a light just outside our back door.  That light would be controlled by our other new switch in the kitchen, and we added a dimmer switch to it:

Friday, June 17, 2011

Arts and Crafts Style Backyard Outdoor Lighting

When we bought our home, we had no lights at all in our backyard.  We lived that way for several years.  When we entered our kitchen at night, we couldn't see a thing in the backyard through the window.  It was pitch black.  We get lots of animals in our yard, too, despite the urban setting -- cats, possums, raccoons, and the occasional skunk.  Periodically, something would bang around back there and I'd end up going out with a flashlight to see what was up.

Our initial step was to replace the light on our garage with a light that could be operated by wireless remote control from inside our house.  This is a simple sort of light, but it has general craftsman-style appeal.

The one caveat is -- the wireless control of the light really just doesn't work.  We'd have to play with the switch for a good 60 seconds before it would turn on, and it could take 120 seconds to turn back off (if it turned off at all).  Maybe the technology has improved since we did this in 2005 or 06, but it just wasn't worth the hassle.  We now just use the (wired) light switch in the garage to turn this on and off.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Arts and Crafts Style Outdoor Lighting

In my mind, I associate a specific type of outdoor lighting with bungalows and craftsman-style houses.  I consistently think of lamp-style lights, with simple yet beautiful metalwork framing the light and crossing the lamp with perpendicular lines and/or forming box shapes.

When we bought our home, our front yard was lit with a large and hard floodlight.  We replaced it with this:

Similarly, we replaced the floodlight on our porch with this:

We bought these lights at Omega Lighting Design:
2204 San Pablo Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94708

There are several great lighting stores in Oakland and Berkeley to choose from.  More than one can be found on San Pablo Ave., including Metro Lighting and Berkeley Lighting Company.  We recommend both of them (in addition to Omega Lighting Design).

Monday, June 13, 2011

Bungalow Heaven - You CAN Do It!

Perhaps the best thing to come out of our visit to Bungalow Heaven was coming home with the impression that we really CAN own and lovingly restore a bungalow.  It is not an impossible sort of dream -- it is really do-able.

The inside of these places were beautiful examples of bungalows.  They were simple.  They had nice built-ins (things like built in wooden bookshelves, cabinets, and seats).  Nice wainscoting, typically not painted over.  Just nice little bungalows.  This trip convinced me that perhaps restoring and living in bungalows doesn't have to be difficult - in fact it isn't really supposed to be difficult.

Friday, June 10, 2011

American Bungalow

We're removing the American Bungalow blog from our Blog Roll because they haven't updated their blog in over a year.  But, American Bungalow is a great magazine.  We've gotten lots of inspiration from it, in various ways.  Their website:

Bungalow Heaven Gardening

My vote for top garden at the Bungalow Heaven home tour goes to a home that wasn't even on the tour.  Obviously this is based on looking at the landscaping/gardening in the front yards of the homes in this neighborhood.  But you have to admit, this front yard garden is popping with color.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bungalow Heaven - Greatest Hits

My stomach flu prevented me from going into more than one house (and I had to tour that one pretty quickly; too much information, I know).  But from the outside, I was most impressed with this home:

The verandas look beautiful, and the exterior is painted with a neutral and natural shade.  You can see the craftsman-style windows, with their excellent woodwork.  You can also see the great craftsman-style lights on the veranda/porch.

I fear that these two shots really don't do the place justice.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Bungalow Heaven - The Houses

Here are some photos of one of the bungalows on the Bungalow Heaven home tour back in April (see my earlier posts for more details).  Turns out this was the ONLY one of the homes that I actually got to tour myself (my vicious stomach flu subsided long enough to go into this one).  

 As you can see from these pictures, there were long lines of folks touring each of the houses.  This particular line wrapped from the sidewalk up to the veranda.
 As you can see, this was not a big place.  A two-bedroom home.  Great built-ins in the big common room in the front of the house (they asked us not to take photos inside the homes on the tour).

The outside is a good example of the southern California sort of bungalow sstyle.  Nice stone wall in front, and stone chimney (probably wouldn't do too well in a big 1989-type earthquake though).

Here's another view from the veranda looking down the street.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sunset Magazine Weekend

Sunset Magazine is having its open house weekend this weekend, June 4 and 5 from 10-5.  Sunset's offices are in Menlo Park on Middlefield Road.  

For details, see the Sunset Celebration Weekend website.  Sunset opens up its test kitchen, which is great to see.  They have food booths and wine tasting.  Sunset Magazine's food editor, Margo True, discusses her book The One Block Feast.

Sunset's exhibits feature information about:

  • Urban homesteading
  • Chicken coops (seriously fun!)
  • Making cheese
  • BBQ demonstrations
  • Sunset test kitchen tours
  • Gardening tips and examples

This is a great event, despite the rain the Bay Area has been experiencing this weekend.  I went yesterday, and the rain didn't do anything to stop the fun.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Bungalow Heaven General Impressions

My general impressions of Pasadena's Bungalow Heaven home tour:

1 - The parks in Pasadena are awesome.  Pasadena has a number of really large parks.  They have large open spaces and great play structures for kids.

2 - You need to have a car.

3 - The Bungalow Heaven neighborhood is well-named.  It is a beautiful area, with lots of well-maintained bungalows.

4 - It doesn't have to be hard to lovingly restore and live in an old bungalow.  It can and should be fun (though it looks easier than it is).