Saturday, October 27, 2012

Farmhouse Bathroom Remodel -- Done!

Remember when I mentioned how our family has gotten so much closer after the move?  Well, I wish it was because of how magnificently and sensitively I shepherded my children through the transition.  It's actually because of the fact that all five of us share one bathroom upstairs.  When we first moved in, I thought that was going to be one of the most challenging parts of living here, but it's been totally fine.  I  swear.  Plus, it gives me hyper-control over my children's hygiene.  I actually didn't know I still needed that.  Do you know how many shortcuts a child takes in this department when you're not around?!  I actually had to tell one of my children that yes, you have to use toothpaste when you brush your teeth, even on the weekends. Yikes.

Though the shared space is fine, what wasn't fine was how much the bathroom needed to be resurfaced and updated -- from the cracked and peeling cultured marble, to the vinyl flooring, to the impossible-to-keep-clean shower surround, to the room-length mirror, to the fluorescent shop lights over the vanity.  I'm sure it was an example of high design back in the day, but its day was over.  I wanted to give it a rustic, vintage feel, with a slightly modern edge. And I wanted the remodel to be as low-cost as possible.  Which explains my radical decision to paint every square inch of the perfectly beautiful cherry wood that filled the room.  Sorry, all you purists out there.  Here are some before/after pics to show you what a few changes can do to a space.

Found some reclaimed barnwood at an architectural salvage store (link below).  Had varying sizes of "slate look" tile laid in a random pattern to keep it rustic and informal.  Added an antique glass door cabinet to bring a little history back in amongst the new surfaces.

Since this bathroom will primarily be used by the kids, I needed to choose a floor material that was easier to clean than natural stone, and more resistant to water than wood.  

There was so much wood to paint!   I decided to use Annie Sloan chalk paint in Old White on all the cabinets so they would look like oil-rubbed, vintage furniture.  For the rest of the surfaces, I had the chalk paint color-matched at Sherwin Williams in a latex, satin finish and was able to coat the larger surfaces with a roller.  Matched perfectly.

Counter tops were custom made out of Peruvian walnut.  I kept all the original, antique brass hardware.  I love those H hinges and they can be found all over our house.  
The barn wood was dark and didn't have that weathered gray look I was after, so I cheated!  With a dry-brush technique I added a very diluted wash of Annie Sloan chalk paint in Paris Grey to lighten it and help it blend with the floor tile. Here's a sample of an original board next to the "weathered" ones.

I spray painted chrome cage lights with Rustoleum's oil-rubbed bronze finish -- that saved me a TON of money, since I needed four sconces quickly and chrome was the most available.  Modern, counter top vessel sinks are from Kohler (great Overstock find!), and I kept the original antique brass faucets because I just love them.  Added mini-can lights from Lowes over vanity for extra light while putting on makeup.

Tub/shower surfaces were done with matte subway tile and a slightly darker grout to complete the vintage/modern look I wanted.  A new shower fixture with  rain shower head brings a little luxury into this beautiful, old farmhouse. 
I can't even begin to tell you how much I love being in this bathroom!  And it is such a thrilling thing to see the vision in my head turn into something my family can touch and enjoy.  When you factor in their size, function, and comfort, a bathroom remodel is a lofty undertaking loaded with tough decisions. But I'm learning that great design doesn't have to be expensive. It just has to be great.  So don't be afraid to paint some wood, put a little effort into a few standout features (like a barn wood focal wall!), and if a reasonably-priced sconce is calling your name in the wrong finish, spray it!

Material Sources:

Silverfox Salvage, Albany, NY -- reclaimed barn wood
LampsPlus -- sconces
Overstock -- Kohler vessel sinks
BestTile -- Italian "slate" floor tile
Faucet Direct -- Moen shower/tub fixtures
Amazon -- Whisper Quiet exhaust fan by Panasonic
Miller Construction, Guilderland -- so many talented craftsmen!
Design on 20, Guilderland --invaluable sounding board and support during material selection
Lowe's -- industrial light over commode
Perfectly Imperfect -- Annie Sloan chalk paint and "should I paint the wood?" inspiration!
Target -- shower curtain and bath mats
Something Olde Something New, Slingerlands, NY -- antique glass-door cabinet

Thursday, August 2, 2012


I can't believe I haven't written about one of the quieter blessings of this property.  When we came for our final walk-through, our realtor told us there was a "sign" in the backyard that we were in the right place.  (He knew a little about the path that had brought us to New York and had worked tirelessly to find us a peaceful corner of the world.)  Under a shade tree not 20 yards from the house, a deer lay resting, heavy with pregnancy.  We shared our first spring with "Shalom", and got to watch her fawns, Dorcy and Daffodil, play all summer.  What a gift.

We have a few apple and pear trees on the property and the deer spend a lot of time underneath them.  Once we happened to be watching when an apple fell out of the tree onto one of the fawn's heads.  Did you know fawns can jump straight up like a cat?  Hysterical.

Slowly the fawns got bigger and their spots began to fade, but they were never far from their mother.

As Fall came, Shalom's fur got thicker and she fattened up for the winter.   Luckily, she was not afraid of my camera and gave me many chances for poses like this.  Click to enlarge it.  She is beautiful.
There was rarely a day we didn't see them, even through the winter.

Spring brought us a new mommy and summer brought us new fawns.  The cycle began all over again while we watched.

One of the best parts about sharing our life with these beautiful creatures is getting to see daddy in a new light.  My husband has a serious heart for animals and we get to watch him act on it daily as he waits for our family of deer and can sometimes even summon them from the forest with a click of his tongue.  Just this month he has reached a new level of trust with one of the fawns who now playfully darts around him, unafraid. I caught him out there with them once before dawn, in his suit and tie, in the rain.  This is a powerful lesson for my young boys about gentleness and respect.

It was a bold and scary move to choose land over a neighborhood when we have three social children who were pulled from suburbia, but I have to believe they are going to learn something here that only nature can teach. I hope they are learning that the quiet space between play and sound and work has the ability to soothe and replenish them.  I hope they are learning that the natural environment is as big a gift as technology. Maybe by being surrounded by such beauty they will hear God's voice a little louder, a little earlier, and a little more often.  I don't know.  But I do know it is doing all of those things for their mother. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

An Excavated Terrace

An exciting and ongoing part of living in a historical home is the occasional discovery of relics from Woodwind Farm's early days.  Previous owners were kind enough to pass these items on to us: belt buckles, square head nails, skeleton keys, primitive tools, pieces of broken china.

Perhaps the most amazing discovery was that of Gideon Wood's memorial marker in a neighboring field.  He was the patriarch and first of four generations of the Wood family (hence the property's name) who lived here.  Woodwind Farm was originally comprised of 200 acres (a little larger than its current six).  Perhaps this headstone was part of a memorial garden on the expansive property. It now sits next to the house.  I am told more than half of it is buried -- some day I may do some digging to find if an epitaph is written on the bottom half.

One of the items left for us was a newspaper from 1988 that included an extensive feature on the farm and its history.  In that article, a stone terrace is mentioned.  What?!!!  Where?!!!  We knew that in 1948 many of the outbuildings and barns were torn down and pieces of the barn foundation were used for the retaining walls and decorative structures we see scattered throughout the property.  But we never saw a true terrace.
A large rectangular area off the living room in the back housed a raised bed of overgrown herbs.  It was framed by a stone wall, most of which was hidden by plant material. Could this be the terrace?

It was!  My husband and I started digging and quickly discovered that the plants were growing in less than an inch of soil on top of stone.  Even the path was completely covered by lawn.

The walls were crumbling, the terrace stones were far from level, and a difficult set of stairs was the only access.   We a hired a gifted stone mason, who had already done much of the stone work on the property, to reset it.

Woodwind Farm's terrace is back in business. Check back for more posts once the landscaping is completed and adjoining patios are finished!  Now if I can just figure out what do with all these mosquitoes so we can use it...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Family Meeting -- It's Time

We're trying it.  The Family Meeting. We were putting it off until the kids had enough maturity to make it worthwhile, but that was a moving target for sure.  Tonight marked the second Wilson Family Meeting and I just had to document it here for all those who are trying it with their families and are getting discouraged.

There are a lot of great resources online about how to run family meetings.  I read several articles, took notes and tried a lot of their suggestions.  I created an aura of excitement with professional invitations, included dessert, and kept the meeting reasonably short.  I listened patiently when they had difficulty staying on topic and used the mommy skill of gentle redirection.  I made sure to balance serious discussions with playful ones.  It was going pretty well.

During one part of our meeting, everyone was invited to share a concern or a need that was bothering them, openly and without repercussion.  I'm not sure they quite understood, because one of my children reported they needed new underwear and another told me we were out of homework pencils.  To illustrate what I meant, I expressed how I would love it if Daddy would stay awake during family meetings.  (Nice, Drew.)

The meeting quickly disintegrated.  They talked at the same time, they interrupted each other, they enjoyed the pulpit a bit too much and attacked each other with smirks on their faces as they "got away with it" in the spirit of open disclosure.  They were fixated on who's turn it was to make dessert next and whether or not mom was going to make them set goals again for next week.  But then it was time for questions.

One of the ways my mom and dad used to get us talking was with the Ungame  -- a collection of thought-provoking questions for all different age groups.  I decided to use these same questions at our meeting to help our kids get comfortable talking about real and sometimes difficult topics.  As you can imagine, they were nervous and cracked jokes when they should have been attempting an answer, but they'll get better at it.  This is what Drew would call a "stretch goal."

Then it was my turn and I got the question, "Describe an experience of answered prayer."  I started crying immediately as I tried to describe a moment of answered prayer I would never forget.  And then I told another one.  And another one.  I think they would have sat there all night watching their mommy in tears, describing how real God is to her.  They weren't laughing anymore. They were still and respectful and curious and hopeful about this God who speaks so loud. I will try to remember this night when future meetings fall apart and seem like a waste of time.  Little nuggets of Truth and Love are going to sneak in when we least expect it.  All we have to do is show up.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Upstate Beauty Unfolds

I forgot how exciting it is to see the seasons unfold for the first time in a new/old house. So far I've only known this property's spring and summer face, and its fall one is full of surprises.  With the leaves dropping, I can see more of the mountain framing our property than I ever expected. I had no idea we were nestled on three sides!  It's an entirely different scene than that of summer and I can only imagine what it will be like in the winter with a full view of the escarpment blanketed in snow.

Sydney ran down the stairs the other day screaming for us to come see the "cotton candy mountain".  When the sun hit the escarpment that morning it had a completely different glow with the changed leaves and a scattering of our season's first unexpected snow.  It was so difficult to capture on camera (because of my skill), but the last two photos will give you a tiny glimpse of the beauty that greeted us that morning.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Inside the Farmhouse

It's almost impossible to describe this place.  I didn't set out to find a historic home so it continues to surprise me, like a gift begging to be opened by someone who's never experienced Christmas.  How can I explain the secret storage place behind the coat closet, or the narrow winding staircases, or the memorial marker by the boarded-up well? How can I describe the 6" long iron key that we actually use to lock the front door? Or the beehive bread oven next to the original fireplace that kept a family warm and fed 216 years ago at the very beginning of this country?  I can show you pictures of how my furniture fits (or doesn't fit) and what a country breakfast looks like in our sweet kitchen, but I can't easily show you the richness of the wood beams marked by the cuts of an axe.  I can tell you what historic paint color I'm going to use for the family room, but I can't begin to describe what the original plaster ceiling with the huge crack feels like when you sit underneath it.

I was so moved by this house and the enormity of our responsibility should we own it, that I felt I had to tell the owners the condition of my heart before they even considered our offer.  In my letter, I wrote,

We can’t imagine fully what it will mean to own a piece of history, to fall asleep under the covering of a roof that sheltered so many others, and to lovingly play the role of caretaker to something that is not completely ours.   It is no small thing to become one of the names on the list in your kitchen  -- a list of families who have accepted the important role of steward of this property.   We also can’t imagine the responsibility you must feel in the transfer of that role to another.  We wanted to let you know that we felt something when we entered your home that we have not felt in any other.   It was a feeling of respect:  respect for you in how you have cared for it, respect for the families before you that protected it, and respect for the country that bore it. 
So with all of that said, as I walk you through the house, please remember I am merely a custodian of this amazing estate.  My goal is to protect it, to preserve it, and to modestly improve it so it can shelter many families long after we are gone.  (And if I can make it cozy and beautiful for my family in the process, all the better.)  I promise better pictures soon after I figure out how to light this place!

To the right of chaise lounge is a butler's pantry that leads to kitchen.

Family / piano room

This is previous owner's decor.  Wanted to show the fireplace.

Guest bedroom
Foyer hallway and stairs with 2-story, hand-painted mural.

There are built-ins everywhere!

I absolutely love this kitchen.

That's it for now.  There's an office, a workshop, mudroom, two bathrooms, three stairways, and a really scary basement I'll have to show you another time!

Next up -- Shalom, Dorcy, and Daffodil

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

We Found a House!

You know when I take a break from blogging something crazy must be going on.  So here it is in a nutshell:  we've moved.  Again!  We made a commitment to upstate New York and to this community through an actual house purchase.  I guess we're not on vacation after all.  I know now that the rental house was a precious bandaid from heaven as we all took some time to "heal" into our new surroundings.  And to continue the metaphor, God ripped that bandaid right off in June and gave us a place of our own. We were ready.

Remember my love for contemporary architecture and clean edges and openness?  Remember my desire for a full, finished basement for the kids?  Remember my need for enough bedrooms for guests?   And space for a studio?  You'll never believe what we just bought.  A 1795 historical Federal Colonial farmhouse with 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, no A/C, a basement we pretend isn't there, smaller proportioned rooms that barely hold our furniture, and a musket over the fireplace.  It is awesome. Who knew?  God knew.

Here are few pics of the property.  I'll show you the inside tomorrow, but you'll have to ignore the decorating because we just moved in and I simply had to stick my belongings wherever they would fit.  Even in its current state, though, it is absolutely perfect for me.  Because it is perfectly imperfect.  Like me.  Now this is a house with a soul.  Who knew I could love a house like this?  God knew.  He just had to rip off the bandaid.

The house is VERY stretched out as rooms were added, barns were converted, and front doors became back doors.  We're still not sure how to get in.  This is the front. Or is it the side?  Actually it's both right now.
This is the original main entrance that is not currently being used.  

This is the back.  Sort of.  That dirt pile is our new septic tank which we had to install the day after we closed.  The original one collapsed during the home inspection.  No kidding.   
Here's a diagram to show what's what.  Click to make it larger.

The house is nestled near the base of the Heldeberg mountains.

It's hard to show the whole yard!  It goes on forever.  Six beautiful acres of rolling lawn, forest, and creek.
There are beautiful stone walls throughout the property.
View from Syd's bedroom window.


That gives you an idea of the property.  Tomorrow we'll go indoors.