A farmhouse Christmas

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We've been in the farmhouse for a bit more than a year now, and while we still have a few projects left to do here and there, we couldn't be happier with to celebrate another Christmas in this house we've made a home. 

A little greenery goes a long way towards welcoming the season. A wreath here or there and a fresh blanket of snow, and it's a welcoming sight at the end of a drive. 

The house doesn't ask for much for decoration. And I prefer the simpler touches anyhow. I had made garlands of walnuts years ago that I store away and pull out each year. A few sprigs of greenery for the fireplace mantles, and the dining room is ready for family dinner. 

I walk down to the woods and cut a few fresh boughs to hang on the house and the door. A few bows, and a simple garland on the bannister. 

The library's beautiful murals and brick red paint are almost enough decoration for the season. Stockings hung, nutcrackers vigilant next to the fireplace, and a small tree wrapped in burlap garland to hang a few special ornaments. 

The family room gets the big tree and presents waiting for Christmas morning. The house is cozy and warm, with a lived-in feeling that I can only imagine the more than two hundred years pf families and Christmases that have made this home has seen would approve of as well..

At least our pup George declares it good enough. And so do I. 

Merry Christmas to all - I hope to see more of you in the new year. 

Still enough projects left to fill a snowy day

There's one small-ish bedroom on the main floor in our old Maine farmhouse. 

It's hard to say what or how it was used. It's got a fireplace (because all the original rooms have fireplaces. It's Maine. And winters are long and cold here).  And I added a crazy complicated bauble-filled chandelier when we moved in. Because the exiting light fixture would throw the occasional spark when it was turned on. Which seemed like a bad thing.

But there was no real use for the room. We used it as a temporary guest bedroom when my Bride's parents arrived, as it meant not having to go upstairs. But it's located off the center hall near the dining room. And we have bigger, more comfortable guest bedrooms. 

Since it's located on the first floor near the dining room, and we had nothing else to do with it, we decided early on that this would be one of our project rooms. We stripped the wallpaper, and left it a blank slate. We told the crew not to do anything except touch up the plaster. We'd get to it. 

Today was one of those snowy days in Maine, when an indoor project is kind of handy. 

We had decided to make this room into a semi-formal butler's pantry. Dedicated storage for all the glass & dishware we use for entertaining. We still throw semi-regular parties on the scale of a dozen or so to a hundred-&-fifty or more. And in all that, we've managed to accumulate a fair amount of platters and what not. And since we've moved into an old, rambling house with plenty of room, we figure we could get them out of the basement, and into somewhere a little bit more accessible and less dusty. 

But first, we've got to do something about that floor. The floors in the house are a mix of woods - wide pine in the remodeled areas. Older fir and oak or other lumber in some of the less-retouched areas. It's hard to know in this many of them, as they've been painted for years. A few of the rooms had their floors painted a kind of dull maroon, looking none the better for being well worn. 

We decided the simplest thing to do would be to repaint. 

I chose another shade of a gray-green to complement some of the other, traditional colors we had used on the first floor. I wasn't terribly sure if it was quite the right color, but it was within the palette. 

I took my time cutting in the edges, and then planned to roll out the center of the floor. Fortunately, I had a helper. 

For the record, all I told the Boy was to take his nicer clothes off, and change into something he didn't mind getting messy.

He sprinted off and came back wearing what he declared to be his "paintin' clothes!"

You don't have to scratch the surface very hard to get to the Appalachia on this kid. 

The more we put on, the less sure I was I liked it. The color wasn't bad (and it was an improvement to the maroon). But it didn't seem to fit the space, or complement the trim. 

But, at the very least, I figured we were getting a coat of primer down. 

After the whole room was done, I stepped back and took it in, and decided that nope. This was not the color. 

I went through the list of colors we used in the house, and we decided to paint the floor the same as we had used in the upstairs hallway, to match the trim. The color is Concord Buff from Sherwin Williams. A simple, light buttery cream that complements a lot of the old architecture in the house. And I had 2/3 of a can of the floor paint version left in the basement from the earlier work. 

So I tried again. 

Definitely better.

Easier to envision painted cabinets in the room, with a clean, simple palette on the floor and walls. 

To paint a floor, you want something that is hard wearing and will last. Which is why folks used to put lead in their paint. Because that stuff lasts forever. 

But that's bad for our brains, so we looked for oil based paint. Which is getting harder to find. We used a gloss, oil-based marine enamel. A little tougher to work with, and clean up after. And it takes a few days to dry between coats. But it does last longer than latex, for sure. 

The trim is painted in the latex paint of the same color, so I still ended up having to carefully cut in around the edges. 

Fortunately for me, it's a big square (more or less. Nothing in this house is perfectly square anymore). Either way, though, it's just about within the realm of achievable for me. 

The lighting leaves things looking a little more yellow than it actually is - it's all that same, buttery buff, despite my poor shadowed photo above. 

I did find myself wondering while I was painting, how many layers of paint am I going over on these floors? The room I was working on was, we think, part of the early 19th century renovations. And the floor would have been original to it. 3 coats? 5? No idea. Some of the other floors had at least that many. And I've just added another 2.  

But it's done now, and ready for cabinets to be built and dishes to be stacked and ready. 

But that's a project for another snowy weekend. 

Even the bacon tastes better when we cook it here

When we bought the house, there were 3 kitchen areas (and that's not counting the kitchen in the in-law apartment over the barn). One kitchen for the small apartment in the back of the house, another central 'kitchenette' for student boarders. We knew we'd be ripping both of those out as a part of the remodel. 

That left the principle house kitchen. It was dark and close, with a low, swayed ceiling. The space was tucked into the extended/converted 'back house' or barn, squeezed between the dining room and the rear stair case, and almost completely filled with a pinewood island, cabinets and tiled countertops. It did have a pretty new kick-ass professional viking stove that we ended up saving and moving into the barn's in-law apartment. But otherwise, we knew it wasn't laid out well for how we wanted to use the space.  

For example: we had this wild thought that it might be nice to have enough light to see what we were cooking.  That lamp on the counter? That was a necessary addition. Because the space was that dark.  

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Also, see that brick wall above the range? It's kind of hard to tell from the photo, but the mortar had sort of started to fall out in chunks. Which didn't bother me too much, except for occasionally finding mortar crumbs at the bottom of my soup bowl at the end of a meal. 

Not until I came home from work one evening to my Bride's steely-eyed refusal to use the kitchen anymore. This after a family of mice poked their head out of one of the gaps in the brick, and gave her whatever the rodent equivalent of the one fingered salute is while she was trying to toss together a stir fry.  

We ate a lot of take-out after that. 

Fortunately, that was only a few days before we moved into the barn apartment, and got to some serious work on the house demolition

The end product definitely managed to tick the box of "we'd like to have some more light in this space".

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In many ways, this kitchen was at the heart of the house renovation.

First, it's where we end up spending the majority of our time together as a family. We all love to cook. And even more, we love to eat. The kids end up doing their homework at the counter while we make dinner. Dinner parties end up congregating around the appetizers laid out on the counter. It's the center of the house - pretty much the point you pass through to get anywhere else, one way or the other. 

Second, we knew we wanted to relocate the two stair cases that had been constraining the space. The stairs to the basement, and the back stairs to the second floor were both moved to other locations (the 'up' stairs went along the wall - as you'll see below, and the basement entrance was re-located under the front stairs, in a different part of the house entirely). 

This gave us a huge amount of freedom to design the space to our liking, with plenty of room to stretch things out as we liked.  

We sketched out some basic plans for our awesome architect, who fleshed in the details. (This was the same guy that came back to me with the idea of turning the old 'indoor hot tub' space into a meat room. I love this guy). 

We did make some changes to those planes along the way as we tore back the walls and saw what we had to work with. Those exposed beams and supports, for example - many of which still bear evidence of the whitewash applied when the building was a dairy barn - we left bare and worked into the room. 

One of my favorite ideas, though, was something we saw once on some home renovation show on cable a long time ago. My Bride & I have been joking about this idea for years, and given the opportunity, we insisted we include it from the beginning. Look again at that picture above... there are two dishwashers. 

Think about how insanely clever this is. A dishwasher is basically just a cabinet that happens to wash dishes. Stick some dirty dishes in it. Press a button, and voila: clean. I take dishes out as I need, put dirty ones in the other dishwasher. Press another button, and clean. And the cycle flips. 

Genius. 

The biggest argument we had when we sold our house in Massachusetts was that we had to leave our Aga cooker. My Bride wanted to take it with us. I argued that the people buying our house almost certainly expected to have an oven in the kitchen when they moved in. And they'd likely notice the large hole in the wall if we removed it. I wasn't sure that my Bride bought my logic, but I finally promised that we'd go find another Aga when we moved. 

This one is blue. We found it on Craigslist and brought it home. 

I'm still in love with the Aga as a cooking device, and think I always will be - an oven designed by a nobel prize winning physicist is inherently awesome. And it's even handier up here, where we're two hours closer to the north pole. The kids cuddle up next to its radiant warmth on a cold day, and it is simply lovely to never have to pre-heat the oven when I'm set to cook. 

The cabinets are all from a local place up in Bath, ME. The Kennebec guys designed these beautiful hand-planed cabinets for us to accommodate the giant slab of dark soapstone we found. And we kept the whole thing light by painting it a buttery cream. I never thought I'd end up with painted cabinets, but I love these. 

The leaded-glass hutch in the corner is another built in, incorporating material reclaimed from the home (as mentioned here). And you can see where the stairs shifted to on the other end of the kitchen, along with the little bit of remaining brick - turns out that most of the brick was simply a facade behind the original stove (which was located right in the corner where the bottom landing of those stairs ended up). The bricks that are left are exposed from the back of the dining room fireplace. 

One of the other neat features that ended up solving a problem for us was the downdraft vent behind the range top. 

We cook a lot of stir-frys and such - and while I love my Aga, there are times when you simply need an open flame. In the quest for a perfect cook top, I must have visited and researched and studied and asked around and visited some more about cook tops for months before we settled on this four-burner Wolf. But putting a range top in the island meant we had to figure out how the heck we were going to sort out ventilation. Because this thing puts out a lot of BTUs. And I didn't want to smoke us out of the house every time I turned it on. 

Enter the awesomely retractable downdraft fan. Press a button, and it rises up from the island like the monolith in 2001. (one buddy suggested I hook up a speaker to have it play the opening theme song every time it was raised. My Bride vetoed this.) Press another button and it goes away again. And the thing is powerful enough to suck all the smoke down and out through the floor, avoiding the need for an overhead hood altogether. Hell - this thing could suck the color out of paint. And still somehow quiet. 

Technology is awesome. 

We turned a portion of the side entry around, and created a pantry space off the kitchen. (The window at back leads into the mudroom now). The color was a bold choice to contrast against the light wood we had in the space, and the shelves were designed with purpose.

The back shelves hold appliances - including the power to run them, without having to move them out of their spots - and the side shelves are sized for specific needs. The visible shelves here are intended for canned and preserved goods. The opposite side (out of view) is deep enough for a large cereal box. 

Anything deeper, and we'd lose things in the clutter. This works perfectly for us. 

This kitchen turned out to be everything we could have hoped for, and immediately turned into the heart of our home that we knew that it would. It's bright in the sunshine, and warm in the evening as the autumn turns to winter. It's practically laid out, with plenty of easily accessed storage. Yes, it used up an extravagantly large amount of the back of the house, but the farmhouse is a long, rambling building, with room to spare, so why not? And because of the choice of warm materials, it managed to remain somehow cozy.  

And we haven't seen the mice since we finished. So we love it.