before & after, renovation, stripping paint

Before & After: Stripped and Refinished Living Room Trim

02/02/2020

It’s been over a year in the making and there were times when we questioned the project altogether but we’re finally ready to reveal the refinished trim in the living room. But first, take a moment to reflect on the photo above. This snapshot shows the living room as it looked before we kicked off this project. The trim was still painted the same white that went on some time in the late 1960’s. (Fortunately the doors have never been painted.) The walls were still covered in the gray paint that we slapped on when we first moved in six years ago. (It was supposed to be gray anyway. It has always read as blue – much to our chagrin.) We had finally decided to upcycle the old kitchen cabinets as new fireplace built-ins and they’re sitting there, having been cut apart, stripped, reassembled and rebuilt.

This whole trim refinishing project actually started with those cabinets. We had been in a serious rut of procrastination while deciding what to do about the house’s interior trim. Should we take the easy route and re-paint the woodwork or take the much longer – and possibly more satisfying – route and strip it? It wasn’t until we started placing the newly refurbished fireplace cabinets in the room that we were forced to make a decision. Whatever we did with those cabinets – stain the stripped wood or paint it – would dictate how we’d approach the woodwork. Well, after we stripped the cabinets and set them in place, the honey hued wood seemed to warm the space. And with that, our decision was made. Stain the cabinets … and thus strip all the woodwork too.  

Mind you, we kind of liked the white trim. It’s not difficult to recognize the intention of the owner who first painted it back in the ’60s. The white trim seems to not just brighten the space; it also brings a modern sensibility to it. It transforms the interior from Prairie style to a more modern Craftsman look. But then we scraped the first patch of paint from the wood and revealed the dark grain beneath it and knew that we were making the right decision.

Suddenly, the house looks, well, like it’s supposed to look. The dark trim stands out – even more so now that we’ve repainted the walls in an off-white color. (We’re so happy to finally say goodbye to that gray-masquerading-as-blue!)

Living Room of Delbert Meier House - before stripping the trim

Every little aspect of the room works now. The dark trim plays nicely with the gray fireplace brick, not to mention working seamlessly with the wood doors. Even the windows look better now that they’re framed in dark wood trim.

Now, about those beams … Again, we can see what the owner who installed the beams was thinking. It was the 1970s and faux beams were all the rage. They actually kind of worked when the trim was painted white. As we slowly bring the house back to its 1917-era charm, however, the beams seem more and more out of place. We’re anxious to remove them but also wary of biting off a bigger DIY project than we can chew. Sure, removing the beams may be easy. After all, demolition is the most fun part of any project. Patching the ceiling, on the other hand, is a task too daunting for these novices. That said, the owners of the Elizabeth Murphy House have offered to come out and help us remove the beams later this year. We may just take them up on that!

For now, though, we’re going to sit back in our freshly rearranged living room and admire a job well done. Not for long, mind you. Stripping the living room trim is just the beginning. We’ve already moved on to the entry and stairwell and have plans to also strip the trim in the dining room in the near future. The end goal is to take the first floor of the house – the public space, so to speak – back to its original look. The living room is the largest room on the the first floor so we’re happy to have that behind us.

Onward we go!

furnishing, furniture, living room, setting up home

Happy Accidents: A New View in the Living Room

01/09/2020

Living Room Delbert Meier House

When we first moved in and bought this sofa for the living room, we placed it under the windows, parallel to the fireplace. At the time it seemed like the only logical placement for the sofa in this space. The rug – a hand-me-down from a friend – came along a couple years later. With the sofa placed under the window, the rug seemed too big for the room. It sat rolled up like a gigantic wool sausage in the basement for the next three years.

Well, we temporarily moved the sofa when we started stripping the wood trim and windows. Not knowing how long the window project would take, we placed the sofa perpendicular to the fireplace so we could still use it … and suddenly it all made sense. The rug came up from the basement and bingo! the whole room suddenly came together. Moving the sofa and adding the rug not only changed the room, it has opened up our view through the gorgeous zinc glass windows. You gotta love happy accidents, right?

Here’s a quick peek of the room before we moved the sofa. Note how the tone of the room has shifted with the new/old rug.

Also, wow! The room looks SO DIFFERENT now that we’ve stripped the trim!

American System-Built Home, architecture, dream house, Frank Lloyd Wright

Giving Thanks: 7 Wonderful Things About Living in an American System-Built Home

12/03/2019

7 Wonderful Things About Living in Our American System-Built Home

This weekend marked our SEVENTH Thanksgiving in our American System-Built Home. As part-time residents dividing our time between the Delbert and Grace Meier House in Iowa and our apartment in the city, we always look forward to this long holiday weekend. It’s one of the few times that we’re able to carve out additional room in our work schedules to allow for a long stay at the house together. One of us has to rush back to the city while the other stays behind to work on house projects, but over the holidays we typically get a few extra days together in the house. And over this particular Thanksgiving holiday, we took some time to reflect on the things about our little piece of Frank Lloyd Wright’s American architectural heritage that give us joy. And so without further ado: Continue Reading…

DIY, history, recipes

Happy Birthday Carole Lombard! Thanks for Introducing Us to Mustard Soaks

10/06/2019

Today – October 6th – is Carole Lombard’s birthday. We have a little tradition in our house. When a celebrity birthday pops up – especially if that celebrity is a beautiful actress of yesteryear (bonus points if she met a tragic end!) – we watch a film or two to celebrate. Today, to honor Ms. Lombard, we watched her 1932 film No More Orchids. And that’s how we learned about mustard soaks.

“Did she say mustard?” I asked The Mister as the grandmother in the film mixed a foot soak for Carole Lombard’s character.

“That can’t be right,” he replied.

But, yes, mustard soak! A quick Google search confirmed that a mustard soak is indeed a thing. An old-timey English thing, to be exact. Mostly used for heading off colds and flu. In the film, the grandmother made her own mustard soak – likely using ingredients similar to this recipe on Joy the Baker – but here in the 21st century you can also buy Dr. Singha’s Mustard Bath, premixed mustard seed powder, eucalyptus, rosemary, wintergreen and thyme, on Amazon.

With temperatures dropping and cold and flu season just ahead, we’re certain to try a mustard soak sometime soon. You better believe we’ll be picking up the ingredients for the DIY mix on our next trip to the grocery store! Follow us on Instagram for a blow by blow on the mustard soak.

Speaking of Carole Lombard, take a little peek at the house in Fort Wayne, Indiana where she spent her early years.

Image Credit: IMDB

garden, iowa, setting up home, small town life

Get the Garden Growing: Memorial Day 2019

05/27/2019

gardening at an American System-Built

It has become somewhat of a tradition that we plant our garden over Memorial Day weekend. Not only is Memorial Day the unofficial kickoff to summer and the first long weekend of the year, it’s also when it’s finally warm enough here in the upper Midwest to put plants in the ground without fear of a final frost.

We had never really intended to garden. While we both love food and frequently shop farmers markets for fresh, local produce, we’ve always seen our thumbs as more black than green. Judging by our record with houseplants, we’d be sentenced to life in prison for the neglectful death and overwatering of many a poor, unsuspecting little life. Still, former owners had a garden already plotted out and that first spring we put in a few plants as an experiment. By midsummer we were feasting on lettuces and green beans and vine ripened tomatoes. And let me tell you: after you’ve eaten a tomato fresh from the vine, you’ll never touch a mealy, tasteless tomato from the grocery store again. We’ve been putting out gardens ever since.

There seems to be something magical in this Iowa soil that makes our gardens successful. No matter what we’ve planted in the garden, it matures and produces fruits or vegetables. The only thing we’ve had difficulty growing is green beans. That failure has nothing to do with the soil, mind you. We did get a healthy harvest of green beans during our first summer of gardening. Every summer since then, however, the green bean plants are attacked by rabbits before they ever get a chance to grow. As soon as the bean seeds sprout and break ground, the rabbits come along and eat the leaves. The poor little plants never have a chance to produce a single bean.

There are some other plants that we’ve learned not to repeat. Brussels sprouts are easy, but it takes too long between planting and harvest and the plants take up too much space in the meantime. The same goes for broccoli. We’ll just stick to getting those vegetables from the grocery store.

Last year was the first garden that had a singular purpose: salsa. We planted more tomato and pepper plants that we thought necessary and ended up with crop upon crop of salsa ingredients. We froze dozens of containers of salsa and canned dozens more in jars. We’re still eating last year’s canned salsa!

And so we’re repeating that plan this year. We got the tomatoes and onions in the ground this weekend but forgot to pick up pepper plants when we were at the greenhouse. We also got a few kale plants in the ground because you gotta love those leafy greens!

Our garden definitely won’t win any prizes. We tend to take a rather haphazard approach to the task. And since we can be away for weeklong stretches, the weeds tend to get away from us, making it difficult to discern between invasive plants and something that will actually produce edibles. We’re trying to keep things as simple and organic as possible so we’re not spraying the garden with weed treatment. As you can see in the photo at the top of this post, we’ll always have a healthy harvest of dandelions!

Beautiful or not, gardening has become a seasonal treat that we both savor. After a week in the city sitting behind desks or countless hours stuck in traffic, there’s no better treat than crouching in the garden with the moos of cows carrying across the distance as we pull weeds or clip kale leaves for lunch.

What are you planning for your garden this year?