Battle of the Coffee Tables

Sal and I are currently embroiled in a battle of the coffee tables.

Back stories of each table:

Glass Table:  A little over 6 months ago I came across a Hollywood Regency Faux Bamboo glass topped coffee table at Remarkable Cleanouts (a GIANT warehouse of new/vintage/antique things.  Yes, things… you can find almost ANYTHING there!)  While I wasn’t searching for a coffee table, I spotted it and informed Sal that I knew it was worth 5 times what he was charging.  Sal thought I was nuts, and we walked passed it.

When we got home that evening, I did a quick search and found multiple examples of the table, and they were all really desired with high prices.  So, the next day we went back and picked up not only the table, but an antique miter saw and a brand-new-in-box hand crank pasta machine, and paid $70 for everything.  We then set off to sell the coffee table and got offers from a bunch people in NYC and a few antique dealers, but the cost of shipping it was pure insanity and of course dealers wanted it for a fraction of the price, so we just held onto it and used it.

Wood Table:  Around a year ago, Sal and I were driving home at dusk, and we spotted an amazingly beautiful door propped up in the trash outside of the Quincy House, just down the street from us.  I jumped out of the car and attempted to pick it up (because there was no way I was going to let it be thrown out) and it was way too awkward and heavy for me to carry without dropping it.  So I stood guard and waited for Sal to park the car and walk back so we could carry it home together.  I had to actually wave off a few people who came back with their cars to pick it up.

After closer inspection, it was a swinging kitchen door (possibly original to the late 1700’s, possibly a replacement from the 1800’s, either made of chestnut or fir) that had suffered damage from years of abuse.  There was a large area ripped off  where the hinge was once attached.  We knew it wasn’t possibly to reuse it as a door because of the extent of the damage.  Because it was a 2 panel door, the obvious solution was to turn it into a coffee table and end table, while cutting off the damaged area.

It sat cut in half for about 10 months or so… in the pile of project that I would some day complete.  And when I finally tackled it, removing the old finish (thick old dirty varnish with sections of “orange peel” texture), sanding, staining to make the newly cut edges to match the old edges, multiple layers of wipe on poly (to give it that hand rubbed finish, but with more protection), and having custom made steel hair pin legs to finish off the pieces.


So, we need your help to decide which one deserves to stay!  There are pros and cons to each:

Glass Table PROS:

  • Keeps the room light/open looking with the glass top
  • Long and narrow, and fits in front of the couch beautifully
  • Adds a feminine touch to the space
  • Color of the brass compliments the color scheme nicely
  • Makes the room look more formal

Glass Table CONS:

  • We fear somebody (especially a child) breaking it
  • The glass top looks dirty unless cleaned daily
  • Everything else in the room is silver (ceiling fan, lamp, the curtain rods that I haven’t gotten around to putting up yet)
  • Will need to find appropriate coordinating end tables


Wood Table PROS:

  • Much more stable
  • Grounds the room
  • Has matching end table
  • The wood grain is beautiful
  • Has history and a back story
  • Makes the room look more comfy/inviting

Wood Table CONS:

  • Very masculine looking
  • Has a bit of a first apartment/DIY feeling
  • The raised edge makes it difficult to sit on the floor and eat at it (which is probably a PRO since we should be adults and eat at the dining room table)
  • Very wide and takes up more floor space

So… we need your opinions!  What do you think?  Comment here and or on Facebook and give you opinions!  Here are room views (use your imagination on the settee being upholstered and curtains) and a close up of each table.


glass table 1

wood table 1

glass table2

wood table 2

Vertical Bed Experiment, phase 1

If you haven’t noticed, once it became nice outside I abandoned all of my “inside” work… including my duties of posting on the blog.  Sorry, but the sun beckons!

So, let’s discuss an outside project.  I decided it was time to attempt the Vertical Pallet Bed because, simply put, I’m running out of space.  With many small urban garden beds, people attempt to cram as much into the small space as possible.  We’re all guilty of it… I know I am.  We do it because we think the more plants the greater the crop.  And it’s so tempting to squeeze all of those tiny seedlings in!  But really, all that accomplishes is a lower yield of vegetables, because they are constantly fighting for space & nutrients.  And with that I decided to add a bed, just not on the ground.

I have read a bunch of different posts and articles on how to make one.  None of them seemed overly complicated, so honestly I just went for it.

It all starts with a pallet.  Pretty much all of us (who lives in a house) has one in the basement or the garage, or behind the garage, or has a neighbor throwing one out, find one behind a grocery or hardware store, etc.  They are beyond easy to find.


And then I invested a whole $10 on landscape fabric.  Also another $10 or so on some potting soil & peat moss, but if this project fails, I can just toss that into my current beds, so I don’t even consider it part of the cost.


I decided it would be smart to shore up the bottom with a 2×4.  I found an old one the last home owners left in the basement (yay for found lumber.)  I attached it on both sides and the center with 2″ galvanized wood screws.

IMG_3074     IMG_3075

And then I started covering it with the landscape fabric.  BUT, in hopes that I get more than a year out of this, I wanted to strengthen how the fabric is attached to the pallet.  I first tacked down the fabric in place and then added some thin strapping and stapled it right down the line.  It should up keep the fabric from ripping over time.

Side note, the strapping was leftover from ripping down the trim board for the new window stops.  I’m always excited when I find use for scrap!

Also, I not only doubled up the fabric,  I actually tripled it up in some spots.

IMG_3077     IMG_3078     IMG_3079

And once it was covered, it was time to fill it up!  I mixed potting soil, peat moss and Osmocote Flower & Vegetable Smart-Release Plant Food.

IMG_3081     IMG_3082

I started filling at the bottom, but quickly realized I overlooked something, I did NOTHING to shore up the back!  So I attempted to lift up the pallet, and what did I find?  Landscaping fabric stretches and all of the dirt fell right through to the back.  Blerg.  Luckily, I didn’t have much dirt in there yet, so I flipped it over and dumped it out onto the driveway and started over.  So I went back to my magical pile of strapping and added a piece to the top of each board.  If I had a piece of plywood I would have attached that to the entire back, but I will make a mental note of that for next time.

IMG_3083      IMG_3084

E voila, no more dirt spilling out the back!  And with that, I went back to filling.  It took 2 bags of potting soil and 1/3 of the brick of peat moss to fill it up.


Most of the directions I read said to plant seedlings.  I’m not sure why.  I enjoy starting everything from seed.  I’m guessing I might be in the minority?  But I decided this would be a box for all of my greens.  This includes (working from top to bottom) Bok Choy, 2 rows of Spinach, Mesclun Mix, Arugula (Rocket to my UK friends!), Swiss Chard, and Nasturtium.  If you are not familiar of Nasturtium, it is an edible flower.  It is not only bright and beautiful, but also peppery and tasty!

Oh!  And this part is very important!  You must leave it on the ground for 3-4 weeks.  Why?  You need the roots to grow, and that will stabilize the soil so it doesn’t fall out of the front.  Makes perfect sense, and I’m thrilled somebody told me that because I would NEVER have thought of it!


And within 5 very very rainy days later, my seedlings are beginning to emerge!  Yay!

IMG_3117      IMG_3118

I’ll keep you posted on the progress.  3 or so weeks to go until I can lift it up!

Dealing with the Ceiling, part 1

We’re going to be bouncing back and for forth for a bit between current projects and projects we finished over the past year.  And it’s time to go back… all the way back to the day we closed on the house.

Once we got the keys to the house, the first thing we did was rip down a ceiling tile.  You see, in the 1960’s one of the renovations (aka bastardizations) was to add 12″ compressed cardboard tiles to the ceilings in the foyer, living room and dining room.  Yes, crappy compressed tiles.  Like the kind that you would see laying down in your Jr High nurses office.  They were yellowed with age and stained with steam from the radiators and probably cigarette smoke.  Overall, it was hideous.  And we couldn’t wait to rip one down and see what was under it.


(This was the ceiling inside of our china cabinet.)


(You can see some of the tiles above Sal in the foyer.)

We literally drove straight from the lawyer’s office to the house, ran in, climbed the stairs to get near the ceiling and pulled down a tile.  And much to our dismay, we found a full horsehair plaster ceiling.  We had a sneaking suspicion that it was still there, but we hoped it was gone.  Nope, no such luck.

So, we were met with a huge dilemma.  Not with what to do with the ceiling, because we knew it had to come down.  But with how to tackle it.  The renovators rule of starting a project is “One project at a time.  One room at a time.”  But this ceiling is in 3 connected rooms, all of the downstairs except for the kitchen.  We knew it made sense to rip all of them down at once because removing a ceiling is messy, but this would set us up to work on 3 rooms at once.  All of our living area in the house.

We decided that the best way to go was to cover the floors and start ripping down the cardboard ceiling and see what was underneath it.  And needless to say, we hit the jackpot of things that could be wrong with a ceiling.  The tiles were held in with metal furring strips/track that was nailed AND screwed into the ceiling.  Also, the plaster was completely damaged and crumbling in areas.  And in areas where it was in decent shape, it wouldn’t be for much longer once we removed the furring strips.  We knew we had to pull down everything.




So, after 24 hours of debating, and family members telling us we were insane, we decided to bite the bullet and just order the dumper and rip it all down.  And this was the beginning of the adventures in our house renovations.

Our First Blizzard

Obviously, we have both lived through blizzards before.  But this was our first blizzard in our new house.  Even though it is our second winter here we didn’t have a speck of snow in 2012, but last weekend we got nailed with nearly 30″ at once with 5 foot drifts.

While we lost power for just over 24 hours, we made the best of it.  We snowshoed through the neighborhood by the ocean, spent some time hanging out by the fire at our neighbors house, and then the three of us curled up under three down comforters and waited for the power to come back on.  Overall, it was a great, all be it chilly, 24 hours of being unplugged.

So, here are a few photos… though they don’t do the storm justice.

Jupiter annoyed in his new snow/mud suit…


A peek down the street… look at the height of the snow banks!


A perfect example of being snowed in…


Looking down our street at the bay…


Sal snowshoeing at on the beach.


Our neighbor managed to snag a photo of us snowshoeing through the neighborhood (through a snowy 2nd floor window.)  What it doesn’t show is the 5′ snowbank we were standing on.


And finally, our house looks even more like a giant white box than usual.  But at least it looks cleaner!


Console Table, part 2

If any of you have ever tried to paint furniture, you know that 90% of the work is in the preparation.  Stripping, sanding or scuffing an old finish, sanding smooth with different grit sand paper (remember the higher the grit, the finer the finish), and washing to make sure it is is free of dust and grime… it is time consuming.  But when you see the finished product, it will make all of that time worth it.

But the big debate:  Brush vs Spray

I have had good luck in both spraying and using a brush to paint furniture.  But there are positives and negatives to both techniques.  When brushing of course you will end up with a product with brush marks, and sometimes drips, but it is fairly straight forward and basic.  Spraying, on the other hand, takes more time to set up (drop cloths not only under the piece, but all around to catch over spray) and requires a good amount of equipment, but it is a much faster process to get your desired finish.  Though you can run into a technical issues like clogging of the spray nozzle, uneven spraying pattern, etc., to have to deal with during the process.  It’s hard to explain, so I think this is the perfect excuse to have a “Paint-off” and document the 2 techniques!

Anyway, I think the decision normally lies with what you are painting.  And while I could have easily brushed the paint on this table, I actually had 2 chairs to paint at the same time.  One has caned (woven) sides and the other had a detailed cut out pattern, both of which would have been time consuming to paint with a brush.  So, with all of these detailed items, it was worth to take the time and set up the spray booth.

Now… on to the fun part.  Painting.

I am a firm believer that you MUST prime furniture before painting.  Especially if it is going to get a good amount of wear and tear, like a table top or a chair.  Primer not only helps to make a good prep surface for your paint by covering old paints, hiding stains, water marks, burns, etc., but it also helps the paint stick to the surface.  Some people choose not to prime furniture simply because they want the paint to flake off and look antique (or to expose another layer of color).  My feeling is if I take the time to paint something, I want my coat of paint to last.

My paint of choice has been Valspar (available at Lowes.)  After lots of research, I found that had the covering capability and durability of Benjamin Moore but about $10 less per gallon.  And when you are renovating a whole house, that money adds up quickly.  Plus they have a lovely color selection and many historical colors, so that’s a bonus! So, for priming, I decided to do something I do not normally do, I bought cans of spray paint primer.  This was for 3 reasons:

  1. I was painting 2 of the pieces a dark black/grey, so I needed a darker color primer.
  2. I was painting one of the chairs white, so I also needed a white primer.
  3. Primer is a very thick paint which would easily clog my small detail paint sprayer.

It just made sense to purchased the spray cans.


A tip for when you use a spray paint can of primer:  ONE CAN PER PIECE.  I wish I thought of this ahead of time.  It is always very annoying to make the mid-project trips to the store.  It’s easier to buy a little extra and return it of save it for the next project, because who are we kidding, there will always be a next project!


Another tip:  Always sand between coats of paint/stain/poly.  320 grit sandpaper should be enough to knock of any bumps and leaves a great very lightly scuffed surface ready to accept the next coat of paint.  Just don’t forget to wipe off all dust!!!

This photo was taken after the first coat of black was sprayed on.  Such a difference already!  But with any type of painting process, 2 coats are better than one.  You can spot any missed or blotchy areas, drips, unpainted surfaces, that need to be addressed.


After my second coat of paint, I was a little iffy on the finish.  It was a gloss paint, but not quite glossy enough.  Spraying the piece made it look a bit matte.  So I decided to treat it just like in car painting (while the paint itself is matte, the top coat of clear gives it the shine) and added a coat of poly.  But I didn’t use the normal poly that you would come to mind, I used a wipe on poly.  Wipe on poly is much much easier to use than with a brush or sponge brush.  It doesn’t build up as thick as regular poly that you apply with a brush and is almost impossible to leave wipe marks or bubbles.  Just shake the can, wear rubber gloves and get a lint-free rag.  That’s it!  Oh, and I used 000 steel wool between coats.

So after all that, there is my 99% finished project (I just haven’t found the right knobs yet.)


And, being as silly as I am, I decided to have a little fun with the inside of the drawers…


Overall, a little time and minimal money I ended up with a very chic console table.  Nobody would ever have guessed that I found it on the curb waiting for trash pickup.

Oh… and yes, I’ll do a couple posts about the chairs and the terrariums later!

Console Table, part 1

I love trash day.  Seriously, I love it.  The reason being is that people, for some bizarre reason, leave out perfectly good pieces of furniture instead of donating it to Goodwill or something similar.  So while I take Jupiter for his walk, we keep our eyes peeled for good pieces of furniture.  And the highlights of our scavenging was a turn of the century birdseye maple Hepplewhite rocker (which I gave to a friend that would give it the time and love to restore it), a fir swinging kitchen door from the Quincy House, and a solid pine console table.

The console table was found just before Christmas (along with 2 club chairs, coffee table, and a few other pieces) about a block from my house.  Luckily, Sal was working from home that day, so I ran back and made him come help carry the table home.  Now, I must note, that it rained on the furniture, so we put it in our enclosed porch to dry for a while.

The table is newer but built to look like an antique/country piece.  There were fake mortise and tenon, hex nails (that were actually screws), square head nails and they burnt the knots with a torch to make them pop more.  Honestly, they were horrible details.  It looked forced and fake, and overall it made the table look cheap.  So, it was time to do a little work.



Once I was positive the hex screws were only for decoration, and not holding the top on the table, I grabbed my ratchet set and pulled them out…


Then, with a basic wood chisel, I knocked off the fake tenon…


(Just remember, whenever removing something like this, flip your chisel over so the angled side is pressed against the wood to keep from digging into the wood.)

And finally I inset in all of the square head nails.  From there I filled in all of the holes, fixed cracks, etc., but left the texture (knots, dents, etc.) to give it the look of age.  The major repairs occurred where I removed the giant hex screws.  I cut dowel sections to glue and hammer into place.  Once it dried I used wood filler to smooth out the top of the divot, and then lightly sanded the overall piece.



And finally, it was time for paint… and for my spray booth!


When Sal’s Away, Tracey will Play…

The first year Sal and I lived together he traveled from Sunday night through Thursday night, every week.  And I learned very quickly that I could get really messy projects done when he’s not there to complain about the chaos.  So when he’s out of town it’s my time to do the projects that would make him panic… and make sure I give myself enough time to get rid of all of the evidence, I mean clean up.  So last week while Sal was on a trip to San Francisco I did something he would never ever allow to happen if he was home… I built a spray booth in the kitchen.

Our kitchen has a bump out in the back, which was once a butlers pantry.  So t I purchased 6 rolls of 9×12 1mm plastic ($2/roll) and some masking tape, e voila, a spray booth.  It took less than an hour to put together, I just had to make sure the corners were sealed.  Oh, and don’t forget to make an escape route (a flap that overlaps.)









This is not a project for everybody.  I decided it would be okay since (1) I’m a fearless renovator (aka, slightly insane) and (2) we’re going to be gutting the kitchen sooner than later, so if there were any leaks it wouldn’t be the end of the world.  Also, there is NO VENTILATION, so you must wear a respirator & goggles.  A spray booth with no ventilation is not the best choice, but being the middle of winter, sometimes you just have to get creative.

But the best part about this project, I broke down the spray booth in less than 5 minutes.  Just ball up the plastic, cram it into a contractors bag, and it’s gone.

Pictures and blog post about the projects coming up!

Ten Rules

Sal and I have 10 rules we live by while working on our house.

  1. Just try it!  Whether or not we have any idea what we’re doing.  We read up on it (or watch videos if we really have no idea) and go for it.  Because what is the worst that will happen…  we would have to call somebody and pay them to fix what we attempted.
  2. But know your limits!  (For example, leave the 3rd story slate roof up to professional.)
  3. Sometimes it just makes financial sense to hire a professional.  Budget out for equipment purchase or rental, materials, and time to make an educated decision.
  4. Experiments under $30 are never questioned.
  5. Group decisions all the way… no going rogue on purchases or projects.
  6. While you should research everything, make sure you still make decisions.   Watch out for analysis paralysis.
  7. The table saw ALWAYS requires 2 people.
  8. Always use appropriate safety equipment for everything (goggles, masks, respirators, gloves, etc)
  9. When picking up projects, junk, antiques, etc., make sure it is worth your time and effort.
  10. Whatever happens, always remain a team!

Slate Roof

One of my main concerns buying this house was the slate roof.  I know nothing about them and none of our family or friends did either.  We read up a bit online, but got mixed information.  But one thing I did learn, a home inspector will not climb on one if they are not familiar with the proper way to deal with the material.  And on top of it being slate, it’s a 3 story house… so nobody is willing to crawl up there other than a roofer.  And while, from the ground with binoculars, they can spot cracked tiles or flashing issues, I wasn’t convinced that the slate was in good shape since it was 100+ years old and on the ocean.  So I got a professional Slater to do an inspection and give an estimate of any repairs.

And thank the gods that I did it.  While the inspector caught a few cracked slates, etc, the Slater got up close in personal with our roof.  Not only wrote up a document explaining each issue, he photo documented everything too.  He found cracked slates, a poorly replaced chimney crown, missing flashing, a cheep (and damaged) galvanized ridge cap, and lots of black tar goop to fill in any gaps of missing tiles, flashing, etc.  Unfortunately, the last homeowners hired roofers that didn’t know how to work with slate.

The good part was that besides a little restoration our roof was in excellent condition.  We got the former home owners to pay half of the bill which included replacing tiles, removing the goop, repairing the chimney crown so it could be properly flashed with copper and replacing the ridge cap with copper.  We were amazed to watch them work.  From the ground I assumed our slates were small… was I wrong!  They are huge!  And the guys had no problem carrying a bundle up the ladder tossed over their back…


During this process, we found out that our roof is made out of Vermont Slate, which was the mid-grade you could choose from back in the day.  And with our roof restoration we should have another 80-100 years in it… which I’m guessing it will outlive us.


Living in the City(ish)

We live in a very interesting area.  Our citing dwelling friends feel like we live in the ‘burbs and our suburban friends think we live in the city.  It’s actually a little of both… which, to us, is the best of both worlds.

Between the Red Line T, every ethnicity of restaurant you could think of, a couple of colleges, multiple city centers, and a couple US Presidents buried here (which brings tourism), we have the feel of a city.  But we have an oceanfront with a board walk, kids playing in the street, neighbors that help each other, and room for a garden in the yard it definitely has the feeling of a neighborhood.

Technically, Quincy is a city.  The “City of Presidents” to be exact.  I guess we just live in a pocket neighborhood which makes the city feel far away… sometimes.

But more interesting than our current neighborhood is the history of the neighborhood.  We live a few doors down from the Josiah Quincy House, which was build in 1770.  Our house was on the land of the 200 acre farm that had been in the Quincy family since 1635, called the Lower Farm.  In 1895 the family decided to sell the land as “prestigious building lots” for the finest of homes called Wollaston Park.  Which in the late 1800’s it was one of the first ever commuter neighborhoods in the neighborhood with the new Old Colony Railroad (now the MBTA.)

The neighborhood is no longer referred to as Wollaston Park, just simply Wollaston… which is lovingly nicknamed Wolly.  But another wonderful part of the area is the beach and boardwalk.  Less than 3 blocks from the house is Quincy Bay and Wollaston Beach and boardwalk.  It is part of Boston Harbor and is the largest of 3 bays.  Unfortunately, in the 1980’s it sadly held the name of one of the most polluted waterways in America.  But after a law suit for violation of the Clean Water Act and lots of hard work, it was deemed safe for swimming and recreation in 2006.  While I don’t swim in it, Jupiter loves it!


We have been meaning to do more research at the Historical Society, but just haven’t gotten around to it yet.  Maybe it’s about time.