Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind


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And so it was finished

After two months, the renovation is finally over. Yayyy!  And I must say that I’m really happy with the results, although there is still tweaking involved and things to find that are somewhere but not where I’m looking for them. I had a good contractor who stuck to the timetable and budget, had excellent subs, and was good with communication, and I even got smart and hired a cleaning service to do the post construction cleanup.

New Kitchen – yes, that’s a cat food bowl on the counter

Check out my House Updating album for
Before, During, and After photos in random order!

I think my favorite things weren’t even on the original list at all: the fabulous windows in the living room, kitchen, and master bedroom; the new under cabinet mount lighting; and my sparkly light fixture in the bathroom.  But of course I love all of it. I only changed the things I didn’t like and now I do. It looks like me and not my parents, and feels great to come home to. My brother and sis-in-law were here to help me put things back and hang art, which can be hard to do by yourself, and they like the choices made as well which made me happy, since of course my parents were his parents and he’s been coming here for 35 years.

So because I’m a lunatic, I held an open house on Sunday to show off the house. So many people wanted to see if, this seemed like the best way to get it done all at once. I provided punch, hot cider, and cookies that my friends made to help because standing for a long time hurts the back. I even had a “soft opening” on Saturday for my neighbors, who are the ones who know the house best because my parents entertained them here through the years. Plus they are mostly elderly (80+) and I wanted them to not be all crowded while they were looking.

It was really fun to have so many people here milling around, nibbling cookies and looking at the house. I created a spec sheet detailing what was done in different spaces, listing paint colors, contractor contact info, and sources for materials. Yes, I’m a little OCD but it was a very “Anne” thing to have created and I tucked a copy in my project binder for future reference when I forget details.


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Seeing the finish line

My house has been in chaos for five weeks. I knew it would happen but greatly underestimated how hard it would be to have so much dust in every nook and cranny, with belongings in boxes everywhere. I’m losing track of what’s where. The hardest part is corralling the kitties into the “daycare suite” so they don’t get out or in the way of the workers.

It’s almost finished, though. If all goes as planned, I have two more weeks left. Backsplash installation starts on Monday, followed by the floor. Then the following week, a day or two to finish up if needed, then crazy time with the carpenter, plumbers, electricians, and painters. I didn’t know to budget for final cleaning, but because the project budget is right on the estimate, I’m having a team of 2 come to deep clean when all the work is behind us. Then it’s time to put things back, if 1) I can find them, and 2) I remember where they go. There’s time to figure that out, though, and to assess whether I even want everything.

I love how it looks and am enjoying the changes. I wanted the kitchen done last, even though it has the biggest changes, because I wanted everything else to be more normal. Bathrooms are done, except for installing towel racks, the living room wall and garage are repaired and painted. Best of all, the screen porch is finished and the cats want to be out there every minute. I can keep the house doors open to the porch because, well, it’s screened in so bugs can’t get in. It gives me fresh air and the cats run in circles.

To be honest, I never thought I’d say that my garage was amazing but it really is now. The dryer vent was rerouted to the outside and the ceiling was repaired; the joints were coming down from moisture from the dryer. The “measuring wall” that Dad used for 30 years to measure his grandchildren was removed and will go to the ranch so my brother can measure HIS grandchildren on the same panels. Best of all, the dark wood paneling was painted beige. BEIGE. It looks clean and open and fresh. All those nails in the walls were removed so I can start fresh with where and how I want to hang tools and gear. Good thing it was completed early, since we’re using it to temporarily store kitchen appliances and equipment.

And oh, the windows! I hadn’t even planned to replace them but they have transformed the house. After a month, I’ve gotten used to them but I do not take them for granted. Instead of old metal windows with grids and seals that weren’t in the best shape, I have huge energy efficient vinyl windows with unobstructed views – well, except for the breakfast table in the living room while the kitchen is finished. I’m kind of mad at my parents for not having done window replacements because I know they would have loved the result. Now I’m planning to replace the windows in the front of the house as well, for energy efficiency and because they are both beautiful and affordable.

I’m also spending a fortune on new art for the walls. But I love everything I’ve chosen. A few pieces came with me from my previous life, but most of the house had art that had been chosen by my parents and that I didn’t really like much. My style is more images of places where I’ve lived or traveled, such as Manasquan, Maine, and Switzerland, and some whimsy as well, such as fairies and orange kitties. A tree of life for the genealogy research area in the office was always on my list.

Yesterday I received an amazing bookcase quilt that I’d commissioned a year ago from a quilter friend in New Haven. We talked about it in January but I had no idea what she decided to do, so the whole thing was a wonderful surprise. She captured elements of my life and some of my favorite books, and I love having something so personal and unique. It arrived just at the perfect time.

My friends and neighbors have followed the house progress with interest and enthusiasm, so I’m having an open house so everyone can check out the final result. The cats will be contained in the guest bedroom but everything else can be open for inspection. I chose the date based on the church, club, Pro Shop, and Cowboys schedules. I’ll have two weeks between final cleaning and the Open House, which should be enough time to get stuff put away. I’m worrying a little about what to serve, but want to keep it light and simple because the goal is to see the house, not stand or sit around and visit. I wrote up a sheet detailing everything that was done in each room, paint colors, granite vendor, etc. Hopefully that will save answering the same questions 50 times. We’ll see about that.

I never thought I could or would do something this involved or expensive, but it’s been worth it and I know I’ll love living with the results for many years to come. It’s my house now and I love how it looks.


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Making House Decisions

I’m making choices right and left; you’d think I’d been contemplating making changes to the house for years. Well, er, um, I have been, just not thinking I could actually do any of them.

In the last two weeks I’ve made decisions about a whole bunch of things.

  • Cabinets: I’m not painting them. I like the wood, and the dark wood trim in the kitchen, and I’m keeping them.
  • Countertop: I visited three granite yards, one of them three times. Such pretty colors and patterns! And the prettier the pattern, the pricier the slab.
  • I picked Giallo Napoli Granite. I fell in love with the purple splotches that look like little drops of wine. This wasn’t my first choice, but when I went to pick out faucets and sinks, I saw a counter on display made out of this granite. I just loved it, so I went back to the yard to look again. It’s hard to envision from a giant slab what a smaller section will look like, so it was great to have the chance to see it before I committed to my first (and more expensive) choice. It didn’t appeal as much in the slab but looks amazing as a counter, and I’m very pleased with it.
  • I picked a faucet and new composite sink (no sink picture; sorry, but here’s the faucet). The double sink will be “chestnut” which has a little sparkly in it, with a low divider between the two sides, making it easier to wash large pans. The faucet has a pull-out sprayer on the end that pulls back with magnets. I’m also getting a new disposal.
  • Yesterday I picked out a porcelain floor tile and a marble and glass tile backsplash. It has rough stone with both frosted and shiny glass, and is pretty neutral. Here they are with a small door from my cabinets and my granite sample. Because the cabinets are heavily grained and the granite is busy, I wanted neutral floor and backsplash that wouldn’t fight with either one. They will really brighten up the space, and the floor tile is textured so it won’t be slippery.

Still not sure what I’m doing about paint colors – so many! so many that look almost alike, except some are pinkish or tint yellow or green or are too dark or whatever. But it’s probably going to be one of these:

To help me figure it out, I’ve ordered more 12×12″ peel-and-stick samples from Samplize.com. These are so cool and so easy – they paint the squares with real Sherwin-Williams or Benjamin Moore paint. You peel off the backs, then slap them up on a wall – or cabinet, or ceiling. Whatever. Easy to peel off and slap up on another place to see how it looks in different light. Right now I’m leaning forward Kilim Beige but we’ll see after the samples get here.

I have an estimate from one contractor on all of the work requested, including screening in the back porch, reworking the garage dryer vent, and painting the bathrooms. The bottom line is below the number I’d mentally set as my limit. I’m pleased and relieved to know I can actually do this, with money left over for soft changes like window treatments, a new couch, and new seats for the dining room chairs.

I stopped by the cemetery today to talk with my mom about changing her kitchen. I know she’s not actually there, and I’ve talked with her here at the house. But I just want to feel that she’s okay with the changes I’m making to her home. And I think she would be. She would want me to be comfortable, to make this place mine. She wouldn’t be going as fast as I seem to be in moving forward, but she would support me – and go with me to pick things out. I miss you, Mom.


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Making their house my house

I inherited my parents’ house last year when my father died. They moved here in 1985 and lived in it for 33 years, and everywhere I look, I see their choices: some furniture, art, wallpaper, countertops, paint colors. Last weekend I actually looked at another house for sale in our community and fell in love with it for three reasons: it’s completely renovated, has a screened in porch, and would be mine, not my parents’. But I couldn’t give up my huge triple window that looks out on the golf course. I don’t play golf, but after years of living in apartments, the expanse of lush green feeds my soul. Plus someone else takes care of it!

So now I’m looking at my house to see what changes I can make to turn this more into MY home and not my parents’. I haven’t been idle, there have been changes, but other things I’ve said I need to change have just sat there while I delayed making decisions. Partly that’s because I was worried about costs, and about my complete lack of experience in managing any renovation projects. And partly because some of the things I thought about getting rid of may be things my brother wants – unlikely, but still. And a large part was simple inertia.

But it’s time now. I took down all the remaining wall art that belonged to my parents that I didn’t really like so I can see blank space and start to picture what will go there. I’ve been having fun searching Pinterest and websites, reading up on decorating options and getting ideas. I’ve watched HGTV for years and know what I’m looking for, though there are certainly things I could miss.

Living Room: I already bought new lamps for the living room and am starting to look at different furniture options. And the window here also needs a window treatment, probably a cornice to match the dining room. I’m keeping the carpet because it’s what I’m used to from apartment living, and the off-white walls work for me. I did make changes to the white brick fireplace and hearth decor, but there’s way too much furniture that doesn’t match or match me.

Opposite the fireplace is a three-piece dark wood bookcase unit that has been exactly in that spot for almost 35 years. I hadn’t really thought about getting rid of it until my brother said it sucked the light out of the room, and then wham! I saw it was true. So I put it up on our community newsletter and sold it. I have something else in mind for the space but it would need to be assembled – and I could hire someone to do that for me, because I don’t think I’m strong enough to manage it.

Dining Room: My giant McKnight poster is going up here, which will transform the space. It’s hard to hang alone but I’ll have help this weekend when my brother and sister-in-law come. I also ordered two framed vintage travel posters to flank the huge window in the dining, prints I’ve been looking at for almost 2 years. I removed a leaf from the table and will pack up the china and silver service from the china cabinet, to go to my brother’s house eventually for his children if they want it. I don’t hate the chairs but I do hate the chair SEATS and need to figure out how to get them recovered. And the window needs a window treatment that’s too high for cats to destroy. A cornice would fit and there’s fabric I love that might work.

Kitchen: Lots of thoughts here. It’s a huge space with an eating area and acres of dark wood cabinets and tile countertops. I’ve thought about painting the cabinets white, painting them two tone, or not painting them at all, which what I’m thinking now. But the wallpaper is definitely coming down and the countertops need to go. And if I don’t paint the cabinets, I can use the savings to spring for new flooring, which is also needed.

Bathrooms: The biggest problem with the bathrooms is the wallpaper, which is original to the house. And it’s butt ugly to me. Yes, I would probably enjoy a new vanity and sink, but really what I want is to paint over the very dated walls – and put a pivot door on my stall shower, because I’m not turning the jetted tub area into a big roll-in shower as long as the cats enjoy playing around it. But the red and white striped master bath walls have to GO.

Exterior: I want to screen in part or all of the large back porch. Mine is the only house in my block on the golf course side that hasn’t glassed in the back porch to make more living space – but I’m one person and certainly don’t need extra space to heat and cool. Screened porch, though, would be a wonderful treat for me – and the kitties – to enjoy the outside without bugs. I also need to have someone punch a hole in the brick exterior by the garage to I can vent the dryer to the outside instead of inside the garage.

So I have plenty of things to look at and into. I need to decide what I want so I can then get some cost estimates to work out a budget and see what I can do now and what needs to wait. I’m very lucky – my father left me not only the house but also some savings that I can apply to the renovations.

It’s time to do this and not just think about it.


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The Flanders’ House

Both my mother and grandfather grew up at 916 Lake Street in the Forest Hill section of Newark, New Jersey. My great-grandparents bought the new three-story 5-bedroom home in 1907.  It was actually one and one-half lots with 5,001 square feet: #916 has the house and #918 expands the yard and has a carriage house, later garage, at the back. It is the only house on the block with this extra room.

4-916 Lake St.

One entered the home through a vestibule off the small front porch into an entrance hall that opened to the third floor. A winding open staircase on the right side went upstairs to the bedrooms. The front hall held an upright piano and was the perfect spot for the tall family Christmas tree. Off the front hall were the living room, dining room, and large kitchen with bulter’s pantry. The best part was the “secret” narrow closed stairway off the kitchen that led to the upstairs rooms to be used by servants going between floors.  I’m not sure that the family actually had any servants, but that was the original purpose. Certainly children used it often.

The living room with the bay window was in the front of the house with the dining room behind it adjoining the butler’s pantry. Room functions were flipped at some point, but there were different stories about when and why that happened: either to preserve heat during the Depression by keeping the most-used living room as an interior room, or to eliminate the possibility of light escaping the World War II blackout curtains. Either story is plausible. Whatever the reason, the spaces remained in that configuration for many years.

Bedrooms upstairs were small but adequate. There were four bedrooms on the second floor with two unattached bathrooms, and one bedroom on the third floor in the attic space.  During the Depression, the family had a boarder in residence who lived in the attic room.  There was also a large unfinished basement with windows at ground level.

This was always a multi-generational home. William John Flanders bought it in 1907 and moved in with his wife Charlotte, mother-in-law Alice McCormick, sons Lester and William, and brother-in-law Charles McCormick. Lester and Charles had moved out by the time their father died in 1925, but in 1927, his son William brought his new bride Marion Cooke into the home already occupied by his mother and grandmother. Alice died shortly after, but Charlotte outlived her daughter-in-law by seven years, and was there to see her granddaughters grow up.

Forest Hill was and still is a quiet residential suburb of Newark, bounded on one side by beautifully landscaped Branch Brook Park just a few blocks away from the family home. Also nearby was St. Mark’s Episcopal Church where the family worshipped. William Charles Flanders was confirmed there in 1914 and his daughters were baptized, confirmed, and married from the church. Four of his five grandchildren were also baptized at St. Marks, by the same minister who baptized and married their parents. They wore their grandfather’s christening gown.

By 1970, the children were grown, his wife and mother were gone, and Bill Flanders was alone in a house far too big for him to maintain. He sold it with much of the contents and moved to an apartment and later, to a retirement community. The house remains in pictures and memory of the few still alive to remember when it was the Flanders’ house.