Architecture Feed

Suburban Homesteading - Q&A with Living Low in the Lou's Claire Schosser

Claire in Garden
Claire Schosser in her garden.

By Lisa Brunette

Part 2 of a 3-Part Series

Claire Schosser writes Living Low in the Lou, a blog chronicling her and her husband Mike's journey of reduced energy consumption and self-sufficiency. She opted for early retirement back in the mid-1990s (with Mike following in 2001) by reducing their expenses through living simply, growing much of their own food, and forgoing many of the shiny new conveniences that the rest of us take as givens. For those outside the area, "the Lou" is a popular nickname for St. Louis, Missouri. The Schosser/Gaillard homestead is located on a one-acre plot in suburban St. Louis and includes many mature, productive nut and fruit trees, an extensive annual garden, an herb garden, and a glassed-in front porch that functions as a greenhouse.

Claire and I discussed their lifestyle and garden over the course of two in-person visits and many back-and-forth email conversations between spring 2020 and spring 2021. This three-part Q&A series covers the topics voluntary simplicity, suburban homesteading, and getting the most food for the time and space in your garden.

LB: It seems most people who elect to reduce their energy consumption and practice homesteading do so in rural settings, going entirely or at least partially off-grid. You live not far from the city limits of St. Louis, which isn't exactly a small town. Why forge this path in such a suburban setting? 

CS: Mikes a city boy. Hes lived within 10 miles of where he was born his entire life, and he cant imagine living anywhere else. When I married him, I accepted that. It wasnt difficult because I had lived most of my life in cities of around 100,000 people before I came to the St. Louis area. 

Living in an urban or suburban area has a lot of advantages. Its easier and cheaper to hook into existing infrastructure than to live partially or totally off-grid, and urban areas provide other material and human services that rural areas do not as well as more people to be friends with. We can walk to some places and bicycle to others a little farther away as well as use the public transportation system. Because of this we have only one car for both of us – and we can walk to our mechanics shop when it needs service. We have an acre lot with good soil and a small older house which we bought for a very cheap price, so property taxes and insurance are lower than most people have to pay. I have plenty of space for gardens and have enjoyed watching more animals moving through and living on the property as the gardens develop. While I miss seeing the stars and being in or near a less disturbed ecosystem, and I dont like city noise and pollution, where we live offers us most of what we want at a price we can afford.

Greenhouse
Claire and Mike enclosed their front porch in glass, turning it into a greenhouse. A rain barrel catches runoff from the roof to the right.

LB: That explanation makes a lot of sense to me. One of my frustrations with permaculture - and I know you have your own as well - is that it seems to primarily be practiced by people with the means to purchase numerous acres of rural land in a climate conducive to food foresting and employ heavy equipment to reshape the land for a particular kind of off-grid homesteading. Well, most of us can't do that. Most of us have to (or need to) live in or near cities, and indeed, your model is a better fit for what's in the realm of possibility for the majority of people today. I understand that you and Mike are certainly on-grid, if you will, but that you practice some resource efficiencies that would seem extreme by most suburban standards. Can you give some examples in terms of your home heating, cooling, water, and other utilities?

CS: I’m happy to do that. 

For home heating, after experimenting with various combinations of thermostat settings and extra layers of clothes, we’ve settled on keeping the thermostat set to 64°F during the day when we are at home and 50°F while we are sleeping. This is a little higher than we’ve kept it in the past, but I tend to feeling cold, so at 64°F I wear four or five layers unless I’m engaged in grinding grain, the most strenuous thing I do indoors. 

Many buildings aren’t properly sealed against air leaks, so residents feel a constant cold draft that they compensate for by raising the thermostat. Back in 2005 we had a contractor check for and seal the air leaks throughout our house and then blow insulation into the uninsulated walls and extra insulation into the attic (walls weren’t insulated in 1928 when this house was built). Result: there is almost no detectable cold air draft, so that 64°F feels warmer than it otherwise would, and the furnace runs less to keep the space at the same temperature. As a side benefit, with the house tightly sealed and the walls insulated, it became much quieter inside. Since the furnace uses natural gas to heat the air and a fan to blow it through the ducts and vents, setting the thermostat low reduces both electricity and natural gas use.

Greenhouse 2
Citrus, such as this kumquat, overwinters in the greenhouse. The greenhouse also helps keep their house warm in winter since it's attached to the front of the home.

For cooling in summer, we spend as much time outside as possible, so we are acclimated to prevailing temperatures. With an acre property that I actively garden this is easy to accomplish! Five years ago we added on a large back porch that faces north, so it is a shady and breezy location that we spend most of our waking hours on from mid-April into late October. We also keep our windows open and augment the breeze with fans to push cool morning air through the house. When it becomes warm enough, we sleep with fans blowing air from the open windows on us. In this way we avoid running the AC until highs reach the mid-90s, with lows in the mid-70s. When we do run the AC, we close all the windows and set the thermostat to 80, sometimes as high as 82. The same air sealing that prevents cold drafts in winter prevents hot, humid drafts in summer; combined with the insulation, the AC does less work, and we still feel comfortable. When the weather cools enough to drop nighttime lows back into the low 70s, we turn off the AC and open the windows again. Adding up all the days that we run the AC in a typical summer amounts to two to four weeks.

By using the furnace and AC less and by having them properly maintained, we prolong their lives. We replaced the 1970s furnace and AC when we bought the house in 2002; we’re still using the same furnace and AC to this day. Even though more efficient models now exist, it is not cost or energy effective to replace them as long as the current units can be maintained and repaired as needed.

Greenhouse 3
A view from the home's front door stoop, looking out through the greenhouse to the acre beyond.

Our water heater uses natural gas. By saving on the need for hot water through using as little as necessary for proper cleaning of dishes, clothes, and our bodies and by setting the thermostat to 125°F, we keep the use of natural gas for this purpose low. 

We follow the same theme to save on electricity: First we use less of it by, for instance, only turning on lights when we really need a light. Since we don’t have a TV, that also reduces electricity usage (today’s huge TVs are electricity hogs!). We chose to replace the 1960s-era refrigerator and clothes washer when we moved in because of their age and the much greater efficiency of their 2002 replacements. We’re still using that same fridge though we had to replace the washer after it broke beyond repair. We did not replace the electric stove because the 2002 models were no more efficient than the stove in the house. Each time we need to replace a light bulb, we replace it with an LED bulb and then we don’t use it any more than we used to.

Greenhouse 4
Seedlings awaiting transplanting.

To reduce water use, I don’t water any area that gets mowed. We capture some rain that would otherwise run off the house and garden shed roofs in rain barrels and use that water for watering container plants, newly planted shrubs and trees, and the vegetable garden for as long as we have it. The water in the barrels isn’t enough to keep the vegetable garden going during a drought; then I will water it with municipal water to maintain the plants and get some yield. As for the perennials, if they can’t make it without supplemental watering, I replace them with other plants that have demonstrated their ability to thrive without being watered. 

LB: I've been very intrigued by the gardening chronicles on your blog, which stretch back to 2012. In particular, as someone who's dabbled a bit in permaculture, I find your reports on how to grow food crops fascinating. At one point, you mention that annual vegetables need to grow in disturbed (at least surface-tilled) soil, and that these plants evolved as basically early succession plants. That means that trying to grow them in polyculture "guilds" might not produce the best results. Can you talk about your own evolution as a gardener in this regard? 

Food Garden
The food garden.

CS: When we moved to this house in 2002, I wanted to grow an edible forest garden by permaculture techniques, so after a year of observations I developed a permaculture plan for the property. Permaculture practitioners like to use perennial vegetables because most forest plants in our climate are perennials and because perennials live for several to many years, reducing soil erosion from annual tillage. Asparagus is one of the few perennial vegetables in our climate, so I started growing asparagus … an entire 100 square foot bed of it. Only after the bed came into full production did I discover that Mike doesnt like asparagus, and that I didnt want to eat that much asparagus myself. Not to mention it was only available for a month or so. Neither of us likes rhubarb, the other common perennial vegetable. So I shifted to growing the vegetables that we like in the sunny conditions that they prefer. 

Most of the common vegetable plants are annuals or biennials. To understand why this matters to gardeners, consider what happens to a forest after a forest fire occurs or the forest is bulldozed to the ground. Now the soil is mostly bare and the sun beats down on it, drying it out. Natures first-aid kit for bare soil includes annual and biennial plants that grow rapidly from seeds already existing in the soil. As the plants grow they re-establish the water and mineral cycles that gradually heal the soil. By winter the annual plants go to seed and die; the biennial plants go dormant, then grow and go to seed the following season along with other annual plants.

As the soil becomes healthier, slower-growing perennial plants also begin to appear. Over the next several years, decomposing plants mulch the soil and shade it. As the mulch layer develops, the annual and biennial seeds are buried in it and find it difficult to germinate. Gradually the balance shifts to perennial plants, including shrubs and trees as the years go by. 

Perennial Leeks
Perennial leeks after overwintering in Claire's garden.

Permaculture was developed in the subtropical climate of Australia, where a wider variety of perennial vegetable crops can be planted in guilds according to their needs and habits. Annual and biennial vegetable plants, however, are not just more ecologically suited to bare soil; they have been bred and grown in weeded gardens and fields for hundreds or thousands of years. Providing them with the conditions to which they are adapted makes ecological and garden sense, and its easier on the gardener as well. 

LB: That makes a lot of sense to me, and I don't mind telling you that binge-reading your entire blog last year really helped me put some of my permaculture leanings into perspective. Last year we hardly disturbed the soil at all, and we could have had better results. This year we've already surface-tilled the pea, lettuce, and cabbage/chamomile beds and deeply tilled the beet and carrot beds. (We have a lot of clay that needs aerating, for sure, unlike your loess.) We're also now growing mostly in rows, for the ease of maintenance and harvest; whereas, last year it was a lot of permaculture keyholes and circles. That said, for something like arugula, permaculture can be helpful; I mulched the plants in place after a spring harvest, covered them with a tarp for a couple of weeks in summer, and then in fall, I pulled back the dying plants, which enabled it to reseed for another harvest, with minimal work on my part and no extra expense.

A few followup questions: Have you tried horseradish (a perennial vegetable)? I realize it's a condiment, so not a huge source of calories, but it's a great medicinal, and I can't believe how much better it tastes fresh. I'm also wondering if you've employed some permaculture touches in your orchards, such as growing alliums and herbaceous plants, or including native nitrogen-fixing perennials such as Amorpha fruticosa. And do you grow any medicinal herbs? I know you make elderberry wine... By the way, we have a huge asparagus bed, but luckily, we both love asparagus! And I'm fostering rhubarb; hoping to harvest this year.

Witch Hazel
Native witch hazel growing in Mike and Claire's garden.

CS: The previous owners left us some horseradish plants. For the first few years we lived here I dug roots in spring and fall and Mike ground them into their condiment form. I moved some plants to the garden and they did well there, proceeding to move outward the same way mint plants do but being harder to control because of their deep roots. Frankly, as much as we like horseradish, we don’t like it that much. I’ll let the farmers in the American Bottom, who grow something like half the horseradish consumed in the US (a fun fact we learned at the annual Horseradish Festival in Collinsville, IL!) grow it for us.

I included a nurse Amorpha fruticosa with most of the fruit and nut trees I planted. As the trees have matured, and especially in the backyard forest as the canopy has closed over, the A. fruticosa shrubs are dying, an example of the succession process I discussed above. I grow some plants like purple coneflower, yarrow, goldenrod, and elderberry for their traditional medicinal uses and for other benefits, for instance their value to pollinators, their beauty, and in the case of elderberry, for the delicious wine Mike makes from the berries.

Comfrey
Comfrey in bloom.

I’ve tried some other plants that permaculture practitioners suggest for fruit and nut tree guilds, like comfrey, walking onions, perennial leeks, wild ginger, and sorrel. Except for the wild ginger they haven’t prospered in the semi-shade of the trees. That may be because the loess soil I garden on is so well drained that it becomes too dry under trees for the plants’ liking. Sorrel and the alliums have performed much better in the full sun of the vegetable garden, where they get some water during dry spells. The comfrey has walked out over the years to sunnier areas near the edge of the trees’ canopies. What does do well under the trees are violets, ground ivy, and wintercreeper. People diss wintercreeper (euonymous) for its expansiveness, but I have too much of it to control except when it starts growing up a tree or into one of the garden areas that I actively manage. The violets provide some nibbles, they and the ground ivy support pollinators, and the wintercreeper mulches the ground, so I have a working guild under the trees, even though the plants aren’t the classic ones in the permaculture books.

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The Perfect Valentine's Day Gift: A 'Queen's Gambit' Chess Experience

Chess Set
A vintage Soviet-era set.

By Lisa Brunette

I don't think I'm overstating it to say that The Queen's Gambit is the best series Netflix has ever offered. Anthony and I finished it last night, and wow. I can't think of a better viewing experience. It has everything: a gorgeously flawed heroine you can't help but root for, well-developed supporting characters, a story arc that manages to be surprising and satisfying in one go, and a stream of sumptuous sets and costumes (especially in the later episodes). Judging by its enormous popularity - it's the most-watched show in Netflix history - many of you feel the same. 

If you've just binged it yourself, you might be looking for a way to extend the good feels, but with no plans for a season two - that arc was magically complete - I suggest in place of further bingewatching, you bring chess into your life as a special Valentine's Day experience. The classic two-person game is the perfect way to show your loved one you want to spend quality time together.

As it so happens, I did a deep-dive into the Etsy vintage chess offerings in search of a post-Christmas birthday present for Anthony. After an exhaustive search, I settled on the set above. This was before we watched The Queen's Gambit, so it was by serendipity that I'd picked out a classic Soviet-era set reminiscent of the sets depicted in the final episodes of the show. This one's from the 90s, but it has the same reverse detailing you can see in the queen and king in both black and white, and it's carved from wood.

Chess Set Black

Chess Set White

Now Anthony's a fervent tabletop gamer, and chess is soundly in his wheelhouse. But as surprising as this might sound since I literally own a game-writing studio, I'd never played before! But now I can cross that one off my bucket list. I'm an instant fan, for the combination of strategy and concentration. I love it.

Which is a good thing, because look how happy Anthony is with his new chess set.

Chess Anthony

While mine was the only one of its kind available, don't worry, as there are plenty of other options to choose from. If you like the vintage Soviet-era style, the Etsy shop ChessUSSR offers several, including this beauty, an antique set from the 1950s.

Il_794xN.2845767701_4n1t
Image courtesy ChessUSSR.

ChessUSSR also sells those delightful Mid-Century Modern chess clocks, as seen in nearly every episode of The Queen's Gambit. The vintage ones are rare items and don't come cheap, but for you hardcore chessheads out there, why not help preserve a piece of chess history? If you're going for the complete Valentine's Day experience, get the chess set plus the clock. It'll add to the ambiance!

Il_794xN.2794676540_8g47
Image courtesy ChessUSSR.

If the Soviet style isn't your cup of tea, here are a few options that take the chess aesthetic in a completely different direction. 

First, I had this hand-carved stone Mexican set favorited for quite some time because, you know, PINK. But this was a gift for Anthony, not me, and while he's the type of awesome guy who doesn't even flinch at some pink in his living room, I do know where to draw the line. But maybe it's just the thing for your valentine?

Il_794xN.2677254664_68bx
Image courtesy TeotihuacanMxArt2.

Next up is an incredible mesh of nature and games. Plants and flowers are sealed in epoxy to create these whimsical pieces that are just as pretty for display as they are pleasing to play. They are handmade, unique, and nature-inspired, so I felt they deserve inclusion. For the gardener/nature-lover valentine on your mind, they're perfect.

Il_794xN.2232062056_e1fi
Image courtesy EncasingNature.

Finally, staying with the handmade ethos, I offer you this set, hand-carved from olive wood for a sort of Game of Thrones-meets-The Queen's Gambit vibe. It was my runner-up choice, as it's just so gorgeous and yet... dare I say... manly? 

Il_794xN.2622541281_q4ln
Image courtesy MbgArtGift.

To complete your Valentine's Day 'Queen's Gambit' experience, how about some chess-themed cookies? I stumbled onto this cool set of cookie cutters fashioned with the help of a 3-D printer. While I wish they were metal instead of plastic, they're still on my favorites list because Valentine's Day is coming up, and Anthony's never met a cookie he hasn't liked...

Il_794xN.2034053881_t750
Image courtesy EZHCookieCutters.

I've included affiliate links in this post, so if you purchase via the links, Cat in the Flock may get a commission. But the truth is I would've happily crafted this roundup even without the affiliate bump. Many of our small, independent operators are the ones who've suffered during the COVID-19 lockdowns and quarantines, so I'm only too happy to support their work. But this ain't charity, either; I've become more and more aware of the superiority of handmade and vintage items and am happy to turn you onto some great things you might love, too.

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Welcome (Virtually) to Our Home for the Holidays!

Xmas_Window

By Lisa Brunette

One of the fun activities Anthony and I participated in pre-COVID-19 was the holiday parlor tour here in St. Louis' Lafayette Square neighborhood. It was a treat to tour historic homes - some dating as far back as before the Civil War - all done up for the holidays. We look forward to a day when such in-person events are possible again. In the meantime, we've given the 116-year-old Dragon Flower Farmhouse a holiday makeover and invite you to tour it from the comfort and safety of your own living room.

Fa-La-La-Llama

Speaking of comfort, the below llama pillow comes out only for the holidays... I'm not sure why a pink llama says Christmas, but it certainly does. As you might have learned from our last post on the living room makeover, we've got complementary colors pink and green in the main downstairs space. Complementary means they're opposites on the color wheel, and that makes them a vibrant pairing, as in the pink pillow on chartreuse here.

Llama pillow

The llama theme is echoed in the Christmas tree, as a key ornament. I've hung this one and a couple of other ornaments behind the tree to make the smallish tree seem a bit grander, as well as fill the blank walls left when I removed an antique leather whip and two vintage family photos that didn't look right as backdrop for ol' tannenbaum.

Xmas_OrnamentWall

The tree is strung with white lights and colors that harmonize with the room's palette: pink, green, white, gold, and natural tones from straw and wood. Rather than spending a lot of money just to color-coordinate a tree, I simply split our ornament collection into two categories, these muted tones and another crop all in primary colors, which fit the smaller tree in the dining room. But before I move onto that room, I want to linger here a bit in the living room, with of course the mantel as the focal point.

This Mantel Moment

Xmas_Mantel

I really love how the mantel looks for the holidays. The candelabra on the left is a vintage 1960s Brutalist design, which I found at a tiny thrift window shop that used to be part of a sweet little café owned and run by two women in Chehalis, Wash. The mercury glass candle holders are from World Market, and the brass deer is an antique mall find. I wish I could say I made the stockings myself, but they're from Etsy. (At least I hung them with care!). Yes, Chaco gets a stocking... what did you expect? Zander has one, too, but he's staying in Seattle for the holidays. 

The cube vase on the left is a collectible piece of memorabilia - a brick from the old St. Louis Arena, a major concert and sporting venue for 70 years before it was imploded in 1999. The other vase is handcrafted by an artist, but I picked it up at an antique mall on the cheap and unfortunately don't know anything about who made it.

Here's a variation on the mantel from 2019, with the Brutalist candelabra replaced with a star hurricane lamp, and the balance shifted.

Mantel 2019

Ornament Lament

Thinking about that Arena brick puts me in the mindset to share this holiday tragedy. You see, I went to a good number of heavy metal concerts at that place back in the day, but one of the acts I did not see was Kiss. I've related the whole story previously on the blog, but basically my parents were super strict sort of beyond reason, and they would not allow me to go to this particular Kiss concert in the late 80s, which would have been something to remember and tell your kids about, you know? What I did have, however, was this amazing Kiss ornament, gifted to me by my friend Alyssa Naumann back in the 90s, after she heard my Kiss concert sob story and wanted to give me something to make up for the loss. 

Kiss Ornament

Yeah, that's a Rock and Roll Over Kiss ornament right there, and you'll notice up above I used past tense: What I did have, however, was this amazing Kiss ornament... Past tense because a day or two after I took this photo, Chaco BROKE it. My wonderful Kiss ornament, which I have looked forward to getting out each Christmas for the past 25 years, on the floor, shattered to bits. Because of the CAT.

Words were said, my friends, and a grudge was held... for at least an hour, anyway. Chaco wormed his way back in pretty quickly, I have to admit.

Sigh. 

Red Tree

Have a Ball

The Kiss ornament was on the 'red' tree in the dining room, where a brighter palette prevails, all inspired by the ironic and iconic Miss Fortunato painting, done by Monica Mason, the wife of an old colleague of mine from the St. Louis Science Center. It was part of a series on circus side show acts; Miss Fortunato is "the luckiest woman in the world," because she's so beautiful, all manner of butterflies flock to her face, as if it's a flower (obscuring her face from the viewer). This painting originated in St. Louis, has traveled with me to Miami, Florida, and Seattle, Wash., and has now returned to just a few blocks from the home where it first hung. It fits well in between the moulding detail.

Here we are, all ready for a small dinner party before the holidays. The wool felt balls are from World Market (I can't help it; I'm a fan), and the turquoise table settings are Fiestaware. The vintage side cabinet is probably from the 1940s and was left behind by the previous owner of my house in Tacoma; I added heavy caster wheels and painted it black (it had been puke pink). The top comes off but was damaged in our last move, alas. The pewter candle holders in the two paneled areas are from my sister, Amy, who had them in her home for many years and then kept them in storage after the glass hurricanes broke and her décor changed. When she saw our dining room, she realized they'd be perfect, and she is right.

Dining Room Xmas

This dining room is actually next up for renovation, as that aforementioned brown paint is on full display here, too, covering all of the window and doorway trim, as well as a chair rail that runs the length of the room, which you can see above. We're thinking about a deep blue-green, as this room faces southeast, gets plenty of light, and could handle a darker hue. I'm considering painting the walls, trim, and the above white cutouts all the same color, for a more dramatic, rich effect. Maybe even the ceiling? What do you think? My brother keeps crying 'earth tones,' but that's not really my jam.

That concludes our virtual tour. Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate the holiday. And to all, may 2021 bring you peace, happiness, and the freedom and safety to go... maskless!

Note: This post contains an Etsy affiliate link, but all other recommendations are non-sponsored.

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A Peek Inside Our Sloooow Living Room Redo - Finally Finished This Fall!

Living_Room_Sweep

By Lisa Brunette

We just passed the three-year mark here at the Dragon Flower Farmhouse, and I'm excited to announce that the living room is finally 'done.' And it only took us two years

I realize that timeline flies in the face of every home improvement reality show HGTV has ever aired, not to mention every slick interior design blogger claiming to have completely redone a whole house in one weekend, etc. But this is real reality here, folks, and like us, I'm sure you've done your share of slow reno - the kind that takes place in between things like raising children, launching your own business, or planning a wedding. You know, life.

The work began in earnest in the fall of 2018 when we tackled the living room window frames. They were a muddy brown hue, not wood stain but dark brown paint on top of a faded, cracking stain from a previous era. I'm not sure what the developer who flipped the house was thinking, but trying to amend scuffed-up wooden features with a thin layer of brown paint should never have been the solve. For the whole first year, we lived with a bad curtain job as well, high-water drapes on rods drilled right into the moulding. So much wrong, as you can see. Plus that dirt-colored paint had a dreary, darkening effect. 

Living Room Windows Before

I know you're thinking that 'before' shots are always dark and out of focus to make sure the 'after' looks great. But seriously, there was just no brightness to the living room between the wood floors (which we love, but they are dark) and all that muddy paint.

Even though it devoured the room's light, and that black box covering the fireplace hole super depressed me, I always thought the mantel, which as far as we know is original to the house, was a stunner.

Living Room Mantle Before

We chose to go with white to match the trim in other parts of the house. Now I know there are wood purists out there who shudder at the thought of painting wood trim, but we went white with good reason. First of all, the floors. They are original hardwoods, refinished and stained with a deep walnut tint. Natural wood trim paired with them would just seem dull by comparison, and again, together they'd eat the light. White by contrast looks fresh; to use that interior design buzz word, it pops. Second of all, stripping layers of paint over layers of antique stain and then sanding, re-staining, and sealing would have been a nasty, toxic job, and nobody here wanted to do it.

You can see how the white primer already begins to lighten up the room as we transformed the front window frames from dreary to dapper. 

Living Room Painting

By the way, I find Emily Henderson's design blog really helpful when it comes to the right way to hang curtains. Her treatise on the subject, "Hanging Curtains All Wrong" is my repeated go-to. Here's how the windows looked with the fresh coat of paint and new drapes, sized and hung more appropriately. 

Living Room Windows

And that was kind of it for 2018. I founded Brunette Games that year, and going into start-up mode here in middle age proved to be a huge distraction from home improvement. As evidenced by the holiday styling photo below, the mantel was still all chestnut-y for Christmas that year.

Living Room Mantle Before

It remained brown for most of 2019 as well, along with the rest of the trim in the room. Still, I think I was able to do the best with what we had. Early on, I realized I wanted to base the room decor on two paintings given to us by my late mother-in-law. As I mentioned last week, the main inspiration came from the Marta Gilbert painting of a young woman holding a slice of watermelon. Its vibrant pinks really got my imagination going. The other painting is also from A. Grace - a Georgia O'Keefe-esque bloom closeup by the artist Nance Allison Cheek. Here they are side by side.

Living Room 2 Paintings

At this point I'd decided on a pink-and-green color palette for the room. Green is a complementary color to pink, and it pulls in the green tile fireplace surround. It also for me harkens back to the colors of the bedroom from my childhood, when my mother called the décor shots. The interim green and pink living room, still waiting to be fully transformed, was a work-in-progress.

Living Room Interim Sweep

Obviously, the mantel and trim needed to be painted, but so did that shelf you see on the right in the photo above. That was an antique mall find, and with its redwood stain, it just didn't fit.

In late fall 2019, we had a string of days warm enough to open the windows for ventilation, and we found a pocket of time to complete the painting. We also scored big on some winter clearance sales, so we splurged on half-price bookshelves and chairs. We got everything done in time to host Christmas at our place. But the last piece of the puzzle didn't fall into place until this fall, when we swapped out the curtains - the navy blue arrow pattern didn't mesh with the green-and-pink plan - and painted the vintage swirl lamp pink. Now the room is officially done.

Living Room Left

Living Room Transom

Why does pink work in this living room? It's a good question. First, green is a complementary color, which means it's opposite on the color wheel. That provides great balance to the vivid blushes. Second, I've included a lot of masculine elements so the room doesn't feel too girly. There's a brass cobra candlestick on the mantle, a pair of horse head bookends on a shelf, one of the side tables has pointed arrow feet, there's a shield adorning the fireplace, and we've hung a leather whip on the wall.

Living Room Mantle
The cobra candlestick and that shield emblem give the room a manly touch. For Halloween fun, I added a spider, too.
Living Room Whip
Anthony found the whip on a tour of his father's childhood home town. Surrounding it are photos of his ancestors.
Living Room Horses
Horse heads: SO Jane Austen.

I also think the brass, marble, and gold accents ground the room with a little adult luster. It never feels like a kid's space, which is not to say that my six-year-old niece doesn't adore the pink. 

Living Room_Bracket

Besides the twin chartreuse chairs and bookshelves, which we picked up just before Christmas when no one is buying furniture and everything tends to be redline clearanced, the only thing we purchased for the renovation was the primer and paint. To get a consistent color palette, we drew on those two paintings we already owned, and then it was a matter of pulling from our own collection of items picked up over years. One suggestion I have is to move through your home looking for items by color and not being afraid to repurpose them in a different room. That's how I gathered together most of the green and pink things in the living room now. 

Living Room Details

To keep the room from feeling matchy-matchy, I brought in hues from across the spectrums for pink and green. And I kept brass, gold, and the white of marble and stone as accent colors. Since the bookshelves we scored were the same walnut shade as the floors, I foregrounded white objects against that background, as in this stone sculpture and ceramic bowl pairing.

Living Room Shmoo

All in all, I have to say that spacing out a reno over two years is actually a good way to do this. It allows you to live with your decisions piece by piece, with enough time to edit, alter, and tweak as you go. It's also fun to let your wanderings through junk shops and antique malls inspire you. While everything else came with us from the Pacific Northwest, those horse head bookends are new acquisitions, as are many of the holiday accents you'll see in my next post.

OTHER 'PEEK INSIDE' POSTS YOU MIGHT LIKE

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And You Might Want to Know More About That Hot Pink Lamp


Super-Easy DIY Rehab of This Sweet Mid-Century Modern Swirl Lamp

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By Lisa Brunette

I've been obsessed with so-called 'Millennial pink' for some time now, and I'm not even a Millennial. My pink preoccupation reached its zenith this fall when I finally got around to rehabbing a Mid-Century Modern swirl lamp I'd rescued from a junk shop. And how delicious is that sweet lamp? It's like Willy Wonka meets 'I Dream of Jeannie.'

True Millennial pink, however, is the pastel version, which you can see in that coaster next to the lamp above. A note about that coaster: It's actually a 1920s vintage enamel ash tray made across the river in Belleville, Illinois (where I went to high school), possibly at a company called Peerless-Premier, which still exists. But I opted for Barbie pink as a reference to the focal point in our living room, a painting given to us by Anthony's mother when she died in 2011. It was painted by the Puerto Vallarta artist Marta Gilbert

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A habit of collecting original art is one of the many things I had in common with Anthony's mother, A. Grace. I've written about her previously on the blog, as she inspired the character Amazing Grace in the Dreamslippers Series. She was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, of Spanish, Mexican, and Native American descent, specifically the Zapateca and Pueblo tribes. Honoring that heritage was central to my design for our living room at Dragon Flower Farmhouse, which I'll show you more of in next week's post. For now let's just say there are pink hues throughout, captured most dramatically in the painting that inspired it all and with this lamp.

I spotted the lamp on the top shelf in a back corner of a junk shop here in Maplewood. (Sadly, the place no longer exists, another pandemic casualty.) The lamp had no shade, and as you can see, the white paint had chipped off in a few places, but I saw a diamond in the rough. It only cost me $7 (USD).

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Its genie-lamp shape really did remind me of the fantasy sit-com from the 60s, 'I Dream of Jeannie.' I'd debated about what color to paint it for some time, as the pink in the living room is balanced against its complementary hue on the color wheel, green. But in the end, the pink won out. Those swirls just take me in a delectable candy direction, and I couldn't fight it. 

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Fortunately, all I needed was enough paint to fill a sample size, so I didn't have to invest in an entire gallon of princess-room pink that I wouldn't otherwise have a use for. (I know; you pink lovers out there are going, 'Oh, but there are so many uses!'). 

There was no need to use spray paint this time, as the ceramic lamp would easily take latex. I always use low-VOC brands, to minimize the off-gassing from the volatile organic compounds in most house paint. 

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It was easy - and fun - to brush this luscious pink onto the lamp, and it only took one coat. I managed this in a weekend afternoon while also making my first sourdough pizza crust from scratch (!), a topic for another post. I used tape around the base of the lamp, but honestly, I wish I hadn't. I always do much better cutting in without painter's tape, which always pulls some of the paint off when I remove it. I have a pretty steady hand and was trained to paint by my ex-husband, an artist and professional painter/exhibit builder. So, yeah, who needed the tape? Not me.

Here's the finished base. 

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After that, all it needed was a shade, which I purchased online, choosing a large white drum style, which to my eye balances that curvy base without detracting from it. The lamp makes me happy every time I look at it, and these days, we could all use little glimpses of joy in our lives. My six-year-old niece squealed when she saw it, too; it's her favorite color, of course.

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What's new in your DIY world? Post pics below.

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