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A Peek Inside the Dragon Flower Farmhouse

Balloonball

Our house turns 115 this year, and that's something to celebrate. Built in the year of the iconic St. Louis World's Fair, she's a solid, sturdy old gal with a few frills and flounces that tell you her history. Let me give you a tour.

The first thing you notice are the ball finials flanking the front porch. They're original to the house; in the above photo you can see them in relation to a hot air balloon, as I took it last fall during the Great Forest Park Balloon Race. The finials are definitely conversation-starters. Recently I was out front conducting spring yard cleanup and a passerby started talking to me about them as if she were continuing a conversation we'd left off previously. They're painted white to match the white vinyl siding, and let me speak on that topic for a moment. We hate the vinyl siding, though it's conveniently maintenance-free, and the porch itself is recycled plastic. Since we can't paint either of those, the big white house will remain so, but the wooden ball finials can be painted, and painted they shall be, along with the front door, which for now is brown.

Yeah, there's a lot of brown in the Dragon Flower Farmhouse. If this were the brown of wood, either left natural or stained, we wouldn't mind at all. But it's brown paint.

Someone--a previous owner or perhaps the contractor who flipped the place--streak-painted brown on top of a dark (and from the looks of it, ancient) wood stain. The overall effect isn't good.

We think this persistent brown paint situation is partly why we were able to get the house for a good deal in a neighborhood that has strongly appreciated since the real estate recovery. Since there are no windows on one whole side of the downstairs due to the close proximity to the neighboring four-family flat, and the hardwood floors are also a dark hue, the brown paint makes for a dim living room experience. 

Livingroom

It's everywhere on the first floor, except for the kitchen, thank goodness. Some of the previous reno upgrades were good choices, as kitchens really make or break a home.

Kitchen
A pic I snapped during our viewing tour, so not our decor, but the dark floor is a great contrast to the white here.

The other reasons we got a good deal? 1) We purchased in November, when the market starts to cool, 2) the basement showed signs of serious leaking, 3) there are train tracks across the street (we see this as a plus, honestly, but others might not), and 4) there's an apartment balcony overlooking the yard, which I've already discussed here a lot when talking about the big fence project.

Apartment Side

Besides the potential for a good deal, which was really important to us when buying a house here in (late) middle age, the house captured us with her charm. Her issues could be solved. But the period details and overall great shape she was in despite her age drew us in. My husband said, "This feels like an old farmhouse," and that was it.

You already know about the outside victories--the fence and the French drain. We haven't had a lot of time for the inside, but honestly, we're lucky in that there's not that much to do, and we've already begun to tackle the brown problem. Here are before and afters of the front door and living room windows.

Front door before and after
Before... And after!
Livingroomwindowsbefore
Before...
Livingroomwindowsdone
And after! Yippee! Side note: The drapes are better, too, because they're no longer high-watering at the sill. But we hung them just a bit too low. I'd rather see them just "kiss" the floor.

Other than that, we've been enjoying decorating both generally and for the holidays. The old girl lends herself well to holiday decor, and even though that's not something I did very much during my long sojourn in the Pacific Northwest, I've picked it back up here in the Midwest and might have even gone a little bit berserk (at least by my standards) this past Christmas.

Halloween

Bookcasexmas

Chandelierxmas

My decorating style is what you might call "eclectic." I love mixing old and new, and I love color. Apparently, I can never get enough turquoise, and orange is firmly in my wheelhouse. I once painted the entire exterior of my house orange, back when I lived in Tacoma. I never could figure out why people insisted on drab house paint when the drool-y grey skies made me ache for something more vibrant. The coup de gras was the sunburst pattern on the mid-century modern ranch home's garage door.

OrangeTacoma
This might not be your cup of tea, but I still think it looks fab. And check out the thrift store lantern I repurposed with copper paint and a bamboo pole!

My husband Anthony is present in all of the home decorating decisions. He often comes up with spot-on solutions I can't see. I believe our styles have come together and melded into a new version that is very collaborative. One of my pet peeves is going into someone's home and seeing one half of the couple totally absent in the decorating presentation. Usually with hetero couples, that's the guy. It's not always her fault; dudes tend to check out when it comes to how to make a home. But I've also seen the male vibe completely squelched by too much lady vision. Maybe it's cool; he's got the man room and doesn't really care, but I think it's a little sad? I just prefer to engage with the person I'm planning a life with and really make a life together. My ex-husband (of the orange house era above) and I did this, too. He's an artist, and in his case it meant taking some colorful risks that didn't always work out, like that time we painted a ceiling slate grey and the walls marigold yellow. :) But that's OK. You gotta try, right?

My current evolution is considerably more restrained, as evidenced by this pop of orange in the stairwell.

Orangestairwell

Anthony and I are a much more mature (and, um, compatible) couple, and the Dragon Flower Farmhouse reflects that. He's encouraged my more historic, classic, antique-loving side, and I've opened him up to exciting color combinations and a general modern aesthetic. I love introducing a few more pieces with a fantasy feel to appeal to my beloved gamer geek, such as an antique brass candlestick shaped like a cobra or an original ink print of a raven queen. I won't insist on anything he totally vetoes, and he will defer to my judgment about design rules when they're important.

This pink-themed mantel in the photo below is one triumphant example, as it's built around a painting his mother, A. Grace, bequeathed us when she died. The '60s glass holding feathers is from a thrift store, and it bears Anthony's sun sign, Capricorn. There's the cobra candlestick I gave him for his birthday, which, second-hand, cost me less than $45, but I've seen it in a pair on eBay for $500. The green vase was an antique mall find and is signed by the sculptor, and the mounted print block on the far right I got for about $10 on clearance at World Market. The green bowl is a great example of Japanese kintsugi, a treasured gift from Anthony, and the small chest is his. We found the conch shell buried in our backyard, and the pink bloom grew in the front. While I'm styling the mantel according to design tips and principles, what's important to me is the meaning of each piece. 

PinkMantel

Speaking of design rules... I feel it's only right to pay tribute to my rule muse, Emily Henderson. I've been fangirling this amazing designer for a few years now, and the bit of balance and good styling you do see in the photos above are to her credit. It's not that I was a total design dweeb before I discovered EHD, but good rules of thumb can really make a difference, explaining, for example, how to style a mantel, the proper way to hang curtains, or what height to place your art. I'm much more into color than Henderson is (she hates orange!), and I at first rejected her blue-trending aesthetic, but everything she says makes so much sense. When I make a point to follow her rules, I get great results. I've even started introducing more blue into my life and am considering painting the dining room some blue hue. It helps that it's one of Anthony's favorite colors.

I first came across the EHD blog through a search for images of "gold" used in a bedroom. I'd found a mint-condition mid-century modern laundry hamper in an amazing gold lamé-like material but didn't quite know how to make it work. Here's the EHD photo that stopped me in my tracks at the time.

130405_EmilyHenderson05583
Image credit, David Tsay for Emily Henderson.

I tried to use this as an inspiration on my much, much more limited budget. I think the biggest stumbling block was the lack of funds for those gorgeous gold silk drapes. Faux silk wouldn't work because it's unlined and too sheer, and the light-blocking compromise I made ended up looking more mustard-y than the gold I was shooting for. And tragically, the gold hamper that started the whole thing was a casualty in our big move from Washington state to Missouri in the fall of 2017. The best-laid plans... But that's OK. I still liked the room.

Bedroom
It was fun to play a bit with pattern, from the drapes to the artwork to the etchings on that lovely vintage 60s Italian lamp.

Bedroomcorner

It's all good. I didn't want an exact copy of EHD's room anyway and had been using it mainly for inspiration, which is how I feel about the interior design world as a whole. I like to learn the rules and take inspiration from everywhere but then decide for myself what I can do, given my budget, and what I want to do for my own enjoyment.

UPDATE: I sent a draft of this piece to EHD, and team member Velinda Hellen (loved her tiny kitchen makeover) sent me a nice note back, saying:

Thanks so much for sharing images of your home. You've done a beautiful job.

I was surprised to get a reply at all, as I'm sure they receive like billions of emails a day, so that was a graceful, nice thing to have happened. I'm still blushing from the compliment!

We've rearranged rooms to accommodate a home office since I took these photos, so it's changed yet again. I'll show those later on. 

Thanks for sticking with us here as we plant a butt-root in Midwestern soil. We've both had pretty nomadic existences as adults, so we're looking forward to feelings of permanency and seeing the long-term fruits of our labors, both inside and outside.

Where does your design inspiration come from? Please share your favorite blogs, websites, books, and other sources below! We're always looking for more.

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A Disturbing Fence Reveal!

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Please Fence Me In


Dragon Flower Farm: A Disturbing Fence Reveal!

Roses

Aren't these roses lovely? They're one of the few plants in the Dragon Flower Farmyard that we were able to keep, since they aren't invasive or nuisance plants that steal resources from native plants, pollinators, and animals without giving anything in return. Not that they're GREAT or anything, from an ecological point of view. They're still ornamental and exotic. But at least they're not on the Missouri Conservation Department's list of thug plants, as were the winter creeper (now gone) and Japanese honeysuckle (also gone).

Last time here on the blog, we chronicled the tremendous effort that went into removing those invasives. They took up most of the yard's greenery and had grown into and around a legacy chainlink fence as well.

This time I'm here to share the last chapter of the fence-install story, and it's a shocker.

For financial reasons, we split the fence job, completing the side between us and the apartment building during the summer and opting to finish in November. I wasn't sure they could dig the posts in as late as the week after Thanksgiving, but our friends at Just Wooden Fences said it would be no problem.

In between, we had Horstmann Brothers Landscaping remove the honeysuckle, and what lay in wait underneath kind of horrified us.

You already saw the chainlink fence on the southeast side of the property, and it was eyesore enough, not to mention tough to remove since the winter creeper (which is supposed to be a GROUND COVER) had woven itself up through the chainlink so that the fence and the creeper had essentially become one.

We assumed the fence on the rear and northwest sides would be the same. But we were wrong. It was much, much worse.

Razorwire1

Yeah, it looked like the edge of the demilitarized zone. Images of the Gestapo came to mind. 

Although the honeysuckle vine was invasive, it had served as a rather attractive green screen. Taking it out left a large swath of bare, ugly fence topped with barbed wire. 

Razorwire2

But why? Who or what had they kept in? Or out?

We'll never know. But that fence had to GO.

Sidechainlink

By the way, in the above photo, you can also see the tremendous round mound of ditch lilies, reviled by many but actually pretty harmless, as far as plants go. A big circle of orange ditch lilies doesn't do much for us, aesthetically or self-sufficiency-wise, but I understand they ARE fully edible, so maybe we'll keep some around and experiment.

Again, you can imagine what a relief it was when the fence posts went up.

Fenceposts

We felt really exposed after the honeysuckle came down and before Just Wooden Fences began work, but once the fence started to take shape, the farmyard began to feel a lot cozier. And we got a ton of compliments from our neighbors on all sides.

Sideposts

The cedar really is lovely in its natural state, and I wish we could leave it that way, but of course if we didn't stain and seal it, the planks would weather to a dull grey in no time. The fence also wouldn't last as long.

Frenchdrain

By the way, here above is another view of the french drain installed by Horstmann Bros. The drain is underneath these rocks, between our house and the four-family flat next door. We have had ZERO leaks in the basement since the drain went in, despite torrential downpours, a foot of snowmelt, and generally a ton of moisture all winter long. The farmyard is basically one big mudscape right now. But the basement's dry! Yay!

Tinoandfence

Here's my handsome husband, Anthony, surveying the job, mid-install. Behind him you can see the empty spot near the corner of the yard where we had Horstmann remove a willow tree that had been badly sited beneath power lines and then aggressively topped off. The tree was ill-grown and damaged, half of it succumbing to disease.

Slats

Here's where the new fence joins the section installed in the summer. You can see how the stain gives the wood a golden hue. I still like the look of the raw cedar better, myself, but the golden version is lovely, too, and totally worth it to protect the fence, which is quite an investment!

Next time, I'll share details on our first plantings, which happened all through the late fall and early winter, too. I guess this is surprising to people, since most do all their planting in spring, but it's actually better to plant many trees and plants in the fall and winter, when they are dormant.

Thanks again for your interest in our urban farm project, and please tell us what you think in the comments below. Are you pro-fences? Anti? I know some people think of them as unnecessary barriers, but we wanted the privacy, security, and visual screen only a fence affords.

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DIY Whiteboard Wall

Writingwall

Remember when you were a kid, and you wrote with marker on the wall, and you were sent to your room without dessert or TV that night? Well, now you can write on your wall and eat your cake, too. 

In the image here it looks like I've ruined my office walls. But all that bright marker scribble totally wipes off! It's a miracle.

Writingwall Writingwall

It's all made possible through the magic of dry erase paint. This product has been out for a little while and has been popularized in creative offices where, I guess it's assumed, Millennials really wanna be writin' on the walls. 

I held back at first because I don't like the whitey-white look of whiteboards. But then I discovered a clear version, which means you can turn any color wall into a dry erase surface, and I decided to take the plunge.

If you try it, here are some things to keep in mind:

1. If your surface is not perfectly smooth or painted in something glossy, you will need to prime it first. In other words, if you don't have anything but the average household wall painted with flat paint, you will need to prime it first! Otherwise, your wall will be thirsty for this stuff. 

2. I suspect that even if you do prime it, you'll need more paint than you think. I used Rust-Oleum's Kit and needed to run back to the store for another one (the store in this case being Home Depot, because I live in the sticks, and that's what we've got). 

3. The product I used claimed to be low-VOC, but it definitely needed to be well-ventilated for at least 12 hours afterward. Note that there's a "curing" time as well, so don't go writing on your walls just because you think it's dry. It needs several days first.

4. Even though it's clear, it does darken the overall hue of the wall. So it will no longer 100% match the surrounding walls.

5. Just like a regular whiteboard, and a chalkboard for that matter, your wall will not look like a perfectly clean wall again after this. I almost bought some whiteboard cleaner, but then I read in the comment section for the product on Amazon that plain old rubbing alcohol is best for removing the worst of the marker detritus. 

6. I used a foam roller but cut in with a regular brush. Someone at Home Depot might suggest a foam brush, and they will be steering you down a path toward foam brush hell. Don't listen.

So there you have it. I painted a dormer wall and a regular wall, as in the pics below, and I love the write-on-the-walls freedom this gives me to plot out my novel, draw cover options, schedule out my life, and more. Happy dry-erasing!

*I have not received any endorsements from Rust-Oleum or Home Depot for this post. Yet.

Writingwall

Writingwall