Monthly Archives: March 2010

Changing Up Our Frontyard

When we first saw our house last spring, we weren’t blown away by the curb appeal. The landscaping was sort of ho-hum, even grandma-esque: lots of evergreen bushes, nothing flowering, very little of interest. And the three evergreen bushes out front hadn’t even been maintained well, so they had pretty well grown out of control. I think in order to make them look their best, they should have been routinely pruned when they were first planted to keep them full and dense. As they were, though, they were scraggly and bushy only at the ends, leaving a twiggy and bare trunk exposed.

That’s a picture from when we first moved into the house. It may be hard to tell, but they bushes weren’t nearly as densely packed as we think they should have been. Plus, we’re not really big fans of the all evergreen look anyway. For the landscape to be interesting, there really should be some variety to the plantings, and we’re big fans of having something blooming.

Regardless, we had bigger projects to tend to for much of the summer, so the bushes didn’t get much of our attention. Catherine did take a couple of hours to trim them back early on, though,…

…which turned out well.

And that’s pretty much how it stayed for the next four to five months before we finally cut out a chunk of time to address our front lawn. We took an evening or two first to dig out the three evergreen bushes.

(sorry for the blurry picture)

We started by sawing off all the major branches, leaving us with a trimmed down stump. Then, we set to work digging around the base, trying to loosen the bush from the ground. That proved to be pretty impossible, so we make a quick trip to Home Depot, picked up an ax, and hacked the trunk and root system until we were able to dig out the remainder of the bush. We did this for all three bushes, which pretty well wiped us out.

Then, with the ground well-churned, we easily planted a few plants we had picked up: three hydrangea bushes, a Japanese maple tree, some ornamental grasses, purple salvia, and some other yellow and pink flowers.

(still blurry, I know – sorry).

By mid-fall, we had a pretty different looking front yard. All the new plantings were pretty small, and we didn’t have a lot of growing time for them to get any larger, so we’re excited to see how this spring grows our new landscaping. Hopefully in a matter of weeks, we’ll see some new blooms and green shooting up from the brown weathered leftovers.


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We Have Sprouts!

Tomato plants, onions, oregano, peppers…they’re all coming up! I thought this would be the hard part, but I think having them live through this stage to a point where they’re actually ready to be planted is the real trial. Here’s hoping they make it all the way to our dinner plates this summer!

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Breathing New Life Into an Old Wood Frame Couch

We’re big fans of the midcentury modern style. We like its timeless appeal and sleek design. When we came across this distressed wood frame couch at our local thrift store, we were intrigued. Then, when the clerk told us it would be only $35 for the two love seat sections plus the chair, we were sold!

You see, we were looking for a small couch for our back room where we’d installed the shelving unit/desk. It had to be small because the room is only about 8 feet wide, and to sit on one end and watch television on the opposite wall while still having enough room to walk in and out of the area, we needed a condensed sofa!

The only problem with this couch was that the frame had seen better days. Both love seats were damaged, leaving one end of one completely broken, and the other rickety, to say the least. The chair was in decent shape, but all of the cushions from the chair and loveseat were extremely dirty and flattened. In fact, we didn’t even get home with those – we threw them out immediately.

But, we knew we liked the shape of the couch, and somehow we had a feeling we could make it work.

At first, we tried to order foam from Ebay and were going to either have covers made or sew them ourselves. We actually went through with the foam order before coming up with our second, easier (and current) solution.

We liked the Lillberg Sofa from IKEA a lot, and had briefly considered buying one of those for the back room of our house.

It has a minimalist feel to it with a simple wooden frame and comfy but simple cushions.

Sometime after we ordered the foam online, it occurred to us that the dimensions of our new wood frame sofa were about the same as the Lillberg Sofa. And, turns out, IKEA sells the cushions and covers separately from the frame. So, we ended up buying 5 Lillberg cushions and covers.

Cushion problem solved. Now, we were left with one functional chair and two broken loveseats. We knew we wanted as much seating as possible, as this was the only room in our house with a television, and we envisioned gathering here on occasion with a friend or two. Turns out, if we attached the two loveseats, making one long couch, it would actually fit perfectly in the room, plus have the bonus of seating four people comfortably.

So, that’s what we did. We carefully removed the left arm from one loveseat and the right arm from the other by simply unscrewing them. We used braces liberally to connect the two loveseats and decking screws throughout to reinforce it. Afterward, we were left with a very long midcentury couch frame.

The cushions fit well in the new furniture. A little bulky, perhaps, and not quite the sleek minimalist feel of the originals, I’m sure. But, they’re comfy and were sure an easy fix. Maybe one day it’ll be worth it to have smaller cushions made, but for now, we’re happy with our own version of a midcentury sofa.


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Union Made

Our back steps project is going rather slowly (since the discovery of hardwood floors on the landings and my subsequent apathy toward the hard work of refinishing them). But, when I was tearing out the trim back there in order to remove the linoleum floors, I did discover this:

This was stamped on the back of the oak baseboard. It reads:

District of Cook County, Illinois
Union Made
United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America
Organized 1881 Registered 1903

A little history of the stamp here.

There’s something beautiful about that, huh? Something that makes that oak baseboard even more worth restoring. You can’t find that at Lowe’s!

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Gardening on Our Minds, pt. 2

After planting our seeds, we were energized and ready to take on the back yard and garden. Unfortunately, last fall we didn’t feel that same vigor and left our yard in a pretty sad state. I did at least rake the leaves into a pile, but that’s about where I left it – three big piles of leaves in the backyard.

Okay, we obviously have a lot of work to do to bring this backyard up to par. Gardening is a big start, but there’s also painting, replacing the garage door/steps, figuring out what to do with those awful awnings, and putting in a sitting area.

We started by raking out all the leaves and digging up weeds, overgrown bushes, and random growing things,…

…which actually did a lot to clean up the place:

After cleaning out all the “stuff,” we set to work on our big garden project. We mentioned recently that we picked up a lot of lumber at one of our new favorite finds, ReBuilding Exchange. The plan for all the wood is to build elevated garden beds. The advantage of having elevated beds is that it won’t require as much weeding (hopefully) and we can control the type and quality of soil we use inside.

We decided to build two 3 foot x 3 foot beds and three 2 foot by 4 foot beds for either side of the yard.

All we had to do was cut down the boards and use some decking screws to attach them. Here’s the finished product:

All we have left to do is sink them in the ground a bit and fill them with our new planting mixture (which we’ll make when things warm up a bit).

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Gardening on Our Minds

It’s March, and though Spring is still (hopefully not) a long way away in Chicago, we’re getting excited about our tiny backyard and gardening this summer. Last summer, we had just moved in and were too overwhelmed with the many pressing projects we had to do to really take advantage of our little 25 x 25 foot backyard.

But, this year, we have big plans. We’ve spent some time over the last couple of months planning out our garden. Here’s the very professional plan Catherine came up with:

Those grids are raised garden beds, and all those circles are containers we plan to employ for interest. But we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. First, we had to start some seeds indoors. At first, we decided we would just buy seedlings in the spring and not worry about growing anything from seed. But, the  more we read about it, the more feasible it seemed, so we decided to give it a try. We picked up a ton of seeds and a few little greenhouses to get started. Yes, we know we’re a little bit late on some of these, but hey – it’s our first time!

To start seeds indoors in a greenhouse, all you do is either buy a greenhouse and seed starting soil or one that already has the soil pellets included.

We chose the latter. In that case, to get started, you simply water the pellets until they expand, then the seeds are ready to be planted.

We planted lots! Somewhere around 40 different types of vegetables, herbs, and flowers.

To keep track of it all, we simply came up with a chart on our word processor, and Jarrett filled in all the details as we went. You can see our chart here. We planted lots and lots of tomatoes, peppers, beans, onions, lettuce, impatiens, basil, sage, chard, and a lot more!

Then, when all the seeds are planted and lightly covered back over with the peat/soil pellets, you simply place the clear plastic liner back over the seeds and place the greenhouse in a warm sunny location.

In a few days, we should have some sprouts!


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Local Greenie: ReBuilding Exchange

In an attempt to gather up some materials for a couple of garden projects on the cheap, Catherine and I joined our good friends Kyle and Melissa in a trip to ReBuilding Exchange on the South Side of the city.

From their website:

The mission of the ReBuilding Exchange is to divert building materials from the waste stream and make them accessible to the public for reuse, protecting community health, creating jobs, and saving resources. We do this through the promotion of sustainable deconstruction practices, by making used build materials available for purchase at low costs, by providing educational resources and by creating programming that builds community and rebuilds Chicago’s neighborhoods.

Pretty cool  mission, huh? So basically, ReBuilding Exchange deconstructs houses and buildings before a tear down and stocks a large warehouse on 47th and Kimball with all the goodies, like this:

That’s the lumber room, where we picked up quite a bit for our upcoming projects. It’s full of both framing variety wood and old growth lumber, which would be suitable for reclaiming into some pretty excellent furniture.

But it’s not just lumber. We also saw some other pretty cool things like doors,


these cool concrete architectural elements,

plumbing fixtures, lighting, appliances, and a lot more than I can tell you about.

So, definitely think about making ReBuilding Exchange a stop for you next project. Especially if you can be extra flexible with the materials you use or have a woodworking bent to you.

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