This weekend, the small project of patching and painting some screw anchor damage in one of our walls turned into the much larger project of also painting the banister that runs along our the hallway on our second floor. It’s something we’ve wanted to do pretty much since we moved into this house, but the idea of painting each of the little balusters made us consider jumping off the roof instead. I’m not sure what got into us this weekend, but we decided to tackle it — and wow, what a difference it makes!

the banister, before the banister, after

(The original motivation — the wall repair and repainting — became a minor footnote in these photos; it’s the wall on the left of the pix.)

Since Shannon and I found our antique bench back in mid-February, I’ve been spending a little time here and there hunting for good sources of salvaged and recycled wood in the DC metro area, but wasn’t having much success. This past Thursday, though, I stumbled on an EPA report from 1999 that had the following tease in it:

A significant development in the collection and distribution of salvaged materials in D.C. is the recent formation of Community Forklift, a non-profit organization that seeks to establish a permanent distribution center for salvaged building materials. Currently, Community Forklift is in the process of legally incorporating, attaining tax exempt status, and drawing up a business plan.

One Google search later, I found Community Forklift, saw that their warehouse was a scant seven miles from our house, and got insanely excited about waking up early this weekend and checking it out. And after having now been, I can now say that it’s easily one of my favorite finds since moving here — as an architectural and building material salvage warehouse, they’ve got tons and tons of old wood (mostly salvaged joists and beams, some dimensional lumber and plywood, and a bunch of other bits and pieces), bins of vintage hardware like doorknobs and hinges, about a million old doors, windows, cabinets, and countertops, a lot of tile, and aisles and aisles of all the other stuff that gets saved when old buildings get torn down to make way for new construction. We ended up getting a great variety of widths of beautiful mahogany boards that we’ll use to build a shelf for ourselves and a bench for a friend (and they even lent us a circular saw so I could cut the wood down so it’d fit in my car!). There’s no question in my mind that had I been there alone, I’d likely have stayed all day.

One other benefit of finding Community Forklift is that mentions of it on the web also led me to learn about a few other places I’m going to have to check out, like the two Habitat for Humanity ReStores and the HoH Renovation Station in the region (all of which look to be similar in their missions), and then the great granddaddy of the area, Baltimore’s Second Chance (holy crap, five warehouses full of salvaged materials?). I suspect that this has the potential to become an addiction…

New bookshelves!

For the past two weekends, Shannon and I have been busily building a set of bookshelves that we designed to fit along a wall in our guest room to replace a pair of store-bought shelves that just don’t give us the book storage we need. It’s been a hell of a fun project, involving a bunch of design iterations, a lot of problem-solving (like figuring out our not-so-plumb walls!), a small bit of frustration at a Home Depot lumber clerk who didn’t know the first thing about cutting plywood, and a huge dose of euphoria at discovering a phenomenal lumberyard less than a mile from my office. The shelves are exactly what we wanted them to be, and the project introduced a new tool into my workshop, a Paslode 16-gauge angled finish nailer that came highly-recommended from a friend. Honestly, I can’t say enough about the nail gun — it’s simple to operate, doesn’t require an air compressor, and made attaching all the facing a five-minute job rather than an hour-long job. (And I won’t lie… usinga spark and a controlled butane explosion to drive an inch and a half of steel into solid wood is a damn awe-inspiring feeling.)

Needless to say, I’m pleased with the outcome; now it’s time to do a little bit of research into pre-constructed cabinetry so that I can design a few built-ins for our dining room wall. There’s more fun to be had!

Our narrow new hallway bench

Hey, lookie there — our new hallway bench is on Apartment Therapy NYC! (The actual Flickr page for the photo they posted is here; I’m not sure why the folks at AT:NYC chose not to link to the photo page.)

Shannon and I found the bench when we randomly popped into an antique shop across the street from our favorite neighborhood hardware store; it was lining one of the walls behind the main display area, and we immediately asked if we could borrow a tape measure and check the dimensions. We trotted home afterwards, measured the hallway space, and knew that we’d probably never find as ideal a piece of furniture for that space again. The owner of the shop said that she found it during a renovation of another Capitol Hill home, along with a few shorter benches of the same narrow depth, all of which she had already sold. We both love how weathered this one is, and most importantly, how it doesn’t take any additional width from the hallway. The only thing I’ll really have to do is anchor the back legs down (since the floor joists are typical of 100+ year-old joists in that they bow up just slightly at the walls), and it’ll be perfect.

In a shocking, shocking bit of news, the New York Times has an article talking about how better real estate listing photos help sell homes. From the buyer’s perspective, I can back this up about one kajillion percent; Shannon and I spent countless hours of our homebuying experience hysterically laughing at the godawful pictures that people were willing to attach to their half-million-dollar home listings. What’s sad to me is that most of the time, it appears that it’s the agents themselves who are taking and publishing the horrid pictures — I’m pretty sure that when the day comes that Shannon and I find ourselves in the market to sell our house, one thing we’ll be doing is looking at any prospective agents’ other listings and seeing how good (or awful!) the images are.

doing it ourselves

For the past few weeks, I’ve been working on a new weblog project that took root in Shannon and my decision to buy our first house. Being someone who likes to at least try to be self-sufficient at little tasks around the home, I figured that owning a house would give me the opportunity to try my hand at the whole do-it-yourself world — and being an unrepentant geek, I figured that a new weblog would be the perfect way to share my DIY attempts with the world, talking through problems and highlighting notable things I come across. Shannon loved the idea (of course!), as did a few other people who might become occasional contributors, so I put a little effort into a good name and a reasonable design. And with two weeks of tweaking now behind me, I feel like it’s time to unveil the site: Doing It Ourselves.

As part of burn-testing the new digs, I’ve already penned a few posts, including one about putting a new French door into our current apartment, two about the process of taping-off and painting our new house, one about a neat ladder that I want, and even one about setting up our new Vonage phone service. I aim to write a handful of posts a week, and I’m pretty sure that I’ll have a lot to talk about as we move down to DC and get settled into our new home. And as I imply above, while the site is all me me me right now, Shannon intends to put her two cents in here and there, and I have a few people already on-tap to contribute as they find time and energy, so I’m hoping that Doing It Ourselves morphs into less a chronicle of my DIY experiences and more a view of the DIY world through the eyes of a few people deep in the thick of it.

mom's sketch of our new house

My mother, already one of the most creative people in the world, took up sketching not too long ago and then added watercolors to the mix soon thereafter. This weekend, Shannon and I went down to DC to get some painting done in the house, and our parents joined us; in between helping tape off rooms, my mom took breaks by retreating to various spots with her sketchbook. Happily, one of her first drawings was of the house, and I can’t wait to frame and display it just inside the entryway!

new house!

Things returned to quiet here for a few days, but I promise it was for a good reason: Shannon and I went and bought our first home! That picture is Shannon sitting on our new stoop, a mere hour before we signed a metric ton of paperwork in which promised that we’d pay the mortgage, keep the property in good condition, and each surrender a kidney and a lung in exchange for the house. (And the thing is, we both felt that it’d be cheap at twice that price!) So, I guess it’s now official: at the end of June, we’ll be moving from Brookline, Massachusetts to Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Our new place is a narrow little attached rowhouse, with two finished stories and an unfinished basement. It has two bedrooms, a little half-room that will make the perfect office, a half a bathroom more than either of us are used to, a small wood deck, and a little plot of dirt in the backyard in which Shannon and her mother are already mentally placing pavers, flowers, and little trees. And best of all, it’s ours to do with what we please!

Unlike a lot of what we saw in Capitol Hill, the house was already in nearly move-in condition; we only had to get a small boiler problem corrected and replace the floor in one room. We also chose to put in a new hot water heater and set up replacing all the windows in the front of the house (since all seven of them are the original, 100+ year-old sashes that are single-pane and have warped enough to make them hard to use). Otherwise, we have a little painting we want to do, a few other small pre-move-in projects that appeal to us, and then we’ll start the long journey of homeownership!