Category Archives: Exterior

Tree story.

So there were 5 pine trees around the back side of the house, probably meant to disguise the long weird facade with no windows, but two of them were growing up against the house and the other three looked as if they were ready to give up. Trees messing up foundations are a big no-no so we thought it best to remove them. Below are before , during and after.
Now before you think I am a giant tree killer, look at what my father was able to do – amazingly my dad was able to replant 4 of them along our border (the 5th one didn’t make it) , and they are growing greener than ever! You can see them in a little row in the bottom picture. I still can not believe it. The Tall one still looks a bit silly because it is all lopsided from growing up against the house. It makes me really happy that we were able to save them.

here they are ( the row of pine trees on the left) this winter. Still going strong! My sister took this shot of the house -look how my dog is staring at her adoringly.


One of the pluses of my parents farm is that it has many springs that feed numerous ponds and even shares access to a 30 acre lake – did you know that there is no scientific specification between a pond and a lake? there are various reasons people use, whether the body of water is over an acre, whether the pond is a basin of still rain water or is fed by a freshwater springs, the supported wildlife,the depth, whether or not it is deep/ clear enough to have plant life grow on the bottom.In truth a lot of ponds have been renamed lakes in the past couple years because it raises property values to be next to crystal lake as opposed to dishwater pond.

We are planning on making a small pond in the back behind the house -expanding an already wet ditch to fill with water, and also cutting off an old line from a spring house that runs to a cistern in our basement so we can remove the cistern in the basement and some of the dampness as well (the water supply we use now is from a drilled well) Our property is pretty wet already a lot of springs coming out of the hillside, but that way we can harness some of the water and keep it from swirling into the house foundation on its trip down the slope behind the house towards the brook across the road.

While I’m gone

image from Goldilocks finds Manhattan

One of my sisters also blogs. She blogs about food and farming stuff. I recommend it. I’m hopeless at cooking myself but a genius at eating it! She recently invited me and her boyfriend to this delicious meal with The girl who ate everything. Robyn’s blog is also amazing – and she and her friends are always lovely dinner companions. Be warned these blogs will make you very very hungry!

Secret Garden

image from House and Garden

image from Victoria Magazine

One Idea that I have been thinking about is secret outdoor spaces. I would like to plant some evergreens that would lead to an unexpected and hidden clearing perhaps about fifteen feet across? A kind of space where you would stumble upon on a walk – a beautiful and quiet magical space where the only thing you could see was trees and the round blue sky…

Ode to Vinyl – a very long post

So our house is completely covered in vinyl siding. To me vinyl siding is sad to see on older homes – I think it is sort of like demanding that your 80 year old grandmother wear a tube top -it just isn’t an appropriate solution. I understand the reasons people install vinyl siding, no upkeep, ease of installation, affordable, and because it vaguely resembles historic wooden siding. I have even installed vinyl siding myself on a habitat for humanity project- and I think it is a total viable option on new construction and that it can even look quite elegant – as in Twilight Fields; but on an old structure? I am not sold; and here are my reasons.

1) When your eye sees a facade you read it much like a face – the windows as the eyes – the door as the mouth etc – there are rules of symmetry and proportion that makes us regard a facade as either a George Clooney or well er… not. One of my favorite studios in school was when we had to design a building and render it by hand with shaded drawings; we had to consider how light and shadows would bring out details like line and texture. No other studio had actually challenged us as architecture students to consider shadows or depth on the facade before – we were taught very much under Adolf Loos creed ‘ornament is crime’. But ANYWAYS… When vinyl siding is added to an old building they use horrible stock plastic moldings to skim around the window trim and because of that you lose all that interesting (and unique!) details like texture, shadows and proportions. The result just looks like a bad face lift – yes it is tighter – and cleaner looking but it is also weird and false. In the picture above you can see how the classic Greek revival column corner trim is no longer there in our facade – it totally ruins the proportions of the front (I really hope they are intact underneath!!!)

2) Respect your elders – because you just can’t ever recreate an old house. What I love about old houses is that their elements tell a combined and layered history about local techniques, materials, and inform us about our history both as people and architecturally. It is the original details that I love about our house; wherever possible I plan to save those elements. If I wanted or was inspired by a new house I would buy or build one – but the reason I fell in love with this house is all the details (and the natural materials) that could never affordably be made now. p.s- we also have the luxury/ sadness of already having a lot of the original details removed so we are not hampered too much by having to work around period details.

3) Vinyl is not a natural material – every well to do farmhouse at one point had Asbestos tiles because they were the ‘new and improved’ modern alternative to clapboard siding. I’m just saying… time will tell us how healthy vinyl is and already there are a lot of signs that the gases produced by degrading vinyl is not so good for you or the planet. Just because a corporation says its better doesn’t mean it always is.

4) Vinyl siding can mask, fester and incubate real problems that a wood siding would show you. George Nash’s Book ‘Renovating Old Houses Bringing new life to Vintage homes’ talks about this and how this synthetic material can often times even cause, (due to faulty installation) water to leak into your house behind the siding which as we all know is not good. btw – This book is one of my favorites because George Nash not only takes my side on vinyl siding but also has a really practical and informed tone that he brings to the subject of old houses – I have learned a lot from this book and I really recommend it to anyone who has or is thinking of buying an old house.

5) I also dislike that the most common design mimics wood siding; a new material calls for a new aesthetic treatment . I do realize many a decorative art tradition has been spawned by trying to trompe l’oeil an old and expensive technique. The problem is that the faintly etched wood grain versions of vinyl siding is so rarely used artfully on old structures, it usually just dumbs them down.

6) I think whenever you use a stock material on an old house you should also pause to think as well. Stock items are made to be affordable and accessible (which is great) to many people – but it is also designed as a common denominator of many architectural styles – and usually if you are replacing an old unique item – you just end up losing a lot or character and history. I know there are reasons to ‘upgrade’ but it is good to be cautious; what is in style today may not be in 10 years and it is good be aware of what you are giving up – and to remember that once removed you can never get that original history back. When I renovated a house in buffalo I changed the original craftsman 3 panel beveled glass wood front door – to an affordable fiberglass stock version. Was it safer? yes. Did it close nicer, yes. Did it afford us a lot of privacy, yes. Do I regret that I removed an original period detail? Every time I think about it I do. There could have been so many other ways to make that door feel safer and private. I just didn’t try hard enough.

Ok that’s my ode to vinyl siding. I hope it doesn’t sound to judgmental- because I really believe that a house that is taken care of and loved (even if i don’t agree with the renovation choices) is always better than a collapsed and abandoned one!

Here is another post on vinyl siding written much better than mine by The Devil Queen – Blue Vinyl

Also The Devil Queen recommends George Nash’s book too!

Stone Walls

images from house and garden

image from Country Gardens

One detail I love is stacked rock walls – in our area there are a lot of crumbling low rock walls running along old fields – and some fancy flat stone stacked walls enclosing area cemeteries and fancy houses. Below is the rock wall I started this summer, the winter shot is before we had bought the house, and the summer shot is late august, the rock wall is a bit taller now, I wish I had a better photos of it.

This project is one of my favorites (I still plan on making it taller and running the wall further along – I just ran out of rocks at the moment, once the ground thaws and my father can do more earth work I can claim more :) – It was physical work that I could do outside when I got frustrated with the messy (never ending ) projects inside, and it had dramatic results after just a few hours of work. My mother actually came over and helped me with moving quite a bit of the rocks and we spent the time chatting and laughing about our upper arm workout – although from the highway we must have looked like two crazy women slinging rocks in mud boots and sun hats.

I know that the rock wall might well fall apart because I didn’t use any kind of cement or bonding agent but I figure that will just make them look old – which was my hope anyway :). Supposedly you can spray diluted yogurt on rocks to make the moss and lichen grow, which I may do eventually as well.

Sceened Porches

all images from better homes and gardens

My Mother always disliked screened porches because she thought they made the interior of a house unnecessarily dark, – but I have always been quite intrigued by them, as a summer evening is almost always ruined when the sun falls and the mosquito come out in full force.

My pet peeve however is decks, to me they should only appear on ships and on a hillside in the woods where the tall trees provide natural shade (notice i don’t have any pictures of decks here) . To me the conditions on a deck are almost always unpleasant. Patios are close enough to the ground that they are protected/ climate regulated by the vegetation, and a porch provides you protection from the sun, decks seem to me to both divorce you from what is pleasant with a porch (shade) and what is pleasant from a patio (the inclusion of the outdoors, vegetation) – and instead thrust you above the ground into the wind and direct glaring sun. Man that was quite a rant wasn’t it? What are your design pet peeves?