Dust and Water


The rains have been pretty intense, and there is a lot of water in California, now. And a lot of that water is in the ground around our house.

What does that mean for us? Well, the sump filled up because the pump couldn't get the water out fast enough, and water filled up the entire sump. For that to happen the entire drainage field under the slab had to have filled up with water, too. The sheer volume of water this represents is kind of astonishing, given the last few years of drought.

The sump is full

With the intervention of Noel and the contractor, we brought in extra pumps and dumped that water out on the street (because at this point the back yard is totally saturated).

Draining to the street

Noel was unfortunately away at a family funeral this weekend, so I took on sump monitoring responsibilities, checking up on it in the morning and afternoon each day. Once we got the whole thing drained and changed it to just dump the water in the storm drain, the levels stayed down properly.

How the sump should look

This is much more what I expect to see when I look in there.

Because I was at the house a lot this weekend, I got to say hi to the drywall guys, who were sanding.

A little drywall dust

Guys, I thought I knew what a lot of drywall dust was like, I thought I understood how dusty this can be. My experience of drywall sanding was nothing compared to the amount of dust these guys were making.

Lots and lots of dust

These photos were from Saturday morning and they were at the house sanding all weekend. It is almost ridiculously dusty in there. I am so glad I am 1) not doing this myself, and 2) not living there while that is happening.

Doorknob Hell


Renovation requires some exciting decision making. I've been almost obsessively looking at stencil catalogs, for example (I'll get to that post eventually). But this last week has been the worst. I've been choosing new doorknobs.

Here's the deal: the house was originally built in 1876, and the ell was added on around 1890 or so. I believe the original upstairs doorknobs were simple porcelain knobs like this one:

Upstairs back room knob

The kicker about this style of knob is that they break easily. So at some point a couple of knobs were replaced with these:

Upstairs front rooms knob

Great. It's not unusual for the knobs upstairs to be a different style than the ones downstairs, and our downstairs knobs are these crystal ones:

Pocket door hardware

Also notice that those knobs are on the pocket doors for no good reason. That is extremely unusual. I can't find any pocket door hardware in this style, anywhere. That matters because the crystal knobs are clearly replacements for whatever was originally there (we have no idea what those were).

Even more confusing is the front door knob:

Front door hardware

That's a weird amalgam of styles: the bottom lock part is in the Broken Leaf pattern (mid-1880's), the upper rosette is a different pattern (you can see the bottom part is literally cut to fit in place). The knob is a basic brass knob that looks much more modern. WTF, previous owners? WTF?

So my job for the last week has been finding the right replacement knobs for the old doors, and new knobs for the new doors. I took out a plan and began working on a language.

The addition, and any new doors at the back of the house, will have lever handles.

Turino lever

We settled on these, which was actually pretty easy. I wanted something fairly simple but with a little traditional feel.

I ordered four of these this week in a bit of a panic, because the elevator company won't even start installing the elevator unless the doors are installed with hardware. Those arrived today:

Lever door handles

They feel really nice, heavy in the right way.

So the elevator installation can begin tomorrow.

Anyway, that's just the doors at the back of the house. There are... lots of other doors. Including many pocket doors, a few new sets of french doors, and some odd closets that are more like cupboards, such as the new hall closet, the closet above the new hall closet (as I said...) and the high pantry. This language for the doors is getting complicated.

Some decisions we have made:

We started with a simple decision, which was to get everything in unlacquered brass. The metal will get a patina over time that will look better than the pre-aged brass finishes, and if we get irritated by that we can spend our weekends polishing doorknobs anxiously.

Another simple decision was to just replace all the doorknobs in the upstairs original part of the house with these porcelain knobs:

Upstairs front

That's close to what was there originally while being both 1) actually operational and 2) not cracked, and 3) not painted over with pink wall paint.

Parlour knobs

For the new french doors in the parlours (two sets), these crystal knobs. We liked the simpler design of the oval crystal knob. The oval shape is an 1900-ish doorknob design, which puts it a good 25 years after our house was built, but that's a good 75 years younger than the current knobs.

Front door

We chose this set for the front door after much agonizing. I like the Broken Leaf pattern (as did somebody who lived here before) but could not find an exterior set in it. This is Roanoke, which is an Art Nouveau pattern from 1900-ish. I just had a hard time finding any door sets like this that were less than 25 years younger than the house. Most doors sets I could find had finger-latch handles which are terribly inappropriate. This one looks like it will at least age well and look OK on our door.

We are both irrationally excited about a new front door lockset where the knob doesn't randomly fall out in your hands every couple of months. Will we know what to do with ourselves? All evidence says no.

Side door

On the side door this is where I am right now, but I may go even simpler. The original side door, which was put in when the house was converted into three units in the Depression, had crappy 1980's hardware on it. Worked OK, opened and closed the door just fine. But nothing to save for future generations (note: in 140 years restorationists will be cursing me for this attitude as they hunt for the perfect intact Home Depot doorknob).

I'd like to go pretty simple on the new side door, because it's a secondary entrance, and because I feel like too much ornateness will get to be too much. So I'm going to go for a nice solid brass knob of some kind, this fancy-ish one or something like this:

Side door simpler option

Now, that's a few styles of door knobs and I'm not even done with all the doors. Oh, no. What about the doors into the utility spaces in the basement? Should they have a different kind of handle? What about the pocket doors: I have pocket doors into bathrooms which need locks, and pocket doors into the pantries and dining room which do not, and the pocket doors in the parlours which need some other kind of hardware altogether.

So the next several weeks will be spent making a lot of decisions about hardware. Stay tuned.

Landscape Master Planning


So a few months ago we hired a firm I use a lot professionally, Verde 360, to do a master plan for our landscape. I have a lot of ideas about landscape design, but I needed to get outside my own head.

Last weekend we met with Ori, the principal, to go over his design on site and walk through his ideas.

Site plan

We got a nice site plan, with hardscape and softscape elements. Some of it didn't really work for us -- that's just how it is. Individual tastes don't always match up perfectly, and in this case we had a few restrictions on site usage that I hadn't remembered to tell Ori about during the design process.

Things I loved:

1. A stone circle seating area in the front garden.

Stone circle

I loved this idea, and Ori gave us some great inspiration photos and a design that, with a little tweaking, works perfectly for me. Love it. Just imagine my magnolia in the middle of the circle instead of a fire pit.

2. More hydrangeas, and they get a skirt.


I expected my hydrangeas to be on the chopping block. I love them but they are very traditional and not everybody's cup of tea. But no, I didn't even have to fight for them (not that it would really be a fight; it's my yard). Ori's suggestion was to mix in a couple other types and repeat them all over the place as a foundation planting. Also, they can be underplanted with this lomandra, which is evergreen and will help them not look so leggy in the winter.

I love this look, and I think it will be great along the side of the house, too.

3. A kiwi arbor in the back, with hanging lights.

Pergola lights

I have wanted to figure out a way to grow kiwis for a long time. Ori's idea was to put an arbor off the greenhouse -- which we ended up moving from the location in his master plan -- and hang lights off it to make a nice quiet place to hang out in the evenings. After some fussing we realized we could put that between the greenhouse and the chicken house to make a little semi-enclosed covered area.

4. Giant pots.

I love giant pots. I love them more when I don't have to actually move them, of course.

Olive pots

Ori's design includes lots of small trees in pots, which is perfect. Including a couple of olive trees in 3-foot pots by the front walk.

After discussing the design with him, and then sitting around with some fruit tree catalogs into the wee hours of the morning, we added some more pots.

There were obviously things I didn't care for. Ori put the greenhouse where the metal shed was, which is where I initially planned to put the greenhouse, but we felt like it was too close to the deck. So after some discussion we moved it over a bit. That makes some areas of the garden less generous, but other areas larger.

He also designed a very rustic greenhouse, which I wasn't crazy about. I'm not 100 percent certain that a fancy English-style greenhouse is the right look, but it just didn't feel like the very-rustic look was quite right, either. It felt more at home in a more Connecticut farm setting than our very urban backyard.

Some interesting ideas from the design:

1. Multiple path types and how to mix them together. I still need to see how this gets executed, but the design includes three kinds of pathways, and ways to blend them together to make a cohesive whole.

2. New ground covers. Ori suggested a native strawberry groundcover that looks like it will work really well with some of the ones we already have.

3. Enlarging the passionfruit pergola. Right now from the new kitchen we look directly into our neighbor's bedroom window. I'm not interested in that view, so Ori suggested we make the pergola larger and a little longer to block those sight lines.

4. Moving trees. I feel like I may have to hire somebody to do this because I have moved enough trees in this garden already, but basically Ori was suggesting we make a more lined-up orchard. As it happens much of the orchard needs refreshing, anyway, so plenty of trees are due to be chopped down and replaced, and some trees have taken quite a hit in the construction. So maybe this isn't a bad time to do some major tree realignment.

And that's about it. I mean, there's a whole lot more detail, but it's not exciting detail, just things like plant lists and some construction details. As we look to implement some of these ideas you will get to know them better, as well.

And you thought we'd have nothing to talk about once we moved back into the house. Hah.

In other news: the roof is proceeding, slowly. Drywall is almost complete. I met with the tile setter at the house this weekend to walk through which tiles would be in which places, and they are getting started next week. Also in the next week the heating system is getting started. Once the heat is in they can do floors (the wood flooring is in the basement ready for its close-up) and work on trim. Things are coming together.