Posts Tagged ‘bungalow’


Kitchen Chronicles: Bungalow layout inspiration

July 16, 2010

One of the fun things about living in a 1915 bungalow is finding other similar homes and looking at what others have done with the layout over the years—and boy, are there a lot of them! As we started thinking about the kitchen two years ago, one of the most interesting things I did was to start browsing the MLS listings to take a look at other bungalow kitchens. In Oakland, it’s surprisingly easy to find them, too. While our house isn’t a kit house (that we know of) and we have yet to find a twin other than its actual next-door twin, there are still a lot of strikingly similar variations on the layout. If I set search parameters to include houses between 1000 and 1500 square feet that were built between 1900 and 1930, it’s a pretty good bet that I’ll turn up at least one or two similar kitchens on any given day. And if I only look at the two-bedroom houses built between 1914 and 1925, my odds quadruple.

The telltale signs of a similar layout are the door placement (right up against the wall on one side, sometimes still a swinging door) and the double windows over the sink. For most houses of our variety, the dining room is just outside the kitchen on one side, and the backyard or a porch on the other. Occasionally, I’ll see a house that still has a separate breakfast room and back porch, often converted into laundry rooms or half baths. (Our house had these rooms until a 1939 remodel modified the wall.)

Here are a few kitchens I’ve found over the years and saved for layout notes. (A few disclaimers: these photos are all from EBRDI and copyrighted accordingly. Also, these are all from the ‘hood, so it’s entirely possible that the people who now live in these houses might stumble on this blog; if one of them is your kitchen and you want the photo removed, just let me know and I’ll gladly take it off. Alternatively, if one of these is your kitchen or very similar to yours and you want to share anything about the layout, please do! Finally, many of these listings were originally accompanied by websites with floor plans, so in some cases I know the layout is similar not from the photo, but from looking at a floor plan or even dropping by the open houses.)

First, here’s our kitchen’s MLS photo, for context:

Look how clean it is!

Our kitchen, prettied up and staged for sale. Look how clean it is!

Here’s what our blueprint originally looked like:

1915 blueprints of our kitchen (flipped from our neighbor's copy)

1915 blueprints of our kitchen (flipped from our neighbor's copy)

And here’s what some other folks have done with roughly our layout. Interestingly, almost all of these kitchens also break the work triangle, with the exception of a few that either never had or have removed their coolers and have the refrigerator located there.

This kitchen sacrifices corner counter for a longer run to the right of the stove.

This kitchen sacrifices corner counter for a longer run to the right of the stove.

This was helpful to get a sense of what counters on the right side might look like. It also convinced me that we don't want our refrigerator where this one is, since it creates too much of a wall as you come into the kitchen.

This was helpful to get a sense of what counters on the right side might look like. It also convinced me that we don't want our refrigerator where this one is, since it creates too much of a wall as you come into the kitchen.

This is roughly what our corner will look like, except we may have shelves instead of an upper there, and our drawer banks will be a bit bigger.

This is roughly what our corner will look like, except we may have shelves instead of an upper there, and our drawer banks will be a bit bigger.

This is the same kitchen, but gives a glimpse of the breakfast nook. This is my model for ours.

This is the same kitchen, but gives a glimpse of the breakfast nook. This is one model I like for ours, though our kitchen is a bit longer than theirs, so it would be a roomier layout.

Another approach to the fridge dilemma. We could do this, but I don't like the resulting counter space configuration much.

Another approach to the fridge dilemma. We could do this, but I don't like the resulting counter space configuration much. They also seem to have a peninsula to make a "U" shape, something a couple of the designers we talked with suggested for our space.

This is one of my favorite kitchens. You can't tell in this photo, but the door is just to your right, and there's actually a cut-through to the dining room over the counter on the right. We would need to sacrifice the cooler to get a U like this, though.

This is one of my favorite kitchens, though it's not quite the same as ours (but quite similar if you look at the full layout). You can't tell in this photo, but the door is just to your right, and there's actually a cut-through to the dining room over the counter on the right. We would need to sacrifice the cooler to get a U like this, though.

Yet another approach to the corner. Not sure where the fridge is in this kitchen, as the photos don't include it.

Yet another approach to the corner. Not sure where the fridge is in this kitchen, as the photos don't include it.

This kitchen pushes the chimney into the corner, which is pretty common. They also wrapped around a peninsula, and seem to still have their cooler, too.

This kitchen pushes the chimney into the corner, which is pretty common (and much smarter than ours, where it's dropped into the center of the room!) They also wrapped around a peninsula, and seem to still have their cooler, too. This kitchen is either a wee bit wider than ours or laid out differently as far as the doors go, since we can't quite get a peninsula in while keeping a 42" aisle against the wall. Ah, well.


Our bungalow in a BOOK!

March 16, 2010

Or, to be a bit more accurate, on a book. Jane Smiley’s new novel Private Life, to be exact.

Yep, that's our house there at the bottom! (Image from Faber & Faber)

This is a story of amazing discoveries:

First, a great-grandaughter of Walter and Mabel Kiedaisch, the couple who owned our home from 1921 to 1927, stumbled upon this blog last year after I posted a little history of our house. (Side note: We have now been in contact with five of the nine families who have lived here over the last century, including the family who built the home in 1915….that’s pretty amazing!) We’d known that Walter Kiedaisch was a photographer—and as it turns out, his great-granddaughter has his photograph archives. Lo and behold, she hunted down a snapshot of our house! (This is especially impressive given that she did this in part by looking at the little chopped-and-shopped graphic of our house in the corner of the homepage, which—though it is in fact adapted from a real photograph—takes a lot of artistic liberties…)

Then, even more astoundingly, Faber and Faber, a British publishing house, found the photograph on this blog while searching for pictures of Bay Area bungalows to use on the cover of the British edition of Private Life. (The moral of the story is: tag, and tag well!) They were good enough to write and ask for formal permission to use the image, and have included a photography credit for Walter Kiedaisch, fifty years after his death. And the icing on the cake: this gig even came with an honorarium for use of the photograph that, with the blessing of the Kiedaisch family, we asked the publisher to donate to the Oakland Heritage Alliance (OHA), where it will go to work preserving Oakland’s history (not to mention helping to fund the cool history lecture series and walking tours that OHA offers).

This experience was also a good lesson for me in learning to be less paranoid—my initial reaction to the email that showed up from the publishing house was “what kind of a scam could this be??” But a little digging on the interweb revealed that everyone was indeed who they said they were, and it was all real. So, working with three women I’ve never met on two different continents, we coordinated all of the logistics—and here it is!

I have yet to actually read the book—we haven’t received our copy yet as it doesn’t officially come out until May, so that’s a project for later this spring!—but I’m very curious, since the novel is about a young woman living in the Bay Area in the early 20th century with her naval officer/astronomer husband. I don’t think the book itself is set in Oakland—the few excerpts I’ve seen refer to a San Francisco naval base, which, in the 1920s, would likely have been Hunters Point in San Francisco, one of the first Pacific naval bases established. The Oakland Naval Reserve Air Base, located where the Oakland Airport is today, did not go into operation until 1928. Alameda Naval Air Station in West Alameda was acquired by the Navy in 1930, and Treasure Island, midway between San Francisco and Oakland, was the last to go to the Navy in 1940 as part of a land swap that got the City of San Francisco property near Millbrae to build the airport that is now SFO. But regardless of the setting, the novel should be an intriguing snapshot of Bay Area history. (Author Jane Smiley is a Northern Californian herself, so I imagine she had a chance to delve into all sorts of fun aspects of the history of this region.)

And speaking of Bay Area naval bases, here’s some fun trivia: in 1927, the Oakland City Council bought Bay Farm Island, now part of the city of Alameda except for OAK, to build the city an airport. A few months later, the Army got in touch to say they wanted to try the first flight from the mainland to Hawai’i, and wanted Oakland to build a runway for them. So, working 24 hours a day for three weeks (sound familiar, Caltrans??), Oakland crews built what was then the world’s longest runway, and on June 28, 1927, a flight from Oakland to O’ahu became the first successful flight to Hawai’i from the U.S. mainland. The Navy took over the next year, launching a long history of naval aviation in the East Bay.

Anyway, if for some reason you want to be the proud owner of a book with our house on the cover of it, you can get it here. (The photograph is only on the UK paperback edition of the book.) We’re picking up a few extra copies to pass along to any future owners of the house, too, since it’s such a fun story—and looks eerily the same as our house today. (And, of course, we’re ignoring the somewhat creepy sub-heading on the cover, given that we’re down to just a few months before our wedding….)

Turns out that a little history goes a long way!


Kitchen Chronicles: The (not so) bad beginning

December 17, 2009

Yep, it’s that pesky kitchen again…

In the last episode, we discovered that there were far too many complicated and expensive things that needed to be fixed with our circa-1939 kitchen (with a 2007 “facelift”) for it to make much sense to do the project piecemeal. Instead, we started saving up for one big overhaul. We’re not quite there yet, but I’ve decided to go ahead and start working on the plan and talking to contractors so that we can get this thing rolling in the new year. Not exactly a bad beginning, per se, but certainly a far more expensive (and stressful!) one than we’d originally envisioned.

First things first: to save those of you who really don’t care about our kitchen from having to wade through what will probably be a LOT of posts about the renovation process in the coming year, I’m going to start titling and tagging any kitchen-related posts as “kitchen chronicles.” Read ’em if you like kitchens, or ignore ’em if you don’t.

Crafting the plan
One of the first things I did once we decided to tackle the entire space was to sit down and make a list of the current problems and the multiple roles we’d like the space to serve. Here’s how we envision it:

  • More light!
  • Better flow from the dining room into the kitchen into the breakfast room and out into the yard
  • Preserve the breakfast room function, if not the physical division of space
  • Allow the breakfast room to double as a mud room (which it sort of does now, but not terribly well)
  • Create space for the dog’s bowl and supplies
  • Create a continuous work surface somewhere in the kitchen itself
  • Eliminate the “wall” of cabinets that you walk into when you enter the kitchen from the dining room
  • Preserve the California cooler, the only original element in the kitchen
  • Preserve the ability to close the kitchen off from the rest of the house
  • Create a kitchen that fits into the historical aesthetic of the house

That’s a lot of different pieces and different jobs for a relatively small (13 feet by 17.5 feet, counting the breakfast room) space to fill. We’re still playing around with different configurations to get there, but right now, the plan is looking something like this:

Here’s what we’re starting with, as a refresher:

And here’s what we really started with, courtesy of our neighbor. This kitchen is actually  from the blueprints of our house’s mirror-image twin. I flipped it in Photoshop, but that would be why “screen” and “glass” are still backwards. (Or rather, I’m lazy and that’s why they are.) But you get the idea, and you can still see where the original walls and counters were, which is pretty crazy! In our house, the wall between the porch and the breakfast room was taken down as part of the 1939 remodel and the ironing board was moved.

1915 blueprints of our kitchen

The plan is still very much a work in progress and we have a lot of things to work out (like whether we can actually move the doorway, for starters—and if we do, how do we set it up so that the door closes, given that it’s a swinging door right now, and apparently you can’t put a pocket door in without stripping both sides of a wall down to the studs?) Our kitchen is awkwardly sized—too wide for a good galley layout, but too narrow to really accommodate an island. Most people with this layout—and there are a surprising number of them given how many bungalows are floating around town!—take out the cooler and stick the refrigerator there or make this into a U shape, but I really love our cooler and would hate to lose it. So, no U.

Kitchen Work Plan

  1. Disconnect and move stove and refrigerator; demo all cabinets. Remember to buy new toaster oven and borrow hot plate or microwave from somewhere before we get to this point!!
  2. Demo furnace chimney; re-vent furnace and hot water heater through wall or to exterior of house as needed. Explore the possibility of using the new Oakland iteration of CaliforniaFIRST to upgrade to a high-efficiency furnace and solar water heater at the same time.
  3. Remove tile floor, baseboard trim, sink backsplash, and washer/dryer hookups on breakfast room walls.
  4. Widen doorway between breakfast room and kitchen and figure out what kind of door to install here.
  5. Insulate outside wall behind sink, and add heat to the kitchen.
  6. Finish open walls and install new flooring and new trim to match the original.
  7. Install new cabinets, open shelves, sink, dishwasher, backsplash, etc.
  8. Install new counter. Paperstone, maybe?
  9. Install (or acquire freestanding) benches for breakfast room and mudroom areas. Install coat hooks.
  10. Install new light fixtures and exhaust hood.
  11. Replace back door with better insulated door. Yay Obama tax credits!

The million dollar question, of course, is how much all of this is going to cost. (Hopefully not a million dollars!) We’re on a pretty tight budget for this project, so the goal is to do as much of the work ourselves as seems feasible and wise. That probably means lots of fun demo-ing things, but leaving some of the finishing to the pros. I shipped off some paint and dust samples to be tested for lead a few months ago and was psyched to learn that the paint and plaster in the kitchen are effectively lead-free, so we can demo our hearts out. We also need to figure out where the cabinets are coming from. I’m getting a few estimates from local cabinetmakers, since that’s our ideal scenario—but we may end up back at Ikea if we can’t make it pencil out. We’ll see.

So with that—welcome to the City Homestead Kitchen Chronicles!


Bringin’ down the house…

August 15, 2009

….but not ours, luckily!

However, this bungalow around the corner from us had a demolition notice posted a few weeks ago, and I finally got around to snapping some photos.

Demolition House

Demolition House

All boarded up...

All boarded up...

This is a 1909 two-bedroom bungalow that’s been sitting empty for years (and from the little you can see, appears to be in pretty bad shape inside). It’s a pretty puzzling house—it’s been flagged for blight (and on the City’s Cleanup/Board Up list) repeatedly since at least 2005, which is especially odd because someone’s been paying some (though not all) of the taxes on it. (Granted, they’re pretty minimal to begin with; it’s assessed for under $40K right now, so I imagine its last sale must have been long before Prop 13 kicked in.) While our neighborhood’s not exactly blight-free, it’s very unusual to see abandoned houses around here these days. You’d think they’d have sold the lot at the height of the housing boom, when they could have gotten a pretty penny for it—oh, well. (Rumor has it that the property is owned by a San Francisco building inspector, which makes it all even stranger.)

Anyway, the notice says it’s now being demolished as blight abatement. (And it does look to be in pretty awful shape—plus there have been squatters there from time to time, which I can’t imagine did wonders for the interior.) It’s also a little unclear who owns the property at this point, given how much is owed in back taxes. The City? Some third party?


But what I really want to know, of course, is what happens after the demolition. A vacant lot isn’t much better than a blighted house. (In fact, it might be worse—I’d initially hoped they’d sell the house so someone could rehab it!) So I’m hoping one of the following things will happen:

  1. The people who just bought the fourplex next door to this house could buy this lot. Next door is a beautiful 1912 apartment building, but it’s pretty much built lot line to lot line, so if they were to tack on this lot, they could create a backyard and potentially even build a garage for parking and storage. Seems like a smart investment opportunity.
  2. The vacant lot could be turned into a community garden as part of a project with Westlake Middle School, just down the street. A co-worker of mine took on a project like this last year (although sans kid involvement), drafting the appropriate legal forms to secure permission from the property owner, and has created a pretty phenomenal garden on the site today. (One of these days I’ll snap some photos of that, too, since it puts our garden to shame!)
  3. Something else??

I’m also pretty curious to see if they salvage anything from within (or if there’s anything worthy of salvaging). When they demolished a house on Piedmont Avenue earlier this year, we were pleased to see that a lot of the innards (including many beautiful redwood joists) were carefully bundled up and trucked off, presumably to some new life somewhere. Who knows what else might be in there?

Anyway. There’s no demolition date listed on the notice (very helpful!) so when I have a moment I may give the City a call to see what’s up, and hopefully find out what lies ahead for this little corner of the neighborhood. In the meantime—so long, little bungalow.


Building a bungalow garden

May 21, 2009

One of the big excitements of our out-of-the-blue May rain a few weeks back (for folks outside the Bay Area, rain in May is a rarity here!) was that it was a great opportunity to finish up the pulling-of-the-grass. Most of our grass died last summer when we stopped watering, and though we had a brief resurgence this winter, I’ve been slowly pulling what’s left out by hand. It’s an irritating mix of crabgrass, some sort of bluegrass that was probably intended to be the lawn originally, and a tall weedy grass that grows in clumps and gets to be two feet tall when D. doesn’t attack it with the mower. We also had an invasion of oxalis and some other low groundcovers once the initial batch of grass died last summer.

But—at long last!—we finally finished earlier this month, which means our lawn is ready for renovation.

Why take out the lawn in the first place?
Since we moved into the house, we’ve slowly been letting the lawn die, mainly by not watering it. (Luckily the sprinkler lines for the lawn are separate from the other circuits, which made this very easy to do.) It took a couple of seasons, because in California a lot of plants are used to droughts and bounce back as soon as the winter rains start. But because water is a huge issue in California, we knew we wanted something that would be green year-round without all that summer watering, so we stuck it out.

So just how much water does a lawn take? Well, we’re in the pretty interesting position of knowing exactly, at least for our house. Northern California is in a drought right now, and consequently our water has been rationed for the past year. To set the allotments for each house, East Bay MUD ran comparisons across the last three years and sent them out to us. So we got to contrast our summer water use directly with the previous owner’s.

Last July and August, we used an average of 125 gallons a day. The previous owner? 450 gallons a day. Yes, you read that right! Now, we probably have a much more efficient washing machine than she did, but otherwise, there are two of us and just one of her, so you’d figure we’d be about even, right? And it’s not as if we don’t water anything at all—we did run the sprinklers and drips for the front yard and all of the side gardens and veggies last summer, just not for the lawn itself. So, yeah. So at our current rates, having a traditional lawn would cost us somewhere in the vicinity of $30 a month. Once the new rates kick in this July, that’s headed up-up-up. And really? I have better things to spend thirty bucks a month on.

So we’re back to garden planning. As a refresher, our basic yard requirements are:

  • Drought-tolerant/low water
  • Doesn’t need regular mowing (defined here as four times a season or less, roughly)
  • Dog- and kid-friendly/tolerates foot traffic
  • Tolerates partial shade
  • Somewhat appropriate to the house style and period

Arts and crafts gardens
On the last point, I was a little unsure where to begin. As luck would have it, though, my favorite local bookstore, Builders Booksource, has a beautiful book on bungalow gardens right now, complete with scaled plans for a whole series of 1914 lot sizes and homes.

Bungalow gardens

Bungalow gardens

A few interesting observations:

  • Without fail, every plan included kitchen and vegetable gardens. (I’m not entirely sure what the distinction was—perhaps kitchen gardens had more in the way of herbs and such?) Most of the time, these were along the back of the lot or occasionally along the side yard. In our case, that’s not where our best sun is now that we have adjacent apartment buildings—but it makes me wonder if that’s where the gardens were once upon a time, since it would have been perfect back then. Ours will stay where they are, though eventually I need to turn the 6′ x 6′ box into a 4′ x 6′ box, since it’s proven to be rather unwieldy.
  • Bungalow garden designers really liked paths. There were paths everywhere. This is actually pretty cool, because I’ve been wanting paths in our yard, too, so it’s a good excuse to move forward with that plan!
  • Lots of gardens included ponds—which was especially interesting to see because the great-great-niece of the original owners of our house had left a comment on my house history post a few days earlier reminiscing about the fish pond that the house next-door had once upon a time. Did ours have one too?
  • There was a strong Japanese influence, at least for the designers who put together the California gardens featured in the book. Again, this probably shouldn’t have been surprising given the huge Japanese community in California before World War II and the echoes of Japanese aesthetic in Arts and Crafts architecture, but it was still interesting to see.

Our bungalow garden
Anyway, here’s our current plan, in a rather messy conceptual stage. If I have time, I’ll hand draw it in plan form to clean it up a bit, but for planning purposes this works. It’s not 100 percent accurate (just realized I left off the feijoa tree, plus a few other smaller trees!) or exactly to scale, mostly because I’m lazy, but for now it’s enough. (I also left off the scale, which is bad bad bad, but the lot is 50 feet wide, and the backyard is around 60 feet deep.) Much of this exists already—particularly the beds that ring the yard—so we’re keeping them intact and swapping out the center lawn.

Garden Plan

Garden Plan

For the dog, I’m building a series of paths for him to run (and for us to walk on). This is mostly because we don’t have space for a real dog run anyway, but also because I recently read that dogs love to run circuits (which jibes with my own observations of the Labradane, who adopted the little veggie bed path as his route of choice almost as soon as I built it). Originally these were going to be flagstone with plantings in between, but when I went to buy the flagstone yesterday, I discovered that our little path would run in the neighborhood of $700—aaah! So that plan was out. Instead, I’m just going to dig out the paths this weekend and put down weedblock so we don’t lose all the hard work on clearing the grass, and then we’ll keep an eye on Craigslist for some interesting salvage materials that might make an interesting pathway.

In the center, we’ll add two more fruit trees—one, the avocado, is already in—and put in a small lawn below them. Originally we’d been considering several seed and sod options. At this point, I’ve abandoned carex pansa (the native grass plugs) because of the cost and difficulty of the installation; it’s also not exactly what we’re looking for as far as the look and feel. The tentative plan now is to use the Fleur de Lawn mix from Hobbs & Hopkins in Portland, in part because the lawn area has now shrunk below the 200 square foot minimum for sod delivery, and in part because the flower mix that they include helps attract bees and butterflies—an added bonus. It’s low mow but not no mow, so it will still need to be chopped back three or four times a year. I’m hoping that with the dry Bay Area summers, this may not be needed as often here as in the Pacific Northwest, though. I’m still a little nervous about the Achillea millefolium in the mix, since some variants of that can be invasives in the Bay Area and it doesn’t specify which this is. On the other hand, our garden is already crawling with sweet alyssum and nasturtiums, which are about as invasive as they come. (We planted both intentionally because they’re also rumored to attract beneficial insects and fend off whitefly, though it’s hard to say if that actually works. They are pretty as weeds go, though, and the bees love them!)

Finally, last on the list is to get our soil tested, which I haven’t bothered doing since we don’t grow directly in it, except for the fruit trees, which don’t retain heavy metals in the same way that vegetables do. But with our garden going gangbusters, I’d like to use some of the side beds for winter squash, strawberries, and perennial veggies like asparagus, so we need to find out just how bad the soil is, and whether we can safely grow in it. (The New York Times had a good piece recently on the challenges of soil contamination in urban gardening, and OakBook had a piece that specifically addressed the fruit trees aspect of this a while back.) A plus is that our lot has always been residential and our yard has likely been a garden for its entire life, but we are pretty close to Broadway Auto Row and we do have heavy clay soil, so who knows. We’ll see.

Sometime this weekend, I’ll take some photos of the site itself, which isn’t much more than a pile of dust at this point. The mulch arrives tomorrow morning, though, so there’s a long weekend of gardening ahead!


Hey, look—grout! (And tiles!)

May 16, 2009

Took way too long, but we finally have tiles that pretty much match, and grout and caulking to seal the deal. We spent about six weeks looking for tiles that were indistinguishable from the existing tiles—finally found them at Lowe’s after one of the local tile stores guessed that our chunk of sample tile might be a Dal-Tile color. As it turns out, it’s American Olean, which seems to be pretty exclusively available at the big box stores, but that’s made by Dal-Tile, so not a bad guess. Unfortunately the nearest Lowe’s is in Union City, so it took a while to finally make it out there….luckily they had eight tiles left of this color and size buried on the back of a shelf. We bought all the ones that weren’t chipped, just in case we have to do anything else on this in the future. (The new tiles are the four touching the valve; everything else is old.)

When I finished grouting, I also used a whitener that our hardware store recommended on the old grout to try to get a close match. It still needs to be sealed, but it’s looking pretty good overall. The only big issue has been that our original tiling was done pretty terribly, so lots of tiles aren’t lined up or flush. The funny part is that I never noticed this before, but once we started working with the tile, it became pretty evident, and now I see it every time I look at it. Argh. (D.’s decided that he wants to rip this all out—that would be at some future date after we win the lottery—and retile it with a clawfoot bathtub to fix the look. We’ll see. On the upside? or downside? that means I’m not doing the floor anytime soon, since it’s silly to do it for aesthetic reasons if we might realistically replace the tub at some point.)

New valve and tile

New valve and tile

….and speaking of doing something else on this in the future, it turns out that the nice round plastic piece is supposed to be behind the tile, not in front of it. I’m not sure if this is a problem with our plumber or the depth of our wall and valve, but the end result is that the valve trim that finally came in the mail last week doesn’t fit on the valve. Augh. There’s about a half-inch gap between the escutcheon and the wall. So now we have to figure out a solution to this that hopefully doesn’t involve knocking out the tile and reinstalling the valve.



Fixtures for bungalow bathrooms

March 31, 2009

So, we now have a new shower valve (though still no new tile!) As it turns out, though, we also need a new tub faucet (or at least parts for a faucet, but I’m just going to suck it up and buy a new one so that the fixtures match, because even old chrome and new chrome look awful right now!) That pesky leak wasn’t fixed by $400 worth of plumbing parts and labor, sadly, and now seems to be the fault of a bad faucet diverter.

That brings me to….trim decision making. We got a cheap-o valve trim from the plumbing place over the weekend so we’d be able to use the shower in the interim, but now that I need to go faucet hunting, I’m revisiting the trim choice. Might as well make it all match. (Incidentally, the cheap trim was under $30, which I’ve discovered was a mighty fine deal, even up against eBay—props to the independent retailers!)

Here’s what I’d ideally like, leaving aside for the moment the fact that we missed a golden opportunity to replace our shower valve with something other than the generic single handle valve—ah, well. What’s done is done. (Though it reminds me of a friend’s recommendation—do a little research on all of the pieces of your house even if you have no plans to replace them, so that if you have to replace something unexpectedly, you know roughly what it is you want and don’t buy the easiest thing that lands in your hand!)

The trim must be:

  • Compatible with Kohler’s Rite-Temp single-handle shower valve
  • Somewhat vaguely period appropriate for a 1915 bathroom (flexible, given that we don’t have the clawfoot tub or anything)
  • Either polished nickel (ideal) or polished chrome (second best)

Here are a few options I’ve found so far:













Any of these can be had in a variety of finishes; some are way too expensive—the “Antique” one would eat up the entire project budget at list price!—but for right now I’m just trying to settle on a few that would be workable. Who knows what deals may lie in the depths of EBay, after all. I’ve also decided not to stress about matching the style of the pedestal sink faucet in any way, though for what it’s worth, I plan to use a traditional faucet with cross handles, either with porcelain handles or just porcelain buttons.

Sadly, I’m just not in love with any of these—and am really hoping it wasn’t a mistake to go with the Kohler valve. If we’d had a little more time to plan, it would have been great to put in the three-handled Sign of the Crab shower valve, for instance. (The only other option at our local store was Grohe, though, which was even more expensive.)

What would you put in a bungalow bathroom?


The doors of a bungalow

March 7, 2009

The discussion of our front door in the previous post prompted me to take a quick photo series of doors in our house this morning, since we have a *lot* of them—in 1250 square feet, there were originally fourteen doors! (This was probably due in large part to the fact that our house was almost certainly not heated when it was built, so the sea of doors and south-facing windows helped maximize and contain natural heat.) Today we have ten in active use and an eleventh in storage. Most, if not all, are original to the house—the back door and its screen are the big question marks. They’re certainly old, but possibly not 94 years old. 

Here’s a taste:

There are a few more doors in the two bedrooms and the sleeping porch, but they’re all identical to the doors above. All except the bathroom door have matching vintage hardware, too, though I’m not sure if it’s original or if someone went through and replaced it at some point—it’s clearly been cared for and, for the most part, isn’t painted over anywhere, which is unusual in a house this age. Then, of course, there are the garage and basement doors, which didn’t make this photo shoot. Nothing exciting there: the basement door is your typical shed door, and the garage door was actually added the summer before we bought the house, so it’s a brand-new garden variety Lowe’s door.


Top ten projects that there’s absolutely no reason to do…

September 11, 2008

…. except that I really, really want to!

So yesterday was my birthday, and in honor of that, I thought I’d post my project wish list. We have lots of real projects (many of them done now, thankfully) on our list: seismic retrofitting, new wiring, a new fence, some landscaping to stop runoff from making a beeline for the basement. But this is my dream list of things that really don’t need doing, but that I’d just love to do someday anyway. Since D is going to scream if I tell him one more thing about a project I’m not allowed to start yet, I figured I’d share them here instead.

Ordered from “things-I-might-be-allowed-to-do” to “things-I-will-never-be-allowed-to-do,” they are:

10. Add plate rail to the dining room. It’s just crying out for this. It’s not even hard to do. (The original rail was removed for unknown reasons, along with the built-in.)

9. Change the bathroom faucets and fixtures. I really hate the gold-and-chrome color scheme that’s in the bathroom right now, even though it’s perfectly functional. But it just doesn’t fit with the house at all. (They even changed the door plate out to match!) Here’s what I want to do in my dream world: Get rid of mirror; replace with medicine cabinet. Replace all light and bath fixtures with something more appropriate. Put beadboard in and replace crappy molding. Tear out floor and put in hexagonal tile. Voilà: an arts and crafts bathroom.

8. Tear out kitchen tile floor and refinish douglas fir subfloor. Replace crappy molding. We really might do this someday. A little afraid that the Labradane will destroy it, though. Anyone ever done this in a house with a big dog?

7. Tear up the concrete patio and put in something with a softer feel (flagstones?) that won’t crack and look like it dates to 1970. On the upside, there are signs that the patio once had fake green lawn glued onto it, so at least it’s worlds away from there….

6. Rebuild dining room built-in. It was taken out years ago, but there’s a weird gap where it used to be that just looks awkward. I’d love to build a custom cabinet/bench for this space that would snap into the room. Sadly for us we don’t have a kit house so finding salvage pieces that fill the space has proven virtually impossible.

5. Tear out kitchen counters. They’re brand-new and we can’t, I know. But they’re rose granite. Yuck! Who puts rose granite in a house like this, and then paints the cabinets pink to match?!? [Lesson to anyone selling a house: please please please don’t install granite counters when you get ready to sell your house because you think you have to. You don’t. If your counters are old, offer a counter credit. But taste is personal, and for every buyer who says “oooh, granite!” there’s one who says “ugh, granite!”….and then deducts money from the offer.]

4. Strip woodwork and fireplace. Okay, I know that this will never happen given the time, patience, and mess involved. But this is my dream list, remember??

3. Tear out kitchen. Okay, I know, this one isn’t in the cards either. But again, I can dream! Honestly, even refacing the cabinets would help—they’re pretty awesome 1940s cabinets; they’re just ancient (but not old enough to have the charm of original arts and crafts cabinets). This would also involve replacing the furnace and taking down the furnace chimney, which is smack in the middle of our kitchen. Yeah, I know, we won’t be doing this anytime soon (or ever?) and it costs a gajillion dollars. But it would be pretty cool to open up that space, and a modern furnace wouldn’t need to be vented the way our current one does.

2. Install solar panels on our roof. Again, maybe if the incentives ever get good enough (or if Oakland gets its act together and develops a solar financing program like Berkeley’s) we’ll do this, but since we just finished upgrading the electrical and decided (with some misgivings) to put in a panel that won’t accommodate solar, it’s likely to be a while.


1. And finally….convert our garage roof to a green roof, maybe with a deck off of the master bedroom. This might entail totally rebuilding the garage to support it, which is clearly not happening ever. But still, it would be incredible.

Tomorrow, we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled renovating.


Is small the new cool?

September 1, 2008

That’s what the Chron’s Mark Morford is asking in a recent column.

It’s funny, because we weren’t exactly thinking about size when we were house-hunting, beyond avoiding anything that was reminiscent of a dorm room. It was mainly a matter of getting the most house we could afford in a neighborhood we wanted to live in. As it turned out, we ended up with a small bungalow that’s exactly the kind of house everyone seems to be singing the praises of these days: close to the city center, transit-accessible, walkable and bikeable, near lots of services and amenities. (Okay, we could definitely use a few more of those, but Oakland’s working on that too.) The fact that it’s a single-family home is definitely a vote against it on the footprint front, but our neighborhood is one of the city’s densest, and even the freestanding homes here are packed in on tiny lots. (We’re lucky on that front, too; ours is among the largest lots in the neighborhood—which is to say, we have a small-but-not-tiny, sweet backyard that’s nicely matched to the house.)

It’s no small coincidence that Oakland is full of small bungalows; the city grew up in an era when space was at a premium, and homes were designed to be efficient, utilitarian spaces. To wit: a family with five children lived in our home for much of the 1920s—I was astounded at first, but as we’ve lived here longer, I see how that could work (though there must have been some wait for the bathroom!) With two of us, we rarely use two of the rooms. We’ve also embraced spaces that my family never used in the houses I grew up in—we eat most meals in the dining room, for instance, and we just have a single large living room that can be either formal or informal as required. The breakfast room also has a built-in baking counter, so that’s another room that doubles up uses. A lot of this comes back to the fact that California bungalows that haven’t been muddled around too much are just really well-designed spaces that flow well for daily life. There’s a lot packed into the tiny footprint, and if anything, it sometimes seems that we have too *much* space. As a bonus, we also have super low utility bills and it’s very easy to tackle projects like rewiring or retrofitting, because the house is very compact and well-defined.

So is small really the new “cool,” or are people just momentarily swept up by high energy costs and the economy? When gas and fuel costs come back down, will people head back to their spacious luxury digs, or are small spaces truly back? I’m curious….I’m a bit biased as someone who lives in and loves the bungalow model, but I do hope it gets embraced once again if some of these value shifts stick.

This isn't our house, but it's awfully close! (From's great bungalow plan library)

This isn’t our house, but it’s awfully close! (From’s great bungalow plan library)