A Long Road For Home
Henry, a portrait included in his book, “The Long Road for Home”

When Grandma passed in February, we quietly speculated that Grandpa would not be far behind.  After 66 years of marriage, their souls were so deeply connected; we knew in our hearts that they couldn’t be separated for long.

On Halloween, Grandpa fell and broke his hip.  Alex and I rushed down to visit him in the hospital.  When we arrived, I wanted to be sure I saw him before they took him into surgery, knowing the risks of operating on a 92-year-old.  Grandpa was tenacious, as always — he made it through the surgery and was eventually discharged to a rehabilitation center.  Unfortunately, not long after, he developed a serious infection and was called to glory on Veteran’s Day.

Henry and Kay, with Justice Rehnquist, at Henry’s retirement from the Supreme Court

Grandpa (Henry C. Lind) was always one of my most brag-worthy relatives.  A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Grandpa’s law career eventually led him to the Supreme Court.  He served as the court’s Reporter of Decisions from 1979-1987, editing and publishing the court’s opinions.  He often regaled us with stories of the Justices, including the time he pushed the court to make a decision on the official spelling of the word “marijuana.”  He had a passion for genealogy and  history (especially Civil War history) which he shared throughout his life and in the book he published, “The Long Road for Home.”  On several occasions, my sisters and I took advantage of his knowledge and convinced him to speak at our schools.

Kay and Henry

Regardless of our pride in his professional accomplishments, Grandpa always made it clear that we were the ones he was proud of.  Whenever we would go out to dine with him, he would brag to our server that we were “three of his ten grandchildren – nine granddaughters and one grandson.”  The few times that we attended church with him and Grandma in Lake of the Woods, he would always lift up our presence as a joy.  Embarrassing as it often was, there was never any doubt that we were loved.

In September, I was able to spend a few hours alone with him one afternoon.  We sat on the porch of his assisted living facility together while I listened to him talk about his glory days.  I tried hard to soak him in, asking lots of questions about his life and our family.  Several times, I offered to retrieve him drinks from the refrigerator in his apartment (a selection which included such things as prune juice and Ensure.)  Each time, he insisted that I, his treasured guest, get something for myself as well.

After he passed, I drove back down to be with my mom as she began handling his affairs.  When we notified the staff at his assisted living facility of his death, they cried with us, hugged us, and reaffirmed what we already knew to be true — that he was sitting on a porch with Grandma in Heaven, sipping martinis and smoking cigarettes like they loved to do.  I love and miss you, Grandpa.


Guest Bedroom

Generally speaking, my personal style is very neutral.  For some reason, I decided to throw that to the wind in our guest room.  Here’s where we started:


Plain white walls, lace draperies, and out of view — a large, outdated silk flower arrangement mounted on the wall.


And now this.


Inspired by some combination of the internet, my friend Dan, and the movie, “500 Days of Summer,” I decided to paint two of the walls in this room entirely with black chalkboard paint.  If you saw my kitchen photos, you may have realized that I have a small obsession with chalkboard paint.

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I figured, why buy furniture when you can draw it?  And best of all, erase it and draw it again!  In case you were wondering, the chalkboard paint is a Rustoleum product and is available near other Rustoleum paint products in most home improvement stores.  I think I used 2-3 quarts for this space.  The directions recommend rolling the paint on with a high density roller to provide the smoothest finish possible.  The texture you see in these photos is actually a result of the textured plaster walls that we have throughout our home.  If you were to use this product on regular drywall or flat plaster, it would appear smooth.  In this case, I think the texture makes the walls look a little more like slate.  A process called “conditioning” (rubbing chalk across the entire surface) also emphasizes the texture underneath.  Textured walls are not my preference, but I can live with them.


One of the things I love most about this chalkboard paint is the contrast it provides.  There’s nothing like a white cardboard dear head mounted on a black wall to create a little visual interest.  As a side note, this deer head is from a Charlottesville, VA-based company called Cardboard Safari.  A good friend works there now, and I worked a bit with the owner on a website project for one of my former employers.  I’m so excited for them and the success they’ve had in recent years.  I’ve even seen their products in Urban Outfitters stores!


It terms of the rest of the room, I decided to step outside my comfort zone and mix in some bolder patterns and colors.   White walls and a gray and white striped comforter provided a neutral base to mix in a variety of yellows, pinks, purples and greens in the form of pillows, curtains, and artwork.  A pendant with a fun, floral lampshade adds a bit of punch.


A midcentury style dresser (which we found in our garage!) with an interesting wood grain pattern adds another texture to this eclectic, colorful room while providing storage for our guests.

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A carefully arranged collection of colorful, quirky art pieces and accessories over the dresser tie in most of the colors in the room.  Fun fact: the glass case on the upper right hand side of the photo contains a slide rule and case with my maiden name, Gilchrist, printed on it.  An antique hammer hangs down so that we can break it in case of an engineering emergency.  I come from a line of wonderfully nerdy, humorous engineers.

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In the corner, an Ikea chair I’ve been moving around for the last 5 year provides some softness and a little bit of seating.  An old gray/yellow pillow (from our first married apartment) and a duplicate lampshade on an old floor lamp add to the colorful aesthetic.  I may end up spray painting the lamp base black at some point (shiny brass isn’t really my jam).

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Lastly, an antique silver tray table fulfills the need for an actual nightstand (as opposed to a chalk one) in this room.  My grandmother’s green hand-painted tray contains the necessities — chalk for guests to be creative, an alarm clock, remotes, pamphlets for local attractions, and of course, a card with our WiFi passwords.

In the end, I think stepping out of my neutral comfort zone paid off.  It’s a fun space.  We’ve had a few visitors leave us surprise doodles which I ADORE.  It’s fun to actually be allowed to draw on the walls!

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Kitchen Reveal

I’m missing Virginia again today.  We spent the weekend there with good friends, celebrating the marriage of the wonderful and talented Ben & Nina.  What a beautiful couple!

In the spirit of celebration, it’s finally time to share my kitchen.

For nearly four months (with many weekend trips and visitors in between), I was neck deep in a kitchen renovation that was so inexplicably far outside my comfort zone that it consumed all of my time, body, mind, and soul.  Every day, I felt like I face an enormous uphill battle, completely unsure of how I would ever tackle the tasks that lay before me.  It reminded me very much of a weekend I spent hiking a very steep trail with classmates in Italy four years ago, except without the constant presence of kind, encouraging hiking partners.  I don’t think I went into this project expecting it to be easy.  I was hesitant from the start, procrastinating my kitchen plans to take on smaller, more manageable/comfortable projects.  When I finally got up the nerve to order my cabinets and materials at the end of April, I knew I had to jump in with both feet.

This is where we started:


When we purchased the house, the cabinets and oven were original to the home.  The countertop (laminate), cooktop (electric), floor (vinyl), hood (white recirculating), and dishwasher had been replaced relatively recently.


We used the kitchen as it was for several months, which I think was helpful in identifying some of the issues with the layout.  The lack of counterspace was a major challenge as was the general shortage of storage.


The original kitchen featured an L-shape layout to allow room for a kitchen table and chairs in the opposite corner.


We temporarily placed shelving and a vintage trunk there for extra storage.

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You may also remember that we had to replace our refrigerator early on.  One major issue with our new one was that it partially blocked the entrance to the kitchen.  In hindsight, I wish we had opted for a counterdepth refrigerator, but c’est la vie.



A mere 120+ days, later…ta-da!


Major updates included: new Ikea Adel cabinets, quartz counters, tile floor, opening to the living room, chalkboard wall, gas cooktop, range hood, oven, built-in microwave, lighting, GFCI outlets, pantry, tile backsplash, and relocated refrigerator, just to name a few.  I would say that we tackled about 85% of the work ourselves.



I hope to continue to post more detailed information about cost, design, and materials over time.  For now, I’ll talk briefly about the layout.



The most significant change to the existing layout occurred on this side of the kitchen.  I decided to relocate the refrigerator to resolve the issue we had with it partially blocking the entry to the kitchen.  Though I would not generally recommend placing double door refrigerators in the corner (we had to add about 5.5″ inches of filler just to be able to open the left side door), this seems to work okay for us.  Having it on this side of the kitchen creates a better workflow triangle for us; it’s easy for me to take things out of the fridge and prep on this section of open counter.  The extra cabinets also provide a bit of extra storage and a place to conceal our trash and recycling cans.

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Opening the existing wall here was another important change.  I knew that opening the wall would not only provide sight lines to the living room for entertaining but also help brighten both the kitchen and living rooms.  We hired a contractor to do this part of the work since I wasn’t comfortable making structural changes on my own.  Other changes visible in this picture include the pendant lights over the bar, the pantry in the background, and a the built-in oven and microwave.

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I saved the wall adjacent to the dining room to create a chalkboard wall.  This is something that I had envisioned for this space since the day we walked in.  We used magnetic primer under a portion of the wall so that we could organize our spices in magnetic tins.  On the other side of the doorway to the dining room, we keep our grocery list and clock.



I adore this.



Altogether, the four months of stress, anxiety, and backbreaking labor seems to have paid off.  Overall, it’s much lighter, brighter, and functional.  Stay tuned for more details soon.  In the meantime, maybe I’ll actually learn to enjoy cooking in here…


Dining Room + Lessons in Contrast

A few weeks ago, I bit the bullet and finally ordered some dining room chairs.  I think this puts the dining room at about 90% completion, so I figured it was time to share.  If you’re a Facebook friend of mine (or if you were over here this weekend!), you’ve already seen this.  Still, no harm in reliving the fun, right?

Here’s the before:



When we started, there were some stains under that floral rug.  An outdated light fixture and (beautifully made) antiquated curtains rounded out this room.



Then this happened.  First of all, we had all the floors in the house refinished and stained with a dark Jacobean stain.  Then, after several months of living with the old decor and my 4-seater college table, we revamped the room by painting the walls Sherwin William’s Unusual Gray, the trim SW’s Pure White, and adding a modern chrysanthemum stencil in a slightly lighter shade of gray.  I found a larger rustic style table and bench on CraigsList (for a steal!) and switched out the old chandelier for this modern one from CB2.  Add to that sleek, modern white shelves from Ikea and white grommet curtain panels and sheers, and it was already looking much better.



We paused this room for awhile while I hunted for chairs to repurpose in antique stores and on CraigsList for several months.  In the meantime, we stuck my old college chairs in there for our guests.




Note our old kitchen cabinets through the door.



The rest of the room came together relatively smoothly.  I styled these Ikea shelves with my glassware and bar-related items.  I love them as storage in lieu of a bulky hutch, especially since the dining room is on the smaller side.



A storage unit that was part of my childhood bedroom set serves as a buffet (with linen storage) in this room as well.  I may end up painting this piece (maybe black?) down the road.



Our wedding photos (which I arranged in these frames for our first apartment) add a personal touch to the space.


Then the space transitioned to this for about 4 months while we renovated our kitchen.  Good times.



Now, it’s finally nearly complete with the addition of these imitation Eames chairs from Overstock.com (my CraigsList and antique store hunting proved fruitless).

What I love most about this space is the contrast of rustic and modern.  The table in particular has a ton of traditional, rustic character and texture, but maintains a modern feel with the simplicity of its shape.  When paired with the modern, sleek, white polypropylene chairs, the contrast of textures creates enormous visual interest.  The key is to make sure that the architectural language of the pieces speak to one another (clean lines), to use contrast in color and texture to create visual interest, and to make sure that the room is functional and balanced in color and texture.  As I’ve mentioned before, the house overall combines both mid-century modern and traditional elements.  I try to mirror that theme throughout the home.  In this room, I feel that the texture of the table, softness of the chrysanthemum stencil, curtains and sheers, and layered styling of the shelves cultivate a more traditional feeling.  The modern shelves, chairs, chandelier, buffet, and artwork both complement and contrast the other elements in the room.  Altogether, I’m pretty pleased.  Now, all we need is a rug…

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Selected Works

One of the most emotionally challenging aspects of architecture school for me was learning how to handle “reviews” or “critiques.”  For those unfamiliar, these are times during the semester at which students are required to pin their work (renderings, drafted drawings, models, diagrams, etc.) to homasote panels or, alternatively, compose a digital presentation and present to a panel of faculty or professional architects.  The goal of the exercise is to receive constructive criticism and advice from experts; to learn what works and what doesn’t in your design.  Other students are also required to sit and listen to the feedback you receive in the hope that they too might glean information that will help improve their own designs (though most end up falling asleep after pulling several consecutive all-nighters).

Over time, I learned to appreciate these exercises.  Still, as I find true with any form of artistic representation, I always felt that the design work I had pinned to the wall was an extension of my soul: a product of late nights, tears, and occasionally blood (many a fingertip has been lost when cutting model pieces with Xacto knives at 3 am).  How are you supposed to react to someone criticizing the very content of your soul, especially when, to the untrained ear, the content of the criticism seems to be subjective and a matter of opinion?  As I moved through school, I began to better understand the principles they were teaching us (composition, flow, form, function, etc.) and the feedback became more valuable.  Nonetheless, it was a long learning process.

Last summer, having moved from Virginia to Pittsburgh, I felt as if I was preparing for a school review when I took on the task of revising my professional portfolio.  For the first time, I actually wished that I had the opportunity to have my portfolio reviewed.  There were feedback sessions available towards the end of my fourth year, but family issues and finals got in the way and I never made it.  After graduation, I looked to the internet for inspiration but had trouble finding many good resources.  So this time, I just decided to keep it simple, utilize my own handwriting for a personal touch, and highlight what I thought to be my best pieces.  I tied the printed copy with a simple piece of red embroidery thread.

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Now that I’m in the market for work again, I’ve revised it one more time.  Architecture friends, I welcome your feedback.  Everyone else, here’s my soul.


To view this flipping book you need to have Flash Player 9 or newer installed and JavaScript enabled. Flipsnack is a flash video player that allows you to create stylish flipping books out of your PDF document.


And as a bonus, there’s a glimpse in here of my kitchen and living room!

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Garage Windows

In the vein of Tuesday’s Year in Progress post, here’s another exterior-related project that we tackled last fall.

For some odd reason, the light in our garage is connected to the switch that controls the light in the stairwell that leads to our basement living spaces.  Consequently, if we’re downstairs at night, our garage is lit up like a lantern — with all of our tools and junk illuminated for the world to see.

The previous owners tackled this issue by tacking polyester lace (one of their favorite fabrics !) and a pink printed textile over the windows.


While I appreciate the thought, it wasn’t my favorite solution.


Not only was pink not my color of choice for this application but, after years of use, the fabric had also become stained and dirt filled.


I had seen John & Sherry Petersik of Young House Love tackle a few projects with privacy film (like this and this) and thought it would be a great alternative to all of this pink.  This was for two reasons: 1) I knew it would still provide privacy while allowing more light to enter the garage during the day, and 2) it would provide a more neutral appearance from the street.


We purchased this Gila frosted privacy film and an installation kit from our local Home Depot and got down to business. Removing the old fabric only took about 10 minutes since it was just attached with thumbtacks.  


Once the fabric was removed, the natural light revealed a lot of the dirt on the inside of the door.  I decided to go ahead and spend some time wiping down the inside of the door with some Simple Green and a sponge.


Once I had cleaned all the glass thoroughly with glass cleaner, we were ready to apply the film.  If you’re curious about how to apply it, John & Sherry made this helpful video detailing the process (the instructions that came with the film were also pretty straightforward).  Alex helped me cut and apply most of the panels.  It was nice to have two sets of hands since our panels were on the longer side.


In the end, I think that the privacy film accomplished just what I had hoped.  It provides just enough privacy while still helping to keep the garage light and bright during the day.  While it did reveal some flaws in the glass/plexiglass panels on the garage door, I think it was an excellent and very affordable solution.

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Doesn’t it look so much better?  Between cleaning and application, the project took most of an afternoon.  I think it has a pretty big impact for only taking a few hours.  Quick change projects are good for the soul :).

A Year of Progress – Front Door

A few weeks ago I “celebrated” my first full year of life in Pittsburgh.  To be honest, it’s been a bit of a rough one.  People tell me that moving to a new city is never easy.  I suppose they’re right.  As I’ve mentioned, after accepting then relinquishing a job that was far from my expectations, I dove into some much anticipated home renovations, taking only small hiatuses for weekend trips and visitors.  Now, as projects are wrapping up and my pace is slowing, it’s time for some reflection — both personally and professionally.  I’m ready to formally share some of my handiwork, as flawed and mistake filled as it may be, and share a bit of what has been both my joy and sorrow over the last 12 months.  I’m ready to appreciate these changes, and I hope you will too.

I feel the need to make the disclaimer that none of this happened overnight.  Many hours were invested, some blood and many tears were shed.  Nothing is more frustrating to me than a blogger who pretends that home improvement is easy and quick.  It requires lots of money and planning, and not everyone has sponsors and a team of family members/friends who come over every weekend to help speed up the big projects (picture me prying my own kitchen cabinets off the wall by myself in the direction of my face).  That being said, let’s skip to the pictures.

I feel there is no better place to start with an update than the front door.  As the cheery folks at younghouselove.com say, “the door is the smile of the house.”  Perhaps you’ll remember these plans that I shared almost a full year ago, as we were having our windows and exterior doors replaced.  At long last, they’ve nearly come to life.  Here’s where we started:



The original 1960s wood door was showing it’s age, both physically and in terms of style.  The varnish was chipping off and the color was doing absolutely nothing for the curb appeal of the home.  If memory serves, I also think we were lacking a deadbolt.  In the interest of energy efficiency, safety, and style, we opted to replace the door with the rest of the windows.



We took the front door replacement as a cue to take care of some other plain old maintenance items, including re-coating the paint on the wood areas in the entry and on this rusted railing.



Here’s Alex repainting some wood paneling around the corner.  Our process included scraping all loose paint with a paint scraper and/or wire brush, filling in gaps with caulk, priming, and painting.  Note all the paint chips littering the stoop.



Luckily, the front door came pre-primed (with a beige primer) so we just sanded it lightly and went to town with a high density foam roller and high quality brush.



The old light fixture was also crying out to be replaced.  This one was a bit too traditional (and also, disgustingly bug filled and dirty) for my taste.



The result of our hard work was this.  There’s still a bit more to be done (our front steps are in desperate need of replacement), but I think it’s looking a bit more cheerful these days.  The raised panels on the front door provide just the right amount of traditional style to the front of the home, mediating some of the other traditional elements of the facade.  When combined with the modern light fixture and house numbers, I think it results in the perfect blend of old and new.  I think it works well in that the combination also speaks to the character of the home, as many original features fall in the same line.  Note, for instance, the existing gray brick and the way it incorporates both a traditional material (natural quarried stone) and modern proportions (long and linear).

The paint on the door is an exterior semi-gloss in Martha Stewart Living’s “Plumage” from Home Depot.  For the wood areas, we used Behr’s “Ultra Pure White” in exterior semi-gloss as well.  On the railing, we used a Rustoleum primer and black oil-based paint to help prevent future rusting.  The new light fixture is a version of the one I originally selected from Kichler, found here.  My only wish is that the light was a bit higher on the wall so the door was more illuminated at night.  Right now, the fixture downcasts all the light towards the ground.  I may end up changing it out down the road — we’ll see.  The house numbers were purchased at Home Depot.  Last but not least, I moved our old coir doormat to the door to our covered patio and replaced it with a geometric rubber one from Target (it doesn’t seem to be listed on their website anymore).  This was because our gutter leaks a little on the stoop and the coir mat was too thick to dry in this north-facing location.

Altogether, this painting portion of this project took us the better part of a weekend last fall.  Between all the prep, scraping, taping, and 4-hour recoat times, it wasn’t as quick as I had expected.  The light fixture and the house numbers took about an hour to install on a afternoon a few months later.  Oh, and removing that hideous lace curtain took about 5 minutes and was done gleefully in preparation for new windows.  I still haven’t settled on a replacement but it seems okay untreated for now.

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More to come!