Saturday, June 30, 2007


Joshua Michael
July 26, 2001-July 8, 2006
so very much missed.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Hundred-and-Thirteen-Acre Wood: Kid's Hangout

One part of Mark and Gretchen's renovation was their adding on a full basement beneath their great room for the kids' hangout. Instead of the usual cinderblock walls, they used materials for the construction and finishing that remind you more of an old inn or mead hall than a holding cell. Salvaged barn beams, "Z" doors, wide board paneling, and a scavenged tavern sign, as well as a pool table and lots of toys, provide a rambunctious setting for their kids, cousins, and friends.

The porch in front of the walk-out basement (also the facade of their house) is trimmed with salvaged barn beams and features a massive retaining wall of old mill stones. One has the date of the original building carved into it.
The "Z" door (typically used for barns) leading upstairs to the great room is made of hefty timber.

Lots of storage for kid stuff. The walls have wide-board paneling which echoes the massive beams of the room. Note the John Paul II poster in the center.
I know it's cluttered, but isn't this how most toy basements usually look? Though they usually don't have cool "South Hills Tavern" signs overtop of the carnage.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Hundred-and-Thirteen-Acre Wood: Colorful Kids' Bathroom

When a large family who's lived with one bathroom for years finally gets a second one, it's time to celebrate, especially if your oldest kids are just about to become teenage girls. And if you have a lot of kids, you might just start using the bathroom even before it's finished!

I loved how Gretchen painted the kids' bathroom blue (it's a boys' bathroom too) but feminized it with a purple shower curtain and shag rug. You can see it's a work in process: a utility sink stands in for a standard vanity (though maybe it's so useful they're going to keep it!), wiring and tiling still need to be done. But the bathroom is thoroughly functional even in its partially-done state: skylights bring in natural daylight, a pocket door separates the shower/toilet from the vanity area, bath toys are stashed in empty ice-cream buckets, and stacks of beach towels (love that idea!) keep things cheerful even while the "under construction" phase continues.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Hundred-and-Thirteen-Acre Wood: Great Room

One of the first things Mark did to rennovate the house was to add on a massive, two-story-high great room, using beams and trusses from an old barn he and his family had disassmbled. The room uses old and new wood together for fasciating contrast (we did the same in our house, though not on as grand a scale), with curious objects displayed throughout, everything from a deer's head (Mark is a hunter) to old tools to salvaged blue bottles to a silver sword. Mark created a hexagon out of small triangular scraps of wood when he was first married (I think, using pieces left over from his San Damiano cross business): years later he set it in the floor in front of the fireplace as a parquet inlay. The ample glass windows in this room give a view out into the valley and the woods. Gretchen furnished the room with a few sets of vintage couches and chairs, which are easy to come across in Steubenville (the town is a treasure trove of antiques from the Steel Boom of the last century). The room has a loft that
leads to the bedrooms on the new second floor, and underneath the loft is the family homeschool area. So between homeschool, kids playing, and visitors popping in, this room gets a lot of use! It also, Gretchen tells me, allows them to have a spectacular and oversized Christmas tree in the winter.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Hundred-and-Thirteen-Acre Wood

This is, I believe, the unofficial name of my husband's sister's family house. Their house is in the midst of one of the most amazing before-and-after stories I've yet to see. When I was dating my husband, he lived at this unassuming house, whose cement block foundations sidled up against an Ohio valley while its modest frame upper story clung to the sides of one of the surrounding hills. Over the past thirteen years, his sister's family (who, I must brag, run Nelson's Woodcraft and bought it and proceeded to expand it for their large and growing family (Gretchen just had her seventh baby barely a week ago). I took some photos to document how this wallflower of a house is becoming a beauty in her own right, thanks to Mark's artistic eye, his skill with wood, and Gretchen's patience.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Live Music

Thanks to the wonder of recordings, American culture is saturated with music. For better or worse, Americans are a musical people, and although most of us don't make our own music on a regular basis, a good percentage of us try. And (probably the one benefit of celebrity worship) musical ability is still largely admired and coveted - most Americans would like to be proficient in singing or playing an instrument, and this generates millions of music lessons, thousands of instruments sold yearly, and hundreds of American Idol auditions.

When we moved to our new house, we had a housewarming party where we invited a local homeschool family who has a bluegrass band, The Woodhouse Band, to entertain. They came gladly, and "sang for their supper" -- they brought music instead of a potluck dish. It was a wonderful party, and the beginning of a warm partnership. Now we regularly invite them and other musical friends to our parties, and what a joy it is to have them!

There is something about live music -- music created on the spot for one moment in time -- that the best digital or analog recording can never capture. It's more subtle, more unique, more immediately present. At a time when media saturation can dull the senses, a skilled musician in front of you can awaken them again, and let you hear.

At our parties, our musical friends situate themselves in a friendly corner (usually a spot in the shade outside, or in the alcove near our laundry room indoors), and just play along in the background, using only natural amplification, having fun with their own selection of tunes. We had such a good time listening to the Woodhouse Band at my husband's birthday party this past weekend, I'm making a suggestion: next time you plan an event, make sure to invite a musician. Most of us know a skillful student musician or a friend with a musical hobby. Ask them if they'd be willing to "sing for their supper." A surprising amount of them are!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Oliver Hill: Outdoor Living Spaces

I love how a simple square of old bricks and a park bench tranforms a stretch of lawn into an outdoor room. I love how, at Oliver Hill, there are places for adults to sit, children to play, goats and chickens to roam, and a bonfire to burn. And as usual with Molly's home, there are little unique touches: the wind chimes in the tree near the goat tethers, and a large marble statue of Our Lady amid the flowers by the front door, which I dubbed "Our Lady of Freecycle," since that's how Molly acquired it. (The man who was offering it said, "I don't think it will fit in your car," and Molly and her husband immediately responded, "Oh, we'll make it fit!")

(Which goes to prove once again my observation that in America, you can get almost anything for free if you are in the right place at the right time!)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Oliver Hill: Living With Kids

One of the reasons I decided to blog about interior decorating was that so many of the gorgeous homes in home magazines look as though a child has never set muddy foot in them (you can tell the immaculate toddlers looking at books on the pure white couches were deposited by helicopter into the scene moments before the flash went off). I prefer homes where you can tell that children dwell, and since the modern mentality sees children and house beauty as basically incompatible, these sort of photo stories are rare.

I also think the presence of children brings out creativity and beauty in homeowners. As one example, I love how Molly has made "valances" out of her children's artwork, a constantly-changing display that adds so much cheer to the sunroom.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Oliver Hill: Bright with Red

We just returned from vacation, during which time we visited friends and family, and I couldn't resist taking some pictures of house beauty for my blog...

Our friends the McGoverns have moved onto a farmette in Ohio with a tiny old house. Their property is christened Oliver Hill, after their tiny son who died of SIDS last year. (they also run Oliver Hill Home Health Care.) The house on the property is a renovation project, but I was impressed by how Molly has decorated it for their family of five children.

Their house is small, and despite some unusually fine wood detailing that gives cottage charm; it has (like a typical cottage) low ceilings and small windows. The pine trees around the house keep its interior in shade. So how does Molly keep her house bright and cheerful? With a vigorous and generous use of red.

Red is a strong color, usually used as an accent. Since Molly's house is small with rooms flowing into one another, she kept the color scheme consistent throughout the house, with her favorite color, red, as the unifying theme. Red shows up in vintage tablecloths, old sofas and metal tables, candles, picture frames, and the vibrant fiestaware on the hutch. And the central room of the house, the living room, is painted red. This scarlet shade gives what could have been a dark crowded house, overflowing with children's toys and homeschooling materials, a merry welcoming personality.