Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Buttoning Things Up Outside, Part 2

From the first day we moved in Scott has called our home Camp Needles. At first it was because the previous owners name was Needles. But quickly the name took on a different meaning. There are three magnificent pine trees in the front yard - tall, with big sprawling branches that spread over the lawn, the driveway and the house. They drop their needles everywhere, on the roof, the driveway and the gutters. Last winter, the first time Scott cleared the needles from the roof and gutters, he filled an entire yard waste bag. This fall it’s become almost a weekly task, get up on the roof and blow all the needles off. Then clear the gutters to keep the fall rains from spilling over into the gardens and near the foundation. This regular task doesn’t take that long, but requires ladder work that, quite frankly, Scott is rather done with after the summer of painting.

When regular cleaning didn’t keep the rain from spilling over the gutters, it was time to root out the drains. This meant taking the downspouts off all the gutters and employing a Home Depot special “sewer snake” or auger to try and clear the drains that lead to the street. He was successful in that he was able to clear most of the drains and identified where the drain on the left side of the driveway had collapsed and was blocked right by the tree...another project for next year. After he cleared what he could, Scott reattached the downspouts and routed them to the drains instead of using the extensions that drained to the lawn.

When mom died this past spring her namesake, my great aunt Nancy, and mom’s friends from the Garden Club back in Prospect Heights sent gifts intended for me to plant a tree in the yard of our new home in mom’s honor. This fall dad and I went to a nursery in Ridgefield, Washington where he and my brother John live and found a glorious paperbark maple tree. It stands 10 feet tall and will be beautiful next year. 

Planting the tree was a bit of a challenge, a 10 foot tree weighs quite a bit and requires a big hole. Scott was up to the task of digging the hole, but we required a crew to move it to its new location and actually plant it. I’m pleased to provide pictures of “Old man digging hole” (it’s a classic), but sorry I didn’t get pictures of Scott, John, dad, and son-Scott moving the tree into it’s final position.

Something that Scott did a while ago that I have been remiss in mentioning...he replaced the carriage light by the driveway and painted the post. It’s a small change, but it’s the details that make a difference in the overall feel of the house.

It’s been a lot of work removing trees, loads of shrubs and rocks from the yard. Scott has painted, rooted, cleaned and trimmed. He has likely touched every part of the house exterior and yard this last year. And it shows. Time to button up things outside. Oh, one last thing...on the last garbage bill, three months, we didn’t have a single extra yard waste pickup!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Buttoning Things Up Outside, Part 1

Fall has arrived in full force in Portland, the weather is rainy and cooler, the days are shorter and I’ve had the urge to start projects inside. But, before I talked Scott into tackling walls and ceilings in the living and dining rooms we had to button up our outdoor projects.

When we moved into the retro ranch we found the Medallion Home Live Better Electrically medallion, about 3 inches in diameter and made of brass. You can read more about it here. We wanted to find a way to display the medallion on the front of the house, but didn’t want to just screw it into the brick. Enter the Internet! Atlas Signs and Plaques fabricates custom house number plaques in many styles and finishes. I worked with them via email and over the phone to create a plaque with our address that could accommodate our fabulous medallion.

And if you remember Santa delivered the MCM goods last Christmas, but we hadn’t yet installed the doorbell or door viewer because there was painting and painting and bathrooms, etc to do. Well, we didn’t get the front door stained or painted this year, but Scott was able to tackle the patio after the bathroom project wrapped up. He two coated the patio ceiling and gave the patio walls and trim one coat. Enough for us to install the Live Better Electrically door bell by the back sliding door - yes, we have a door bell on the patio - and we also installed the door viewer in the front door (note how easily the paint pulled away around the viewer...bodes well for staining the door!)

Homes built in the 1960s in Portland aren’t known for their insulative qualities, ours not having a lick of insulation in the walls or crawlspace. And the attic insulation rates a value of about R4. But our front doors (double door entry) have a interesting metal trim that seats the doors together and inside the frame to seal out wind and cold. The fault in the system was at the threshold where the trim on the door had separated and left a gap you could literally see daylight through.

Enter Anderson Doors, a family owned company in Portland. The guy knew his stuff and knew our particular door system. He took both doors down, cleaned out all the old weatherstripping used to fill the gap, and installed the correct trim saving us the expense of a whole new threshold.

Next up pine needles, gutters and downspouts - oh my!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Bathroom Project – The Ultimate Retro Ranch Cliff-hanger

We hope that you haven’t been holding your breath since the eclipse to find out what has transpired on our bathroom renovation project. (If you have been, we truly apologize for the shade of blue you must be – you honorary Smurf you!)

Our contractors, Troy and Gordon from Northwest Home Concierge, did everything in their power to keep the job on schedule. We had functioning toilets, a bathtub and a shower as promised. The custom counters from a different contractor delayed installation of the sinks about a week. Gordon wasn’t happy with the trim in the hall bath so he sourced new moulding that looks like it came with the house. By the way, we found out that all the trim in the house is mahogany, doors too! We are thrilled with the end result and hope you like the look as well.

The hall bath - What was once pink, gray and tired is now bright, airy and fresh. The towel bars are original to the house and were saved from both the master and hall bathrooms. The medicine cabinet was sanded, repainted (it’s no longer pink) and repositioned in the new hall bath.



The master bath - When we moved into the Retro Ranch, Scott avoided this bathroom. We finally cleaned out the debris in the non-functioning shower and had a glorified half-bath off the master bedroom. This was the area that had most of the structural damage under it. Beth’s vision and design elements, and a glass shower enclosure with a sliding door make a smallish bathroom seem bigger than it is.



The second bedroom - You would never know that about half of the wall and the studs behind it were replaced.



We welcome guests and visitors now that renovations to the hall bath and second bedroom are complete. Scott’s twin brother, Angel Dorantes, was our first official post-renovation guest. He and Scott rode the Banks / Vernonia bike trail some 42 miles last Saturday.

At times it seemed like this project would never get done. In retrospect, the two months passed with minimal glitches and only a few smacks of a cold shower curtain catching both the breeze and your back-side. We love our general contractors and will engage them again next year to add a 1/2 bath to the laundry room. Now if Scott can just figure out where to store the spare rolls of toilet paper in the renovated bathroom...

Monday, October 30, 2017


Happy Halloween from the Retro Ranch!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

How to Make a Garage Door an Important Design Element

The Retro Ranch restoration project is a marathon and not a sprint, you've read that here before. Years ago I heard my father use an expression just one time that has stuck with me my entire life. I feel it captures all the things we have to do at 3301. He said “I’m like a mosquito in a nudist camp – I don’t know where to begin.” As you can imagine that stuck with a pre-teen boy for a variety of reasons.

On our check list of things to do the garage door was a low priority even with a sag in the middle, a row of windows that let anyone look in and a tired, noisy opener. It was functional (other than the Sunday evening spent replacing a burned-out belt) so replacement was planned to be a 2018 or 2019 expenditure.

Old garage door

When we moved in, we marveled at one of the remotes. It brought to mind the keys you are handed at a gas station or convenience store to be able to access the washroom. I don’t know about your experiences but often, the bigger the key fob, the worse the condition of the washroom…but I digress.

Would this fit in your pocket?

As we were preparing to paint the exterior of the house, scraping and prepping the various surfaces, I started to study the condition of the old garage door. It would take a lot of scrapping, sanding, priming and paint just to make it look acceptable, even on a temporary basis. Being at the front of the house and right by the front door, not painting the garage door when the rest of house was getting refreshed wasn’t an option. But the time and paint needed to refresh a door that would be replaced in the next two years (or less) didn’t seem like a good use of my time or paint.

So it was time to research a new garage door. With a couple of estimates we pulled the trigger a few weeks before the bathroom project started and Shazam – one new, fully functional, quiet, smooth running 4-panel garage door with an exterior key pad, new track and motor in basic white was installed.

Installation excitement!

Plain, but quiet...and with keypad entry!

Kind of plain – kind of vanilla – not in keeping with the Retro Ranch theme is what you are thinking now isn’t it? (Obviously you don’t have faith in Beth’s design skills and vision like I do.) You may recall from previous blogs that Beth had scoped out garage door designs for 60s garage doors. So one week while I was traveling Beth bought materials and created the garage door trim. Note - it helps to have a frame shop to cut perfectly mitered corners and pin them together. I had painted the garage door our exterior light gray (or as Beth’s brother John calls our color – primer). The trim was painted the darker gray and then we researched the adhesives needed to assure that they would stick. About two weeks ago, they went up and as you can see, a plain garage door is now a subtle design element that adds so much curb appeal to the Retro Ranch. Don’t you agree?

We still have lots of work to do on the inside of the garage but that is a winter to early spring project. However, the Mini is thrilled to be a garaged car again. The more I look at this garage door the more I think about how a '65 or '66 Falcon Futura coupe would be the perfect accent to this perfect accent. Hmmm…

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

LOLBGS or Lots of Little Baby Grasses

Since early May (when the weather started getting warmer and trying to put off the painting project) Scott has been hard at work in the back yard. There were many efforts - having several trees that were in bad shape removed, convincing our neighbor to the north that the fence at the top of their property (the edge of the drop off at the back of our yard) was in really bad shape and needed to be removed, and removing all the yews (or junipers, I really don't know which) that were so overgrown that they had taken over half the back yard. But that was just the beginning!

Backyard before panorama - trees and fence

Backyard after panorama

Now mind you, the backyard was nice. But being me, I have a very specific idea of what the back yard will look like in a year or two. Scott amazingly has bought into the overarching idea, if not the specifics (yet), and dove head first into the project of clearing and cleaning up the backyard.

Back yard, circa August 2016

Lots of Little Baby Grasses
circa September 2017

You'll notice that the arborvitae between our yard and the neighbors yard has disappeared. Scott and I spent many evenings trimming back dead and straggly branches (and filling lots and lots of yard waste bags) and Scott had removed several of the trees that were split or dead. We finally had to admit that most of the trees were really beyond help and decided to take them out at the same time as we had the large cherry trimmed up.

Arborvitae screen - gone

Having removed all the junipers (yews, whatever) and now the arborvitae screen, we had what can only be described as a dust bowl. It's been hot this summer and all that dirt in the back yard would just whip up into the air at the slightest breeze and enter the house through any open window. We took advantage of a rare Monday off, the day of the solar eclipse, to enlist Son-Scott and his truck to rent a rototiller. Of course not just any rototiller, but the biggest, toughest, meanest rototiller Home Depot had. The first tries at it had Scott jumping around like he was riding a bull, but he soon got the hang of it and over four hours he had the clay, roots and other debris well under control.

Old man rototilling yard

Scott spread some grass seed around and after throughly watering for three weeks we now have lots of little baby grasses - no more dust bowl! We're a long way from being done in the back yard but we now have what might be called a clean slate for all my ideas. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Total Eclipse of the Wallet

The minion speaks...

When we left off in the last blog Ted the drywall guy finished his work on a Thursday and I had to get things painted to keep the project on track. If you have ever painted fresh drywall or areas that have been slip coated you know they suck down paint like a fraternity sucks down beer on a Saturday night. I started with one fresh gallon of primer and a leftover half-gallon that apparently had a small hole in the can making most of it useless. I two-coat primed the bathroom but did not have enough primer for the little bedroom wall. I was able to get one coat of finish paint behind the toilet before it was temporarily reinstalled. It truly is a wonderful thing not having to, as our daughter Ashley stated so eloquently, “poop on the driveway.”

That weekend I two coated the ceilings and walls (their final colors), primed and painted the little bedroom wall and recut the berry accent wall. Early the next week the lights, exhaust fans, outlets and master bathroom medicine cabinets were installed. The HVAC guy was a no show as it was around 100 degrees F in Portland and they were making much more money installing and repairing air conditioners. So Gordon, from NWHC “plumbed” the new exhaust vent lines and repositioned the ductwork for the HVAC vent in the master bathroom.

Lights, camera, medicine cabinets!

Hall bath fan and shower light

As you may recall from earlier posts, Beth tracked down the original vintage switch plate and outlet covers and we have used them throughout the house. Due to code, the new exhaust fans must have timers and, as you might guess, there are no vintage 3 gang switch plate covers that fit a timer that wasn’t designed until 40 years later. Dilemma and solution – I took the vintage three-gang switch plates, a timer and a picture of the 3 gang set up into the tool and die shop at Blount. These guys work with tolerances so tight I don’t even know how many digits to the right of the decimal point they can go. Two days later, Chad and Dennis returned the reworked switch plates and they look like a factory press fit - Wow. So now it was time for the final electrical inspection – which failed as one of the outlets didn't function and a wire in the attic was positioned wrong and not to code. Within a day the electricians had it right and another box checked off. (By the way, even our general contractor was impressed with the new-old switch plate cover hack!)

Totally cool vintage switchplate hack!

So close and yet so far…

We knew one of the longer efforts was tile work. We also knew several weeks before that Beth’s accent tiles had a long lead time. We didn't know when they were ordered that the tile was hand made and built to order. So, it's time to introduce you to Kyle the Tile guy (or as we have dubbed him Tile the Kyle guy). First Kyle had to pour the shower pan and let it cure (then fill it with water and wait for...) the City of Portland plumbing inspection. Beth and NWHC determined that we needed different tiles for the shower floor as the wall tiles would have been too big and we didn't order enough accent tile to cover the floor. The seams in the water proof wonder board were cemented and then both bathrooms were waterproofed. If you ever wondered what the ideal career is for glue sniffers it's waterproofing bathrooms. OMG was that stuff pungent and a godawful reddish pink color to boot!

Poured shower pan

Smelly but necessary

Once the waterproofing had cured the tile was slowly but surely set. Instead of having bullnose edge tiles, Beth chose a metal trim referred to as Schlueter. Of course, the dimensionally wrong size Schuelter was delivered so a mad scramble to find the correct dimension ensued. Last Friday the accent tiles were installed, the formerly pink medicine cabinet was reinstalled in the hall bathroom and Troy and Gordon took away much of the equipment and leftover materials they were staging in the garage. Most of the protective materials throughout the house were removed and the large trailer full of scrap (and a week old dented bathtub) that has been parked on the driveway left and was replaced by a smaller trailer. On Monday, Tile the Kyle guy came and grouted the job and we had been told by Gordon we would have a working shower today. Tile the Kyle guy changed that as the grout has a 72 hour curing time.

Hall bath field tile

Master bath shower tile (and Schlueter trim)

Hall bath accent tile

Vintage medicine cabinet in the hall bath

September 1st and completion are tantalizingly close and yet agonizingly far away. We will likely lose the temporary toilet for a few days as the flooring gets prepped and goes in. Oh and the flooring was delayed as the roll of marmoleum for the master bathroom had a slice in the center of the roll. Lastly, the room I thought was complete, the little bedroom, has a boo-boo. Seems that when they installed the medicine cabinet in the hall bath they caught a nail just wrong and pushed it out. No I don’t want to hang a picture from it.


The next 10 days can’t come soon enough.

Just a quick note from Beth...we did enjoy viewing the eclipse from our front yard at the top of the hill. For your enjoyment (?) here are a few photos!

Beth and Son-Scott on the front lawn

Eerie shadows on the porta-john

Eerie shadows on the driveway