Lessons in plaster dust

The fellow that owns an old home is always just coming out of a hardware store.  ~Frank McKinney Hubbard

My architect-husband, Doug, and I have owned five old houses throughout our 30-year marriage, including a Craftsman-bungalow duplex we’re renting out near downtown Royal Oak. We’ve lived in our circa 1926 Tudor for nearly 20 years, and just finished remodeling the upstairs bathroom last week.

When we were newlyweds, the two of us did most of the renovations ourselves, happily spending our free time tearing out carpeting or scouting the local flea markets for vintage light fixtures. After we became parents, we started hiring contractors to handle the heavy-duty projects — but we’ve always had a taste for plaster dust.

Older homes are a lot of work, of course. Yet there’s nothing like the sense of satisfaction we get when we’re renovating a building with its own history and character — a home that will be enjoyed by other families in years to come.

After we began remodeling the master bathroom this month, it hit me that home improvement is also a metaphor for self-improvement. With that in mind, I wrote “Life Lessons in Plaster Dust” for Royal Oak Patch. The column includes a few “before and after” photos of the project.  Please click here to read it. — CL

— UPDATE: After reading “Life Lessons in Plaster Dust” on Patch, Tom Bramford, host of the KCMO 710 (Kansas City) Home Show invited me to be a guest on his radio program. To listen to the podcast, follow this link.


The Wright neighborhood

All fine architectural values are human values, else not valuable.” — Frank Lloyd Wright

If someone were to ask me what I think heaven looks like, my answer would have to be “Oak Park, Illinois.” Its peaceful tree-lined streets, lush gardens, and heirloom lilac stands are the perfect backdrop for dozens of beautifully preserved Victorian mansions and, of course, some of Frank Lloyd Wright’s best residential work.

Though Doug and I have visited Oak Park in the past, we experienced its famous “Wright Plus” house-walk tour for the first time this weekend. The Birmingham Community House offered an overnight tour package we couldn’t resist — and I highly recommend that you book it next spring if they offer it again. The tour was tightly organized, and despite the inevitable long lines to view the interiors of the selected homes, it was blissfully easy and stress free. I love it when other people handle the details, including hotel accommodations, admission fees, and lunch tickets.

According to the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust, which is responsible for organizing the “Wright Plus” walking tours, Oak Park experienced a construction boom in the years after Chicago’s tragic 1871 fire.

The railroad connecting Oak Park to bustling downtown Chicago made Oak Park the ideal Victorian suburb for the wealthy to raise their families and cultivate the good life. Arriving in Oak Park as a 22-year-old newlywed, Wright began his own career here — and the rest is architectural history.

Eventually, I think Chicago will be the most beautiful great city left in the world.” — Frank Lloyd Wright

While Wright’s residential gems and his Unity Temple make Oak Park famous, Doug and I were equally awed by the Victorian homes designed by Wright’s early contemporaries. Between visits to the homes, I took time out to admire the manicured gardens throughout in the neighborhood. Since we live in a 1926 Tudor on a shade-covered lot, I’m always looking for new gardening ideas — and Oak Park didn’t disappoint. I took just as many photos of gardens as I did of grand old homes. And I was, pardon the cliche, green with envy.

As nostalgic as a chapter from Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine — and boasting its fair share of generous wraparound porches — Oak Park evokes a gentler era we can only imagine. Three cheers to the dedicated homeowners who’ve renovated these homes and continue to welcome thousands of visitors to their neighborhood. –CL

— All photos by Cindy La Ferle. Please click on the images to view larger. —

Motherhood and letting go

Our goal is to work ourselves out of the job we spend a lifetime perfecting.” — Ann Pleshette Murphy

Coinciding with graduation season, Mother’s Day always tugs on my heartstrings. Not only do we celebrate the women who gave us life, or raised us, but we also pause to consider what it means to be a mother.

For mothers of high school and college seniors, graduation season is the gateway to a new phase of parenting. I talk about this issue — and the art of letting go — in today’s “No Place Like Home” column on Royal Oak Patch. Click here to read it.

-In the photo above: My son Nate’s graduation day at the University of Notre Dame, May 2008. At left: Nate’s girlfriend, Andrea; Nate; my husband, Doug; and me. —

Garden treasures

There can be no other occupation like gardening in which, if you were to creep up behind someone at their work, you would find them smiling.  ~Mirabel Osler

Like most people who love to garden, I’ve been by frustrated by spring’s slow arrival in Michigan. Finally, the sun rose in a cloudless sky this morning, and it was all I could do to keep from running outdoors in my pajamas to start weeding. But the soil’s still muddy, so despite the glorious sunshine, I settled for a little “indoor gardening” today.

As luck would have it, I stumbled on another wonderful vintage bird vase at an antiques emporium in Berkley this afternoon. So, I clipped a few pansies from the pots on our porch, and rounded up a few wildflower blooms from the backyard. Viola — my little bird is perched in his own garden!

I’ve collected several vintage bird vases to decorate the house in the summer months, or to use as small centerpieces for dinner parties. I can usually find them for under $10 at garage sales and flea markets. In the photo taken in my garden room, you’ll see my new treasure along with a painted birdhouse I snapped up for a song today at the same antiques shop. Please click on the photo for a larger view. –CL