All posts by Mrs. Blandings

A Place to Call Home

As my project progresses in fits and starts, I am turning to my favorite architects and designers for advice.  Not the actual people (that would make me a bother), but piles of books that I know hold the answer if I only look.

Gil Schafer’s first book, The Great American House, tells me everything I need to know about bathrooms, for which I’m very grateful.  His newest book, A Place to Call Home, has answered other questions for me in a deeper way. We visited last week about his book and its perspective.

In his introduction Gil is quite candid about his childhood and how the homes of his mother and father were quite different, but meaningful and inspiring in their own ways.

“I moved around a lot,” he told me.  “Looking back I realized that you live differently in different places. The best houses respond to that.  The houses I grew up in looked different, felt different, lived different.  They should.  You have to determine what is going to make you feel at home.”

It can be a curious place to be, to be an outsider involved in someone else’s journey home. I wondered if he prefers renovation or new construction.

“We tend to get involved in renovation very selectively.  Renovations can be challenging and we always ask ourselves, ‘Can we solve the problem?’ When we design new construction we have to write the story. We want the house to have an old soul.”

Schafer’s new home in Maine is the last story in the book and certainly one of my two favorites. He says being the client had its own challenges.

“It was hard in that I couldn’t use the same tool kit.  The house is modern, so I couldn’t just pull out my favorite moldings. I had to stop and think, ‘What is the right thing to do.’ And while the site is amazing, it wasn’t instantly pretty.  I had to figure out how I was going to fix that.”

Schafer’s advice is clear no matter the scope of the project.

“Focus on what’s appropriate.  Try to understand the building.  I always want a building to look as if I hadn’t been there.  I’m working on a new project with Bunny Williams in San Francisco. It’s very complex.  We’re removing and reinstalling paneled rooms and plaster ceilings. But when it’s all over what people will see is Bunny’s beautiful interiors.

That’s what we’re trying to do – create a natural evolution.  Our work should be invisible and inevitable.”

Gil Schafer’s new book, A Place to Call Home, is as engaging as his interview.  You’d be wise to make it a part of your design library.

All images courtesy of Rizzoli International.  Principal photography by Eric Piasecki.

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When we last spoke the second floor bath was a jumble.  Now it’s a shell.  It looks enormous, by the way – spa worthy – though I know once the tub and the sink and the…well, you get the idea.

This was not supposed to happen, of course.  But suddenly here I am looking at the original framing of the house, through the ceiling and into the rafters of the third floor above.  I talked to a designer friend today who said, “I know this point exactly.  You’re terrified you made a horrible mistake.  You think you’re going to the poor house and you’ll never set foot on that new tile, but I swear you will.  It’s worth it.”

I was oh-so-ready for this project.  I was so ready that the fixtures and plumbing and tile for the third floor were long ago signed, sealed and delivered to my entry, where they’ve been for the last few weeks.  These are now the plumbing and fixtures for the second floor, which will need them sooner and new plumbing and fixtures are on the way for the third.

We adjust.

Until Sunday the old sink was sitting on top of this pile of boxes.  I don’t know why. In some sort of fit (or, honestly, a need for control) I moved the sink to the basement.  I thought that without the sink this would look like the well-planned order that it is.  It would look like the well-planned order that it is every single time I walk in the door. Straight into it. Reminded – again and again – that things do not go as planned.

I thought that without the sink, every time I walk in the door I’ll be reminded that sometimes plumbing and life throw you curve balls and you have to just breathe and walk around it and remember that nothing is permanent.

Except dust.

All of this product is Kohler.  You cannot see the name because they are a sponsor.  They are not.  I like their product and this is how the boxes were sitting.  Just in case you were wondering. 

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Best Laid Plans

I returned home Saturday after being in five cities in seven days.  This is the sort of thing that I do to myself.  As I was making these plans – a two day driving trip to Bentonville to see the Stuart Davis exhibit (for the love of Pete – go! it’s fantastic) then to Tulsa, my hometown (to prove to someone that while the surface is a nice veneer, the construction is undoubtably builder’s grade) followed by a four day college tour in the Pacific Northwest with my middle – it occurred to me that this was insanity.  Then I said, “Oh, heavens, it will be fine.”

It was both fine and complete insanity at the same time.  By which I mean, the company was beyond reproach and each city was a delight, but it was a helluva lot of moving around.

I returned home to more of the same.  I know this will amuse some of you, but I forgot that a renovation takes a fair amount of energy.  I’ve wanted to do these projects since I bought the house.  I’ve planned for them.  I’m excited about them.

But I forgot the number of decisions, the “oh, we found something today and…” and the mess.  I did not forget the physical mess, but the mess in messing with old houses.  The contractor and the plumber are concerned about – I don’t know – pipes or something.

The upside of this concern and the ensuing destruction is that the second floor bath, which was one of my first priorities, but firmly on my contractor’s “Let’s do the third floor and see if we still like each other” list has now become part of Phase I. Which, while there is mess, means more tile, more plumbing, more fixtures.  More fun.

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Shower, Shampoo and Shine

This week has been all about the bath.  I’ve been thinking about this space as a whole for a long time.  In my head, the construction and design of it is in keeping with the 114 year old house, but with an updated twist.

(What? You can’t quite see the space coming to life from rodent-chewed window frames and decades old insulation? Funny, because I saw it from the beginning.  Though silk purse from a sow’s ear is not new to me.)

While I’ve selected fixtures and plumbing (more on that later) I’m mad for this tile.  We first met when I slid my index finger bottom-to-top on my Instagram feed and he appeared out of nowhere.  Perfect.  And perfect for me.

He has that free-spirited, off-kilter, edgy do-your-own-thingness about him, while being firmly rooted in that traditional-old-house-hex kind of way that has me entranced.  No surprise, I ran into him in one of my regular haunts.


I’ve been a longtime fan of Cle Tiles and am so happy to finally be ordering from them.  They have a lovely new collection appropriately named, “oh,joy.”

Just what I was thinking.

This is not a sponsored post and I have not received a discount on the tile I am ordering. 


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Ready, set, go!

I could see the room in my attic on the third floor the first time I saw the house.  When I brought my oldest son to see the house for the first time I said, “I think there could be a bedroom up here.” He said, “Dibs.”

I can hardly believe it, but that was nearly four years ago.  Construction starts Monday.  It’s probably good that I wasn’t able to start right away.  We have a much clearer understanding of how we live here and what we need.

My office will be in the front part of the house with the north facing window.  Because of a large tree that shades the back, it is the sunniest part of the room.  The back room will be a bedroom for my oldest son when he’s home and anyone else who may need a place to crash.  As with any 104 year old house, existing closet space is limited.  The storage under the eaves will provide space for Christmas decorations, off-season clothes and the bins of nursery bedding with which I cannot seem to part.

I hate to make generalizations, but I have an affinity for bartenders and contractors.  As my contractor and I have discussed specifics, I’ve started to talk about the second floor bath, my closet and, oh yes, the kitchen. When the project creep sets in he says, “Let’s just focus on the third floor.  If we still like each other after that, we can talk about the rest.”  Wise man.

I’m going to check in here once a week, but will have regular posts on Instagram if you’d like to follow along.

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