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November 2007
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photography bits & pieces

To fill a few minutes while I'm off recovering from the holidays:

South Buffalo's "bungalow belt"

After reading our recent note on a modest but pretty bungalow going for a half-million dollars in Sacramento, reader Jean Emery sends us this article from Buffalo Rising on that town's own "bungalow belt." Read the complete article on their site. There are plenty of good photos as well, and Jean notes that she "can guarantee these don't cost half a million dollars like the one in Sacramento!"

One of Buffalo's most charming neighborhoods is centered on a cluster of streets running off Abbott between Lakewood and Hubbell on the South Side. The streets stand out from their surroundings as they are lined with distinctive bungalow style houses. The bungalow, sometimes referred to as craftsman style, was popular in the early 20th century. It is a derivation of an Indian house type with rustic detailing and broad porches. Common features include low rooflines on a gabled or hipped roof, deeply overhanging eaves, exposed rafters, and decorative brackets. The front porch is often formed by extending the main roof out past the front wall.

The craftsman style of design became popular as people started yearning for a simpler time. The 20th century was a period of major change. Rapidly developing technology and a shift to urban living brought new wealth and convenience along with a sometimes stressful and unfamiliar way of life to many people. Design, with an emphasis on hand craft and natural materials, was a way to capture the nostalgia of a simpler America. The Roycrofters in nearby East Aurora, led by Elbert Hubbard, were leaders in this movement. Even the work of Frank Lloyd Wright could be included as a part of this movement (if peripherally so). His Connection to Darwin Martin and subsequent commissions in Buffalo came through Hubbard.

Martha Stewart's Arts & Crafts Christmas dinner

Marthastewart Reader Bob Sindelar of Sindelar & O'Brien Antique and Design imagines the following bit of holiday humor: Martha Stewart's planner for a very special Arts & Crafts Christmas dinner...

DAY I: Build pavilion for the dinner -- something in a bungalow motif. Use native woods. Strive for a Greene & Greene look. (Use original hardware from the collection if time gets too short to hammer my own.)

Quarter-saw white oak from the stand I felled last year. Build manger. Use through-tenons and pegged construction, adding corbels to the underside (Joseph may have been a carpenter, but he was no Gustave Stickley!).

Fume and set aside.

DAY 2: Shear sheep. Card and spin wool. Weave. Fashion into swaddling clothes.
Phone Dale at the Boathouse. Book time at furnace. Pick up Lino at airport. Blow life-size glass putti. (Use gold foil inclusions; the silver looked tacky in that eight-foot, sand-cast sleigh Bertil and I did last year!)

Swaddle. Place in manger.

DAY 3: Pluck goose. Fashion quill pen. Make red ink from the crushed skin of holly berries. Address 250 dinner invitations in a calligraphic hand.

Design award-winning new typeface. Carve from heart pine. Set type for dinner menus. Pull 250 prints, hors commerce, and pencil sign. Illume in six colors, plus gold. Bind in limp covers. Set aside.

DAY 4: Run off individual linen place mats and napkins on loom. Embroider with guests' initials in original Arts & Crafts design based on the Dard Hunter sketch book I found at that wonderful yard sale last week for 25¢.

Design and cast bronze mounts for those terribly plain, Tiffany salts.

DAY 5: Fuel the Aerocoupe. Fly to Colorado. Select and fell Blue Spruce for the Great Room. Fashion sled from trimmed branches. Recruit dog team. Mush tree to front yard, waving gaily to ordinary folk along the way. (They will remember this for years!)

DAY 6: Soak frostbitten toes in Weller jardiniere filled with fresh mountain spring water, to which has been added 8 oz. arctic ice. Reserve water for the ice sculpture. (Remember to wash jardiniere before serving the mulled wine!)

Clean funky old sideboard I found on the trash pile yesterday. Paint in colorful Peter Hunt design. (I'll need a place to put those three-color Grueby bowls for the soup.) Be sure to cover up that "R"-inside-a-sawmark carved on the back, probably by some bygone child.

DAY 7: Melt down old copper tubing removed from Victorian house I restored last week. Pour and let cool. Roll into sheets. Radially hammer individual place card holders. Patinate and set aside.

Hit local flea markets and garage sales. Gather enough "Ruba Rombic" in seasonal colors of Jungle Green and Ruby Red to use as party favors. (Don't tell dealers their Consolidated "Ruba Rombic" is really Kopp "Modernistic." They don't want to hear it. Particularly not from Martha Stewart!)

DAY 8: Strip Thanksgiving turkey carcass; dry. Paint red. Distress. Apply gold leaf to highlight. Invert and hang on front door. Fill with freshly cut pine boughs and cones. Add left-over mashed potatoes to pine cone tips to simulate snow. Top with jellied cranberries for that festive note.

For dinner music, record traditional Christmas melodies on period instruments, playing each myself and mixing in my studio later. Laser CDs, enough for each guest.

DAY 9: Harvest bee hives. Make wax; color with crushed and pureed fresh cranberries for that just-right Christmas-red. Line 120 toilet paper rolls saved over past year (waste not; want not!) with wax paper. Using as molds, cast bee's-wax candles. Remove and discard TP rolls.

Line drive and walk with Loetz oil-spot vases. To each, add 1-1/2 cups Gulf Coast, summer sand, to weight. Insert red candles (wick up). They will look lovely, glowing warmly, against the snow! (If summer sand is unavailable, substitute winter sand, but increase to 1-2/3 cups.)

DAY 10: The Day of the Dinner - E-mail holiday greetings to the 37 on-line discussion groups I moderate. Be sure to preface with "Off Topic." Remember to ask them to respond by PRIVATE e-mail!

Greet guests, asking after each of their children or grandchildren byname. So as to reduce guests' well-deserved feelings of inadequacy,carefully add a light splash of Beaujolais Nouveau to the skirt of the country suit I whipped up this morning.

Smile modestly. Try (sincerely, this year!) to appear slightly flustered.

Sign and dedicate 250 copies of "Martha Stewart Collects."


remodeling: getting the most for your dollar

47191243_89c15e6e2f Reader and regular contributor Joel McDonald - a real estate professional who frequently writes on issues important to those considering buying, remodeling or restoring an older home - submits the following:

Most people, faced with the prospect of having to spruce up their home before selling it, have to face down the nagging thought of "Why didn't we do this for ourselves?" It's with a bit of regret that a homeowner will realize that work is needed, but you can't go back and change the past. Starting from where you are, the question becomes, "How can we get the most return from the investment of repairs and remodeling?" There isn't an exact formula, of course, but you'll be spending money trying to make prospective buyers, rather than yourself, happy – at least happy enough that they will want to pay you more than you have to spend on the work. The satisfaction that you will get from turning over a home in top condition counts for a good part of the bargain as well. 

Be Careful in Deciding What Needs to Be Done

Just because you never liked that mirror over the guest bathroom sink, it doesn't mean that now is the time to replace it. It may be the someone else's favorite kind. We're talking here about the kinds of things you have gotten used to over the years, and might not even see any more -- broken shingles, worn carpet, the window that sticks, cabinets that need refacing. Some of these are things that, like seeing a child grow, change so slowly we don't realize it day-to-day. In other cases something breaks and "I'll get it fixed later" never happens and you adapt, work around it, and forget about it. In order to present an inviting and pleasant appearance you have to look at your home with studied, focused attention. Make a list.

Get the Best Prices on Things You Have to Buy for the Project

This one's a no-brainer, but it's so obvious that many people overlook it. Don't just enter into a fog of "It's a big project and it will cost a lot." To maximize your return, do some careful shopping for the the best prices you can find. If you are able, even in a stretch, to do some of the work yourself, do it. Depending on what needs to be done, if you take your time and shop carefully you can take advantage of good sales and discounts at home improvement stores and local suppliers. Look for discontinued and going-out-of-season items to find deals on things that will have appeal from a buyer's perspective and still be inexpensive.

Carpet It

If you have old, worn carpeting, that gives a bad impression. New carpets can add significant appeal and value to your home. We're not talking here about the possibility of finding beautiful wood flooring hidden under the carpet – that can happen, and it's a different set of choices with a different set of economic payback possibilities. Just on the subject of what to do about old carpet, though, it can be more than just a shopping chore, and more rewarding with a little effort. To really go on the low-cost end of doing the upgrade, you can get remnants and end pieces from an outlet store, and piece them together at installation. If you can do a proper installation yourself, that's all to the good, but it takes skill and experience to do a good job. If you get a professional carpet installer to install it, you can expect the seams to be invisible and the result will look as good as any other new carpet. 

Paint It

When it comes to getting the biggest return for your remodeling investment dollar, paint is in the superstar category. Shop discount stores for reasonably-priced paint. As for your color choices, keep it clean and simple. White, the old standby, is often the best choice because it represents a good "default" selection for many buyers. For buyers who have a clear sense of their own color preferences, the white background is no impediment to them and they will be able to "see" the room in their favorite colors. One thing you can be sure of: if you decide to use distinctively different colors to appeal to your own artful sensibilities, then the buyer's preferences will be wildly different. It's a rule of nature.

Replace or Upgrade Appliances

If you have to replace appliances such as the refrigerator, washer, dryer, dishwasher and so on, look for scratch and dent bargains. There are always lots of appliances with minor scratches, and you can select the ones that have the damage on a side facing a wall or next to another appliance, where it won't be a problem. The price reduction can be dramatic, and in many cases you can get it for even less that the tagged price, if you ask. These are things that store managers want off their property and out of sight.

Another consideration on appliances is that if they are in working order they might not have to be replaced at all. Even if they are a little outdated, as long as they work, you don't have to replace them just to sell the house. Houses are often sold without appliances, after all: replacing or updating appliances is an upgrade that should pay you back right away in the price of the house, so you have to do it at a pretty low cost or you can skip it. In the in-between, hard-to-decide zone of whether it's worth it or not, you may consider finding appliances at secondhand stores.

Remodeling Makes a Difference

In getting a home ready for sale, what you want to achieve is an inviting and pleasant appearance, where buyers can imagine themselves living with everything in perfect order. Distractions, entering from the realm of broken, dirty or worn things in the home, impinge on this dream-home experience. That can cost you the sale. You want to create this experience for the buyer, though, without spending too much. The prices you pay won't impress anyone, so spending more than you need to can be a particularly bad choice when the main reason for doing it is return on investment. Keep it simple, shop carefully and don't overdo it. The money you make will be the result of not only careful choices in what needs to be done, but also of finding smart ways to do it.

Article provided by Colorado's Automated Homefinder – a Louisville real estate company.

Creative Commons-licensed image by Tall Chris

Sears kit homes in Minneapolis

Kim Palmer had a good article on Sears kit homes in the Star Tribute earlier this month. Read the entire article on the Star Tribute site.

When Paul Kirkman first laid eyes on the house he bought last year, he knew it was a rare find: a 1917 Arts & Crafts bungalow with all its original woodwork and charm intact.

The house, in Minneapolis' Bryn Mawr neighborhood, had all the features that bungalow fans covet: dark built-ins, wainscoting and moulding, coffered box-beam ceilings and even an Inglenook fireplace.

"I said, 'This is perfect -- the one,'" recalled Kirkman, who had been searching for just such a home for seven months. "I like bungalows, and in my mind, this hits the pinnacle of that kind of architecture. The living room is about as original as you can get."

But Kirkman's bungalow is something even rarer: a Sears kit house, one of about 75,000 sold by mail order between 1915 and 1940.

There were 370 models, representing many styles, but Kirkman's house, the "Ashmore," is one of the least common, with only a handful of known surviving examples, according to Rosemary Thornton, author of "The Houses That Sears Built."

Advertised as "the Aristocrat of Bungalows," the Ashmore was among the largest (2,800 square feet) and most elaborate of the Sears kit homes. "It's a beauty, with a lot of nice features," Thornton said.

And it definitely defies any stereotype that mail-order homes are low-rent, said Tim Counts, president of the Twin Cities Bungalow Club. "Some people think of kit homes as ricky-ticky, slap-it-together, but often they are very high-end homes, and that one is a perfect example."

Blackstar Construction Group


Santa Barbara-based Blackstar Construction Group (probably not named after my favorite Radiohead song) is a general contractor specializing in Mission / Craftsman woodwork, interior architecture and detailing.

While their website does show off some very appealing jobs, many more of their projects are up on Flickr for the world to see, photographed by their friend Justin Wagner - I'm actually surprised more craftspeople don't take this approach - and it's easy to tell that they really take pride in the quality of their wood and skill. Some of my favorites:

last-minute gift shopping on Amazon

Picture_1 I prefer to buy all the holiday gifts for my friends and family from local businesses and craftspeople, but it's not always possible: many recipients live far away, or need something very specific. And sometimes the online price, even with shipping, is far less than it is anywhere else - and I am not, by any means, wealthy. So there's that whole needing to make the house payment thing. Should you have backed yourself into a corner and need a few quick fixes this holiday season, there's plenty - whether you're buying for a local friend, your spouse, or a faraway family member - on Amazon:



tools & fixtures


and finally, for those who are either completely nuts, ridiculously rich or have a 30-foot entryway to light:

Frank Lloyd Wright house tours in Oak Park

Flw_harry_s_adams This Old House's terrific Hardware Aisle blog is always full of good stuff - tool and material reviews, pointers to new techniques, and last week an article on Frank Lloyd Wright house tours. Read the whole article on their site:

Why does it captivate us to walk through the homes where legends lived or worked?

It started with Superman's Fortress of Solitude, then Ricky Schroder's sweet living room on "Silver Spoons," and later the suggestive banister at Sigmund Freud's pad.

Come May 17, 2008 architecture devotees will flock to Oak Park, Illinois, which is base camp to explore a cluster of homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and his contemporaries.

The homes range from a Civil War-era Italianate built around 1860 to the Harry S. Adams House (pictured) built in 1913-14.

Stickley on Craigslist: December 11, 2007

This is so much easier now that I can collect these listings automatically! As usual, I make no guarantees as to the authenticity of any of these items - be careful (and note that some items described as "Stickley era" or "Stickley style" do get through the filter - I try to remove them by hand but once in awhile leave the item in if I think it's nice enough or interesting):

gorgeous 1400 sq ft bungalow in Sacramento: $595k

3rd_front Yes, the price is obscene. But the house is gorgeous. Beautifull restored kitchen & bath, great (small) backyard, lots of light and in one of Sacramento's three nicest neighborhoods, this Curtis Park bungalow can be yours for just a bit over a half million dollars:

Beautifully restored shingle Craftsman on idyllic West Curtis Park street. A large lot with 3 car garage and alley access - this home has been meticulously restored. The period appropriate kitchen renovation is complete with handmade shaker style cabinetry with inset doors and solid wood construction. The ’50s era Wedgewood stove is also restored, and the rest of the appliances, including a Bosch dishwasher, are completely integrated into the design of the kitchen. Soapstone countertops, a full pantry, and plenty of open shelving throughout. A central vacuum system makes cleaning a breeze!

3 bedrooms, 1 bath, approx. 1460 square feet. Newly refinished hardwood floors throughout, along with a new 30 year composition roof, new copper plumbing, restored original windows, automatic irrigation, new HVAC, and more!! There is a partial basement which is great for storage. The 3 car garage is currently set up for a woodworking shop- the garage door is for a 2 car garage, but there's plenty of extra space inside!!

Many custom touches including master bedroom with built-in maple closet cabinetry and pull-out ironing board- sliding barn doors for the closet too!

Front and backyards are completely landscaped, there's even an outdoor kitchen! Cook and dine outside next to the gentle sound of the koi pond waterfall. Much, Much, More... Call for more details!!

Brad Pitt, bungalow aficionado & rebuilder of New Orleans

Blackerhousebookcover Many of you probably know Thomas Heinz, Randell Mackinson & Brad Pitt's book on the Blacker House and its restoration. It's an interesting read, and the photographs are surprisingly good. Certainly, Pitt's been one of the more visible old-house aficionados in California, buying up old LA-area Craftsman homes and restoring them when he has the time.

The Los Angeles Times has an article on Pitt's continued interest in architecture - both traditional and contemporary - and his founding of the Make It Right foundation, which aims to completely rebuild New Orleans' extensively damaged Lower Ninth Ward, keeping the neighborhood's character intact and rebuilding homes specifically for their residents. He's said that this effort is different from other proposals specifically because it doesn't exist to make developers rich and homogenize an entire area, but rather rebuild for the benefit of those who live there. Let's hope it works out. Tina Daunt has the full story in her Cause Celebre column of December 5 - read the whole thing there.

NEW ORLEANS – IN Hollywood, causes tend to divide into the popular and the deeply personal. You usually can recognize the difference because the former come from the pages of next month's glossy magazines and the latter right from the heart. …

Over the years, Pitt has bought old California Craftsman houses and restored them, gathering every bit of literature he could find on the Arts and Crafts movement and its most famous local architects, Charles and Henry Greene. The actor became so interested in their iconic homes that he teamed up with scholar and restoration expert Randell L. Makinson to produce the most extensive book to date on the restoration of Greene & Greene's Blacker House, which had been stripped and abandoned. (Pitt provided black and white photos as a visual essay on the Pasadena home's rebirth.)

Pitt has spent time with Frank Gehry at his studio, tinkering with diagrams and models. And last winter, for his birthday, girlfriend  Angelina Jolie gave him a special gift: a private tour of Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural masterpiece that spans  Bear Run, a creek that flows through woods about 50 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

So it's only fitting that Pitt's deep regard for the built environment and his concern for housing as a social cause have come together in his most ambitious project to date – "Make It Right" which aspires to nothing less than the reconstruction of New Orleans' storm-ravaged Lower 9th Ward.

Pitt, along with residents of the area, Democratic fundraiser and movie producer Steve Bing, and a team of world-renowned architects launched a national fundraising campaign this week to help the city recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. Pitt and Bing have already pledged to kick in $5 million each toward project development and construction. (Another difference between popular and heartfelt causes is their shelf life. Ruined New Orleans may not be an issue in the current presidential campaign, but neither Pitt -- who has a residence in New Orleans' French Quarter – nor Bing has been able to forget that so much of a major American city still lays in ruins.)

"The plan is to start with 150 homes," Pitt told a gathering of reporters and residents on Monday. "But there's no reason why we can't do a thousand homes, or 10,000 ...We can make this happen, but we all need to join together to do this."

happy accidents: bird spirit


Reader Russ Billington writes:

I thought you might like this - I took it this morning whilst basking in a rare ray of November sunshine. It might even bring a smile to your members. I call it 'Bird Spirit', but it is such a happy accident that the nail was hammered in at just the right place and the smear of putty round the hole just accentuates the rusting nail head. It's an old potting shed in the back yard. I better take my medication now..

You can also see some of Russ' wonderful lettering and painting work at Ford Craftsman Studios, one of my favorite retailers of home decoration. There are also a few very nice bits of free period artwork in editable vector forms on Russ' own site.

wanted: dining room table

wanted: Attractive & sturdy Craftsman-style rectangular dining room table with 2 leaves - capable of seating 8 or 10 with the leaves in, 4-6 without - for under $500. Something that will stay sturdy and last at least two generations. Any suggestions?

tools for everyone!

I'm the first to admit that I am not the handiest handyman. However, maybe it's a gender thing, but I love tools. All kinds of tools, gadgets, anything that will enable me to accidentally do more damage to my house while attempting to switch out a light fixture or thermostat or something else equally simple.

As we all know, it's important to have the right tools for the job, and in the interests of making sure you all have the right tools (as well as a jillion useful knicknacks that will come in handy on a regular basis), I've added a tool section to our Amazon Astore, replete with a coupla dozen near little doohickeys that you had no idea you needed - but now must have.

So, should another equally disaster-prone handyman or handywoman in your home require that special holiday gift, look no further.

real estate listings: MLS to RSS

Rssfeedgraphicbig So, obviously I've become a bit addicted to Yahoo Pipes. This free tool lets you aggregate, organize, and filter data from an unlimited number of RSS feeds and databases and present it in almost any kind of electronic form you can imagine.

I've found a really good use for it, one which is - amazingly - missing from the vast majority of real estate listing sites. Redfin, Zillow, and all the others: you are really letting the entire industry down by not having raw MLS data available as an RSS feed! I just could not believe that in an age when so many of us get our data on mobile devices and from feed readers that these firms wouldn't have easily-configurable custom RSS feeds of their listings, but sure enough they don't. Ziprealty is one of the very few to have such a useful feature, and more power to them for it.

Using Ziprealty's listings, house-for-sale posts on Craigslists in a dozen markets and a few other small sites here and there, I've created a Yahoo Pipe that includes only listings self-described as "Craftsman," "Mission," "Prairie," or "bungalow." Now, if I can only figure out how to include photos of each property...

If you are an agent, a broker or an MLS firm, please publish your data as a configurable / custom RSS feed. This way, searches that could take hours can be finished in just a minute or two, and users don't need to revisit the sites every single day - using a service like feedburner or one of the many rss-to-email services, we can be notified only when our search criteria pop up in a market we are interested in, in our price range.

And if you know of any listings services that do issue their data as an RSS feed, please share that info in the comments section below - I'd love to add them to the pipe. Also, let me know if you'd like me to include other cities' Craigslist posts, I can do that pretty easily.

If this tool is useful to you and if you think other folks might find it interesting, please digg it: