Pardon Our Dust

our dated dream house

Author: lisamaceda

Anniversary Post

Exactly one year ago today, during a record-breaking stretch of a few 70 degree days in February, this house became ours. I’ll never forget it for a couple of reasons – because I never (ever) thought we would own it, and probably more likely, because it also happened to be my birthday. Next door is the sister house to ours, almost identical in many ways. Recently the Berwyn Historical Society presented our neighbors with a plaque to signify it being a dwelling of significance and I was lucky enough to get a copy of the nomination which gives quite a bit of insight into the history of our own house. Primarily I was taken by the following passage outlining why people are so taken with George F Barber houses:

The surviving Barber designed homes still captivate the public in a way that current architects could only hope for. When asked why this is so, most Barber house homeowners struggle to explain it, but in many cases people describe it as “being drawn to them”. For reasons that they most likely don’t understand, present day homeowners often speak of their houses as being full of life and character, as being unique and special, and for simply being, what they feel a home should be. Without really knowing it, what they are really saying is that they feel their house is harmonious in form and proportion. That it contains the appropriate amount of ornamentation to go with the functionality they seek. And that they feel it was somehow designed just for them, even though it was actually designed for someone completely different, from a distant walk of life. 

This past Christmas, we got a bit of snow and the first taste of having to clear an entire corner’s worth of sidewalk. I wasn’t sure if our neighbors were home so we went ahead and cleared theirs as well, and soon after, they rang our doorbell with a very sweet gift. It was a book of Barber’s homes and I quickly got lost in the pages of houses from all over the country sharing the same architect as ours (Mike even did as well – I find that he’s more concerned with getting us the “Ferrari of air conditioners” and insulating the basement rim joists or something like that). On page 217 I was surprised to see a picture of our house. 217. My birthday is 2/17, we bought the house on 2/17, and the picture of our house is on page 217. And…..George F Barber died on 2/17/1915. That’s all I really need to know this house is ours for a reason. And maybe “ours” is a relative term, as we once heard that buying an old home is not so much a transaction as it is a changing of the guard. We are simply the caregivers of a place that has, and will, live far beyond our years.


Living & Dining Room – Before and After

Finally, some measurable progress. I have come to peace with the process of painting – cutting in, endless rolling – it’s almost cathartic at this point, but one day while Mike was in the in the shower, I started to investigate an odd little wrinkle in the wall and ended up ripping down an entire room of wallpaper and the 17 layers on paint on top of it. I was left with this (x’s four walls). So a simple painting project turned into a full-on undertaking.IMG_0736

Little did I know, to repair the cracks required hours and hours of applying joint compound and sanding – an enormous time commitment compared to taking the wallpaper down. So I did all that, and took down the tulip wallpaper border in both rooms (which also took an eternity) scraped that pink radiator after we removed the cover, and spray painted it black. Then we painted both rooms where I was reacquainted with Mike’s ability to find every single painting mistake I have made. I rehung all the curtains above the windows instead of where they were on the wood molding. Finally, we rearranged some furniture and hung art. Since we moved in, we hadn’t use the living room and while it seems kind of redundant to have two tv’s downstairs, we like spending time in both rooms now. There is still SO much to do, but at least this is a pretty good start.

This is what the dining room looked like when we first saw the house (and pretty much what it looked like when we bought the house because the previous owner left us a lot of crap to dispose of). I can’t get over how small it looks. Not that you typically see an enormous sofa and 6 person dining set in the same room, but the space feels a lot larger now.


This is where we are now.


Picasso is taking a break from securing the premises to pose.



This is the living room before (not pictured is splattered food on the wall, I have no idea). we inherited that sofa, as well as another even more hideous one and they lived on our lawn for about a week which really classed up the yard.


And this is where we are currently binge watching The Crown.




Next up, these stairs – some sort of transformation is already underway and isn’t going as planned – go figure. More to come. I will tempt you with the fact we discovered decades-old cat vomit under the runner when we took it up.


A Little Something After a LOT of Nothing

I have a hard time writing blog posts. There are probably 100 reasons for this, but recently I narrowed it down to two main issues. The first is nothing is even remotely close to being a complete project around here. Every room in the house is at a range of complete of about 0-40% which doesn’t really scream ‘take pictures and show me to the world!’ I don’t want you to look at something and then scrunch you face up and wonder “is she really a designer?” At the rate we are moving, though, you are likely to see more of our house if you look through the windows at night than via this blog so I decided to periodically post a room at a time in whatever state it’s in. I can show you where it started which is inevitably in a similar state to where it is now, let you in on what we have done, and more importantly, where it’s headed. At least then we can go on this journey together – which brings me to my next issue with hitting the POST button. I have this fear I’ll give you a sneak peak at my new freshly painted wall and someone will comment “I’m impressed by your attempt to capture a very subtle shade of greenish gray on your iPhone without adequate lighting, but what I really notice by the way your floor sags is that your house is literally getting sucked into the core of the earth”, or “I had wiring like that too once! I’d send you a picture but my house burned down. I spend about 80% of my free time worrying about what can happen to this house. It was really windy recently with rattling windows and ghostly ‘wooooooos’ and a thought came to me. Can the air pressure become such that all 46 windows can implode simultaneously? What I need to remember is this house has stood here for 122 years, albeit a bit more slant now than in the beginning of its life.

So until I get my act together and can put up an actual post about a partially finished space, here’s a vignette in the dining room. It’s an antique buffet we bought from our neighbor. In my true half-ass style, it’s been partially reconstructed, but not refinished. The art is from Hobby Lobby. I figured the perfect time to ask Mike to have some poor girl get a rolling ladder out and dig though all the Jesus prints to retrieve it for me was at the height of a Saturday during the holiday season. The sconces and lantern are courtesy of my mom, as is the little stump stool under the buffet. The plant holder is an old tool box from the Randolph Street Market. The buffet needs a lot more work, walls need to be painted and if I really wanted to get crazy, I could take 15 seconds to fill the hole above the art (which for months after we moved in was just a giant blue screw sticking out of the wall)

dining room

Bush League

NOTHING has excited me more about this house (with the exception of getting the keys on closing day) than coming home to to the front facade relieved of the oppressive bushes that have been choking out the porch for the past few decades. I’m sure we have some neighbors who are up in arms over chopping them down and pulverizing them in a giant wood chipper, but they were so overgrown, there was no way to save them. I also hate giant evergreen bushes…so there. Anyway, let’s just get to the before & after.


Let’s start off slow, from the living room.




Front view – Notice Mike for scale in the after photo- the smaller of the bushes were about as tall as he is.





Look how much yard we gained! Anyone need some sad hostas?


Yay! Time for more landscaping!

Chloe Goes on an Adventure

Each and every morning, our little dog Picasso wakes us up by climbing on our faces and demanding to go outside and then fed his breakfast. He doesn’t care if I had a work trip the day before and am really tired, or how many glasses of wine I had the night before, or that it’s a damn Saturday.

“I’m going to jump on your face until you let me out so I can pee on your ferns and flowers, then I want to eat, and after that I will be tired and want to go back to bed”

Today was no different except Mike noticed our cat Chloe wasn’t hanging around as she usually is as we shuffle through this early morning routine. We combed the house, looked under every bed and in every corner…..nothing. The weather was pretty nice last night so maybe we left the door open when we let the dogs out for the last time and she somehow slipped out and out of sight before we noticed? Unlikely since she will venture out from time to time, but stays within about 6″ of the door and runs back in as soon as we notice her. We had exhausted all our interior options though, so at about 4:45 AM, we ventured out with flashlight in search of that glowing pair of yellow eyes. A bit later I located a mound of black fur wedged under our side porch’s stairs. Yay! We found her. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get to her so I had to kick in the lattice under the porch which scared her and she ran under the back deck. I crawled in there, on my hands and knees, through god-knows-what, and that little shit somehow fit herself under the deck which is sitting on the ground. I had to army crawl under those stairs where I could see her, but couldn’t really reach her. This is also when I noticed she had disturbed an ant hill and there were little pissy red ants all over the place. We tried begging, I tried pulling her towards me with a stick, we considered just leaving her there and hoping she would come out on her own, but ended up deciding we were not going back inside without her. With my cheek on the dirt, I managed to get my arm into the small space and grab her tail, but that really pissed her off and she hissed and cried and got deeper into the space under the deck.

At this point I was so exasperated, I didn’t really care what happened to her, but I don’t need a dead cat under the deck so we did this:IMG_0352



Because everyone dreams of starting their weekend with dismantling their deck so they can drag an angry cat out, covered in ants and leaves.

The best part, and most comical now that this ordeal is over, is we had the dogs out with us because they wouldn’t stop barking, and our resident possum, Cropsey, who splits his time between our yard and the neighbors, moseyed on over to see what all the action was about. Mike thought it was Picasso at first until an insane commotion of barking and chasing ensued. That thing was so shocked he couldn’t just walk in and check out what we were doing. So at 5 am this morning, I was in our back yard,  covered in dirt and leaves, and screaming at a possum who couldn’t even be bother to move at a pace faster than a relaxed walk to get out our yard.


Buying an old house is like gleefully signing up for manic depression. There’s so much good….and an equal amount of bad. For every beautiful piece of original hardware, there is a run of brittle, crumbling cloth wire lurking in your walls and for every gorgeous turned spindle on your front porch, there is a rotting deck board reminding you every day when you leave the house to go to the job that pays to fix that place up, that it needs to be replaced before the mail carrier falls through and retires shortly after in the Bahamas.

When neighbors stop by to tell us they have always loved our house and have lived in the area for 50 years – that they are so glad to see someone thing care of it and fixing it up – it makes us happy. BUT, when I buy all new really awesome push button light switches for the first floor only to find out we have some (thankfully not all) cloth wiring that is probably original to the house and we should probably not touch lest it disintegrate and teach our insurance company a lesson, it makes us sad. Our electrician told us to make sure we have smoke detectors and to listen for noises in the wall that would suggest something is about to burn this m-fer to the ground (not in those words). Here you go, take all my money.

House, you’re expensive.

(Update: the electrician was back this past weekend to install our incredibly cute barn light fixture above the garage and some outlets for the basement and said a lot of work has been done over the years and the electrical is actually probably in a pretty good place for the age of the house.)

That would be an example of good. An example of bad would be spending 2 hours taking apart one of the old windows to fix the broken sash cord only to realize the weights don’t fit through the pockets and the whole window has to be disassembled. I want to take another look at it since I thought I broke my finger that day and it could have clouded my judgement. According to the city, our windows must be fixed so they don’t decapitate anyone, to be continued.

We turn to retail therapy when the going gets rough in the house…IMG_0260

Mike and I share a love of plants which is a little dangerous, but if I get to look at these instead of all the shit that needs fixing/cleaning/replacing/trashing/painting/maintaining, it helps.



…because who cares if our back yard is a compacted mass of bare earth and the front bushes are about the swallow the house when you have a HEAD planter!


Other than our plant shopping spree(s), not much has changed. We finally put up a light fixture in the living room from the old house, but I almost hate to post a photo because I haven’t been able to take down the tulip wallpaper border, fix the peeling paint, put art on the walls, raise the curtains, etc….etc…


Chloe is unimpressed, as usual.

Hopefully more to come.

April Showers

Mike and I spent most of April doing our anti-rain dance so we could drop a boatload of money on a stupid new roof.  Apparently our insurance company wasn’t super excited about the curling shingles and moss growing on it and threatened to cancel our policy if we didn’t do something about it. It’s hard to argue with them – after every windy day, our gigantic bushes were littered with little pieces of pink shingles that had shaken free. While we were at it, we got all new gutters since they, much like our yard, were full of about 5 years worth of leaves, sticks and little saplings.

Two days before the deadline the insurance company gave us to have everything fixed, I shot some hurried photos to prove we are now broke. These are not very exciting…but at least the roof isn’t pink anymore.


My god those bushes – really there would be a person in there for scale, they are like 6′ high. It’s madness.


Good news is we still have insurance, and the virtually nonstop rain lately has been skillfully diverted by our new gutters.

I’m embarrassed to show much else. We have ordered so much crap and been to home improvement stores an average of 3 times a week – yet nothing seems to get done around here. It took a RIDICULOUSLY long time to fix a leaking faucet, two hours to put up new door entry hardware (only to realize it’s crooked which makes me want to scream), and we installed all new smoke detectors…which seemed important considering the house didn’t come with any. I have also put up no less than 25 window treatments so no one can see inside to the cracked walls and crooked cabinet doors we live with. We then spent three hours stapling mesh to the fence one day in a futile effort to contain the dogs, only to write a check for a whole new fence a couple weeks later. None of this is very satisfying. Not a single room is anywhere near finished, and no one is allowed to come over unless they are fixing or installing something and wants all our money.

During the monsoon last weekend we finished painting the family room. I don’t especially enjoy painting, but I shelled out some extra money to get that Behr Marquee paint that has a one coat guarantee, and it’s worth every penny not to have to apply multiple coats.

I just hung up my favorite piece of art, painted by my late Aunt Helen who was an amazing artist and got the chills. In our last house, it was in our dining room and the light would hit it for a few minutes each day in a really beautiful way. The same thing happened tonight and it reminded me of my dad telling us about the last time he saw her. She was in a nursing home with my Uncle and my dad went for a visit. Neither had been in good health for quite some time, but when he walked up to her, she was sitting near a window, hair fixed, makeup done, reading a book and bathed in light.



Thoughts on a 30 Year Old Kitchen

Every time I use our kitchen, I am mostly horrified because no matter how much we clean, everything is just a little sticky, almost every run of vanilla-colored Corian countertop is cracked, and none of the cabinets align. The faucet leaks despite two replacement parts, and the oven has it’s own idea of temperature. But sometimes, as I stand there in hum of the rather large undercabinet lights (all different color temperatures, of course) I realize this kitchen was probably pretty badass and way ahead of its time in the 80’s.


Exhibit A – The infamous luminous ceiling. I realize this ceiling came to be because they had to conceal the air conditioning ducts coming from the attic down to the first floor, but I bet people were pretty impressed with this at the first family party post-reno. Don’t overlook the brass grid…it’s pretty high end. That ceiling has gotta go.



Exhibit B – We have 2 pullout drawers for pots and pans. Eat your heart out IKEA


Exhibit C – this amazing double oven. Who cares if it doesn’t have any idea what temperature it wants to be! There’s two of them! (let’s not judge on the box o’ wine, we need it okay?)


Exhibit D – a 36” professional-ish gas cooktop. The flames on this thing are about 12” tall on full blast, and all the identification is worn off so we never know which on we are turning on.

IMG_0161 2

Does anyone else have a cooktop like this with drawers under it? I’m scared to put anything in those drawers.

I think the most interesting thing about this kitchen is that my mom has one very similar from the same time but it doesn’t look nearly as dated because it’s white. I wouldn’t ever be so bold to think the kitchen we end up putting in this house won’t be publicly shamed on the internet in 30 years, but it goes to show you that some colors/materials/designs are quite a more timeless than others.


That CEILING tho…..woof

Oh Happy Day

This is the day I have been waiting for. After a complete renovation of a bungalow in Oak Park and almost over a year living in our Berwyn house with renters, we have paid our dues and it’s time for our very own house. We have been passively and actively looking around for months – had two houses under contract only to end up walking away because of issues, but this time, it all finally fell into place.


About two years ago when I was trying to find some history on Berwyn and its Victorians, I spotted this photo on Pinterest:

pink house

Pink! Sadly, the bushes have only increased their chokehold on the porch

It’s like a little architectural cupcake. I wasn’t so much a fan of the color, but fell in love with the details. I immediately started virtually exploring the streets of South Berwyn via Google Maps to find out where it was. I couldn’t find it. Fast forward a few months later when we bought our current house and we come to find out it’s on the same street. It didn’t really matter, it wasn’t for sale. I used to make Mike drive and walk by it all the time – even if it was out of the way. One day, we noticed they were having an estate sale and I forced Mike to turn the car around and let me go. I had to see what was inside and find out if this meant they would be selling the house. The owners were relocating to Florida and the house would soon be on the market for a price I almost had to sit down for. It was about 20k more than the most expensive house sale in Berwyn. That house was almost fully renovated….this one needs some major love. I proceeded to spend the remainder of the day in a shitty mood. It sat on the market for a few months because who would be crazy enough to take on a huge project like this kitchen (which is only the tip of the iceberg, this house needs work in every single room)?



The Kitchen…at least it’s spacious?

As of yesterday, it’s ours. I could barely talk about it for a month because I thought it was too good to be true, but yesterday we signed some papers, and got the keys. Anyone who knows the house inevitably asks what our first project will be. Unfortunately it’s the roof which will likely cost more than our car. I wish it was a new kitchen, or a fresh exterior paint job – proper for the painted lady it is. It’s actually not pink anymore, it’s white and some sort of dusty mauve color which, go figure, I am not a fan of.

We will be busy on this one for a long time to come and hope you’ll come along for the ride!

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