Balcony doors fit for a castle

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know that we reused, rejuvenated and recycled the things left behind in the church that deserved another life: The sanctuary windows, a number of light fixtures, the tin ceiling in the basement, the rest room sign from the bathroom and all the original wood floors built back in the 1890s are a few of the items that continue to be useful here at Church Sweet Home.

Add to the list an old picnic table that itself was made of reclaimed wood.

More than a year ago, we began dismantling the old back entryway to the basement, and we found a bunch of old pew pieces, a chunk we think may have been part of an altar and a huge hunk of painted wood planks we identified as an old picnic table by the fixtures designed for legs and a “HI” carved into the face.

HI
A common greeting. Or possible the initials of Henry Icabod. 

I imagined generations of families in their Sunday best passing big bowls of mashed potatoes and platters of sliced ham from one person to another along this enormous tabletop. Even in its battered condition, some parishioners thought the piece was meaningful or functional enough to store away with other wooden treasures in the back entryway.

We thought so, too.

We squirreled this hunk of wood away as we did with hundreds of other pieces of wood we salvaged from the old Methodist church during demolition. We knew we could do something interesting with it at some point.

balcony doors before
To give you an idea of how big hunk of wood was, you can see it in the back there in our rental unit. No, not the doors in the front. No, not that brown thing in the middle that looks like some sort of altar piece. I’m talking about the greenish piece with knot holes in the back, clearly wider and longer than the doors. This is the best before shot I have, I’m sorry.

At some point, Tyler determined that hunk of wood would make a great set of doors for our balcony landing, necessary to provide a bit of privacy to our guests staying in the bedroom on the second floor. He put You-Can-Call-Me-Al, our enterprising master carpenter, on the project. Tyler directed You-Can-Call-Me-Al to build the door entirely from that hunk of wood and scrap lumber found in the church.

Meanwhile, Tyler got to shopping, and he found the a set of hinges to secure the door to the walls. Where? From Europe on eBay, of course. Here’s how the auction was written:

Salvaged Heavy Old Strap Hinges & Cups for Large Gate Garage

We live in a very small ancient hamlet with a church that is 12th century, and we spent seven years (or more) from 2001-2008 renovating the house but we have recently downsized to a much smaller cottage next door. The house was built in 1878, and though we can’t be sure, we think the hinges came from the old Coach House that housed the Coachman/Carriage and Stable for the horses. We were unable to reuse them at the time and kept many salvaged items to refurbish our next house which was built in 1450 and where we will eventually retire to in our old age! We are still going through sheds and outhouses sorting and disposing of items we know we won’t use — largely because they are not old enough!

Imagine that! Pieces of metal from 1878 weren’t old enough for this seller! Their trash was our treasure. One-hundred-and-forty years old was perfect for our project.

door hinges
Cost: About $70 including shipping.

You-Can-Call-Me-Al constructed the doors, Tyler applied multiple coats of polyurethane, and mounted decorative metal pieces and handles from Restoration Hardware, and together they hung the doors on either side of the balcony landing doorway.

balcony doors closed
Here’s how the doors look closed, when guests are visiting and sleeping in the bedroom behind.
balcony doors after
And here’s how they look most of the time when we leave the doors open. If you squint, you can see the “HI” on the right edge of the left door. 

Our rebuilt doors made of salvage wood add an interesting rustic flair to our otherwise formal balcony, which is exactly the feel for which we were going. Another great example of giving new life to old junk. Yay!

 

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Grant me the serenity

The internet is forever.

The former church we now call home once hosted meetings for Alcoholics Anonymous, and about twice a month, someone rings our doorbell about 7:30 in the evening asking about the weekly AA meeting.

“Nope, it’s not here anymore,” we say, conscious of the lack of anonymity represented by one of us standing in our open doorway. “AA meets at the church around the corner now.” And we offer directions to the nearby Congregational church.

We have had to admit our powerlessness over old Web listings that continue to show our address for Tuesday evening AA meetings. If it’s got “meeting,” “recovery” or “AA” in the web address, it might list our house as the meeting locale when you drill down in the search results.

That’s one of the weird things about living in a former church. What with the belfry and the church sign, which I still adore, we look like we might still be a church, so no one can be blamed for knocking on our door. No one has shown up for a Sunday morning sermon, but we’ve also had a couple of people drop by looking for the Loaves & Fishes food bank, which was once hosted in our basement. We give them directions, too, not nonperishables.

I don’t mind.

Those infrequent confused visitors are beautiful reminders that our home was once a hub in the community, a place where people met and extended their hands in support to each other.

The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.

Trees are as close to immortality as the rest of us ever come

We suffered a loss here at the Church Sweet Home estate, and it hit me harder than I expected.

We cut down three mostly dead Chinese elm trees on our property line last month. Well, to be specific, we had them cut down by the pros. Removing 65-foot-tall trees is not for amateurs unless you’re interested in starring in stupid idiot videos involving chainsaws and house disasters.

fallen tree
Our tree, iced.

We knew they were mostly dead. During an ice storm earlier this year, one of the trees split nearly in half. The branches clogged up the driveway next door, and that’s when we understood we needed to take drastic action. Before some fallen branches clipped a car. Or a person.

So, Tyler called a tree guy, and he diagnosed the trees as kaput. I suspect he was a little like a surgeon who fixes every malady with a scalpel, but we didn’t have any holistic remedies at the ready. So chainsaw it was.

The project required two days, four trucks (some with buckets) and at least six guys. Strange weather befell us, and the men worked through sunshine, clouds, rain and snow. They started at the top of the trees, which towered far above the top of our belfry, and worked their way to the ground.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Yes. It sounds like a chainsaw and feels like an earthquake. The church literally shuddered when the trunks were felled. I shuddered, too.

The tree guys knew what they were doing. Our trees were removed without incident.

tree getting cut up
Where mulch comes from.

Except to the trees. Which were essentially massacred. The trunks were cut into pieces and hauled away to be used for pallets, we were told. The branches were turned into chips, mulch for someone’s yard maybe.

Chinese elm is a rapid-growing species native to eastern Asia. It is highly resistant to Dutch elm disease (which killed off three-quarters of all American elms in North America). It wasn’t disease that killed off our trees. It was just age. And ice, I guess, which is problematic for the older set who is a little unsteady on their feet, too.

tree stump
Eventually we’ll dig out these stumps, too.

When the tree guys finished their work, I inspected the remaining stumps in a way I had never looked at the trees in the first place. I didn’t appreciate them when they were around. I was sort of sad. I counted 70 rings in the stumps, so they were planted about the same time the church underwent a major renovation to build a new entryway and move the altar from the east side of the sanctuary to the north side. The ’40s must have been a good decade for the Methodists here. Renovations like that take money, which in the church world, required enthusiastic members.

Our yard, even without the spindly leafless branches, looks weirdly naked without our dying Chinese elms. Of course, it doesn’t help that the gray of early spring casts a pall on the entire landscape.

I suppose the trees lived a good life and died a good death. But I miss them.

trees cut before
Here is how our trees looked while the men were working on them (I don’t have a good picture of them with leaves from this angle).
trees cut after
And here’s how our side yard looks now.

# # #

Today’s headline is a quote from American author Karen Joy Fowler. She is best known as the author of the best-selling novel The Jane Austen Book Club that was made into a movie. 

Big time music system

I learned a few things about my husband of ten years as we renovated our 127-year-old church into a home. I knew he had a lot of tools, but I didn’t know he was so skilled at using them—hammers, sanders, saws, paint sprayers. I didn’t know he knew how to run an excavator. I didn’t know his good taste extended to interior design.

And I didn’t know he was an audiophile.

He kept this fact mostly secret throughout construction. Maybe it wasn’t purposeful. Maybe the language he spoke just went in one ear and out the other (did you see what I was doing there with that idiom?). I didn’t know the difference between a tweeter and a woofer let alone between a Klipsch and a Miller & Kreisel.

Before we even built the cabinetry for the back wall of the great room, we had enormous speakers lining the floor. He struck a deal with a friend on some of them (of course he did), and he collected a few more from a relative’s collection. Then, some weeks later, he found online a woofer, or maybe it was a subwoofer, with all the bells and whistles. He already owned the receiver. Or at least I think we did. At a certain point, I quit asking questions about what had been squirreled away and what was being newly acquired. But he wanted me to mention his receiver has “4K ultra HD network AV surround” with 1,200 watts of something-or-other 11.2. I literally have no idea what that means. But an audiophile does.

That’s one of the reasons we “needed” so much cabinetry in the great room. It was necessary to accommodate our hobbies. One of my hobbies is, or at least was, scrapbooking, and I have at least 20 finished 12-by-12 scrapbooks that need to be stored somewhere. And one of Tyler’s hobbies is listening to music. To do that right, at least in his mind, he needed a lot of speakers.

hidden speakers
See all those pink outlines? Those are speakers. Just the ones in the front of the room.

In the end, Tyler connected 25 speakers (including subwoofers, woofers, midrange, tweeters, horn tweeters and piezo tweeters) to his system using 700 feet of speaker wire. Speaker wire was like nails for a while there. Seemed like we were always buying another box of it.

Then, as he connected various components, there would be the inevitable tuning. He would play a few lines of some song at top volume over and over again, adjusting the EQ, tone controls, balance and fade on the big screen. Because, of course, the whole system has airplay, ethernet, wifi and bluetooth connection capability. Now, all he has to do is pull out his phone and he has access to just about any piece of music on Amazon Prime, Spotify and iTunes.

Thanks to digital music, there is not a single record, 8-track tape, cassette or CD in any one of those cupboards. When you have a system like ours, you appreciate when someone “remasters” the digital version of a golden oldie.

Oh, do I appreciate it.

For all the lack of attention I paid to Tyler’s machinations regarding his stereo system, listening to music in our chome now is like no experience short of a live concert in a concert hall.

It’s grand. A rock tune is one thing, but classical music, which Tyler plays nearly every Sunday morning, practically brings me to tears. It’s amazing.

We’ve watched the movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” in our living room, not once but twice, it was so good. Queen, in concert. Freddie Mercury was singing right to me.

We’ve also landed on a great parlor game. The other night, we entertained my mother-in-law and her brother (Tyler’s uncle). For an hour, Tyler the DJ had us making song requests, which he programmed into the mix. We enjoyed hits from Mötley Crüe, Blondie, Dave Brubeck, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils and Neil Diamond, to name a few. Everything genre from 1950 to 2019,  Abba to Zhou. If I didn’t like someone’s choice, I knew my selection would be coming right up. What a show.

One of my requests was Peter Gabriel’s Big Time. I think there couldn’t be a better tune for our venue.

And I will pray to a big god
As I kneel in the big church.

Big time
I’m on my way—I’m making it.
Big time. Big time.
I’ve got to make it show, yeah.
Big time. Big time.
So much larger than life.

~ from Big Time, lyrics by Peter Gabriel

Merchant Wednesday: Beams that’ll make you beam

As we have reinvested in home furnishings and decorations to style our Church Sweet Home, we’ve run across a number of amazing artists and vendors. Sometimes the vendor is a big-box-type store but more often it’s an online retailer or a local vendor. On some Wednesdays here on Church Sweet Home, I will share our latest find and reveal who provided it to help other interested home designers.

# # #

One of the distinctive features of our great room is our ceiling beams. There is the fireplace, and the spiral stairway, and that fab reused kitchen, too, but today we’re talking beams.

Faux wood beams.

The very first minute I stood in the old church sanctuary when we were checking it out with our real estate agent, I knew I wanted to put wood beams on that big beautiful ceiling. And Tyler figured out how to do it without hoisting two-ton hunks of timber up there.

Tyler found rigid polyurethane foam beams online—lighter and more durable than actual wood beams and more affordable, they were advertised as being “virtually indistinguishable from real wood.” The array of options was dazzling.

L beam or U beam?

Rough sawn or hand hewn (or any of eight other textures)?

How wide? How high? How long? Do you need endcaps?

What color? We knew we wanted “brown” but we could choose from among eleven shades of brown. We finally settled on antique cherry.

They arrived some weeks later by semi-truck, not your typical delivery but packed perfectly to protect our precious cargo.

beams shipped
Here are our faux wood beams, waiting in the great room for installation.

Remarkable. They really were virtually indistinguishable from real wood beams. And they were as light as cappuccino foam, which made them easier to install.

This was just the distinction we wanted for the cathedral ceiling of our great room.

Tyler found our beams at the Architectural Depot, “the do-it-yourself superstore.” Given their “superstore” tagline, they sell a lot more than faux wood beams. If you’re in the market for ceiling medallions, moulding, PVC millwork, shutters, columns, corbels & brackets, ventilation, doors and windows, siding and components, weathervanes or yard items, they offer things, too.

beams close up
Here’s a close-up view from the balcony of our hand-hewn faux wood.
beams overall
Antique cherry is just the right contrast against our white ceiling.

We also used the faux wood beams in a smaller area: The entryway. We used them to add interest to an otherwise standard peaked ceiling.

518 Booth Entryway Before
When we bought the church, the entryway ceiling was flat, covered with undistinctive ceiling tiles.
beams-in-entryway.jpg
Here’s how the ceiling looked after we installed the beams (but before the light fixture). They coordinate perfectly with our castle doors.
beams chillin
This picture of us chilling in our great room was taken by our Nest security system. This bottom-up shot really shows how grand the ceiling looks.

You can check out all that the Architectural Depot has to offer by clicking here. The website is user-friendly and you’ll find all kinds of great tips when you place an order. Also, we were able to order short sample pieces of beam before investing a couple thousand in the final product. I highly recommend doing that if you have a big project (or even a small one).

100% guaranteed

When you’re on a home improvement kick, absolutely everywhere you go offers the potential for inspiration.

Early on, Tyler and I bided our time waiting to close our deal on the church by visiting home improvement shows, home improvement stores, furniture stores, parades of homes, every show on HGTV, friends’ houses … you get the picture. We kept that up throughout construction.

Eventually, we got to the decorating phase, and I spent a lot of time at Pier 1. And as luck would have it, the nearby Pier 1 was next door to a Bath & Body Works store. So easy to stop in for hand soap (and body lotion and lip gloss …). I also spied this display in the back of the store behind the cash register. Where other people saw a brightly lit 100% guarantee, I saw 100% bright idea.

back wall inspiration
Welcome to Bath & Body Works.

The owner told me that in other franchise stores, that space filled by the sign was a big television screen with animated advertising; she just didn’t have the flat screen. I loved the lighting effect and the window pane design, and I thought, “That idea could work on the back wall of the great room.”

Click! I took a picture.

That retail display inspired the custom cabinetry on the right side of our fireplace in the church.

back wall right side
You’re going to have to use your imagination for this side.

Well, we’re not quite done, but I’ve been stringing you along on the back wall of the church for a week now. My “advertising” is still in the works. The flower, mirror and adorable picture of my granddaughter are placeholders for a grouping of a dozen canvas-wrapped vacation and family photos I’m going to display there. Also, we have rope lighting hidden in there, but these photos were taken during the day. You’re just going to have to trust me. It’s going to be epic.

back wall with pantry
This angle shows the pantry (left) and the entire back wall of the great room.

Overall, we don’t have perfect symmetry on the left and right sides of the fireplace, but we wiped that out as soon as we installed the spiral staircase. We have coordination. Matchy-matchy is so yesterday’s Sears showroom anyway.

Let’s remind ourselves where we began. Oh, dear.

sanctuary before
Here’s what the back wall of the church looked like when we purchased the building.
back wall straight on
And here’s how it looks today.