As I was saying…

by Debra Chappell


View of my latest project: (Read that: “latest creative distraction”)

Mood Reading: Beginning to look a lot like frazzled…

I know, I know….nothing like popping in on you at the busiest time of year. Especially since it’s been a little while since I last sat down to blog (okay, a BIG while – but what’s a year and half between friends?) But since I was thinking of what I would say in a Xmas card anyway, I thought what the heck – I’ll fire up the ol’ blog and see if she’s still churning!

I didn’t really intend to be gone this long… It’s just that one day (more than a year ago last summer) I got up from my computer to stretch my legs and make a cup of tea, and then, well… the petunias needed watering, and I thought I’d pull just a few weeds… and then I put another load of wash in, and oh wait, just had to call the cell phone company real quick…and before I knew it there was the big wedding of the oldest son in the fall, and then the Mexico wedding of the youngest one 4 months later, and a stint working at Pottery Barn in between (cause everyone should work there over a holiday season once in their lives right??) and then…and then…

And then one day while out driving on my lunch hour from my high powered career in ‘tablescape consultation’, I came across the IMG_4100mother of all creative distractions intentional or otherwise… a perfectly adorable old brick house in one my very favorite neighborhoods of old southwest Reno. It called my name and grabbed my heart (with purse strings still attached) during an impromptu crashing (on my part) of an open house… and just wouldn’t let go. Still flush with euphoria over my 40% discount at PB, and inspired by a weeks worth of binge watching reruns of Chip and Joanna Gaine’s on HGTV, my imagination went into overdrive and I acted on impulse. I rationalized that it would be a great (ahem) investment – and it didn’t need a lot, just a little facelift… a nip here, a tuck there (well, yes…there was the structural equivalent of invasive liposuction if not entire reconstructive surgery… but that only came later.)

So on a “whim” (that’s realtor talk for an offer contingent on structural inspection, sewer inspection, roof inspection, plumbing and electrical inspection, personal interviews with all the neighbors and their dogs, and the down payment of aforementioned two sons and their spouses) I BOUGHT IT! Well, technically “we” bought it. But admittedly my husband (who to this point was completely oblivious to my old house fetish which had been festering for years) was just a tad surprised when I casually mentioned, a few days after the fact, “oh…guess what I picked up when I was in town the other day?” Suffice it to say he’d barely overcome his astonishment when he found himself up a ladder, alternately wielding a paintbrush or battery operated drill, wondering what the hell happened to his once leisurely Sundays?

In short – I’ve had the time of my life. Who knew swinging a hammer, IMG_3298chiseling plaster, painting mouldings, stripping doorknobs, cleaning old hinges, refinishing old IMG_5193windows and salvaging kitchen chimneys heretofore unknown, could be so much fun!! My once manicured nails have gone to hell in a hand basket and I say good IMG_3744riddance. What I used to spend on my own vanity, I’m now spending on the bathroom variety!

What I’ve learned about old houses is this. Start with the small stuff, cause the big stuff will present itself soon enough (and usually in grand and expensive fashion, as in – “Oh! Looky here! This knob and tube wiring you thought was in fine shape is frayed as heck behind this wall and could burn the place down any minute, and while we’re at it we should replace the electrical panel…” KA-CHING! There goes the brick walkway you were counting on for more curb appeal) So I tried to begin with the small stuff I had control over, the tarnished window and door hardwareIMG_5058 I could clean up myself at the soon to be ripped out period- IMG_5056inappropriate stainless steel kitchen sink.

The house was actually in not-too-bad of shape to start with, but the previous owner was a nice single gentleman with slightly schizophrenic taste. I think he must have travelled a lot and his design style was decidedly along the very blurred lines of African/Asian/Southwest contemporary with a twist of pre-WWII British Colonial thrown in, and at complete odds with the French Country Cottage charm I had envisioned for it.



After boiling, cleaning and polishing hardware,  I tackled the Mexican tile hearth and plastered-over fireplace. I tried removing the ghastly faux painted plaster but found only old non-descript slump stone underneath, so bricked over the lot and topped with a killer mantel I found at a consignment shop.


In fact, the walls in the house are all of original plaster, and ALL were faux painted in muted (read that drab) colors, which hid their rich, original, and in places, uneven texture.

IMG_3925Interestingly, most the males that came in the place noticed and commented on the dark mahogany-stained window moldings and trim. To a man, they damned near had apoplexy when I told them I was going to paint it all white, a decision apparently akin to blasphemy.

Undeterred, the trim was painted accordingly and the walls, every square inch of them, a soft wheat color. Tongue and groove wainscoting was installed along the long hall and in both baths (and yes, that too painted white!) And the door to the hall, which previously sported a misfit art-deco inspired contemporary frosted glass, was made into a crowning jewel by my dear friend Edna who put her artistry to work in the form of a gorgeous leaded glass design that now welcomes all visitors.

The guest bath in particular needed a complete re-do. With dark orange stone tile, and African carved wooden masks on the walls, it looked more

like a beach-bungalow-come-grass-hut lavatory than an early century powder room. (Not that there’s anything wrong with a beach-bungalow-grass-hut – but not in my Parisienne inspired petite salle de bain!) Crisp white subway tile was installed in the shower with an Ivy accent and rope trim for panache, and traditional black and white mosaics on the floor.

The original pedestal sink was salvaged and new gleaming polished nickel ‘old-style’ fixtures and mirror were installed. A reproduction French impressionist print and some minor accessories and …. Voila! I’m back in that little bakery lav on Rue St Germain – if only in my own mind!

It was the kitchen however – and the potential therein, that originally captured my imagination, focus, and eventually the lions share of the already beleaguered budget. The entire kitchen was designed around the IMG_3646La Cornue French stove I’d seen in a decorating magazine years ago, and have lusted after ever since! (Yes, move over Tatum Channing, this one’s got a better rack and brass knobs to boot!) The open shelving and custom cabinets were made by a genuine craftsman, Traun Stephens,photo who indulged my often annoying obsession with small details, deftly turning my chicken scratch drawings into reality.


The pictures below tell the real story though (the before on the left, after on the right.) and I’m happy to report it’s now all finished and dressed for the holidays. For the record, it’s been furnished almost entirely with consignment and garage sale finds, and ‘collected leftovers’ (a nice way of saying a lot of old crap I just couldn’t bear to part with) I have stashed and saved in my cupboards and in boxes for years. (Besides, not much cash left over at the end…something had to give!)

Though originally bought as that “investment” to either flip or rent out, we have enjoyed it so much we have decided to keep it. I like having a ‘city house’ – a place that’s within walking distance to the restaurants, shops and coffee houses of mid town – a quaint little ‘pied-a-terre’ as the French say (translation: “small living unit usually located in a large city some distance away from an individual’s primary residence”) as a home not-too-far away from home.

Aside from the obvious aesthetics and warmth of this restored charming IMG_8946.JPGold home, what I love most about ‘this old house’ is its location and the intrinsic hospitality it inspires. It has become a gathering place for friends, both city and country. My friends from ‘home’ all stop in when they’re in Reno for a day or coming to or from the Reno airport. IMG_7078My city friends come by, and if my car is parked out front, stop in regularly for tea , coffee and a good gab. (Okay… and wine. Lots of white wine. ) Round about 4 o’clock, at least one of my girlfriends shows up knowing there’s Sauvignon Blanc open and time for a quick catch-up on the days events, latest news, or even an indepth meaningful discussion of our late-in-life recent challenges-like who the hell designed skinny jeans anyway??)

Though I love the peace, serenity, and views of our house located on two rural acres overlooking pastureland, the spontaneity that the city house IMG_6295offers has it’s own appeal… hidden gifts beyond the charm of it’s age and architecture, namely drop in friends, coffee and a bagel a quick walk away, a river stroll to dinner on a warm summer’s evening and the whole creative process that made a worn house feel fresh again, along with it’s new owner.





Epilogue: The entire adventure has been so exhilarating and gratifying that I just couldn’t resist when I was out for a walk a few weeks ago andIMG_8399 came across this tired old 1930’s bungalow looking a little forelorned and in need of some TLC, for sale by owner. Yes, offer accepted, inspections done…

to be continued…

: )