Doorknobs and Broom Closets

Better than gold or jewels–antique doorknobs!

Steve’s little treasure chest

Why settle for one medicine chest when you could have six?

Vintage fan, antique pharmaceuticals add that aged look at Steve & Polly’s.

The Breeze Inn is beginning to look mighty like a house. While I’ve been on Tybee writing, I’ve stopped by at least once a day to check in on the progress, and to work on those pesky little details that make the difference between a house and a home. Like those doorknobs I wrote about the other day. After I got them over to the house, my contractor reminded me that we’d still need mortise sets and backplates for those old doors of mine. The dollars started adding up in my head. It looked like I’d be spending around a hundred bucks outfitting each of those nine or ten doors in proper vintage style. In this economy, that’s a lot of money. Reluctantly, I took the knobs back.

Thankfully, my friends Polly and Steve had a better option. Their house on Tybee is only ten or twelve years old, but in the years since they built it, Steve has been slowly retro-fitting their new house with vintage style. One by one, he replaced the builder-grade hollow-core doors with antique solid wood doors he scrounged at salvage yards and antique shops around Savannah. After he had the old doors up, they looked so good he started fitting them with proper hardware, meaning glass or brass knobs and backplates. Old stuff is particularly easy to find in Savannah, because of the huge stock of old homes here. Then he started working on the light fixtures, scouting out fixtures from the 1920s thru 1940s to give their house that aged beachy look. He and Polly have filled the house with old wicker, funky painted furniture, and Steve’s collection of vintage fans, radios, toasters and phones, some of which he finds on eBay. Last year, they pulled up the wall to wall carpet in the house and had beautiful reclaimed heart-pine floors put down. They ripped out the formica bath and kitchen countertops and substituted antique cupboards and boards for the new stuff. Those cheap-o builder towel bars and toilet tissue holders were replaced by vintage glass towel rods and tissue holders. Steve started buying old wooden medicine cabinets with mirrors, and those got added into the mix.

When I asked Polly where Steve buys his antique hardware, he volunteered that he had a box full of old doorknobs that he didn’t need–and that I could have as many as I wanted. Score!

This morning I took myself over to their house to dig for buried treasure. Appropriately, the hardware was in a crusty green carpenter’s chest in their bedroom. As I sat on the floor sifting through Steve’s finds, I felt like I’d found the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
I’ll still have to buy some missing pieces, like escutcheons and some more mortise sets and backplates, but the major piece of the doorknob puzzle seems to be solved.

Now to figure out where to put the broom and dustpan and other cleaning supplies. The hall closet I’d planned to stash those necessities somehow came out shallow–by 18 inches. Towels and sheets may fit there, but nothing bigger will. Because this is a beach house, every inch of real estate inside is precious, so we only planned to have two closets downstairs, and one, upstairs, in the master bedroom. Today Mr. Mary Kay and I walked around the utility room, measuring to see if we can have a large free-standing cupboard built there to hold all those pesky things like a vacuum cleaner, light bulbs and paper towels. Hopefully, we’ve found a solution to this decidedly un-sexy storage issue.

So the week was a somewhat qualified success. I did start the new book, and it’s going nicely, thank you. But I didn’t meet my 30-page quota. On the house front, we have shiplap siding up in all the downstairs rooms, and beadboard siding in the downstairs bath and master bath. I’d hoped we might even have tile laid in the bathrooms this week, but that won’t happen until after Thanksgiving. Still, progress is progress. And for that, I’m thankful.

Cottage thoughts

The stack of shelter magazines beside my bed is so high and teetering (not to mention dusty) that I can barely climb into bed at night. But last night I treated myself to the November issue of HOUSE BEAUTIFUL mostly to get a glimpse of Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten’s new barn. But lo and behold, I found a new crush: the Moroccan influenced Miami home of Gene Meyer and Frank De Biasi. It’s hard to tell from these photos, but I think maybe their house is a CBS (concrete block structure) like our little Tybee cottage. Our CBS is currently a radioactive yellow with loud blue trim. Check the Miami house exterior–white stucco? with bold turquoise trim.

But it’s those concrete seahorse reliefs on either side of the front entry that snagged me. I WANT those seahorses. They remind me of all the Florida flourishes on houses of my childhood growing up in St. Petersburg. According to BH, the color on the door is Benjamin Moore Cayman Lagoon. We’re painting the outside of the Breeze Inn a soft turquoise with a little gray in it–I think it’s a Sherwin-Williams color called Aquaduct. How groovy would a pair of those seahorses be on either side of my front door–which will be a hot hibiscus pink screen door with aluminum heron relief that I bought at Brimfield this past summer? Anybody got a couple seahorses hanging out that they don’t want? I also love how they painted their library pink–and crafted those intricate seashell relief doodles. I can tell you right now that Mr. Mary Kay would put the kibosh on that in a New York minute if I tried glueing seashells on the wall of our new house. However, I am going to show him the photo of this sitting room, with its line-up of forties rattan furniture. I’ve been hoarding rattan for years now, just waiting to put it in my virtual beach house. Yes, this magazine is definitely going to the top of the bedside stack.

Hammer time!

A good time was had by all during the family’s weekend trip to the coast. Son-in-law Mark turned out to be a fiend with the sledgehammer. Katie enjoyed throwing stuff from the second floor landing onto the dumpster below, and Andy just loves destruction, period. I myself single-handedly did away with the kitchen cabinet doors–and I did it old school–with a manual screwdriver. Mr. Mary Kay hammered and sawed and between the five of us, we stripped the old kitchen down to the naked block walls, and reduced the second-floor bathroom to a pile of rubble. Although–the old bathtub still has to be carted off. The birthday portion of the program was nice too. My friends down at G.J. Ford Booksellers in St. Simon’s Island had given me a gorgeous new cookbook, called Screendoors and Sweet Tea by Martha Foose. I read it at night, after I finished writing, like a novel. Really, this is my favorite new cookbook to come along in years. We fixed the Shrimpboats for the birthday dinner Friday night, to rave reviews, with fresh caught wild Georgia shrimp. My friends Diane Kaufman, of Mermaid Cottages, joined us, as did old buddy Jacky, who brought two different crab dishes, a hot crab dip and crab pie, fixed with the crab she catches and picks out from her own dock. Mmmm, Aunt Bea! Saturday, the family went fishing, but I stayed on land and just kinda piddled around, visiting my favorite junk haunts. We did more demo in the afternoon, during which time I fixed oven-baked barbecued ribs from the Screendoor cookbook. Best of all–we had TWO chocolate desserts–chocolate cheesecake donated by my friend and real estate agent Sue Bentley, and chocolate frosted brownies dropped off by Diane. We were lucky enough to stay in a gorgeous house at Tybee this time, the old Fort Screven bakery, which has been lovingly restored by the Smith family. Talk about a sweet treat! It will be sad to have to come down in the world to stay anyplace else after spending a weekend at the bakery. My family returned to Atlanta on Sunday, but I hung around to finish some beach house related chores. And to toilet shop. You haven’t lived until you’ve toilet shopped. Who knew there were so many options? The nice folks at Sandpiper Plumbing Supply were a huge help. So now I’m back in the real world. I have a Barq’s Root Beer basted ham in the oven for dinner tonight–courtesy of the Screendoor cookbook. It smells divine!

Demolition Derby

I have a birthday coming up this weekend, so I told Mr. Mary Kay what I want for my birthday is a sledgehammer and a dumpster. He was OK with this, since it’s lots easier to pick up the phone and order a dumpster than it is to go out and buy jewelry–and as we all know, with sledgehammers, one size fits all. So the family is headed down to the beach for the weekend, and the plan is that we will begin working on the Breeze Inn. The kitchen will probably be our first demo victim. I can’t wait to haul those cheesey cabinets outta there. In other news, I’m finishing up my four-day stint down at St. Simon’s Island. THE FIXER-UPPER seems to be coming along nicely, and I’m only six pages away from making my goal of reaching 400 pages. The target is 500 pages by the end of August, and this puppy will be done-or at least the first draft anyway. This seems like a lot, I know, but manuscript pages are different from finished pages, and I tend to write overly-long–and over-plot as well. I have writer friends who say they can barely squeeze out a story in 275-300 pages. Hah! I wish that were my problem. I guess I must sorta subscribe to the sculpting method of writing, whereby I spend months concocting this big granite lump of a an elephant and then have to spend more months whittling away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant. Fortunately, I have a superb (and understanding) editor who indulges my lunacy, and a superb (and crafty) agent who knows how to give me the time and space I need to get my job done.

Home Sweet Beach House

Welcome to the Breeze Inn. After countless fits and glitches and snags–not to mention unsuccessful bids on four other houses, we are now the proud owners of a beach house. The Breeze is a circa-1943 concrete block structure–what they call CBS down on Key West. But our Breeze is nowhere near Key West. She’s on a lovely block on a lovely street near Savannah. That radioactive yellow and blue paint combo will be changed as soon as we come up with an overall plan for her restoration. And those unlovely circa-70s windows on the second floor –on what used to be a sleeping porch before being turned into two bedrooms, will be replaced with more appropriate six-over-one sash windows. The downstairs floors are crumbling brown linoleum over concrete slab, the upstairs floors are, we think, heart pine, painted over with such colors as hot pink (really) and green. The bathrooms are straight out of a nightmare, and the kitchen is just sad. All the plumbing and wiring has to be replaced. Oh, we’re making our plans all right. At night I dream of color schemes and floor plans. I’ve filled a loose-leaf notebook with magazine pictures of dreamy beach decor. Our basement here in Atlanta is officially full of Breeze Inn furnishings. It’ll probably take all summer to get her ready for occupancy. We’ve been told the former owners raised seven children under this roof. We had a glimpse of some of their old photo albums, and the pictures, of birthday celebrations, Army days, and family gatherings, tell us that this house was once a happy place, full of life and laughter and good times. That’s what we want for our beach house. Nothing fancy or hifalutin’. We need a good kitchen where we can whomp up a pot of low country boil, with a fridge for beer and Diet Coke. I’ve found one of those old cast-iron sinks with the built-in drainboards on eBay, and if I can figure out how to haul it home, it could be just perfect. I’ve already got a long wooden farm table for the dining room, and I’m assembling chairs enough to seat our extended family and friends, for meals and card games, and maybe even some jigsaw puzzles. We’ll need bookshelves for all those beach reads, and big, comfy sofas, the squishy kind that beg you to take an afternoon nap when it’s too hot at the beach. And yes, a TV, so we can keep up with the Braves score in the summertime, and football games in the fall–not to mention old movies on rainy days. I’m planning to wedge beds in whereever I can, enough to sleep everybody and their friends. Upstairs, we’ll have a master bedroom in that old front porch area, and a new bathroom, hopefully with a clawfoot bathtub. My friend Ron, master shopper, is on the lookout for just the right tub. One corner of our bedroom will hold a desk and chair, for those times when I run away to write. Each of the kids will have their own rooms, of course. I’ve even bought an old metal washstand to put in Boomerang Boy’s room, just like a lot of the old beach houses that had sinks tucked into bedrooms. Downstairs, a screened porch runs across the length of the back of the house. I’ve been buying wicker sofas and chairs and rockers for that porch for three years, and I’m also trying to figure out if there’s any way to also squeeze in a glider. We had a great glider on the front porch of our old house. You could stretch out full-length and squeak yourself to sleep. That pink screened door I bought at Brimfield is destined for the front of the house, I think, and I can’t wait to hear it slapping each time somebody comes in the door. Of course, in the meantime, as my editor and agent POINTEDLY keep reminding me, I’ve gotta finish the damned book this summer, to pay for all those lovely dreams of mine. Sometimes, dear friends, reality does bite.

Kitchen bitchin’

There is a lot to love about our new old house–but the kitchen isn’t one of my favorites. The previous owners turned a former bedroom at the front of the house into a kitchen, because the existing kitchen was a tiny space at the back of the house. So the window placement is a little wonky. And it opens directly into the dining room, which I don’t love because we’re messy cooks around here, and we entertain a lot. And the previous owners were in the restaurant business, so I don’t think they did a lot of home cooking. All of which means–remodel. But not a big remodel. No. More like a retrofit. I must have been doing something right when we moved into the house, because I found Bob the Builder. Bob is heaven-sent. He works alone. He does everything–carpentry, plumbing, wiring, tiling. He’s sweet and neat, and reliable. Totally husband material, except he’s already married, and so am I. Anyway, here’s the deal. We’ve removed the existing upper cabinets, which did not go all the way to the ceiling–meaning I had a serious storage situation. Bob has built lovely sturdy, roomy new upper cabinets, and Roz the painter–also amazing–she and Bob work together all the time, is painting the new cabinets, and the old lower cabinets, a shade called Timid White, and they will have an umber glaze. Then, next week, if the Gods are with us, the new stove will arrive. Mr. Mary Kay demanded a stove with bigger burners, and who was I to keep him from stove destiny? So the new Dacor should be in next week. And if I’m still living right, Mark the Marble Guy will come back and install black granite countertops. And then Bob the Builder will return to install a tile backsplash. And hopefully build us a cabinet around the huge shelving unit which exposes my sloppy cookbooks, glassware, ect. We’re hoping for a cupboard which looks antique and slightly Welsh cupboard-ish. In the meantime, we’ll be living on rotisserie chicken and bag-o’salad off paper plates. But it will all be worth it–right? I’ll keep you posted with pics of our progress.