See You Later, Water Waster: Replacing the Kitchen Faucet

Replacing a Leaky Faucet in the KitchenWhen I replaced the faucet in the city apartment a few months ago, I commented to The Mister, “At least we haven’t had to a leaky faucet at the house.”  I should have known better than to put voice to the thoughts because that totally jinxed us. The next time we were at the house, we noticed that the kitchen faucet had developed a major leak.

We actually considered leaving the leaking faucet in place until we’re ready to overhaul the entire kitchen. I mean, it seems silly to install a brand new faucet on an old sink that we’re going to rip out in a few months. But then we discovered that what we thought was a minor leak was more like a constant flow of water. I’m talking Niagara Falls. And the falls were emptying into the cabinet under the sink and, eventually, into the bathroom in the basement below. So, yeah, our hands were forced on the issue. Besides, when we do eventually renovate the kitchen, we’ll just re-install this replacement faucet on our new sink.

New Kitchen Faucet Installed

Knowing that we’ll use this new faucet in the current kitchen as well as in the future iteration of the room, I chose one that we’ll want for the long haul. I picked up a commercial style faucet that may not exactly be period friendly for our 1917 home, but it will still look quite lovely on a white farm house style sink.

Replacing the faucet was just as easy as it had been back at the city apartment. The only real challenge was contorting myself to fit under the sink and around the garbage disposal. We did, however, run into one problem. The stainless steel sink is a little weak and thus doesn’t quite support the weight of this tall and heavy faucet. For that reason, the faucet leans ever so slightly to the right (which is why I photographed it at an angle). It’s not really very noticeable and it’s something that will be remedied when we replace the sink during the kitchen renovation. And it just goes to show that absolute perfection is a fallacy.

At any rate, we’re free of leaks and the new faucet works like a charm.

Images: This American House

Adventures in Stripping: Refinishing Fireplace Brick

Adventures in Stripping: Refinishing Fireplace Brick

We’ve had an ongoing debate for the past year about what we should do with the fireplace. The bricks had been painted white some 30+ years ago and then the most recent owners painted the fireplace a glossy dark gray. We knew we didn’t want the gray but we weren’t sure whether we wanted to tackle the monumental task of stripping the fireplace either.

Finally one evening, in a stab at decisiveness, I grabbed a can of white paint and a brush. “I’m just going to paint the fireplace white,” I told The Mister. “And then we can decide what we want to do later.”

I painted two whole bricks before I reconsidered what I was doing. If we’re going to do this, we may as well do it right. I wiped off the wet paint, grabbed a bottle of Citri-Strip
and, well, now there’s no turning back.

Stripping Fireplace Brick

At first, the project was going really well. The small section where we first applied the stripper was looking incredible. The dark gray paint peeled away quickly and with some scrubbing and brushing and lots and lots of stripper, the white paint washed away to reveal beautiful bricks. The bricks are not the dark red that we were expected but where instead shades of gray and blue and brown.

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Buoyed by the success of the first few bricks, we decided to forge on. And so on New Years Eve, while others were donning party hats and festive attire, we were dressed in grubby clothes and rubber gloves. We taped garbage bags to the walls and floor and proceeded to cover the entire front of the fireplace with stripper. And that, as it turns out, was not a very good idea.

You see, stripping a small section of a dozen or so bricks seems completely doable. Scrubbing the entire surface of a fireplace over a twelve hour period seems like some sort of torture.

Applying Citri-strip the fireplace brick

Still, it was great seeing the progress as we went along. Slowly (ever so slowly) the gray and white paint would chip away and we would expose more and more beautiful old bricks. But oh the mess that it created! Even with the plastic bags lining the floor, we still ended up tracking little bits of paint and stripper all around the house.

The mess of stripping the fireplace

At one point we had four wire brushes, a half dozen steel wool pads, two buckets of water, a pile of wet and dry rags and a few sponges at work. Here’s a little overview of our process.

Step 1: Use a steel wool pad to apply a layer of citri-strip to the brick. Let it stand for about an hour.

Step 2: Use another steel wood pad to apply another layer of citri-strip. This would essentially wipe away the gray paint, which would reveal the white paint. By applying another layer of stripper, we were hoping to make removal of the white paint a little easier.

Step 3: After letting the second layer of stripper sit for a few hours, we used wire brushes of various sizes to scrape away remaining paint. Talk about labor intensive! And oh the mess!

Step 4: Wash the brick with clean water.

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Every hour or so we would stand back and admire our work. And by admire I mean we would question our sanity and try to give ourselves pep talks about the progress we were making. But, truly, we were making progress, even if it did feel like it was at a snail’s pace.

By 10PM on New Years Eve, we had worked on the front of the entire fireplace for more than twelve hours. Some parts of it looked amazing while others obviously required more work. Sometimes you have to know when to say when, however, so we cleaned up our mess and decided we’d come back to it another day.

011115-stripping-fireplace-brick13The funny thing about all of this is that when you stand back, it’s kind of hard to tell that we did anything at all! I doubt that the previous owners had any inkling about the brick color when they decided to paint the fireplace dark gray. And yet their choice of color has made it difficult to discern what has been painted and what has been stripped. When you get really close to the fireplace you can definitely see the difference.

Fireplace bricks after hours and hours of scrubbingWe still have a lot of work ahead of us. We’ll need to do another pass with stripper and wire brushes on the front of the fireplace. I actually quite like the white paint that clings to the crevices of the bricks. I think it gives the fireplace a weathered look. If we can get the entire surface to look like the bricks pictured above, we’ll feel like it’s been a success.

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Of course, we haven’t even started on the bricks on both sides of the fireplace. For now, I think we’re happy to pretend that magic elves will come do that part for us.

Are we crazy for having started this job? Yes, I’m sure we are. Are we happy with the outcome? Yes, I think we are. So, really, it’s all worth it in the end.

Images: This American House

Peering Over the Fence: Dealing with House Envy

Delbert Meier House

When other Frank Lloyd Wright-designed properties pop up on the market, we can’t help but peer over the proverbial fence and compare notes. Mind you, this is more easily done with other Wright-designed Prairie houses, like our own. Recently, some Usonian houses have come up for sale. Each has been beautifully and thoroughly designed; one must feel as though one is actually living in a work of art, even more so than we do in our gorgeous house. A recent listing showed stunning interiors covered in wood – ceilings, walls, built-in shelves and furniture. We wonder, however, how much a completely designed house pushes out the homeowners’ ability to be co-creative with the space? If there are no walls to paint and little furniture needed to add, what more is there to do than fill up the built-in shelves and perhaps change out curtains and floor rugs?

Our house is somewhat of a blank canvas, held within a Wright-designed frame. The frame does dictate to some degree how we fill in the canvas, but for the most part it’s ours with which to play. We are certainly choosing to restore some interior elements to the house that were altered or removed years ago, like the original built-in cabinets, woodwork, and fireplace. We also hope to eventually “Wright” some alterations made to the exterior of the house, and frame it with more organic landscaping. But that said, we have little interest in making the house a museum. We would rather it be a space in which we can live in harmony with what it once was and was meant to be, but also with what it is now and can be. It’s a heady task, this balancing act between preserving the form of the house while updating its function, but we think we’re on the right (if not completely “Wright”) track.

— Michael

Image: This American House

The Great Compact Car Search of 2014 2015: Mitsubishi Mirage

Test Driving the Mitsubishi Mirage

One of my first driving experiences was in a Mistubishi Mirage. My parents bought a silver 1990 Mirage hatchback in that year. Always the spendthrifts, my parents’ Mirage was an absolute base model of an already inexpensive car. I’m talking manual transmission, no radio, crank windows, no cruise control, not even air conditioning.

When I turned sixteen the following year, I drove that silver Mirage, with my mom in the passenger seat, to the DMV to take my driving test. It’s always been a point of pride that I took my driving test in a car with a manual transmission – especially since I passed the test with flying colors. (Never mind the fact that just a few months after getting my drivers license I rear ended another car in the very same Mirage. Oops!)

At sixteen years of age, every car feels like a luxury car. As long as there are four wheels and an engine, the newfound freedom that comes with driving can make even a Pinto feel like a Mercedes.

I’ve certainly been around the block a few times since that first experience with a Mitsubishi Mirage. Now that the carmaker has re-introduced the Mirage to the US market, I thought we should consider it for our next car purchase. So how will the car that seemed like a luxurious ride when I was sixteen feel now that I, uh, have a few more miles on my odometer?

2015 Mitsubishi Mirage headlight

There’s definitely no mistaking the Mitsubishi Mirage for what it is: a cheap ride. We test drove a 2015 Mirage DE with a manual transmission and, while the price point was certainly quite appealing (right around $13,000), the car leaves a lot to be desired. The only positive thing I can say about the car is that the manual transmission shifted smoothy. Otherwise, it’s a bust. It’s sluggish, it doesn’t absorb bumps and potholes very well and, well, it just feels like a cheap ride. From the finishes to the handling, the Mirage lacks many of the upgrades that we’ve come to expect from even entry level cars. To get those creature comforts – bluetooth, push button start and the like – the price get pushed closer to $15,000. At that point, you may as well upgrade to a Honda Fit or Toyota Yaris.

We were attracted to the Mirage by its price but in the end we think that it won’t age well, especially in harsh city driving conditions.

Unfortunately, the Mirage also makes an appearance on Forbes’ list of 15 New Cars to Avoid (as does the Scion IQ, another car that we tested).

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Images: This American House

Our Winter Excursion to the Stockman House
And the Discovery of a Scale Model of our American System Built Home

Stockman House, Mason City, Iowa

Since buying our American System Built house in Northeast Iowa last year, we’ve been planning to visit all of the other Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes in the state. There was talk over the summer of taking a weekend trek to Mason City to tour the Stockman House and the Historic Park Inn, both of which were under construction a few years before our house was built. As it turns out, our own house projects trumped any plans for a road trip this summer.

We finally had the occasion to make the 2 1/2 hour drive to Mason City last week. And while the extremely cold temperatures kept us from fully appreciating all that Mason City has to offer, we did get to tour the Stockman house. We’ve been particularly interested in seeing the Stockman House because it is very similar in design to our own home. Built in 1909, the Stockman is based on Wright’s fireproof home designs, which is a style that the architect relied heavily on when he was designing the American System homes.

We were hoping to glean some tips on the restoration of our own home by visiting the Stockman house. And while we did get a few ideas from our tour, the real treat of the trip was stumbling upon a scale model of our own home.

Scale model of the Delbert Meier House

We had just walked into the Architectural Interpretive Center adjacent to the Stockman house and were trying to warm up when the docent asked us about our connection to Frank Lloyd Wright.

“Oh,” The Mister replied, “we actually own one of his American System Built homes here in Iowa.”

“You mean this one?” the docent asked as she pointed toward a little house made of balsa wood.Scale model of the Delbert Meier House at the Architectural Interpretive Center in Mason City, Iowa

“Mister!” he called from across the room. “They have our house!”

The fact that there is a scale model of our house is not a total surprise. We knew through a previous email exchange with a professor of architecture that models had been created of all of the Wright homes in Iowa, including our American System Built home. We did not, however, know that the models still existed. And we certainly had no idea that the model of our house was on display in Mason City. What a wonderful surprise!

Scale model of Delbert Meier House

The model was built by Raymond Gandayuwana and Derek Quang and is a very accurate depiction not only of the house but the landscape surrounding it. From the windows to the trim and even down to the gradient in the landscaping, the model is an amazing representation of our home as it would have looked before the front facade was altered. There is one window missing from the second floor of the model house, but why quibble over small details?

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Images: This American House