Country Mouse, City Mouse

Sometimes I feel the pull of rustic, simple shiplap and other times it is the pull of a sleek, laquered library.

Michael Smith Architects

Can the country mouse and city mouse reside under one roof?

I struggle with that.

Our house is not a country house by any means.  It is in a suburban setting (or city setting for our wooded part of Pennsylvania) and the higher ceilings and trim work call for a more classic, traditional and formal vibe.

But then I ran into this kitchen by designer Stephanie Sabbe and although I will likely not do an all-white kitchen again, the shiplap walls are just so simple and unfussy and beautiful.  And, I can kind of see this kitchen working in our house.

But then again I have this fixed association with shiplap. It belongs in coastal New England houses, farmhouses, and quaint Southern cottages. And, that’s it. End of story.  Or does it?

Phoebe Howard may have answered my question as here is a sophisticated version of shiplap in a rich neutral that does not shout quaint, beachy, rustic!  Instead it is simply texture on a wall in an elegant room in any style house.

Joanna Gaines has skyrocketed shiplap into design stardom.  Probably not a good long-term gig for shiplap, though I do think it will survive its 5 minutes of fame and remain a classic look but in an authentic setting.  That will be the key. And, that is why I probably will pass on the shiplap for my own house. Though all bets are off for the lab!

A Spring Prettying-up List

We have accomplished some of the bigger curb appeal issues but we still have a long way to go.

First, we took care of the broken, rotted windows and replaced a few jalousies as well.  The porch got a facelift and some new paint and paneling.


The weed garden between the house and lab received an overhaul mid-summer.  Stumps were ground out and hydrangeas and boxwood went in. IMG_0679

Before this flagstone path it was ivy and old yew stumps.  Much much better and safer!


And, of course, we fixed up the backyard.  New patio, new elevations and new walls and stairs.IMG_1318-2


So what’s next?

New storm doors

Repointing stairs and stoops

Painting/replacing shutters (this will be our 4th house doing so!)

and . . . .

Window boxes!!!!

I have a slew of zinc window boxes that have been sitting in the lab since our move into the house but they don’t quite fit the house windows.  I think I am going to put them on the two larger, lower windows on the lab instead.  IMG_1603

But what about the front of the house?  This is our ‘country’ house and I had window boxes on all windows upstairs and down until the house was painted and then they never made their way back up.  It was a royal pain in the neck.  The upstairs boxes were hard to water, difficult to plant and nearly impossible to deadhead without a huge production.  IMG_4158

This go around I am going to simplify things and stick to two window boxes on the first floor of the house. This house need a huge boost of curb appeal and I think that will help things right along.

Front of house


Besides the brick and shutters which will both be taken care of in due time, the light over the door bothers the heck out of me.  It is just too darn small.  I have looked into this several time and come out on the other side of my research decidedly undecided!  Do I invest in a gas lantern?  Do they give off enough light?  Do I simply replace the existing fixture with something more substantial?  Do I scrap the overhead and have lanterns installed on either side of the door?

Weighty decisions!


The Penicillin House

To locals, our house is either ‘The Pencillin House’ or Dr. Alderfer’s house (Alderfer was a long-standing pediatrician in town and the second owner).  It is rarely the Rettew’s house and hopefully that is about to change as really G. Raymond Rettew deserves a little bit of notoriety for his work.

This past summer I unsuccessfully dodged what I suspected were solicitors at my back door.  Obviously caught when we made eye contact, I apprehensively opened the back door to find a man and woman who had flown in from Toronto to do a bit of research on their uncle and cousin, G. Raymond Rettew, the scientist and original owner of the house. Not at all who I expected!

Rettew pictured on the right – Chester County Historical Society

And, as it turned out this pair had been flying around the country and collecting interviews, photographs and anecdotal stories of Rettew’s life for the past year for a documentary they were making.  They even found the first recipient of Rettew’s penicillin.

So they arrived on my back doorstep hopeful they would find someone home and willing to show them the lab.  Much to their delight, it really it looks so much like it did when Rettew spent those late nights in there researching and experimenting back in the 1940s.

In June the producers will be filming an interview with Mr. Rettew’s daughter upstairs on the second story.  After comparing it to pictures from Rettew’s autobiography, it is easy to discern the space as the architectural elements, bookshelves, lighting, countertops and even the shades are all still in tact.

The lab in last week’s 30 inches of snow.

Switching gears and back to the main house – the living room/family room is finally being fitted with some space-appropriate furniture.  The white loveseat is staying and the white sofa pictured on the right is going and hopefully being replaced by a second loveseat.

The tv is in the cream colored cabinet. We now have 3 chairs and a loveseat in the room that you can settle into to watch television.  The loveseat with its back to the cabinet is clearly for conversation purposes but could be flipped if needed.

And, because this room has a looming question mark over its eventual use and purpose, I have tried to keep things on a very tight budget as likely most of this furniture will be moved to the lab or split into different rooms after the renovation.  But that is not for a year or two so I wanted to make the room work for now.

We gave away our beautiful Baker sectional, by choice. It was too big for this room, well-loved and needed to be with younger, more appreciative owners who weren’t as tired of it as we were.  I do miss it though!  It easily sat 5 adults and even more children and a dog comfortably.  When we gave that away we ended up with a sofa we had bought to stage our country house.  We had to turn an office into a family room and that sofa did the trick.  It was never intended to become our main sofa but in fact that is what happened!   Isn’t that always the way?!

There are some things in the space currently that will be moved or replaced but that will be with time and patience as I refuse to spend a lot money in case we end up converting this space to our dining room.

The new loveseat came flat in a box and I am sure you can guess where that box is from.  Ikea!  Yep, it’s the ubiquitous Ektorp and you can’t tell until you sit in it that it’s from Ikea.  It honestly looks just like a Lee Industries sofa we priced out last week.  I was tempted to buy a matching second but it’s just not that comfortable.  Though I will say it is perfect for conversation as it sits you upright and forward. But because this will be our tv-watching sofa,  I am going to check out a newly recovered Henredon loveseat at a shop this morning that could work well in our space.


The tufted bench is one of my Craigslist finds that I have mentioned on here prior.  It is Lee Industries covered in a beautiful velvet.  The former owner bought it a year ago (the date is marked) and was downsizing so it came home with me for a song.  I am actually thinking of having a second made as if you look closely that ottoman is not a great fit for the space.  I may go with one larger square ottoman or two of the same.  Jury is still out on that one.


The wall opposite the fireplace is now home to our other recent finds.  These arm chairs are also by Lee Industries and covered in a fabric that is not my favorite but note the custom trim on the skirt – kind of cute!  I am trying to make them work in the room as down the road they will be recovered but for now they need to remain the steals they were.

I found them on Craigslist and then after a bit of research realized they were from one of our favorite consignments shops in Wilmington.  Resettlers was this amazing warehouse of estate sale finds.  It eventually was sold and renamed Resellers and then sadly they left the big warehouse and moved to a store front on a highway and it was just never the same, at least for me.  Until two weekends ago.

I spotted the chairs and the color wasn’t quite there but I knew they were Lee Industries and good quality. Plus they looked brand new.  Was that even possible?  They end up being even better in person, upholstery was in perfect condition with zero wear.  The owner said they were from his in-law’s hunt room.  They had them made, delivered and before they were broken in, they were packed up and moved to a different house where they never quite worked.  Fine with us!

The plan is to recover the throw pillow on the chair in a fabric that ties in better with the light blues and neutrals in the room and I will be hanging sconces over the two chairs to better balance that wall. Though I am not a huge fan of the color of the chairs, some recent and not-so-recent purchases may suggest otherwise!



The chairs with the dragonflies are absolutely getting recovered but the other two in the same family actually tie in really well and connect my living room and sunroom.


I am hoping this loveseat works out.  Here it is in the shop.  It is priced for less than the Ikea loveseat and the dimensions work in our room.  It retails new for well over $4000, so when I have it rehupolstered, we will still be in good shape. Fingers crossed!



Outdoor Planters, Finials, Urns, Statuary and Such!

A bit ago I wrote about hitting the Craigslist jackpot. Part of that jackpot included a Christmas gift but now I can go into detail about some of our best finds to date.

Gale Nursery happened to be shedding some of their statuary, urn and garden accessory stock to make room for new inventory.  I had no idea if any of it would be affordable but I figured it was worth a try and so we called, left a message and waited.  And just when my husband and I figured they had sold out of what was listed, the nicest woman from Gale gave us a ring.

We packed the kids into the car and drove out to the nursery on one of those mild December days.  My favorite part of the excursion was the look on our children’s faces when we walked into a greenhouse filled with life-size marble statues – and largely naked ones!  There were marble bathtubs, statuary and urns and each were thousands of dollars. They were massive! The woman who met us there was so helpful and unassuming and after we had looked around and the boys tried out a marble throne, she asked if we were looking for anything in particular.  I told her that as beautiful as everything was not one piece was the scale or price we needed.  I figured she would send us away but instead she led us through the parking lot, past their mulch reserves and to a lower part of the yard.  And, there they were.

The first urns we saw we took home.  And they were these cast iron, wide-mouthed ones.  My husband had the very clever idea of using one as a fire pit which meant the second could be a coffee table. We will have glass cut for the top. Pretend those pillows are a solid blue or green!


The urns tie the mismatched seating areas together, and fortuitously the copper bowl from our near-its-death fire pit fits perfectly into the urn.


I love finials and I lucked out that there was one pair left.  A third would have rounded out our wall but two does the job!


Probably the heaviest and most difficult to unload were these, set agains the lab wall.  You can’t tell from this picture but these suckers are big and heavy!  We flipped and elevated the pair for the winter to prevent them from collecting water and cracking.  Just flipping them was an ordeal.  I plan on ordering some pretty concrete footers to keep them off the stone permanently for better drainage and to prevent our bluestone from staining.


And, a small pair for our back porch.  IMG_1378

I love a good set of urns that can stand on their own planted or unplanted.  For the winter, I clipped some of the holly and evergreen branches from our yard for the pots.  I bought winterberry bunches and mixed those with fake winterberry stems (plastic) from a local gift shop.  The smaller, lower urns received just a wreath on top and those still look good right now.  The greens have browned but I used some anti-dessicant for the first time this year and they did last longer than I remember in years past.

And, here is my shadow sitting on a new addition to our sunroom.  A neighbor is downsizing and had a sale recently.  I knew this settee had to find a spot in our house.  It wasn’t obvious at first but I love it in our sunroom.



Up next an exciting project likely to unfold this spring.