My big, blue wall…

And how it came to be.

Our new home is a builder’s “spec house,” purchased too late in the process to add any real customization like an extra wall outlet or alternative light fixture and in the midst of a supply chain calamity that made even getting a built-in oven and microwave a Herculean effort.

The architectural flourishes we admired in many of the models we visited during our home search were add-ons we would have happily paid for, but there was no one available to do them. So, in true Janet and Steve fashion, the more closely we examined “feature walls,” the more we thought, “We can do this.”

I don’t know if it started with Joanna Gaines and her shiplap, but feature walls decked out in various wood treatments and painted a contrasting color have become “a thing.” Actually, long before the feature wall trend, molding treatments on their own or framing wallpaper or fabric panels were popular, often a decorator’s trick to use pricier accents in smaller amounts or inject some architectural interest in a boxy space. Today’s feature walls have just taken that idea and run with it.

I saw feature walls more and more on Pinterest and in magazines for the last few years. When we started looking at houses, I saw them up close, painted in a trendy contrasting color and decked out with molding or board and batten trim. They provided an attractive architectural focal point for open floor plan spaces. As a bonus I noticed that when painted a dark color they lent a little camouflage to the flat screen televisions usually mounted on that primary wall. And frankly, the 9-foot by 15-foot blank wall in our great room was crying out for something to balance the rest of the room’s windows and open space. 

Steve and I did some research and watched lots of YouTube tutorials. We went back to the model home here to take a  closer look at similar treatments and take pictures. Then we got really carried away and decided to add similar molding and a chair rail to the entry. 

It’s all geometry

Here’s one of our “working diagrams” to determine the sizing. 

We realized early on that the painting and wood trim were doable, the challenge was working out the geometry on the wall. Chair rails are a consistent 36-40 inches above the floor. But the boxes had to be evenly spaced and sized to accommodate existing electrical outlets and switches — something not one of the tutorials mentioned. Several sheets of graph paper later featuring not only the wall dimensions but also the location of outlets and switches, and using variously-sized paper templates to represent the proposed molding boxes, Steve figured it out. The five equal-width boxes we began with gave way to three different sizes, arranged symmetrically, (basically A, B, C, B, A) to accommodate a handful of electrical obstacles. All the boxes are spaced 4-inches apart and 4-inches from the base, chair rail and crown molding above and below them and 8-inches from each end to accommodate wall switches. 

This is what we started with. Kind of blah.

With the geometry solved, we collected our materials: chair rail, trim, and crown molding from the lumber department at Home Goods; and paint. Our plan was to paint the wall first. We assumed it would take two coats, but it would be easy to roll on — and it was. Then we’d paint the molding before cutting it to size and adding it to the wall. We could touch up whatever we needed to after. The first coat rolled on and the dark navy was bold but we loved it. It dried somewhat splotchy which wasn’t especially concerning, since we expected to need a second coat. The second coat was better, but there were still some patchy spots. Ugh! Before attempting any “repairs” to our paint job, Steve took pictures of the splotchy paint and headed back to the store to ask a few questions. 

I need to stop here and tell you how terrific the pros at our local Sherwin Williams paint store are. Steve and the manager discussed the tools he used, the condition of the wall, etc. SW has a number of grades of paint and we had used an above-average grade (at the manager’s suggestion). So, the manager gave us a new gallon of top-of-the-line paint. (We didn’t ask for any freebies, SW just wanted us to have a successful project.) Steve came home and painted the wall yet again. Third time’s the charm! 

Let’s hear it for customer service and quality materials. You have to wonder how many do-it-yourself projects are derailed because the instructions and/or materials aren’t up to the task, or the do-it-yourself-ers don’t ask the right questions. A good lesson to learn. 

It may be a little unorthodox, but given how the sizes of our boxes worked out, Steve installed the crown at the top and the chair rail 36-inches off the floor. This would help us consistently align the boxes. He started in the middle of the wall, doing the bottom then the top boxes. Next he worked on the boxes on either side of the center and finally the ones on the end. He had painted, measured and pre-cut all the pieces ahead of time, labeling each piece with dimensions on the back.

Installation was like assembling a puzzle. We used a laser level to square up the bottom corner of each box, spread a small amount of glue on the back of each piece, then tacked it on using a pneumatic nailer. He nailed up the bottom of each box first, then the left side, then the right side. The top just dropped into place. We were a little tentative getting started and then surprised when the first finished box was done just as we’d planned. We got more and more efficient as we moved along. By the time we got to the entry hall, where all the boxes are down low, we were flying. (I’ll detail that in another post.)

It turns out I was too busy as the carpenter’s helper, holding tools, getting a damp rag, holding the glue, moving the laser level, etc., to get in-progress pictures. But I can’t stop taking pictures of the finished wall.

As you can see here, this is not exotic molding. And the wall and
the molding are painted with the same finish.
Here’s the finished wall. It needs artwork and a more substantial buffet or console table. But we need to make a TV decision first.

So now while we continue to admire the results we have a few decisions to make.

Do we paint the wall and ceiling trim blue or keep it white?

And what about the white switch plates?

The plan has been to mount a TV here, but probably not the one we currently have. If we’re going to hang it on the wall, a newer, smarter one is preferable. We are trying two different templates on the wall for size — to be continued…

This may have been my idea, but my husband really made it happen. And didn’t he do a great job?

Thanks for stopping by. I’ll be back soon, because there’s more to share — including a new book club! See you again next time!

The reset, part 2

As I was writing this post about part 2 of our reset, Russia invaded Ukraine. My heart aches for the tens of thousands of Ukrainians who have fled their homes and their country. At the same time I am in awe of their bravery, resilience, and even defiance. So often, it seems, we see the best of people in the worst of times. 

Selling was easy. Finding another house was the “challenge. “ 

Most people find a new home first and then sell their current home. We flipped that process. It wasn’t intentional, but that’s the way it worked out. Frankly, we took advantage of a fast-moving market in Chicagoland where we were selling. The market in Columbus was equally competitive, but here we have the advantage of accessible short-term housing in our son’s rental property, which was coincidentally available. We’re lucky, because finding a home was an exercise in flexibility.

Our initial home search in Columbus had turned up options, but nothing we wanted to move into.  As it turned out, the day our old house went on the market, we retuned to Columbus for more searching. The next two days were a split screen adventure. The whole time we were out looking (but not finding) with the realtor, our phones were pinging to alert us to appointments to view our existing home. (Stressful even as our Chicagoland realtors handled the responses.)

Just to make life more interesting, the temperature was hovering in the teens and the heat stopped working in my husband’s car. (Are we having fun yet?) Within 48 hours we were on a conference call with the Chicago area realtors, debating a handful of offers. 

Buying is all about compromise.

The market in Columbus is as tight as that in Chicago, but our realtor did an excellent job of reading the marketplace tea leaves as well as Steve and me. We gravitated to “patio homes” — free-standing ranch homes with exterior maintenance included. Depending on the builder and the development, these communities may also include a community center, work-out facility, pool, pickle ball court, etc. Some are as small as 40 for 50 houses, others have as many as a few hundred. Some are limited to buyers over 55, some are not. 

The houses we looked at were all nice, offering first floor master suites, guest rooms with private baths, a den or office, and often a roomy upstairs loft for a second living space. We saw several I could have happily moved into — except for their locations: surrounded by apartment complexes, backed up to busy highways or under high tension wires. I kept repeating the real estate mantra to myself: location, location, location.

This kitchen was very close to what we had in our former house, and featured a working pantry to keep the “mess” out of view. The price point was too high, but it will always be the pantry that got away.

Our other option was a three bedroom/two bath ranch. It was non-existent on the market, though we did eventually see one under construction. We only looked at three previously owned houses, all of them patio homes. There just wasn’t anything on the market. Is this January or the marketplace in general?

Obviously we were looking for a new build.

Eventually we boiled our choices down to two builders with appealing locations and spent time with each of them, working thru options from lot choice and siding to trim packages. Steve and I are like-minded about much of this, so the process was not necessarily painful and we knew it was all tentative. But then we hit a wall. 

And every house had a large television hung on the wall(s). Am I being too fussy? It’s all I can see in the room.

And the wall had a huge calendar on it.

Building from the ground up takes close to a year, from final plans to permitting to construction. Today’s supply chain and labor shortages complicate these schedules, and builders only release two or three lots each month. After all the looking and learning, we both came to the same conclusion at about the same time: we just didn’t want to spend a year building a house. We are both a little (maybe even a lot) impatient. After nearly two years of pandemic living we needed to keep the reset moving forward.

Were we making progress or spinning our wheels?

Things begin falling into place.

After a few days of decision paralysis, we took a deep breath and headed back to Columbus and our tireless realtor, this time looking for something already under construction, but perhaps not our ideal floorplan. We found a house by one of the builders we liked. It was in an over 55 community (not a pre-requisite, but not a deal breaker either). There were no high-tension wires, busy highways, or looming apartment complexes outside the front or back doors. In fact the setting was fairly bucolic with a stocked pond and walking trails.

After looking at the second house — and we really scrutinized it — Steve and I and the realtor got back in the car and headed to the next house we’d planned to view. We were each quietly weighing the merits of this last house when one of us (I can’t remember who) posed the question: was there a reason not to choose the patio home in the over-55 community? It checked all our boxes for living space and bedrooms, the kitchen design was very close to what we had and loved, we liked the location, and it would be finished in late April, a reasonable wait in our son’s rental since we needed to be out of our current home the first week in March. 

It takes a certain amount of imagination to choose a house based on this network of studs. Where does the sofa go?

For the sake of comparison, we finished that day’s “tour” looking at two more houses. The first was nestled close to the dreaded high-tension wires (really, they were everywhere!!). The last was a three bedroom/three bath ranch under construction in a more traditional development. It was a great house, but frankly just more house and more lot than we need. Five or ten years ago, I would have jumped at it, now not so much. And maybe our minds were made up. 

So now we are living in Columbus and waiting for the house with the alternate floorplan to be finished. We just stopped by and the painters are finishing up the window trim; we think floors are next. We’ve never owned a “new build” before, so this is fun for us.

Our quest for a reset was never about building a dream home, and I think that was to our advantage. When we switched floorpans, we gave up a butler’s pantry but got a sunroom and a patio. We traded locations from one 20 minutes north of our kids to one 20 minutes east. Neither one was a bad trade off.  And the over-55 thing? Five or six years ago I would have pooh-poohed the idea. Now I think that since everyone is new (many of them also new to Columbus as we are and on the same “get-close-to-the-grandchildren” mission), we’ll make friends quickly. And when we get tired of hanging out with the over-55 crowd, our kids and our grandkids are just down the road. 

There’s more to come in this moving story, including two packed moving pods, a storage space for leftovers, the Kitchen Aid mixer we left behind, and a missing can opener. But without a few missteps, moving would be almost simple, right?

Thanks for stopping by. See you again soon