Between Scylla & Charybdis & Bad Timing


With my kitchen 90 percent done, I’ve been thinking about putting my house on the market again come spring (which gives me a few months to complete the 10 percent). So I’ve been looking online (and visiting a few open houses) in my neighborhood.

But I’m particular (others might choose a different word)…and there isn’t much in my neighborhood (in which I’d like to remain) that fits the bill and also fits anywhere near the budget.

The challenge is (as it was last year), that I want a house with a garage or first-floor family room (read:workshop), but I also want a living room, dining room and kitchen, as I now have. And it has to have at least 2 full baths, and three or more bedrooms (one of which would be a study). Oh – and it has to have been built prior to around 1930.

At the moment, there are only two properties in my ‘hood that match; one of them is listed at $320k (it’s gorgeous) and the other at $260k (it is slightly less gorgeous, but still does not completely suck). My goal was to find one for around $120k that was livable and could become gorgeous with a lot of work. Last year, there were several of those on the market around here (granted, they all smelled pretty bad, but…). But almost everything on the acceptable streets (read: reasonably safe) has now been bought and rehabbed, or is in the midst of being rehabbed…at which point it will be listed for $250k or more. (Including the stinky ones I looked at last year.)

And frankly, I kinda like my house. Now. Now that I’ve put a lot of time, effort and money into it. (If only I had pictures and smell-o-vision of the Kelly green carpet that covered three rooms and the hall when I moved in…).

But it still doesn’t have room for a shop – no matter how many times Christopher Schwarz tells me I don’t need a dining room. (He also thinks I should “just dig out the basement” to make room for power tools down there – never mind that it’s field stone and has a recurring water feature when it rains. Also, almost zero natural light. And spiders. Lots of spiders.)

So I’ve circled back to considering an addition, with a first floor family room (shop) and an additional bedroom (or whatever) above, and possibly another full bath. (See my terrible sketch at top for the first floor…and note that I’d be tearing into the back wall of my 90-percent-done kitchen. Or someone would. Dammit.)

So today, I checked in with the zoning department. I’m screwed. Any structure or addition must be set 20′ back from the rear property line. Those of you with eagle eyes may see the 315″ in my drawing above, from the back wall of my existing house to the rear of my property. Now math is not my strong suit, but I’m pretty sure that leaves me about 6′ for an in-code addition.

If want to pursue this, I’ll need a variance. That application costs $300-$500 (it’s unclear to me which app I have to submit), plus one has to submit approved site plans, which I’m sure will cost far more than $500. That’s an expensive gambit with odds heavily on failure.

While there are many houses around me that don’t meet this particular code (among myriad other violations), the neighbor behind me is likely to say no, because he’d then be squeezed by code violators on both sides. In which case, I lose. And even if he says yes, I could still be turned down. There’s simply no telling.


I  don’t want to spend $1k+ to be told, “no variance for you.”

But I really don’t want to give up my dining room.

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Island Design Playlist

Songs for a cool, rainy weekend evening of sitting in front of the computer, with hot cider and bourbon in one hand, a mouse in the other.

Ani DiFranco – “32 Flavors”

The Decemberists – “Rise to Me”

Xavier Rudd – “Messages”

Indigo Girls – “World Falls”

Be Good Tanyas – “Light Enough to Travel”

Grateful Dead – “Ripple”

The Weepies – “Please Speak Well of Me”

Holly Williams – “The Highway”

Government Mule – “Soulshine”

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As Long as I Don’t Answer Back…


I was in the shop last weekend surfacing lumber for the Roubo bench-style kitchen island I planned (lo these many months ago). But as I was surfacing the walnut, it started talking to me. It whispered “Please don’t rip then reglue me into a thick benchtop. I’m too pretty.”


OK. I’m listening. But now it’s back to the drawing board. Or really, to the sketchbook (napkins) then to SketchUp.

So now, thanks in part to a couple comments resulting from my chalk drawings posted on the PWM blog, I’m thinking of something inspired by a library table. I still have strict requirements for this piece: counter height, hold a microwave on a shelf underneath the top, no wider than about 22″, no longer than about 52″, has to clear an air vent, must have  room at the end for two stools…and four knees. But a thinner top will bring the microwave shelf a few inches higher, and, because it will weigh significantly less, I won’t have as much concern about tippiness* at the end where the stools (and knees) will go.

I’ve spent some time over the last couple days poring over Internet images. Below, I’ve posted three inspirations pieces that I’ll use as a (re)starting point. (The first two are unattributed pieces; the last is by Frank Lloyd Wright.)

Time to sharpen my pencils. I have to get this thing (re)designed and built…so I can move onto the next thing. (I’m tired of thinking about islands that involve no beaches or umbrella drinks.) More to come…and soon.

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*Fun with neologisms.

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Lines on Repeat


I have Hamlet on the brain: “Words, words, words” and “I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw,” both from 2.2. (To be fair, “handsaw” is likely a corruption of a type of bird, but still.)

And hey kids: Don’t drink and get near a computer. (Also, “Hamlet” is good for you. Read it.)


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Incarceration Day


JJ finally remembered that a) he is a cat and b) cats can jump. My ersatz gate is no longer working…nor would, I fear, any gate of a bearable size.

So now he’s in the doghousecrate.

Tomorrow, he’s off for a visit to and a few days’ stay at the vet. Maybe in the meantime Viola will remember what it means to be in charge. She does, after all, have as large a working set as the two boys; she used to know it.

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Creature Discomforts


I can’t believe I’ve not yet tripped over my cat contraption and broken my neck. Or at least dropped and broken my iPad (again). I should have built a proper gate – something with hinges that allows for easy one-handed operation – to keep my cats separated. But I didn’t think the feline war would continue for more than a couple days. I was wrong. Two months later, and…


JJ and Viola in 2010 – best friends…and JJ makes a decent pillow.

My little tortie, Viola, was at death’s threshold just before my trip to Lie-Nielsen in mid-July. I took her to the hospital, then to her regular vet where she spent a few days getting fluids and recovering while I was traveling. But Viola was ready to come home before I was, so my neighbor kindly retrieved her, and at my direction set her free in the house. The house where she’s lived in harmony with JJ since February 2009, after I brought her in off the street during a particularly rough snowstorm. Despite her small size (6 pounds), she quickly became the dominant kitty.

No more. JJ is now the guy in charge; he has Viola scared…and peeing in inappropriate places in her panic to escape the 17-pounds of feline fury he’s unleashed. (Possum is just bewildered by the both of them, and basically ignoring things.)

All I can figure is that she smelled funny when she got home, and JJ pounced. By the time I got back four days later, the damage was done.

So I set up a feeding station and  litter box on the second floor, and cobbled together  a gate of sorts with duct tape, pet screening, a piece of 1×4, a dowel rod, staples and a bungie cord. (I’d be happy to share the SketchUp drawing….) I should have built a proper gate.

The duct tape doesn’t stick well to the wall (so I have to replace it often), it is leaving a lot of residue and it has pulled the paint off the wall in places. I should have attached the 1×4 to the wall with hinges; repairing the plaster (assuming the cat differences get settled) would have been far easier than the damage caused by the (fairly ineffective) tape. And the bungie cord lost its protective hook tip and marred the finish on my bannister. I should have built a proper gate.

I thought the screen would allow them to get reacquainted, but no. It does, however, exhibit a nice trampoline effect when JJ leaps into it trying to get at Viola on the other side. That’s funny, but I’m done laughing.

JJ is about to get a few days’ vacation at the vet, while I get a few days’ vacation from tripping over that damn screen. Then he’ll come home smelling funny. I sincerely hope Viola runs right over and wallops him upside the head. Then, things will be back to normal.

And if that doesn’t work, well, I guess I’ll build a proper gate.

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Help Me Out, Hook Me Up

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Sorry for the salacious title – it’s the name of a Paul Thorn song I quite like…which is now stuck in my head (could be worse; could be “Tom’s Diner”).

I’m looking for a few pictures of Fred West that you wouldn’t mind my using in a talk at Woodworking in America next weekend. If you have any, please send ‘em my way (to The one above is the only one I have :-(



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