Monday, December 27, 2010

Ask DC Rowhouse: kitchen backsplash

About two to three times a week I receive e-mail inquiring about the renovations we have done, products we have used, advice on their projects, or anything else that might pop up. I've decided to start posting them,  a la "Ask DC Rowhouse". If you want to write in, feel free to contact me as always at

Here's an e-mail that came in today from Andy, asking about the tile backsplash we used:

Hi, my partner and I are planning a renovation of our kitchen and our internet research has led us to your blog (isn't the internet a wonderful thing?).  We have noted that the trend in kitchen design is to have the tile backsplash go all the way down to the granite countertop these days - eliminating that little flipped up part of the countertop in the back.  My question to you is this:  have you found that the grout line along the bottom of the backsplash - where it meets the countertop - is staying clean and white?  (Especially behind the cooktop?)  As the "cleaner" in our relationship, I have to deal with spaghetti sauce spills and splashes - and would be the one doing any re-sealing of the countertop necessary.  I fear that the grout along the back of the countertop/bottom of backsplash would get discolored over time.  Do you have any words of advice on this concern - did you have it when you made your design decisions, do you have it now, etc.

Thank you so much for your counsel - and your inspirational blog!  We just finished an exterior renovation and landscaping on our "twin" here in Philly, so it is always nice to read about what is happening with others.


Thanks for reading the blog! I too had those same concerns when designing the kitchen. Which is one of the reasons I choose to use a darker gray grout with out bright white subway tile. The previous owners had installed a tile counter with white grout and the wine/tomato/water stains were so annoying to scrub out. I can say we don't have any problems with the area of grout that meets the for one exception. The area behind the faucet can get a little grimy, as water splashes back there as we do the dishes. It's a hard reach with a sponge. But, it's an easy fix with some scrub and a toothbrush. Since we have a slide-in gas range, there have been no problems with the grout line behind the cook top. If anything, I would be more concerned with splatters higher on the backsplash.

If you choose to use the same method of running the tile down the counter, I would recommend properly sealing the grout in the tile. There are several products out there if you are doing the tile work yourself, or you can talk to your tile installer about it.

Good luck with your kitchen renovation!


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

When the man comes around. . .

We have a beautiful black cat in our alley. During the summer I'll see him darting back and forth in the shadows of night or sitting at the far end of the alley keeping watch over the neighborhood. Occasionally, during the winter months mostly, he'll wander up to our deck and hunker down outside our door staring in with pleading eyes. It seems, he has returned.

Last week, Dan and I were eating dinner at Ted's Bulletin when I blurted out, "I have a confession." Dan sat up and stared me straight in the eyes. Since I have been working from home that day I think he assumed I was about to say, "oh, I bought a new couch by accident" or something. Instead I confessed to feeding the alley cat. While I expected a rant about how you don't feed cats you aren't prepared to take into your home, Dan simply shrugged and went back to devouring his catfish (which was an ironic meal for this conversation).

It was about 15 degrees that day and when I looked up from my laptop, there he was. One small bowl of cat food couldn't hurt, right?

Last night, he returned. As I was lighting a fire in the living room, Dan called over, "that cat's back." I casually opened the back door as it scampered away to drop a bowl of food on the mat. Cautiously, the cat crept back and settled into eating every scrap. Then, it didn't leave. So, I named it Johnny (after Johnny Cash, "The Man in Black").

After a few minutes Dan called back to me, "Are you gonna go out and give it some pats or what? I mean, that's the least you can do."

"Oh, no," I replied. I kept insisting the cat was feral and sprinted from me the moment I came close. But, to prove my point I opened the back door and slowly stepped out. The cat moved a few feet back, stared at me for a while, then bounded over with delight. Shoot. It rubbed against my hands with all its might, flopping and purring and pawing at me with ferver. It started to melt both our hearts.

I came back inside and Dan and I started to talk about what to do. Take it in for the night? What if he already has a home and is an outside cat? Did we have a private space for it? What if it freaked out? By the time we had gone over all these question Johnny was gone. But, I'm sure he'll return soon.

What have we gotten ourselves into?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Latest Obsession

I don't know how I found her, and frankly, I don't care. I love her. Elise Morris.

I would love that first painting hanging over a deep blue velvet pin-tucked couch.  Someday. . .

Friday, December 17, 2010

That time of year. . .

If my christmas list was based on things solely for the house, this is what would be on it: 

This amazing step stool for the kitchen. Not only would it make a great place to rest a plan atop, but it's fold out step stool would be great to reach up to the high shelves in the kitchen.

I'd love these wine storage  units for above the console in the dining room.

Tools. . .and more tools.

Cashmere throws . . .doesn't need an explaination there.

For our fourth anniversary, Dan and I went to the tasting room at Restaurant Eve, and my pre-dinner cocktail (a gin and tonic, because these guys make - yes make - thier own tonic!) came in this lovely glass.
I'd love for this pillow to make it's home on my bed.

We don't have a toaster oven. I never really thought I'd want one, but then the time came when I thought, "yes, I'd actually like to make miniature souffles..."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Winter White

Since I grew up in New Hampshire, I know what a real winter is.  Listening to the radio each morning from my bed wishing and hoping classes would be canceled.  Walking outside to have tears frozen to your face in a matter of seconds. Walking to school in six feet of snow . . . ok, maybe not that part.

The District last year had a taste, and this year looks like it's going to be another snow-filled season.  Living here has given me a relaxed sense of winter urgency. I've been lax about finishing projects before the cold snap sets in, and this year is no different. But, unlike past years, this winter has come early for this time of year.

This morning I woke to Dan whispering, "it's snowing" in my ear as I wearily opened my eyes.  Peering out the window I saw snow dusted cars lining the streets while snow flakes salted the windy skies.  While I enjoyed drinking fresh pressed coffee watching the flakes fall, there is sadness knowing the end of working outdoors in the fall air is here.

It's time for evening fires, full-bodied red wine, and hopefully returning to finishing projects remaining in the house.

Another year almost gone by.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Witching Hour

For some reason I've been waking up in the middle of the night a lot lately. After laying in bed with eyes wide open for a while, I finally sneak out of bed and downstairs to watch TV. During those late night (or early morning) hours the main thing on TV is infomercials. This morning I saw this:

Usually they are selling exercise equipment at 3am...but now it's tools! Seriously, when they showed you can wall mount it, I almost called. Then I remembered I don't have a garage. They almost got me. Almost.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving Whirlwind

Thanksgiving this weekend equaled more time spent in the car than at the dinner table. This year I gave thanks for my This American Life Iphone app. We woke in the morning on Thanksgiving day, watched a little Macy's parade and headed up to Philadephia. What should have been two and a half hours, turned into four hours. Before we got to the relatives we stopped by the river to take in the view and have that awkward i've-been-in-the-car-for-four-hours stretch. When I looked down I saw this:

An actual message in a bottle! After some handy work we fished it out of the river's edge. I could see that there was an actual message in there, but there was also water in the bottle and some of the writing had worn off. It also looked like it was nonsense writing - or just some sort of script I couldn't understand. Either way, it was awesome but it ended up in the recycling bin.

After we stuffed our bellies with too much turkey and pie we drove up to New York City for the weekend and were lucky enough to have our 3-year-old niece to take care of for the weekend. So, you can imagine how time flew by!

Seven hours in the car to ride home to DC Rowhouse ended the weekend. Anyway, this was a long way of saying: Sorry, no updates on the house!

Monday, November 22, 2010


About two months ago, I went to turn off the hot water in the shower (we have a three handle system) and it just spun and spun. A little finagling and I managed to shut it off, but after a few times of that, it was done. There was no more grip. I popped the access panel and shut off the water. Since we have two full baths upstairs (a serious luxury in the city) I just started using the other one. No biggie. But, you can only let something sit for so long. Finally, I called a plumber. He came by and fixed it enough so I was able to use it, but the new handles I wanted would have to be special ordered. In the meantime, something was bugging me. . .

The tile behind the hot water trim had been cut too large . . . and there was a small hole exposed.  Since I had a little time, I decided to try and fix it myself. So, at first I had to remove the old trim. The hot water handle trim came out very easy since it was just replaced. The others, not so much. It took a hammer drill to get the stripped screw out of the diverter (the handle that changes the water from the tub to shower and vice versa), but the cold water trim wasn't budging.

I organized all my friends:

After removing the screw with great difficulty, I could not get the trim off the stem. It was rusted on there. I sprayed it with WD-40 and tried to use a wrench to pry it off. After about three times of this, it finally worked. But the stem broke off with the trim. No big deal since it was going to be replaced anyway. I have no idea if this is how you're suppose to do it - but it worked for me!

I broke out the second tile. It's always such a strange feeling to break things in your own house. This was especially disconcerting since it could break the tile next to it and cause more problems.

Thankfully, it didn't and I was able to replace the two tiles.

Then, I was able to grout:

And, make a parts graveyard:

Then, the pros came back and finished it off.

Looks good right?

Later on, we'll have to re-grout the whole shower (something I expected to do a while back). But for now, at least we have an actual working shower.

*We used O'Neill Plumbing, 703-655-0071. They specialize in emergency work. Last year they came out on pretty short notice when we couldn't get the main water connection to shut off. You can see their great Yelp reviews HERE.

** As always, DC Rowhouse was not paid or perked by the service provider. I get lots of inquiries on who we hire and I'm happy to recommend the ones who we like.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Those are some mighty big boards you have. . .

One of the next projects is to replace the deck boards, and build new railings/privacy walls.  Two years ago we took the yard from this:

To this:

But, we didn't replace the deck boards at the time. We had already gone over budget on the project and this seemed like one of those things we could do ourselves that just didn't need to done all at once. But, here we are, two years later and they still look like this:

So, what's the problem? Well, our deck is about 16' long, and it would be best to put down 16' boards. And, we would only need about 15-20 boards. No big deal. The problem is getting the boards to the house. When we purchased our car, we (and by "we" I mean "me") failed to thoroughly check out it's hauling capability. We came to find out a week or so later that our trunk looked like this:

See that small door way in there? That little door allows you to put skis in your trunk. But, the seats don't fold down. So. . . no way 16' boards are fitting at all. Unless, I plan to have 12' hanging out of the trunk and I think DC police would have a small problem with that.

Next option? Delivery. Home Depot charges a flat fee of $75 for delivery. Which, just seemed a little annoying considering that would be about 25% of the material cost. Frager's (which, if you haven't been there, you should go) would charge $35.

Second option: Zipcar. Now, I've have my share of annoyances with Zipcar. But, you really can't beat the convenience. So, for about $12, I can rent an SUV or pick-up for an hour. Now, I understand that a 16' board is not going to fit in the 6' bed of a pick-up. But, I think we can figure out a way to get them in an SUV with a red flag hanging on the back.*

You can see how this simple project has been put off for so long. But, the goal is to finish it in the next few weeks - or, at least before it starts to snow.

*The last time I did this didn't work out so well. I was transporting a ladder back to the house (the ladder was bright red and was about 3 feet out of the trunk, but no flag on it) and a woman rear-ended me THREE times in a row at two stop signs. She kept hitting the ladder which would rock my car back and forth. I actually had to get out of the car and give her a clue . . .I'll admit it wasn't my finest moment. But, really? Who doesn't notice when they hit something with their car? I let it go the first time . . . but by the third time it was a teensy bit irritating.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Working with Contractors

I think everyone feels a little bit uneasy allow a virtual stranger (unless you've worked with them on many projects) into your home to simultaneously break things and fix them. All the while leaving you wondering if the work is being done well and if your being robbed blind.  Or, let's face it, if they are peeking in your medicine cabinet or judging you for not putting that plate in the dishwasher. Just me? OK then.  In the past two weeks we've had a few guys in my house for different jobs or quotes. It got me thinking about how many times I've done that.

To date, DC Rowhouse has hired 15 different contractors (this doesn't include all the quotes and surveying work) of one variety or another to work on our precious abode. I have to tell you, it's exhausting. In the beginning I interviewed several general contractors so we wouldn't have to hassle with finding a different person each task (and sometimes it takes 3 people for one project), but they were all either odd or really expensive. What's really expensive, one guy quoted us $120k for all the work we wanted. Um, no thanks. So I try to do any work I can and contract out things that are harder (plumbing, electric, physically demanding labor that my poor weak muscles cannot handle). Even if this means there have been more work boots on our floors than one could count.

But, having someone doing work means that progress is being made. Or, so you hope, right? So, I'll leave you with that . . . the anticipation of what's to come next.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween 2010

It really depends how halloween goes around these parts. We could get 30 kids, or 100 kids. We spent the day this year carving pumpkins, cooking, and waiting for little knocks on our door. Here are some photos from the day:

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Not a product I want

Bed bug pillow?
Nothing like a nice reminder of a national infestation to give you sweet dreams. What's next, napkins printed with mad cows on them?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I've been busy...

I know. I haven't been posting much. There are many projects on the horizon. In the meantime, I stopped to chat with Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa):

Could my smile be any bigger?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Katie's Dressing Room

Since my friend Katie and her husband Jeremy just had thier offer accepted on a house (yay!), I've decided to start decorating it...mainly to avoid doing my own projects.

Katie's Dressing Room
Katie's Dressing Room by dcrowhouse1 on

Friday, September 10, 2010

Meg Ryan's Vineyard Home

For the second summer in a row, we rented a house on Martha's Vineyard. This year, we were a little more adventurous and headed over to Chappaquiddick on our bikes. The only way to get to the small island (from the big island) is by Ferry. The Ferry takes about 2 minutes to cross the waterway and can hold 3 cars and about 15-20 passengers. It's tiny.

As we stepped off the ferry with our bikes, a petite blond hopped out of her car and headed to the ferry to go to the main island. She looked familiar. I recognized that little duck walk. It was Meg Ryan. As she passed me I whipped around and started pointed and mouthing "MEG RYAN, MEG RYAN" to our friends who tried like me to casually glance her way to confirm it. The real clincher was she stepped out of a black Mercedes SUV with California plates framed in "Beverly Hills Mercedes" text.

Lots of celebrities summer on Martha's Vineyard, but she is the first I'd seen. Later in the day I biked past Henry Louis Gates, Jr (who said "hi there" to me as we bikes past each other!), but he's hard to miss on his three wheel bike.

As it turns out, Elle Decor featured Meg Ryan's Vineyard house in the June 2010 edition. It looks amazing . . .

Thursday, September 9, 2010

State of the Rowhouse

It's coming up on 3 years since we've owned the house and I have to say I thought we'd be done by now. But, it seems it's never done. I've learned the hard way that living in a house and trying to renovate it at the same time is a huge task. Your life is spotted with construction dust, and projects seem like they are never finished.

In the next 6 months I'd like to wrap up the following:

 - remodel the upstairs bathrooms
 - re-paint the downstairs bathroom
 - finish painting the living room (hopefully install a bar...)
 - finish painting the fence
 - new wood/railings for the deck
 - landscaping

I know I'm missing things . . . there seems to be an endless list in my head. This weekend, landscaping should start. The front yard is looking a tad lame pretty disgusting and it needs to be tended to. I have about 9,567 decorating projects in my head, but those don't seem as important as say finally painting the walls in our living room.

All in good time. . .

Friday, September 3, 2010

Friday Cat Blogging

I realize, I've been neglecting the blog. Will cute pictures of the cats make up for it?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Enjoying the fruits of labor

Of the six tomato plants we grew this year, one of them lost it's marker and was a mystery variety. Until recently when beautiful yellow tomatoes arrived and made our tri-color tomato salad complete.

Injuries Obtained

  • Sprained Toe/Foot: 1
  • Blood Blisters: 2
  • Splinters under fingernail: 1
  • Bird Shit on me: 1
  • Eye Injuries: 3
  • Burns: 0
  • Falls off ladder: 0 (this is because we don't have a ladder yet)
  • Headaches: too many to itemize
  • Broken Bones: 0
  • Bandages Needed: 5
  • Electric Shocks: 2
  • Stiches: 0
  • Bruises: way too many