Dec 9, 2012

Taking a Day for Myself

Today was a "me" day. Each year at this time, The Historic Albany Foundation hosts a Holiday House Tour. This is it's 10th year! Today, 14 locations were open to the public (the public with tickets that is!), and the featured theme was kitchen renovations. Since I still have the hopes of a kitchen renovation in the next year or two, I thought this would be a perfect venue to enjoy the beautiful homes of our city and take a peek at what others have chosen to do when updating their home/kitchens. Some homes were a knock -your -socks -off discovery, others were simply nice or just a bit underwhelming. Underwhelmed was how I felt about 26 Western Avenue, our city's newest re-purposed building. To be fair, I am all for re- purposing old buildings. I hate to see a good building torn down and replaced by either a parking lot, or a building that does not fit in with the neighborhood at all. 26 Western Avenue  was in it's day (first) an elementary school and then (later) the Learning Annex of the city's old High School. I had all my classes in the main building of the high school, so I never got to see the inside of this particular building. It has been nicely restored on the outside:

and I love that the character of the interior. It, too, has been kept intact for the most part.  The original brickwork has been restored, the over sized windows have been kept (tons of light flood the rooms), the vaulted ceilings have been kept, and the iron sprinkler system is still there in all its glory! The architects were going for that contemporary industrial feeling and for the most part it worked.

exposed, renovated brickwork in living area peeks into the kitchen

an updated kitchen

living space in the two bedroom unit.

What I do wish, however, is that of the 4 units open for viewing, someone would have thought to stage at least one of them so you not only got a feel for living here, but got a holiday rush when you entered as well. Just my opinion.....

As the next house was within a lovely walk, I decided to do just that, and do so through our beautiful Washington Park. Walking down State Street was a bit magical in parts as many of the town houses were dressed in Holiday Finery:

Even the Firehouse on the Western Triangle looked festive:

and I couldn't resist walking back through the park and stopping by my first domicile as a married lady:

The Philip Schuyler Building is on the park, and looks as beautiful today as it did over 30 years ago. We started in a studio apartment and quickly moved to a one bedroom until we got pregnant with eldest child. Moving to a bigger apartment even back in the late 70's would have cost us more than buying our own home, so buy we did!

Heading back up town, I found many a house more to my own tastes. I loved this little vignette in the enclosed entryway of one of the houses close to my own neighborhood. I gave up an old school desk this year- but then it didn't look this good (smile). I love the old family photos which grace the top of the desk.

This darling little bungalow was just that- little. I was enthralled with how the couple living there renovated the 8 and 1/2' by 9' kitchen. It was amazing and made me feel as if I had a monstrous kitchen in comparison! The wife told me that they moved from the Boston area and this kitchen was twice as big as the kitchen they had there! I'm not sure how she ever managed to cook...

Craftsman Bungalow built in 1922 for Elizabeth and J. William Davis. Davis was a paper cutter for the company that published and printed the Knickerbocker Press and Albany Evening News, both of which are no longer published.

After the bungalow, I visited Leonard House, the home of the Headmaster of Albany Academy. If there were a prize for ambiance this house would win hands down! Band members from both the  Boys Academy as well as the Girls Academy bands stood out side the front walk playing Christmas Carols as visitors entered or took leave of this lovely old brick home. I think I'd feel a bit guilty cooking in the lovely kitchen- it's large wall of windows overlook the Boys Academy's track. I'd feel as if I should be out there running, or at least walking at a good clip instead of baking or whipping up some fancy delicacy!!

In the end, however, I didn't find it at all surprising that my favorite homes were in my own back yard! I am lucky to live in a neighborhood that have lovely craftsman homes, center front colonials and other homes with great character. My every day walks take me by several homes I've always wondered about, and today I got to visit the one I've always yearned to peek inside! Doesn't the front door just make you want to step inside to see what might welcome you??  Believe me, you would not be disappointed! This house is a 1913 Arts and Crafts house and it has been lovingly renovated. The original architecture was preserved while restoring the back of the home which was near collapse and new spaces were integrated beautifully. The floors were made from salvaged wood from an old barn from Western NY so that  the new spaces had wood that matched the existing floors. Talk about attention to detail! As beautiful as the downstairs was, the second floor took my breath away! It is no wonder this house received a Preservation Merit Award in 2006. 

I made many discoveries today - all good ones! The first was that I should definitely trust my instincts!
I've agonized over tile choices (my bathroom gets demo-ed tomorrow!), tubs, lighting, paint colors. To paint woodwork or not. Decisions, choices, headaches, indecision. But I know now:

*I'm glad I did NOT go with the gray marble flooring for the bathroom.
*I'm glad that I tweaked the idea of "subway tiles" just a bit for a larger version.
*The lighting I chose will be perfect.
*The tub is just right.
*Dark, historic colors do work in an older home, and yes! white woodwork is perfectly OK.
*I might decide to definitely not paint the wood work in the downstairs "public spaces"- or I may decide to do a combination of wood and paint, and that is perfectly OK, too.
*Everyone seems to be using Shaker Style cabinets in their newly appointed kitchens, and everyone is using white. I'm happy I fell in love with "mushroom".
*Coral seems to be the "in" color for dining rooms. Not Chinese Red, not Mauve. Coral. Who knew.
(and I don't think I'm going there....)
* There is a "designer name" for the grayed beige I love, but darn if I can remember it now! I did ask for the name of the paint color in one of the kitchens I really liked and it is a Benjamin Moore Paint. Say no is in the same family of colors I've already painted the breakfast room, so I'm good!
* When it comes to decorating and renovations- trust your gut!! 'nough said!

I also thought back many, many years ago to the very first Holiday House Tour. A neighbor was involved with it's start up and our home was one of the ones on the tour. I remember thinking- why would our friends and neighbors pay to come see our house?? They can just come by anytime! But I agreed, we did it up big (which was standard back then- trees in every room, decorations at every turn, enough poinsettias to start my own flower farm). The house looked lovely, we were proud as could be with the comments from those we knew, and those we didn't who visited the house that day. It also made me happy with where I am today. Stream-lined. Not so over-the-top anymore. Life is different, and simplicity seems to be key. I do, however, still have those very special pieces that will always bring forth special Christmas memories for us all. My wonderful quilted Santa Clauses that would travel home from NYC each year in my husbands duffel bag (thank you to the Folk Art Museum for having these in their museum shop year after year!):

Just two of my Quilt Santas

I hate to play favorites, but he is it!

I also know that I love bringing nature in- on the mantle and its garland, on the dining room tree that eldest child will wrap with garlands of cranberries and fresh cut lemon, orange and lime slices (you will, won't you, first born??)

And I know now that if I put on my favorite Christmas music: Johnny Mathis, James Taylor, Sesame Street (yes, you read that right- a family tradition every year- can't trim a tree without it!), the work of getting the mantle to my liking goes so much easier! Simplicity, it is all in the simplicity! Note to self- no more stressing...just do it!

Yes, it was a good day....a very good, very informative day.  Now I think I need to relax.


Monica said...

I like the colored lights with the santas! And a more detailed tour wrap up. So much to talk about! Have no fear, I will be buying out the cranberry stock of Ghetto Chopper on the 16th and 17th :-)

Diane said...

nothing like a house tour to get you inspired! I do so love 'peeking' in on how others decorate!
Meg and I drove around for an hour last night looking at houses decorated (the outside lights) but I confess to loving when I can see the inside tree decorated too through a window ;)

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