Author Archives: Katie

Ranch Rambler: Creating a Blank Slate

We had a two-week window between our renters moving out of this house and our closing date on the red house.  Time was of the essence, so we lined up a local contractor to remove the popcorn texture from the ceilings.  Luckily there wasn’t any asbestos (our house was built in 1978, and thankfully it had become much less common by then) and it only took them a couple days to scrape everything down.  It’s a project that we definitely could have DIY’d if we had more time, but in the midst of moving it was relief to hand the messy task off to someone else.

Before they came we removed all the trim in the whole house (we’re planning to replace it anyway, and knew it would make painting go much faster), and took down all of the ceiling fixtures.  When the popcorn was (blessedly! beautifully!) gone, Cam and I primed and painted all of the ceilings and then our awesome family came over to help us paint every single room in the house.  Before we could do that though?  I had to pick a color.

I knew I wanted a white – part of my vision for this house includes ceilings, walls, trim, and doors all the same color, so they blend and recede – but just which white I wasn’t sure, though I narrowed it down to three:

Red House West || Creating a Blank Slate

They look laughably similar on my monitor but once they were up on the walls, the choice was easy:

Red House West || Creating a Blank Slate
White Dove by a mile! Swiss Coffee read really tan in our (lack of) natural light, and Simply White was just too glaringly bright; it looked kind of cheap and clinical. White Dove is the color we used in the upstairs of the Red House, and I’m convinced it’s the most perfect, versatile, luminous white.  We went with a flat finish to minimize the orange peel texture on the walls, and everything feels so much fresher.

You may remember from the list of whole-house updates I shared in  my last post that in addition to removing the popcorn and painting everything the same color, we also want to upgrade all the doors and lighting.  Once I had the paint picked out – and once I’d spent an inordinate amount of time online and in stores looking at doors and hardware – I was able to nail down some of those big decisions.  The light fixture in this mood board is for the entry, but its simplicity makes it a good proxy for where we’re heading with the lighting in the whole house:


Definitely simple and neutral; in this smaller, open-plan house, I feel like our art and furniture will be bringing in plenty of color and I don’t want the permanent fixtures to compete with that.   My initial thought for doors was a five-panel shaker, but I quickly realized that all those boxes would look pretty busy in this door-riddled house.  I love the ones we chose.  They are solid core – such a difference from the dented and peeling hollow-core doors we have now! – and the square edging on the panel (vs. a rounded bullnose, which was an option) feels both classic and modern.  I’m also so happy about those doorknobs! They are relatively inexpensive – $19 – but very weighty and substantial.  A huge upgrade from what we have now.

I’m driving up to Portland this weekend to pick up the Luna pendant (when Schoolhouse Electric says there’s a four-week lead time on light fixtures, they aren’t joking), and I’ll talk a little more about why I chose that one once we install it.

We put our first door up last weekend.  The process was, as Cameron says, a shakedown cruise, and hopefully the next 10 (!) will go a lot faster.  For now though, that one beautiful door with its smooth-actioned doorknob is making my heart go pitter-patter.  Here’s a real time before and after:
Red House West || Creating a Blank Slate

Hot damn.  Even without trim, she’s looking fi-ine.  And that ceiling?  Only a million times better.

Oh, and you may have noticed that we sneaked in (it sure feels like it should be ‘snuck’) a short Monday post!  Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be doing some mini posts about whatever we’re into at the moment – design or otherwise.  If there’s a topic you’d like to hear about or discuss, let us know in the comments!


Ranch Rambler: Before

In my last post I shared the reasoning behind our decision to sell our pretty red house and move back into the much smaller – and decidedly less pretty – ranch house we’d been renting out.  The decision continues to feel like a good one; it’s fun to be making lots of plans, both short and long term.

It’s a little terrifying to show ‘before’ photos without any palate-cleansing ‘after’ photos to follow them up.  But this is gonna be a process, folks, and you’re going to start right here at the beginning with me.  Just you, me, and that boob light that greets you right when you walk in the front door.

Red House West || Ranch Rambler BeforeHoo boy.  Just look at that marvelous ceiling texture – so three-dimensional! so tactile!  A perfect background for the mammiferous light that presides over the entrance, threatening to squirt any interlopers.  The ultimate booby trap.
Red House West || Ranch Rambler BeforeSo welcome! Welcome to our home!  Once you’ve entered that aggressively red door (painted by yours truly), you are in a room that comprises the kitchen, dining, and living areas, and makes up most of the house’s square footage.

I have got big plans for that kitchen, but we’re tackling other projects first; taking the uncharacteristically sensible approach of settling in before creating a vortex of chaos in the middle of everything.

Red House West || Ranch Rambler Before

Though it may be hard to tell, we started the process of updating this house when we lived here before. We put in the bamboo floors and we took down a wall and some hanging cupboards that used to separate the kitchen from the rest of the room.

Red House West || Ranch Rambler Before

I don’t have any of those before before photos, so I decided a quick Photoshop rendering might be the most useful way to see what we did:

Red House West || Ranch Rambler BeforeThe wall and hanging cabinets made the kitchen feel dark and closed off, and the rest of the room feel oddly shaped; I like the beam much better.  We’ve started drawing up new island configurations that will provide a little more separation of space (mostly just easing that line of sight to the sink and fridge when you walk in the door) while still keeping the open feeling.

The high ceiling is nice, and we’re really excited to have the woodstove for this winter.

Red House West || Ranch Rambler Before

This photo is taken from the kitchen looking toward the front door.  So much brown wood!

Red House West || Ranch Rambler BeforeAnd this one is taken from next to the woodstove with the front door on the right.  The door on the far left is a coat closet, and the other one leads through the laundry room and into the garage (which we’re using as a woodshop).

Red House West || Ranch Rambler BeforeMore brown wood and popcorn ceilings down the narrow hallway, with doors that open into the bedrooms and a bathroom.
Red House West || Ranch Rambler BeforeThe two doors on the left lead to two small bedrooms – 10′ x 10′ – that are mirror images.  One will be my office, and the other will be our guest room.

Red House West || Ranch Rambler Before

The color of the paint is Composition, and Pre-Red House West Katie – who strongly felt that every room should have its own personality and color – painstakingly chose it and applied it.

The master bedroom gets lovely light.  We swapped out a window for those french doors the last time we lived here (though the curtains were left by the renters) and they open to a small deck and side yard.

Red House West || Ranch Rambler Before

Looking out of the master bedroom, closet on the right and hallway on the left.

Looking out of the master bedroom, closet on the right and hallway on the left.

Are you still with me, or have I scared you off?  In the interest of time, and in an effort to not lose all our readers in one fell swoop, I’m going to leave the bathrooms for a later post.

As I consider plans – and their associated costs – I have to frequently remind myself that it’s unlikely we’ll live in this house forever.  The goal is to live here and save money toward building a house ourselves, and to meanwhile take advantage of the easy maintenance and lower expenses to do some traveling.  We’re not sure whether we’ll ultimately sell this house or keep it as a rental, so we want to make changes that can cover both of those eventualities, while also making it a nicer place for us to live in now.

Obviously this house could use a lot of updating, and we’re dialing in on what is essential and what is not.  The kitchen will definitely get redone, but I also want to focus on some of those whole-house changes that will improve its overall quality and functionality.

The essential whole-house updates:

  • Remove popcorn ceilings
  • Replace hollow core brown doors with solid white ones
  • Replace door hardware
  • Replace rounded brown trim with more substantial white trim
  • Replace light fixtures
  • Paint walls, ceilings, trim, and doors a single color
  • Update heating/cooling system

We’ve already started making progress on some of these, including the  harrowing-but-ultimately-fruitful search for flush mount light fixtures that don’t cause “lactation” to be the first word that comes to mind when you see them.

Can’t wait to share!  Any other thoughts on essential upgrades for bringing a house like this into the new century?

– Oh, and in case you were wondering about the title of this post: In reading our insurance policy, we noticed that this house is referred to as the Ranch Rambler and, since I’ve been trying to come up with a name (thanks for your help in the comments of the last post!), I thought I’d take it for a spin.  What do you think?

Why we Decided to Sell our Red House

Yep, we’ve sold our house. And even though I loved that house (and who really knows that better than all of you who read this blog), it was a very carefully thought-out decision, and one I’m really happy about.

First things first: Don’t worry! We’ll still be blogging, and we’ll still be Red House West! RHW is more than a house color, it’s a design ethos (said with a clenched fist to the heart).
Second things second: This is a text-heavy post, without many photos. If that’s not your bag, come back next week for more regular content! But if you want a glimpse into one person’s process for making a big decision… read on.

A number of months ago Cameron and I held a summit; it took place on the Oregon Coast, and we were the only two delegates present. The purpose of the summit was to check in about our lives: do we like our jobs? Are we happy living in Eugene? Are our goals the same as they were when we married, or have they changed? Are the things we’re doing each day helping us meet those goals?

With big questions like that, it’s easy to talk in circles, so we used the book ‘Smart Choices, a Practical Guide to Making Better Life Decisions’ to help us sketch out an agenda. The book is exhaustive in its methods for decision-making, so we just pulled out three major pieces:

1.) Identify your problem statement
My problem statement: I don’t want to live an ordinary life. That’s might sound a little silly and a little vague, but what I mean is that I want to be able to afford to take interesting jobs that don’t pay much, or to drop everything (except Cameron) to move for an interesting opportunity or an experience.

Cameron’s problem statement: I want time to be creative and to make things. I don’t just want to work all day then do house maintenance.

2.) List your objectives

This was a really fun process! It is basically just a huge brainstorm of all the things we each want, without having to worry about logistics or whether they’re even possible or not. Our lists were long, but some of my objectives were traveling and writing more, and some of our mutual objectives were building our own house, living more simply, and making time and space for creativity.

3.) Identify alternatives

The idea is to come up with lots of different alternatives and then to map them against your problem statement and objectives to see how most of your goals/desires/needs can be met. We came up with lots of ideas (one was to bail on everything and live in a van!), but for us the main alternatives really came down to houses. Way back in 2001, while I was doing everything I could to avoid responsibility, Cameron was doing the opposite – buying a house.  We lived there together before buying the red house and then rented it out.  It’s actually been mentioned once already here on RHW; in my very first blog post ever, I described how we’d done some work on our previous home but felt like we were ‘polishing a turd.’

A glowing description of the house we now live in, right?

When we looked at that list of things we really want – to travel, to eventually build our own house – this was the really clear choice. I’ve never made a decision using anything but my gut before, and this process made it so clear! I definitely feel some longing for the loveliness of the red house, but all I have to do is think about all those objectives and that longing feels more like sweet nostalgia than like loss.

Living here (I need to stop calling it the turd, so it will be called the Ranch House until I (or you) think of something better) gives us more options in terms of paid work vs. creative pursuits and allows us to save towards building our own place. It’s quite a bit smaller than the red house, with a much smaller yard. It’s very easy to rent out, and very easy to maintain. We’re making plans for a big, extended trip abroad this fall. If you read my essay on Design Sponge, you know I’m a nomadic homebody, and this place gives me the chance to inhabit both of those worlds.

What does this mean for the blog? Lots of exciting possibility and so many projects! With the exception of the Chamber of Secrets, much of the work we did on the red house was decorating, not renovating. The bones of that house, with its plaster walls and charm-for-days, didn’t require a total overhaul. This house? It’s a 1978 ranch house and, well, it needs some work. Popcorn ceilings, builder grade everything, a super dated kitchen, and so much dark brown woodwork. Oy. It feels fun, though, to look at it through the lens of all the design knowledge I’ve gained while writing this blog. I have got some ideas.  And also some wallpaper.  But more on that another time.

In the coming weeks I’ll be sharing ‘before’ photos, even though they document some appalling decor choices made by Past Katie (super dark high-gloss paint on heavily textured walls? It’s a DON’T).  I can’t wait to work through our plans with you here on the blog!

the boys

Did you know cat pheromone diffusers are a thing? Ones that plug into your wall like a Glade air freshener? I didn’t either before this move, but they’re a life saver.

Thanks for reading along! How do you go about making big life changes?  I’d love to hear!