Valentines Day – In the Mood for Romance?

Looking for fun ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day with your loved ones? Here are some ideas, ranging from the traditional – a lovely meal or dancing – to the unusual – snowshoeing or Victorian poetry, anyone?

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HDR – Sunken Garden Como Park Conservatory by Jucadima is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Enchanted Evening – A Valentine’s Dining Experience at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory

Though February 14th is sold out, they’ve added a seating on the 13th for this romantic candlelit dinner among the indoor gardens of St. Paul’s lush conservatory. String music, limited wine and beer, and animal ambassadors will enhance your experience, as will the opportunity to bask in the humidity and warmth in the midst of a dry St. Paul February.

February 13, 2017, 8:00 pm
$170 per couple, all-inclusive.
Register online.

If you want to make Valentine’s a full day experience, or enjoy the atmosphere of the conservatory and have dinner elsewhere, there are other events during the day, including the Winter Flower Show, and a chance to meet the conservatory’s gardeners at 1:00.

Como Park Zoo & Conservatory
1225 Estabrook Drive, Saint Paul, MN 55103
651-487-8201
Winter Hours:  10-4

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Sleigh Ride by Bill Burris is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Three Rivers Park District Valentine Programs

Looking for something a little unusual to do with your loved ones? Maybe something outdoors? The Three Rivers Park District offers events ranging from Candlelit Trails to a Victorian Valentine’s Dinner to a Valentine’s Snowshoe Hike to a Lovebirds’ Local Foods Dinner and Sleigh Rides. All their events but one (which is sold out) are happening the weekend before Valentine’s Day, so you could choose off Three River’s menu and do something on the day, if you want to make an extravaganza of the holiday this year.

Three River Parks District is in Hennepin County, so a little bit of a drive from the B&B, but well worth it. Check out the webpage for more information on individual events.

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Big Bay Ballroom – Salsa Spice
by Port of San Diego is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Valentine’s Day Dance

“Love is in the air, so join us for a special night of ballroom dancing with The Dancers Studio Family! Includes complimentary glass of champagne at the door, dessert and cash bar throughout the evening.

“FREE Beginning Salsa Class @ 7:00pm

“Both singles and couples welcome!”

$15 per person
Purchase tickets online.

Dancers Studio
415 Pascal St. North, St. Paul, MN 55104
651-641-0777
info@dancersstudio.com

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James J. Hill House, circa 1895, courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

Victorian Poetry Slam

“Celebrate Valentine’s Day the old-fashioned way by enjoying classic 19th century poetry in the James J. Hill House drawing room. Actors Craig Johnson, Laura Salveson and Ann Daly, wearing 1890s eveningwear, will perform a wide range of humorous and stirring poems by Dickinson, Poe, Longfellow, Browning and more dealing with love, romance, temperance, sports and war—even poems about James J. Hill! Audience members are also invited to bring a short Victorian poem to read aloud throughout the evening.”

Tue., Feb 14, 2017, 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm
$12/$10 MNHS members

James J. Hill House
240 Summit Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55102
(7 blocks from the B&B.)
651-297-2555
hillhouse@mnhs.org

lgbt-lobby-day-2006OutFront justFair LGBT Lobby Day 2006 by Tony Webster is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Land of 10,000 Loves

“Historian Stewart Van Cleve blends oral history, archival narrative, newspaper accounts and fascinating illustrations to paint a remarkable picture of Minnesota’s queer history. Van Cleve will present from his book “Land of 10,000 Loves: A History of Queer Minnesota,” which explores the sacrifices, scandals and victories that have affected and continue to affect the lives of queer Minnesotans.

“Stewart Van Cleve is a former assistant curator of the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies at the University of Minnesota.”

Tue., Feb 14, 2017, 10:30 am – 11:30 am
$5/$3 MNHS members

Minnesota History Center
345 W. Kellogg Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55102
(1.1 miles from the B&B, and easily busable.)
651-259-3015
boxoffice@mnhs.org

However you decide to spend Valentine’s Day, have fun, be safe, and celebrate all the love in your life.

Welcome to our Holiday Home

One of the joys of a grand house like the B&B is decorating it for the holidays. It shows off even less-than-elegant ornaments to great effect. Our family has lived in this house since 1978, and we have decades of holidays to look back on and traditions to cherish.

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We’ve always put up a plethora of lights around the house; there’s nothing like fairy lights to cheer up winter evenings. In the past we’ve used a mix of of colored and white lights,  but have veered towards mostly white more recently. Another trend has been the introduction of poinsettias and, more recently, greenery.

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We’ve also made a habit of stringing lights in the houseplants. The blend of lights and foliage is not only beautiful, but a look that gracefully complements our Victorian home.

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Our one nod to more playful lights has traditionally been around the Inglenook mantel. We used to hang Santa lights, but have recently switched to poinsettias, which gleam beautifully on the rich woodwork.

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The last concentration of indoor lights is, of course, on the tree.

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Decades ago we cut down two 8 or 9 foot trees, one for the front hall and one for the parlor. However, with everyone grown up and moved away, we now purchase a more modest table-top tree that decorates the parlor beautifully, showcases a fine selection of ornaments, and allows plenty of room for our guests.

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Also in the parlor is our village, something Katy started collecting after most of the children had moved out of the house. Collecting ceramic houses with seven active children is just asking for trouble, after all.

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We added various buildings for about a decade, along with accessories, and the lit up display adds considerable charm.

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A much longer-standing ceramic display is the creche, cherished more for its sentimental value and family history, than for religious symbolism.

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This set was meticulously hand-painted by a great-aunt, and the children vied to set it up on the built-in buffet every year.

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Cradled by beautiful woodwork, illuminated by white lights, and reflected in mirrors, this sumptuous creche glows. It has also survived a rambunctious family fairly well, with some gluing necessary, but amazingly few lost parts.

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Last, but certainly not least, are the smaller decorations we’ve traditionally displayed throughout the house. From an example of the years when Katy and Bill decided they wanted ornaments from their children for Christmas,

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to the dolls hand-sewn by Katy, designed to mirror the family structure. (Eventually a set was given to each child to decorate their own homes.)

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From the light-up tree from Dayton’s that has adorned up the living room since the 1980s,

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to the Swedish-style Santa that I don’t know much about, except that it’s been around as long as I have and came from Katy’s side of the family.

One of the great benefits of running a B&B is getting to share our family home with others, and we’re happy to welcome you into some of the Gray holiday traditions.

 

 

 

Published in: on December 15, 2016 at 6:55 am  Leave a Comment  
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All Hail the Minnesota Winter!

A signature St. Paul event is happening this week – the St. Paul Winter Carnival.

The Winter Carnival, a tradition since 1886, is the oldest winter festival in the U.S. It was a response by local business owners to newspaper reports that the cold made the state virtually uninhabitable, and was designed to show off the beauties, and fun, of a Minnesota winter.

Boreas

The legend of the Winter Carnival centers around King Boreas, God of the Winds, and the Queen of Snows, who are holding court in St. Paul. They’re challenged by Vulcanus Rex, the God of Fire, Boreas’ implacable enemy. Boreas proclaims Carnival in St. Paul for ten days, and on the final day Vulcanus Rex storms Boreas’ ice castle. Not wanting to incite violence, Boreas retreats back to Olympus to dwell among the other gods there, and waits for ice and snow to enrobe St. Paul again next year.

Winter Court

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This story is acted out every year, with the courts of King Boreas, his brother winds, their princesses, and court officials, and Vulcanus Rex and his followers, and proceeds with the proper pomp and ceremony.

Ice sculptures

Ice Palace

The nexus of the carnival is Rice Park, located downtown St. Paul, where the ice sculptures are carved and displayed. This year there’s also a mini ice palace, made of 400 blocks of ice, an ice bar, and live music. Elsewhere are parades, the Snow Park with all sorts of fun family activities, the Disc Golf Ice Bowl, a snow plow competition, a cat show, and a winter run.

Medallion

And then there’s the Treasure Hunt. Daily clues appear in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and if you decode them correctly they point the way to the medallion’s hiding place and a fair amount of money. Otherwise you get fresh air, exercise, and the joy of the hunt. This is a very popular tradition, with thousands of people participating and some very active online forums debating the minutiae of the clues. You can see evidence of the searchers’ enthusiasm in the missing piece of the Medallion above.

So come join the fun and help celebrate winter in Minnesota.

 

Published in: on February 1, 2016 at 6:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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Help the Twin Cities Celebrate Christmas

Here are some ideas to help the Twin Cities celebrate Christmas while you’re visiting the B&B.

A Victorian Christmas at the Alexander Ramsey House

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“Experience the sights, sounds and tastes of a Victorian Christmas in 1875. During the guided tour, guests can taste homemade cookies fresh from the wood burning stove, listen to popular holiday music of the era played on the family’s Steinway piano, and view original family ornaments and Christmas gifts. Discover how the Ramsey family and their friends, neighbors and servants prepared for and celebrated the Christmas season. Shop in the Carriage House gift store for replica Victorian ornaments and holiday items.

The 60-minute guided tours start every half hour with the last tour starting at 3:30 pm. A Victorian Christmas at the Ramsey House runs Wednesdays through Sundays Nov. 27, 2015-Jan. 3, 2016, except Dec. 25.

Cost:  $11 adults, $9 seniors and college students, $7 ages 6-17, $3 discount MNHS [Minnesota Historical Society] members. Get tickets online or call 651-259-3015” (1 mile from the B&B.)

Hill House Holidays

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“The bustle and excitement of a Gilded Age Christmas is brought to life as the servants of the James J. Hill House prepare for the holidays. Costumed actors portray people who worked for the Hill family in a dramatized portrayal of servant life and holiday preparations at the Hill family’s Summit Avenue mansion. The program moves through the elegant first floor spaces and then to the basement servant work areas. The script is based on letters and oral histories of people who worked for the Hill family during the first decade of the 20th century.

Tours leave every half hour, and Hill House Holidays runs Saturdays and Sundays from Dec. 5-27.

Cost:  $12 adults, $10 seniors and students, $8 ages 6-17, $2 discount MNHS [Minnesota Historical Society] members. Get tickets online or call 651-259-3015” (6 blocks from the B&B.)

Check the James J. Hill House website for other events, such as concerts and storytelling.

An Eventually Christmas:  Holidays at the Mill

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“Join the Ghost of Mill City Past for an intimate look at the 1920 Washburn Crosby holiday party in this unique play set in the museum’s Flour Tower elevator ride. Scenes unfold on different floors where the audience meets characters drawn from the pages of the company’s employee newspaper, the Eventually News. Witness the rocky romance of Celia and Otto; meet marketing mastermind Benjamin S. Bull; experience the awesome sweeping power of Bill Smith and learn the secret origin of the Washburn Crosby marketing slogan, “Eventually—Why Not Now?”

Performances are at 6, 7 and 8 pm. Recommended for ages 8 and older. Ticket includes museum admission and refreshments after the play.

$14 adults, $12 seniors and college students, $10 ages 6-17 and MNHS [Minnesota Historical Society] members, $2 off adult admission with Fringe Festival button. Get tickets online or call 651-259-3015”

At the Mill City Museum Dec 13, 17, 18, 19th. (8.7 miles from the B&B.)

The Christmas Carol on stage

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The nationally renowned Guthrie Theater is continuing its annual tradition of Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Check the website for more information and showtimes. (8.3 miles from the B&B.)

European Christmas Market

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“The European Christmas Market in St. Paul is based on the traditional, charming, and festive open air Christkindlmarkts that spring up in Germany, Austria and other countries during the Advent season. Shop for unique, handmade holiday gifts and decorations from local vendors, drink Glühwein (spiced mulled wine), and taste European inspired food and delicacies during the first two weekends in December:

Friday, December 4: 2 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Saturday, December 5: 10 am – 9 p.m.
Sunday, December 6: 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Friday, December 11: 2 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Saturday, December 12: 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Sunday, December 13: 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.”

At Union Depot downtown St. Paul. (2.3 miles from the B&B.)

Christmas Concerts

Holiday Concert 2012 2
A listing of Christmas concerts happening all over the city.

Holiday Events from the St. Paul Pioneer Press

Zoo-Lights
A listing of events happening in the Twin Cities in December, many of them holiday themed.

 

Have a Little Jazz Age with Your Cocktail

An icon has returned to the neighborhood – the Commodore Bar & Restaurant.

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The Commodore opened in 1920 as a posh art deco residential hotel, which hosted such luminaries as F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (who added their daughter, Scottie, and the novel “The Beautiful and Damned” to their family during their stays) and Sinclair Lewis, as well as gangsters Al Capone, John Dillinger, and Fred Barker. It was one of THE places to stay in St. Paul.

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Naturally, there were amenities to keep the guests in the style to which they were accustomed. These included a restaurant and an illegal speakeasy, which, on the repeal of Prohibition, became the Mirror Bar, designed by notable architect and Hollywood set designer Werner Wittkamp. Fred Barker’s mother, Ma Barker, met her son’s girlfriend there.

Commodore Fire

The building was gutted by a gas explosion/fire in February of 1978, and was remodeled into condos. Alas, there was no public eating or drinking space.

However, while the space was devastated, the bar itself somehow escaped damage; even its eponymous mirrors remained intact. After remodeling, the beautiful space could be rented for private events. In fact, one of Bill’s daughters had her wedding reception there.

Upper+Bar+7+10-05-15+(1)Lounge+5+10-05-15.

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Now, after two years of renovation characterized by careful research and meticulous attention to detail, the space has been restored to its former Jazz Age glory. Full of warm light from glass chandeliers, black and white checkerboard floors, white leather, and stunning lines, the bar and restaurant offer a comfortable and cozy atmosphere and a feast for the eyes. Both food and drink are influenced by the 1920s and ‘30s, and many of the cocktail ingredients are locally sourced. The owners want to keep the prices reasonable, with the dinner menu topping out at about $30 for an entree. There are plans for live music and dancing, and the vibe is casually dressy and a little upscale, turning an evening out into an event.

Image with the piano copyright City Pages.

Published in: on December 5, 2015 at 9:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Congratulations! It’s Victorian!

So, let’s review.

488 in c.1930s

Here’s the house in about 1942. Our goal and inspiration for change…

488 from the outside, C. 2003, probably taken by Katy Gray

…from this. The legacy of mid-century modernistic tendencies (i.e. clean lines), practicality (because that never-have-to-paint siding really is much more practical than wood), and budget. None of which aesthetically serve a 1896 Victorian built by a banker wanting as gracious a home as his substantial wealth would allow. Our lovingly playing catch-up with that aesthetic service brings us to (drumroll please)…

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…this. Not bad. Pretty darn spectacular, in fact, if we do say so ourselves. Hardly recognizable as the same house.

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No matter what angle…

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…you view it from, the transformation is astounding,…

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…the results elegant, gracious, and welcoming,…

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…and already offering new places to congregate or step away from the crowd.

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Our home feels like a Victorian mansion from the outside as well as the inside, finally,…

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…and it wears its vividly historic colors proudly, from up the block…

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and down.

I think the banker would be pleased. I know we sure are.

Published in: on December 8, 2014 at 7:40 am  Comments (2)  
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Tying Up the Loose Ends

We’re at the point of cleaning up some final details.

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We created replica lattice for the bottom of the porch. The original idea was to clean up some original we found, but it would have been prohibitively expensive.

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We finished up the faux stone paint treatment on the foundation of the house.

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The front door trim has been created…

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…and painted, giving the front door surround a substantial and clean look. Especially as it’s contrasted by the naturally finished original oak door.

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A new house number display and a painted and rehung mailbox finish off the entry. (The wreath, while fetching, is not part of the holiday decorating plans. The letter carrier would not be happy as the mailbox opens from the top.)

The last big project is a new roof for the house, which, while not adding to the aesthetic, does have the benefit of keeping out the weather. And then we just keep working away at the last small details until the project is finished. At least for this round. You know what they say about historic houses….

Published in: on December 8, 2014 at 6:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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Pillars!

Exciting developments!

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We have added  most of the standard porchy frills, including…

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fluted pillars, round and square…

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and railings, complete with ranks of turned spindles.

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These elements work harmoniously with the existing trimly furbelows…

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to add a truly elegant character to the sheltering and structural functionality of the porch.

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Some of the round pillars were original to the house, making up the first porch. They were cut down for the little porch, and built back up for our new beauty.

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Unfortunately, measuring twice doesn’t always prevent mistakes, so we had to do some adjusting to get a perfect fit.

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But, you’d never know it from the final product.

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The square pillars were constructed in situ. (That’s almost a visual history of the clamp right there.)

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Those were the last major elements needed to make the house look like it truly belongs in our historic neighborhood.

Published in: on December 8, 2014 at 1:52 am  Leave a Comment  
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Corbels and Consultations

We’re busy and excited.

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Still no pillars, but lots of activity on site. The fellow in the dark shirt on the right is shaping corbels out of blocks of wood.

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And here they are being painted, along with spindles, and doesn’t the paint gun make that job a heck of a lot easier!

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Here are the corbels installed, along with a glimpse of the finished paint job on the third floor dormer.

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A view of the porch’s completed yellow pine ceiling, and someone already enjoying its expansive shelter.

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A close-up of the faux finish on the house’s foundation. We decided, upon experimentation, that removing the green paint would be way too resource intensive. It’s a much better fit with our color scheme than the green would have been.

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The owner, architect, and contractor consulting. We’re much closer, but there’s still a ways to go before all the details are taken care of.

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A beautiful Minnesota October day, one of the last hurrahs before the snow flies, part of which we spent lunching outdoors. Maybe next October someone will be enjoying lunch on this welcoming front porch watching the world go by.

Published in: on December 8, 2014 at 12:12 am  Leave a Comment  
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Natural Beauty

While there’re are still some fairly major changes coming (pillars!), there’s also a lot of finishing detail happening.

From Eric Carrington, New Look Remodeling 2014-10-18 151027

The porch trim is all painted out, as are the pillar supports. The front paint job just lacks the black detailing. It’s a very handsome picture. (Picture taken by Eric Carrington of Newlook Remodel, our painting contractor.)

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This is from about a week later. If you look closely, you can see that the porch ceiling (yellow pine beadboard) has been completed, and they’re putting up detail trimming under the porch fascia.

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Here’s a better picture of the porch ceiling, as well as a close-up of the fascia.

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The beautiful Douglas fir floor, in all its autumnal glory, contrasting vibrantly against the gray and white of its painted companions.

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The redwood treads of the permanent stairs…

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…and their white painted risers.

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Just finished painting the last pillar support plinth.

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A view of the original front door with its newly painted white surround. I’m not sure what the plans are for the unpainted strip of trim at the top of the door surround. The dental molding will be replaced, at least. I guess every construction project wants to maintain a little mystery!

Published in: on October 27, 2014 at 10:44 am  Leave a Comment  
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