Home Improvement

Save This Old House: Colonial Revival with an Added Cottage

Summer 2021, Save TOH, exterior front
Courtesy Preservation NC

See this classic with good bones,­ and a cottage!

This article appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of This Old House MagazineClick here to learn how to subscribe

bout This House

Originally built in the Greek Revival style in the 1840s, and attributed to noted local carpenter Jacob Holt, this spacious house was remodeled as a Colonial Revival in the 1920s, when it gained its fine brick cladding and a front porch, now long gone.

At that time it became home to Eugene Allen, the prominent owner of a building supply company, and his wife, Florence.

It eventually passed to the Allens’ socially active, civic-minded daughter, Louise, who lived there until 2006, when the house was sold.

Shown: The symmetrical facade of the 2,992-square-foot house is in keeping with both the Greek Revival and Colonial Revival styles. The brick front and dentiled cornice were added in the early 20th century.

Why Save It?

Summer 2021, Save TOH, staircase, fireplace
Courtesy Preservation NCThe four-bedroom, three-bath house retains original 19th-century features inside, including Greek Revival–style fireplace mantels and dog-ear casings. The graceful double staircase and a sunroom remain, as do the exterior brickwork and dentiled cornice, all added in the early 20th century.

As a bonus, the house also comes with a charming Craftsman-style cottage that dates to the 1930s and might last have been updated in the 1950s.

The houses sit on an acre and a half in the town’s picturesque historic district. An hour’s drive from Raleigh, and known as a welcoming small town, Warrenton has become a popular weekend getaway.

Shown above, left: Turned balusters and handrail volutes distinguish the double staircase.

Shown above, right: One of five fireplaces in the house, with its original Greek Revival mantel.

What It Needs

Summer 2021, Save TOH, extra cottage
Courtesy Preservation NCWhile the main house is structurally sound, it requires a total rehab, including all new mechanical systems, a modern kitchen, and bathrooms. The front porch could be reconstructed from historical photos. Inside, the front rooms’ plaster walls and wood floors are in fair condition, but the back of the house shows signs of water damage. Restoration covenants do apply, and state tax credits are available.

Located in a vibrant community, this unique “twofer” just awaits an energetic old-house lover—and guests!

Shown above: The property’s 1930s Craftsman-style cottage is laid out with two rooms and one bath in about 1,200 square feet. Once updated, it could make a fine home office, guest house, or in-law apartment.

Summer 2021, Save TOH, archival photo
Courtesy Preservation NCThis archival photo shows the house’s front porch, added in the early 20th century. Its footings remain in place.

Summer 2021, Save TOH, bathroom
Courtesy Preservation NCThe second-floor bath’s fixtures probably date to the 1930s.

Summer 2021, Save TOH, staircase
Courtesy Preservation NCThis entry staircase rises from the front foyer, where one of the parlors can be glimpsed.

Summer 2021, Save TOH, parlor fireplace
Courtesy Preservation NCPeeling paint reveals layers of previous wall finishes in one of two large first-floor parlors.

Summer 2021, Save TOH, door casing, cottage gable
Courtesy Preservation NCLeft: This dog-ear door casing is an example of the house’s original Greek Revival–style woodwork.

Right: Wavy glass in the cottage’s windows is likely original.

n Additional Historical Note

The lot on which this house sits is the site of an even earlier 19th-century home erected by builder Thomas Bragg for his family’s use. Three of Bragg’s children rose to national prominence, among them Braxton Bragg, a Confederate army general during the Civil War. After the war, the Bragg house was owned by Harry Plummer, a notable Black attorney, who for many years rented it to a former slave and respected community member, Albert Burgess, and his wife, Annie. Local historians report that the original Bragg family home was moved two lots to the south in the latter half of the 19th century. This remaining 1840s brick-clad structure was a later front addition to the Bragg house, made after the family had moved on.

House Stats

Interested in saving this old house?

Price: $35,000
Location: Warrantor, NC
Contact: Cathleen Turner, Preservation North Carolina; [email protected]

Did you miss our previous article…

Home Care

Before and After Kitchen: A Kitchen Makeover That Lets the Light In

Summer 2021, Before and After Kitchen, full kitchen view
Stacy Zarin Goldberg

Lose a wall, add windows, and reallocate adjacent space, then blend sparkling white surfaces with warm wood-tone accents. That’s the recipe for a bright, open kitchen made for family gatherings!

This article appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of This Old House MagazineClick here to learn how to subscribe

Summer 2021, Before and After Kitchen, kitchen 3⁄4 view
Stacy Zarin GoldbergShown: Clean white cabinetry, marble-look quartz countertops, and a gray-stained hickory island and vent hood combine with new windows for a refreshed, welcoming workspace. Paint (walls): Benjamin Moore’s Stonington Gray; Cooktop: Thermador; Windows: Andersen Windows & DoorsFlexibility is fundamental to open-plan success, which can mean rethinking how you’ve used certain rooms for decades. Christy MacCormack discovered that in the process of renovating the kitchen of the 1970 Federal-style house in Bethesda, MD, she grew up in. “We wanted a welcoming space for everyone to enjoy,” Christy says—and she means everyone, since members of three generations have been sharing the home, including her and her husband, Mike. “The cramped, dark kitchen from the 1980s really needed an overhaul to function and flow efficiently.”

Summer 2021, Before and After Kitchen, full kitchen view
Stacy Zarin GoldbergShown: Now the fridge, ovens, and cooktop are in convenient proximity for cooking, and there are ample food-prep surfaces. A barn door on the family room side closes off any kitchen commotion. The hickory island and vent hood—both given a cool, light-gray stain—warm up white shiplap walls, Shaker-style cabinets, and marble-look quartz countertops. Designers: Colleen Shaut and Zahra Keihani, Case Architects & Remodelers; Quartz countertops: Norwood Marble & Granite; Wall ovens, refrigerator: KitchenAidTo get there, designer Colleen Shaut of Case Architects & Remodelers helped the MacCormacks reimagine much of the first floor. The wall between the kitchen and dining room came down and a peninsula with cabinet storage went in, opening up the room. The dining room took the place of the adjacent formal living room, allowing for a sitting area with an office nook where the family can catch up while connected to the activity in the kitchen. (A family room off the other end of the kitchen remains the primary gathering spot.)

Summer 2021, Before and After Kitchen, before
Before: Pickled cabinets and a brick-pattern vinyl floor were remnants of a 1980s remodel. Appliances ringed the room, which was closed off from the dining room at one end (shown) and the family room at the other.To let in more natural light and open up views of the park-like backyard, five large windows went in on the sink wall. Appliances were relocated to be closer together for more convenient cooking, freeing space for continuous runs of countertop prep area. Crisp white cabinetry and countertops are balanced by stained-wood elements, including a handsome hickory vent hood and the slim, table-style island that replaced its clunky, clutter-prone predecessor. “The kitchen is both beautiful and sensible, with more storage and no one jammed in the corners,” Christy says. “It’s well equipped, bright, and joyful!”

Summer 2021, Before and After Kitchen, sink area and home office nook
Stacy Zarin GoldbergShown left: An update on a farmhouse staple, the new apron sink has an angular shape and a brushed-stainless-steel front. The sleek pull-down faucet offers plenty of maneuverability to reach every corner. New windows allow in plenty of natural light, and fully adjustable sconces provide both ambient and task lighting. Faucet: Moen; Sink: Kohler; Sconces: Visual Comfort; Hardware: Top KnobsShown right: Shiplap cladding and hickory shelves in the desk built-in echo the kitchen’s finishes to bring a cohesive look to the open space. “The sitting area is a popular part of life around here,” says Christy. The computer desk allows her to keep up with her social media while being part of the action.

Summer 2021, Before and After Kitchen, kitchen view with dog
Stacy Zarin GoldbergShown: New white oak flooring was woven in and the whole floor given a cool-brown stain. A wide open aisle creates an unimpeded passageway for people (and pets). “The flow around the island and into the sitting area, then into the dining room or out to the deck, suits our busy lifestyle,” Christy says. Custom cabinets, island, and vent hood: Crystal Cabinet Works; Flooring: Atlas Floors, Inc.

Expert Advice

“When designing an open-plan kitchen, think about traffic flow from other areas of the room. Create an aisle wide enough for people to walk freely without getting in the way of the cooks.” —Colleen Shaut, Case Architects & Remodelers

Floor Plans

Summer 2021, Before and After Kitchen, floor plans
Ian WorpoleTaking down a wall and moving the dining room opened up the kitchen to a new sitting area.

Demoed the wall shared with the former dining room, adding a peninsula and gaining 2 feet in the kitchen.Put in five large windows to open up views and usher in natural light, centering a new sink under them.Added a cooktop on the wall shared with the family room, shifting the doorway slightly to create a wider aisle to ease traffic flow, and replacing French doors with a barn-style slider. Removed a pantry closet and built-in desk, creating spots for wall ovens and a refrigerator. Replaced a built-in island with a narrower table-style model. Installed a beverage area with a wine fridge and cabinet storage. Moved the dining room into the adjacent living room, and created a sitting area in its place with a built-in desk and a wider opening to the new dining space.

Get the Look

Industrial meets refined in these reno-worthy finds, inspired by the kitchen on these pages.

Summer 2021, Before and After Kitchen, sconce, sink
1. Library-style sconce / HINKLEY
Black-finished steel gives the articulating classic a graphic, modern slant.
Arti Black Joint Arm Wall Lamp, $249; Lamps Plus

2. Modern apron sink / ELKAY
Stainless steel updates the farmhouse classic, while straight sidewalls and a flat bottom maximize usable space.
Crosstown 18-Gauge Single-Bowl Farmhouse Sink, $691; Elkay

Summer 2021, Before and After Kitchen, movable kitchen island, pull-down faucet
3. Movable island / POTTERY BARN
This workhorse island on lockable casters can go from kitchen centerpiece to outdoor serving station, as needed, thanks to its durable acacia base and concrete top.
Abbott Island, $1,699; Pottery Barn

4. Pared-down pot washer / MOEN
This sleek pull-down packs Power Boost technology for faster filling and stronger spraying.
Align Spring Kitchen Faucet in Chrome, $541; Moen

Home Remodeling

Before and After Bath: Modern Makeover

Summer 2021 Before & After Bath, bathroom overview
Philip Harvey

Annexing adjacent spaces, moving the entry, and upgrading the fixtures and finishes allows a bare-bones en suite bath to become a stylish shared amenity

This article appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of This Old House Magazine. Click here to learn how to subscribe

Summer 2021 Before & After Bath, bathroom overview
Philip HarveyShown: Expanding the footprint and relocating the entry made room for a wide double vanity, a walk-in shower, and a jetted tub. Clean lines and splashes of color give the room a fresh, updated look. Designer: Cillesa Ullman, CID, Cillesa Interior Design & Space Planning; General contractor: Clevenger Construction; Custom cabinetmaker: SKM Construction; Paint (walls): Benjamin Moore’s Whitestone; Quartz countertop, pony wall cap: Bianco Supremo, Teltos; Toilet: Toto; Mirrors: Wayfair; Recessed medicine cabinet: Robern; Window: Milgard; Sconces: Loft, Modern Forms

Summer 2021 Before & After Bath, before
Before: Cramped and dated, the 1970s builder-grade bath was marooned behind a double-width guest-room closet. Its only access was through the bedroom.Few things irk a professional designer like living with a drab, dysfunctional interior. For Cillesa Ullman, one sore spot in her 1960s post-and-beam home in Oakland, CA, was the tiny, no-frills guest-room bath on the lower level. “I could not wait to tear it out­, so I literally did most of the demo myself,” she says. Her plan: Enlarge the space by relocating a laundry room and bedroom closet, and move the doorway so the bath could serve the entire floor, which was renovated to create another bedroom. To add a feeling of luxury to the new bath, Cillesa incorporated heated floors, a spa tub, and sleek new fixtures and cabinetry. She landed on her color inspiration when she came across a penny tile glazed in varying shades of aqua, “like a mermaid’s tail,” she recalls thinking. Using it to cover the tub skirt and line the shower floor, and echoing it on the double vanity, brought the space to life. “It’s both elegant and whimsical,” she says, “and with cool gray walls, it feels calming, too.”

Summer 2021 Before & After Bath, shower, pull-out shelf tower
Philip HarveyShown left: A practical choice in a bath that serves a variety of guests: a height-adjustable shower wand that can move up and down on a vertical bar. White 5-by-15-inch tiles wrap the walls, while aqua penny rounds add traction and color to the floor. Shower door: Ronson Shower Glass & Mirror; Shower mixer, handshower: Ecostat, Hansgrohe; Towel bars: Hopewell, Top Knobs DecorShown right: Pull-out shelf towers on either end of the vanity provide smart vertical storage. The white vanity top and backsplash are made from low-maintenance quartz. Oyster-gray large-format porcelain tiles cover the floor.

Summer 2021 Before & After Bath, tub, shower niche
Philip HarveyShown left: Centered on the far wall, the focal-point tub’s narrow lip makes the wall-mount faucet easy to reach from the front, where penny-round tiles enliven the apron. An acid-etched awning window provides abundant light, airflow, and privacy. Tub: Americh; Tub fixtures: Hansgrohe; Window: MilgardShown right: The shower niche is bordered with a brushed-metal edge profile and accented with blue penny rounds to echo the shower floor and tub apron. The niche shelf and shower bench top are ¾-inch slabs of the same quartz used in a 1½-inch thickness for the vanity top. Shower niche profile strips: Schluter-Systems; Quartz shower bench, niche shelf: Teltos

Summer 2021 Before & After Bath, sink
Philip HarveyShown: Rectangular sinks, streamlined single-handle faucets, and white quartz surfaces add a sleek, contemporary look. Sinks: Verticyl, Kohler; Sink faucets: Metris, Hansgrohe; Quartz countertop: Teltos

Expert Advice

“Try orienting rectangular wall tiles vertically to emphasize the height of a space and give it a visual lift. It’s a twist on tradition that creates a refreshing, modern aesthetic.” —Cillesa Ullman, owner, Cillesa Interior Design & Space Planning

Floor Plans

Summer 2021 Before & After Bath, floor plans
Ian WorpoleRelocating a laundry room and a bedroom closet allowed for an 80-square-foot bath with two sinks, a bathtub, and a shower.

Annexed the laundry and closed up its door to the bedroom to create a hallway entrance.Installed a 72-inch-wide double vanity, adding a partition wall at the end to create an alcove for the toilet.Put in an apron-front tub that spans the exterior wall beneath a new 42-by-32-inch awning-style window.Mounted a 30-inch towel bar on either side of the shower.Built a 36-by-39-inch shower with a bench seat and a toiletry niche where part of a bedroom closet had stood.

Get the Look

Take the plunge into watery blue hues and streamlined design elements like those on these pages.

Summer 2021 Before & After Bath, paint swatch, wall sconce
1. Refreshing blue paint / BENJAMIN MOORE
For a poolside vibe in a hard-wearing, cabinet-friendly finish, try the Advance line of water-based alkyd paint in Santa Clara.
About $60 per gallon; Benjamin Moore

2. Cylindrical sconce / WAC LIGHTING
Clean lines and a soft glow distinguish this dimmable LED wall light with a brushed-nickel finish and an acrylic shade.
Turbo sconce, $70; Lightology

Summer 2021 Before & After Bath, faucet, tiles
3. Sleek single-hole faucet / HANSGROHE
Smooth operation, temperature-sensitive control, and water-saving smarts meet understated style.
Cosmopolitan faucet in chrome, $225; GROHE

4. Porcelain penny tiles / ELITE TILE
Durable penny rounds glazed in varying soft-blue hues look both classic and modern. Their small size makes them a slip-resistant choice for wet-area floors.
$9.49 per square foot; Wayfair

Did you miss our previous article…

Home Care

How to Build a Kitchen Garden

Summer 2021, Landscaping, vegetable and herb garden, bird’s eye view
Organically grown vegetables, interplanted with flowers and herbs, provide a feast for the eyes, and a steady stock of fresh ingredients for a family of four. Top: A stone threshold helps protect turf from foot and wheelbarrow traffic. Left: Granite blocks contain the raised beds’ soil and will never split or rot. Right: Four-foot-wide, L-shaped beds are easy to reach into for planting and weeding. | Helen Norman

A symmetrical design of raised beds grows out of a blank patch of turf­, adding beauty and productivity to the landscape

This article appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of This Old House MagazineClick here to learn how to subscribe

Quick rewards are rare in the garden. Flowering perennials usually creep for several seasons before filling out, while small trees and shrubs can take up to 10 years to reach full size. But edibles? Now, that’s a group that delivers instant gratification. Sow a packet of lettuce seeds tomorrow, and you’ll have a nice little side salad within just weeks.

Having homegrown food steps from your back door is also convenient, which is why Helen Norman broke ground on her own kitchen garden seven years ago. The irony is that she lives on a farm—130 rolling acres in White Hall, Maryland—planted with field after field of certified organic vegetables. All that bounty, however, grows on land that Helen and her husband, Mark Elmore, lease to a professional farmer (her brother).

It has taken nearly 27 years for the couple to shape their 1850s stone farmhouse and its ramble of outbuildings and overgrown grounds into the postcard-perfect setting they call Star Bright Farm. Not surprisingly, growing their own food got nudged off the priority list in the early years, as the couple balanced work schedules, house renovations, and the raising of two sons. “We had this big farm, but I never knew where my brother planted anything,” Helen says. “I’d have to call him to ask, and then send the kids out in our go-kart to fetch a tomato or squash.”

How to Build a Kitchen Garden

Eventually, though, craving her own personal stash of fresh-picked produce, Helen began drafting plans for a kitchen garden. As a professional lifestyle photographer, she had shot enough publication-worthy homes and gardens to know what she likes. The resulting garden—with its symmetrical beds, pops of red, and eye-level trellis plantings—clearly has the stamp of someone with an eye for design. And it was productive, too. As Helen recalls, “We got so many vegetables that first year, I could just grab a basket and go pick dinner.”

That early success—and the years that followed—has yielded lessons any homeowner can learn from.

Design it right

Summer 2021, Landscaping, vegetable and herb garden, installation
Helen NormanStone walls: String lines established the outlines of the planting beds, and provided a level line for the granite edging as it went in. The blocks were installed on end, leaving about 8 inches of exposed height. Where it freezes, a crushed-stone base can protect stone blocks from frost heaves.From the outset, Helen was after more than just a good harvest from her kitchen garden; she wanted it to enhance her property, too. Her 50-by-50-foot layout of symmetrical beds—in an enclosed garden room surrounded by fencing, with arbors over the entry gates—lends what she describes as “coziness” to the sprawling landscape.

Taking cues from the English countryside’s many free-blooming borders, tidy clipped hedges, and formal kitchen gardens, which famously mix edibles with flowers, Helen laid out her own geometric design, framed by flower beds and pickets. Siting it in an open area just beyond a back door offers easy access, as well as the requisite 6 to 8 hours a day of full sun that vegetables generally require.

Proper sizing of the planting beds and walkways ensures the garden functions with farm-level efficiency. Each leg of the L-shaped beds is 8 feet long and 4 feet wide, the maximum width for keeping the center of beds within arm’s reach for easy hand-weeding and planting. Most paths span 3 feet, to allow for a mower or wheelbarrow to pass through, except for two paths beside the center bed, which measure 8 feet across. “We wanted a space for entertaining,” says Helen, who on special occasions hauls in tables with seating for 8 to 10 guests. The 8-by-8-foot center bed has stone slabs to hold potted plants, a decorative boxwood planting, plus pockets for herbs. And an 8-foot-wide gate even allows access for tractor loads of compost.

Summer 2021, Landscaping, vegetable and herb garden, installation
Helen NormanWeed barrier (left): Sheets of cardboard, all tape removed, were layered on top of turf-free soil, to create a weed barrier, then watered well. As it decomposed, the cardboard added carbon to the soil. Plant-ready soil (right): Eight inches of finished compost and topsoil, well blended, made the beds ready for planting.From encouraging good drainage to dissuading nibbling rabbits, raised planting beds offer myriad benefits. Helen’s beds are relatively shallow, at just 8 inches deep, framed by 8-by-11-by-4-inch granite blocks planted on end several inches below grade—a handsome, durable material that will stand up to decades of contact with damp soil. The beds also incorporate a clever “mow path”—a flush-to-the-ground border of flat paving stones along the perimeter that keeps weeds from growing where a mower’s blades can’t reach.

After sketching her design, Helen hired a landscaper for the installation. Using a laser level, he measured out the bed layout, following Helen’s plans, and set up a mason line, using corner stakes and string to mark the desired edging height. Then he got to work digging a trench and placing the stones, adding and removing soil to level each block. In colder climates, where frost heaves are a concern, TOH landscape contractor Jenn Nawada suggests digging down 6 inches and laying a 2- to 3-inch base of ¾-inch crushed stone before placing the blocks.

Build up the soil

Summer 2021, Landscaping, vegetable and herb garden, cedar trellises
Helen NormanArchitectural accents: Obelisk-style cedar trellises add height and year-round interest to beds planted mostly with ground-hugging edibles and herbs. These are painted in Benjamin Moore’s Heritage Red, echoing the nearby barn. Wood or metal leg extensions can keep a tall obelisk from toppling in high winds.As an alternative to breaking ground with a rototiller or shovel and double-digging to work in amendments, Helen used an easy no-till technique to cultivate her new beds. In a much simplified version of a popular layering technique (see “A Quick Guide to Lasagna Gardening,”), Helen laid tape-free cardboard over the entire area of exposed soil to smother weeds, watered the cardboard thoroughly, and then topped it with 8 inches of well-blended topsoil and finished compost until the soil level was just below the stone border’s top edge. That thick layer of nutrient-rich, fluffy soil primed the beds for planting.

But first, Helen hooked up an irrigation system to make sure her edibles would get the water they needed. She ran drip lines down each bed, spacing them roughly 16 inches apart to give each row of plants a designated water source. Though Helen doesn’t fuss about hiding the tubing, Jenn says it’s easy to do: Simply dig the tubes in just below the soil’s surface, and secure them with irrigation staples. To save time buying parts, you can pick up a kit (such as those sold by DripWorks), and automate waterings with a timer.

quick guide to lasagna gardening

In “lasagna gardening,” or sheet mulching, layers of organic matter are spread on top of unimproved soil and allowed to compost in place—just add moisture. Start in spring to plant the following spring—or in fall, for the impatient.

Step 1: To prep the bed, remove turf and loosen the top inch of soil where it’s compacted. Adding a raised border will prevent runoff.

Step 2: To thwart weeds, cover the entire area with a single layer of brown cardboard, all tape removed, overlapping edges slightly. Water thoroughly.

Step 3: Spread a 6-inch layer of carbon-rich organic material (grass clippings, manure, vegetable scraps), followed by a 2- to 3-inch layer of nitrogen-rich organic matter (straw, wood chips, dried leaves).

Step 4: Repeat Step 3 until the pile is twice as high as the desired height of the bed; finish with carbon. The bed will settle over time.

Step 5: Water well to kick-start the composting process. Keeping beds moist (but not drenching wet) up till planting time will ensure all organic matter breaks down efficiently.

Step 6: Top with 4 inches of topsoil or finished compost. Then sit back, and let the soil’s network of organisms ready the beds for planting.

Summer 2021, Landscaping, vegetable and herb garden, irrigation drip lines
Helen NormanStrategic watering: Irrigation drip lines running through this planting of lettuces, soak the soil at the plants’ roots without wetting the leaves, to help prevent fungal diseases, such as powdery mildew.That first year, Helen didn’t do a soil test, but she did the second year. And she’s made a habit of taking soil tests and amending accordingly every couple of years. “I only add compost when my soil needs it,” she says, pointing out that too much compost, like anything else, can cause imbalances.

As for mulch, the flower beds along the fence get a fresh layer of shredded bark seasonally, but Helen skips mulch—and the chemicals that can accompany it—on her vegetable beds. To prevent weeds around the edibles, Helen plants densely—leaving little bare ground for weed seeds to sprout—and those that do pop up are never allowed to get big. “I just stay on top of it, a little each week,” says Helen, who swears by her trusty Hula Hoe. The long-handled stirrup-style tool cuts off weeds at the root; a built-in “wiggle” lets it work both backward and forward.

dd year-round structure

Summer 2021, Landscaping, vegetable and herb garden, cherry tomatoes, glass cloche
Helen NormanLeft: Cherry tomatoes are generally less disease prone than full-size varieties. Right: A glass cloche protects tender seedlings from frost.With its prominent location, on view from the road, this garden needed to look good through all four seasons. So Helen tucked in dozens of dwarf boxwoods, planting small to save pennies, and framed the garden’s edges with gated arbors and picket fencing made from wood salvaged during a barn remodel.

Summer 2021, Landscaping, vegetable and herb garden, Swiss chard, peppers
Helen NormanLeft: Snipping Swiss chard leaves near the base encourages fresh growth. Right: Heat-loving peppers produce all summer long.Red-painted obelisk trellises, in beds flanking the center, also add year-round color. Hers are often engulfed in blooms, starting with ‘Jackmanii’ clematis in spring and a grand finale of sweet autumn clematis into fall. The metal obelisks and lattice A-frames that punctuate the garden’s four corners add yet more vertical support—and eye-level beauty—sprawling with tomatoes, sweet peas, pole beans, and top-heavy dahlias.

Lure in pollinators

Summer 2021, Landscaping, vegetable and herb garden, Helen Norman inspecting her garden beds
Helen NormanDaily harvest: Home gardener Helen Norman can be found outside inspecting her beds daily during the growing season, harvesting vegetables and herbs for family meals. The garden’s barefoot-friendly grass paths stay cool on hot days, resist erosion, and are easy to maintain with a walk-behind mower. At-grade stones keep weeds away from bed edges, where mower blades can’t reach.Flowers, growing among edibles, are more than eye candy. The marigolds that skirt Helen’s tomatoes are there to ward off insects, such as root-nibbling nematodes, while zonal geraniums—her go-to for covering bare spots—deter Japanese beetles. Plus, Helen adds, “the flowers attract pollinators,” which are essential players for producing big harvests.

With thoughtful planning, those harvests will keep coming. Helen likes interplanting cool-season lettuces and radishes, for instance, with Swiss chard, which is slower to “bolt”—or turn leggy and bitter in hot weather—for long-lasting leafy displays. Repeat sowings of quick-sprouting lettuces and radishes, spaced a week or two apart, provide a steady supply for spring-mix salads.

With summer’s heat waves come her family’s all-time favorite: peppers, from red-hot Cherry Bombs to the sweet Habanero look-alike, ‘Habanada.’ “We do everything with peppers, from pickling to freezing and making jam,” Helen says.

Summer 2021, Landscaping, vegetable and herb garden, garden table, fences, trellises
Helen NormanGarden to table: Rustic fence pickets with mitered tops and tall trellises engulfed in orange-flowering honeysuckle vine and yet-to-bloom sweet autumn clematis create a cozy feeling of enclosure for summer meals outdoors. Ladder-like A-frames support sprawling crops like pole beans.Potted-up herbs, such as frost-tender basil and unruly mints, are also a summertime mainstay. “You can pop containers in anywhere,” says Helen, who tucks them into beds and arranges ever-changing displays on the terrace above the garden.

Then, there are the root-cellar crops—cabbages, squash, garlic, carrots, potatoes. “If you store them properly, you can practically eat from your garden all winter.” And, of course, there are the flowers for cutting—seed-grown zinnias and cosmos, as well as roses and dahlias. Because when you’re out collecting kitchen ingredients in a garden, it’s nice to bring back a bouquet for the table.

quick guide to crop rotation

Rotating crops isn’t just for farmers­—it benefits home gardeners, too. Vegetables in the same plant family deplete soil nutrients similarly and attract the same pests and diseases; ideally, they shouldn’t be grown in the same plot for at least three years. Quadrant bed layouts, such as the one here, make this task relatively easy. Simply rotate crops in a clockwise direction through the four beds each season, and you’ll achieve the desired waiting period—no tracking spreadsheet required.

For an even more foolproof plan, consider grouping these compatible vegetable families together, and cycle them through your beds on a four-year schedule.

Nightshades + alliums: Interplant pest-prone tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant with pungent garlic and onions.

Legumes + carrot family: Plant peas and beans, which add nitrogen to the soil, with taproot vegetables and herbs—carrots, celery, and parsley—that rely on this nutrient.

Brassicas + brassicas: Plant these heavy feeders—cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, radishes, and arugula—on their own.

Asteraceae + gourds: Plant early-to-sprout lettuces with slow-growing cucumbers, melons, and squash, to crowd out weeds.

Home Care

What’s New: Summer Tools for Your Home

Summer 2021, What’s New, Japanese gardening knife

A new crop of warm-weather problem-solvers for your home.

This article appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of This Old House MagazineClick here to learn how to subscribe

1. Cuts and digs

Summer 2021, What’s New, Japanese gardening knife
HoriHori Garden Tool

This updated version of a traditional Japanese gardening knife has a forked, 7-inch stainless-steel blade for planting bulbs, slicing roots, and shearing stems. Finely honed on one edge, with sharp serrations on the other, the blade is embedded in a soft-grip polymer handle with an ergonomic profile. Comes with a plastic sheath that clips on to your belt.
$25; Fiskars

2. High-speed whacker

Summer 2021, What’s New, string trimmer
M18 Brushless String Trimmer Kit

Spinning at speeds of up to 6,200 rpm, this 9.1-pound trimmer can run for an hour on one charge as it makes a wide, 16-inch cutting swath. Fitting the optional attachments to its shaft can convert it to a chainsaw, pruner, hedge trimmer, or edger.
$249, battery and charger included; Milwaukee

TOH Pro Tip

“Wide rings of mulch around trees will keep a string trimmer from getting too close and scoring the bark.” —Jenn Nawada, landscape contractor

3. No key needed

Summer 2021, What’s New, smart padlock for a shed
Tapplock one+

It works like an ordinary padlock to secure sheds and outbuildings, but this waterproof, biometric model opens without a key. Instead, you use a smartphone, your fingerprint, or tap in a custom code. The stainless-steel shackle and rechargeable battery function from 149°F to -4°F.
$99; Tapp

4. Protects weathered wood

Summer 2021, What’s New, water-repellent wood stain

Like the look of natural wood siding, fences, or railings as they age—but not the decay that comes with it? This penetrating, water-repellent coating guards against rot and blackening so that the wood will weather to a uniform color. Two coats, brushed or sprayed on to vertical surfaces, last four to six years. Comes in clear—or in 27 tints.
From $55 per gallon; Sansin

5. Find studs, and more

Summer 2021, What’s New, stud finder
SuperScan Kx Series Studfinders

New scanning technology enables tools in this series to find the edges, centers, and direction of studs and joists, identify metal and plastic pipes, and alert you to live wires.
From $41; Zircon

6. Zero turns, with zero emissions

Summer 2021, What’s New, riding lawnmower
LED lights in the front, rear, and sides extend mowing times well past sunset.EGO Power+ Z6 Zero-Turn Riding Mower

Four 56-volt batteries give this 42-inch mower the same power as a 22-hp gas engine, a cutting speed of up to 7 mph, and the “stamina” to mow up to two acres on a single charge. (For bigger lawns, add up to two more batteries.) Recharges in just 2 hours.
$4,999; Ego

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Home Care

How to Add a Clamp Rack to a Mobile Workbench


Mobile workbench with clamp rack, finished
Jenn Largesse

In the final part of this series, House One Editor and DIY Expert Jenn Largesse shows how to add a clamp rack to the Ultimate Mobile Workbench.

Throughout this series, I’ve shown you a number of ways to customize the ultimate mobile workbench. In this video, I finish up our workspace, by demonstrating a simple way to add a clamp rack to its endcap. Although you’ll want to go for a layout that works best for you, read on to see how I created this portion of the workbench to suit the tools in my workstation.

For the cut list, tools, and materials needed for this project, scroll down to the bottom of this page.

Mobile workbench with clamp rack, finished
Jenn Largesse

Steps for Adding a Clamp Rack to a Workbench

Step 1: Create a layout that works for your tools

To get started, I laid out all of my medium and small clamps to determine a layout. I created a 6-inch inset on one end of my workbench, so the clamps could hang in place without me bumping into them.

My plan was to create a shelf for my K-Body Parallel Clamps, Variable Spring Clamps, and Premium Spring Clamps, followed by a dowel that will hold a roll of plastic for paint projects along with a cutter. Below the mainline, I planned to mount my one-hand trigger bar clamps on their sides followed by my angle clamps and their table clamps, and then fill the middle with two sizes of ratcheting spring clamps.

Step 2. Cut plywood and drill holes for custom shelves

With my layout planned I cut a 4-inch-wide strip of leftover plywood to length for the first shelf and mitered a few angled support blocks. I drilled pocket holes in the pieces and secured the blocks under the shelf with glue and nails making sure to direct all the pocket holes toward the back for later installation.

Next, I drilled holes in two more blocks to create a holder for the dowel. And drilled pocket holes in one of the pieces, so I could attach it to the back wall. Then, I cut a strip of thin hardboard to hold the cutter along the bottom of the mount.

Finally, I drilled pocket holes in a 1×4 board to create a rod for the trigger clamps and a 1×2 to create a rod for the ratchet clamps.

Step 3: Assemble your prepped pieces

I assembled two blocks to create four corner pieces that will hold my angle clamps. With my pieces prepped, I started to attach everything to the workbench starting with the long shelf where I mounted the parallel clamps and spring clamps in place. Next, I screwed one block for the plastic roll to the back wall and the other to the sidewall. I could then nail the hardboard in place and add the cutting strip and the roll of plastic on the dowel.

I screwed the blocks to the back wall for the one-hand trigger clamps, staggering their height to make more room. And then added smaller 1×2 blocks in the middle for the two sizes of my ratcheting clamps.

Finally, I added the corner blocks along the lower section using pocket hole screws and then added the angle clamps. I also added a 1×2 block beside them to hold their table clamps. And with that, my ultimate mobile workbench was complete!

To see the other customizations I made to this bench, click the links below this video:

Building a Mobile Workbench with Built-In Table SawAdding Tool Organization to a WorkbenchBuilding DIY DrawersCreating a Dust Collection SystemAdding a Downdraft Sanding Station

Cut list

¾” Plywood shelf – 1 @ 4” W x 27 ¼” L¾” Plywood supports – 2 @ 4” W x 4” H¾” Plywood angled supports – 4 @ 4” W x 4” H¾” Plywood angled supports – 4 @ 4” W x 3 ¼” H½” Dowel – 1 @ 14 inches 1×2 Hangers – 3 @ 4 inches1x4 Ends and hangers – 4 @ 4 inches


¾” plywood (use leftover pieces from mobile workbench frame)(1) 1 x 2 x 6(1) 1 x 4 x 6(1) ½-inch dowel(1) 1/8-inch plywood or hardboard to hold plastic roll cutterWood glue1 ¼-inch pocket hole screwsPlastic roll with cutter(4) Angle clamps(4) K-Body parallel clamps(4) Variable spring clamps(4) Premium spring clamps(4) One-hand trigger bar clamps(4) Small ratcheting clamps(4) Large ratcheting clamps


Home Remodeling

Materials Around Us | Clearstory S2, Ep. 9


clearstory podcast kevin

Kevin O’Connor explores the materials that surround us with Mark Miodownik, Professor of Materials and Society, and author of “Stuff Matters.”

Our lives are shaped by materials. And there’s no better place to see that reflected than in our homes. Glass windows revolutionized the comfort and safety of our houses. Stainless steel modernized our kitchens and even made our food taste more delicious. Host Kevin O’Connor explores the materials that surround us with Mark Miodownik, Professor of Materials and Society, and author of “Stuff Matters.” What are the most influential materials in our homes and will we really be able to change a room’s color with the push of a button?

Subscribe to Clearstory on AppleSpotifyStitcherGoogle, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Home Improvement

All About Plunge Pools


Backyard plunge pool surrounded by green landscaping and two lounge chairs.
Trina Curci/Courtesy Molly Wood Garden Design

Wading in the water in a backyard meant having a massive swimming pool or settling for a scant hot tub. But plunge pools fill the middle ground, give a splash of fun, and offer relaxation in smaller yards.

Ask any kid who grew up with a pool, and they’ll tell you there’s no such thing as a bad one. Typically, if you wanted to take a dip in the backyard, you had two options: an in-ground or above-ground pool. The size of these pools, which start around 14×28 feet for an in-ground one and 12 feet in diameter for an above-ground one, come with a high cost and plenty of routine maintenance. That has given way to the popularity of the plunge pool.

For homes with smaller lots, a plunge pool gives you the cooling, relaxing benefits of a traditional pool, but on a smaller scale. Like traditional pools, plunge pools can be outfitted with bells and whistles like lighting, built-in stairs, jets, and water features. They use the same filter equipment and can be saltwater or chlorinated. The smaller size also means plunge pools are not only less expensive to buy than full-sized ones, but they cost less to maintain; fewer chemicals are required, and if you choose to heat a plunge pool with a supplemental heat source, the water comes up to temperature faster, saving fuel. Here we dig into the basics of plunge pools.

What is a Plunge Pool?

Smaller than a traditional pool, a plunge pool—sometimes called a digging pool—is just deep enough for lounging and cooling off, rather than doing laps or playing Marco Polo. While they’re not ideal for active games, they can be great for low-impact water exercise and rehabilitation.

How big are plunge pools?

Because they can be built on-site like traditional pools, the size can vary widely. But plunge pools typically run from 6 1/2 to 10 feet wide and 10 to 22 feet long. The depth ranges from 5 1/2 to 7 feet, and the bottom is almost always flat. A plunge pool that’s 10×20 feet is a popular size. Pre-cast or pre-fabricated models can start as small as 7×13 feet at 5 feet deep.

How are plunge pools made?

Like traditional pools, plunge pools can be custom made in your backyard or manufactured off-site. Custom versions are usually made by forming the earth, then covering it with a vinyl liner for an in-ground look. Pre-cast versions made off-site from fiberglass, concrete, or sometimes metal, like stainless steel or copper, get craned into your yard, and dropped into an excavated hole. There are above-ground plunge pools made from concrete or fiberglass, as well. Another popular option is a semi-in-ground plunge pool where the top 12 to 18 inches are above grade. Once finished, usually in stone, this allows for a short sitting wall around the pool.

Types of Plunge Pools

While they can take the form of any regular pool—oval, round, or rectangular—a rectangular version is often the most space efficient. Any style can be fitted with features like stairs, a sitting ledge, or a splash pad, but it’s often easier to get those elements in a pre-made version.

Cost of Plunge Pools

As with all home improvement projects, prices for materials and labor vary. A small plunge pool can cost $10,000 to $25,000 or more. A ballpark figure for installing an in-ground plunge pool is about $20,000. While this is less than a traditional in-ground pool, it’s not an inexpensive upgrade. Concrete pools tend to be the most expensive, while vinyl and fiberglass are less, and similarly priced. The least expensive versions are the above-ground designs.

The costs associated with a plunge pool are similar to a full-size in-ground pool, but on a smaller scale. Like an in-ground pool, you’ll need to hire an excavator (and provide access to your backyard for heavy equipment), pull permits, and spend to finish the pool deck around the watering hole. In most cases, the upgrade will be added to your property’s value and taxed accordingly.

Benefits of a Plunge Pool

The size enables homeowners who wouldn’t otherwise have the space or budget for a full-size pool to have a place to relax that beautifies the outdoor living space. After the initial installation cost, you’ll spend less to maintain a plunge pool than you would a traditional pool.

If you choose to add a heat source, it’s more economical to keep the pool at a comfortable temperature, which may extend your pool season. For older homeowners, the plunge pool is easier to cover and maintain; skimming out debris takes very little time when compared to a regular pool. Design-wise, it can be more cost effective to get higher-end treatments on a plunge pool versus a traditional pool. Details like tiling, water features, an infinity edge—all of which add significantly to the bottom line—might be in the budget with a plunge pool.

Limitations of a Plunge Pool

A plunge pool won’t be able to fit as many people as a traditional pool. Once four or five adults get in, it might start to feel more like a crowded hot tub. Young children who are used to cannonballing into a regular pool could get severely injured in a plunge pool—which is shallower than normal and has no “deep end.” Like a regular pool, your town will have regulations covering setbacks as well as fencing requirements to prevent a child from falling in

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Home Remodeling

Propane vs. Oil Heat: Which Is Best For Home Heating?



If you have a choice between fuels to heat your home, the answer frequently comes down to money. Which is the cheapest fuel to heat with?

In most of the U.S., the question of what to heat a home with barely needs to be asked. Natural gas is the most common choice in many urban areas since it’s available at the street, and gas furnaces and boilers require little maintenance.

Propane vs. Heating Oil

Most of what you need to do to stay warm is remember to pay the gas bill. Natural gas’s cousin, propane, is the king of fuels in rural areas. Delivered by truck to above- or below-ground storage tanks, propane-fueled appliances are also low-maintenance.

But then, there’s the Northeast. Fuel oil, also known as home heating oil, is also a popular choice. Like diesel fuel, home heating oil is delivered by trucks and pumped into a storage tank usually located in the basement.

In the past, underground oil tanks were standard, but because of the contamination caused by leaky tanks, it isn’t easy to get a mortgage for a house with an underground tank.

Propane or Oil: Which is Cheaper?

If you have a choice between fuels, the answer frequently comes down to money. What is the cheapest fuel to heat with? Comparing costs isn’t straightforward.

Both oil and propane are sold by gallon, while natural gas is sold by the cubic foot.

To make sense of fuel pricing, you need to know two things. First, prices vary regionally, so check with local suppliers to verify local rates. Second, you need a consistent basis for comparison. The easiest one is Btus per unit, which measures the heat from burning the fuels.

*Prices as of October 2020

Natural gas is the clear winner on cost if you have it available. If it’s not available on your street, though, you’ll need to choose between propane and fuel oil.

Other Factors to Consider When Choosing Propane or Oil

It’s harder to get fuel oil to burn than natural gas or propane. Gas flows into the combustion chamber under its own pressure.


Achieving the proper air-fuel mixture to burn very cleanly is accomplished with no moving parts, so very little maintenance is needed. (Most gas burners will work with either natural gas or propane with a change to the pressure regulator and the orifices at the burner.)

Oil, on the other hand, must be pumped to the oil burner, and the burner is relatively sensitive to wear and buildup of soot and carbon. Consequently, oil burners are more expensive initially and require more regular maintenance.


If you’re building a new home, the fuel choice isn’t just about heat, either. Most people with oil heat choose electric stoves and dryers, but you could also install gas for them. You can have a gas stove or a gas clothes dryer, but not oil-fired versions of those appliances.

Water Heaters

Water heaters are another consideration. Gas water heaters are relatively cheap and low maintenance. Oil-fired water heaters cost more but usually produce hot water faster. Whether gas or oil, if you heat with hot water rather than forced air, then the same boiler that heats your home can also heat the domestic hot water, saving the cost of a separate heater.

Fuel Choice and Climate Change

Another consideration is the amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere by the fuel you burn. Of the three fuels discussed here, oil is by far the worst, at 161.4 lbs. of CO2 per million Btus produced. Propane is considerably better, creating 139.05 lbs. of CO2 per million Btus. Natural gas is best, at 117 lbs. of CO2 per million Btus.

Based on that and cost, natural gas is the easy choice. Well, not so fast. Gas carries its own environmental consequences. Like oil, it’s a fossil fuel with potential ecological damage from the drilling process. Plus, methane (the largest component of natural gas) is 84 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Methane leaks from well heads, pipelines, and processing are relatively common, and to some degree, offset gas’s lower carbon emission compared to oil.

That doesn’t mean gas isn’t a more environmentally friendly option than oil—it just means the choice is a little more nuanced and something to be considered along with cost and convenience.

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