Reimagined Entranceway

Before: Old sheet rock sagged away from the ceiling, making for a decidedly undramatic entrance.
We "broke ground" about a month ago on a project that would revamp Better Farm's entranceway and give guests a strong first impression.

At the start, we were up against old sheetrock, visible lines, exposed electrical wiring, inadequate insulation, inefficient storage, and a boring color scheme:
Visible sheet rock lines, electric installed outside the wall, boring light fixture, and plain white walls and ceiling? No thanks.

There were a few elements worth saving: one, the "better be" tag former artist-in-residence Erica Hauser painted a couple of years ago over the entranceway:

And two, a chimney section we discovered when we started taking down the old sheetrock:

Three, the stunning custom staircase Gary Stephenson built back in 2011:

Local contractor North Country YDIY got started reinsulating, replacing sheetrock, and reclaiming old barn wood across the street to use as trim throughout the space.

Here are some photos of the process:

Nate Serafine, a painter and contractor out of Rochester with property and a camp in Rossie (Paintinate), came by to teach me how to mud and tape the sheet rock so it would appear literally seamless.
Though the idea was to simplify and clean up the space, there were certain embellishments added as well. I knew I wanted a bold chandelier to put in the center of the foyer, and found a beautiful one at Lowe's:

I'd thought a lot about putting a bold wallpaper in the immediate entranceway to offset the muted walls throughout the front hall; but when I found this amazing woodblock on Etsy, I had a change of heart:
Giant paisley stamp from DelhiDaze on Etsy.
Paint colors: Benjamin Moore's Sandy Hook Gray and Sherwin Williams' Wild Wild West.

On the ceiling, I decided to install some faux tin in a bronze color to create a formal entranceway. I thought the copper would contrast nicely with the barnwood trim gleaned from this property.

Creating a small alcove in the long hall allowed for visual highlights like the wooden carving and copper backsplash.

All the elements started coming together in a beautiful way:



To finish off the space, we added a holy water font from an old church as a key holder and an antique shelf found at another construction site that I screwed hooks onto for a coatrack:


Here's a side-by-side comparison:

This spring a project will be to make a bench with hinged lid for shoe storage in the front hall. Photos to come on that! If you've got a DIY home project you'd like to share, email us at info@betterfarm.org.
Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Masterful Bath

Editor's note: This blog will cover the general outline of a bathroom renovation. Stay tuned to future blogs that will get into specifics for things like reviving claw tubs, installing sinks, updating toilets, and detailing with barn wood.

This fall and winter were spent with a downstairs bathroom renovation that split the old bath off the kitchen in two, moved the laundry area to another part of the first floor, and gave the master bedroom a master bath.

The concept was easy: provide Better Farm's present-and-future-directors with a small master suite, consolidate the downstairs bath, make a cohesive laundry area close to dry racks and clothesline... and do it all in a (mostly) sustainable way featuring reused/reclaimed materials, communal/DIY labor, and continue our mission to expand the space here without sacrificing our ideals.

First step was to take the existing first-floor bathroom and divide it in two. This wasn't so difficult, since the room was already obviously sectioned into a laundry area and bath/sink/shower area. We moved the existing door over about three feet and built a wall between the laundry and bath areas:

Moving the downstairs bath entranceway in order to put half that original bath in the master bedroom.
Next, we took the existing bedroom wall:
The master bedroom wall destined to disappear.
...brought it forward a few feet, and added a doorway:
New wall with doorway.
New walls and eco-friendly insulation were put in, walls and wiring were put in, and leftover flooring from our upstairs bathroom project was added.

Next up was to seek out fixtures and appliances. I scored a claw-footed tub off Craigslist from a dilapidated duplex in Watertown. With the help of some friendly volunteers, we got that tub out of the house, sanded down, and repainted:
Claw tub gets a makeover.
Freshly sanded and painted
For the toilet, we're reusing the existing toilet that was in Steve's bedroom originally. The sink was a hand-me-down from a neighbor (only needed a good scrubbing and two new handles):
Glam shot: vintage sink with designer dog.
We also added a small, built-in shelf utilizing old barn wood cut out of the Art Barn when we added new windows:


We trimmed out an old beam I opted to leave exposed with more old barn wood, and I found a great, old lamp at an antiques shop in New Jersey. An afternoon was spent reappropriating old barn doors into a sliding-track, barn-style bathroom door (tracks and pulley wheels are antiques, bought locally). Deer antlers from my friend Sunny, a Buddhist figurine and peacock feathers from the library, an old vase my pops brought back from Mexico, and various knicknacks (and jewelry) completed the look.

 And, at long last...
View from the master bedroom.
Inside the bathroom.


Fixtures from Elizabethan Classics.





Got a great design idea you'd like to share? E-mail us at info@betterfarm.org.

Skeletons From the (Water) Closet

Our new, bare-bones bathroom design
There are few things worse in interior design than a dim, outdated bathroom. Of the three we have at Better Farm, the older bathroom upstairs fit that description perfectly; with a toilet that only occasionally flushed, a dark design, and peeling flooring.

Let's take a closer look at where we started from.
In 2010, the walls were a hodge-podge of repairs, hippie cob, and outdated appliances: the cumulative efforts of 40 years' worth of people needing different things from the space.



The door to the bathroom,  along with all the other doors on the second floor, wasn't properly hung, didn't fit the door frame, and didn't exactly work with the existing hardware.


The linoleum on the floor was cracked and peeling from all sides, especially the doorway:

Something had to be done! I've learned in the last year to love white-on-white, and wanted to experiment with that upstairs. Check out some of these beautiful images I found:



Then Kristie Hayes-Beaulieu, one of our betterArts residents this summer, gave us one of her beautiful x-ray images from her gallery show in July. I decided to make the whole bathroom design work around this image, which lent itself nicely to the white decor. Luckily we also have amassed a large collection of skulls and bones from various adventures, feathers, and a few other oddities that when showcased together made the room a stark, skeletal exploration of the body (and a few branches and trees thrown in for good measure). Green initiatives employed:
  • Keeping our low-flow shower head that we installed last year
  • No-VOCs, eco-friendly Olympia paint (white eggshell)
  • Upcycling our interior design—saves us money, keeps items out of landfills (the only purchased items came from Craigslist, including the sink)
We were also able to secure free tongue-and-groove flooring that was someone else's excess, and caught a break on a bunch of perfectly good doors. With all these components in place, here's what we came up with:
Reclaimed shelving from Craiglist, cigar boxes, muskrat skeleton, and an unidentified animal skull adorn one section of the bathroom.
A sink and vanity off Craigslist, donated curtains, and upcycled mirror create a compelling white-on-white decor.
Found branches in a tall vase, old chair from inside the house, and donated hooks create a nice contrast to all the white.
A horse skull, found by Han Solo.
A row of x-ray images captures the eye.
From left to right: human torso, deer head, human ankle, dog head, human head, goldfish, human hand, chicken skull. All images were found online and printed at the farm.
Antique bottles add an apothecary vibe to the room.
Many thanks to the following volunteers for their help: Greg Basralian, Adam McBath, Elyna Grapstein, and Kevin Carr. Thanks to Kristen Caldwell for the shower and window curtains.

Got a great DIY design idea you'd like to share? E-mail us at info@betterfarm.org.
2 Comments

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Art Barn's New Deck

It was barely two weeks ago when the guys from Passerino Painting and Contracting stopped by to break ground on a new deck for the Art Barn at Better Farm. With construction now completed, we've got easy access to the second-floor studio spaces. That opens up the entire downstairs area for gallery and additional studio space, and gives us a great stage overlooking the natural amphitheater out back.

Here are some after shots (see the full album by clicking here):





To complete the Art Barn renovation, we'll be doing the folllowing in the coming weeks:
  • Wiring the upstairs and deck for electric
  • Installing a new ceiling downstairs to cover the spray foam insulation we put in last fall
  • Putting in a new sliding glass door and steel exit doors downstairs
  • Building a kayak and canoe rack to open up the carport space
  • Brush hogging/borrowing goats to eat the burdocks and tall grass in the amphitheater
  • Cleaning and organizing the studio and gallery spaces
Stay tuned for completed interior photographs!

To schedule an estimate for one of your at-home projects, contact Passerino Painting and Contracting at passerinojm@gmail.com or (315) 783-3994.

Fall Project: Mission organization

Yikes!
Whether it's your closet, tool shed, garage, basement, or attic, the autumn—not spring—is the time to get it in order. This transition season is when you're going to be loading up your garden equipment, or swapping summer clothes for winter, or moving appliances and extension cords around, or making last-minute home renovations before the big chill. Using this opportunity to de-clutter your storage and work spaces will make for a smooth transition and very easy spring when it's time to access these areas again.

Using Better Farm's toolshed as an example, here's a quick guide to making your work and storage spaces clutter-free.


  1. Take everything out of the space.
You can't really clean and organize everything until you get it all out of the space it was in. Itemize the stuff you find into junk, donation, or to be saved. If you decide to save something, determine exactly where it goes. For us, we drew the line at "toolshed"—which means anything not expressly a tool or tool component couldn't stay in that space. Sorry batteries, paint, grill racks, buttons, and wreaths! We lined everything up on the driveway by "theme", inventoried, and figured out what we could toss and what we could use.

     2. Do a deep-clean.
Getting all the stuff out of the toolshed gave us a chance to dust everything, give a good sweep, and even re-draw the tool outlines first penned in 1970.
Since this opportunity may only come but once a year, take the time to wash everything in the space. Work your way from top-to-bottom: cobwebs out of the way, wash the windows, wipe down the walls, switchplates, and outlets, and sweep or mop the floors. We even got the opportunity to go over old marker outlines of where the tools went... back in 1970.

     3. Create a system for storage.
Containers, drawers, hangers, or baskets: figure out what goes where. In a basement or attic, labeled steamer trunks and big plastic bins are key; for toolsheds and garages, drawers, shelves and appropriately placed hooks are the name of the game. The more streamlined you make your storage, the easier it will be to stick to.


     4. Put the stuff you're keeping back in.

This should be the easy part! But stay strict—once you see all that extra space, you may be tempted to go back to a junk-drawer mindset. Be strong!

Many thanks to Tyler Howe and Roger Parish for spearheading this project! Got a great tip for organizing your life? E-mail us at info@betterfarm.org.
Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Better Farm's Stairway Goes from Hellish to Heaven

Better Farm's main staircase before, at left; and at right with new oak treads, fresh paint job, spindles, and custom newel post.
I've kicked around a bunch of different ideas for Better Farm's main staircase in the last two years; from utilizing a dead tree trunk as a hand railing to putting in new carpet to prevent slipperiness (bad idea, nixed that one almost immediately). Needless to say, we needed a new staircase design. Bad:





I did a bunch of online searching to see traditional farmhouse staircases, railings, and newel posts. Here are a few of my favorites:
 


Key here is the utter simplicity of old farmhouse stairs. They serve their function, they're beautiful in their directness, and they're free of over-the-top gaudiness or fanciness.

To start, I knew we needed spindles that were up-to-code in their distance from each other (check with your local building inspector to find out the rules in your town or state). We'd also need a new newel post. When I consulted with our carpenter, Gary Stevenson, we realized we could utilize some of the aged oak across the street my uncle had stored in the wood shed more than a decade ago. Gary ended up using the oak to build a custom newel post for the bottom of the stairs. He stained and cut the store-bought oak, which we used for new treads, spindles, and the newel post at the top of the stairs.

In the process of taking things off and moving them around, Gary found this gem; ancient-looking little girls' shoes hidden underneath one of the steps:

Gary labored away getting all the cuts right and painstakingly replacing each tread, spindle, newel post, and hand railing. And finally, he was done:



Many thanks to Gary Stevenson for his as-always amazing work; Garlock Building Supplies & Design Center for helping us pick out the upstairs newel post, hand rail, treads,and spindles; Joel Zimmer and Mark Huyser for volunteering their help in installing the handrail; and everyone at Better Farm for putting up with this work-in-progress during peak season.
Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

In the White Room


We celebrated last year when one of Better Farm's guestrooms ditched the blues and got a fresh update that left it sparkly white:


But most of the furniture left along with one of our tenants, and the bareness of the room begged for a little TLC. We recently set in to take care of a few small details, like:
Bamboo room divider from Ikea reappropriated as headboard.
Closet doorway gets matching collage gleaned from found book pages.

Children's overhead fan at left gets a custom paintjob by Jennifer Elizabeth Crone.
Doorway gains some blue trim while a bare wall gets birds in flight and collaged wall piece by Jennifer Elizabeth Crone.
And, for the finished look:


Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Streamlined Showerheads

Delta Faucet 75155 Water-Amplifying Showerhead in Chrome, courtesy of Monica Murphy.
Showerheads of the past (which continue to comprise the majority of showerheads currently in your home showers) generally spray five to six gallons of water per each minute you're sudsing up. Newer models generally halve that amount, to 2.5 gallons per minute. In our ongoing effort to use fewer resources and less energy in general, last year Better Farm  picked up an Evolve Showerhead for the new upstairs bathroom that not only uses less water, but also reduces its flow to a trickle when the water reaches 95 degrees. When you're done brushing your teeth or whatever other multi-tasking you do while waiting for the shower to heat up, you simply pull the cord next to the shower head and resume bathing.

For the other, older upstairs bathroom, we've been stuck with this rickety old thing:
Besides being fairly crusty, it's an older showerhead. That means it's not exactly eco-friendly. So when Monica Murphy offered us a low-flow Delta model  she'd used in her Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment, I couldn't refuse. This head costs $10 and only uses 1.6 gallons of water per minute (without sacrificing anything in performance, believeyoume). You'll score 36 percent in water savings over a standard showerhead, nice water pressure, and a clean conscience. Doesn't that sound nice?

The installation was ridiculously straightforward: Unscrew old showerhead, apply threading tape to the threaded pipe, screw on new showerhead.

For purchasing information, click here.
1 Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Guest Room Gets Gussied Up


This spare guest room had a bad case of the blahs, from uninspired details to drab walls to cobbed-together curtain rods. Finally getting to enjoy the afterglow of Better Farm's distinctly unglamorous first round of renovations (insulation, sheet rock and dry wall, dumpster hauls, rewiring, wood stove installation, etc.), I can at last begin the significantly more fun job of interior design.

While we've had great success with reappropriating certain items for updates around the Farm, this room was going to require a few new things—albeit with really good deals—namely:


That put us well-within budget, with the whole overhaul running us less than $250. Here are a few more before shots:


And now, drum roll please...
Curtains and black-and-white print courtesy of Laura Caldwell; paper-cutting of Better Farm grass courtesy of Mira Elwell; vases courtesy of Laura Caldwell; lights left by previous tenant and stocked with eco-friendly, energy-efficient bulbs.

Cabinet reclaimed from dumpster; nest chair left by previous tenants.
Steamer trunk courtesy of Laura Caldwell; elephant art courtesy of Bob Bowser; nest chair left by previous tenants.

For information about lodging at Better Farm, click here .

Spring Renovations Underway

With the weather finally cooperating enough to allow Better Farmers to move about freely on the property, we've jumped headfirst into spring renovations.

From replacing a broken greenhouse door to (finally!) installing closet doors over what were tapestry-covered alcoves, from planting seeds (stay tuned for pics and garden maps!) to applying fresh coats of paint to long-neglected rooms, from chopping wood for next fall to new couches and chandeliers, the Farm is abuzz with activity.

Here are a few photos of what we've been up to:
Greenhouse gets a door transplant after winter winds break the old door in two. Door transplant performed by Mark Huyser. New door salvaged from the Riveredge Resort.

Barn goes from hay storage to art studio, courtesy of Mark Huyser, Colby Sutton, Joel Zimmer, Mike Brown, and consulting help from David Garlock, Michael Frenette, and Scott Mueller. Windows from Garlock Building Supplies & Design Center.

Basement morphs into darkroom one garbage haul at a time. First phase of cleanup courtesy of Erin Fulton, Mike Brown, Brian Purwin, and Nicole Caldwell.

Barn's first-floor windows get replaced with lovely, large improvements. Window framing and setting courtesy of Mark Huyser. Windows from Garlock Building Supplies & Design Center.
Human birdhouse gets the start of a back wall and a door frame, courtesy of Mark Huyser. Lumber from Redwood Lumber.


To get involved with these and other projects throughout the spring, summer, and fall, please contact us for more information on volunteering or internships.


Not pictured:
Bluebird houses cleaning and repair courtesy of Mike Brown
New couch courtesy of Laura Caldwell and Bryan Pivar
Greenhouse shelving courtesy of David Garlock
Chicken Mobile Stagecoach Tractor sprucing up and ongoing love & attention courtesy of Jennifer Elizabeth Crone
Guest bedroom renovation made possible through the generous donation of the Purwin family

Before & After Shots

As we continue moving forward with renovations at Better Farm (including the barn, upstairs common area, the last couple of bedrooms, basements, and outbuildings), we thought we'd take a moment to look back at what we've accomplished so far. Sometimes we get so caught up in how much more there is to do (a Sisyphean task with an old house), we forget to pat ourselves on the backs for how much change has already happened in such a short period of time. Check out these dramatic before and after shots!

 Dining Alcove


 Green Bathroom


 Blue Room

 Library

 Loft

Side Entrance

 Upstairs Kitchen

 Upstairs Common Area

 Kitchen/Wood Stove


Guest Room #1
Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

New Bathroom is Green in More Ways Than One

When it became clear there would be enough people coming through Better Farm to warrant a third bathroom, imaginings began as to how we could create a state-of-the-art space with as small a carbon footprint as humanly possible. I opted to retool what used to be Skyler's room on the second floor; which meant a lot of new pipes, some extremely creative spirits on the part of the workers who would do the dirty work, and a ton of patience.

I did extensive research on how to "green" a bathroom, and came up with a few key points to pay attention to from my handy-dandy "Green Remodeling" book. Here are some options to consider when renovating an existing bathroom or putting in a new one:
  • High-performance, low-flow shower head with chlorine filter
  • Compact fluorescent bulbs
  • Lighting controls
  • Windows that open
  • Landscaping for shade
  • Greater natural daylight
  • Upgraded single pane windows
  • Water filters
  • Low-flow faucets
  • Insulated plumbing and pipes
  • Solvent-free adhesives
  • Low-flow or greywater flushing toilet
With these ideas in mind, I made a few sketches of the perceived space:

 

From there, Fred Ciliberti got to work gutting the room and laying out the pipework. Bobby Rockerman showed up for a while to help get the piping from the basement to the soon-to-be bathroom. In the meantime, I scooped up several eco-friendly components:
  • Dual-flush toilet    Kohler makes a dual-flush toilet that can save the average homeowner more than 6,000 gallons of water annually by utilizing 20% less water-per-flush than your average toilet. In addition, there are two flush buttons instead of one so you can control how much water you need to wash away waste.
  • Reclaimed claw-footed tub    The United Methodist Church in Alexandria Bay held a tag-sale fundraiser for which people in the area donated items. Among them was a claw-footed tub, in pristine shape—we were even able to use most of the original hardware, including wonderful old stainless steel faucets. All we did to update the tub was slap a fresh coat of primer and paint on the outside, soak the hardward in CLR, buff them up with some Bar Keepers Friend, and call in carpenter extraordinaire Gary Stevenson to hook it up.
  • Evolve showerhead    The Evolve showerhead utilizes ShowerStart technology, which stops water flow to a trickle when it reaches 95 degrees. When you're ready to hop in the shower, simply pull the cord next to the showerhead and the water pressure is restored. So what does it save? A whopping 2,700 gallons of water annually, all the fossil-fueled energy it requires to heat that much water, and up to $75 off our annual utility bill.
  • Reclaimed bathroom sink pedestal    Vessel sinks are all the rage in bathroom design these days, but we wanted to revisit some old-fashioned roots with this modern-day fad. Armed with a white vessel sink from Lowe's, we tracked down a pre-Civil War washing table at Liberated Sole Shoe Repair & Antique Shop in Watertown that once held—you guessed it—a wash basin. Using some minor wizardry by the wonderful Gary Scholes, the sink hooked into and through the table.
  • American Olean tiles    American Olean spearheaded a Greenworks initiative, which offers information and support on LEED-certification, eco-friendly construction, and sustainability issues as they relate to construction. And by their very nature, ceramic tiles last far longer than other surface types. Less replacing means less waste and wear and tear on the environment. 
  • Controlled lighting     There are three sets of lights in the bathroom, all utilizing high-efficiency bulbs. This way, during the day you can use no lights (east-facing window means plenty of natural sun rays), or if you're getting dolled up for a night on the town you can flip on the vanity lights above and to either side of the mirror. There's also a three-way fan in the ceiling, which has a hot air blower, regular room fan, and soft light when you just need a little glow to guide your way. 
  • Eco-friendly insulation     Nowadays there's no excuse for toxic fiberglass insulation. All insulation-related updates at Better Farm have utilized cotton insulation that's so safe you can rub your hands and face in it.
With these elements in place, Gary Scholes came in to complete the carpentry and plumbing.  Gary Stevenson finished the project off by creating a small oak stage for the tub (he found a pile of beautiful, aged oak out in our barn and planed some of it for this project—stay tuned for future uses we put the rest to!) and hooking it into the pipework Fred and Bobby laid.

Photos from the process:

And for the finished product...






Many thanks to the following people for their support and expertise:
Kristen Caldwell's generous donation
Hunter Ciliberti, demolition
Fred Ciliberti, demolition, plumbing, and carpentry
Bob Rockerman, plumbing
David Garlock, consulting
Gary Scholes & crew, plumbing, tiling, and carpentry
Laura Caldwell, vintage towel rack
Scott Mueller, fish painting
Kate Garlock, bathtub refinishing and painting
Gary Stevenson, plumbing
Chris Menne, Brian Hines, and Sarah Herold, painting and staining