Our Love/Hate Relationship with the Window Box

Window Box - American System Built Home

We have a love/hate relationship with the window box on our American System Built Home. We love it as a design feature. Filled with plants in the summer and evergreen branches in the winter, the window box creates a natural landscape right outside our living room window. But we hate the fact that the window box takes on more water than the Titanic. And did I mention that the box doesn’t have a drain or even a rudimentary hole that allows the water to escape? Yeah, so frequently the window box is more akin to a reflecting pool than a flower box. (The sunlight reflecting on the collected water does make beautiful patterns on the living room ceiling!)

Over the years of house ownership I’ve learned some important lessons about the window box. The first – and perhaps the most important – lesson is do not fill the box with dirt and plants. Yes, that does seem like an obvious lesson that perhaps didn’t need to be learned the hard way. And yet learn it the hard way I did! Our first spring in the house, I overzealously filled the window box with soil, grasses and beautiful green plants. And within a few weeks I was scooping out a flood of mud and dead, slimy plant carcasses. Since that first disastrous (and messy!) experience, we’ve been placing containers of plants in the window box.

The next lesson came the following year. We were still using a bucket to bail the water out of the flooded window box. Every time the box would flood we would have to stand on ladder to reach into the box and use a bucket to slowly empty it. It was messy, it was time consuming and it was literally a pain the back. And then one day when I was facing the laborious task of bailing out the window box I thought to myself, there must be a better way. And there is!

Perhaps if we were boaters we would’ve come up with the solution sooner. The electric water pump has made short work of draining the box. Simply stick one hose in the box, one house leading out to the yard, plug in the pump and let it do all the work. Game. Changer.

Which bring us to lesson number three. While placing containers in the window box has helped the plants survive, we’ve also had to learn which plants can handle the situation. You see, it’s feast or famine in the window box. It’s either Noah’s Ark level flooding or Sahara desert dry. We tried geraniums in the box one year and they survived the extreme wet/dry conditions. And then last year we spent $300 on ornamental grasses for the window box. Two weeks later they were all dried up and dead. (Although the good news it that I planted their roots balls in the ground and they did come back this year.) I had always envisioned grasses in the box. As you can see in the photo above, shot the day we put the grasses in the box, they do a great job of creating a privacy screen. Alas, the grasses are not meant to be.

We were recently invited to lunch at another American System Built Home and learned that the owners had installed a drain system to their window box. This is definitely part of our future plans. But for now we’ll take all the lessons learned and continue loving and hating the window box.


The Easy $13 DIY Laundry Shelf

Easy $13 DIY Shelf from This American House

Following up on the upcycled vintage hooks, I wrapped up another easy DIY project that had been sitting on the back burner for a number of months. We needed a simple shelf to hold laundry supplies at the city apartment and having worked with plumbing pipes and cheap wood once before, I knew it would be an effective solution for this problem spot too. And that’s how I created the $13 DIY shelf.

As you can see in the image above, this shelf came together with just a few supplies. Here’s what I used:

1 piece of wood, stained – I found a two by four in our garage and cut it down to size before staining it.
2 – 1/2″ plumbing pipes – I used 6″ long pipes
2 – 1/2″ pipe flanges
2 – 1/2″ pipe end caps
8 black screws

First, I cut the piece of wood down to size. The wall where I wanted to install the shelf is 24″ wide so I cut the wood down to 18″ in length. Once it was cut, I used the same wood stain that I had used on the backing for the vintage hooks.

(Sidebar: Can I tell you how excited I am that I’m starting to collect things like spare pieces of wood? All our years as city dwellers have meant that we haven’t had any sort of storage where it would make sense to hang on to things like pieces of wood. Now, with a big old house, basement, garage AND carriage house, I find myself collecting every little piece of wood and loose screw I come across. It’s a slippery slope from here to being a full on hoarder.)

DIY Pipe and Wood Shelf on This American House

With the wood cut and stained, it was simply a matter of hanging the shelf. First, I assembled the end cap, pipe and flange. Then, I measured and marked where I wanted to place the shelf. Next, I measured and marked where the flanges would need to be placed on the wall. Since this is a chalkboard wall, I was able to mark the wall with a piece of chalk and then use a ruler and a level to make sure my placement was straight.

Once the flanges had been secured to the wall, I basically had shelf brackets! The final step was to place the piece of wood on top of the pipe. Well, actually, the final step was to place laundry supplies in big jars and then draw all over the wall. But the final step in creating the shelving was placing the wood on top of the pipes.

Preserving Packaging: How I Made These Vintage Hooks Functional While Restoring Their Charm

Vintage Hook DIY Project from This American House

From the moment I saw these vintage utility hooks – with their kitschy packaging still intact! – I knew that I would have to somehow upcycle the whole thing. I mean, you can’t find something that’s over 50 years old and still includes the packaging and not try to save it, right?

I don’t know when this “Hold All” All Purpose Utility Hanger was made. Judging by the drawings on the packaging, I’m assuming the early 1960’s. And I don’t know why the price is marked as $69. Surely this little metal track with sliding hooks didn’t cost $69 back in the ’60s! I only paid a couple bucks for it, an amount that I can’t imagine is much more than its value when it was new.

At any rate, I love that kitschy packaging. “Teach Junior how to hang things in place,” it says next to a drawing of a boy lining up his rather dapper wardrobe on the back of a door. “Use it throughout your home and garage,” it suggests alongside images of kitchen utensils and bathroom items. And don’t even get me started on the color palette. Brown and yellow – oh yes!

After sitting on the workshop table for months, I finally concocted a way to use the hooks and the packaging while still keeping the hooks’ functionality.

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Thank God for Daffodils

There’s a reason that midwesterners are strong, hardy people. It’s because midwestern winters are long, bleak periods of torture. Everything is brown and gray and barren and depressing for months on end. And then one day you see daffodils at the grocery store and you heave a sigh of relief.

“Soon, it will be grey no more,” you whisper to yourself.

In a matter of weeks the leaves will populate the trees, flowers will dot the landscape and life will seem worth living.

Until then, we have these little stems of sunshine.

Happy New Year from This American House

Christmas Card 2016

For the past decade or so we’ve been making our own Christmas cards. It’s our little way of creating something personal for the people on our Christmas card list. It’s also a way for us to release some pinned up creative energy. This year we jumped on the adult coloring book trend with our Christmas card. We even sent four-packs of crayons with our cards, as you can see in the snap below from Matthew at Boy Culture.

Boy Culture - Christmas Card

Image via Boyculture

In the week between Christmas and New Year’s we’ve been getting messages with our “Color Us Christmas” cards all filled in.


This card, for instance, we colored by former owners of our house.


And this version came from a mutual friend of ours.


The Mister’s young nephew turned out this coloful version of the card.

These colored cards are exactly what we were hoping to achieve. In sending this card we hoped to inspire a little creativity and bring a little color to our loved one’s lives.

We hope you all have a creative, colorful 2017!