HOUSE: Newburgh + Life + Health

Back garden to-do list.


Between the front and back of the house, I spent about five hours outdoors yesterday doing a major cleanup in preparation for spring. Aside from a few secret crocuses, absolutely nothing is blooming in Newburgh yet—winter has been dragging on forever, and we’re only just now starting to have slightly warmer days that feel vaguely spring-like. After “finishing” the back garden last summer, I have high hopes for lots of lush, full growth as the plantings we did a year ago start to fill out and get more established.

I am noticing a lot of projects that still need to be taken care of, though, things that we’ve been talking about doing for years but never seem to get around to. Of course the major exterior project that continues to loom is addressing the windows, which need an awful lot of repair work (including having the rotted casings replaced—oy vey)…and, eventually/hopefully, new storm windows. That’s going to have to be put off at least another year because of the expense involved, but in the mean time, I want to tackle some of the more manageable things.


First things first: WE NEED OUR JUNK GUY. Since we don’t have a driveway, there’s nowhere to put a dumpster (or one of those Bagster things) when we’re renovating. Yeah, we could apply for a permit to put on on the street, but that would have to be for a very limited amount of time—something that doesn’t really work with our snail’s-pace approach to renovation. The only solution we’ve come up with is to put smaller construction debris into contractor bags, stash everything in the basement, and when the basement is full, hire a guy with a huge truck to come and take everything to the dump. That’s worked pretty well for us over the years, but now the basement is full—and the bags and other debris have spread to the garden. See that stack of plywood leaning against the fence? That’s our old kitchen subfloor.

Sigh. So yeah, we need the junk guy to come and take this mess away. Hopefully we’ll only need him one more time in the future, when we do demo work in the basement.

(Hmmm, we also need Verizon to come and take care of that downed telephone line…)


This basement window was piece of broken glass in a rotted frame covered with plywood when we bought the house, so this little vinyl slider is definitely an improvement over that, but it’s still an eyesore. Rust-Oleum makes a spray paint specifically for painting plastics. I’m just going to go for it. That window will fit right in with the brick if it’s painted black, and that’s what I want.

I also want to replace that temporary (“temporary” = 8 years) plastic dryer vent hood. I’m going super-fancy and splurging on a copper one. We couldn’t afford to install copper downspouts (that’s just galvanized steel painted black—which has held up really well, by the way, in case you’ve considered painting your downspouts), but I’ve been wanting some kind of copper accent on the back of the house somewhere…so, a copper dryer vent it is.


The steel doors leading to the basement look terrible, but they’re actually in perfectly good shape. The wood framing surrounding them, however, is not. It’s so badly rotted that I can push a hole straight through with almost no effort. Because this is a spot that gets very little sunlight, rain and other moisture tends to sit for longer than it should. Rather than replace the rotted wood with new wood, we’re thinking about using a fiber cement-based product like HardiePanel. It’s paintable, rot-proof, and durable. And, of course, if the new framing and the doors are painted black, they’ll disappear visually. I’m sure the paint will need to be touched up every few years (this is a lesson I’ve earned about black paint outdoors—everything shows), but that’s OK.

Once that’s done, we can fill in the rest of this area with gravel. That’s what we did with the rest of the broken/mossy-concrete part of our garden—we just dumped gravel on top. It looks great, and it helps with water dispersion so rain runs off the way it should instead of pooling up and making mud puddles. Much cheaper than having all of the concrete removed and hauled away, too!

If you’re trying to figure out what part of the house this is, that’s the dining room window above the basement doors, and the kitchen window above the radiator (to the left of the refrigerator) on the right. The brick wall on the left is the side of our neighbor’s house.



As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, I loathe the exterior kitchen door. The embossed steel panels on the bottom are fake, the plastic mullions are fake, and the whole thing makes me sad. The original door is nowhere to be found. Rather than put in a vintage replacement, we want to go very contemporary and simple—something like this. We’ll get the advantage of a well-insulated modern door and let a ton of additional extra light into the kitchen, without any of the fussy fake-everything elements of the current door.

We’d also like to put in a screen door at the same time. Upstate New York is too full of mosquitoes and flies in the summer to just leave a door open, but it would be so nice to have that breeze! Fun for the dogs to be able to look outside and groundhog-watch, too. We made a pathetic attempt at installing a screen door a few years ago, but we really only got as far as installing these beautiful screen door hinges before we gave up and moved on to something else.

Replacing the porch light (currently just a bare flood lamp) will be a much easier project! I haven’t really started looking yet, but this industrial guy would look great with the currently exposed conduit. I do LOVE that orange color…



The previous owner put in this back porch (I hesitate to call it a “deck” since it’s only about 5×6′), and while it’s perfectly stable and well-built, it’s got more of that faux-Victorian thing going on with the spindles, and I am not a fan. I’d also like to cover up the underside of the porch, but standard lattice is too fussy. I need to sit down with a pencil and paper and come up with a real plan, but my goal is to get rid of the spindles and have spaced, horizontal slats enclosing the whole porch—from top railing to the ground. Similar to what Morgan did with her front porch, but obviously not up that high. I’ll try to sketch something up next weekend. I don’t think it’ll too difficult or expensive, and it’ll make a HUGE difference.

I’m so excited to get moving on outdoor projects! As exhausted and sore as I am today, it was really nice to be working in the fresh air and sunshine yesterday. Fingers crossed for continued good weather—I really hope there’s some bud and blossom action happening by the weekend. I’ve got a whole list of projects lined up for the front garden, too, but I’ll get into that later!

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  • Reply maggie April 7, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    It seems like you have a lot of work ahead of you but it will be well worth it! I loved following all of your indoor renovations, so I know I will enjoy following your outdoor process as well.

  • Reply Giulia April 7, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    I always feel overwhelmed with all the spring/summer projects that need attention. During the winter I can at least put those aside and focus on all the interiour stuff that needs doing. However, I am welcoming spring with open arms. We still have a lot of snow on the ground here in Canada.

    thought you might want to see how we did our railing when we rebuilt our mini deck last summer.
    and here the railing going down the stairs:

    • Anna @ D16 April 7, 2014 at 4:01 pm

      Hi Giulia, the railing looks great! I’d love to see how you handled the stair railing, too—both of your links point to the same photo. Thanks!!

    • Giulia April 7, 2014 at 4:25 pm

      sorry about that. Let me try again:

    • Anna @ D16 April 7, 2014 at 4:33 pm

      Ah, thanks for reposting! That looks really great!

  • Reply Frances April 7, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    If it makes you feel any better, I’ve gotten even less far in my (going on five-year) plan to install a screen door — the gorgeous hardware I ordered from Rejuvenation has been sitting in the basement pretty much since we bought the house.

    But I wanted to ask about the basement windows. Did you replace them yourself? I have to do this same horrible chore.

    • Anna @ D16 April 7, 2014 at 5:54 pm

      No, we didn’t, we had it done at the same time we had the back of the house rebuilt. The bricks were collapsing after years ice buildup on the outside, and everything had to be taken apart and put back together again…it was quite an ordeal!

  • Reply Lizzie Modern April 7, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    Can’t wait to see it all finished and in bloom, you have a lovely home. (Very jealous of all that beautiful aged brick!)

  • Reply Danielle April 7, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    Fantastic idea. It’s work, fun and pleasure especially when you’ll start seeing buds that bloom 🙂

  • Reply leaca April 7, 2014 at 9:30 pm

    That is a lot of work but it is a small space with loads of character. I’m excited to see what you do with it.

  • Reply Lina April 7, 2014 at 10:10 pm

    I do love that planter! Where did you get it from? Good luck with all the work! I can’t wait to see all you do with it as I’m sure it will be fabulous!

  • Reply melissa April 7, 2014 at 11:27 pm

    I loved this post. It is so great to see more details of your home’s exterior. It’s also interesting to me to see how others prioritize and problem solve. Thanks, Anna!

  • Reply Leila April 8, 2014 at 10:02 am

    Please do a post about how the spray paint for plastic windows works out! I have been worrying about whether I can paint the panelling around my window black or dark grey while leaving the windows and sills white plastic, but if I can spray them to match the panelling that would be perfect!

    • Anna @ D16 April 8, 2014 at 10:11 am

      I definitely will, Leila!! If the weather is good next weekend, I’m going to do it then. 🙂

  • Reply Heidi April 8, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    Good luck with all your outdoor projects – just wanted to give you a word of warning on using Hardiplank around the basement door. It’s a good product but not exactly waterproof and can absorb water if it doesn’t thoroughly dry out. Maybe try looking at PVC based product like Azek or Versatex for this type of application where the materials may not dry out sufficiently.

    • Anna @ D16 April 8, 2014 at 12:52 pm

      Hi Heidi, you’re right, I shouldn’t have used the word “waterproof.” What I meant is that it doesn’t rot like wood does from moisture. We used HardieShingles on our mansard porch roof several years ago (the existing cedar shingles were completely rotted), and they’ve held up really well. Our contractor suggested HardieBoard for around the basement door since it’s on an incline, but I will definitely look into the materials you suggested, too. Thanks!!

  • Reply Daniel @ Manhattan Nest April 8, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    Yikes, so many exciting plans!! You’ve accomplished so much with your outdoor projects…just reading this makes me feel kind of overwhelmed and bad about the fact that we have done almost NOTHING in the course of one year except walk around and pick up trash and mow the lawn and clear some areas of serious jungle-style overgrowth. I’m hoping this spring/summer is when we can start replacing at least sections of our chain-link fence, but honestly my big landscaping plan right now is to spread some top soil over the front yard, throw out a bunch of wildflower seeds, and just let whatever happens happen. It can’t really get too much sadder than it is now…

    • Anna @ D16 April 8, 2014 at 4:13 pm

      Your house looks great from the street, though, and that’s what matters most in the short term! You’ll get there with the garden stuff. If you know you want a certain kind of big plant/tree in a certain spot, though, just go ahead and do it—you can buy small/cheap, and then in 3 years when you get around to the rest of the yard, it’ll be bigger and more established. That’s what we did with our Japanese maple, and I’m SO glad. If we’d bought it at the size it is now, it would have cost a fortune…

  • Reply Dusa April 8, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    I just drove by a house this weekend that had slat-style railing instead of lattice-work. SOOOO much nicer to look at! I even thought to myself: THAT’S the way to cover up the under-porch area.

    How is Haggis, btw?

    • Anna @ D16 April 8, 2014 at 4:09 pm

      I haven’t seen Haggis or his buddies yet this year! Usually they start poking their heads out around the beginning of May, when the deck starts getting warm enough for sunbathing. 🙂

      (I think there may be a family of skunks under the deck, now, actually. Stay tuned for developments, haha…)

  • Reply Carsla April 8, 2014 at 7:08 pm

    Lovely flat! I love any property built of bricks! Adoring your blog, & looking forward to your future posts. (:

    <3 Carsla

  • Reply Katie April 8, 2014 at 10:05 pm

    Love your plans and look forward to seeing them unfold. Have you considered expanding the little back “deck” across under the kitchen window?

    • Anna @ D16 April 10, 2014 at 9:49 am

      We considered that briefly when we first bought the house, but decided against it for a few reasons: The other end of the porch would literally be inches away from our neighbor’s property, all of the natural light in the basement laundry area would be blocked, we’d lose that whole gravel area and space for the compost, etc., and the expense of construction and hassle of required permits would outweigh the amount of use we’d get out of it. When we go into the garden, we like to sit on the platform/deck in the middle of the trees and plants. The porch is really just a pass-through.

  • Reply Jenn April 9, 2014 at 10:37 pm

    Love seeing photos of your back garden, even now, when winter is finally loosening its frosty hold, but hasn’t quite let go, you’ve created a good lot of inspiration.
    My inlaws used HardieBoard on their westcoast modern, at first when I heard they were replacing all the beautiful cedar with the board, I have to admit I was horrified! BUT it turned out wonderfully. The cedar on the back of the house (south side – tip top of a small mountain) had degraded so badly that every time there was a storm water jettisoned into the house, creating little pools of bilge water that eventually seeped through the kitchen ceiling.
    Spring is here, and we’ve just started our outdoor to do list, can’t wait to get started…or rather, can’t wait to finish and enjoy the brief, albeit beautiful, summer.

  • Reply jja April 13, 2014 at 9:05 am

    “storm windows.”

    What is this? I am not sure we have this in Europe…

    Can someone enter through basement door/basement into the house? If yes, I would worry about that. And maybe repair the wood…And would worry about a new glass door for the kitchen, like easy to break in? Maybe I just worry too much? Sorry for disturbing thoughts.

    I love the future lamp and your planter next to the stairs!

    We had amazingly warm winter and even hot spring and could still not believe that it lasts that long. I even dreamed it is June and we got snow LOL.

    • Anna @ D16 April 13, 2014 at 9:15 am

      These are storm windows. They’re important in this climate in houses with very old wooden windows for a few reasons: Primarily to reduce the amount of cold air that gets into the house (and warm air that leaves) in the winter, but also to protect the windows themselves from the elements. A couple of our windows don’t have storm windows on them, and the window sashes are very damaged and rotted as a result.

      I’m not sure I understand your questions about the basement entry and new kitchen door, though. Why would fixing the wood or replacing the door make the house less secure? I’m sure I’m just misunderstanding, but I’m confused…!

  • Reply jja April 13, 2014 at 10:43 am

    Thank you for your explanation about storm windows! It is totaly new to me.

    About the door, it was just a thought that whole glass door as external door there could maybe be to inviiting for uninvited guests. Like easier to crack in then the door you have now. I have the same door on my balcony and have to pay additional insurance fee for that.

    “would fixing the wood or”

    I was wondering if the basement door as now (not yet fixed) could be easy target for somebody to burgle in the house. As I said, I do worry too much…

    • Anna @ D16 April 13, 2014 at 12:44 pm

      Oh! Well, our house is covered with windows on the front and back all the way down to ground level, which are just as easy (if not easier) to break as a door, so if someone really wants to break in, they will.

  • Reply Sara May 15, 2014 at 11:11 pm

    I love those hinges. Where did you find them?

    • Anna @ D16 May 16, 2014 at 12:07 pm

      The source is linked in the post. 🙂

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