Thursday, May 15, 2014


I've lost count of tour numbers on our Madison suburban cottage redo so I'm going to stop counting and plunge ahead. Entries, stairs and halls can be real design stepchildren unless your home has the kind of square footage where these spaces take on the proportions of Donald Trump's gold gilded penthouse. Most homes don't have that luxury of space and our tiny cottage is no exception. In fact we only have one of each; one stubby little entry, a stairs leading to the basement floor and a bedroom hallway barely wide enough to meet industry standards.
Lets start with the entry. Back in the sixties when the house was built multi-colored slate floors were the rage. This wasn't too bad. The material was real, not synthetic but the color was a flooring equivalent to mid-century kitchens done in harvest gold or avocado. Our first attempt at conversion was to paint the floor a consistent black. It looked okay but the process was multi-leveled and without an infinite number of sealing coats it lost its luster and began to wear through in high traffic areas which meant pretty much everywhere since it isn't all that big.
It wasn't long after this version that the floor gave way to a Shaver whim of having it all replaced with tile that looked surprisingly like slate, talk about coming full circle.
We added some new electrical replacing the Tiffany-esk fixture that had graced the entry for decades and added a more cottage appropriate fixture to the other end of the entry by the hall closet. With that additional light it was no longer necessary to fish out a flashlight in order to discern which coat you were dragging out of the dark cave of a hall closet.
The American Empire halltree was a Christmas gift I had given Rick many years ago. One of the arms has cracked and been repaired but all the pegs are still intact along with their porcelain tips. Rick has a design tenant specifying arrangements like flowers and vases need always be displayed with odd numbered components. Our umbrellas are no exception. We couldn't purchase just one, instead we have five.
One of my pet peeves with new construction is the use of those phony stained glass doors. Why someone would go to the trouble of building a McMansion and then adorning the primary point of entry with these cheap looking imitations is beyond me.
We were blessed with my brother's design talent and construction knowhow when he replaced the original imitation wood doors on my parent's house with these beautifully crafted solid oak doors with real two-layer prairie inspired stained glass double doors. Thank you Steve (608 274-2942)
Once inside, two steps get you to the stairs leading to the lower level now known as Emmy's space. My parents originally had a wrought iron railing installed on either side of the open pit of the stairwell. During construction of the house it was a daily late afternoon ritual that all of us would travel to the house to see how far the contractor had gotten during that day. It was my mother's dictum that we were all required to help clean up when we got there. The workmen had to be impressed every day they returned to find that all the studs had been wiped down, the floors swept and any remaining trash bagged and disposed of. All of this cleanliness had its consequences. One late summer day after the plywood floors had been laid down on the main floor but before the stairs had been installed the workman had placed a couple of sheets of plywood over the stairwell to prevent anyone from falling through. My mom in her Mr. Clean impersonation was wielding her broom in an attempt to swipe up every last wood curl when she discovered a couple of curls wedged between the floor and the board covering the stairwell. She went to lift the board to extract the little curl and ended up going straight through the well and onto the basement floor shattering her leg in several places. Her ankle is now fused in a permanent arthritic right angle but true to form once they had released her from the hospital she was back swiping away her leg in a cast, a crutch under one arm and her broom in the other.
We've, in a bid for drama, we painted the rails and stair treads in a blistering deep blue.
Then we carpeted those stairs using oversized nailheads as a securing signature detail.
The hallway at the other end of the entry is my folly. I'm an admitted photography junkie. If I had my way I'd cover every wall with photos and be quite content. I knew this wasn't going to happen so in the spirit of compromise I let Rick have his way with the entry floors. He gave me the walls of the hall as my photography gallery.
We did a painting technique on the walls using our base gray color from the living room and then layering on a silver metallic and an opalescent glaze.
The photo rails are from West Elm so every so often I can switch out the display.
It inspires me every day as I walk to the back office and it makes me very happy. Isn't that what art should do?

Before we lose spring entirely I had to add a couple of pictures of one of our little pleasures,
 flowers purchased at the farmer's market that grace our table
and hint at spring fever just beyond the wooden blind back door.

Day-0897-149-11, Stairs
Rodney Smith, photographer
Images may be purchased through

1 comment:

  1. That is a brilliant terrain! I think it's a wise move that you've carpeted the stairs. That will keep them from contracting further dust, or and worse falling prey to lasting stains and scratching. You can still keep them in great shape and look by mopping and scrubbing them once in a while, preferably with the best cleaning solutions.

    Bo Tolbert @ HJS Supply Company