Editor’s note: Here’s part 13 of Bill Smith’s blog chronicle about the restoration of a run-down cottage in Pasadena’s Historic Highlands neighborhood. Bill and his wife, Sheryl Scott, are both graphic designers and do-it-yourselfers who have expectedly found themselves headed for a year of home-improvement adventures. Look for a new post in the saga soon.
While work on the cottage is temporarily stalled waiting for permits, etc… I thought I’d show a little backyard project I started shortly before we took on this extreme rehab.
Our current backyard is pleasant enough. But unlike our front yard, which is shaded by two mature trees, there’s only a tall pine in the back, which provides little cover from the afternoon sun because of where it sits on the lot. The space is a little small for a second tree, and I’m too old to wait for one to grow anyway, but I’ve always imagined a covered walkway that would break up the yard, give a little shade and make my morning commute from the kitchen to the garage-office much more pleasurable.
Sheryl is always accusing me of doing things without consulting her, so I took time to explain the benefit of my door-to-door pergola. I might have even drawn a picture — also unusual for me. Part of what sold it was when I explained that I’d be covering up the crooked brick path with a new concrete slab. She hated that path…
I decided to leave the path as a base for the concrete pads. The bricks were not well laid, but they were solidly set in cement and would have been a huge pain-in-the-ass to hammer out. I should mention that these were not original to the house, but were added about 30 years ago by the homeowner, so we weren’t destroying history or anything in case anyone out there was concerned.
An early problem was the potential thickness of the new cement. The garage door was not much higher than the bricks to begin with and I didn’t want to substantially change the grade of the back yard to match the new path height. This was supposed to be arelaxing project, no digging! The solution to the second problem was Quikrete Crack-Resistant Concrete Mix which I thought would let me pour thinner slabs without cracking or chipping — I wouldn’t do it this way in an area that freezes.
I immediately was not crazy about the Crack-Resistant Quikrete. It was full of what looked like strings of fiberglass — no doubt the secret to the crack-resistant formula. It was okay to mix, pour and screed, but was not as easy to trowel (I wanted a smooth surface.) It also seemed to take longer setting up and reaching full-strength. I discovered that the hard way when I pulled my forms off too early and chipped a couple corners. My fault, but I don’t think it would have happened with a typical mix. The Crack-Resistant stuff also dries slightly darker, so if you’re trying to match the color of existing concrete be wary of this stuff. It turned out fairly well, though. I didn’t edge the pads because I wanted to try beveling the edges with a stone grinder. I did a test and it looks pretty cool. Just want to set up a simple 45-degree jig and finish them all soon. I also need to buff the little stone motif that I set in the corners, so they show up better.
A second selling point for Sheryl was my idea to add a second gate to the backyard fence, making it much easier for her to come into the yard from her car parked in the driveway. This made her very happy. All of the wood I used is Douglas-fir. I knew the pergola would be stained and sealed and also not near dirt or moisture, so I saved a fair amount of money not using redwood.
I wanted to lighten the look of the slats by feathering them on the sides. At first I thought I’d cut a short slat and a long one, but preferred the simplicity of offsetting equal-length slats. Originally I’d conceived of the pergola to attach to the garage as well as the house, joining the two structures. But along the way, I changed my mind and ended up preferring this sort of end-cap look. The photo makes it look bulkier than it really is. The raised cap mimics the new gate in design.
Part of the pergola project involved repairing and extending our old dog-eared fence. This took longer because we had to wait about three weeks for permits to go through. Anything that can be seen from the street requires a permit in Pasadena and being in the Historic Highlands Landmark District involves another layer of approval. The historic people at the permits office have been great in every instance, though. The holdup tends to be in city planning, who took two weeks to tell me that, contrary to my plans in which I drew the fence at four feet high, our fence has to be no more than four feet high… They did give me good info on requirements for my new gate, though. But, seriously, three weeks? For a fence? It’s probably this way with many cities. I pick because I love.
Last section of this incredibly long and slightly irrelevant post.
I wanted lights in our new pergola so I wouldn’t stub my toe commuting home from work — I know that joke’s getting kind of old, but I’m running a little empty today. I wanted to find a long light that I could hide between each of the three sets of crossbeams, but after looking for a couple weeks, realized that what I wanted and what I had to spend were incompatible from a retail point of view — welcome to my life. So I made these experimental light boxes that slide between the beams. I wanted the light source to be low-energy. At first I considered a DC system but stumbled upon a possible solution…
So my secret light source is LED Christmas lights. They cost ten bucks a strand at Big Lots, six bucks if you get em on sale in March like I did. Each strand uses about four watts of electricity. Sheryl and I carefully stapled the lights to a board in an attempt to maximize the light coming through the lens. I wired them up and waterproofed the boxes and hardware and we were set. I had to temporarily remove the slats above the pergola crossbeams in order to drop the boxes into place, but you don’t even see them when they’re not lit. The 12 watts of light makes a warm glow on the path. You can see well, but it’s almost like dusk or a very bright full moon. See some pictures below of how they look in the pergola. Hope you enjoyed the break from my cottage of moldy death. Next post maybe I’ll talk about permit woes, or maybe I’ll introduce you to the hardest-working man in Pasadena — thank you for saying that, it’s not me.
To read more about Bill & Sheryl’s renovation adventures, and to see more photos, go to Bill’s Wood & Bones blog, or stay tuned here for a new installment soon.