Leo’s den

I’ve written posts about environments in which I feel completely at home – The room maker, Night blooming jasmine, and The gardens of Kensington Palace. The room maker spoke to locations – a tree house, namely. The other two spoke to dream gardens and outdoor spaces that make me comfortable and at home.

Being in New York this weekend, visiting family, and not having much to do otherwise, has left me with lots of time to watch one of my favorite TV channels, HGTV. I could watch home and garden television all day long. I am not interested in cooking shows or talk shows at all, but give me HGTV and I could easily binge watch all day long.

However, it always leaves me inspired to take on my own projects, and I’m left mentally designing the interior of my dream home as well. I love the various finishes. I’d like to think I’d be a general contractor’s dream. I have a realistic view of renovations, the disaster area that ensues, especially if you live in your home while renovating. I don’t see it as stressful at all. I know very much what I want in my home, and would not have any problem being decisive. I also would pay money for good quality materials and labor.

I’ve been saving money for my dream home, investing in the stock market, and being relatively frugal. Ideally, I’d like to build my own home, and work with an architect to design it to my own specifications, however, I know realistically I would need to buy a fixer upper and renovate to my liking. I’m an elemental person, in that I like using earth, air, fire, water, wood, stone, and metal to create a balanced environment. Even in my apartment now, I have pot plants with earth for plants to grow – plants all over my home are essential. See those other blog posts for plants I like. The view, fans, and the open windows create the sensation of moving air with space and freedom. Candles provide the fire, as well as the obvious fireplace feature. Copper water features would incorporate both water and metal. I also wouldn’t mind an aquarium, or pool, for water, but I know I have to have a hot tub with fairy lights in the backyard. Wood would be present throughout, as I also seem to like a rustic, natural style. Stone would make an appearance wherever possible – geodes, crystals, salt lamps, slate, or other rocks, since I’m a self-identified rock and mineral nerd.

Here’s my ultimate wish list of what my dream home needs to have. It wouldn’t be your typical things like open floor plan, high end finishes, huge rooms, or anything like that. I’m about to be very specific. I’m painting you a picture, dear reader, of the space I’d like to one day invite you into for a glass of wine and a chat. Walk with me…

In the entryway to my home, there would be a modest foyer. Ideally, I’d love a home with stairs and multiple floors. The home I grew up in was only 1 story, and I loved stairs even as a kid. In my foyer, I’d love a nice glossy sealed slate tile floor, with lots of variation and color, giving it a rustic look and being very durable for whatever you may bring into the house on your feet. That slate tile could also be used for any fireplace finishes or kitchen floors, possibly even bathroom floors. I love the look and vibe slate tile provides.

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I also love hardwood floors – I don’t want a speck of carpet in my home. Wood is natural, elemental, and easy to clean. I’m not a fan of bamboo flooring, so I’d have to hand over my greenie card because I’d probably want some kind of wood that isn’t from such an easily renewable source. Being a northern California girl, I’d love beautiful redwood floors, but perhaps Brazilian redwood, rather than harvesting locally. If I can’t get a whole floor of that, then I’d love to work redwood into my design another way. Redwood is beautiful for decks, which is also something I’d love to have.

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Now, I’m a creature of comfort, yet I also know what I find beautiful. I don’t want to waste time describing furniture to you. But, ideally I’d like a comfortable sofa, a fireplace, and big windows with beautiful views (I’m more of a mountain/trees/lake/city view person, than an ocean view person). I love Victorian and craftsman architecture, so wainscoting painted glossy bright white is definitely on order for me. It lightens a room, and the chair rail makes for a wonderful ledge for my thousands of tea lights. My fireplace would ideally be gas, not wood burning. Can I have my greenie card back now, please? The finish on the fireplace could be just about anything – if I find a home with an original stone, or original tile fireplace, I will do my best to restore that. I wouldn’t tear it down just to modernize it. Part of my dream home is being true to the home’s original character. I’ve seen giant stone fireplaces I loved, and fireplaces finished with glass tile… it just depends. I could even bring the slate tile to the fireplace too. But my fireplace would be a focal point of the room, for sure. The coffee table wouldn’t be perfect; it would be one you could set your coffee mug on, or put your feet on, without batting an eye. Therefore, rustic would probably be the way to go there, as well. Nothing with hard edges like glass.

On top of the wainscoting, I love color on the walls. I grew up in a home where my father only wanted institution-white walls, I called them. Or straitjacket white, as you like. When I owned a condo in San Francisco in 2008-9, I painted every single room. I loved it. Bright lemon yellow hallways, to open up the darkness of having a bottom floor railroad flat without a lot of windows. I painted the guest room a soft, slight light blue. I love the light yellow and light blue combos. I’m not much of a warm color person. I actually find cool colors to be warm for me. I’d love for the living room walls of my dream home to be a light steel gray, especially to make the reddish wood floors and slate tile floors stand out even more. I love dark gray and charcoal too, therefore that could easily play into the design as well. There would absolutely have to be a bay window though, with storage inside, and a cozy seat on which I can perch myself to look outside when it rains. Love.

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I also love pieces of art. I have a piece now, done by a local artist in the San Francisco bay area. The story behind that piece was that an artist had his work on show at a restaurant in the mission district called Andalu, which has since closed. Andalu always showcased local artists’ work. I had had two glasses of champagne too many with my dinner for 1 at the bar, and asked the bartender about a piece I liked. He said that one had already been purchased, but he gave me the business card/contact info for the artist in case I liked another piece. I found a second one I liked, and agreed to purchase it. $2400 later, that 6’x6′ piece travelled with me to Sydney, and now is back as a feature in my studio apartment in San Francisco again. This would be in my living room as well. He used only 5 colors of paint, and the canvas is really just plywood. He used water on the plywood before setting a blowtorch to it, which preserved the wood grain in spots, but charred the rest. The blowtorch also caused the paint to bubble, which leads to a lot of texture in the piece as well. I love it.

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So you’ve hung your coat in my foyer, and I’ve walked you through the living room. Now, come to the kitchen. Kitchens aren’t usually my favorite place in any home. I’m not a huge chef. However, I know exactly what I want in there. I need an under-mount double sink with room for a drying rack, nice range stove with a sleek and easy to clean hood vent, a French-door style refrigerator, with the freezer on the bottom, a wine fridge, and dishwasher. Stainless steel would be ideal for the aesthetic for all appliances and faucet finishes. As I previously mentioned, I’m not one for warm colors. My kitchen countertop, and island or peninsula, would be blue pearl granite. I just find it absolutely stunning.

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I love sparkly things, and that counter would make me want to cook things. All the things. I’d love a mosaic glass tile backsplash above that as well, in a fleet blue iridescent color. All the sparkles.

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With all the trim throughout the house painted a glossy white, and with the blue countertops and backsplash, I actually don’t care what color the cabinets are. White would probably go well with the blue, but I could just as easily go for a wood finish as well. Depending on whether the flooring in kitchen was conducive to carrying the redwood floors through, or slate tile, I’d see what went well. I love under-cabinet lighting to light up the work surface, and make the sparklies that much sparklier.

A dining room is a dining room, and I’m not too fussed. You know I like rustic, and comfortable, so I’d be fine with a repurposed wood table, long, or round, and plenty of seating. I’m not one for clutter, so I don’t need tchotchkes, and décor would be minimalistic. Lighting would be good – you need to see what you’re eating, after all.

Moving quickly through the dining room, I’d give you a peek of my master suite. I really only need a queen size bed – a king size bed just for myself would be overkill, and the bedding is that much more expensive. I’d consider a king bed, if I had a partner, to ensure there was plenty of room though. I love down duvets and a few throw pillows, but not overkill on the pillows. I don’t want to spend a lot time pulling them off and putting them back on again everyday. I’d love a bench or trunk to sit on to tie my shoes across from the foot of my bed, but not right at the foot of the bed. No need for a dresser since I’d have a separate closet, which means a minimal bedroom, just how I like it. I’d like matching bedside tables. Ideally, they’d have drawers, so they wouldn’t be cluttered on the surface with books, earplugs, mouth guard, or water bottles. I love my Himalayan rock salt lamp, and I would probably have one of those on each bedside. Lighting in a bedroom should be minimal and soft, and light through the windows should be minimized at night, to allow for a dark sleeping environment.

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After living in so many San Francisco apartments without modern conveniences like dishwashers and laundry, I absolutely need a washer and dryer combo in my home. The closer the closet, the better. In fact, why don’t I just create a custom walk-in closet off the master bedroom, with a center island for folding, cabinets, and shelving? Sounds great. The less carrying around of laundry baskets I have to do, the better.

The ensuite bathroom would also be a key part of the master suite. I’d love a separate tub and glass shower, side by side. Beautiful tile, be it slate, blue pearl granite, or glass mosaic, similar to the other parts of the house featuring those, would make another appearance. A bowl sink resting on a flat surface with a unique water spout faucet would be amazing. The unique the bowl and water spout, the better.

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There would be guest bedrooms and other bathrooms as well. And of course, the outdoor space would be a dream spot too. I don’t think about the rest of the details, partially because those part of my dreams have not yet been realized, but also because they are simply not as important to me. I would definitely want a library as well, for all my books. While I have a Kindle and a growing collection of electronic books, I’ll always want my home to have a library for real books. A quiet place to be alone with my thoughts, cozy up in a comfy chair or sofa, and read to my little heart’s content. Much like a secret garden, I’d love a secret library, where even the door into it is disguised as a bookcase. It would have a beautiful desk and a comfortable chair, and I would also write in there. It would have to have an ergonomic set up to take care of my aching back, and a laptop should not look out of place in it. These are good representations of what I want, minus the tiger rug in front of the 2nd library’s fireplace. Two stories with a whimsical staircase would be ideal, as would be beautiful wood finishes.

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A Leo’s home is her castle – a humble, yet luxurious abode fit for a queen and her subjects (pets). I love being home, and with a bad case of joy-of-missing-out, it has to be the ultimate retreat for me.

I hope you enjoyed your virtual tour through my dream home, but really, I honestly don’t care if you liked it or not. I love it, and that’s all that matters. Come in for some wine, and maybe tell me about your dream home. I might pick up a thing or two I actually didn’t know I’d want either. But sorry, you will eventually have to go home, so I can roll around like a big kitty cat in my Leo’s den.


Night blooming jasmine

One of my favorite flowers is night blooming jasmine. The first time I was exposed to it, I actually bought it at Home Depot (equivalent of Bunnings for my Australian mates) in the garden department, along with a beautiful teal glazed pot to plant it in. I was 27, and I’d just bought a condo in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley/Lower Haight with my now-ex. I’d always wanted to own my own home, and while things weren’t going well with her, I convinced myself to move forward because I was “fulfilling a lifelong dream.” I began at once, determined to make that place a home, come hell or high water. Our relationship was broken, but I could make the investment my home. Let’s not get into the baggage and the extent of how bad of an idea that was in hindsight. I did gain a great experience of owning a home, and that part, I certainly don’t regret. I got great experience going through a bidding war, the GFC hitting after we’d put the offer in on our home. I understand mortgages with an intimacy of someone who’s felt the unbearable weight of their responsibility.

One of the first projects I took on was landscaping the backyard to my own tastes. To this day, that is on my list of top accomplishments. I don’t know why. Perhaps I could pontificate on that and build to a crescendo as I find some deep and meaningful purpose, but I’m not really feeling that right now.

It was a bottom floor Victorian style railroad flat built in the 1800’s with another condo on the level above belonging to a great couple. There was a very rare, nearly new, spacious deck for both levels, and stairs that went all the way down to a simply designed backyard. I obtained the permission of the couple who owned the condo above to design the landscape in the backyard as well as our private lower level deck. I knew what I wanted to do to that space from the very moment I saw it.

The condo, from the front:
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You can’t tell by looking at that photo, but across the street, from the point of view of the photographer, was actually low income housing, or what-I-call “the projects.” It was the nicest condo on the worst block – kind of backwards from the way you’re supposed to do it. But, it had a stoop, and once you were away from the front door, it was truly an oasis inside.

I wish I had a picture to show you what it looked like, as I don’t know that I can do it justice with words. This was a stage of my life before digital cameras, and I never thought at that time that I wouldn’t be around it, so I didn’t need photos. It was beautiful to me.

First, I focused on our private deck out the back door, which was just off a kitten bedroom/sunroom and laundry room, another rare feature in San Francisco real estate. On our private deck, I wanted a great table, 2-seater bench, and 2 chairs, to enjoy food or drinks. I loved potted plants and chose quite a few to go in our area too. Side bar: hilarious New Zealand deck commercial. With their accent, it just sounds so dirty.

The Pièce de résistance was a slate water feature along with fairy lights. Here’s the closest I can find to what exists out there today for the fountain – but imagine copper edging around the base and a vertical grain for the slate, rather than horizontal.

Water feature:
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I stained the wooden deck furniture myself. I guess part of why I loved this backyard so much was because 1) I put in the sweat equity, and 2) it was my aesthetic; it was me. I put myself into that space. And I never knew my aesthetic was so beautiful. It makes me want to redesign my very own backyard right now, again.

Included in the potted plants on our private deck was a star jasmine plant, a Douglas fir I used as a Christmas tree in a pot that I would recycle and reuse every Christmas, rather than cutting a tree down every year, or using a horrible plastic one. I had a ficus, some ferns which flourished on our shady deck that hardly received any sun due to the wonderful San Francisco fog.

Star jasmine:
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After our private deck was sorted, I moved on to the area down a half flight of stairs and on the ground, under the stairwell of the deck. There, I wanted to lay pavers down, sealed and glossy of course, and put a fire pit with places to sit.

Our firepit most closely resembled this model that’s out now:
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If you can imagine under a massive two story reddish brown deck off of a Victorian building painted a soft lemon butter yellow, there would be space under the stairs as well as the landing sort of mid stair which had its own supports, it sort of created “rooms” on that ground floor level. In the room adjacent to our bottom deck, was the fire pit room, but the supports for the landing above created a sort of pathway down the far corner of the backyard and around the back behind our deck. Our private deck did not extend all the way back to the edge of our property, which left a yard down below our deck as well.

So the walkway under the deck stairs led to that back patch of yard. I completely redid everything. The pathway started like a hallway next to the firepit room. On either side of the entrance of the walkway is where I put the night blooming jasmine in their large teal and slightly distressed vertical pots.

Night blooming jasmine:
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Funny story: the firepit room had pavers for flooring. My ex and I had rented a Zipcar truck (if you’ve never heard of them, it’s basically a city car share, or a GoGet in Sydney) and brought home all the pavers from Home Depot. The second we got onto the freeway and upped the speed, the truck started fishtailing… we’d loaded the bed of the truck with too many pavers and the truck didn’t have that kind of towing capacity. I’m a lesbian. It’s a truck. We’re supposed to go together. So we ended up pulling over to the side of a very busy freeway on-ramp and had to call a tow-truck. Because our truck didn’t technically breakdown, we basically paid the tow truck driver $100 to tow our truck, pavers loaded, to our condo in the city. Brilliant. When life throws you pavers, make lemonade. We unloaded the Zipcar truck, returned it, and carried on our merry way sealing the pavers to lay them the next day. Boom.

I had redwood planter boxes along our fence on the left and the fire pit room was on the right. I laid large slate stepping stones, with a fill of black volcanic igneous landscaping rocks. I ensured I laid a plastic liner under the rocks to prevent weeds, or at least keep them from rooting allowing for easy upkeep. So imagine following the footpath of slate stepping stones toward the back left corner of the yard. Along your left were the redwood planter boxes of rain lilies and dwarf bamboo.

Dwarf bamboo:
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Then in the back left corner were smaller pots of ferns (shady area) around a large Japanese maple in a half-wine barrel planter. It was beautiful as it was fall when I took on this project, so the maple started green, but I got to see it change colors to a beautiful red with yellow hues.

Japanese maple:
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As you viewed the beautiful Japanese maple, the path curved to the right, putting you past the fire pit room, past a giant bushy pant with pink flowers. In this wide open backyard space (by San Francisco “wide-open” standards that is, probably 12 feet wide), we put in a redwood deck to support a custom 2 person spa.

The model of spa we got, but with a redwood finish frame and a black interior:
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My father built (at my request) a set of redwood stairs so we could climb into the hot tub easily, since I have bad knees. I hung hooks on the deck so we could hang our bathrobes there when we used the hot tub. On the deck, just next to the hot tub, I put a giant climbing pink jasmine with a trellis about 7 feet high in another half-wine barrel planter.

Pink jasmine:
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If you kept walking past the hot tub, to the back right corner of the yard, and turned right at our deck, we had another 3 feet of space to the fence. There, I put bamboo, the kind that grows quite tall and can get out of control easily, in more half-wine barrels. Those grew tall to provide some privacy from the neighbors.

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It was truly a peaceful oasis for me. Two kinds of bamboo, 3 kinds of jasmine, water, earth, air, fire, wood, metal. I was truly in a northern California, redwood, Asian, fragrant, zen place. It was me. My as-secret-as-it-gets-in-San-Francisco garden.

I would get up early on weekends, after it was finished. I would make espresso at home, take my canvases and paints outside, and paint on the back deck. I’d turn the water feature on, put on my favorite music, and feel inspired to create in that space. That was my favorite place in our whole condo, and I could just breathe and be there. It was my happy place.

More recently, when I was going through my own personal shitstorm last year, I felt like night blooming jasmine was me. It only opens and blooms at night, when times are darkest. Then you know how strong and beautiful it really is. It’s a weed, so it can become invasive easily. I will get to you if you let me in. Night blooming jasmine doesn’t really photograph well; it’s definitely a better experience in person. Just like me.

Be careful though, as it’s poisonous for pets and humans, so you have to be careful if you have pets or a partner with a voraciously vegan diet. Some people get headaches just from its fragrance. Luckily, our kittens were indoor kitties, though they loved looking out their sunroom window and watching the happenings of birds, flying by, or other cats coming to our yard (only to find rocks and not soft grass to poop on.)

I bought two kinds of jasmine for my apartment when I moved back from Sydney to San Francisco – pink jasmine and night blooming jasmine. The downside to the night blooming jasmine in that wonderful backyard years ago was that because it was so shady, it never bloomed. In my apartment now, I only have a tiny plant. It’s just a baby compared to the huge, mature, full grown 4-foot plant in that backyard. But my tiny night blooming jasmine is getting its first round of blooms, just being potted in the coffee cup it is in.

So while that backyard was designed to my every specification, to every desire and aesthetic that made me happy, I didn’t bloom there, nor did the jasmine, not even at night. But now, here, it grows and blooms, though it is small. As do I.

This is my night blooming jasmine, enjoying this morning’s sun, growing hard (I named it Sultan, after Jasmine’s father in Aladdin), and yes, that is my south-facing view of the Mission District and in the distance, beyond the hill, SFO:
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