Blog Description

A French-Inspired Garden and Home by Judith Stringham

Rabbit Basket Centerpiece

Sunday, March 30, 2014

As children, 
my mother always had a beautiful 
Easter Basket 
for each of us, 
four of us, two girls and two boys, 
filled with bright green fake grass, 
loaded with special Easter candy, 
and all wrapped up with  
colorful translucent plastic wrap. 
The one big special Easter candy 
was a LARGE chocolate-coated candy egg 
from which she allowed us to slice off pieces, 
but not too many in the same day. 

Shhhh...don't tell her... 
I didn't like the taste of those candy eggs, 
but I loved my Easter baskets. 

I still love Easter baskets, 
especially this twiggy one with a concrete fluffy rabbit  
hiding under fresh mint.  

Nestled next to the mint, 
the rabbit is right at home on my pine dining table 
that was refinished last year. 

Sitting under pear tree branches...  

With their delicate blooms, 

The rabbit wiggles into the soft green moss lining the basket
that has been home to others before him. 
Last fall, the twiggy basket nestled an unusual colored pumpkin.   

The pear tree branches provide a shady spot for 
the rabbit to rest. 

Occasionally he peeks out, 
looking around the dining table, 

but quickly settles back into his twiggy basket home. 

He cheerfully greets everyone from the table, 

And, with plenty of mint to nibble, 

He plans to stay right up to Easter,  
April 20, 2014,
when the rabbit becomes an Easter bunny. 

A series of posts 
about building my dream house, 
a post and beam house, 
is located in the Page titled 
Post & Beam Dream House. 
Click on it in the Menus listed 
at the top of the blog.  

Please join me at these inspiring sites...



Stairwell Tour ~ Dream House

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Do you have a dream house in your head? 
I did, for eight years. 
Now I have been living in my dream house 
for twenty-six years.
Welcome to the 

Stairwell Tour 

of my Dream House. 

Have you ever fallen down a flight of stairs? 

I have. 
When I first graduated from college 
and began working in Washington, D.C., 
I lived with a family that came from my Alabama hometown. 
Their house was a large two-story 
colonial with steep stairs 
on which several people fell. 

I was one of them, 
slipping 4-6 steps from the bottom step 
and sliding on my backbone to the bottom. 
Painful scrape on my backbone, sore for several days 
and left with a scar on my back...  
Plus memories of steep, narrow stairs... 

This is the stairwell in my dream house. 
Hours and hours of planning, drawing, redrawing,
calculating, and researching proportions for 
easy rise and run dimensions on the treads went 
into the final layout of the stairs.  

For months, we discussed how easy or hard it was 
to navigate stairs as walked them in other houses, 
in stores, in libraries, at church...  
in public buildings of all kinds. 
We stopped mid-stride on stairs to discuss them, pros and cons. 
We looked at them and estimated tread depths 
and riser heights, counted the number of steps,  
calculated the distance between floors the stairs connected, 
and determined the total linear distance of the stairs.   
We consulted carpentry handbooks for standard 
tread depths and riser heights. 

Broad steps, almost four feet wide, 
with lots of space to walk were the results of our research 
and my memories of falling on stairs.  
Of course, room for a pretty flower-strewn 
rug with playful rabbits had to be included. 

A handrail small enough for my hands insures a steady grip. 

White-washed oak treads supported by contrasting 
white-painted risers create stairs that 
are easy to see where one step begins and ends.
I did the white-washing and painting.
I am not good at hammering and sawing,
but I can paint.

For white-washing the treads, I used
an oil-based white paint by wiping it on
the treads with an old t-shirt and rubbing it
into the grain of the wood.
Within five minutes I wiped the paint off.
The longer it stays on the tread, the whiter the tread.
After the treads dried completely for
twenty-four hours or longer,
I sealed the treads with a clear sealer.

Our stairs were made by my husband
when the house was being built.
Measuring and re-measuring before cutting the risers 
insured that the step heights were uniform. 
Have you ever noticed some stairs have different 
heights between steps, usually at the top step or the bottom step? 
That can cause people to stumble. 

The landing is large enough for an old shutter from our laundry room, 
a cement bunny, and a small basket of faux pink roses. 
Preserved boxwoods in the shape of a star reflect our Texas location.
You know... Texas is the Lone Star state.

By building two landings we were able 
to include another step in the stairs making 
the rise per step smaller and the stairs less steep. 

The pine paneling on the walls and the baseboards
were added a couple of years after we moved into the house.
The 4" wide pine planks came from Home Depot,
are easy to install, and well within the budget.
Just this week I saw that these same panels,
called Pickwick, are still available at Lowes.
We whitewashed the pine paneling and
painted the baseboards and some of the posts and crossbeams
to coordinate with the treads and risers.
The larger posts and beams were left natural
to match the rest of the house.

The landing is large enough for a small cedar tree cut 
from our woods at Christmas time 
like this one from Christmas 2012. 

Wide steps and large landings make it easier to move 
furniture between floors. 
Since our stairs have a turn in them, 
the large landings are critical 
for maneuvering the turn. 

A large window lets in natural light 
which makes it easier to see during the day. 

A round top window gives light at the second level also.

At night the stairs are well lit by a three-light fixture. 

And... include 
extra room for pretty bunnies on the wall and floor. 
A series of posts 
about building my dream house, 
a post and beam house, 
is located in the Page titled 
Post & Beam Dream House. 
Click on it in the Menus listed 
at the top of the blog.  


A-Tisket, A-Tasket, A-Basket

Sunday, March 23, 2014


Spring is the time of the year when there 
are baskets everywhere. 
Baskets with plants, baskets with rabbits, 
with candy, with flowers, 
with linens, books, 

One of my favorite blogs to read 
recently shared nine ways to use baskets. 
Looking around my house, 
I saw baskets used most of the ways listed, 
but also am using baskets one or two ways not listed. 

I had forgotten I had this blue basket. 
It had been in a guest bedroom upstairs, 
but when that bedroom was rearranged last year, 
this basket was moved to my office loft, 
and forgotten. 
Until yesterday when I was de-cluttering. 

As I walked down the stairs swinging the basket, 
(is there any other way to carry a basket with a handle?)
my mind was mulling over where I could use it. 

Perfect for this time of year when baskets are everywhere. 
Perfect for a little Easter display on the dining table. 

Another of my favorite bloggers has been doing a 
series on tablescaping, 
and I have been doing some serious 
studying of her stunning arrangements. 
Analyzing, comparing her compositions, 
noting camera angles, looking for common elements, etc... 
So, what better way to practice what I was learning 
than to create a display in the basket? 

Stock, snapdragons, and baby's breath, 
all from the grocery store floral department,  
fill a small blue and white stoneware pitcher. 
I continue to be drawn to white and 
started out trying to keep this all blue and white. 

Then I decided to use the iron rabbit painted a 
 soft yellow-y cream and wearing multi-colored ribbons. 

Many years ago I found two cups and saucers that 
had the perfect colors for the upstairs guest bedroom in 
which the basket had been. 
The colors were now perfect for tying together 
the rabbit, the basket, and the stoneware pitcher. 

Au revoir, white and blue only. 

Now the question became, 
how do I position the saucers so they will stand up? 
Place two faux green hyacinth plants behind the saucers 
and prop the saucers' bottom edges next to the rabbit. 
These faux green hyacinth plants include bulbs with roots 
and came from the Maison & Objet Trade Show in Paris, France, 
September 2011. 

The two cups are stacked together, but at first I could not get the top 
cup to lean over so its pattern would be visible. 
Solution #2... 
Insert a folded piece of stiff paper into the bottom cup 
on which the top cup could sit at an angle 
and not slide so deeply into the bottom cup. 

A-tisket, a-tasket, 
what do you have in your basket? 


Old-Fashioned Barn Raising

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Do you have a dream house in your head? 
I did, for eight years. 
Then the dream became a reality. 

Have you ever seen a barn raising where 
family and neighbors came together 
and raised a barn's framework 
in just two to three days? 
It is an amazing event. 

That is how our dream house's framework 
of posts and beams was erected, 
a "house raising" by family and friends. 
Not only was our dream house 
a special one-of-a-kind, like no other 
in our area, but how we built it 
was also a special event in all of our lives  
that included families and friends. 

Now, over 25 years later, we still talk about it and 
remember the special role each one of us 
played in its construction.  
New friends are fascinated by the house 
and by the story of how it was built. 

Our dream house was a "kit" of posts and beams 
cut by a New England sawmill. 
Our package of information 
from the sawmill's architects was 
mailed on December 31, 1986. 

As the sawmill cut our timbers, 
the Long Tall Texan worked on weekends and each night 
after work to ready the house site 
and to build the foundation for the house. 
A pier and beam foundation on which the 
posts would rest... 

The flat-bed truck loaded with 
posts, beams, ceiling decking, variable-width 
pine flooring, and with an architectural expert 
from the sawmill to oversee 
the house raising, arrived after lunch 
the second Friday of April. 
Just thinking about it 
rekindles the excitement of tracking 
the truck across country, through snowstorms in 
the east, and finally seeing it pull into our 
new driveway. 

The Long Tall Texan's family was in the commercial 
construction business in Houston, Texas. 
His father was a construction 
superintendent for an independently-owned 
local Houston company. 
The Long Tall Texan worked with his father on 
construction sites part time during high school. 
While he attended college, he worked part time 
as a house framer. 

The Long Tall Texan's brother worked full time 
with his father in construction, and 
The Long Tall Texan's sister was married to a 
man who owned an air conditioning company. 

With all their construction expertise, 
The Long Tall Texan's family came together the 
second weekend of April 1987 
for the house raising. 

That's the Long Tall Texan's brother operating the crane 
needed for unloading the truck. 
In addition to the Long Tall Texan's family, 
friends from work and church came to help and 
to be part of a once-in-a-lifetime house raising. 
All of them were excited, curious, and eager to be 
part of a tradition from America's past. 
Between twenty to thirty people worked that 
weekend in April. 

The first post is the most critical one. 

It must be square; 
all others are positioned from it. 
After checking the position from all sides using 
a carpenter's level, the post's position was 
secured by a bracing board. 

By sunset Friday evening, 
all of the first floor's posts were set. 
What an exciting day! 
The first floor frame was up. 

Saturday morning, all of the first floor posts 
were double checked to make sure each was 

By Saturday sunset, the second floor 
posts and beams were set. 

On Sunday, the roof rafters were set 
and checked for accurate placement. 
Family and friends were finished by late afternoon, 
long before sunset. 

In one weekend, 
the entire framework was erected. 
This was truly an old-fashioned barn raising 
in which family and friends 
came together.  

After that amazing progress in just one weekend, 
construction slowed to the normal pace 
of other house's construction. 

The Long Tall Texan took six weeks of accrued 
compensatory time off his full-time job 
and worked to build our house. 
His brother and one nephew worked 
full time with him. 
There were others, including subcontractors 
for plumbing, electricity, fireplace stonework, 
and cabinetry, and both the Long Tall Texan   
and I worked on our house. 

Late in the summer as we were finishing 
the house, my sister's husband came from 
New Hampshire for about a week 
and helped frame the garage. 

One of our good friends worked full time on 
building the house, and he was the one 
who created the beautiful siding that fanned out 
around the round-top windows. 

The last inspector approved move-in for 
Labor Day weekend in 1987. 
In less than a year, we contracted the 
kit, built the house, and moved in. 
I also finished the final coursework for a 
master's degree in mathematics. 
What an incredible year 1987 was!

That was only the beginning. 

More to come about what materials 
we used in the house and how we 
continued to upgrade the interior 
over the years

See the first post 
about Dream House Plans if 
you missed it.
If you are considering building a house, 
and think you want to do the actual building, 
remember you still need a builder/contractor. 


Dream House Plans

Monday, March 17, 2014

Do you have a dream house in your head?
I did, for eight years.
Then the dream became a reality.

Our dream house in Spring 1988,
after moving into it in Fall 1987 

How did my dream begin? 
Beautiful homes built using antique timbers from old barns 
that were light filled and spacious were 
featured in several national magazines in the 1980s. 

Of course, today we collect pins on Pinterest 
instead of magazine clippings. 
for what inspires me now. 

While attending graduate school
at the University of New Hampshire
during the summer breaks between teaching school years,
I saw beautiful new houses for middle-income families 
that were built with cedar siding and
with post and beam details in the interiors,
reminiscent of old barns with soaring open spaces.

Research to find sources is easier and faster
today by using the Internet.
Back in the 1980s, I found addresses from ads
in magazines and wrote letters requesting information.

Here's a house built by the company I found that was in our price range.

Sawmills in the 1980s were not uncommon in New England,
and they offered floorplans with "kits" for post and beam houses.
Plans varied from those that used expensive antique reclaimed
barn timbers to ones that used less expensive
newly-cut posts and beams.

And, the best part, the company I found in our price range 
would create a custom floorplan "kit!

The photos, faded and distorted, 
show parts of the custom blueprint for our house 
that was used by the builder over 25 years ago. 

A Palladian window was one of the features in 
magazines that was high on my "want list." 

Before contracting with the sawmill to cut a custom "kit" 
for us, we toured the sawmill in person.
We also toured houses in all stages of construction 
being built using posts and beams from the sawmill.  
Sawmill River Lumber Company was in Leverett, 
Massachusetts, and we toured it while visiting 
my sister who lived in New Hampshire. 
It was only about a 2-2.5 hours drive, 
which is just a short drive in the country for a Texan. 

The Sawmill River sawmill was built in 1750 and 
used water power from the river to cut timbers for 
Great New England Post & Beam Houses for over 200 years. 

Our timbers were cut using  
Sawmill River Post & Beam's saws powered 
by electricity, not water. 

We sent our builder and his construction foreman 
to meet with the sawmill architects and 
to see post and beam houses under construction. 
Construction totally different from 
Texas ranch-style houses framed with 2x4s. 

Then we sent our house plans that I drew 
on graph paper to the sawmill architects who 
drew the architectural plans. 
The mill's in-house plans included 
calculating cuts for how all the posts 
and beams would be joined. 
 Each piece of wood was numbered 
so the construction crew would know how 
to put the house frame together. 

This joint is at the corner of the fireplace 
on the second floor in my house. 
Yes, those are year-round fairy lights on a grapevine 
twining around the beams.

These are my hand-drawn details on graph paper 
for my kitchen that our cabinet maker used. 
I taught high school math for 29 years which came 
in handy to calculate the diagonal dimensions. 
The date I drew these was July 4, 1987. 

Recent research on the Internet did not yield current 
contact information for the Sawmill River Post & Beam Company 
that created our house. 

If you are thinking about building a custom home, 
here are my suggestions on how to get started. 

Next in the series will be 
that shows how we put together 
the custom cut posts and beams.