Road Trip: A Return to Lehigh County

During my most recent visit to the Lehigh Valley, I was reminded just how splendid this little corner of the world is. The fact that you can drive around on random back roads and find gorgeous buildings like this is one of the reasons I love this area so much:

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This stone mill is located in Lower Macungie Township and is situated directly on the Little Lehigh Creek, which would have been a prime location when it was still in use. Some records refer to it as the Neumeyer grist mill, most likely for the builder, Conrad Nuemeyer. Other references call it Laudenslager’s Mill. It was built in 1831 and operated as a flour mill. I didn’t know any of this until after I got home and Googled the name of the road where it’s located and “stone mill.” It’s amazing what you can learn with a little curiosity, isn’t it?

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I happened to be driving by the mill as the sun was going down, and a soft, golden light streamed through the trees, casting a warm glow on the building. It was the perfect light for snapping a few pictures on my phone. I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the farmhouse that also shares the property.

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At Kalmbach Memorial Park, also in Macungie, I spotted one of the two Singmaster barns in the area. This one was built sometime around 1850. The current iteration has a bright white exterior with deep green doors and trim, as well as two distinct hex signs above the second floor windows.

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The property was originally the John Singmaster farm, later purchased by Fred Kalmbach, Sr., who loved the land’s natural beauty. The barn and house are surrounded by woods, fields, gardens, and a small stream. Kalmbach was adamant about the land being used as a public park after his passing, a place for the community to gather and appreciate nature. According to the park’s website, the property hosts lots of educational and recreational programs for adults and children.

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I couldn’t help but notice how quiet and peaceful the park is. My car was the only one in the lot, so I think I had the place to myself. I took my time strolling through the gardens, down to the water, and into the woods and through the fields. I appreciated how the signs throughout the park reminded visitors that it’s a place intended for quiet reflection.

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Not much farther afield is Kospia Farms. I noticed this garden center the first time I visited, and I would have stopped if it hadn’t been pouring rain. I made a point to go back this time and wandered through the greenhouses and retail shops. The colorful sign below caught my eye—I especially love the arrow pointing towards the dog! Much to my dismay, I only spotted the dog as I was driving away. He looked like a friendly pup eager to greet his visitors!

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Get a load of these succulent planters! This might have been my favorite section of the nursery. The variety of plants and containers creates a whimsical, perfectly-imperfect look, and the longer you look at the display, the more details reveal themselves.

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Who knew cinder blocks could look so magical? I don’t know if this arrangement happened by design or as a matter of convenience, but I love the combination of the lush plants with what’s basically an unremarkable construction material. It works especially well as part of the larger display grouped with the tree stump, the Jonathan Adler-esque planter, and other containers. I’m also in love with all the prickly pear cacti!

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Later in the weekend, I went to the farmers market in downtown Emmaus followed by a trip to Funk Brewing. I passed this brick house while walking through a back alley to get to Funk. You never know what you’re going to find when you take the road less traveled, right?!

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Funk Brewing was a great spot to hang out. I went with my husband and dad, and we sampled every beer on tap AND had some of the most delicious poutine from a food tent pop-up that set up shop for the afternoon. I didn’t take pictures of the food, which is a shame, but also maybe a blessing in disguise because looking at pictures of it would make me want to eat fries smothered with cheese and gravy nonstop!

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I not-so-secretly want one of those Lehigh Valley Brewers Guild signs.

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My trip to Lehigh County was for a family visit, so all of my exploring happened by chance. It just so happens that there’s a lot to do here, and you’re never far from pretty scenery.

Hometown Nostalgia: Christmas City Charm

I recently travelled to my hometown of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania after years of being away. It’s possible that the last time I visited was for my wedding shower, which was more than ten years ago! Isn’t that wild?

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My family recently relocated to the area, so I anticipate spending a lot more time there. I’m so excited about that! It means being with my favorite people in some of my most favorite places in the Lehigh Valley, Bucks County, and Brandywine Valley. The culture in these areas did so much to shape my passion for design and architecture, and without my parents’ interest in the art and culture of the region, I wouldn’t have the appreciation for it that I do. There’s an aesthetic to this part of southeastern Pennsylvania that I have yet to see replicated anywhere else—the landscape and artistic renderings of it are truly distinct. I can’t wait to rediscover and explore the places I was once so familiar with!

That’s why I jumped at the chance to spend a day in downtown Bethlehem during my most recent visit. I always loved walking the tree-lined streets when I was growing up. As a kid, when I would go to the library with my mom, sometimes we’d have to park a few blocks away, and I never minded because it meant walking beneath the leafy canopy and admiring the gardens tucked away behind hedges and in the narrow spaces between houses.

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I think these outdoor spaces are what sparked my love of urban gardens. There’s something magical about these small, semi-private areas shaded by trees, partially obscured by landscaping and garden gates. Despite being in the heart of a bustling city, they always seemed quiet and serene, as though their diminutive sizes naturally imposed a hush over street traffic and passersby.

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Porch style (and stoop style) is taken very seriously here, too.

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It makes me so happy to see how well-maintained the houses are. Keeping up with external maintenance on an old house is a constant process—there’s always something peeling, cracking, chipping, eroding, or breaking. I admire how effortless these homeowners have made it look.

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One of my favorite accents used outdoors in Bethlehem is the Moravian star, which you’ll notice in several photos. The Moravian star, also known as the Star of Bethlehem, is the quintessential symbol of the city. There is even a giant, lighted version of the star that sits permanently at the top of South Mountain overlooking Bethlehem.

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I came across this quote a couple of months ago: “Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave and grow old wanting to get back to.” Certainly as the years have passed, I’ve found myself thinking more about my hometown and longing to spend more time there. I’m looking forward to future visits, and I can’t wait to share more of this wonderful little town with you.

Real-estalking in Nashville

Yes, real-estalking. As in, real estate stalking. It’s a thing.

At the end of April, I spent a long weekend in Nashville. In between eating all the outstanding food and imbibing in all the amazing cocktails, I also gawked at all the cute houses I passed while walking around. Unfortunately, I only scraped the surface—I did a lot of shuttling around via car, so even though I traveled through some beautiful neighborhoods (Belmont, swoon!), I wasn’t able to take pictures from a moving vehicle. In the neighborhoods I explored on foot, though, I was delighted to find lots of nicely kept homes whose owners clearly put a lot of thought into cultivating their curb appeal.

If I had to choose one word to describe Nashville’s architectural style, eclectic is what comes to mind. It was easy to tour a single neighborhood and see elements of design common to New Orleans, Charleston, Seattle, and Philadelphia all on the same block. Some houses felt quintessentially Southern, while others reminded me of Pacific Northwest bungalows and Pennsylvania fieldstone houses.

I couldn’t help but think that if this shotgun house (pictured below) was in New Orleans, the exterior paint colors would have likely been a combination of pastel clapboards with punchy, tropical-inspired accents rather than shades of gray. Perhaps more formal and modern, the tonal treatment gives this small house an elegant look, especially with the iron fence and hedges.

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This itty-bitty Victorian house stole my heart. I found myself standing in front of it for several minutes trying to take it all in—there is so much to appreciate here even though it’s a small property! The marriage of traditional architecture with modern landscaping elements is nicely balanced. The slate gray paint helps to update the scalloped shingles and intricate woodwork, giving them 21st century appeal. Applying the same paint color to the modern fence was a thoughtful way to connect the two styles. In comparison to the finer details on the house, the hardscaping is clean and linear. As striking as it is, its simplicity allows the house to shine.

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This next house reminds me of something you’d see on Home Town. Can’t you just picture the big reveal where the homeowners squeal in delight over the pergola that’s been built on the front of their house? This is my idea of a grand entrance—some well-placed containers, a couple of decorative elements, and lots of symmetry. If this were my house, I’d probably (definitely) grow a flowering vine along the pergola.

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Nothing says southern hospitality like a welcoming front porch, and I loved how the owners of this house decorated theirs. After you’re done admiring the front door with leaded glass windows, notice that there are three chandeliers, several hanging baskets of flowers, a wind chime, a porch swing, and a hanging rope chair. (The swing and hanging chair are a little hard to see, but I promise they’re there.) This looks like a pleasant spot to read a book, have a cocktail, or catch up with your neighbors.

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This red brick Italianate isn’t actually a house anymore—it’s a restaurant! Located in Rutledge Hill, Husk Nashville operates inside this beauty. The house was restored and renovated to accommodate the restaurant. The building dates back to the late 1800s and was constructed by a former mayor of Nashville. While the dentil molding and elaborately trimmed arches are impressive, my favorite part of the exterior is the tall windows.

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These other brick houses caught my eye, too. My favorite is the first one (top left).

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Last but not least, this stone house reminded me of my home state of Pennsylvania, right down to the Keystone-like pattern over the windows. The Keystone State is full of colonial style homes clad in stone. The color scheme feels especially right for something you’d see in the northeast. Crisp, black shutters and a bright red door make for a classic combination—though, if I’m being honest, it feels too serious for a town like Nashville. I could see this house sporting a hydrangea-blue front door.

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Most of these houses were in the Music Row neighborhood (near Vanderbilt) and Germantown, which is north of downtown. I’d highly recommend taking a walk through Germantown. It seemed to be neighborhood that was undergoing some gentrification with new construction in progress, but there were renovations on older homes underway, as well as plenty of already-restored historic houses. I would have loved to walk through Belmont, which is nestled near the 12 South neighborhood. The homes I passed while driving through were magazine-worthy!

Have you been to Nashville? Which neighborhood is your favorite for realestalking?

All photos used in this post are my own.

Fixer-Upper Infatuation: A Concord Colonial

At some point over the past five years, most of us have probably asked ourselves if we have the guts to take on a fixer-upper (I know you've seen at least one episode of that show!). My answer, at least in my imagination (and not if my husband is asking), is a resounding yes. I love a good before-and-after, and the idea of living in a house that I reimagined and designed to my specifications sounds exciting.

That's what drew me to this old house in Concord, MA. The listing says it needs "a complete renovation."

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The outside is rather deceiving—it looks pretty perfect just the way it is, with the lavender-hued front door, stone walkway, and cute little fence, all of which look well-maintained and cared for. Then I scrolled through the interior photos, and sure enough, it's in need of some TLC. There are some really special details still intact, such as the millwork, the beamed ceilings, and the huge turned newel post. It remains a blank canvas, however, and just needs someone with a good imagination to breathe some life back into its walls.

How would I freshen this place up if it were my fixer-upper? Let's take a look.

THE EXTERIOR: FRONT EXPOSURE

I wouldn't change too much about the outside of the house. The simplicity of the side gabled roof and white clapboards speaks to the house's Shaker-style architecture, which focused on simplicity, neatness, and function. It was common for these houses not to have shutters. I think the lack of shutters actually increases the aesthetic appeal, so I wouldn't add any. That beautiful lavender color on the door would stay.

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What I would change about the house is the roof—a cedar shake roof, as shown in the top two photos below, would look incredible. I'd also spruce up the fence, give the house a new paint job in white, and add some minimal landscaping that wouldn't obscure the structure. 

THE ENTRYWAY

The foyer and staircase show off the house's good bones. That turned newel post is such a fantastic detail.

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To make this area feel warm and welcoming, I'd freshen everything up with a warm white paint, install a runner on the stairs, put down area rugs in rich and vibrant colors, set up a console table with a lamp or two, and maybe even add a bench to create a small seating area. I'd also hang a mirror to reflect light and make the space appear brighter. 

THE KITCHEN

The kitchen needs a total overhaul, but I would save the beams and work them into the new design. I'd love to see a combination of warm wood, white paint, and taupe or gray trim used in this space. 

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I would keep the bones of the kitchen looking traditional in style, but I'd probably add a few contemporary touches here and there. Wood accents would play a big part in the design scheme, and a butcher block island countertop or wood-framed work table would make great accents.

THE DINING ROOM

This next room is probably the dining room since it has built-in china hutches. How great are those window seats?

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I could see this room looking fabulous in high-gloss, peacock-green paint. It would certainly feel cozy with dark paint, low ceilings, and a huge fireplace. But seeing as I've gone light and bright in other areas of the house, I would bring that look into this room and soften all those hard wooden edges with super plush cushions in the window seats, woven window shades, sconces or pendant lights, and a warm white color on the walls with a taupe or gray color on the millwork. 

The same room from a different angle, showing the fireplace:

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Light walls and a warm, gray trim color are in keeping with the traditional look but would make the space feel updated and on pace with today's trends. Traditional does not have to look dated!

THE LIVING ROOM

The interior architecture of this room provides a lot of woodwork to work around.

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I would consider adding more millwork to the space, as shown in the photo below. I would add some non-structural beams to the ceiling and build out the wall to include panels of painted woodwork in a soft taupe or gray. A cute dog is definitely the best finishing touch!

THE MASTER BEDROOM

This looks like a good-sized master bedroom with a straightforward layout that would be relatively easy to work with.

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I'd lighten everything up with fresh paint, add floor-length drapes on the windows, and layer lots of textured linens in soft blues, chocolate browns, and creamy whites. A soft wool rug underfoot would feel luxurious.

UPSTAIRS ROOM #1 WITH SLOPED CEILINGS

Given the sloped ceilings, this room is most likely on the third floor of the house. I could imagine transforming the space below into a light-filled bathroom that uses the sloped ceilings to its advantage.

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Ambitious? Perhaps. This space makes excellent use of the knee walls, though, and the chimney stack could most likely be camouflaged by being incorporated into the built-in storage.

UPSTAIRS ROOM #2 WITH SLOPED CEILINGS

Here's another awkward little room with sloped ceilings. These spaces are always tricky to plan when you have low, slanted ceilings to contend with, as well as something like a brick chimney stack located in the middle of the floor. On the plus side, the chimney stack offers a unique architectural detail to work into the design. It's just too bad that it's in such a weird spot.

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I would try to work around it by creating a sleeping nook or daybed/reading nook in this area. Sleeping and reading are two activities that don't require much in the way of overhead clearance (unless you tend to sleep standing up or read while jumping on a trampoline). These cozy little corners make great use of this awkward space.

THE EXTERIOR: SIDE EXPOSURE

Much like the front of the house, this exterior exposure is in pretty good shape. I'd insert more windows in the breezeway and gussy up the barn/garage structure.

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A trellis over the garage door would be a simple but stunning addition. Another lovely detail would be a brick or pea gravel walkway lined with some nicely-edged garden beds full of boxwoods or hydrangeas.

Any fixer-upper requires a lot of work and a ton of decision-making. Having a vision for the finished product and knowing what you want is half the battle. I think I'm off to a pretty good start here!

What would you change about this house? What details would you keep or add?

To learn more about this historic colonial house in Concord, MA, visit the listing page. All photos of the house are from the listing. Click through the inspiration photos for sources.

Hello—er, Goodbye, Yellow?

Did you know the sale price of a house that's painted yellow can be impacted by as much as a few thousand dollars? According to this article published on boston.com, yellow houses sell for $3,408 less than expected. This information comes from Zillow, which recently conducted its 2018 Paint Color Analysis. 

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Another interesting tidbit from the study is the finding that houses with front doors painted black or gray (they specifically say "charcoal gray") sold for over $6,000 more than expected. I was slightly amused by that revelation. One of the first things I did when I moved into my current house was paint my front door a bright, sunshine yellow...and then I repainted it medium gray the following year, proudly telling my husband that I figured I just upped the value of our house by doing so. It wasn't the right color for me—but I do think it looks amazing on a lot of other house styles.

Despite Zillow's report (and perhaps my own experience), yellow houses and doors continue to be popular. Country Living recently published a selection of yellow houses for sale around the country. Last fall, Boston Magazine rounded up five adorable yellow houses in the 'burbs that were for sale at the time. When John and Sherry painted their front door yellow, they received hundreds of comments from people telling them how much they loved the new color. And searching Google or Houzz for yellow front doors turns up thousands of results.

One of the houses featured in Boston Magazine's article showcasing yellow houses for sale in the fall of 2017. Records on Zillow show the house sold for its asking price.

One of the houses featured in Boston Magazine's article showcasing yellow houses for sale in the fall of 2017. Records on Zillow show the house sold for its asking price.

So if yellow houses are so charming and easily marketable, what gives? The article didn't go into specifics, but it did say: "The analysis looked at more than 135,000 photos from homes sold via Zillow, from January to May, to see how paint colors may have affected sale prices on average, when compared to the company’s Zestimate. The analysis compared these homes with similar ones with white walls, according to a press release, and it controlled for other wall colors within each room type, square footage, home age, and ZIP code."

If factors such as outdated interiors and a lack of square footage can't be blamed, then the message is simply that yellow is a less desirable house color. 

In certain circumstances, yellow probably is less desirable. Let's look at the stock photo used in the article (in which the house has yellow siding and red-orange shutters). It's extremely dated. Just looking at it makes me wonder how old the kitchen is and whether the bathrooms have been updated. The shutter color is influencing my opinion more than the yellow siding, although the overuse of yellow is problematic. Imagine if the shutters were black, and imagine if all the trim around the windows, doors, and roof was white instead of yellow. It would go from drab to dreamy pretty quickly.

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In many other circumstances, as shown in the photos throughout this post, yellow houses exude a sense of beauty and romance that other colors can't quite accomplish. Context has a lot to do with it. Accent colors have a lot to do with it. The exact shade of yellow has a lot to do with it. The architecture matters, too.

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I can't say every yellow house is perfect—let's face it, the house equivalents of Dwight Schrute's mustard-colored button downs do exist. I'd love to see the photos of the yellow houses from Zillow's research that led them to this conclusion, wouldn't you? 

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