The Atrium

One of the features of our house that we really like is the center atrium.  We never really had a vision for the atrium though, it just sort of evolved.  Here’s what we had to work with when we moved in:

(view from the office):

The very first project we tackled in the atrium was to lower the planters. The dirt was held in by the bricks and the level was almost flush with the top of the bricks- a few inches HIGHER than the siding and window sills.  Our pest inspector had pointed out that having dirt up to the wood window sills and siding was not good (burying wood in dirt eventually turns the wood into dirt… and it makes it easier for termites to get to the wood)- the soil level should be 3-6″ below the siding/sills.  Before we could lower the dirt, however, we had to remove the white marble rocks that surrounded all of the plants.  Andy’s mom did this project on the weekend we moved in (she is very industrious!).  Next, we started de-foresting.  We began by transplanting the ferns to the back yard but we kept some of the tropical plants including all of the birds of paradise plants (we moved two from the back yard into the atrium). Our de-forestation efforts cleared enough way that we could start removing dirt.  As we did this, we noticed quite a bit of wood damage.  The bottom 2-3″ of the east wall of the atrium (the one next to the long planter) was rotted, as was the windowsill on that wall. There were also a couple patches about 12″ square on that wall that had rotted. Our initial plan was to replace the siding on the entire wall- and since that would be about $400 worth of siding, we put the project on hold.

Next, we replaced the lighting in the atrium- previously there was a one fixture that was wired with an old extension cord that went through the boiler exhaust vent to tap into the light in the laundry room, and another that piggy-backed off that one (again, hard wired with an old extension cord) that showcased the fountain in the corner.  Both were replaced with two matching minimalist fixtures (Home Depot Clearance) centered on the long wall of the atrium.

Once it started to get hot last summer, we quickly learned that our atrium was serving as a green house (hence the lush plant life).  One particularly hot July day it was about 90 degrees outside and 120 degrees in the atrium.  Since we were borrowing my brother-in-law’s truck and the atrium cover was old, cracked, and leaky anyway, we decided it would be a fun afternoon project to remove the covering of the atrium.

Not only did that make it much more pleasant on summer days, it also gave us a view of the hills from our dining room.

The next project we tackled was the sliding door between the garage and the atrium.  You can read about that project here.  This picture shows how you could see into the garage from the atrium (it’s also a regal picture of Honey Brown staring at her food!):

To patch the atrium side of the wall, we got 2 sheets of thinline Beckenridge Eichler Siding from Jeff, the Eichler Siding guy.  It was a bit tricky to install and we ended up with a 1/2″ gap between the new and existing siding- but it was nothing that a fresh tub of wood putty couldn’t handle 🙂

A pretty painless project was to add some privacy to the tall narrow window adjacent to the front door.  Previously it was completely transparent allowing someone to see clear into our house from the street:

I simply covered it with transparent contact-paper using a spray bottle and squeegee method:

Clearly, a new frosted window would be nice- but you can’t really beat a $6 fix (from Target) that takes an hour!  It even fooled a neighbor (who has an AWESOME house in our model) who was tempted to try it on her own window!

Speaking of contact paper, we needed to find a slightly classier solution to our don’t-run-into-the-glass-door problem than what we currently had in place:

(wait for the solution, I don’t want to give away everything yet!)

The biggest transformation came in the spring when we decided to plant hops (the kind that goes into beer) along the long wall in the atrium.  We had limited time before the hop vines would be climbing up the wall, so we had to do something to repair the wall of siding which had several rotted spots and a rotted bottom.  Rather than replace all of the siding, we decided to do some patching.  We had extra siding from where we replaced the sliding door on the other wall, so the smaller patches were pretty straight forward.  For the bottom 2-3″ of siding that was rotted all the way across the wall (from having dirt against it for years), Andy simply trimmed off the rotted part (plus about 1-2″ for a total of 4″) with his circular saw, installed a long strip of wood (that looks like a baseboard) and siliconed the heck out of everything.   Andy is a master at carpentry and I am a master at wood putty and paint, so once everything was painted, it was hardly noticeable as a “patch”.  Once we got that wall patched and painted, Andy installed some steel wire for the hops to climb and I got to work prepping (scraping and sanding away a LOT of old paint and caulking lots of gaps) and painting (Behr “creek bend”) the rest of the atrium.  Here she is now:

As you can see, it’s a perfect place to relax, drink some coffee and read.  Especially with some machine generated relaxing nature sounds.  We thought about getting a fountain for ambient noise, but this is much cheaper and easier to maintain!

Here’s our new view of the hills from the dining room:

You’ll notice that we don’t have nearly as many tropical plants as we started out with… some were badly sun burnt when we removed the plastic top from the atrium, some died from a combination of neglect and cold temperatures over the winter, and lots were trampled with my ladder as I was painting.  Oh well- at least the hops survived!  I also planted an herb garden- the basil, parsley and mint (which I transplanted from the side of the house) are doing really well.  The parsley is ok, but the cilantro died by a combination of getting paint spilled on them and being trampled by the ladder.  I think this little patch of dirt is quite perfect for plants- last year we had some MAMMOTH tomato plants growing there:

The brick perimeter to the planters is not the most beautiful or sturdy thing (in some areas the bricks are simply staying in place from gravity, not mortor), but it provides enough of a barrier to keep Honey Brown out (too bad we can’t say the same for my sister’s dogs!). Speaking of Honey Brown, she really enjoys the atrium too- mostly because we spend time there now too:

Though Honey enjoys baking in the sun, we’re a little more fair-skinned, so we brought in an umbrella ($50 from Home Depot) and the umbrella stand (which came for free with the house) to provide some shade and some nice cheerful color:

Oh, and here is our more classy solution to our running-into-glass-doors problem:

More contact paper!  I used a circle punch to make a bunch of dots, then stuck them to all of the sliders at eye level.  So far, so good! They’re on every sliding door in the house (except the ones with the plastic grids that look like fake window panes).  Before we have our friends with toddlers over again, I think we’ll have to stick more up at 3-year-old height (and maybe even Dog height).

Another quick project was to doctor up our door stop (we like to keep the front door propped open so that Honey Brown can explore the front yard).  We had been using an old brick but it started crumbling, so I make a quick “brick cozy” for it by wrapping it in some scrap fabric and quickly stitching it together.  It took all of 10 minutes:

Some day we’ll have a nice solid door…in a different color… some day.  The third project that made its way into the atrium is our stump table.  It’s a remnant from the giant oak tree we had cut down last winter:

It’s the perfect height for our chaises.

That’s all for now- I’m sure the atrium will continue to evolve (as I slowly kill more and more plants).  We’d like to add some outdoor speakers, replace the tile floor (it’s cracked in many places and also uneven), maybe put in a big dining table and some outdoor heaters instead of the chaise lounges and maybe even build a retractable cover.  For now, the atrium is good enough and we have bigger fish to fry anyway (like replacing the siding)!