Housiversary: Year 7

Technically, the 7th anniversary of my move-in happened in July. So I’m running, oh, 2 months behind schedule at this point. Sounds about right. Happy belated, house!

This year has been crazy. I find myself plodding through one of those times in life notable mostly for its impressive and sustained level of stress. I’m not sure when or how that will change, but I know this: it needs to. On good days I am reminded that there is more to life than the things I worry about, and I need to pursue those things again.

In that spirit, I gave myself an afternoon to work on, yes, but also enjoy the house I bought 7 years ago (and refinanced in August!)

HOLY SMOKES there’s a couch now! A non hand-me-down, non Ikea couch!

This is the Dublexo by Innovative Living. It does the couch thing very well, but also:


It’s got Funky Day Bed Mode and Sleeper Sofa Mode! We test drove this functionality by staying in last night and finally — after 5 failed attempts — finishing the movie Dune. I think the couch was instrumental to our success. We started sitting upright but transitioned to a horizontal viewing position sometime around the appearance of Sting’s metal diaper.

Not too long ago I thought I might like to buy a vintage mid-century couch and fix it up myself, but with the limited time I have for projects… nahhh. I didn’t need to spend weekends worrying about how to get an 8-foot frame to an upholsterer. I needed my life to be easy for a change. And thanks to the great people at Cella Luxuria, that’s exactly what it was.



Normally I would make some attempt to color-correct these but whatever LIFE IS SHORT. But I did spend a couple hours framing up part of my feather collection. I’ve been unsure of what to do with them for a while now, but I finally think I like them grouped and wall-mounted here.

And here. Uh, I have a lot of feathers.

That does it for now! Happy 7 years, house. I’m tired and I have nothing coherent to say, but you’re always here for me when life gets like that. <3



Do-some-of-it-yourself backyard revamp

It’s been 55 days since I declared the start of Project Back Yard, Take 2. I had hoped to be sipping mojitos out there by June, and you know what? That is exactly what I did last night. So although it was a helluva lot of work and construction has been consuming all my leftover energy, I am calling this project a success. Here’s a look back at an 8-week, low budget revamp of this tiny rowhome “yard.”

Step 1: The fence

Nope nope nope.

This was the most important part of the job, and one I couldn’t pull off myself. I needed a good contractor. My initial round of googling resulted in a guy coming to my house and commenting that he “couldn’t leave his equipment unattended in this neighborhood,” but promising he’d email me a quote. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. He never answered his email or phone again.

Can I rant here for a sec? People. Port Richmond is not dangerous. It’s not trendy, that’s for damn sure, but there’s absolutely no reason I should be hearing “why do you live here??” from so many of my contractors. A) It’s flat-out unprofessional, and B) I’m paying you to install a fence, not review my life decisions. If you have concerns about my neighbors who work as plumbers and coach little league, do us all a favor and keep them to yourself.

I eventually found my contractors on Thumbtack, a site where you post the work you need done and receive bids on the job. I only received one bid, so I can’t vouch for the site being a solution for every situation, but my guys came out next-day and had the fence up within a week.

They made me two cute little gates: one to hide the breezeway where my drain, trashcan and gardening equipment live, and they moved this one — the main one — away from the ideal planting locations. They also rebuilt my stairs for free.

Cost: $1,300

Step 2: Cement

Step 2 was grueling. My existing concrete was level enough, but old and cracked and in all-around rough shape. It quickly became obvious that a patch job wasn’t going to cut it. So I decided to pour new cement over the existing slab.

Did I know what I was doing? Nope. Do I know that this won’t eventually crack again? NOPE. It probably will. But this solution had two clear advantages for the time being: it was inexpensive, and it was DIYable. I went one square at a time, recreating the divisions in the original slab by bounding each square with foam strips until the concrete had cured a bit. Then I rounded any rough edges with a sureform.

A few weeks later, everything was dry enough to give it several coats of concrete stain.

Cost: $165; lots of calories

Step 3: Planting

My original plan was to figure out a way to DIY a big planter box so I’d have a home for some perennials. And as luck would have it, the fence guys left a section of unused fencing that was just screaming for repurposing.


The process was super easy. I basically removed a few planks, sawed the rest of the sucker in half, trimmed off the ends at their cross braces, and used the free planks to build the sides. The boyfriend was here for plating day, so he assisted with installing a false bottom and lining the box with plastic sheeting. Cost: free. Although I did make us dinner.

I wanted my planting choices to be economical: stuff I’d use, stuff that was inexpensive, and stuff that will hopefully come back next year. In the sunniest corner we planted blackberry vines, which should spread out nicely over the trellis we installed.

Also in the box: sage. It’s already attracting butterflies and bees.

The mint is from my father’s garden. The oregano was one of the only things to re-seed itself in my previously-neglected yard.

I wanted a buddleia, too. My mother always had one when we were kids, and I had one little section of trellis left to offer it some support as it grows in.

This corner is a bit of a catchall for whatever else was donated to the back yard makeover effort. The baby lillies are leftover bulbs from my father, again, and the sedum are cuttings from his garden as well.

The succulent is a rescue from my office. I added tiny deer vertebrae because, you know. Why not?

Cost: $145

And there we have it!

After. Panoramas don’t make straight lines.

Total cost: $1,610. Definitely worth it for a whole new usable space; it may be small, but there’s room enough for yoga and reading and dinners outside. I didn’t realize how much I missed having a little privacy back there until the fence went up. No offense, fellow Port Richmonders.

Coming back home

Warning: I’m going to blog about my house on my house blog. Weird, right?

2014 has been a year of neglecting this place in favor of other things. Personal projects. New jobs. Design classes. Meeting creative people. All worthy endeavors, but the house was relegated to “that place I sleep” for the majority of it. I haven’t had the energy or the brain power to figure out, for example, how to make my stove less hideous. (I didn’t take a new picture of it for this post; it hurts my eyes. Here’s an old one.)

In 2015, I’d like to get back to spending a little more time with this ol’ rowhome of mine. I’ve been here for SIX years now. (Whaaaat? It’s true.) In that time both my budget and my taste have changed (I’d like to think for the better). So with that in mind, and with freelance and homework finally off my plate, 2015 seems like the right time to bring some of my attention back home.

I no longer have a Penncation — that glorious paid week off between Christmas and New Years when campus shuts down and I am free to cut baseboards for days on end — but I did spend a good chunk of time this past weekend on some easy decluttering and rearranging.



Just Wonderful is a lettering piece I made a few years back, and it just so happens you can pick yourself up a copy on Society6. The new raccoon skull was a holiday present — an excellent one.


The tiny chalk board on the left was also a gift. It’s by the mighty Peg and Awl (shoutout to a fellow Moore alumna). On the right, I finally finished my first bottle of St Germain! I’ve been waiting to get my hands on this bottle forever, but I confess to not really knowing what to do with it. In traditional Lauren fashion, I put a dried branch in it and called it a day. On the wall: a poem letterpressed by Erica Maust back in our Penn days. Which seem like forever ago already. On the cabinet: a dopey picture I took in high school photography. Which also seems like forever ago, but justifiably so.


I decided to neaten up my collection of peacock feathers by shaving them down to just the eyes. They look less like a tangled incubator of bird flu germs this way.


Oh hey look more feathers and shells and twigs. Okay. You get the idea.

What I’d really like to do in 2015, though, is tackle this living room situation:


It still looks a’ight, I guess, although I’ve grown out of the aubergine cushions a bit. But for a room I’ve spent so much time renovating… I don’t get a lot of use out of it. I never hang out here. And it’s totally because of this couch. This creaky, hard-edged couch.


This couch may be causing a bit of a crisis in my life right now. Every time I look at it, I know it needs to go — or at least fall victim to an experimental hack to create something different (ottoman? Second-bedroom lounger?). But new couches are expensive. Does one buy a 4-figure couch for this strangely-sized living room? Does one dare to try to define this space with a… sectional? Is one actually the kind of person who buys a sectional!? Does one expect to be in this house for long enough to make it worthwhile? Or does one expect to die alone here. Perhaps on this sad, low-end IKEA creation.


Stay tuned in 2015. There will be plenty of house-angst, I promise. And hopefully some budget-friendly house solutions.






A few house updates 4 U.  </prince>

Occasionally, when the mood strikes me — usually when I should be getting to bed or tackling a homework assignment — I’ll decide that it’s time to reorganize a bookshelf.

I always wanted a big piece of art for that empty space above the terrarium in the pipe unit. And then I remembered that I was/am an artist? And I probably had some art hanging around? This drawing from 2007 is based on my sculpture work and is one of a set of three.

Elsewhere, atop a copy of Sister Carrie that clearly saw some bathtub time, there’s some kind of femur (?) section from some kind of farm animal (?). I honestly don’t know what that thing is, but it’s old and worn and I found it while hiking in Fairmount Park. There’s also a vertebra from the deer skeleton we found in the Poconos last summer. Its skull has moved here, to the front window:

And continuing the hunting lodge theme (although I do not hunt — everything I bring home was very, very dead through no action of my own), some new antler sheds for the mantle! Erica kindly gifted me the two nicest ones. Both of the ones I’ve found on my own were a bit gnawed. You’ve gotta find them before March, I assume. If they’ve been lying out too long, smaller animals chew on them for the calcium.

I’d like to gather up a few more of these and weave them together into… something. Something awesome. I’m waiting for inspiration to strike.

Meanwhile, I also did I bit of rearranging on the bookshelf by the front window:

SURPRISE giant snapping turtle shell. This guy was sent to me ages ago by my friend Alex (bear skull Alex — he’s introduced here), who spends a lot of his year living outdoors and who I haven’t heard from in quite a while. Alex, please tell me you’ve been staying away from huge carnivorous animals with claws… ok?

The turtle must have been a few decades old — his shell is massive. And a little damaged, as you can see. I kept him in the basement for a while as I debated whether I could touch up the cracked portion of his shell with some oil paint, but in the end I thought it was best to leave well enough alone.

On the shelf below is another little change. After a few years of accumulating holiday/birthday/sympathy/UGH, LIFE cards and stuffing them in a desk drawer, I decided that I’d like to have them displayed somehow.

Stacked by size and wrapped with a cotton cord: simple.

That’s all for now! I’m also working on a bit of a dining room reorganization, but that project needs a little more time. Which I have pretty much none of these days. Less than a month until the end of the semester, people! If you want to see some of the things I’ve been working on, laurenhallden.com has been updated pretty regularly as assignments wrap up.

Bone tour

(For for duration of this post, let’s just pretend “that’s what she said” isn’t a thing, okay?)

As you may already know, my house is home to a growing collection of bones. I enjoy having them around for some of the same reasons I enjoy collecting feathers and shells and driftwood and stones: natural objects and their structures are just fascinating to me. The diversity of stuff on this planet is pretty mind-blowing.

But I’ll admit it, I also get a little sentimental about my bits of calcium. They serve as a quiet reminder that nothing — none of us, nothing we do or create, nothing we enjoy or endure — is permanent.

I’m okay with that.

I’ve come a long way since, as a child, I was so afraid of my own skeleton — its very existence evidence of my eventual death — that I convinced myself I was the only person in the world held together by a structure made of rainbows. But you can’t make it through art school being squeamish about your anatomy.

(Pencil drawings by me of me, circa 2006-7)

So this is a post created in honor of bones. I’ll take you through my collection, starting with the two pieces above which I picked up while hiking with the family: a pelvis fragment (I think?) and a slightly-gnawed deer antler. Small mammals chew on bones over the winter, when times are lean, so it’s difficult to find antler sheds intact unless your timing is excellent. I am told that a friend has collected a whole bunch of them for me, though, and I can’t wait to get my hands on them for what will certainly be a slightly hokey yet totally fun DIY project.

The antler lives in a vase by my television, while the pelvis is tucked in here. Smaller bones are hard to display, so I often find myself nesting them inside other objects.

And now for the big bones. You’ve met the bear, of course, but he has a back story.

He came to me by way of a friend who made it his goal to live as close to nature as possible (he blogs here if you’re interested in what the lifestyle entails — apparently a lot of waterproofing things and trapping rodents, but hey, whatever floats you boat [GROAN]). When I mentioned to him that I have a habit of collecting these kinds of objects, he sent me a big box full of interesting things he’d come across on his travels. The bear skull was the most impressive item, but I also really like this partial deer:

He lives (as much as a skull can be said to live) in the new bookshelf in my home office, guarding one of my mother’s antique butterfly guides. She was a bit of a collector and nature enthusiast as well.

And now the newest addition to the collection. On my family’s recent vacation to the Poconos, we got knocked off a very poorly marked hiking trail and had to scramble our way through a thick forest, where I came across this little lady:

Dad was maybe less than enthusiastic when I picked her up with my bare hands and asked if I could stuff her in his backpack (I believe his exact word were, “Great. Let’s all see if we can get some horrible disease.”), but he’s nothing if not indulgent. So I cleaned up my doe and now her home is on the mantle in the living room.

Check out her plates:

Thus concludes the bone tour. That is, unless you want to take a crack at identifying these mystery teeth that keep showing up in my back yard:



On a family hike after the last brutal heat wave, I happened to look down — who am I kidding, my eyes are always firmly glued to the ground during hikes — and spotted this fella:


Dad and I googled it (“giant moth wtf bbq,” natch) and it’s a polyphemus moth, a member of the giant silk moth family. Dad figured the heat had killed it off, although our fuzzy friend looked as though it had been around the block a few times anyway.

I picked it up and brought it home, of course. On my second trip to the thrift store I lucked out and found a set of little shadow box frames for $2, one of which was the perfect size for Mothra:

At this point I googled “how to mount a butterfly” and received a wealth of information, most of which I did not choose to follow. I did find it true, however, that dead moths are very brittle and it helped to stow this one in a sealed box with hot wet towels for a bit. After it had loosened up and I had arranged its wings, I poked a few little pins through the back of the board and pressed Mothra down gently, keeping up a steady stream of I’msorryI’msorryI’mreallysorry as I went.

Check out the one remaining feathery antenna. Mothra embodies the spirit of this house rather well; most things in here aren’t shiny new and perfect, but you can find the beauty in them anyway.

Looking around my office right now, I spy:

  • one giant battered silk moth
  • a little vial of mystery teeth
  • the top of a deer skull
  • two geode slices
  • a chunk of driftwood
  • a few pressed leaves
  • a jar of peacock feathers

I’d better start limiting my dating pool to those involved in the natural sciences, huh.

Laugh Hysterically

Just a few minor updates around the house. Now that the temperature in Philly has reached egg frying on the pavement IN HELL levels, I had to do something about the sad state of my air conditioning. I possessed a very underpowered window unit for my bedroom and had been dreaming of replacing it for years. But when I mentioned it to my father, he pointed to this beast lying unused in his office:

Fancy. Chilly. The only issue was that this machine pumps the water it pulls from the air into a polymer tube, which relies on gravity to drain. Translation: I had to find some way to feed this pipe down a story. I couldn’t just throw it out the window and be done with it.

This was dismaying; I did not want to drill any (more) holes in my floors/walls/etc. But then I had my stoke of genius:

POW! Okay, not the prettiest thing in the world, I’ll grant you that. But when your bedroom reaches 90-degrees plus, you do whatcha gotta do. Like feed a giant tube behind your dresser, through your closet, down your fireplace flue and into a strategically hidden bucket.


There’s more art to blog about, of course, because there always is. On the suggestion of my typography professor and because I’ve been a bit down lately, I took myself on a solo date to the ICA for the Stefan Sagmeister Happy Show. Here are some terrible cell phone pictures:

When you press the button, you get a card with a little happiness tip. Mine said this:

Regardless of whether I was actually going to laugh hysterically in the middle of 36th street, I decided the card was a good thing to keep around, so I threw it in this tiny thrift store frame:

The bear does the laughing for us both.

And one more addition: I tweeted a while back that I finally broke down and bought the best poster in the world, and after weeks of waiting for shipping from Germany it is here.

The party is officially at my place.

Insects and Antlers

Oh hey! I’m still here. Due to some good old fashioned personal chaos I don’t have much in the way of renovation progress to report, but the Port Richmond Museum of Printmaking and Natural Sciences continues to make acquisitions, and I wanted to show you a few of them.

I figured April was as good a time as any to finally get around to hanging my 2012 calendar.

I never intended to use a wall calendar in any functional way, so I suppose I don’t have to feel too badly for hanging it this late. I’m just a sucker for a beautiful print. And this one, featuring the constellations of the northern hemisphere in silver ink on blueprint blue, certainly qualifies. It’s from the Etsy store littlebrightstudio.

Next to it is an admittedly quirky piece by Grow House Grow, a studio that wound up in my bookmarks folder when it was featured on Design*Sponge a few years back. This is a cropped sample of their Ms. Ward wallpaper, inspired by the 19th century Irish illustrator and entomologist Mary Ward.

I latched on to this particular print because it reminds me so much of my mother, who loved nothing more than to be outdoors photographing and collecting samples of the local creepy crawlies. When my siblings and I were young, she catalog ordered a few praying mantis oothecae — an appropriately icky-sounding word for their egg cases — and from then on, searching for baby mantids in the bushes was a normal family pastime. We named them. We caught yellow jackets and fed them to the adults. We squealed when we spotted one eating another. When the weather got chilly, we took in a big green female we named Lady and kept her as a pet.

As nightmarish as they appear, I’ll always have a soft spot for praying mantids.

But there are mammals here, too. I won this cute little woodcut print at a raffle:

He’s from local artist Kristen Solecki. I like his attitude.

I also spent the winter being mildly obsessed with antlers, after reading that deer shed them in January and regrow them in the spring. I was determined to find some sheds on our weekly family hikes. The weather has been so warm that we have indeed hiked all winter, but sheds proved elusive. I did get this guy, though:

If you can’t find the real thing, get a laser-cut cardboard approximation! This is a buck from Cardboard Safari. He came flatpacked and my brother and assembled him.

But wait, what is this on the cabinet beneath him?

Finally, after three months of keeping my eyes glued to the ground, my (I think endearing, others probably disagree) obsessiveness paid off and I spotted this little shed hidden in some dead undergrowth. It’s a bit gnawed on since it had been sitting around; rodents use these things as sources of calcium in the lean months. But I don’t mind, of course. Nothing is too strange for the Port Richmond Museum of Printmaking and Natural Sciences. And nothing is too dirty for me to pick it up off the ground.

Also, this is happening:

It would be difficult to be down in the dumps when the view out of your bedroom window is this candy-colored explosion. Here’s to spring.

A truly happy holidays

I’m not normally a big Christmas girl, but this year I’ve been earnestly looking forward to it ever since jacket weather started. Perhaps it’s because I recently added Chez Larsson to my RSS reader, and Christmas in Sweden just seems so…magical. Whenever Benita posts a photograph of her cozy little house at dusk, all cheerfully lit up with candles and strings of holiday lights, I immediately want to beam myself over there to share a cup of something warm and play with bits of ribbon and paper. (Sidenote: if you’ve never seen Benita’s blog, holy hovjärn*. Her house is incredible. I have no idea how she keeps it so clean; I suspect Scandinavia is an enchanted place where dirt just falls from your shoes out of politeness before you enter the house.)

So maybe it’s Sweden. But also, after what has amounted to a really horrible year for myself and my family, maybe I’m just appreciating the comfort and the togetherness of the holiday season more than I used to. Bad shit — not just the normal “my life isn’t living up to my exceedingly high American expectations” angst, but the really bad shit — has a way of clarifying how important family and friends are. And why wouldn’t you want to bake a ton of Christmas cookies for the people who have been lending you kleenex and a listening ear for six long months?

Or, replace cookies with candied pecans in my case:

I made, um, 3 pounds of them. Packed up in little IKEA jars and spruced up with tags I cut from an old gift box, they make pretty good hostess/office gifts.

Let’s see…what other Benita-esque photos can I share? You can see that, after many shenanigans, we finally got that pesky tree up. Here’s what goes under it:

I have serious present-wrapping envy when I skim other DIY blogs. People do some amazingly elegant and creative things. Me, I had no present-wrapping game plan, so I had to put this together in an hour or so using whatever I had lying around. And then I whipped up one of these…

…using a few leftover tree branches. The icicle lights pressing up against the ENJE shade make a pretty nifty pattern, but I wanted something to cover the lower half of the window. Enter the wreath made of reject tree parts. I googled how to make tissue paper flowers and added a few of those to fancy it up a bit, since I don’t have access to holly berries or anything.

That’s all from this holiday house! Enjoy your together time, everyone. Have a glass of glogg for me.


*Horseshoe, apparently. I was just going for the alliteration.

One window at a time…

Ohhhhh, dining room…

And dining room window, where curtains from my first dorm room are still in active use. Like that pair of too-short pants hanging around in your closet that you know you should get rid of, but dammit your paid money for those. Seven years ago.

It was time for the curtains to go. This pair was an awkward size for the window, but I’ve found that curtains in general don’t seem to play well in my little, sunlight challenged house. I’ve committed to the minimalist solution and am installing simple white IKEA ENJE blinds instead.

No bulk, no clutter, just a little diffuse light. And if you walk by quickly enough, you can pretend that the hideous air conditioner — and the battalion of angry pigeons currently occupying the breezeway behind it — isn’t even there.

At $20-to-$40-ish per blind, I haven’t managed to march into IKEA and buy as many as I need. Instead, I’ve been picking up a blind or two whenever I happen to be there. So expect to see window posts for another 6 months. Yay?

Hey, a girl has to reserve a little money to build her collection of shiny objects! On the left, it’s my new $10 piece of student pottery purchased from UPenn’s semi-annual ceramics program fundraiser (<3). On the right, my bowl of Jersey shore seashells finally found a home! Next to the…half-full jar of wine corks!*

Half-full? Pshaw. I can do better than this. I’m off to “work on decorating the house.” Enjoy the rest of your weekend, everyone!

*I don’t know, I probably saw it on Pinterest. Is it too silly?

P.S. Does anyone want those curtains? I’m popping them in the washing machine and when they’re done I will gladly throw them in a box and send them to you for postage money. Fair warning: they do have a really subtle floral pattern.