Housiversary: Year Five

In late July of this year, I celebrated my 5-year anniversary in the house. I celebrated by not remembering it was our 5-year anniversary.

I have fallen down on my bloggerly duties, but in my defense, it’s been a remarkably busy year work-wise. I’ve been involved in a ton of freelance projects, I’m charging through the last class of my graduate certificate in graphic design, and um, I made this silly thing and it went viral.

Instead of working on the house, I’ve been living in it. And designing websites in it. And cooking in it. And trying to get as much sleep in it as possible. So I’m going to cheat this year and give you a collage of “living in it” photographs. Because let’s be honest, I’m two months late with this post already and I don’t even know where my real camera is right now (at my office…?), and I haven’t vacuumed in weeks. No one wants to see my dust bunnies.

Living room:


Still love this space. It’s my own personal museum, complete with cow rug, deer skull, drawings, art books, plants that welcome my neglect, a gecko named Ox, and hey look! I finally bought a bike! Not much has changed in here this year, aside from expanding and reorganizing the collection of wackiness.

Dining room:


The dining room did get a bit of attention, with the relocation of the bar to the floating hutch. Also I have a (not-pictured) rug! Worst blogger ever.



This is where I show you a bunch of examples of me eating healthy. The fried eggs drenched it in soy sauce at 2:00am are never instragramed.




Purple closets: not pictured, but still here.

Craft room:


BEAR SKULL. Also, I’m glad I went with this cheap framing solution for the blueprint. It looks so much more intentional hanging here now.



This is where the Dating Ipsum happens.


No one instagrams their bathroom. Not much new in here… I painted this cabinet. So there’s that.

Front porch / back yard:


Hey remember my ambitious plan to clean up the back yard? Didn’t happen! Shocking! Perhaps early next spring. I’d at least love to get the old fencing replaced by planting time.

So that’s it. Thanks, house, for being the safe space where I get to relax and embrace the quirkiness within. The last five years have been a bit of a tricky time in my life, but you’ve provided some much-needed stability and I’m grateful to be able to call you my home. And compared to where we were in 2008, really, I’d say neither of us is shaping up badly at all.

Project Back Yard: Day 1

If you’ve visited my house recently but you didn’t get a back yard tour, there’s a reason for that.

Yeah. Whoops?

Okay, story time. For the first two or three years I lived here, I used my “yard.” I grew snap peas, herbs, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce — the usual urban container gardening nonsense. I had an outdoor loveseat. I had a table and chairs and a tiny little barbecue. I had wildflowers growing in old paint buckets. I had cuteness.

I also had no idea what I was doing, but it was fun.

Then came the plagues.

My back yard is under unrelenting assault from three separate menaces: flies, pigeons, and mosquitoes. The flies are plentiful because this neighborhood is pretty dense with dogs, and most of the backyards are used as places for Fido to, err, unload. And sometimes the neighbors aren’t quick with the clean-up. In particularly egregious cases (ahem, house directly across the alley from me), the clean-up seems to happen once per season.

For a while I bought fly traps. Watching them fill up until they reached complete black opaqueness was a satisfying, disgusting, and somewhat pointless endeavor.

And then there are the mosquitoes. The Asian tiger variety, to be exact. These things breed practically anywhere and will laugh tiny, evil laughs through their little banded appendages at your citronella candles and Whole Foods DEET-free lotions and plastic traps full of mystery bait. All of which I have bought.

Think you’re going to go outside to water those adorable herbs? WRONG. The tigers know you’re coming. They’ve sensed it before you’ve even opened the door. If — IF — you make it to the hose, all you’ll be able to do is dance in circles, spraying water around you wildly as you curse whatever demented creator dreamed up the Asian tiger mosquito.

But we haven’t even talked about the pigeons. Holy piles of birdshit, the pigeons.

It started with just a few specimens. They worked their way under a crack in the siding above my neighbor’s back door. They bred. I went outside yesterday, and I’m pretty sure there were 20 pigeons angrily rolling their whooooooos at me.

I keep them off my windowsills with bird spikes, but there’s no keeping them off the power lines between houses. There they lounge, covering the floor of my breezeway with a material that one would hope never to smell on the breeze passing through one’s living room.

There are other back yard hazards to be dealt with, too. The pigeon-breeding, dog-poop-collecting family also planted some morning glories what may very well have been two hundred years ago, because that is how long it might take some Nobel-worthy genius to figure out a way to eradicate them. “Morning glories are pretty!” you say. And then you brush by a vine, and this happens.

Except in reverse. And the bugs are mosquitoes. And the bird is you.

The morning glory vines are everywhere, harboring their tiny terrorists.

So for the last year or two, I’ve pretty much ignored the back yard. But now I’m feeling guilty. The concrete floor is deteriorating. One of three mismatched sections of fence is falling down. The back walls of the house really need to be re-sealed (I would take a picture, but there’s currently a surly-looking teenager smoking back there — another back yard hazard). So I’ve decided to invest a little bit of a time and a verrry little bit of money to see if the situation can’t be improved. Here’s the plan:

  • House: caulk the kitchen siding, prime and repaint.
  • Ground: patch the concrete. I think it’s salvageable, and ripping it out for a re-pour isn’t in the budget. I may end up sealing and painting it.
  • Walls: take all the fences down and install one consistent, tall privacy fence. Dad’s probably gonna help with this bit. Having a van, a second pair of hands and some know-how would go a long way here.
  • Everywhere: Even More Pest Control. I’ve ordered some flashy tape that’s supposed to scare birds. We’ll see. And I’ve planted a bunch of smelly lemon eucalyptus and marigolds, which mosquitoes don’t like. Again, we’ll see.

I don’t have much hope for any of this, but it seems like the right thing to do. And when the bugs and birds finally run me outta town, at least the yard will look nice for the next suckers.

Got any other ideas? I’m all ears.



Floating bar

So this floating cabinet thing in the dining room came with the house:

And for the longest time, I haven’t really been sure what to do with it. It’s a little bit country. And so am I, I suppose, but not quite this much. I had been using it to hold a set of faux-Delftware dishes that came from my grandmother’s house, but they never saw much use and giving them such prime real estate started feeling a little silly. And it contributed to that slightly-too-much-country-oh-my-god-there’s-probably-art-featuring-a-rooster-in-here-somewhere-isn’t-there feeling.

This project started the way many do: I got out of bed one morning, wandered into a room, and decided that I’d had enough of staring at something that’s been bothering me. Out came the hammer and screwdrivers, out came the dish rack. And in went:

The bar! Because let’s be honest: this is what the dining room gets used for. I mean, I eat here… occasionally. When I have company. Otherwise, food tends to travel around the house. The dining room is really where the cocktails live.

So the basic setup is this: standard ingredients in the bottom right (some whiskey, vermouth, bitters, and GIN), sweet stuff up top. The box is where I stash my tea lights and other candles. The cabinet at the far right holds some lesser-used things: rum, tequila, brandy, some really off-brand triple sec that I don’t want you to know I own but WAIT I have Cointreau, too, I promise. Kahlua. Grenadine. Extra tonic water. We’re out of vodka, sorry.

And in the left cabinet, glasses:

THE ROOSTER! Aw, man. Busted. In my defense, he is awesome and he came from Portugal via a coworker who is lucky enough to travel to such places.

There are a few recipe books and bartender’s guides, as well. Plus this awesome thing:

Nature AND booze AND typography, y’all. I couldn’t not own it.

And of course, there’s art:

Photograph of City Hall by John Ingram (taken back in high school, Jesus), who has always kept a wicked awesome liquor cabinet and who kindly provided me a list of things one should always have in stock. Cheers, Ingram.

Blueprint frame

Last week Anna of THE house blog Door Sixteen blogged about this great idea for dealing with posters that are just too big to frame: binder clips and simple strips of pine wood.

And while I don’t have any wall-sized pictures of Morrissey to frame*, I do have a giant blueprint!

I’ve talked about this thing before, but for the unfamiliar it’s drawing of the Fisher Fine Art Library, which is an awesome Frank Furness building on Penn’s campus. This is not a Frank Furness drawing. It was yanked out of the trash years ago by an old boss of mine when the architects who shared office space near us vacated. I think my boss, too, was flummoxed by the framing question — the blueprint is 45″ wide and in pretty lousy condition, so Anna’s quote of $1000+ to have a professional tackle a mounting and framing project is probably similar to what my boss would have faced.

So she didn’t mind passing it along to me. Hooray!

I’ve had it hanging with some bulldog clips for years, but the addition of the wood strips helps make this cheap display solution look more polished. And for this piece, which was probably stored rolled-up for a good long while, it also helps keep the edges for curling.

You can find your wood (hush) in the molding section of your local hardware store. I got two 7′ sections of pine for about $12, and I have enough left over to “frame” the cocktail poster if I feel like it.


While I was puttering around in the craft room today, I also threw Frida into a frame:

Things are really starting to look less like a pile of collected randomness and more like a home around here, I do declare.


*Honestly, my tolerance for Morrissey’s voice is rather low. I know. I know. I’m a bad person. The Smiths are amazing. But you know how occasionally he does that thing where he just oscillates between two notes, for, like, impossibly long periods of time and it evokes in you this deep, powerful anger and suddenly you’re screaming at the radio JUST GET TO ANOTHER NOTE ANY OTHER NOTE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY I BEG YOU PLEASE? Yeah.


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.

Tiny kitchen tour

One of the challenges of day-to-day living in the rowhome is cooking. My kitchen is an addition — a 180-ish square-foot cabin-like thing with a sloped roof I can reach up and touch. It’s tight and it’s hot and there are no luxuries. No stacking ovens. No dishwasher. No garbage disposal. No fancy-pants faucety thing that fills your pot with water while it sits on the stove. The sink is so close to the stove that having one of those things would be laughable, anyway.

I could post pictures, but here, let’s try this: a 6-second tour courtesy of Vine.

Tiny, right?

But in spite of it all, I do manage to get quite a bit of cooking done in here:

Untitled Untitled Untitled Untitled

Having good equipment certainly helps. My willingness to commit time to cooking for one has undoubtedly increased since the Le Creusets came into my life; I use them all the time, as evidenced above. But this post is not one of those lectures about the importance of investing in bazillion-dollar cookware sets. Come on. You know I’m not like that. We work with what he have.

This post is simply about feeding yourself when what you have is a lack of space. And also time. And probably also money. Recently, my strategy has been to set aside one chunk of one weekend day for shopping and cooking. I’ve found that it’s not as difficult as I thought to make it most of the way through the week on this one solid chunk of effort. Put on some tunes and pour yourself a glass of wine and it’s barely like working at all! (Warning: knives are sharp and the handles of an iron skillet get EXTREMELY EFFING HOT, wino.)

So here’s what I do: grab a protein or two, some salad ( I eat mostly spinach), eggs, lots of fruits and veggies, and some snacks (banana chips and dried cranberries for me). With that basic shopping list in mind, today my prep day yielded:


Not bad for maybe 90 minutes of work! This is a random chicken recipe from the internet, and the makings of Smitten Kitchen’s cumin seed roasted cauliflower with yogurt. And also an eggplant that was on super-sale at the store because it needed to be used today. (I regularly shop the expiring stuff — told you I’m cheap.) And eggs, of course!

I try to combine steps wherever possible; I boiled my potatoes and hard-boiled the eggs in the same pot, for example. I cut up the cauliflower and eggplant at the same time, too, and let them roast while the chicken browned. And then everything finished up in the oven around the same time. I love one-pan recipes, as this chicken dish is (save for the potato boiling bit), because it frees up room in my tiny kitchen and helps keep other dishes moving along.

During the week I’ll take some of the veggies and eggs to work (and maybe a drumstick or two) so I can throw them on a salad. At night I’ll have the chicken/potatoes/mushrooms until I get sick of that, and then maybe I’ll switch to pasta or wraps, again throwing on it whatever’s left in the fridge.

Oh right, the fridge. It is — you guessed it — TINY.


Yeah, that’s a normal Britta pitcher on the top shelf using up, like, a sixth of all of my storage space.

When I bought the house, my sellers decided at the last minute to take their fridge with them — fine by me, since their very standard big black fridge projected way into the middle of the room. I drastically downsized from what they were working with. And I’m not going to lie: I kinda hate this fridge. The condiments and the wine are always fighting for space in the door (the wine wins, natch). It’s really difficult to store raw ingredients in here and find anything later. BUT the prep days have been helping! When everything can be stacked in Tupperware, the storage issue is much more manageable.

So there you have it. Life in a bare-bones 8×10′ kitchen: tolerable. Sometimes even tasty.

What do I love?



I walk part of the way to work fairly frequently, so I change shoes upon arriving at my office. A few days back I was staring at the undignified pile of pumps hidden under my desk when I remembered that I used to own a shoe rack. A little wire one that I stopped using when my bedroom was renovated 2 years ago. Did I still have it…?

The sad answer was that I probably did. And I knew where to look.

Let me just be honest and admit that my basement frightens me. It has been collecting discarded bits and pieces of my past life for 4.5 years, now, and whenever I go down there all I can think is if I leave this house how am I EVER going to get rid of all this stuff? As I slowly upgrade things purchased during my early adulthood, my basement has become a graveyard of old computers and Ikea bookshelves and adapter cables for god-knows-what.

I don’t even have any pictures of the basement to show you, because shhhhhhh, I do not have a secret hoarding problem! That door? That door doesn’t lead anywhere. Broom closet. Wouldn’t you like a tour of the second floor?


Anyway, last night I swallowed my pride an ventured down there, where a solid 10-minute search produced what I was looking for: the little wire shoe rack I bought in college. I don’t know whether I was more pleased or disgusted with myself. But hey, one more organizational challenged solved, I suppose. Now who wants a tiny 10 year-old TV? Anybody? Somebody? Please?

New work

I hereby designate 2013 The Year of Hard Work. In addition to my day job and trying to stay on top of the house, I’m enrolled in an Information Visualization course and I’m taking on some new freelance and personal projects too. To keep everything cataloged I’ve updated my portfolio:

Lauren Hallden | Visual Designer

So head over there if you want to see what I’m up to, design-wise. A lot of it is class work, including this infovis assignment on my own tweeting habits:

3 Years In Tweets

For this project I took my two personal twitter accounts and mapped my tweeting frequency and content over time against a variety of life events. There’s a 8.5 x 11″ flyer version of this visualization, too, but I was especially proud of the website, which is hand coded and assembled in under 2 days (shout out to Susan who taught me everything I know about coding [beyond the introduction given to me by my mother] and whose Web Start Women project is an inspiration).

Infovis is a demanding class, so unfortunately I don’t have time for more personal work at the moment. But at some point I’d like to return to making a few more of these lettering pieces:


These are something of a response to the relentless positivity out there in the world of type-based design. You can’t throw a rock on the web today without hitting an artfully lettered but otherwise completely generic “you’re braver than you think you are” or “you only run out of chances when you stop taking them” or “live your dreams.”

Live my dreams, huh? Golly Gee Willikers. Thanks for the tip.

For me, swirly flourishy bits work best when balanced by a little bite. Life bites sometimes. It’s okay to talk about that, too. So that’s what I’ve been doing, and if you’d like to see more you can check out the full set of designs here.

I’ve had a few people express interest in having their own words hand-lettered and I’d love to keep working in this direction, so if you have a favorite saying with a little more personality than “you will never win if you never begin” and you’d like me to take a stab at it, please contact me! I’m going to be a little busy through May, but that’s okay. It’s the Year of Hard Work. Let’s make some awesome stuff.

Back in Black

My brain is back online (cue screeching dial-up modem sound), so here are a few little house updates that I’ve been meaning to share.

The only real project I tackled during my week off, besides scrubbing every floor on my hands and knees (BONA!), was to finish painting this bathroom cabinet. I had previously painted just the doors black and left the rest of it primer — I still haven’t dealt with the walls in this room and I don’t know what color they’ll be, so I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep going — but eventually I got tired of living with black-and-white-striped Tim Burtonesque bathroom storage.

I was a little worried that once the whole thing was black it would make the room look smaller, but thankfully it doesn’t. You know what did? The room’s original, overwhelmingly wooden state. FLASHBACK!

Don’t you just want to burn it all for warmth?

Now that section looks more like this:

So with the completion of the little cabinet, all the wood furniture matches. Which is more than we can say for any of the metal fixtures. But hey.

I now have well-organized bottles of nasal spray and contact lens solution. And I need to properly paste down that accent paper. Or nix it. Or design my own. Not sure. Moving on!

I’ve been looking for an inexpensive cocktail ring for a while now, and was gifted the green labrodite one below from Priscilla and Vi’s Etsy shop. It’s just the size I wanted: bold, but just shy of ridiculous.

Up until this point my few rings and bracelets had been layered precariously on necklace hooks, but it was time to admit that I needed a better storage solution. This little Ikea dish does the trick nicely.

And now for the dining room, where, after 4.5 years of home ownership, THERE IS NOW A RUG.

I was so excited about this improvement that, at one of the season’s many social gatherings, I caught myself earnestly telling the person next to me that it really… tied… the room… together. Yeah.

It’s sisal and therefore not what you would call soft, but it was inexpensive and it does its job of preventing that horrible noise caused by chair legs scraping across a wood floor.

Elsewhere in the room are a few other gifts:

A nice Scotch (thanks, Dad!) and giant leftover bottle of Burgundy. We do both high and low class here at the ‘row. I have not partaken of either, however, as I am debating the merits of Drynuary. Perhaps I’ll try a modified version that allows for the occasional date and work happy hour? Either way I think I’ll save opening the Scotch until we hit the long, cold nights of February. And beyond.


And then there’s this. No explanation, really. I had the bow lying around and you know, it just happened.

(I’m not sorry.)

Welcome to the new PRR!

So I spent my entire winter vacation coding websites. 3 of them! And that includes the new home of Port Richmond Row. I don’t feel like I’m quite satisfied with the way this blog looks yet — at some point I’ll get around to styling every little button and text input box just right — but at the moment I can’t bring myself to look at any more style sheets. And the idea of going back and categorizing my old content right now makes me shiver. Nah. Let’s just get up and running, shall we?

It’s been an unusually busy holiday season over here. I have a few little house updates to share, but my brain is running on low battery. The best I can do is provide this weird holiday-and-rodent-themed Instagram photo montage:


I do not know where my friends managed to find this variety of squirrel ornaments. And they’re eating things. You guys are the best.

Anyway, here’s to a full year of, uh, blog content that is more legitimate than this post. Happy 2013, everyone. I hope it treats you all well.