Category Archives: Projects

Few Morton Hall Studio projects

If You’re Going to Dream, Dream BIG!

The original three story, brick hill barn
The original three-story, brick, hill barn at Morton Hall

Working on a house restoration project is always a balancing act – What needs to be done so the house doesn’t fall down around my ears?  How much money do I have to spend on it this year?  How much can I do myself?  How much do I need to have done by a professional?  And finally, what friends do I know who can do this with me and who are willing to help me, yet again?!!

When I first purchased Morton Hall in 1995, as I told my friend, Susanne, “I care about the house – not the gardens.”  The former tenant of 30 years had put his time and energy into the various gardens around the property and had let the house fall into major disrepair.  Fast forward 22 years (wow, this has been a long project!) and now that the house is stable, livable and a generally pleasant, if eclectic place to hang out,  the encroaching bamboo, poison ivy and grapevine jungle need to be dealt with.  Over the last several years, Kelly has continued to saw, cut and poison the various plant matter that dares to grow in her way.  She has gotten minimal help from me; if the weather is too hot or too cold or there are too many bugs or it is too anything, just forget about me helping.  I am an admitted “Goldilocks Gardener.”  Frankly, I hate the great outdoors.  There’s really nothing all that great about it to me.  Looks perfectly nice from inside the house, with air conditioning and a minimum of pollen and bugs!

I’ve often mentioned over the years that there used to be a 3-story hill barn on the property.  A tornado came

through, spun the roof around the owner at the time had the barn bulldozed for safety reasons.  I’ve often dreamed of winning the lottery and having something similar rebuilt.  Imagine a huge pool in the bottom section (hey….the hole is already dug!), the main floor would be art studios and galleries and the upper floor could be additional housing for guests and/or artists-in residence.  Whether that happens or not (highly

doubtful since you “have to play to win” and I so rarely play), I would still like to at least clear the area and beat back and win the war against the bamboo forest.  With that in mind, one of this years’ goals was to retake the ramp, the beautiful stone wall and the area below the ramp along with the paths around the milk building and silo.  With Kelly plugging away at the area for years, we have gotten somewhat closer.  But this year, with the cooler weather late into the season and some major assistance from our friend and neighbor down the road, Bob and Bob’s life-sized Tonka Tractor Thingie that can mow, rake, scoop, scrape and I don’t know what else, we have made absolutely amazing progress!


There had been a huge pile of trash next to the milk building (leftovers from that same 30-year tenant) which included all manner of windows, shutters, lamp parts and pieces and many, many other unidentified things.  Over the last several weekends, Kelly and I have steadily sorted into piles (wood for burning, save for a project, glass for recycling and metal to go to the metal guy).  Ray and Bobbie came out and did two huge burn piles for us, Bob ripped out a chunk of bamboo next to the ramp wall, sprayed professional grade roundup on all the weeds in our way, moved boulders, rocks and other such things and now….wow….take a look:20170617_152257

Of course there is still more to do (isn’t there always?) but this amount of progress has been amazing.  Thank you so much to Kelly, Bob, Ray and Bobbie!


As for the barn—rumor has it that there may be Model A or Model T parts in the basement.  The beams were made from American Chestnut (high dollar items for resale if they are not rotted), so next goal is to continue hacking at the bamboo so that maybe next fall, all my adventurous friends can do a little excursion into the hole and see what is really down there.  LOL….I will most likely stay topside for ground support, but may attach a go-pro to one or two of the guys so I can see for myself!  Keep your fingers crossed that there are huge unrotted beams and lots of non-rusty parts that I can turn around and sell for millions, would you?

Last year was a big money year at the hall between having several trees removed, some windows put in and flooring the attic.  This year is going to be a mostly sweat-equity year.  With that in mind, I really, really, hope to finish plastering and then paint the middle and front hallways.  Then, I can have Denny put in a new back door in the front hallway and we will have full flow and access throughout the house.  And the big money item this year is to replace the last eight windows in the front portion of the house.  So amazing just having Denny put in three windows last year.  The peach room got two of them and my room got the other.  The peach room used to be terribly noisy (the windows rattled, the wind seriously howled); it is now sooooo quiet, it is unbelievable!  Other, small beautification projects are also going on to include the start of landscaping around the front of the house (starting with one of my favorite flowers, Hydrangeas!) and I am trying to be good and keep up with the weeds on the patio and around the hot tub area.  We are even adding “yart work!”


How Many Elephants?

Week 3: SAM_1893 So as we are waiting for delivery of the gravel, sand and pavers over the holiday weekend, I was chatting with my friend, Michelle. I was mentally worrying the logistics of deliveries (oh please, let the gravel come first; nope, here comes the first of two paver deliveries and the timbers) when she asked how much gravel was being delivered and I absently responded 26 tons of gravel, 13 tons of sand, etc. Her response which actually got through my crowded brain was “Wow….so 26 elephants worth of gravel!” So when the gravel finally arrived and was dumped in the area….I kept looking at it and thinking, “That doesn’t look like 26 elephants worth of gravel…hmmmm.

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And when the 13 tons of sand was delivered and the 11 tons of pavers, again I thought, “That doesn’t look like that many…..”

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five elephants Throughout last weekend, we all got a kick out of using elephants of measurement and all agreed that although there were huge heaping piles of materials, it didn’t look like that many elephants! A little research after the fact found that the average weight of an adult elephant is between 2-7 tons. Taking the average, let’s say 5. So 5 elephants worth of gravel, 2 elephants worth of sand and 2 elephants worth of pavers.Throughout the last two weekends, while actually raking and spreading gravel and sand, lifting and maneuvering the gas-powered tamper machine, digging the trenches for the timbers and setting the pavers etc., I am now much more inclined to go with the original elephant math!
SAM_1935 Friday, May 23: Delivery of materials and initial spreading of gravel (girls only: Bobby, Kelly & Laurie)
SAM_1942 Saturday: Continuation of gravel spreading, cutting of half pavers, tamping and laying down of yet more ground cloth (Ray, Bobby, Kelly, Laurie and hired helpers: Daniel, Ted and Victor).
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Girls enjoying the fun power tools!
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Stupid tree root from the poison ivy tree which took up at least 2 hours of time trying to dig it out.
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SAM_1976 Sunday: Raking, spreading, tamping and leveling of sand. First few rows of pavers laid (Ray, Bobby, Kelly, Laurie, Tammy and Daniel).
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SAM_2007 Monday: Continued setting of pavers (Ray, Bobby, Kelly & Laurie)
SAM_2011 Week 4:Saturday: Gungho and sure we can finish this. Hard pushing and by 3 p.m. on Sunday, we are 70 pavers short. Almost finished. Sand in the pavers makes it look amazing!!!
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SAM_2021 Week 5:So this weekend, we have the last 70 pavers to put down and there is sand to sweep in and we need to trim up a few pavers and finish backfilling with gravel. Then, Kelly will begin with the magic pixie dust and turn this space into an awesome retreat for morning coffee and sunset cocktails!
tired elephant Overblown project almost finished? Check! I am one tired, happy elephant.