The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

Category: Our House Page 2 of 11

House tours and stuff

A Minimalist Retreat

Looking back I realized that I never gave you a full reveal to my retreat room – we worked on it last Fall and I am really proud of the DIY projects here. So without further ado, here it is:









This room had served as our bedroom for a couple years before we moved into the basement master. Since then, we thought hard about what to do with this space. We needed a place for guests to sleep, but did not want to dedicate an entire room for this solo purpose. Then the pandemic hit and I started working from home.


As you can see I really needed a home office at least a desk. So we designed this room as where I can write and read in peace, take video conference calls, exercise, and relax. This room offers the best lighting in our house. So we left plenty of space for our houseplant haul. I think in the end, we achieved all the goals and really turned this room into a multi-functional retreat. Let us take a look around, shall we?

The closet wall

When you walk into this 10.5′ x 11′ room, immediate to your left is the closet wall. To the left side, we built a full-size closet for winter gear and sport equipment.


Slav DIY-ed the plywood doors since we could not find doors in this size without breaking the bank.



The right half of the closet space was converted to house a full-size murphy bed.


The full-size murphy bed frame we got fits into the closet perfectly. We also had a full-size mattress in hand which is the most comfortable mattress I’ve ever slept on.


I added a wedge bolster pillow as headboard. Slav installed an outlet next to the bed for charging electronics. I think our guests will be pleased.


The north wall and the corner desk

Being able to tuck the guest bed away saves lots of floor space in the room. When the bed is down and in use it extends half of the window on the north wall. But when it is up and hidden, there is a perfect spot for our Norfolk pine.


The picture window looks out to blue sky and neighbor’s spruce trees. In summer, this north facing window let in plenty of cool and fresh air, making it very comfortable to sleep under.


Moving clockwise, sitting at the northeast corner of the room is my desk. Oh my desk! It is no doubt my favorite furniture in this house. We built it with butcherblock and motorized legs we already owned. I spent majority of my time at home here reading, writing, planning, and drawing. This corner desk does not take much room at all, but creates a perfect home office with views to my backyard.


Speaking of backyard views, my favorite feature of the room is the window facing the backyard, which is packed full with fruit trees, perennial flowers, and a vegetable garden. I added a peony garden last year and cannot wait for it to bloom next Spring.



The art work

To create a cheerful workspace I added lots of colorful art, decorations, and plants to the room.



This wind chimes is a gift from my mentor. One of my favorite decor in the house.


Pictures of Roxie and Charlie are must-haves. I created the travel log below using map and push pins to label the space we have visited and desire to be around the States.


Slav took this picture of Mt. Baker during a ski vacation. A magical winterland indeed.


Slav’s zodiac animal is the dog, and I am a goat. ūüôā


Can you tell the violin in this picture is assembled with surgical tools? I work in medical field and cannot resist this nerd art.


The south wall/exercise space

We originally planned for a seating area next to the desk, but soon realized the need for more storage and additional space for house plants. Hence the bookcase.


Practical and cute, this small bookcase became a mini nursery for young cuttings and provided a much less offensive spot for the router.


Above the bookcase is a portrait of my immediate family – parents, sister, and my two nieces when they were still kids. Now both of the girls are in college!!!




We have created a library wall in Slav’s office. So this small bookcase only houses my gardening books, seed collection, and some keepsakes.


Such as my favorite picture of Slav’s. This photo was taken in 2007 shortly after he started graduate school, during a visit to his home country and taken by his childhood friends. I love how fearless he looked in this picture.


Next to Slav’s picture is a silver mug I was given when I left my previous job. My mentor and colleagues engraved their wishes into the mug. The best farewell gift ever.


The last wall in the room was intentionally left empty for yoga/inversion practice. The space above the doorway provided a perfect spot for my hang board.


During the demo we took down the bedroom door. The future bedroom door will be mounted onto the doorway closer to the living room, which will help to create a guest “suite” that includes the bathroom. Slav patched the original doorway and it is like there was never a door here!

Here it is…

My retreat room – how do you like it? It is airy, it is bright, and it is comfortable. I am definitely more productive with a dedicated space to research and create. I cannot wait for the time when I can see all the blooms and fruition in the backyard from my desk. We still yet to refinish the original hardwood floor here and add baseboard which is on our 2021 renovation to-do list. But for now, I enjoyed immensely having my own space. A big thumb up to Slav, the man who made it happen!


What is in Store in 2021

Planning for 2021 turned out to be difficult. I’ve never experienced such level of unpredictability before, which prevented me from making plans. After all, nothing went as planned last year. We were looking forward to an awesome ski season; I was supposed to celebrating Chinese New Year with my family for the first time in 15 years. We were getting on a cruise (for the first time) to accompany our good friends on their honeymoon. My parents’ 50-year-old anniversary celebration, my grandaunt’s 100-year-old birthday celebration, my sister’s big birthday celebration on the west coast, and my high school reunion… 2020 was supposed to be about family, love, and companionship. At the end, it was filled with isolation and endurance.

As the world knows, we are still experiencing dark times in the States, but I have to say, the vaccine distribution and more importantly a new leadership did bring a glimmer of hope. I still dare not to make any plans when it comes to family and friends, but I am able to make plans for the ranch house due to the solitary nature of DIY…So, what is in store for the ranch house in 2021?

1. The main floor bath

The 2021 renovation has started in the main floor bathroom.


This 5″ x 8″ bathroom is the only bathroom on the main floor (labeled as “5” in the floor plan below). Upon completion, it will be a guest/hall bath as our master bath is located in the lower level. As you can see, we have started the renovation by demolishing the old bathroom into studs and upgrading the electrical. We will start plumbing work in January and hope to complete this renovation by end of Spring. You can see our design plans for the new bathroom here.

Ranch main floor_3D

2. The kitchen

After the main floor bathroom, the kitchen will be the last room to tackle in the ranch house. I cannot believe that how long we have waited! Below shows how the kitchen looks today, which has not changed since the day we moved in.




The current layout of the kitchen is shown below. The L-shape layout provides very little counter space.

Kitchen plan_current

Furthermore, the fridge is located right next to the back/garage door and stair area, obscuring the view of the kitchen and making the kitchen feel crowded.

Northern wall

The new layout will feature the stove/oven between the two windows. This arrangement not only removes the visual obstruction near the backdoor, but also allows us to look into the backyard while cooking.

Eastern wall plan without soffit_

The fridge will be relocated to the left side of the room. We will also remove the soffit which are empty inside to make more head room. The upper cabinets are attached to the soffit will be replaced with new and taller upper cabinets to provide more storage. The open shelves were drawn in the SketchUp below just for comparison sake.

Northern wall plan with shelves

The non-weight-bearing wall between the kitchen and the living room will be removed. We will also create a pass-though window on the upper half wall above the stairs to provide more light into the living room.


Renovating this kitchen will be a gut job. The cabinets are moldy and Slav is looking forward to a dishwasher. The old tiled flooring is half inch taller than the hardwood floor. We also would like to add more lighting in the kitchen and the adjunct living room.

3. Main floor floor refinish + baseboards

We removed all the carpet on the main floor and uncovered the original hardwood flooring shortly after moving into the house. But the wood floor was in rough shape and need to be refinished.


23 after office

24 after hallway


Later on, during the office renovation, we patched the hardwood flooring at the new doorway. These were brand new flooring and more shining than the old ones.


We will be refinishing all the hardwood flooring in the living room and two offices once all the bath and kitchen renovation work is complete. In addition, we have been waiting for the floor to be refinished before installing baseboards in Slav’s office, the living room, and my retreat room. All the work will be performed after removing the wall between the kitchen and the living room.

4. The shed patio

One of the big landscape project in 2020 was carving out the shed patio and adjunct terraced garden. Due to our inability to get landscaping supplies, we did not actually pave the shed patio, but covered the bare dirt with some black plastic for weed suppression. We were fortunate to get 800 sqft of pre-owned flagstone for merely $100, which is more than enough for the patio space I have prepared. As soon as the ground thaws in April, I will be paving the flagstone patio around our shed and building the retaining wall around it!


5. Structures and hardscape in the garden

Garden structures provide layers, dimensions, and functionality to a garden. After getting most of the perennial beds established, I am dying to add pieces like garden trellises and bird bath to my garden.


Above is a picture of the raspberry garden. It is so productive that in the peak season, bounties of raspberry weighted down the brunches down to the ground. Come around Spring/Summer, we will be building a trellis system for the raspberry bushes like the one below.

Raspberry Trellis

(Photo credit:


A new addition to our edible garden is grapes. We will be planting four grape plants along the northern fence (facing south) next Spring, and building garden arbors like the ones below for both function and form:


Our 2021 renovation plan

might be short in numbers, but it is actually plenty of work as the bathroom and kitchen projects will likely take months to complete. Paving a patio and set all the trellises into the ground also require lots of elbow grease. I am hopeful that by the end of the next year, we will be at least wrapping up the renovation inside of the ranch house. No matter how far we get to the tasks in the garden, the garden will come to fruition, and we will have more leisure time in 2022 and finally get to explore the State we now call home.

What do you think about our renovation plan? Are you planning for any renovations to your space in 2021?


A Look Back on the Ranch Renovation in 2020

If the star of our 2019 renovation was the master suite, the ranch house has seen many stars in 2020. Like most Americans, we self-isolated at home for the whole Spring and Summer. With the time saved from commute and socializing, we were able to complete many projects more than expected, and truly improved the way we live in our little house.

1. The Basement Utility

We kick-started the 2020 renovation in the basement utility. It was the last unfinished space in the lower level, and we were dying to have a dust-free living quarter. The utility room was completed in late Spring, consisting of a laundry nook, a utility closet, and a storage closet under the stairs.

The utility closet houses our furnace and water heater:


The laundry nook:


The left side of the room:


The storage closet with a pocket door:


The whole utility room:


Although a simple room, it involved some major utility work, including moving a floor drain and upgrading most of the water lines. We framed in the unsightly furnace and water heater, insulated the exterior walls, brought the LVP flooring into the utility room, and installed a pocket door on the storage closet.


2. The Basement Trims and Baseboards

After the utility room was completed, we proceeded to install door trims and baseboards throughout the basement.

All the basement doors got as craftsman style trims, including the basement entry door:


The bedroom door:



And the bathroom door:




Due to the ceiling height we did a simple trim profile for the bathroom pocket door:



After installing all the door trims, the baseboards were installed. We picked a simple but beefy style for the basement, which worked really well next to the wood-tone LVP flooring.





3. Furnishing the Media Room

Once the trims and baseboards were in place, we started bringing furniture into the media room, starting with a TV and a media console:


next we moved downstairs Slav’s record collection and record players.


I ordered this commission portrait for Slav’s birthday last year because no mancave is complete without a grand portrait. Right?


Charlie was the first to move into the basement. I guess he wanted a mancave too.


Due to the concern of delivery-related COVID transmission, we did not purchase any furniture for the media room for a while, and instead furnished the room with pieces we had. So the basement looked a little bare over the summer:




But coming into the Fall, after the risk of transmission had died down, we pulled the trigger for a big L-shape leather sofa Slav always wanted.

The sofa really completed the media room. Since it was in Slav has been using the media room every night! This is exactly the outcome I was hoping for by renovating the basement – to create a cozy and relaxing space for Slav to wind down after a day of busy work.

4. Fluffing the Garden

The pandemic picked up in the States right around the beginning of Spring. While Slav was busy working in the basement, I focused my energy outside. 2020 was a great gardening year – it was not only the first season I got to watch perennials waking up in Spring and flourishing in Summer, but also the first season I could wander around and really think how I want my garden to feel. After two years of busy planting, my taste for garden design and plant selection had definitely evolved. I also had a lot more knowledge regarding the growing habits and companionship of plants. During this growing season, being able to watch my own garden changing day after day gave me a great opportunity to come up ideas to fine tune it, “fluff” the garden if I may.





The first big change I made to the garden was to carve out a¬†patio around our garden shed. I’ve been thinking about how to elegantly address the steep slope towards this corner of our yard for a couple years. At the end, all the options and inspirations brewing in my head finally birthed an adequate solution – a terraced garden over a flagstone patio with a seat-intergraded retaining wall.

With the blueprint in mind I started digging into the hill to create the terraces.


The edge of the existing garden bed was also changed to follow the curve of the future patio.


And this is more of less how the new patio garden bed looks like:


Due to the lack of building supply, we did not actually pave the patio, nor build the retaining wall around it. All I’ve done was to form a temporary “retaining wall” with wood stumps, just to hold up the terraced garden, and covered the future patio space with black plastic for weed suppression. But it was good enough to start planting.

The first plant went into the terraced garden was this apple tree called “transparent”.


And the second one is a ginkgo Tree.


As the garden becomes fuller, I was more and more clear what plants I really wanted. Maybe it is just my Chinese heritage speaking, but peony and chrysanthemum are the most elegant flowers to my taste. I planted a hedge of peonies this year in the new patio garden space. And I hope to eventually add chrysanthemum into my garden as well.


I’ve long wanted to add seating and planters into my garden. This set of planters with seating I built for the patio area was undoubtedly my favorite wood working project to date. The cherry on top was that it was built with leftover cedar planks from our 2018 fence build! Talking about one stone two birds here…


Encouraged by how nice and useful the new patio planters were. I built a potting bench/outdoor kitchen also with leftover cedar plank trimmings:

Followed by another planter located in the front yard:



And a small fence to hide the HVAC unit from the view of the master bedroom:


The ugly AC unit was no longer visible from the bedroom window:


These cedar pieces echo our horizontal fencing and really added dimensions and interests to the garden. I enjoy looking at them this year. Towards Fall, with Slav’s help, I completed the most physically demanding garden “fluffing” project – edging the vegetable garden beds and mulching the walking paths with pea gravel.




5. Automating the Irrigation

One of my personal goal of 2020 was to reduce stressful and time-consuming work for ourselves. We all have limited time which should be reserved for creative projects and relaxation, but not house chores! In our garden, the most annoying, stressful, and time-consuming task has been watering. Our property did not come with sprinklers, so the precious summer nights were often consumed by dragging hoses among flower beds, vegetable garden, and lawn space, as well as adjusting yard sprinklers every 30 minutes. Therefore, I was determined to automate the whole irrigation process.

The first I did was to install drip emitters for our front yard lawn space, which enabled automatic irrigation for the lawn grass:



Then I connected all the drip irrigation grids, including the ones installed in existing flower beds, to two battery-powered water timer, one for the front yard:


And one for the backyard:


Since the completion of the automatic irrigation grids, we have not needed to spend any time or effort to even think about watering. The entire front yard, including the flower beds and lawn space, as well as all the flower/veggie beds in the backyard were taken care of without our attention. This upgrade, which took a couple hundred dollars and a couple weekends of time, greatly improved our life quality and reduced our anxiety during growing season.

6. My Retreat Room/Home office

After a whole Spring of basement work and a busy summer in the garden, we turned our attention to the main floor of the house. We still have a number of rooms to renovate on the main floor, including the kitchen and the main floor bathroom. But before getting to the tough jobs, we decided to convert the spare bedroom into my office/retreat room.

Over the Fall months, a desk was built, the two existing closets were reframed to accommodate a murphy bed and a winter gear closet. This room will be used by overnight guest as a bedroom.







I just realized that I have not given you a full reveal of the room yet. It is currently decorated for Christmas, so maybe after the Three Kings day when we take down the Christmas decorations, I will take you on a tour. So stay tuned, friends!

7. Starting the Main Floor Bathroom Renovation

The last major renovation project we at least started, is the main floor bathroom. It is currently ongoing but slowly due to Slav’s busy work schedule. Without getting into it too much, I’d say that we have completed the demo and electrical upgrade, and are anxious to start the plumbing process. You can check on our inspiration and design post here to get an idea what we are working towards. It is gonna be a long journey!


To summarize…

2020 wasn’t the year I expected it to be. But maybe, it’s the year I needed. I am grateful for what we’ve learned to appreciate during this unprecedented year. Patience and tenderness, growth and reflection, generosity and sacrifice, all led to strengthen and refine. 2020, I will remember you!

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