Walk (in) this way: Entryway reveal

TD here.  If I were Santiago, the haggard Cuban Fisherman in The Old Man and the Sea, Via Corona’s entryway would be my giant marlin (only with a much happier, less Hemingwayesque ending).

It’s said you never get a second chance to make a first impression.  While this may be true in job interviews, dating or armed robbery, it thankfully does not apply to the reveal of Via Corona’s least appealing original feature — the entryway.

Walk this way . . .

Call it an entryway, a foyer, an anteroom or even a narthex, there was no doubt it was a problem.  A big one.  Or should I say a short one?  When we purchased Via Corona, the entryway ceiling stood a claustrophobia-inducing 6 feet 11 inches high.  Likely not a concern for the previous owner since he stood all of 5’3″, but when you’re 6’2″ it feels like the sky is falling.  If you don’t believe me, hold a personal-sized pizza box vertically over your head and imagine that’s where the ceiling is.  I’ll wait.

True fact:  No one is sure who is actually responsible for the “never get a second chance” line.  Some attribute the quote to Oscar Wilde.  Others trace its use to a Botany Suits ad from 1966 (the same year Via Corona was built).  The majority claim Will Rogers turned the phrase.  Rogers also reportedly said, “I never met a man I didn’t like” thus proving he never met the previous owner of the house.

The ceiling wasn’t the only problem with the foyer, just the most glaring.  Honorable mentions go to the “Liberace’s pool house” double front doors and the creepy staircase complete with “end of life” carpeting and railings nearly a foot lower than the modern code.

Then there was our lady with the urn.

Earning the title of Worst Original Feature in a place like Via Corona is a bit like being the Cleveland Browns starting QB, World’s Greatest Mime or the biggest hit by Nickelback.  You’re the best of a bad lot.  A distinction without a difference.  So even before we chiseled rocks off the side of the house or destroyed the mantel, I dreamed of bashing this atrocity to smithereens.

With all due respect to Heaven, Via Corona is the place where dreams come true.

I felt like the end result was about a 100% improvement as-is.  Fortunately Shannon assured me we could rebuild him.  Make him better than he was.  Better.  Stronger.  Faster.

The first move was to raise the ceiling to a normal height and install LED lights.   Here you can see how much difference a foot can make.  We couldn’t raise the ceiling in front of the powder/ stairs for structural reasons–but this was the height of the entire ceiling when we started out.  Sadly, doing this went a long way in destroying the haunted house vibe the previous owners had cultivated so spectacularly.  Everything is a compromise.

We also installed a single front door with operable, screened sidelights.  [SF here] Via Corona sits on a corner with the front door facing South. Due to this and some other weather and location related stuff we don’t understand, the breeze runs South-to-North.  By adding the sidelights we created an air flow straight through the house that should make up for the fact that we don’t have AC.  We hope.

We ran hardwood down the stairs and had iron railings made to bring everything up to code for this century.

The coat closet to the left is now a quite inviting home for our in-house wine storage (not to be confused with Garage Wine).  While we don’t have photographic evidence, the before looked like Jame Gumb’s basement in Silence of the Lambs.  Go ahead and look that up if you need to.

See that air vent at the end of the hall?  It was at ceiling height before.  After we raised the roof, it wasn’t.  So we had it moved-up at a cost equal to a year’s supply of foot long subs (this is where the builders get you–all the little bits and pieces here and there).  We also installed a wireless doorbell that plays 50 different songs — each  more annoying than the last!  I thought it would be funny to have “Memory” from Cats be our doorbell song.  It’s not.  Not even a little bit.

What of the space formerly ruled by Lady with Urn you ask?  In the fullness of time she’ll be replaced by a mirror.  Something about reflecting ambient light or words to that effect.  I honestly wasn’t paying attention but I’m sure it’ll be great.

Finally, at long last, the makeover montage. . . Flip or Flop-style (minus the high-profile divorce and tabloid headlines, of course).

Stay tuned.  In a couple of weeks we’ll reveal the smallest room in the house with the greatest number of fixtures I’m not allowed to use . . . the Powder Room!

Can’t wait, want more?  Go here: Via Corona


Rug: Rejuvination (they frequently have 20% off sales)

Door levers: Kwikset Halifax Square Lever

Interior Doors: Winslow Three Panel

Front Door: Plastpro Smooth Skin Craftsman

Gingers Welcome!

These muffins have been sitting in my SmugMug account for several months.  Well, not the actual muffins…those are long gone…but you know, the pictures.  The thing is, I keep stumbling across the photos, wondering why I haven’t posted and then remembering: oh yeah, there are no photos of the final product.

I have no explanation for it.  Just no finished muffins.  Alas, what feels like weekends and weekends of yard work (I know, TD and I are the first and only people to ever attempt to landscape their yard on their own EVER.  Or at least, that’s what it sounds like) has seriously eaten into my baking time.  So, I’m down to my last couple of reserve bakes.

But back to the muffins.  You’ll have to take my word for it:  these were very tasty and kind of an unusual twist on the traditional morning baked good.

The orange doesn’t add a ton of flavor–there isn’t much of it and it’s hard to compete with the dominant ginger.  But, it did make the batter prettier.  So, there is that.

These are great slightly warmed with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt.

Ginger Orange Muffins

adapted from Double-Ginger Sour Cream and Bundt Cake with Ginger Infused Strawberries by Abigail Johnson Dodge, Bon Appetit, April 2009

Makes about 12-18 cupcakes


  • 2 1/4 C all purpose flour
  • 4 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 C sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 C sour cream
  • 1/2 C orange juice (blood orange or other)
  • 2 TBS orange zest
  • 1 C chopped crystallized ginger
  • 1/4-1/2 raw sugar for sprinkling on top


  1. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F.
  2. Line cupcake pan with 18 liners.
  3. Whisk flour, ground ginger, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl.
  4. Using electric mixer, beat 1 cup butter in large bowl until smooth. Add 2 cups sugar; beat on medium-high speed until blended, about 2 minutes.
  5. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in 1 egg yolk and vanilla, stopping to scrape down bowl as needed.
  6. Add-in zest and orange juice, beat to combine.
  7. Add flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with sour cream in 2 additions, beating on low speed just until blended after each addition. Mix in crystallized ginger.
  8. Scoop batter into cupcake tins, about 3/4 full.
  9. Sprinkle tops with raw sugar
  10. Bake cake until tops are light brown and tester inserted near center comes out with a few small crumbs attached, about 20-25 minutes.

Reveal: The Champagne Room


And by Champagne Room, we all I know I mean the kitchen.


Let’s go back to where we started with the kitchen.  It really wasn’t bad.  It even came with double ovens.  In the original plan, the kitchen was actually slated for phase two.  But, then we lost our minds and decided to throw the old range out with the bathtub (and the toilets) and just start from scratch.

By way of review, here were the main objectives of the kitchen renovation:

  • Pull the range off of the peninsula to free-up counter space
  • Maximize work space
  • Maximize storage
  • Keep double ovens
  • Replace appliances

As I mentioned in the plans post, we didn’t have a lot of freedom to enlarge the space.  Well, we could have but it would have meant losing one of those gorgeous picture windows.  That was not going to happen and so other than adding about five linear feet so that we could sink the fridge into the wall, we stuck with the 12 X 12 space.  Crappy iPhone shot but the amount of tile they pulled up was impressive!

Given that the house is now about 2200 square feet, the size of the kitchen is probably about right.

If you want to see a recap of the demo and rebuild up to cabinet install, go here: Via Corona kitchen progress.

Let us also revisit the Via Corona kitchen mood board (by the way, mood board is a seriously douchey term).  Whether kitchen, office or sartorial, I like my work space to be functionally efficient and uncluttered.  To keep things interesting, on the permanent fixtures I worked with lots of texture rather than color.  This is pretty much my M.O.: keep it neutral and rotate in the color with details that are easy to replace when I need something fresh (I know, now whose being douchey?)


From a different angle.  While we couldn’t expand the kitchen much, losing the dropped soffett made things a little less vertically challenging.

A note on the kitchen rug (you can barely see it in each of the pictures above).  Part of the reason I chose our hardwood floors was because their light color and oil finish mean they’re less apt to show dirt as well as wear and tear.  However, regular wear and tear and misanthropic hostess kitchen wear and tear mean two different things in our household (I am the messiest neat freak I’ve ever met).  In theory I love the trend of an antiqued Turkish wool rug in the kitchen.  In practice it would have been rugicide in Via Corona.  I did some research on the best rugs for kitchens and all roads seem to lead to cotton flat weave.  The reason is easy: you can throw it in the washing machine.  This one has already made the trip.  Twice.

All of the small appliances save the coffee and espresso machines are stored in the butler’s pantry/ laundry.  However, all of our every-day use tools–which includes no fewer than 12 sets of varying types beverage vessels (we are thirsty people) easily fit into the kitchen storage. Score!

In addition to limiting expansion opportunities, the windows also added constraints to the peninsula depth.  In my head, this was  going to be a 60 incher (so many jokes here).  Alas, the builders wouldn’t allow us to cantilever the counter top out over the window (even when I made liberal use of the term corbel).  In the end we ended up with about 32 inches.  Not too shabby but also a little more conservative than I wanted.  Don’t tell TD but I do have plans to deepen this baby down the road.  I’m confident that there is a duplicitous contractor out there who will do my deep counter dirty work.

I spent a lot of time designing the kitchen thinking that once we worked with the professionals they’d nicely explain that most of it couldn’t be done.  Turns out the only thing the builders wouldn’t go for was the deeper peninsula.  This means that the entire kitchen was custom designed by me.  Kind of cool.  Or a total disaster.

By moving the fridge from the West wall to the South, we were able to relocate the cooktop off the peninsula and install a serious bad ass hood.  Upon installation, we immediately put the ventilation system to the bacon test.  No trace when we cranked her up to high and let her rip.

Cook top close-up.

The food pantry was the one spot where we lost storage space.  Once the builders got into the wall, we lost about six inches of cabinet width going from an 18″ to a 12″ cabinet.  While small, pull-outs help us to fully maximize the space.  All baking ingredients are stored in the deep cabinets above the fridge.

The view looking out from the kitchen.  The actual view also includes the fireplace and the dining room to the right but once again, my limited photographic skills sell the space short.

More details?

I knew I wanted a semi-commercial faucet and giant, deep stainless sink.  Imagine my surprise when I went to order the faucet and the company wouldn’t ship it to California because of water regulations.  While I totally love the one we went with (source info below), it wasn’t until it was installed that I realized I might have gotten a little overzealous on height.  Let’s just say this faucet is always ready to party but doesn’t take itself too seriously.

I built drawer and cabinet organization into the budget to help keep things tidy. Exhibit A: the spice drawer.  So, like when I go to cook something this happens:

I open the drawer and it (the drawer) says, “tell me what you want what you really really want.”

And then I say something like, “paprika!”

And there it is.  The paprika.  Right in front of me.

You’re still with me?    Exhibit B: the parchment paper, doilie  and measurement drawer.

Exhibit C: Commonly used baking dishes stored right under the ovens.  Cookie sheets live on the bakers rack stored in the garage and less-used pans and tins are stored in the cabinet above the ovens.  In our last house I had baking pans stored all over the house like some sort of culinary squirrel.  Now not only are they front and center but also much easier to access.

Every day dishes are stored in two large drawers in the peninsula which we use for casual dining.  Plates in one drawer.  Bowls in another.  These drawers are just to the right of the dishwasher making emptying a breeze.  I would know.

Okay, one more.  The knife drawer.  Just looking at the knife drawer makes me calm.

As we all know, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and so far Via Corona’s has been a delight.  But, what wouldn’t be when you have a sunrise view like this?

Want more house renovating shenanigans?  Go here: Via Corona

Kitchen Sources

Cooktop: Thermador 36" Masterpiece Series Gas Cooktop

Hood: Broad Elite EW58 Wall Mount Chimney Hood

Fridge: Frigidaire Professional French Door Counter-Depth Refrigerator

Dishwasher: KitchenAid

Ovens: Whirlpool 30" Double Electric Oven

Sink: Kraus KHU100-32 Stainless Steel 32" Single Basin

Faucet: Kraus KPF-1602 Chrome Commercial Style Pre-Rinse Kitchen Faucet with Pot Filler

Countertops:  Bianco Venato Extra in MaxFine

Drawer and cabinet pulls and knobs: Lewis Dolan Bar Series

Stools: West Elm

Momma said

First things first. I realize it has been forever since we’ve posted anything about Via Corona on the blog.  The thing is, I’m having a hard time photographing all of the “afters” in a way that does justice to what she actually looks like.  Exhibit A above is clear proof of that; “hey–check out the back of my shadowy couch.”  It’s one thing to put my dubious photographic skills to work taking hazy, murky shots of “end of life” carpet and uber-low ceilings.  When it come to the ugly, bad shots are what you want.  However, photographic incompetence doesn’t work all that well on the other end of the spectrum.  I have big plans to rent a wide-angle lens but I’m not sure even that will help.  Luckily my plan has a back-up plan: we’re going to start to roll-out more reveal posts–maybe one-or-two a month with the best photos we take and then we’ll replace the photos with better ones over time (here is where my plan fall apart as I’m not really sure where the “better” photos will come from but let’s just go with it).

In that spirit, up next week: Champagne Room Reveal.  I’ll let you guess which room this is.

In the meantime, let’s make some not quite cookies, not quite biscotti.

My parents came to visit about a month ago.  In addition to immediately putting TD and I to work in the front yard (yes, I know, it’s our yard but when your 70+ year-old mother tells you to pull weeds, you pull weeds), my mom kept telling me I needed to make these not-quite biscotti, not-quite cookie creations from Dorie Greenspan’s new book.

We didn’t have time to make the treats while they were here (it’s hard to mix batter and pull rocks out of the front planter boxes at the same time).  However, I did get to work on them the first free moment I had.

These treats are called mandelbrots.  As Dorie explains in the introduction to the recipe, these oddly named near-biscotti came to her from a client at her former bake shop.  The word mandelbot translates to “almond bread” and it is thought to have been developed in the Ashkenazi Jewish community in the Piedmont area of Italy.  This particular recipe however contains no almonds.  For the record, the recipe title is ‘Chocolate chip not-quite mandelbrot’.  So, now we know what the “not-quite” part means.

While the ingredients are simple, a generous dusting of cinnamon makes them special without or without a strong cup of coffee or a nice glass of light red wine.

Now,  back to the front yard.  Here is what it looked like when my parents arrived.

This is what it looked like when they left.

I know, you are astonished about how NOT different it looks.  To be fair, the front yard did look like this for a couple of months.  So.

TD and I have since removed ALL of the Arizona rock, turned the soil and installed many cubic feet of soil amendment.  This weekend we’ll mulch and maybe by the end of May we’ll work up the courage to actually plant something.

Chocolate Chip Mandelbrot

from Dorie Greenspan’s Dorie’s Cookies


  • 3 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 cup flavorless oil, such as canola (I used grapeseed)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon


  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat; set aside.
  2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl; set aside.
  3. Whisk the eggs and 1 cup of the sugar in a large bowl until smooth. Add the oil and vanilla and continue to whisk until you have a smooth, glossy mixture that’s slightly thickened. Switch to a sturdy rubber spatula, add half of the flour mixture, and stir until the flour disappears into the mixture. Add the remaining flour mixture and stir — you’ll need to put a bit of muscle into this — until it’s almost incorporated. Add the chocolate and continue mixing until you’ve got a thick, sticky dough.
  4. Starting close to one long side of one of the baking sheets, drop, spread, and cajole 1/3 of the dough into a log about 3 inches wide and 12 inches long. (Get the width, and whatever the length is will be fine.) Make a second log in the center of the baking sheet, and a third one close to the other long side of the sheet (note–I failed at this and had to use two cookie sheets). It’s not a neat job and your logs won’t be pretty, but it won’t matter.
  5. Stir the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Sprinkle some over the logs, saving the rest for the second bake. (You’ll have more than you need, so be generous.)
  6. Bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet from front to back and bake until the logs are golden brown on top and deeply golden brown on bottom, 15 to 20 minutes more. They’ll crack a little, and that’s okay. Place the baking sheet on a wire rack.
  7. When the cookies are cool enough to handle but still warm, transfer to a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut the logs on the diagonal into 1/2-inch wide slices. Transfer the slices cut-side down onto the second baking sheet. Sprinkle the cookies with more cinnamon-sugar and bake for 10 minutes more. Place the baking sheet on a rack and let the cookies cool completely.