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Do It Yourself

Make a Little Birdhouse in Your Soul

The Story of the “New” Home

By Jodi Humphrey

Last summer we moved to Pittsburgh, PA from Austin, TX with a four week old baby to a beautiful colonial-style home built in 1940. Trying to settle into a new home and city, especially with a newborn, laid out plenty of challenges; therefore, we had to prioritize pretty much anything we did. Boxes first, new roof to avoid anymore leaks, a fence for our dogs, Hank and Redford, and the rest was secondary. We were lucky to get the majority of our boxes unpacked before my husband, Peter, had to start his new job two weeks later.

I call our home beautiful because I can see what it once was and what it could be one day. For some a “fixer-upper” can be discouraging because the word convenience does not comply. Our home had been left with almost all of its original features, including one pink and one blue bathroom and metal cabinet filled kitchen with decorative wallpapered ceiling. The house only had three owners before us, including a judge, a Catholic church for its parish priest, and eventually a couple from that church, who purchased the home in the 1950s. They raised their children there and after the couple died the house lay vacant for a few years. The first time I saw the home 10 months earlier I knew we had to live there.

Needless to say the exterior of the home- particularly the landscaping had long since been neglected after being uninhabited for a few years. Since we were still recovering from becoming new parents (it is a mind-blowing, life-altering event that remains indescribable) the previously neglected landscaping continued to be on ignored. We added an extra year to the throngs of sprawling ivy vines, over-grown shrubbery, and dying plant life, including grapevines clinging to life on a rusty wrought iron trellis. Now as Spring begins that we find ourselves more settled. Our son is better able to entertain himself a little bit at a time, which allows us to begin more extensive renovations of our home and focus on tackling our long list of projects including the exterior of our home.

In anticipation of the warmer weather and our son’s first birthday we have been tending to the landscaping and preparing a variety of furniture and decorations for our lawn and patios. I jokingly decided I wanted our house to be known as “the house with all of the color”, and it is quickly becoming a reality. We painted the Adirondack chairs for the front porch bright orange. The old picnic table, which came with our house, has been repainted a bright, hot fuchsia, and I aim to complete it before the birthday party with a Dia de los Muertos theme. And, lastly, I recently completed refurbishing the rusty, old birdcage that traveled with us from Austin. Here is its story…

The Chapter of the Birdcage

This is not a romantic story. I discovered what appeared to be an old, rusty giant birdcage in the garage when I was helping my now-husband pack up his condo as we prepared to cohabitate. We had previously been discussing what belongings of his we should discard as we merged our things. There were a few things I had no problem getting rid of because I had been living a pretty transient lifestyle bouncing around the US and Canada, and space was precious in the townhome we had rented. However, as soon as I saw the birdcage I knew it was something we had to keep even if it meant getting rid of other things to make room for it.

We don’t know a lot about the birdcage. Peter first saw the birdcage while living in Austin when he went over to his employer’s house to look at some bar stools. While there his boss started showing him all sorts of things going to waste in his garage including a storage container with roof rack, some fancy pieces of wood, and whatever else stood out at the time. The birdcage stood there lonely, rusty, and sad after a lengthy existence out in the family backyard. His boss was planning on eventually throwing it away, but Peter decided he would take it along with a carload full of his boss’ junk.

The birdcage resided on our patio unprotected and garnering additional abuse from the amazing Hill Country heat for the year we lived in our townhouse. We put it on the truck and hauled it to Pittsburgh because we still dreamed of making it new again. It lived for the next few months in the garage protecting its damaged skin from the snow, freezing rain, blustery cold winter weather. On the warm weekend day I hauled out it out of the garage and began cleaning it up, which is a lot easier than I had anticipated and required only a few tools to make it possible.


Rags or towels (you don’t mind covering in rust)
Wire brush(es)
Primer and Acrylic latex paint/spray paint or an all-in-one*
Ventilator/Dust mask

How To**

  1. Using your towel or rag wipe down the metal object removing any loose paint, dust, debris, grease, grime, etc.
  2. Using your wire brush(es) sand off any loose rust (You can sandblast your object if you have access to such a thing)

Finish Option A

  1. If using a stand alone primer apply one to two coats to the metal object and let dry (Refer to drying times on primer)
  2. Once primed paint object with a paint designed to adhere to metal, such an acrylic latex paint

Finish Option B

  1. Using a all-in-on spray paint apply as many coats as needed to cover the surface of your metal object

Finish Option C

  1. Professionally powdercoat the metal object if you have the funds!

* Typically I don’t like to use spray paint; however, it can get you a cleaner, more professional finish depending on the metal object. I used spray paint for the birdcage. 

**I recommend wearing a ventilator or mask and working outdoors in a well ventilated area when working with metal and rust dust and paint fumes

Similarly to our home I saw what the birdcage could be with its unique top with rounded features and separate base. I can only assume it is a replica of an antique, but I honestly don’t know. I just know that I love it!




  1. Pingback: BBQ Garden Planter « hobbyjunkies - May 25, 2012

  2. Pingback: The Kitchen Chapters « hobbyjunkies - May 31, 2012

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