Style File: Design, living a trends for home and garden

Style File: Design, living a trends for home and garden

I sink so

It was one of those ideas that grabs you and won’t let go: Instead of buying a boring sink vanity for the bathroom we were building, we decided to make our own using an antique piece of furniture. We can’t take credit for the concept—I’d seen a similar vanity in another house—but we were feeling creative enough not to just buy a facsimile of the look at the big-box store.

First step: Choose the unlucky antique. Our room dimensions were tight, so many of the candidates we found in local antique stores had to be rejected for their size. We were mostly looking at dressers, but the perfect find turned out to be a sideboard, made (we think) of walnut. Into our van it went, after a little pleasant haggling.

Cutting the sink opening


Freshly cut


Finished sideboard with soapstone top

Next, we used a Skil saw to cut an oval hole into the top of the sideboard. How’d we know how big to make it? Well, the new sink basin we’d bought came with a cardboard piece in the shape of the sink, to be used as a guide. It wasn’t a super-precise method, but it worked.

We could have just dropped the sink into this hole, but we like to make things harder than necessary, so we decided to add a soapstone countertop. Raw material: a 260-pound slab of stone purchased right from the quarry in Schuyler. Tool: that same Skil saw, still outfitted with wood blades (soapstone is very soft). We cut a rectangular piece from the slab for our countertop, put a matching oval hole into it, and sanded its edges and top.

At last, it was time to epoxy the stone to the sideboard, then drop the sink into the opening and secure it in place. A little basic plumbing and voilà!

We’ve since learned that some polyurethane would have been a good idea for protecting the front of the antique from our splashing, but otherwise we love our one-of-a-kind vanity. Does it love us? Hard to say.—Spackled Egg

Wanna take you higher

A time-honored American tradition: the summer roadtrip to an outdoor festival, complete with funnel cakes and a mass of people streaming from booth to booth. A time-honored Virginian tradition: the Virginia Highlands Festival, a 16-day blowout held in Abingdon that made a National Geographic list of the top 20 “must see events” in America. It’ll celebrate its 60th anniversary this year, and even with appalling gas prices, it should be worth the trip with its lengthy roster of craft booths, antiques dealers, and house and garden tours.

Bring home a prize from the Virginia Highlands Festival.

The definition of “region” in this regional festival is the mountain landscape and culture of Southwest Virginia, but expect to find more than basket-weaving and quilts (though they’re certainly present). One art installation will explore simulacra (“the concept that images and signs merely simulate one’s idea of reality”) and the music lineup includes Chicago blues singer Katherine Davis. You can tour the Civil War-era garden at the Fields-Penn 1860 House Museum, attend a lecture on antique butter molds, or pick up a clay or wooden craft piece for your house at the arts and crafts show.

Abingdon’s located right off I-81 just before it dips into North Carolina. The festival happens July 26-August 10, and details are at—Erika Howsare

Paired fare

This month’s surfer: Gregg Oxley, owner of Crush Wine Shop

What’s on his browser:

What it is: Maybe it’s your first time turning on the stove, or perhaps you were born in the pantry. Either way, this well-known site has a recipe for you: grilled Sicilian-style chicken, frozen raspberry mousse, or a quick capellini with fresh ricotta. You can comment on recipes and post your own.

Gregg Oxley

Why he likes it: Oxley pairs recipes from epicurious with his store’s wines, then wraps both together for customers. He says the site inspires his creativity in flavor-matching.

Charlottesville Cooking School spices up your skills

“It’s all about flavor and educating your palate,” says Martha Stafford, owner of the new Charlottesville Cooking School. Many of us just rip out a simple recipe and throw all the obligatory ingredients together. Rather, Stafford says, “You should be involved with the seasoning process.”

Students might season anything from Indonesian Rijsttafel (rice with a variety of sides) to an Italian risotto, or they might just brush up on basic knife skills. Couples can learn Thai cooking at a Friday night date class, and parents can take kids to learn homemade pizza prep. Prices range from $45 to $105.

Kitchen confidential: Martha Stafford and her staff will let you in on their cooking secrets.

Apart from familiarizing the culinary-curious with the equipment and policies, the classes’ precooking warmup also includes demonstrations of essential techniques to be used. “I might show the class a dicing method or way to sauté,” says Stafford. Each student gets to prepare each dish, so there’s no need to be jealous of the group that’s whipping up the main course while you’re stuck setting the table.

“I talk a lot about eating local, organic and in season,” says Stafford. The school is in the Meadowbrook Shopping Center; you can sign up for classes at or 963-2665.—Suzanne van der Eijk

It’s vacation season. What about the pipes?

If you’re heading off to the beach, should you turn off the water in your house when you go on vacation?

“It’s smart to turn your water off—I’ve seen houses ruined. A line blew up in an upstairs bedroom and did $80,000 worth of damage over three to four days”, says Paul Vencill of Albemarle Repair Service. But an employee at Ferris Plumbing advises that “the best thing might be to have a neighbor watch the house,” since galvanized pipes in older houses might begin to rust in a couple of months without water and some ice makers in refrigerators will burn out if the water’s turned off.

Scott Alexander at Beck Cohen says he’s more likely to shut off the water valve to the washing machine, along with that pesky ice maker, both very likely places for leaks.

Keep your house dry while you’re playing in the surf on your next vacation.

If you’ll be gone for just a few weeks, it’s probably not worth it to shut the whole system down, but for more than several months, it would be prudent to at least think about possible sources of leaks. Someone to check the place on a regular basis sounds like the safest choice.—Cathy Clary

“The best time in any move comes at the moment when the boxes and furniture are piled into the new house, the keys to the old turned over, and the mammoth job of unpacking and setting up home is about to commence. In that exhausted and delirious moment, the new home exists entirely as potential.”
—Vivé Griffith, from the essay “Life Above the Superhighway”

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