Our Cottage Remodel: Part II

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This little cottage started its renovation under the purview of someone else. An over-ask buyer had won the bid the first day this house hit the market forcing us both to negotiate the deal a second time. There were pros and cons to this arrangement.

The good side was that our over-ask buyer discovered foundation issues during the inspection allowing her to request a tidy reduction off the purchase price to compensate for her troubles – this ultimately showed up favorably on our bottom line as well.

The con side of this ordeal was that our over-ask buyer was an interior designer/flipper, and being a highly efficient designer/flipper, she had already purchased all of the materials to create her vision: building materials, building permits, light fixtures, appliances, flooring, faucets, doors, kitchen cabinets, the kitchen sink, a shower enclosure. . .

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Which meant our purchase agreement included the repairs to the foundation, a new HVAC, a few furnishings left from the original owners, all the renovation materials, and a crew of intrepid workers barreling forward on a design I wanted to change.

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We didn’t realize until the day of closing that all of the appliances were hidden somewhere in this room of furniture.

We quickly re-arranged a couple of walls to create the floor plan I dreamed of, and then I frantically started a search for new light fixtures, plumbing hardware, kitchen cabinets, and flooring in hopes of having everything on site before the workers had to actually ask me for it.

Meanwhile, there were a few trees to take down, a driveway to create, and a porch to build.

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A rope was fastened to the tree before the top section was cut off.

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The top of the tree was set down in the road, then the rest of the tree cut down and the stump ground up (we have mulch forever). Twelve trees were taken out in all – almost every one dead or dying.

Interior changes included swapping out light fixtures:

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The electrician had added four sconces and a chandelier to the living room
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I thought the wrought iron sconces looked more original to the house. The chandelier popped up on Wayfair’s Open Box sale for $85.

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When my husband and I went to Chicago last October for my 50k race, the race was not my only priority. It was almost equally important that I take a trip to my favorite fabric warehouse for the perfect drapery material. It was simply unfortunate for me that my husband tagged along. He quickly grew impatient of my 13-room tour of fabrics, and insisted we could find the perfect drapes somewhere amid a collection of hundreds of packages of $8 pre-made drapes. I was determined an $8 drape would not dictate my entire design, but somehow each of the drapes have survived – so far.

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The white pig pitcher was one of the things left over from the original owners. One pair of the $8 drapes will close off the french doors for privacy.

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Standing in the doorway of the bedroom, a new barn door to the master bath is barely visible on the right. One of the original doors was moved to close off the new master suite, and the public bath is visible just beyond. The little black stand was also original to the house – we think it’s a smoking cabinet that has lost its ashtray.

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We created a shower with this fabulous tile I found at Home Depot. It was only after folks told me how ‘brave’ I was to use this tile that I realized maybe I could have used it only on the floor. I still love it.

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Days of torrential rain, severe cold, sudden snow storms, and then the holidays have slowed work to a crawl in recent weeks. The valve between the tandem propane tanks was accidentally shut off causing the HVAC to unknowingly stop, and the pipes were frozen for a solid week. There’s a million gazillion little things left to be done on the interior – akin to death by a thousand cuts. It’s a labor of love.

The kitchen in progress. . . (the rooster is original to the house – in that same spot).

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The Secret Garden Cottage

Just over a year ago my husband and I moved to our ‘forever’ home – the place we intended to live to our last days. Forever had lasted about six months when I had an idea.

What if we had misjudged what a forever home should be like? Was it possible we wouldn’t want a home this large? What if one of us – or both of us – didn’t want to climb stairs forever, or putz in a garden with so much grass? And if these things happened to become true, we surely wouldn’t want to do another renovation when forever had perked along for several more years.

We wouldn’t have to live in it right away, I had argued to my husband. It could be a vacation rental for awhile, or forever, if we decide not to downsize again. But, better to find a little house now. . . just in case.

We called Julie, our long-trusted realtor, and began a search for an adorable cottage. She established our MLS ‘cart’ and (intuitively) named it Secret Gardens. It had been a few weeks into the search when she sent me an email that said, “Oh my . . .”

It was the perfect little house in idyllic Lake Junaluska sitting at the end of one of the oldest streets, and next door to a garden containing plants that were once abundant, but are now rare. My heart swelled when I walked through the front door.

One family had owned it since the mid-40s as a summer cottage, and mostly left it in its original state. Character absolutely oozed out through the woodwork.

By the time we drove the 5 minutes back home, I had reworked the floor plan ever so slightly and convinced my husband to make a full-price offer. Full price wasn’t enough.

A few weeks later Julie discovered the lady that had won the bid (with her over-ask offer) was going to flip our little house. The three of us worked up a proposal, which my husband presented to this nice lady. After several conversations, he convinced her to sell us our house back.

And for the past few months we’ve been living in the fabulous land of RenovationOz.

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“Authentic and original adorable 1945 Lake Junaluska Cottage located on Stuart Circle in walking distance to all that wonderful Lake Junaluska Assembly has to offer. The Summer cottage boasts wood floors. pine paneling, 3BR/1.5BA and two fireplaces. The livable cottage needs tender loving updating and is being sold as is/where is and priced accordingly. Seller states that the electrical and plumbing have been updated. The home is adjacent to the beautiful Corneille Bryan Nature Center.”  MLS description

LIVING ROOM & KITCHEN:

These two rooms were added onto the original cottage at some point along the way. We’ve opened the wall between the two rooms to create one large space, and a doorway and window along the back wall of the kitchen have been removed.

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DINING ROOM/LIBRARY:

This room was probably the original living room before the addition. Although barely visible, there was a very dainty crown molding that the over-ask buyer had already removed. She had also replaced the window with french doors, which we thought was a splendid idea.

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Although previously used as a bedroom, it was necessary to walk through this room to reach the rest of the house, including the bathroom!

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My husband added a Victorian-style ventless heater to this fireplace, and I’m contemplating re-painting the brick. The doorway leads to the hallway.

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New french doors will lead to a deck that was in-progress before this week’s snow storm. The crown molding is a larger replica of the original molding, which I had never seen before, but reminds me of fish scale siding. The original hardwood floors were re-finished last week.

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The Library’s crown molding ready for paint.

HALLWAY BATH:

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The hallway bath keeps the same footprint, but will get a new tile floor.

MASTER SUITE:

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This room is next door to the master bedroom, and will become the master closet/laundry room.

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The future Master Bath (no kidding).

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A few inches stolen from the hallway allows for a new shower and two vanities in the master bath.

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We uncovered the original exterior wall behind this closet and evidence suggesting this may have been the kitchen at one time. Now it’s the master bedroom.

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Eliminating the closet creates room for the bed on the back wall.

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Stuart Circle is one of the oldest streets in Lake Junaluska. A stone park sits in the middle of the one-way circle where perishable foods were once stored (in the large opening on the left) so that the cool spring water kept things fresh.

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The cottage’s property line ran through the Corneille Bryan Native Garden (marked by the red flag above the sign).

Hopefully I’ll be working on the big reveal next weekend – although we said that about this weekend as well. . .  

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Ivy Hills, forever.

It has been a year since my husband and I made the drastic decision to settle into one house forever. It’s a daunting word in my world. An endless or seemingly endless period of time. I’ve never found anything even slightly interesting about forever.

Plenty of past homes have been worthy of forever. The front door of our first condo in Chicago opened onto a wall of windows that overlooked the Sears Tower. The full east side of the apartment was a wall of windows overlooking Lake Michigan, while the west side overlooked the suburbs. It was breathtaking, and so was the job offer he got from a company in Florida.

When I was in school a few years ago, my 20-something classmates were just beginning to think about their future careers. The subject came up in class one afternoon.

Our instructor would give us the floor to say whatever came to mind after we had spent the week pushing ourselves to the very edge of our personal limits jumping off telephone poles, climbing the Alpine Tower blindfolded, or for me, forcing myself to hang upside down in a kayak for as long as I could hold my breath before escaping.

On this particular day, my classmates were admitting their fear of moving away to some unknown part of the earth. Hoping to relieve their concern, I talked about how exciting it is to move to a new city and to see the world. Trevor very politely spoke up after a bit of silence to say that some people may not be afraid to move across the country, while others (particularly those in our class) may find it terrifying to move down the street.

Here we were, a class full of adventure junkies, and what scared us most was as different as night and day. Move me a hundred times between now and eternity, just don’t leave me in one place.

My husband and I seemed ready for forever though. This is our favorite spot on earth. It’s never too hot, not too cold, but just cold enough. The views will sweep you off your feet – driving down the road, sitting at a red light, hiking along the Blue Ridge Parkway, or in the parking lot at the grocery store.

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A view from the grocery store parking lot.

It’s a quaint, little community. We complain about the tourists all summer, and when they flock in for the prettiest fall colors on earth. As unlikely as it may have seemed prior to this moment, however, this is home.

We also seemed to be ready to stop remodeling houses, although this one will clearly take us forever to finish.

If the weather is nice, we work outside – where there’s ivy to clear, dead trees to clean up, flower beds to be designed. If a limb breaks off anything, it goes into a vase of water and we wait to see if it will take root. After all, we have forever.

Our neighborhood is called ‘Ivy Hills’ by the locals, for good reason. After clearing the ivy from a hidden swan on the back patio last summer, I got the worst case of poison my doctor had ever seen. At the time of this writing, I have poison ivy again on my left shin, left arm, right toe, on my neck, under my chin, and on both sides of my face. Ivy, forever.
Mr. Boggs, Dudley and Bentley (left to right) on the stone wall by the patio – now clear of ivy.

If the weather’s bad, we work inside – where there’s still 8 doors, 12 windows, 2 columns, the master bath, and almost every ceiling in the house to be re-painted.

When decorating previous homes, I raced to finish every room (preferably in 3 weeks or less), and once a room was finished, rarely did anything change – not one piece of furniture moved, drapes never replaced, rarely one pillow changed seats.

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Vases of something green hoping to take root in rooms here and there all over the house.

This time my husband has encouraged me to take it slow, be patient, and enjoy the process.

Suddenly, there’s a seemingly endless amount of time to watch how the sun travels across the garden, to experiment with decorating the bookshelves, or finding the best spot in the room for a plant. . . the pillows have finally changed seats.

Forever is beginning to be a little less scary. In fact, forever can be quite pleasant indeed.

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Oodles of time for cozy naps in the sun with a friend (Mr. Boggs and Bentley).

A Powder Room Remodel

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Long before the news broke across the country, I already knew there was a serious shortage of trade workers in the home remodeling industry. They agree to show up next week, re-schedule, work a few hours, disappear to another job – they’re juggling dozens of projects all across town. Once in a while we actually finish a room. . . although finished does not necessarily mean done.

Last July when we first started remodeling this house everyone decided the first floor powder room would be the first room to be finished. It was small, only needed the sink and toilet replaced, a new light fixture, and a fresh coat of paint. Then the tile crumbled when the 45-year old vanity was removed. Okay – we’ll replace the floor. Even better. 

The sconce was on backorder, the electrician was delayed, other rooms in the house became a higher priority, but finally (and with the help of our contractor’s adorable baby girl) this little powder room was finally finished. Meanwhile, those walls began to look very bland.

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After a great deal of research, thousands of photos searched on Pinterest, and a can (or two) of antiquing glaze, I decided to add a ribbon with upholstery tacks just above the tile for a punch of color in this sea of blah (actually, I couldn’t find ribbon in the exact color as the new paint on the doors, so I used a decorative, self-adhesive tape from Michael’s.)

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We fell in love with the color of paint on the front doors (more blue than reflected in this photo) so I decided to use it on all the interior doors as well. The doorknobs, by Nostalgic Warehouse, were on Amazon last September at $15/each – 90% off retail. I bought every one available, which was just enough to replace every doorknob in the house.

My inspiration photo (from Pinterest by LisaMendeDesign.blogspot.com)

There are risks to actually finishing a room. For one, my family claims I grow restless when I’ve finished decorating every room in the house, and then it’s only a matter of time before we move on. If you stick around long enough though it’s fun to look back and see how a room evolved over the years. Maybe tweaking a room is the best part of the design process – adding a plant in a found container, changing the pillows, adding fabric to the ceiling.

I was a bit intimidated to put a lovely piece of fabric on the powder room’s ceiling, but it was in my original plan. Let the tweaking begin. . .

The Universal Promise of the Home Contractor: Mañana

There’s a good bit of evidence, aside from my own experience, that suggests home contractors fit nicely into distinct categories. These categories are given affectionate labels: The Dog and Pick-Up Truck, Salt of the Earth, the Professional, the Enterprise.

While one wonderful soul prefers to work alone, others build large companies. Some work six days, and six nights every week; others have employees that keep the work going while they enjoy flex time and vacations.


Dog and Pick-Up Truck:  has a heart as big as the outdoors and likes working alone, easy to get to know, probably has a pick-up truck or van with a dog. Takes great pride in their work.

Salt of the Earth: also has a big heart; just not quite as big as all outdoors. They like having employees because they do not want to work alone, and because they like taking vacations.

The Professional: also has a big heart; they just keep it under cover.

The Enterprise:  with 100+ employees, the life span of the Enterprise owner may be shorter than any of the other contractors. . . due to enormous stress.


Different situations call for different contractors. The bigger the job, the more I lean toward the Professional. The pressure of regular county inspections seems to keep them on their toes, and juggling more than one job at a time can keep the schedule moving. The best Professionals also seem to attract the best ‘trade’ labor – those folks that are impossible to hire on your own.

Our last Professional employed just two people: a very talented carpenter, and what she called “the clean-up guy” – the one that really kept things running smooth. He made endless trips to the hardware store, finished odd jobs around the house, and cleaned up after the trade. But it was the trade that cycled in and out of our house on a regular and, maybe more importantly, a predictable schedule. Our Professional ran a tight ship.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are those contractors who follow a well-known, and highly frustrating schedule. . .

ma·ña·na /mənˈyänə/ adverb 1. in the indefinite future (used to indicate procrastination): Powered by Oxford Dictionaries

With all the best intentions, things happen. Days are missed, hours cut short, schedules fall behind. They play the catch-up game, make excuses, blame it on something, or somebody. They say they’ll show up tomorrow (mañana). They don’t show up. I quietly put them on notice.

They say they feel your pain. They don’t. They go home and use their own bathroom. We have buckets of muddy water sitting in ours, the shower’s a piece of rubble. That’s precisely when they ask for another draw ($$$).

One of our Dog and Pick-Up Truck contractors has been in our house for seven weeks. The first electrician hasn’t been here in six. We hired another one. He was delightful and finished everything, save for one light. The first electrician wrote me this week asking to come back to finish the job. He’ll be here mañana.

To date, we have used one Professional, one Enterprise – who subcontracted to a Dog and Pick-Up Truck, one Salt of the Earth, four Dog and Pick-Up Trucks. . . and we’re not done. It’s fitting that we’ve labeled this our ‘forever’ home because it will take forever to finish it. Mañana!

Merry Christmas from our (unfinished) house to yours.

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(Image courtesy countryclipart.com)

Reference: Four Types of Contractors

Everything but the kitchen sink.

Renovating a house is the easy part. Moving in is where it gets interesting.

We’ve spent about seven weeks living in our latest renovation. The ‘moving-in’ part happened in July, although that move-in day excluded us. When we made the decision to move ourselves into the house, it wasn’t necessarily because the construction phase had ended, but that it had gotten sufficiently close enough to being finished that we could save time by settling in while the last few projects were wrapped up. I asked my husband what he would say about living here over these past seven weeks. He said, “It’s been a trip.”

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This was our kitchen for the first few weeks. My husband set the coffee maker and a toaster oven on a small table. What else could we possibly need?

We thought the kitchen cabinets would be installed by the first week of November. . . they were late. The stove arrived, but the propane tank sat down by the road for several days – which left the stove looking quite nice, but totally useless.

The cabinets finally arrived, but we had lost our install date for the countertops. When the countertops arrived last week, we discovered the drain didn’t fit our extra deep farm sink – which left it looking quite nice, but totally useless.

We had finally pulled everything together for a proper kitchen, except the kitchen sink. 

You may wonder what can be accomplished without a kitchen sink? More than you might imagine. . . although I would tell you the modern kitchen sink is not overrated.

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Everything finally works in our kitchen, except the sink.

Black & Blue All Over

It seems my house is like our American election: endless surprises, mud slung everywhere, and the end result the biggest upset in history.

As for my house, there’s no kitchen, the master bath is still under construction, the attic access has been temporarily closed off, which means the electrical work can’t be finished, the painting was done before the electrical was finished, and now there’s sheetrock repair and re-painting everywhere. . . suffice it to say, not one room in the entire house can be considered finished. And I don’t mean decorated.

Fortunately, on the days I have a meltdown my husband is optimistic, and when he has a meltdown, I’m in good spirits. I couldn’t promise the outcome if we both had a meltdown on the same day.

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We moved in about three weeks ago, and ate out for all three meals a day for two days when I declared I couldn’t take it anymore. My husband purchased a small toaster oven, and made it his mission to prepare delightful meals at home, which we ate from plastic plates with plastic utensils (easy cleanup at least).

Finally, the cabinets were installed – oh happy day – except there were issues. Replacement parts have been ordered, countertops measured, and sometime before Christmas we may actually have a complete kitchen.

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The red velvet drapes we discovered from the Ralph Lauren showroom were shortened and now look beautiful with our Ralph Lauren chairs and table.

Although I’ve spent oodles of time studying French Provincial decor, it has not transformed one iota of my belongings into French. And, since I am unwilling to sell off the whole caboodle and start from scratch, a somewhat modified French style has emerged.

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The Living Room In-Progress (that’s Dudley behind the sofa)
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Our armoire was so shockingly oversized for this room (and close to the ceiling) that it sent us into a panic.

The foyer’s coat closet was demolished with the intention of settling this oversized armoire back into its alcove, except the armoire began to look more at home in the living room over time, and I discovered these great columns in the back room of a local antique store that fit nicely into the vacated coat closet alcove. Our next job is to paint the interior doors a beautiful shade of gray, and stain the columns black.

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The Keeping Room In-Progress

We took the drapes from our little cabin for the Keeping Room – even though I was unsure about mixing their animal print and black velvet with the contemporary blue velvet of the new Ralph Lauren chairs. The electrician will add the swing-arm sconces over the bookshelves. . . soon I hope.

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The down side of this home’s mansard roof is that it eliminates the majority of the upstairs walls for artwork leaving me with too many pictures! In a diversion from my original vision, our guest bath was the only place that could support all five of these botanical prints, which led to a predominantly black scheme for our pink bathroom.

All that’s left for this room is a window treatment, and window seat cushion.

I read the advice of a designer long ago who said every room should have a touch of black, advice I have enthusiastically taken to heart. . . although blue has become the surprise companion color, including beautiful blue-green drapes for the living room that will be here – yes, by Christmas.

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Mr. Boggs. . . at home.