Wednesday, June 2, 2021

The Moment I've Been Waiting For....

At long last, spring has sprung in Maine.  And as the weather warmed up, it's been delightful to discover all of the amazing plantings around the yard.  It's such a treat to have so many flowering shrubs and plants.  That might be one reason why I like working on old houses so much - new construction always looks so sterile when the house is complete!  These plantings took decades to grow.

It started with forsythia as a bright yellow beacon in the front yard, the first hint that spring had arrived.  Soon the PJM rhododendrons started their vivid purple display.  

Next came the lilacs - 2 huge bushes, one in the front yard and one in the back, covered with fragrant purple blossoms.  It smells amazing!!!

Other plantings have also burst into bloom.  Aren't these variegated irises with lavender flowers beautiful?  So unusual!   

I'm not sure what the white flowers are, but they're a beautiful ground cover.  And don't you love the spirea? 

I have no idea what this ground cover is, but isn't it lovely?

But the thing I was most excited about?  To see the giant rhododendron hedge burst into bloom.  It's easily 50 feet long and many of the bushes are over 10 feet tall.  It stretches across the majority of the backyard, creating a stunning display.  Isn't it amazing? (try to ignore the tarps and building supplies)

The only problem?  You can't see it from the house.  Well, maybe if you look way to the right of the ugly garage, you can see a peek of it.    Or if you stand behind the garage, you can see it.  But the garage is really spoiling what could be a beautiful backyard.  And seriously, what view do you want from the house?

So that clinched the garage decision - it's got to go.  My excavator came out to take a look and it will be torn down.  I've started the permitting process and he's looking for a date on his calendar.

In the meantime, the asbestos shingles have been removed from the garage and taken away by Safe Environmental Solutions.  

With the shingles removed, we discovered that it's rotting from one side..... which might explain why it's leaning so much.  The sill is completely rotted away.  Now it's an even bigger eyesore - who would have thought that was possible? πŸ˜‚

It's not your imagination - it's leaning...... a lot!!!

But for now, I want to hang out behind the garage and savor that giant wall of blossoms before they disappear for the season!  It's a moment I've been waiting for an I want to enjoy every second! 

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Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Can a Bathroom be Charming?

'Before' Bathroom - definitely not charming!
The word for today is 'charming'.  And that's a pretty big goal πŸ˜‚.  The bathroom we found in this house wasn't remotely charming - oddly placed shower that created lots of dead space, tired vanity, one light fixture (with pull chain) and no electrical outlets.  I'd like the updated bathroom to reflect its vintage past, but also work well for the new owners.

How to do that?  I went back and looked at a bathroom we did in another bungalow in 2014.  It took its cues from an American Standard advertisement for a 'Sanitary Bathroom', which was a huge trend in the 1920's, about the time this house was built (click here to see the story about Sanitary Bathrooms).  Gleaming white, easy to clean fixtures were the name of the game.   I'd like to do something similar for this bathroom (but not a clawfoot tub, most buyers prefer a tub/shower combination).

2014 SoPo Cottage Bungalow Project

But fixing this bathroom isn't just a cosmetic makeover.  We had to gut the bathroom, move the door, and replace all of the plumbing and electrical.  Best of all, we decided to eliminate the steam radiator (which freed up a huge amount of space) and replace it with an electric baseboard.  This lets us add a BIG storage closet - and seriously, who doesn't want more storage in an old house!!

I'm thinking about a classic hexagonal floor.  I've pinned a dozen of them on Pinterest, but like this one the best.  It's not too busy, but still reflects a vintage style.  Sadly, I can't find a pre-made black and white tile anywhere - everything is out of stock.  So I'm going to have to make my own. Yikes!  It's a bit daunting and I'm sure I'll regret it as I spend hours on my hands and knees figuring out where the black tiles should be placed, but it will give the room that vintage style I'm going for.

What else?  Well, I'm going to use the same sink as the last bungalow.  I love its graceful curves and antique styling.  But since it doesn't provide any storage space, I'll include a built in cabinet for lots of storage.

The sink wall will be wallpapered in this paper.  It's a very subtle pattern, but I love it!

Finally, we'll install a classic white tub with crisp white subway tile with a bit of black as an accent.

So what do you think?  Will it be charming?

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Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The Curb Appeal Project

Sometimes you need to start from scratch

This house had nice curb appeal when we bought it, thanks to its classic bungalow styling.  But the front porch was its least attractive element, but that's about to change!

For some reason when they trimmed out the porch, they created these funky strips of soffit (the stuff that's supposed to go under the eaves), including the type with holes punched in it for ventilation.  And if that didn't look odd enough, they also cut them at wonky angles, which didn't exactly help the way they look.

The porch also only has a glass door (the screen part seems to have disappeared).  It's a narrow, short door and doesn't project a welcoming look.

And then there is the stair problem.  Stairs are all supposed to be the exact same height.  These are 5", 7" and 6"!  Technically they're grandfathered and we could leave them, but since that's a safety hazard we will be replacing them with steps that meet modern building codes.  Speaking of safety hazards, there isn't any exterior lighting, so we will be adding that as well.

Last problem, there aren't any house numbers - and it's been that way for many years.  The neighbors have already asked me to please make sure we install numbers, because they're tired of having packages delivered to the wrong house (can't say that I blame them!).  

So what's the plan?  First, I'd like to replace all the sheet metal trim with AZEK PVC.  It looks like wood, but doesn't require any maintenance. It comes with decorative styles that will add a bit more interest to the facade.

Next, we'll install a real front door.  This will provide a bit more privacy when you're in the house and will let us add a pop of color.  I did a couple of mockups and liked this simple door the best.

And the house numbers?  Well I want to do something special.  So I'm having house numbers custom made of stained glass.  This is a traditional look that will add a special touch to the front of the house.  This glass transom will be installed above the front door.  Here's the mockup I received for the glass. Won't it be great?

It was simpler to tear everything off and start fresh.  That let us properly install house wrap, as we start trimming it out.  Can you see the progress already?  The door and the house numbers are on order, but we won't see them for a bit.  But in the meantime, I'm already pretty excited about the changes!

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Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The Thing About Infrastructure

Even as I write this, I know it will be the least read of all the posts on this house.  I guess infrastructure is boring!  But in many ways, it's the most important thing we do.  Sure, this house will have lots of pretty finishes and features, but it's the stuff behind the walls and in the basement that make it function well.

And we're changing a lot of that stuff!  Let's start with plumbing.  Can you believe this mess of pipes taking waste water out of the building?  Do you see the electrical panel right above it?  That's a big no-no.  We all know water and electrical don't mix and having them right next to each other like this needs to get fixed.  For example, see how the washing machine drain goes up high - right in front of the panel?  Imagine what would happen if it came loose and sprayed the panel.  A disaster!  

So we're starting from scratch on the plumbing.  All that old cast iron got torn out.  We also ended up pulling out the old water lines.  With two new bathrooms and a kitchen going in, it was easier to just start with new, modern materials than try to tie into all the old stuff.

Farewell old cast iron pipe!!!

The guys got the rough in plumbing installed, so we are well on our way to having brand new bathrooms. See all that new white PVC?  That's the waste and vent piping.  The red and blue lines are all new water lines.  

Look at all those new water and drain lines!

They also plumbed in a new laundry room in the basement, including a utility sink (something I've always wanted in my house but never seem to get!).  Won't that be nice?  And a south facing window will bring in lots of light.

It's the same story for the electrical.  We need modern conveniences in this house and that requires a lot more power.  Forget about the bedrooms with one ungrounded outlet each (the bathroom didn't have a single outlet!) - now we will meet new building codes with grounded outlets everywhere and integrated smoke detectors.  So the old wiring gets torn out and new wiring gets installed.

  And that means we need a brand new electrical panel, which gets relocated away from all the plumbing!

Look at all those new electrical lines running into a brand new panel

Figuring out lighting plans always takes a bit of trial and error.  For example, I want recessed lights on the 2nd floor, but with a steeply pitched roof, that was a bit tricky.  If you use a standard light, it would point the light at an angle - not a good look or function!   Luckily I found a recessed gimbal light that looks like it will work when we tested it out on the bathroom. 

Heat pump with heat and AIR CONDITIONING!!!
We're also getting another big upgrade - a heat pump which will provide heat to the new 2nd floor, but it will also provide air conditioning.  There will be an additional head on the first floor, which should keep the majority of the first floor warm in the winter and cool in the summer.  The steam boiler in the basement will stay - I'm still old school and want that back up system for the winter.  This is Maine after all!

Speaking of heat and air conditioning, we will talk a lot about insulation and energy efficiency in a future post, but we're getting everything ready for that now.  Unfortunately, there is a huge insulation material shortage, so we have to wait through an 8 week lead time for insulation!  It's crazy how slowly everything moves forward now.  

What else?  Supporting all the structure of the new dormers meant we had to carry the load down to the basement.  The concrete of the basement floor wasn't thick enough for all that load - so we had to have 6 holes cut and dug into the floor, to provide a big concrete footing for the posts.  A big job, but critical!

All these changes remind me that renovating isn't for the faint of heart.  It takes an enormous amount of work to bring a 1920's home into modern living standards. But it's worth it, the result will be a wonderful home for the new owners.

We hope to have all of our city inspections next week.  And then we sit in a holding pattern, waiting for the insulation guys.  Patience isn't one of my virtues - but I'll do my best to twiddle my thumbs for a few weeks!

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Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Creating a Bungalow Kitchen

Inspiration Kitchen:  Beautiful Chaos-Home 
When you start working on a 7 foot wide kitchen, there's a certain amount of head scratching to figure out how to maximize space and functionality.  This will never be a big kitchen with a huge island in the middle, like you see in magazines.  But it can provide more storage and functionality than we started with - and it can be pretty as well!

Here are our top level goals:

  • Enlarge kitchen
  • Provide Mudroom space for coats and boots
  • Eliminate appliances lined up in a row
  • Create more storage
  • Vintage bungalow styling

First step was to increase the size of the kitchen.  Luckily, we had a mudroom and porch that were already under roof.  We added a steel beam to open up the wall and were able to add 40 square feet of living space.  That might not sound like a lot - but in a small kitchen it makes a big difference. 

40 square feet of additional kitchen will make a world of difference!

Original Kitchen - all appliances together, limited counter space

With the bigger footprint, we were able to space the appliances out a bit, making the kitchen much more functional.  Now there is counter space next to the fridge for unloading groceries as well as more cabinets for holding everything the homeowner will need.  We also added some cabinets on the stairwell wall, to provide a microwave shelf and additional storage.

The structural steel beam (gray shape on right) - will be wrapped with reclaimed lumber

Look at all that counter space, pull out trash/recycle bins and disguised dishwasher!

View as you enter the back door

And for styling, I don't want this to look like a modern kitchen.  I took inspiration from the wood toned sink base in the photo above.  An all wood kitchen would probably be too dark, but mixed with lighter painted cabinets it should be beautiful.  And don't you love the fireclay farmhouse sink?  We'll add a bridge faucet as well.  

I've been saving this Walker Zanger cloverleaf tile for years, waiting for the perfect kitchen.  And this is it!  It has a beautiful antique crackle finish and the style is classic.  I'll use it as an inset above the stove. (And now my husband can stop nagging me to get it out of the basement! πŸ˜‚) 

The cabinetry and appliances are all on order.  Lead times are long, so we may not see this come together any time soon ( I really hope I don't need to put in a sign that says - Refrigerator goes here!!).  But once we have all the orders delivered and installed, it should be pretty great!

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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Creating a Luxurious Bedroom and Bathroom Suite

So much progress!! The dormers are transformational in the original dark and dreary unfinished attic.  It started with one dormer, that provided some light and hints to what it could be.  But the two new dormers make a huge difference.  This will be a luxurious suite for the future owner.  Here's a quick update.

The good news - the dormers are already making this feel like a different house!  The former cramped space is now open and spacious.  See the difference?  

The bad news - the windows were supposed to be delivered two weeks ago and are now MIA (missing in action).  Evidently the factory isn't able to get some critical hardware to complete them, so we are in a waiting game, hoping to get a new promise date sometime soon.  This is a recurring theme with COVID associated delays happening all the time.  The bathroom vanity is on backorder, the tile is on backorder, light fixtures.... are you seeing a theme?  I don't know whether to laugh or cry. πŸ˜‚

Pictured below is the biggest dormer - it creates the main bedroom space.  Thanks to our high ceilings, it feels even bigger than it is.  See the hole for the giant window???  And yes - the pepto bismol pink stairwell is still there! 😝 But of course that will change in due time.

The Pepto Bismol pink stairwell is still there!!!πŸ˜‚

For the rest of the floor plan, I couldn't really define the exact wall locations until the dormers were in.  The hip roof made it tricky to visualize and figuring exactly where ceiling angles would fall and whether we could put a full size door frame in place was too tricky.  But now I can start laying it all out.  The bedroom space is large, with a dedicated area for a desk or seating space.  And we have room for a nice sized bathroom. 

Per the plan below, its clear we can create two closets.  There will also be a hatch in the back of each closet to reach crawl space for storing bulky things like suitcases. You can never have too much storage!

Now that the dormers are in place, there is still lots to do - electrical, plumbing and hopefully the windows will show up sometime soon.  The new roof was installed last week - a huge milestone!  So we're going to stay nice and dry the next time we get rain.  Stay tuned, I hope to have more updates soon!

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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Beginning at the End for the Bungalow

The first staging item - traditional rug

This might seem odd, but I need to know the end of the story - aka the total design - before the first bit of demolition starts. Having that vision of the finished house design helps me navigate the path forward and the inevitable thousand questions that will come up.  Sure, there will be twists and turns in the journey, but the end point is always pretty clear to me at the very beginning. (I don’t know if this is how real designers work, but it works for me).  I typically know where every piece of furniture will sit, every light fixture location, every plumbing fixture, etc. etc.

Sadly, I'm not there yet.  COVID has made everything more challenging.  Despite having a few months to plan this project - getting people lined up, getting samples sent, getting anything accomplished is fraught with delays.  And often I pick something out and it's sold out before I can get it ordered.  So we'll be starting with a squishy design that is making me very uncomfortable, but I'll have to live with it!

Original doorknobs

Here's what I do know.  I want this house to reflect its 90+ years of existence.  We'll honor its vintage charm and keep the original elements.  I'm trying to ensure we have a timeless design, something that looks like it was collected over the years, not all purchased last week.  So that means quality vs trendy.  And antique elements that reflect the age of the house.

I've started creating a set of inspiration photos as I've gotten started.  

I'm in love with this color palette by Alison Giese (link here).  These warm, earthy colors are so typical of a bungalow! I'd like to use similar color ways.

Obviously we will have a brand new kitchen.  But I want it to have the charm of an old one.  These kitchens make me swoon!  Don't you love this one?

And while our window placement won't allow an antique sink like this one - I still love everything else about this kitchen.


For the second floor bedroom suite, we're going to have some funky ceiling angles.  So I'd like to celebrate them by drawing the eye up with reclaimed beams and dramatic light fixtures.  Our ceiling will be a little different than this, but I love the idea of some exposed wood framing.

But first we need to finish building all the walls - stay tuned as we start working through the renovation.  


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