Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Discoveries - The Love Letters

We've found some odd things in some of the houses we've worked on.  Remember this sign from Diamond in the Rough?  Or the pot growing station, buried behind sheetrock? (okay....so that house had more than its share of unusual finds!).  The fact is, we never know what to expect when we go digging into old walls and attics.

So imagine how delighted we were, to find some beautiful letters that date back to 1908 in our New Englander!   The style and tone are so lovely.  (It made me think, for a moment, about the writing Richard and I do - which, admittedly, is mostly text on our cell phones:  "Where are you anyway?", "Do you need anything from the grocery?".  Hardly the kind of thing I'd want someone to discover a hundred years from now!)

The letters appear to be from a man that worked for a shipping company, sent to his wife.  The first dates May 1908, the second one is February 1919.  They both start with 'My darling wife'.  And he signs them: 'much love from your ever faithful and devoted husband, Clyde.  XXXXXXXXXX'
He asks about mundane things like the weather.  But also talks about family "Aunt Martha opened her heart wide to give you a whole wheelbarrow of dressing, did she not?"  And then there are the practical things - "Darling, don't forget to pay my insurance premium".  

But it's obvious that he misses her and looks forward to being home "Well, Etta my darling little wife, I wish that I was with you now.  I will close for this time.  Will write again before we leave here."  "I may come home from Searsport, but I can't promise that I will.  I will have to find out how long it takes to come and go"

There's just something about letters written with pen and ink, in a flowing cursive......what a wonderful reminder of the past!  Particularly in today's technology driven environment.  It would be great if we could find a descendant in the neighborhood that we could pass these on to.  Or else we'll just leave them with the house and the new owner.

What kinds of discoveries have you made in old houses?  We'd love to hear about them.

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Decision Overload - 3 Simple Tips to Keep You From Going Crazy

When I sat back and thought about it, I realized we've renovated a dozen homes since we've been married.  That's a lot of decisions over the years.....and a lot of stress as well.  There is something so nerve wracking about having to choose something you're going to live with and look at every single day!  And when you're renovating a house, there are literally dozens and dozens of decisions that need to be made.

So, I've come up with a few tricks that help me keep my sanity during the decision making process.  They might not work for everyone, but hopefully you'll find them helpful:

1)  Try and focus on one room at a time.  Sure, you might be doing multiple rooms, or even a whole house.  But if you try and do everything at once, you'll make yourself crazy.  Break the decision making down into manageable 'chunks'.  Are you doing the kitchen or bathroom?  Make your cabinet and countertop decision - but then give yourself some time to think about tile and hardware.  Don't do it all at once.
2)  Remember it's about the WHOLE room, not any individual element.  For example, the first time we did a white kitchen, I obsessed over having every single white match.  It was a nutty attempt at something impossible.....there is no way you can match white cabinets to white appliances (we couldn't afford stainless for that house) to white subway tile.  Finally, I realized that as long as the whites are all in the same family - warm whites vs cool whites (blue tones) - they looked beautiful together.  When it's done, you don't focus on one item vs the other - you see the whole room.  In fact, it helps add a little depth and interest to the space.  So don't feel like one particular element is going to impact the entire design.  That reduces the stress level.

3)  Create an inspiration file.  Clip pictures from magazines, start a Pinterest file, create a Houzz file.  They're all great ways to capture ideas you like.  They will be invaluable as you start to make design decisions.  Can't decide if you want a light or dark vanity for your bath?  Go back and look at your file. You'll probably discover that you have examples that will help you visualize the look you're going for.  It can really help you sift through lots of design options and determine what's right for you and your space.

Do you have any other tried and true tricks to manage decision making?  I'd love to hear them!

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Addicted to Demo!

At long last, our plans are firmed up, we have a permit from the City and we're ready to go!  And in a few short days, we've made tremendous progress.  Demo is fast and the difference is dramatic (putting a house back together, however, is not as easy.....but more about that in future posts). I wish everything moved this quickly - it's so exciting!  And definitely habit forming :-)

Here are the highlights:

Wall elimination - we removed the wall between the foyer and living room.  Wow, what a fantastic change!  The foyer was very narrow and made the space very dark.  Now that the wall is removed, we have lots of space and light.  And the living room feels huge!

We also opened up the wall between the kitchen and dining room.  This really ties the spaces together and gives a much nicer flow to the first floor.

Next project - removing the old back staircase, so we can close up the master bedroom space.  But we had a couple of uh-ohs.  We had planned to keep the original plaster ceiling in the dining room.  However, one misstep resulted in a big chunk of plaster crashing to the floor.  So we'll be redoing that!

The last 'deconstruction' was the wall between the upstairs bathroom and bedroom.  We'll be moving things around, to create a hallway to the new master bedroom.

But the uh-ohs struck again. The bathroom faucet sprung a leak - which quickly created a cascade of water in the kitchen.  Hours after we got that cleaned up and the buckets put away......you guessed it, the toilet got on the wrong side of a pry bar and it was raining in kitchen again.
It's raining in the kitchen
So much for reusing this toilet......

There's one other major demo task to complete.  Once we met with the City for permit applications, we discovered that their requirements for the garage sent the cost estimate up into the stratosphere.  Keep in mind, this is a garage that you can't actually get a car into!  So, we finally had to admit defeat, and the garage will need to be torn down.  I'll take lots of photos and share that in a separate post.

But it's not all bad news.  Now that we aren't sinking as much budget into the garage, we'll be adding a half bath to the master bedroom.  Hooray!  That will be a very nice addition!

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The New Englander - The Floor Plan

We've spent a lot of time deciding on the optimal floor plan for this wonderful house.  Everyone that's walked through it has had lots of suggestions.  And it's been helpful to hear different ideas as we finalize the plans.  Whenever someone new wanders through the house, it doesn't take long before they grab the Sharpie and draw their ideas (good thing we're not saving the vinyl floor!)

From a big picture perspective, the house will go from 2 bedrooms to 3 bedrooms.  We're adding a half bath on the first floor, adjacent to the mudroom off the back door.  And by finishing off sections of the house that are currently not used, we'll have almost 1,500 square ft.  Best of all, it's going to have a big new kitchen.

However, given some of our budget challenges, there's more that we'd like to do......but it just doesn't make financial sense.  So here's the current plan, subject to change as we go along!

Floor Plans

First Floor - today the usable rooms are the living room and the kitchen/dining room combination.  The back room was so drafty that the previous owners rarely used it.  We'll be making some structural and insulation changes so that big space can be a beautiful new dining room.  It will also have a mudroom at the terrace entrance and a powder room!

                                   Future Second Floor
Current First Floor

Second Floor - Today, the second floor has two bedrooms and a full bath. But there is a wonderful space in the back of the house that we want to use as a new master bedroom (it might not look like much now, but when we're done it will have a vaulted ceiling, larger windows and skylights to flood it with light!).  So we'll be reconfiguring the current bathroom and adding a hallway.  It's a bit of a challenge to do, since there are sloping roof lines and a chimney flue in the way.  But the result will give us a great floor plan with lots of natural light and closets galore.
Current 2nd Floor

Of course, you never know what you might find as you get started on an old house like this.  But we're pretty happy with our starting point.  What do you think?  Of course keep in mind, lots of our budget is going to infrastructure :-)

Stay tuned as we get underway!!

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

What Do You Think of 'The Money Pit' as a Nickname for This Project?

Sigh.....we're thinking the house needs a new nickname.  What do you think of The Money Pit?  We knew from the start that there were some big ticket items that needed to be done in this house.  And the previous owners were wonderful about disclosing the issues.  But after having a parade of contractors come through over the last few weeks and adding up all their input, we're still a bit shocked at how much it will really cost.

We knew lots of things needed updating.  We'd already budgeted for an additional bathroom and new kitchen.  We are also converting to gas heat and will put in a brand new, high efficiency furnace.  There are structural issues in the back part of the house that are also part of our plan.  But some of the other items were a lot pricier than we anticipated.

Lead Paint - the paint on the exterior of the house is flaking badly in several areas.  We did a quick lead test and found that in many spots, the old paint is indeed lead.  What does that mean?  Well, under the federal rule from April 2010, firms performing renovation, repair and painting projects that have lead based paint must be EPA - or state-certified - to follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination.  This requires a painting contractor that has been specially trained to utilize all the lead safe practices.  We'll talk more about that in a later post, but the cost impact is more than double what we budgeted.  That a BIG impact to our budget.

Foundation - this is an old house.  And in 1892, building practices were quite a bit different than they are now.  It looks like the foundation was originally 'laid dry' or with a very soft mortar.  This means that rocks were carefully stacked to hold up the house, with little mortar.  It creates a very wide foundation and was a common building practice, done by skilled craftsman.  But over the last 120 years, practices have changed and most of the original mortar has disintegrated.

As you can see in this photo, the old mortar crumbles at the lightest touch.

Along the long side of the house, there was a large covered front porch.  This porch protected the foundation and kept it in good shape.  But a few years ago, the previous owners removed the porch in order to subdivide the property.  Once that happened, the old foundation was exposed to freezing and thawing cycles with ice getting into the spaces between the rocks.  The bad news......gaps and voids, with some of the foundation rocks starting to fall out.  The good news, this hasn't been happening long and is still good and solid.  But the repairs need to be done quickly.  This entire side of the house needs to be repaired and repointed.

And while these photos and gaps in the foundation look scary, in reality this foundation is still very solid.  And the sills are solid and dry.  As you can see in the basement, the interior walls of the foundation have been repointed and look good.  

The roof - Well, let's just say we need to remove multiple layers of roofing and install a complete new roof.  While there aren't any current leaks, there are many missing shingles and signs that it needs to be redone.  And the skylights have lived through their expected life.  Have you priced skylights lately?  Pricey!!
The garage - as we mentioned in an earlier post, we're still trying to determine if it's economical to save the garage.  We would love to keep it.  But still aren't sure if we can afford to.

What does it all mean?  Well, we'll probably need to scale back some of our initial plans.  As much as we'd like to make lots of changes, getting the foundational elements right is critical.  Spending our budget on these areas will pay off in the long term.  And while I always wonder if future buyers will recognize how important that is, we don't want to skimp on these key elements.

Stay tuned as we take all this input and work it into our go forward plan!

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Sunday, July 7, 2013

The New Englander - Before Photos

It feels like we're jumping into this new project very quickly.  But before we get too far into it, I wanted to share some 'before' photos.

I have to confess.  I just love this house.  It has some beautiful architectural detail and even though the floor plan is 120 years old, it has great 'bones' for modern day living.  I've been spending a LOT of time with my favorite CAD program, trying to finalize the layout and there are many options (but more about that in another blog post).  But here's a look at what we're starting with:

The front entry way.  Look at that newel post!!!  At last, real architectural detail that's original to the house.

Here's the view to the Living Room.

Looking toward the front of the house.

The Kitchen.  Love that beam....although it can't be original.  The saw marks don't jive with 1892.  But it adds so much character to the space.

The back room.  The previous owners said they didn't really use this room.  It was way too drafty and cold in the winter (more about that later).  And there are some structural issues we have to deal with - not to mention a staircase that's seriously out of code.  But it's a great space and we can't wait to figure out how best to utilize it.

It also has this wonderful corner cupboard, that we think is original.  Don't you love it?

The current master bedroom is a nice sized space with a big closet.

The second bedroom is flooded with light, thanks to these skylights.

This is the future master bedroom.  This space has so much potential!!!  We're envisioning a tall ceiling, larger window and skylights.  It's a good sized space - almost 14x17.  We can't wait to see this come together.

This is the only bathroom in the house.  It's a big space - almost 10x12.  Almost too big, actually, considering the other room sizes.  But we love how bright it is, thanks to the giant skylight.
So what do you think?  Are you already getting some ideas of what the changes will be?

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Monday, July 1, 2013

Meet the Newlyweds!

As a general rule, I never let any prospective buyer into a house we're working on, until we have an Open House.  So when Erika knocked on the door, 5 minutes before the Open House started, she was the very first buyer to see it.

She explained that she and her husband had recently gotten married and had just started looking for a house.   This was her first Open House.  "We're not in a hurry", she said.  An hour later, she was still wandering around, trying to figure out where their furniture was going to go and was calling her husband to come look.

Fast forward several weeks and these newlyweds are the proud owners of our latest house project.  They've only been married a short while, but after they finished signing all the paperwork, they said "This is bigger than getting married!"  LOL.  Can you remember when you bought your first house and got a mortgage?  It's a daunting process!

We are so thrilled for them and know they'll love the Willard Beach neighborhood.  We wish them many years of happiness in their new home!

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