Tuesday, November 26, 2013


Have you ever noticed when you watch HGTV shows or the house flipping shows, that there is a lot of drama?  They find some big (or not so big) problem, the budget gets tight, people yell at each other and they play Jaws-like music?  Well, our goal in this business is to avoid drama as much as possible.  We hate drama!  We try and go onto a project knowing as many issues as we can and realize that as walls come out and things are uncovered, we might find some surprises.  But we keep a contingency budget to cover them.  Drama free. That was the plan….

Or so I thought.  We were supposed to start work last week.  But when I went to the City to draw our permits, I discovered that the setbacks have changed since our house was built in 1943 and the house is now 5 feet too close to the road.  And because we're changing the pitch of the roof to obtain more headroom, we need to go to the Board of Appeals to get a variance.  In advance of that meeting, the City will be sending letters out to homeowners within 500 feet of the project, asking for their input.  And since most of the lots in this area are .1 acres, that's a lot of people.

Why are we changing the pitch of the roof?  Well, it's all about headroom.  The only place you can stand upright on the 2nd floor is right along the peak of the roofline.  Once you have furniture up there (in this case, an inflatable air mattress for illustration purposes), you have to crouch down to move around the room.

By increasing the pitch of the roof to a 12/12 pitch, we raise the roof 4 feet.  That gives us more headroom for the dormers and makes the rest of the square footage upstairs much more usable.  Without the height increase, we would have to add flat dormers, which would be an odd, contemporary look on our little 1943 cape and the headroom would still be too low.

So, for now we're on hold, until the Board of Appeals gets together next month.  I've started meeting with the immediate neighbors, so they won't be surprised with the notice.  But for the moment we're waiting, waiting, waiting.  I think I hear the Jaws theme in the background…….sigh…..I hate drama…..

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Beach Cottage - Floor Plans

We've been working hard to translate our 'wish list' into building plans.  At long last, we have something we can share with you.  We've gone through multiple revisions, but now have a plan that will really optimize the existing house and create a wonderful, updated home.

Let's start with the exterior, to get the big picture of our plans.  We're not changing the footprint of the house at all.  We'll add shed dormers - front and back - to provide more light and headroom on the 2nd floor.  To do this, we need to increase the peak of the roof by 4'.  That will allow us to have adequate headroom, egress windows, and also provide enough space to insulate to today's standards.  The final design is a New England, cottage style home, with the 2 over 2 windows.  The porch over the front door keeps your guests dry when they arrive during inclement weather.  We're still debating on moving a couple of 1st floor windows (the one over the garage is in a funky spot) and we want to replace the front 'picture' window with double hung windows to match the rest of the house.

The first floor didn't change dramatically.  We removed 2 walls to open up the living space.  This creates an open concept and (my favorite) a circular traffic pattern.  The first floor bedroom can be used for sleeping, a home office, or a playroom.  Don't pay too much attention to the kitchen design at this point - we're still working on that!  All we know right now, is that it will be a great open space!

The second floor will see a lot of changes.  The low, cramped rooms (which have very little space to stand upright!) will be replaced by bright, open interiors - thanks to shed dormers with lots of windows on the front and back of the house.  Each bedroom will have windows and light from at least 2 directions, which is great for sea breezes in the summertime.  And we've managed to include a family bath as well as a master bath.  We're also trying to figure out whether we could squeeze in a stackable washer/dryer!

What do you think - is this a livable design for the 21st century?  We're hoping to get started soon.  Stay tuned for demo photos!

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Iterative Design Process - Creating the Plan

When we start a smallish project - ie. removing non-supporting walls, changing out windows, updating kitchens, etc - we don't usually rely on exact drawings to do the work.  Sketches and on-site discussions are usually sufficient.  But for a major project, having a detailed set of drawings as reference is essential.  And critical for getting building permits!

The Beach Cottage is a major project and once again I turned to the folks at Hammond Lumber to help me out.  For a flat fee, they will provide a drawing package for the project (and they refund the fee as you purchase building materials from them).  Their CAD system provides all the info required - and the design can be fed into other systems to determine load requirements and lumber dimensions.  The output is a set of drawings as well as a detailed material list.  This is invaluable to create a cost estimate for the project.

Jamie Connelly is my sales rep and works with me on every step.  I had a preliminary design in mind (I'm an engineer by training and worked many years as a draftsman) that I'd sketched out on my own CAD system.  We used that as a guide when Jamie came out to the site and we took detailed measurements for the Cottage.  Then he worked with Hammond's drafting department to come up with the first version of the plan.  I reviewed version 1 with Jamie and Mike Backman of Waterhouse Builders to look at feasibility and complexity.  After compiling all of their input, I made detailed mark ups of things we wanted to change.  And of course, we made lots of changes!  

For example, I had come up with this photo off of Houzz (one of my favorite sites for new ideas!!)  for my 'design inspiration'.  The folks at Hammond Lumber did a fabulous job of recreating this for our Beach Cottage.  But when I saw how it impacted the master bedroom layout (very odd shaped room without wall space for a queen sized bed!), we realized we needed to make some modifications.  And Mike thought that the complexity would drive a lot of additional building costs.  So……it was back to the drawing board/CAD station!
Source:  Houzz - Great Neighborhood Homes

And as I started working on version 2, I suddenly realized our new design bears a striking resemblance to my friend's house.  Don't you love the row of windows across the shed dormer!  It's such a classic New England look.  And since that's the west side of the house for the Beach Cottage, there will be lots of sunlight streaming in all afternoon.

Want to see how our design came out?  Click here!  

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Monday, November 18, 2013

The Beach Cottage - Starting the Project Plan

As you saw from the before photos, this place is ready for some updating.  Style and features that were popular in 1943, just seem awkward for modern living.  In a previous post (click here) I talked about the key factors you need to consider in a whole house renovation: safety, energy efficiency, style, function/traffic flow, and economics.  I use that same process in every house, so we started by creating a wish list
As you can see, there are a lot of safety and energy efficiency items that need to be dealt with as priorities - before we can get to the fun stuff like a new kitchen!

And as usual, a huge chunk of our budget will be spent in the basement.  Right now, the basement is nice and dry (albeit, a bit dark and gloomy).  But, I'll never forget the rainy, spring day when our tenants called to say there was water in the basement.  Not just a little puddle, but 3 inches of water at the low end of the room!  We were quickly able to get it under control, but the house is built at the bottom of a 'ledge' rock hill and needs a full waterproofing system installed.  It's an expensive job, but well worth it.  And as previously mentioned, this antique furnace needs to go.  We're pretty excited to install a new high efficiency, gas boiler in its place (and wait till you see how tiny it is!).  Finally, the basement will be the hub for some upgrades to the electrical system - to accommodate all those wonderful electronic gizmos we all love today.

Richard said I look like I'm from 'The Land of the Giants' standing here!
The next big safety focus is upstairs.  There is no headroom.  And that creates a couple of safety issues.  First, with its low pitched ceiling, the 2nd floor doesn't have a single egress window.  Egress windows need to open large enough for a firefighter with a pack on their back to enter the home (in Maine, that's 5.8 sq ft that opens completely).  Many older homes don't have egress windows in each room, but it's odd not to have a single one anywhere on the 2nd floor.  If a fire was to come up the staircase, the windows are too small to climb out of - look how tiny they are!   And with the limited wall space and our heating units, its obvious there isn't space for a window of that size.  So we need to address that.
Awkward dormer in front of the staircase!
Another head room issue is the constant head bumping that takes place.  There is only a narrow area that you can stand upright.  And if you want to get into the dormers, there is some ducking required.  See the odd configuration over the stairwell?

Is it just me?  Or is the lack of an upstairs bathroom is a safety issue?  If I get up in the middle of the night and need to use the bathroom, I'm not really awake enough to navigate a staircase!  So an upstairs bathroom is on the 'must have' list, but it requires more headroom to put it in place.

Equally important, in our cold climate, is getting adequate insulation into the attic.  We punched a hole in the sheetrock ceiling and discovered a wimpy little layer of fiberglass insulation up there.  But with the low pitch roof, there's not much that can be done, without changing the roofline.

6' x 6' dining space…..think cafe table & chairs!
Once the must-do items are covered, then we start looking at the style/function elements.  One of the things that seems really odd about this house is the lack of dining space.  This 6x6' area in the kitchen is all that's available.  Since most dining tables are 42" wide, there's barely enough room for chairs.  So we're thinking about converting one of the downstairs bedrooms into a dining room. There would still be a nice traffic flow and it gives you a place to have the family over for Thanksgiving dinner!

Of course if we eliminate one of the downstairs bedrooms, we need to add one upstairs.  And most families with young children want everyone sleeping on one floor.  So we'd like to have 3 bedrooms upstairs and a bathroom.

Finally, we thought about curb appeal.  The giant 'picture window' makes me a bit crazy.  The center window doesn't open for ventilation and gives the house a very dated look.  And we want a more 'cottage' appearance to the exterior.  We'd like to replace it with double hung windows and add a dormer across the front, with a row of windows.  It's much more cottagey (is that a word?) and we can gain some floor space upstairs.

So, that's the wish list.  Now we have to figure out if we can turn it into reality, without breaking the budget!  Stay tuned!

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Monday, November 11, 2013

The Beach Cottage - Before

We bought this house a couple of years ago, with the intention of renovating it at some point.  We've had wonderful renters in there, but now that they've moved out, it's time to do some updates.  There are some issues we need to deal with and it's time to invest (if you look closely, you can see that the front steps are falling apart!).

View from street, in front of cottage
We're very excited about this house.  Why?  Well, it's a nondescript cape cod style today, but we think it's got lots of potential.  It's the 5th house back from the beach, sits up high off the road and has a beautiful 'ledge' rock hill behind it.  As you can see from the street view, Casco Bay and Fort Gorges are straight ahead.  Once the leaves come off the trees, there is a beautiful view of Spring Point Lighthouse from the front porch.  All in all, the perfect backdrop for a beautiful Maine style cottage!

Built in 1943, this house has only had one owner, prior to our purchase.  They kept it in great shape…..but most everything is still original.  For example, the Formica countertops are still there, but most people probably don't want the white with gold fleck design. And there is no dishwasher - which would make me crazy!  It has the tightest kitchen work-triangle I've ever seen.  The cook wouldn't get a lot of exercise in this kitchen.  You only have 1-2 steps between the sink/stove/fridge!

Note the exhaust fan built into the wall.  I'm sure it's an efficient design (no ductwork required!), but must be really cold in the winter!

I'd love to show you pictures of the dining room.  But there isn't one.  Which seems odd to me, didn't people have a more formal lifestyle in the 40's?

The living room is great.  The fireplace is beautiful and we love the built ins.  It's a nice sized room with lots of sunlight coming through the 'picture window'.

The bathroom.  Well, the bathroom gives everyone a laugh.  Have you ever seen a tub, tile and toilet this color?  Our plumber said it was a first for him and he sees a lot of bathrooms!

The furnace is original and seems to be held together with duct tape and bailing wire.  That will be one of the very first things we address, as we switch to a gas, high efficiency boiler.  We also have problems with water in the basement, so will be doing a full waterproofing system.

There are two bedrooms downstairs.  They must not have had closets originally (which seems odd, wouldn't people have them in 1943?), because the closets are built of plywood and appear to have been added much later.

Upstairs, we have two bedrooms and no bathroom.  Quite a challenge, if you need to go in the middle of the night!  The ceilings are very, very low.  With the dark pine paneling and the tiny windows, it's a very dark space.  And for some odd reason, one of the dormers is built over top of the staircase, making it tricky to get into that space.

There's a nice screened in porch, right off of the kitchen.  But I can't wait to paint it white.  The brown stain makes it so dark out there!

So as you can see, there's lots of opportunity for improvement and updating.  It can really be a lovely house, it just needs a little work (well maybe a lot) :-)

And as always, 'like' us on Facebook to see all the  photos and updates!

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Monday, November 4, 2013

The $16.29 Nursery

The first time I saw the little bedroom in the 1892 house, I thought it would make a wonderful nursery. With the two skylights in the room, sunshine comes streaming in - creating a light, bright space.  And the little closet under the steep pitched roof seemed perfect for a child's room.

The previous owners had used it for their daughters room.  It works fine with a twin bed in it, but I couldn't stop thinking about how cute it would be with a crib in there.

And then one day I was walking through Target and noticed a lot of baby quilt sets on the Clearance rack.  As I dug through the pile, I found this set for $16.29.  Seriously, $16.29…..and it had my favorite blue/green color combo.  Sold!  And that started the plan for the room.

There was some construction required in the room.  We put in brand new skylights.

And we had to 'clip' one corner, to make room for the hallway to the new master bedroom.  But once all that was done, we were ready to start decorating.

First decorating step - painting the stripes on the long wall.  I have a lot of leftover paint in my basement, so I could quickly create a combo to coordinate with the quilt (see here for instructions on how to paint stripes).

Next step - we had beautiful, low pile wool carpeting installed.

Finally, we brought in the furniture and started arranging.  My favorite item - the imaginary baby's name on the wall.  I bought the letters from The Land of Nod for $3.95 each - love the font!  It was so easy to cover them in fun printed paper. And I figure I can use them for another house.  My friend Venita pointed out, in about a millisecond, you can also spell Andy, Lynda, Dan, & Andy.  Sigh…..my brain just doesn't work that way!  It would take me ages to figure that out!

See this glider?  It was free when it didn't sell at a neighbor's yard sale (yes, I embarrassed my husband once again, by taking something from the side of the road).  I spray painted it white and made a new cushion with some left over Maine Cottage fabric I stashed away.  What a difference!

This little room didn't have as dramatic a makeover as some of the other spaces in the house.  But it isn't all about spending lots of money and changing lots of things.  A few simple changes make a big difference.  And we sure are happy with how it turned out!

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