Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Our Own Mid Century Modern Home - Before and After

It took over 50 craftsmen to renovate this house!

And it’s done.  Sure, it took 18 months, 50 craftsmen, ten thousand feet of lumber and a lot of sleepless nights figuring out all the details, but it was totally worth it.  We loved this house from the moment we walked through the door the first time – and love it even more now.

Designed and built by Maine architect John Leasure from 1968-1972, this house is a rare example of mid-century residential architecture in Maine.  He and his family (6 kids!) lived here until they moved to a smaller, easier to manage home last year.  He did a masterful job of designing the house to the site, with multiple levels integrated into the land.  (You may have seen Leasure's other work including the South Portland Library, Franklin Towers- the tallest building in the state!- and St. Bartholomew's church in Cape Elizabeth)
The house sits high up on a wall of granite, with a wall of windows facing Ft. Williams Park
It’s perched up on the ledge (granite rock typical of the area) to create dramatic vistas to Casco Bay in the winter and treetop living in the summer.

The main living spaces are built like a commercial building, with giant paralam beams supporting the roof load and an unusual concrete cantilevered walkway bordering the living room.  It’s a massive space (the living room is 41 x 24 feet) with ceilings ranging from 8 to 16 feet high.  

The living room is sunken, following the slope of the hill with a cantilevered walkway across the far side
The bedroom wing (92 feet long) is traditionally ‘stick’ built with 4 bedrooms on the main floor.  There is a large office area and garage on the lower level , where John Leasure had a team of 6 draftsmen working for his architectural practice.
Looking down the hallway towards 3 of the bedrooms
The large lower level provided office space for 6 draftsman

Our goal for the renovation was to preserve the fantastic mid-mod elements, but bring it up to current building and environmental codes – while making it work for our family.  We were lucky to meet with James Schwartz, Board member of Maine Preservation and former editor of Preservation, the magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, to review our approach and get his advice for the renovation.  We wanted to make sure our plans maintained the integrity of the original design.  With that information, we finished up the plans.  We knew it was a big job - but since it wasn’t a really old building, we assumed it would be 5-6 months of work.  We were wrong…..by a long shot.

The kitchen is adjacent to almost every room in the house - truly the heart of the home
The key elements of the house are the wide-open spaces, integration between indoors and out (including this giant rubber tree that we successfully transplanted to the other side of the room) and the big, central kitchen that links all the other spaces.
Also on the must-save list were the fireplace, which is the centerpiece of the living room, the fabric wall hanging, the parallam beams/railing and the wallpaper in the bar.
Living Room Before

But demo day brought some sobering discoveries.  The house sits in a grove of oak trees – which we quickly realized was a squirrel paradise with their huge acorn harvest.  Over the years, the squirrels had moved in and made the walls their home.



Squirrels chewed through the studs to get in the walls
They had chewed through lots and lots of electrical wiring, resulting in the need to rewire the majority of the home. And to get into the house, they chewed holes in the wood stud walls.  We had squirrel damage in the exterior walls along the living room, dining room, den, master bedroom and the huge interior cedar wall in the living room.

Most of the wiring had to be replaced
We found these sections of walls full of stinky, squirrel urine filled fiberglass tunnels.  Our initial plan wasn’t to gut the walls, but suddenly we had to do just that.

In other areas we found dry rot had literally eaten away structural members, resulting in the need to rebuild key sections of the roof rafters and walls. 

So we got to work.  Rotted wood was replaced, new electrical and plumbing were run, the leaky front door was replaced with a new 8 foot tall set of doors that provided light into the entryway.  And there weren’t many light fixtures in the original house, so we used this opportunity to add LED lighting throughout the house.
Living Room 'After':  Key find - Angela Adams panels from her warehouse sale now grace the living room walls
Many of the original sliding glass doors (all 8 of them!) that create that seamless indoor-outdoor feel, had been caulked shut - and the clerestory ‘windows’ were actually single panes of glass, held in place with wood trim.  Creating an energy efficient replacement that was historically accurate resulted in a frantic search for new glass doors (a challenge, since narrow stiles like the original are difficult to find) and having to recreate all the original molding to accommodate the new clerestory window dimensions.


But we did it – down to the pegs on the original beams and matching the exact stain color of the original wood.  (this is why I don't get manicures....paint and stain are the only color I need!)

And yes, we removed the koi pond and the surrounding garden.  It was certainly a WOW feature, but we discovered there was no foundation under this entire area of the living room, just dirt and mulch.  And as we tightened up the building to make it more energy efficient, that would create a huge issue with moisture and mold.   We poured a new foundation to match the rest of the living room and added a rug and plants to recreate the feeling of the original garden.   And we replaced the original leaky skylight with a custom built one, that also opens in the summer to provide delightful breezes.



But the biggest feature in the living room is what we call the 'great wall of mid-mod'.  Our carpenters spent a month creating new clerestory windows to bring light into the bedroom hallway and creating giant panels of white oak as an accent for the wall.

It replaced the original cedar wall, which had a squirrel highway behind it!
The rubber tree transplanted to the other side of the living room with no problem!!  Amazing!
Bar and wallpaper during renovation
The bar is one of Richard’s favorite features of the house.  We opened up the mirrored back wall, to integrate it a bit more with the living room (and give guests a way to belly-up-to-the-bar).  And I spent hours carefully cleaning the original wallpaper to its original lustre.  We replaced the burnt orange formica counter with a quartz product that looks like dotted Formica – and the original bar sink went back into place.  We also added new lighting and enlarged the bar cabinet.

Bar 'Before'.  The mirrored wall was removed - but the sink is the same!!!
The dining room has stayed the same – except for the new sliding glass doors that look out to the tree that grows through the roof overhang!  Such a cool feature!

The den is such a wonderful room and with some of the changes we made, it's our favorite spot in the wintertime. It's a smaller room with lower ceilings - and like the other living spaces, it has a wall of sliding glass doors that open to patio and deck.    It’s the perfect spot to cozy up in front of the new fireplace (with the amazing tile that took me days to install!).
Den 'Before'
Den 'After'
Our talented carpenters created this adaption of Finn Juhl’s cabinetry on either side, to accommodate Richard’s new vinyl obsession (because you have to have a turntable in a mid-century home!).  And while we furnished the majority of the home in mid-mod style, we still wanted to enjoy our painting collection, which somehow seems right at home here!

Kitchen 'Before' - the window didn't bring in much natural light
And the kitchen?  We made a couple of changes that we love.  While the ‘ribbon’ window was stylistic, it didn’t bring in a lot of light and for tall people, you couldn’t see the lovely courtyard outside the window.

To brighten up the room, we installed tall, operable windows that matched the design of the window over the front door.   Now the kitchen is much brighter and somehow feels taller as well. 

The new tile above the range?  It’s a Walker Zanger pattern called ‘Stardust’ – named for the David Bowie Ziggy Stardust song which was released in 1972, the same year the house was built!  How cool is that?
We widened the doorways slightly, for more light and better traffic flow
And just off the kitchen is the mudroom, which is so helpful with some of our crazy Maine weather!  We replaced the original cabinetry and added lighting and wallpaper.  I just love this space!


And the bedroom wing?  We kept it much the same, but made some changes as well.  The former dark hallway only had aisle path lighting - right at knee level.  With the new clerestory windows and recessed lighting, now it's light and bright.  But we kept the original path lights, because they are so cool!
The only lighting in the original hallway were the knee height lights on the left wall


What was the boys room is now the master suite.  The iconic ‘Mushroom’ wallpaper was in bad shape, but we replaced it with an equally bold wall treatment made of baggash – a by product of sugar cane.   The original windows on this side of the house had to be replaced, to meet current fire code (they need to open wide enough to allow a fire fighter with a full pack to enter/exit the bedroom).  We hated making the change because we liked the way they looked, but once they were in, we realized they brought a lot more light into all of the bedrooms.
The former laundry room (you need a BIG one with 6 kids) is now the master closet.  We installed a wall of wardrobes (on the right) and drawers to hold everything.  

And the original family bath is now the master bath - without the old sunken bathtub (which seemed impossible to clean without laying on your stomach!).
We moved the skylight a couple of feet to center it in the space, but it continues to provide a huge amount of light in the room.   The giant tile (15 x 60”) provides a dramatic backdrop for the black bathtub.






We added a powder room just off of the kitchen.  With the metallic wallpaper and vintage style lights, it’s such a cool room!

The original master suite is now a guest suite.  We are lucky enough to get a lot of visitors and this is a great place for them.  The original mirrored wall has been updated with a black slat wall and lighting.
Bedroom 'Before'
Bedroom 'After'
  
And the master bath is now a guest bath with a floating vanity and mid-century style tilework. 

The family bath was the original master closet.  Now it’s a light, bright bath with metallic wallpaper and light, bright colored finishes.

The smallest bedroom has become the bunkroom for our grandchildren.  This room was dark to start with, but with the addition of the new larger window and a big skylight, it’s now a fun room for them to stay in.  We agonized over whether to ‘electrify’ each bunk, but decided to keep the house old school with a simple reading light for four kids.
Larger window and new skylight make this room bright and welcoming
There was extensive dry rot in the Bubble Room ceiling and walls
The room that we nicknamed the ‘Bubble Room’ saw a lot of updates, but the majority of the changes are behind the walls.  The iconic bubble window was a huge source of water damage and we had to tear out most of that wall and ceiling to reframe the structure.  We replaced the bubble with a round skylight, mounted on its side (and no, the manufacturer won’t warranty it J when you do it that way ) that could be flashed correctly to eliminate any water intrusion.  It also has a double layer of window, so it provides much more energy efficiency as well.
Skylight mounted sideways replaces original 'Bubble' window with better energy efficiency and weatherization
It doesn't look a lot different, but behind the walls tell a very different story!!
The Bubble room is a great spot for guests
Silicon held the boiler together!
And that brings us to the whole subject of energy efficiency.  We started the project with an energy audit, which not surprisingly showed that the house was pretty drafty with an end of life heating system.  This house was built before the oil embargo of the 70’s and heating costs weren’t a concern.  Obviously that has changed!
Blower Door Test
Blown in Cellulose Ceiling Insulation
We added lots of insulation - R60 for the updated roof, closed cell foam for the sills, foam for the concrete basement walls and around the slab perimeter – new windows & doors and sealed every single air leak we could find.  Even with all of that, our auditor said most homes this size and vintage only see a modest 10% improvement in the blower door test.  So we were all surprised when had a whopping 30% improvement!  We also added a new high-efficiency gas boiler, energy star appliances, LED lights, low flow water toilets (less than 1 gallon that work well!), etc.  So while this isn’t a new home, its energy efficiency and environmental impact is dramatically better than when we started.

Lots of rotted wood in the deck structure
And for our last set of projects, we focused on the exterior.  The first project was updating the deck.  We had hoped it would just need new decking, but as we tore out the old deck, we discovered that the majority of the structure was rotting away.  I guess they didn’t have pressure treated wood in 1972!  We kept the original footprint of the deck with its multi levels.  But we had to replace the handrail to be safety code compliant. 



Finally, we redid the exterior western red cedar siding.  The siding was all original and had reached its end-of-life phase.  This was a huge project that took months to complete.
Richard and I sanded and stained all six sides of the clapboards before they went up and then the guys stripped the old siding and installed the new clapboards.  We copied the original 45 degree angle exactly .  Now every time we turn up the street and see the house sitting up on the hill, we gasp.  This must be what it looked like when it was new!  

 
Are we done?  Well as owners of many old homes over the years, we’ve learned that you never say ‘done’.  There will always be additional projects and maintenance items.  And the landscaping will probably take us several years.  But for now, we’re pretty thrilled with our 18 month journey and the amazing house that we get to call home!
New granite pavers and landscaping to the front door (before the siding was replaced)
Note: Want to see more?   This is an unusual home in Maine and has gotten quite a bit of media attention.  1). Our local NBC affiliate and the amazing anchorwoman Cindy Williams filmed the entire project and shared it in 5 mini segments you can see here on their 207 News Magazine LINK.  Start at the bottom of their page with part 1 and work your way up.  I try to capture as much as I can with a still photo, but video is much better!!
2)  Maine Homes magazine (part of Downeast Magazine) shared the house in their January/February 2020 issue.  It's not online yet, but as soon as it is, I'll be sure and add the link here!



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13 comments:

  1. This is absolutely incredible! Kudos to you!

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  2. What an accomplishment! Absolutely beautiful!

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  3. Absolutely stunning!!!! Love it!

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  4. Loved all the before and after photos and your clear descriptions of what you did and why. Your attention to detail is astounding and it is truly a work of art. It certainly looks like perfection but also very livable. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Oh thanks so much!!! We appreciate the kind words, we poured a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this house :-) but are thrilled with the results!

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  5. Loved the five tv segments! Pulled all the photos together to show the wonderful flow of the house. Amazing job!

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    1. So glad you got to see the TV reports - it really helps show how the house is laid out! Thanks for checking it out!

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  6. All the work needed is almost beyond comprehension. Congratulations on a job that is beyond being well done - such a beautiful place to live!

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    1. Thanks so much. It was a huge project, but totally worth it!

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  7. This is absolutely stunning. A labor of love...perfection~~

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