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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Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Every Old House Needs a Fireplace

Have I mentioned how much I love my job???  I have the amazing opportunity to work with incredibly creative people.  And this fireplace project is a perfect example.

But let's start at the beginning.   Remember when I shared the history of bungalows in America (click here)?  Almost every one of the examples had a fireplace in the living room.  It was a critical element of the home - symbolizing warmth and coziness and all things bungalow.

But we don't have one.

And that made me kind of crazy.  This house really needs a fireplace.  It will make it so charming! But we don't have gas and there's no logical place for a masonry chimney (and our budget could never afford that).  The solution?  An electric fireplace.  We used an electric fireplace on another project and they look so good - not like the plastic logs with a pink lightbulb behind them that my Aunt Audrey had in her living room when I was growing up πŸ˜‚.  They've come a long way!!!  And from a climate/energy efficiency standpoint, they make a huge amount of sense.  

I did a lot of research and found a unit that can be recessed in the wall, like a real fireplace.  But buying online was scary, so I was thrilled that the local folks at Embers Stove Shop had one on display that I could look at.  Sure, if you look closely you can tell it's not the real thing - but it's still pretty great!  And in person you can see the flickering flames which look fantastic.

But I can't just slap it on the wall.  It needs a distinctive mantle.  And I really wanted an antique one.  So I took a little field trip down the the Old House Parts in Kennebunk and started looking around.  They had lots of options, but I was really intrigued by this one - which was miscellaneous pieces of an original fireplace mantle.  Something about it really called out to me - I loved the carvings, but also its simplicity.  This isn't a big fancy house and this seemed to be a great option.

Not too fancy, not too plain - it's just right for the bungalow!

So I bought it and threw it in my van, but needed to figure out how to get the missing pieces fabricated.  

And that's when I contacted Sten Havumaki at Oak & Laurel Workshop.  I'd been following the work he does on Instagram for awhile (you're not following him?  You should be!).  He does AMAZING work, but I was worried this was a bit too simple for his skill level.

Thankfully he agreed to take a look at my pile of mantle parts, to see what he could do.  Walking into his shop was a real treat.  It's filled with templates and sketches and work in progress.  You see, he started wood carving as a kid and realized it was something he really enjoyed.  He worked with a local woodcarver in high school and the went to school for furniture makers.  Ultimately, he set up shop in Biddeford, Maine.  He does that kind of old-school craftsman work that you don't see much anymore. 

This sign and carved bird are from a sign he made to hang in front of his parents garage as a teenager.

I marveled at a project he's working on for a house on one of the local islands.  The owners want it to have a lot of Swedish style carvings, inspired by the work of Carl Larsson.

 The sketches he's done give you an idea of the intricacies required to execute their vision.  

This carving in mahogany, for an arch over the front door, gives you an idea of his skill level.  

And thankfully, he was game to create new replacements for the missing parts of my mantle, as well as repair a broken pieces.  It's incredibly exacting work - that takes a skilled hand and eye, as well as sharp tools.

And the finished product?  Doesn't it look great!  We worked together to decide on the size of the plinth blocks and mantle shelf and I'm just thrilled with the result.  
I'm going to tackle the staining and finishing of the mantle, which will be a bit tricky as I try to blend old and new.  Sten recommended stain and shellac (which I haven't used before) and was kind enough to create a guide with several different options depending how dark, shiny or matte I want the final piece to look.   I'm a bit nervous to get started, but am excited to see how it will look when it's finished and installed. 
This will be a long project, so stay tuned for updates!  

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Wednesday, March 31, 2021

2nd Floor Living - It's Getting Real!!!

Now the real fun starts!!  Since we have a hip roof on the second floor, the usable floor space is quite small, due to limited headroom.  The solution is to add two more dormers to create more living space.  But cutting giant holes in the roof is always a bit nerve wracking, so we wanted to have everything lined up and hoped that Mother Nature would cooperate (seriously, who am I kidding.  Does the weather ever cooperate?) 

Isn't this crazy???

Day 1 - So on a bright Monday morning, the guys got the roof supported and started cutting holes.  With multiple saws-all going at the same time, they made pretty quick work of it and the sections started to open up.


Getting a chance to see the future view was pretty exciting.
View from Bedroom - pretty sweet!!!

View from the other direction - Yikes! 
And even the bathroom will have a pretty nice view.

Day 2 - Next they started framing and getting everything stabilized for the new walls.  There's a lot of engineered lumber going in, to ensure we have a nice rigid structure.  The wall framing started going up and it's looking good.

Day 3 - And then the weather forecast changed.  Instead of a nice, dry week, there were now thunderstorms and rain in the forecast - never good news with the roof wide open.  I made a quick trip to the lumberyard to grabs sheathing and tarps, to try and close walls up quickly. 

The guys did an amazing job of wrapping the roof in blue tarps to keep the water out.  We had an initial storm come through and only had a little water come in.  Thankfully some buckets did the trick to capture it.

Storm 2 came over the weekend and thanks to some frequent visits to dump water and move buckets around - we survived the storm.  My biggest worry was protecting those beautiful hardwood floors on the first floor.  Thankfully they came through just fine.  But this is not fun - we need some clear weather to make some progress.

And while we still have a lot to do, even with the 'blue roof', you can already see how the space is opening up.  As you get to the top of the stairs, the whole space seems so nice and open.  What a huge change!  

We have so much more to do - but it's getting pretty exciting!  Progress continues this week - but it's still blue tarp time to get us through tonight's storm.  Stay tuned! 

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Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Kitchen Expansion

Work is starting and we have so much to do!! Before we start tearing giant holes in the roof for the new dormers, we have quite a bit of structural work to complete on the first floor.  And that includes expanding the kitchen, which is pretty exciting to see.

First things first, the guys posted up the existing structure so we will be able to remove the staircase walls.  We’ll leave those walls and door intact until the new dormers are in place – that way we’re not trying to heat the great outdoors (yeah it’s spring, but this is Maine and we could still get snow!). 

It also required a steel beam to be installed across the back of the old kitchen.  This will allow us to remove the wall to access 45 square feet of living space – a real game changer for this kitchen!


The posts aren't touching the ground!
Of course that means the guys need to enclose the old porch/mudroom.  And that was when we got a nasty surprise.  We had assumed that it was built on nice concrete footings – but unfortunately it was old tree trunks (or fence posts?) that had completely rotted away.  We ran into a similar problem 20 years ago on another project and our carpenter said ‘Ain’t nothing holding that up but habit’.  DΓ©jΓ  vu moment – because we have that same situation here.


Thankfully the weather was mild enough that we could dig 4 foot deep footings and pour concrete to provide a nice solid base for new structure to support the porch.  We'll probably have snow again next week, but it was so nice to get a bit of warm weather!
New kitchen space is taking shape

New doorway getting cut in
 With all of that done and the new walls in place, the guys knocked out the old wall, cut out the new back door and suddenly the house feels completely different!  45 square feet might not seem like much – but look at how big the space looks now.  Can you believe it?

I can stand so far back to take a photo now!

Of course it will look even better when we open up the staircase, but that will be a few weeks away.  In the meantime, I’m just going to savor how nice it is already!
Kitchen Before
Kitchen in-process - see how much longer it is now! 

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Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Word for Today - Compromise

Nobody wants to have to compromise - but when you’re renovating an older house it becomes an acquired skill.  Sometimes doing what you want is either absurdly expensive or physically impossible.  That’s kind of what happened on this house (I keep hearing Mick Jagger singing "you can't always get what you want" in my head πŸ˜‚). 


I desperately want to make the second floor an amazing en suite bedroom, with tall ceilings that accentuate the funky angles of the hip roof.  But the current roofline is a problem, so we need to add two new dormers - matching the existing hip dormer on the front of the house.

Typical Dormer Styles - the one on the left is our bungalow

To accomplish that, a simple solution was to post a new structural ridge beam across the ceiling, but that meant lower ceilings and a post that would go through the dining room, ruining the antique hutch and just looking weird.  Ugh….

Can you tell it's a challenge?  Joe Leasure L&L Structural Engineering

So we brought in some structural engineering expertise.  After lots of measuring and discussion and running from the attic to the basement to see where structural beams lined up - we came up with a plan.  Can you tell it was a challenge?  Joe Leasure was deep in thought figuring out a path forward!  

The good news:  I get my tall ceilings and the two gables that will create a big bedroom suite.  

The not so good news: the gables can’t have a hip roof style to match the gable on the front of the house - they will need to have a standard gable to give us the structural strength we need.  We need to install a structural ridge beam on both gables - and that load needs to be carried by a post all the way to the basement.  

At first this drove me crazy.  But then I realized 1) These gables are on the side and back of the house, so I’m hoping it won’t be too noticeable and 2) the front porch is a standard gable roof, so that style already exists on the house.

The front of the house has two different gable styles

The worse news:  we will need a tiny gable, affectionally called the pork chop, on the 4th side of the roof to allow us to post the new structure to the basement.  I’ve seen them on other houses and they’re not super noticeable.  But it's still a bit odd. And in our case, we didn’t have any other option.  So a tiny pork chop gable it is.

And in better news, the bathroom can now be bigger and more functional.  The initial design was a narrow bathroom with a bathtub and no shower.  Now it will be much more spacious, with a big glassed in shower and lots of storage.

First plan - small bath with no shower

New Plan - large bath with shower and big vanity (size TBD)

So did I get exactly what I wanted?  Not quite.  But this is a pretty nice compromise that will give us the structural integrity we need, while meeting some nice design goals.  Good thing we have all this figured out, because work is starting!  

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