Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Introducing the 1898 House

Sometimes, when you least expect it, things can change.  A lot. 


We’d been thinking about finding a smaller house for a while.  We loved our mid-century modern home, but it’s a really big house (4,300 square feet) with ceilings that soar to 16 feet tall.  That's a big space for 2 people!  We thought we would have a constant stream of friends and family visiting all the time…. but then COVID hit and we all know how that turned out.  And even though things have improved, we’ve found that most people we know are busy visiting their families or bucket list locations that have been on hold for awhile.  We love when our kids visit, but the reality is they have busy lives of their own and can’t visit as often as we had hoped.


So we started casually looking for a smaller home.  But with the lack of houses going on the market and the crazy real estate prices, we realized that we weren’t likely to find something and decided we would just stay put. 

And then the 1898 house came on the market.  It’s PERFECT for us!!  At 2,400 square feet, it’s a manageable size.  It’s a few doors down the street from our old house, so we already love the neighborhood.  It has a huge yard that provides lots of privacy.  Oh, and it needs some renovation – right up our alley!

We also love the idea of renovating a pre-1900 home.  This one has obviously been added onto many times and has all the quirky elements you’d expect in an old house.  All those things that we love and appreciate!! 


So let me give you the tour, starting with the exterior.  The house hugs the west side of the lot, which provides a broad expanse of lawn, looking down to Casco Bay.  It has white painted clapboards, a very traditional siding choice for a coastal home in Maine.  The stone staircase takes you up to the front door. 

But like most homes in Maine, the front door will rarely be used (maybe for Trick or Treaters??).  The main entrance will be off of the driveway, leading directly into the kitchen.  Seriously, I LOVE this side entrance.  I can already see it updated with little window boxes full of flowers!

A 2 car garage was on our 'must have' list.  Yeah, it needs a bit of work, but a garage in Maine is a prized possession! 

The other side of the house has a lot of windows.  We suspect this was originally a wrap around porch that was incorporated into the main house at some point.  But until we start opening it up a bit, we won’t know for sure.  Obviously, lots of the windows (and canopy) don’t appear to be original.

The back of the house is probably the most interesting, because here you can see lots of additions that were made over the years (and lots of roof angles!).  There is a hip dormer on the 2nd floor.  And at some point, someone built an extension to the dining room.  There is an ‘ell’ coming off the back of the kitchen and yet another addition (with another roof angle) coming off of that.  There’s also the garage and a shed off of the garage.  Whew!  That’s a lot, but not all that unusual in New England, where adding on and connecting things like barns or garages to the main house was practical with long, snowy winters.


And the interior?  Well that’s just as interesting.  Let’s start the tour through the front door.  There is a large living room with a big fireplace as a focal point.  

From the other side of the room, there is a bank of windows that look over the big yard and water views. 

Don't you love the view? 

The ceilings are low (7’ 2”) – maybe to help keep rooms warm in Maine before central heating?  But they have beautiful coffered trim that add a lot of architectural interest.  There are so many doorways, most with beautiful glass French doors featuring wavy antique glass.  And there are numerous bookcases that will provide a home for lots of books we have in storage.

Through the largest doorway there is a long, narrow sunroom.  This was probably an open porch when the house was first built, but provides a great indoor space now.

Off of both the living room and sunroom is a spacious dining room.  It has what we guess are original built-in cabinets, to provide some nice storage.  At the other end of the room are two doors - the large one to a small deck and the other to a sunporch.

There is a swinging door (my husband loves this door!) that goes to the kitchen.  It’s a good sized room, with a small entryway leading to the driveway. 

It also has an unusual bump out on one side of the room - with lots of cabinetry and a window that looks into the basement staircase (maybe to provide extra light? It's a very unusual feature!).  It's a bit snug to get back there with the refrigerator location. 


Off of the kitchen is a large room that appears to be a combination utility room, pantry and laundry.  Back in the day it would have been called a Service Porch.  It’s a big room with an amazing sink! 

The back door leads to the sunporch (which also connects to the dining room) and the garage.  We have never had a sunporch before and I have to admit I’m pretty excited about it.  Spring is slow to come to Maine, but this east facing room should have lots of morning sunlight, giving us a warm spot to wait for spring to arrive. 

Have you heard of a Jack and Jill bathroom between two kids bedrooms?  Well we have one between the kitchen and a 1st floor bedroom.  That's the first time we've seen that! 

And what about the 2nd floor?  The staircase in this house is a bit unusual – it’s right off of the front door with French doors that close it off from the main living area (again, maybe to conserve heat?).  At the top of the stairs is a bright little room with an angled ceiling and 3 windows.  

Behind that is a very small room.  Honestly, I’m not sure we could fit much more than a twin bed in there.  But it has this very cool closet and a ‘secret’ room off of that – which the grandkids absolutely loved (and they were the only ones short enough to stand in there!!) 

There is one bathroom on the 2nd floor that is ready for a refresh.  


On the other side of the hallway is the primary bedroom. 

And this is a huge room with amazing views.  Not only does it have the same Casco Bay views as the first floor, but off to the right you can see the Portland Head Light.  Honestly, I can’t wait to go to sleep at night with the blinking of the lighthouse coming through our room (it’s something I’ll get used to, right?  Kind of like the foghorns that drove me crazy when we first lived in the neighborhood, but came to love over time?) 

Bedroom window view!!


The room has 4 closets, although one is built over one of the front windows, which is something we will probably change (not the first time we’ve seen this, maybe it was trendy at some point in time?) 

There is also a pull down staircase that leads to a full attic.  There is enough headroom to stand up in there, so we’re toying with the idea of creating a 3rd floor space.  Views from that vantage point should be amazing!

Now that it's ours, what's next?  We've started planning for some updates, but need to get some more information to see what we can do.  It's going to be a complex project!  Stay tuned, we'd love to have you follow along! 



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Wednesday, September 21, 2022

The Split Level Living Area - Before and After

Eating nook, complete with built in storage in the banquette
As you've probably guessed, I've saved the best for last.  The main living area of this house is almost unrecognizable from our starting point. So much has changed!  Gone are the low ceilings, cramped rooms and a center fireplace that took up way too much space in a small house!

Best of all, my clients got a living area that is customized to their needs.  We thought through every element of how the kitchen needed to work for them, including built in trash/recycle storage, an appliance garage and pantry space.  They wanted a mud bench with storage for all the winter gear we need in Maine.  And they didn't want a formal dining space - just casual eating areas, that included a view of the beautiful gardens they curate in the yard.

The kitchen has lots of storage and the island provides a great spot for family members and guests to gather.  It also has a drawer microwave, keeping it out of view and off the countertop! 

Don't you love this kitchen? 
Here was the original kitchen 

How did we do all this?  There were two major changes - first, we removed the big central fireplace.  It made the existing kitchen really tiny and took up a disproportionate amount of space in a small house.  See how it opens up the kitchen to the rest of the living space?

Second, we expanded the room by 5 feet.  Now, that might not sounds like a lot of space.  But it was the maximum we could do with the zoning regulations and it made a huge difference to the room.  It allowed us to install a sliding glass door out to the garden and a fireplace, complete with built ins.  See how much different it is?

The gas fireplace is such a cozy feature!  They chose the beachglass option - with lots of glass and driftwood.  Pretty cool for a beach house!  The built ins are simple and we topped them off with reclaimed beams from another house in the neighborhood - now that's a great sustainability option!!! And the warm wood with the old saw marks is so inviting!

But that's not all.  We added a mud bench with storage bins to hold all their winter/summer stuff.  In Maine we all have a lot of winter outerwear, but when you live close to the beach you also have towels, flip flops and beach bags that need a place to land when you come home.

And I can't stop sharing this stairwell - these balusters are such a wow feature!  

This stairwell extends all the way to the top floor and that dramatic space is a game changer on this split level.  The owners can't wait to hang a lot of artwork on the big, tall wall!

This may be my favorite viewpoint in the new house, because it really didn't exist before we started!  The closed off attic access and small footprint of the house was totally different from today. 

So I'll ask the question we started with on this project.  Do you still hate a split level?  Or do you think they can be reimagined into a modern home for today's lifestyle?

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