Just Beyond the Front Door

I snapped this picture 3 days ago on the trail around the lake in our neighborhood.

Our neighborhood was created in 1913 to host the Second General Missionary Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The ‘Assembly,’ as it’s locally known, covers about 5.6 square miles (roughly 14.6 square kilometers) in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina; including a 200-acre lake, 16 gardens, a golf course, gym, various meeting, lodging and sports facilities. There were only 13 homes here in 1913, but summer cottages continued to pop up throughout the Assembly over the next few decades. Quite a few of these cottages, such as ours, have remained in their semi-original condition for decades.

Our front door opens onto two rooms: the kitchen and a living area – what we’ve since learned was a 1960s addition to the original 1945-era cottage. Somewhere along the way the first owner’s family probably grew large enough to require extra rooms to accommodate their summer get-aways. This two-room addition followed the sloping landscape, leaving it two steps down from the front door of the original cottage.

Our first carpenter came up with the idea to expand the steps and incorporate a platform of sorts on the right side with a large storage drawer underneath. The antique wine rack we found while living in Ecuador found a home atop the platform, and the big drawer has become the best spot to store dog leashes, extra dog food, and stuff in general.

Although our cottage sat idle for 60 years or more (decoratively speaking), we’ve re-worked these two front rooms three times in the past two years. The first decor was designed around using the cottage as a vacation rental property, but we decided to move in before we went through with that plan. In the second decor we used our own furnishings – minus those things we kept in storage as we went through construction to add one more room onto the back of the house. With construction finished and everything out of storage, almost every room in the house has been re-worked again.

We finished the first kitchen renovation last year, but since then we’ve switched to all black appliances, changed the rug, added a backsplash, upgraded the light fixtures, and most recently, exchanged a small table in the center with a counter-height island and two stools.

The Kitchen (version III):

Once or twice a year there’s a sale at the E.J. Victor showroom in High Point, or sometimes at their factory in Morganton. Even when there’s nothing in the world I need, I love going to these sales. Earlier this year, there were boxes and boxes of chandeliers at the sale in High Point. I brought two of them back home.

It wasn’t an easy job to add overhead lighting. The metal roof had been installed directly onto the ceiling joists leaving no room to run the wiring. Recessing anything into this ceiling was out of the question. A local investor had won the initial bid on this house and was renovating things for several weeks before we convinced her to sell it to us. Her electrician was implementing an altogether different approach to the overhead lighting project before we arrived on the scene.

He didn’t mind re-thinking things at all, and eventually we came up with a more inconspicuous option by adding plugs to the chandeliers and running the wiring on the back side of the ceiling beams. Old houses seem to require out-of-the-box thinking sometimes, and I think this was one of those times.

The chandelier plugs into an outlet above the cabinets on the left by the ceiling beam:

The living area side of the front rooms had been our family room in both of its previous iterations. This was the Living Area after we moved in with our own furnishings:

Now it’s a Dining Room (version III):

We added a gas starter to the wood-burning fireplace last year, but this year we went a step further and opted for artificial logs – less work, no mess.

We’ve accumulated some interesting furnishings over the years, and although we didn’t have room to keep everything when we downsized, I tried to be thoughtful about keeping things that might work. Then the challenge became to use what I had kept!

Several of the more unique accessories we’ve collected over the years have come from Maitland-Smith – a by-product of having owned a home furnishings store. I’d sit at my desk whenever traffic was light and study the methods the artisans use to create these treasures.

One technique is Lost Wax Casting where the artisans create a finely carved wax model surrounded by a special form of lightweight concrete.The mold is filled with molten metal through holes carved into the material, which melts the wax model which then drains away through a small exit hole. When the mold cools, it’s broken open to reveal a finely cast metal object that was once wax. Then the pieces are finished in verdigris, aged brass, dark bronze or another popular finish. Some of my favorite accessories have been created using this method.

I wouldn’t say our front rooms’ decor will remain as-is for the next 60 years, but we’re definitely done for awhile.