The Family Room Reveal

John, the contractor, stopped by on an early Friday afternoon in December 2018. He sank down into my husband’s chair and casually talked to us about our vision for the one-room addition to our cottage. By the time he left, I realized our casual conversation had covered every important design decision about the project. We would have a brick floor, sliding glass doors, double-hung windows, a wood ceiling, drywall, four recessed lights, a chandelier, and two sconces. The only decision I hadn’t yet made was the color of the walls.

It wasn’t a big job, just one room and a carport, and therein was the problem. The previous three contractors had given us their best ‘what the hell’ bid. In other words, if you’re willing to pay this much money, I’ll take on your (small) project. Fortunately for us, John actually seemed excited about doing our little project, and he gave us a fair bid.

A few weeks earlier we had hired a local designer to draw up the plans for our new room, including where and how it should attach to the house. The challenge was that the house sat too close to the property line on both sides, and the back of the house was essentially a mountain of trees. Ultimately, the best answer was to remove the mountain and the trees behind the house to create enough level space for the addition. Excavation wrapped up in March, and construction began the first day of May.

September 2017: The space to the left of the cottage was originally a large drainage ditch that was overgrown with foliage and trees. One of our first projects was to install a new drainage system, fill in the ditch, and create a driveway. During the process, the excavator uncovered enough rocks to cover the entire bank by the driveway.

March 2019: after removing most of the trees behind the house, the excavator began hauling out enough dirt to create a level area adjacent to the house.

After burying a new propane tank and moving the HVAC, the foundation was poured on the first day of May. A few weeks later, the addition was closed in.

Finishing the interior always seems to take the longest time in any project, but our delays began to snowball. The electrician got held up by delays on a different job, which messed up the schedule for insulation and then drywall, which delayed the painting. The brick floor was supposed to be finished over a weekend, but it took more than a week. The gutter company was delayed for months as pieces of gutter lay strewn across the yard all summer. By late August, there were a multitude of little things left straggling.

My husband was thinking we needed an impending event to help move things along. He dreamed up a ‘party’ that we would have scheduled before construction slowed to a crawl, and threatened that we were moving in whether they were done or not. They weren’t done.

Throughout all these months of construction we had anticipated this room’s major function would be to hold my piano, a wall of bookshelves, and a couple of comfortable chairs – it would mostly be a music room. Once the windows were installed, however, we realized how bright and quiet it was at the back of the house. We measured the family room furniture over and over again, plotted out various furniture layouts, and finally, it seemed possible to relocate the family room to this new room. The added benefit of this strategy is that it allowed us to create a dining room adjacent to the kitchen at the front of the house.

To make the furniture layout work it was necessary to find smaller chairs, and to replace our oversized cocktail ottoman with something smaller. E.J. Victor had a showroom sale in July where I found the perfect chairs, and we used a smaller bench that had been in storage as our cocktail ottoman.

We found the bookshelves and the chandelier on Wayfair. The walls hadn’t been painted when the bookshelves arrived, and they spent a full week outside under the carport before we could move them into place. We weren’t sure we had accounted for the little piece of trim molding when we measured the bookshelves’ height, and we held our breath as they were positioned against the wall. They fit. thank goodness. We bolted them to the wall – just in case.

Regarding the color of the walls, I had narrowed my choices to about a half dozen colors, but then found a beautiful pale green on the oops paint rack at Lowe’s (I know it totally looks blue in the picture above – can’t explain that). When that pale green paint went onto the walls, we thought it was stunning against the backdrop of the garden outside the windows. Goes to show that one person’s oops can be another person’s treasure.

After we had already moved into the room, I remembered a piece of leftover fabric from an upholstery project at our last house. It was just large enough to replace the not-so-very-dog-friendly ivory seat cushion that originally came with our sofa. The drapes are from the same E.J. Victor showroom sale, and are made from a coordinating fabric to one of the chairs I bought that same day.

So the paint came first, but the chairs and drapes matched the paint, and the sofa cushion fabric had been there all along, but forgotten – even still, everything matched. There’s something to be said for always buying things (or colors) that you love.

This one-room addition has completely changed our little cottage and how we live in it. We’ve wondered if we would have created a slightly larger room had we known we would use it as our family room instead of a music room? A few more feet might have given us more options, but it’s cozy (like the rest of the cottage), the acoustics are great. . . and we love it.

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 years.

Our front door opens onto two rooms: the kitchen and a living area. We’ve since learned this front area 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 table/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. Two of them came back home with me.

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 when it first came on the market, and she 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 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 at times, 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.

Musical Chairs and the Room in the Middle

While most homes have functionally specific rooms, my little cottage suggests it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. For example, the original kitchen is now the master bedroom, the original master bedroom is now a closet, and the room in the middle has been a living room, bedroom, dining room, and now a foyer – all within its original footprint.

You can start from the beginning here, but to quickly recap: we were on the hunt for a cute cottage for downsizing our life; found it, but got outbid by a flipper; convinced her to sell it to us anyway, as-is (remodel in-progress); finished the remodel so we could put it on the vacation rental circuit until we were really ready to downsize; changed (or lost) our minds and moved in; added one more room onto the back of the house, which allowed us to repurpose almost every room (move furniture from front to back and all around). This is the story of the room in the middle.

It was a bedroom when we first saw the house in August 2017. The doorway on the left would have been the front door until a 1970’s addition created a new kitchen and living area, which makes us think this room would have been the location of the home’s original living room.

The room also has a small coat closet and a fireplace. It’s hard to see in the photos, but the crown molding had an unusual design along the bottom – sort of the shape of fish scale shingles. The flipper had already replaced the windows with french doors, which we thought was a grand idea, but she had also removed the crown molding. Our lead carpenter at the time told me he could replace the molding, but make it even better. He did not disappoint.

The photo below shows the outline of the original crown molding. This was how the room looked on our first day after buying the house.

When we furnished the house for the rental market, this was the most logical room for a dining table. We added a closet in the center hallway that would eventually become the entrance to the new addition at the back of the house.

I discovered the German Schmear the same year we bought the cottage, and tried out my own version on the little fireplace in this room. My husband found an arched style ventless fireplace insert on Wayfair, and the carpenter created the curved trim surround. A thermostat causes it to turn on randomly throughout cold winter days giving the room a warm glow.

From the angle of the photo below, you can see the bricks on the left side of the fireplace are shaved flat while the other side is angled. I love these oddball things about old houses where only an owner from long ago would know the background story. We’ve made our own contributions in this area along the way I guess. The wildflowers are from my garden.

Now that we have a covered carport on this side of the house, this room has become the way we most often enter the house. We also linger over coffee here in the mornings, and sometimes we sit here with a glass of wine at the end of the day. As you might imagine, we solve a lot of the world’s problems from right here. 🙂

ACE Construction and the MaSonRyPRoJecT

After weeks of nearly indiscernible baby steps on our cottage construction project we have a finished space. It wasn’t really worldwide breaking news the day they sprayed foam insulation into the walls, when the metal roof and the interior ceiling planks went up, or when paint covered the walls inside and out. But when they broke through the walls and finished the transition from old house to new addition, this adjunct room that seemed to independently protrude from the back of the house was now part of the collective whole, and the end of the project was finally in sight.

The cottage before construction started:

Most every project has at least one memorable moment – something you can’t believe just happened. There were no shocking, pull-your-hair-out surprises in this project. Everything fit. Everything worked the way we wanted.

The contractor’s biggest worry was that the floor of the addition wouldn’t line up evenly with the home’s original floor. He poked a hole through the side of the house to spot check his measurements in late April, but we wouldn’t find out whether those measurements were accurate until they opened the wall at the back of the house a few weeks ago (they were spot on).

There were two places where the addition would open up to the house – in the master bath and through a hallway closet that would ultimately become the entry to the room. The guys hung a tarp to serve as a partition of sorts when they cut through the exterior wall – which means the only thing between my bathroom and a half dozen workers was a blue tarp. Sometimes I walked to the end of the road to use the bathroom at the gym rather than use the one at home with the tarp.

Once we discovered the existence of wormwood (the ceiling planks we used in the hallway bath remodel), we changed direction and used them in the new addition as well. It totally changed the character of the room. I kept eyeing the leftover pieces of wormwood from the cuts they made for the ceiling, and finally decided there’d be enough to also use on the wall in the master bath.

The master bath during construction: Still in progress, but almost finished. . . In January we decided on all the design particulars of this one new room. Building the room on a slab rather than crawl space left us with a decision about flooring options. I didn’t relish the possibility that the sound of walking on hardwood floors could be different between the slab foundation and the crawl space foundation of the original house, so we decided to use brick. Everyone that sees our new brick floor has asked if it was an original patio or some part of the original house all along. One of the early chores of the project was to meet with the electrician about the lighting plan – although it became more of a negotiation than a meeting really. I wanted to convert my beloved sconces to be hard-wired and permanently attach them to the wall. He suggested I buy new sconces. I asked that all the outlets be switched, but eventually compromised on half the outlets – which turns on exactly two lamps. By the end of our meeting, he had told me I was ”obviously afraid of the dark.“ It all worked out in the end and there’s a light, outlet and switch in all the right places. The furniture movers had only one day available last week and then they were booked until the end of September, so we hauled the furniture in from the storage room a few days earlier than perhaps the contractor had hoped for. There’s still a pretty hefty punch-down list of things yet to be finished, but the guys have cleared out their tools and for the first time in months our house doesn’t really look like a construction zone – aside from the gutter strewn across the back yard, the dumpster across the street and the port-a-potty in the driveway, of course. But none of that will prevent me from the most wonderful part of renovating: decorating.

The Hall Bath Remodel: before and after

The last time I wrote about remodeling our hall bath we had removed the old cast iron tub and an accumulation of squirrel nests that were no doubt as old as the tub.

Paul has worked with us on remodeling projects several times over the years and he was making great progress on the hall bath. With the tub removed, he repaired the rotten floor boards, updated the plumbing, and moved the drain to a more central location for a shower.

Once the new plumbing was in place, we covered it up (a collective gasp can be heard throughout the land). I wanted to create a more spacious powder room in lieu of having an extra shower/tub we didn’t need. In a small house, it’s nice when a room can feel a bit oversized (relatively speaking, of course), and we can always re-install a shower down the road if necessary since the plumbing is already in place.

Next up was the ceiling. We had planned to use a simple pine plank ceiling until Paul discovered our local Lowe’s also carried worm wood planks. We changed direction.

Healthy trees usually expel beetles by producing a defensive resin. But cycles of warm weather have weakened some of these trees preventing them from producing enough resin to ward off the beetles. Blue stain fungus spreads from the bark beetles to the Lodgepole Pine, Douglas Fir, and Whitebark Pine trees where the fungus works symbiotically with the beetles by turning the tree wood into nutrients. A byproduct of the damage done to the tree is this beautiful, eco-friendly, blue pine lumber streaked with a natural blue-grey stain, also called Beetle Kill Pine. The beetles don’t weaken or contaminate the wood and the fungi is burnt away during the kiln drying process. I’m totally in love.

After applying a light skip-trowel finish to the drywall and tiling over the shower drain, Paul had a family emergency. We pondered the situation for a few days and decided we could finish things up on our own since Paul had already left all the materials ready to be installed. It only took a couple of afternoon’s worth of work to finish things up.

We painted the walls ( a perfect shade of blue that I found on the Lowe’s OOPS rack) and installed trim around the ceiling, window, door and baseboards.

I’ve recently read that one of the trends designers are most ready to get rid of is the accent or “feature” wall. Sometimes we have to go our own way.

On my last trip to the E.J. Victor showroom in High Point, I snatched up 10 partial rolls of wallpaper for just $5. The box says it had been used in the AERIN Fall 2013 showroom, although I couldn’t find a photo anywhere to confirm this (Aerin Lauder is the granddaughter of Estée Lauder).

Eventually I realized wallpaper was the perfect answer for the awful blemishes on the wall behind the sink, and the fact that there was already a chair rail dividing the wall meant partial rolls were no problem.

We also replaced the light fixture over the sink with a pretty brass one I found on Amazon that looks sort of like a picture light. It’s considered a ‘make-up’ light and includes options for warm, natural or pure white light. I chose the natural light, but now sort of wished I had gone with warm. So many choices.

Paul had already installed an under-mount sink and faucet into our antique cabinet.

Most of our spare art and accessories are locked up in a small storage room while we finish construction, but I had stumbled onto an adorable poster last year and slid it under the bed for safe keeping. We opted for a traditional frame from the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore for $7, slid our poster in front of the frame’s original art, and carefully put everything back together.

We’ve had “Stinky” the tissue holder for a long time, and fortunately the console table was at the front of the storage room. I stained a simple dowel rod to hold drapes that had been in the master bath. Maybe I’ll add another accessory or two when we’re fully unpacked, but the hall bath is finally remodeled!

Renovation: Week 15

 

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Earlier this year we mapped out a plan to transform our cottage into the perfect retirement home. After twenty years of remodeling homes, and despite the skepticism among friends and family, we think we’re ready to stop remodeling – after this one last project, of course.

With one more room, the cottage would be the perfect home. We’d take down a few trees, level out part of the mountain, and there’d be enough space for another room at the back of the house. And while we’re at it, we’d upgrade the kitchen appliances and remodel the hall bath. Piece of cake.

A Conservatory and a Carport

After construction was delayed through the winter, the one-room addition finally has walls with windows and doors, a roof and electrical. By the end of the week, it should also have insulation and drywall.

The workers spent most of last week adding the batten-style trim to the exterior that will create a cohesive look with the original cottage. Then we’ll be ready for paint and a metal roof.

The Hall Bath

We must have been delirious the day we decided to go ahead with the hall bath remodel while construction on the addition is still in-progress. But here we are.

The original bath was unremarkable. We updated the toilet and the floor last year during the first phase of remodeling, leaving the original tub and wall-hung sink in place. . . a.k.a. perfume on a pig.

Demolition exposed nothing more sinister than mounds and mounds of squirrel nests – inside the walls and under the old cast iron tub. Once we cleared out the nests, we could also see the sub floor was rotten – and we reinforced those support beams that just happened to be holding up the back of the house. It could have been worse.

The tub was a historic beast.

When we realized our local Lowe’s store had a small inventory of wormwood ceiling planks, we quickly snatched them up for the ceiling.

We found an antique cabinet at a local shop for the vanity that we’ll pair with a sink from the Restoration Hardware outlet in Asheville. The question is to paint the cabinet, or not to paint the cabinet. . . ?

The Kitchen

I could have recovered from an injury and trained for a full marathon in the amount of time it took our stove to arrive. But it’s finally here, and we love it.

And I bit the bullet and replaced the sconces on either side of the kitchen (all six!). Even limiting myself to choices that were $100 or less each, it was a big gulp. But now the kitchen is basically done. Well, there may be one more thing or two. . .

The contractor had estimated construction would last just 16 weeks. It was originally due to be finished, in fact, on the very day it began. This one last project, and we’re definitely done. 🙂

A Cottage Update

We were only a few days away from the start of construction last December when I wrote about a planned one-room addition to our cottage. Then it rained nonstop. It was a miserable winter. Exterior work came to a screeching halt, and we spent the winter working on interior projects instead.

The Kitchen

September 2017: the kitchen and living room had been added onto the cottage in the 70s, and never touched again. It’s really better that way I think. The seller had left the cottage furnished, including a rooster in the kitchen – which you can barely see above the door in the photo below. The paneling had darkened around the rooster over the years, and I put him back in exactly the same spot after the remodel.

October 2018: our initial plan was to put the cottage on the vacation rental circuit for a few years. This picture was taken just before we changed our mind and decided to live here ourselves. The kitchen’s footprint is the same, but it seems larger with the wall fully opened to the living room.

I really loved the look of the kitchen, but it had practical issues. It was difficult to completely conceal the patchwork done to the paneling after closing off the original door and window on the back wall. A marble backsplash hides this world of sins.

The next issue was the appliances. Since the refrigerator was not counter depth, it extended too far into the room. Same problem with the dishwasher – when the door was open it was impossible to move around. The ice cream parlor table and chairs are adorable, but miserably uncomfortable and too small for everyday use.

April 2019: Over the winter, we replaced the standard dishwasher with dishwasher drawers, added the Bosch refrigerator with black glass door panels, switched out the chandelier, and exchanged the rug for a cowhide. We also re-stained the vent hood a shade darker than it had been, changed out the table and chairs, and opted for blinds instead of the ‘all-or-nothing’ shade. I’m on the hunt for swing-arm sconces, and a black stove is on order.

Living Room:

September 2017: the living room was in pretty good shape. I’m not sure the fireplace had even been used. I love all of the wood in this room and the large front window. However, the fireplace isn’t center on the wall, which makes me a little crazy. And the paneling had darkened around the bookshelves leaving an outline of the shelves when they were removed – just like the rooster. Eventually we painted the back wall white, and then re-painted it a pale shade of grey-green this winter. With great hesitation, we painted the fireplace too.

January 2019: We liked the fireplace painted white, but it seemed harsh – almost too white. My husband remembered a container of black glaze in the closet from another project, and we used it over the white. This last step softened the white just enough and allowed more of the brick to show through.

We snapped this picture of Bentley playing with Mr. Boggs in January when the wall was still white and before we experimented with the fireplace.

 

After four days of excavation last week the rain started again. Dump trucks came one after the other all day every day to export dirt from behind our house to some unknown location nearby. A couple of days into the process I remembered to ask them to leave some of the rocks for landscaping, and now we have a pile of rocks so large we’ll never summon the strength to move them ourselves. The sheer number of these large rocks leave us all convinced there was a rock wall at some time in this land’s past. Otherwise, the only buried treasures were a handful of old bottles and a tire.

By this time next week, we hope the dirt will be gone, the back yard will be flat – or at least partially flat, and there will be endless days of gardening ahead of me. Said differently, I’ll be in heaven.