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.

The 2019 Plan

Another remodeling project is taking shape. It’s like being in the early days of training for a marathon; you choose a training plan, and begin to work your way through the program that will culminate in a magical place – although finding yourself at the finish line seems so far away that it’s impossible to believe it will ever happen at all.

Most of the remodeling of our little cottage was completed in 2018. The kitchen finally escaped the 1970s, the master bath stole enough square footage from the center hall for a shower and two sink cabinets, and we converted the 2nd bedroom into a proper walk-in closet.

The next projects on our list include the addition of a 300 square foot conservatory (with all its required excavation), remodeling the hall bath, updating kitchen appliances, adding an attached carport and a she-shed for yours truly.

If you’ve tuned into The Fartlek for these occasional design and renovating stories, this could be a plentiful year. And if you’re a runner, please don’t despair. The year will be more about running than it may currently appear!

Conservatory

The 19th century was the golden age of conservatory building, primarily in England. In a residence, a conservatory would typically be attached to the house on only one side, and by definition must have more than 50% of its wall surface glazed. Our new room does not technically meet the ‘conservatory’ standard, but it’s the aesthetic we’re going for.

The conservatory will connect to the rear of the cottage through an existing closet. A vaulted ceiling, 6’ windows, a wall of bookshelves and two closets make it the most functional 300 square feet we’ve ever added to a home (a third new closet is accessible from the master bath). It will lack the feel of a full conservatory because of the wall of bookshelves, however, that side of the room only looks onto the neighbor’s house. Bookshelves are more practical. French doors at the back of the room lead to the she-shed and a view of the back garden.

Carport

originating from the French term “porte-cochère“, referring to a covered portal, renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright coined the term when he used a carport in the first of his “Usonian” home designs: the house of Herbert Jacobs, built in MadisonWisconsin, in 1936 (Wikipedia).

The driveway encroaches the property’s setback restrictions on our left side, which precludes the construction of a garage. A carport complements the little cottage perfectly anyway.

Excavation

In the early 1900s, Lake Junaluska’s Epworth Lodge was built where our house now resides. I admit that I’m secretly hoping a buried treasure or rare artifact from our property’s historic past will be unearthed during excavation.

Another dozen trees were removed a few weeks ago and the excavator is scheduled for the first of the year. The plan is to tear out the tree stumps and dig out the hill to render the whole area level (i.e., flat/perfect/divine). 

A french drain will probably be required near the conservatory, but the excavator has promised to fill in with gravel throughout the yard to prevent any issues in the meantime. . . my husband was completely unsympathetic to the plight of my future garden being full of gravel.

A bucket truck was used to cut sections off the tops of the trees until they reached a manageable height, although sometimes the guys just climbed the tree to reach the top (notice the man in a yellow shirt barely visible at the top of the tree to the right).
What the back yard looks like at the moment (a.k.a. a mess).

She-Shed

We’ve decided on a combination greenhouse/shed that provides enough space for my bicycle(s) and a Kung Fu wooden dummy. We prepare the foundation and the prefabricated structure comes ready to assemble, supposedly in just two days – given the right amount of help I assume.

I have big plans for this little building.

The Kitchen

As fate would have it, Paul has helped us install tile every November for the past three years in whatever house we were remodeling at the time. This November he installed a marble backsplash in the cottage kitchen. We’re choosing black appliances to finish things off.

Space is limited so we decided to use dishwasher drawers to avoid a door that drops down into the room. The Fisher Paykel version is about the only one on the market, except they don’t come with a certified installer in our area. We’re waiting on an installer to drop by from Asheville after the holidays. Once we see the true ‘black’ of the dishwasher finish, we’ll choose the most exotic matching stove and refrigerator.

We’ve decided on the Hallman stove in either glossy or matte black to go with the Fisher Paykel double-drawer dishwasher. My new favorite refrigerator is a Gaggenau unit with antique finishes added by Italian firm, Restart Srl. . .  although at a starting price of $10,000 USD, maybe we’ll keep shopping. 🙂

The Secret Garden Cottage – Part II

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It’s been almost a year since we began renovations on this little cottage. After it spent several decades in a 1970’s decor, it has been fairly receptive to our suggestions both inside and out. Two new porches and a metal roof were added earlier this year, but it was this summer that the side yard got a total make-over, including a koi pond, stone steps, a raised flower bed, and lots of plants.

September 25, 2017: the side yard day one.

May 1, 2018

We covered a hundred years of roots (and ivy) with mulch instead of grass. I have never planted so many plants straight up in mulch rather than dirt.

July 20, 2018

There was an awkward slope up from the front of the house, and I thought it would be helpful to have a couple of steps.

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September 10, 2018

A koi pond fit perfectly in the corner, and we added five goldfish that I’ve worried over every day.

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We visited the discount rack at the Lowe’s garden center after lunch most days. If there was a perennial there, we brought it home – most of them just $1 each.

691766A7-9997-428D-AEF5-47ED892ED70FAnd I convinced my husband to rip off the lower boards of the front porch so we could crawl underneath and dig out the ferns that had been trapped there since the remodel began. Anything for a fern.

72CD9215-909A-401E-AF10-0DED18F14B4DThe flower bed was my idea for covering a set of concrete steps from a kitchen door that was closed off during the renovations. It was either build over them or take them out, and none of us seemed to want to take on that chore. Lewis did most of the carpentry work during the renovation and all of the stone work. He filled the flower bed with mulch, and I filled it with herbs.

7A8811B6-D22D-4641-939D-A53AB83B2B0CAfter a year of debating whether to paint the living room paneling, we compromised and painted one wall. Then I played musical chairs with several rooms of drapes back at home so I could move a brighter pair to the cottage, which complements a new rug. The result is a significantly brighter living room.

January 2018

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September 10, 2018

89530604-BADE-437B-9E23-C60B9897998CWe’ve also swapped out the too-small-queen-size-bed for a beautiful king bed, there’s a new fig tree – barely visible to the far right of the picture below, and plans are in the works for the next phase of construction. . . which will entirely change this little cottage yet again.

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