Olivebridge Cottage: 2.0!

Ladies and gents, do I have a story for you. I think it’s a good one. I built a house. Yeah. I build houses now. It’s just a little thing I picked up.

As some of you may or may not recall, I got hired by this nice couple a little while ago to basically renovate a kitchen and spruce up this little shitbox of a house they bought, which sounded to everyone at the time like a basically fun and quick and relatively inexpensive little project. We called it Olivebridge Cottage. It looked like this:

El diablo. Shudder.

I have never been more wrong about anything in my life. Possibly neither has the nice couple, and hopefully neither has the home inspector who seemed to be under the impression that this house was normal and habitable and not a steaming pile of doo-doo. Not to put too fine a point on it.

It started off with so much light-hearted optimism and excitement. Then I began the work, and it quickly descended into…the opposite of that. Fear, terror, anxiety, serious sads, total dejection. We tried to hang onto some semblance of my original renovation plans, but the issues kept piling up, one on top of the other. We tried chasing our tails, rebuilding one thing only to discover that the adjacent thing also needed to be rebuilt. After a few months, it really felt like living in some kind of practical joke that wasn’t even remotely funny. It made me wonder if I was working on somebody’s art project gone awry instead of an actual house at all, which is sort of funny in retrospect but was just BRUTAL at the time.

Before long, there wasn’t a ton of house left. And what was left was a total nightmare. And everything was terrible.

Here’s the abbreviated list of what we found and then had to figure out a way to address, from the ground up:

  1. Faulty or completely missing foundations. This house was the product of a small original structure and about 5 different additions, and none of them had anything approaching a structurally sound foundation.
  2. Rotted or improperly built framing. Entire walls and floor framing were rotted through and no longer structurally sound. The bulk of the newer framing work had been done with drywall screws(!) rather than nails. Sheathing and siding around the house was rotted. Windows improperly installed without headers or any other means of support. Improper use of pressure-treated lumber. Seriously under-sized framing. So bad.
  3. Faulty roof systems. Basically the house was a heavy snowfall away from collapsing due to a fun combo of rot and improper roof framing. All rafters were undersized for their spans. Ridge beams unsupported. Shingles failing. EPDM on flat roofs improperly installed and leaking. Sheathing rotted.
  4. Old or inoperable utilities. Everything pretty much broken or on its last legs.
  5. Serious pest infestations, including extensive rodent and termite damage.
  6. Significant plumbing issues, including the kitchen sink which drained directly into a hole in the ground right outside, and an overflowing septic system overrun by roots.
  7. Significant electrical issues, including blatant code violations and damage to wiring wrought by aforementioned infestations, necessitating all new electrical throughout the structure.
  8. Lack of insulation, excessively pest-damaged insulation, or insulation that did not meet minimal R-value requirements.
  9. Unsafely installed wood stove.
  10. Serious black mold problem throughout house.
  11. I don’t know, there must be more. It was never-ending.

Truly, I’ve never felt worse about anything—ever—than I did about the first few months of this project. Going there to work every day filled me with so much anxiety and dread. And this wasn’t my house, mind you (THANK GOD), so at the same moment I was having to constantly contact the clients and explain the situation, what it meant budget-wise, why something was necessary…it was Very Bad Times. The number of unexpected issues easily made this the biggest renovation job of my life—much bigger than my house, even though this is half the age and half the size! It didn’t help that I was concurrently trying to run for city council, renovate two other houses, mentor a teenager (long story), get over a long term relationship, not destroy a new relationship (spoiler, it didn’t last!), deal with some health problems, keep this blog even minimally afloat…OY VEY. Do you ever reflect on periods of your life and say confidently that someone couldn’t pay you 5 million dollars to time-hop back there and relive it? Yes. That.

At a certain point, we had to completely change our approach. We’d started with an already slim but workable budget of $25,000, and it was almost spent—just tearing stuff out and trying to rebuild things piece by piece. It got to a point, though, where the issues were just too extensive and I was running out of solutions. I was definitely also starting to feel in over my head, which is usually the time to cut your losses and walk away. Which is more or less what I intended to do.

The turning point eventually came when the building inspector showed up and was somewhat less than pleased about the conditions of the house—not because of anything we were doing to try to improve it, but just being confronted with the sheer magnitude of all these issues within a single structure. The thing about inspectors is that they’re generally not architects or engineers—ours wasn’t—so he couldn’t really tell us what to do, either, except to bring in a team of engineers to provide a roadmap for us. He essentially said that he would enforce the engineers’ plans, but that the scope of our work was beyond what he could individually judge as OK or not OK. Totally fair.

This was both good news and bad news. On the good news front, he did not issue a stop work order and seemed to have some real sympathy for the situation. The engineers’ plans would hopefully provide us what we needed in terms of a very clear set of directives to get it done. On the bad news front…we had NO IDEA what an engineer might say when put in front of this property, and it was their task to not only make things OK and safe, but make things code compliant. This house isn’t that old, but old enough that building codes have steadily changed since its construction or subsequent renovations–which were not permitted and most likely never met code. Once the renovation exceeds 50% the value of the house (which this one certainly would, particularly because that percentage is based on the assessed value of the structure not including the assessed value of the land), you lose the right to have stuff grandfathered in that might otherwise be permissible even if it doesn’t meet modern codes. This is kind of frightening, particularly from a budget perspective. It kind of felt like immediately entering another realm of cost and time and potential heartache that nobody was particularly prepared for.

For example, one of our foundations was essentially a concrete slab, about 4 feet thick, filled mostly with big rocks and chunks of concrete beneath the smooth outer surfaces. But it was sitting right on the ground—no footings at all to keep it stable and in place with frost heaves, that kind of thing. It’s wrong. It is not how you build a foundation. But…the thing was solid. And obviously extremely heavy. Could we have built on it and had everything be fine? Probably, yeah. But it didn’t meet minimal modern code requirements, so it would have to go and be redone properly. Now spread that example across every part of an entire house—even a small one—and suddenly your situation is…sobering.

So I had a few meetings with the engineers, and then we all waited several weeks for them to generate their report. At this point I knew the house and its issues like the back of my hand, so I felt valuable from the standpoint of being able to provide information about the existing conditions and brainstorm possible solutions, but that was about it. You might not think there would be a lot of room for creativity when you’re talking about foundations and 2x8s, but some issues required some unorthodox thinking to find a fix that was structurally sound, code-compliant, and allowed us to maintain as much of the existing structure as we could.

That said, at this point it felt likely that we were looking toward demolishing and rebuilding at least most of the remaining house, and…that’s not what I was hired to do. Need a new sofa? Sure, I can help with that. Want to pick out tile? Funsies. Need to underpin a foundation? Hire a builder and leave me the hell alone.

Then the engineering report came in. We’ll talk more about the contents, but basically it was about what I was expecting—some areas of the house being completely rebuilt, others needing major work in order to salvage.

So. I was prepared to flee. Not literally flee, but at this point we’re like 5 months into a 2 month job, and looking at a really long road ahead. I had my own projects to get back to. And this was totally outside my wheelhouse. It wasn’t just that the going got tough—that I can basically handle—but overseeing all this work I’d never done seemed rife with potential to do more harm than good. I just wanted to be done.

And I felt like the clients, if they knew what was best for them, would also want me to be done. The job had so clearly outgrown the little dog-and-pony show we’d been putting on—wherein a blogger with some interior design experience was tasked with making over a house with the help of a couple contractors (Edwin and Edgar, my dudes) for a few hours here and there. That would have been challenging but OK had things gone according to plan, but this? This felt distinctly like a job for an actual builder, with an actual crew and an actual team of subs, who had actual experience, who could actually get this done without actually losing their fucking mind. That, or inadvertently steering their clients into even more treacherous financial straits.

So I tried to explain this to the clients, Adriana and Barry. And they did not exactly agree.

To the enormous credit of Adriana and Barry, they were always very good about separating the work I was doing from the issues I was finding. In other words, they weren’t blaming me. They understood that the issues with the house pre-dated my involvement, and that so many of them presented major safety concerns that they were relieved to know about them, even when the truth hurt. That was HUGE for me, because uncovering all of this while I basically dismantled this house day in and day out for months had not been kind to my psyche. I knew it wasn’t my fault. I did. I also felt like it was. It was an awful way to feel. And I know I’m talking a lot about my ~feelings~ during this period, but you know what? I think it matters. It’s easy to look at this kind of thing as a set of financial and structural and aesthetic and practical decisions, but it’s all really emotional, too. I felt awful about the house and I felt awful for the clients, and it’s not like that feeling went away when I was off site. It was 24/7. The clients felt awful about the amount of money they were spending, the fact that they still couldn’t enjoy the house they’d bought 9 months prior, and that they pretty much never would because we were going to tear most of it down. That they also had the energy to feel awful for me is pretty remarkable.

The point is, they wanted me to see it through. They felt more confident in me than I did that I could pull it off. Plus, they didn’t want to start over with a new plan and a new contractor they’d never worked with, particularly living two hours away, and they really wanted to move swiftly and get it done so they could actually enjoy their house! I’d been there since Day 1. I knew the house better than anybody. I knew what they wanted out of it. And as many times as I told them I just wasn’t the man for the job, they weren’t having it. And if that was really what they wanted, then walking away began to feel worse than staying around and giving it the old college try. Even though it all seemed…risky.

So I stuck around. And now I’m really glad I did, because what followed was definitely one of the most challenging, educational, and ultimately exciting things I’ve ever done. I built a whole house. Not single-handedly, and not entirely without the usual hiccups, but I did it. And I’m pretty damn proud of that, thankyouverymuch.

Building a house is hard work, and building this house specifically tested everything I’ve got in so many ways! So forgive me for holding out on writing about it. It was one of those things where I was so drained from living it that writing about it as it was happening just felt impossible. And I didn’t want to jinx things, which never felt like such a real and potent risk until I experienced the first go-round of renovating this house.

But now? I have so. much. to. tell. you. This…this is gonna be fun. Let’s build a house!

Psssst! There’s obviously much more to come, but maybe you need a little refresher on Olivebridge Cottage, 1.0? A condensed record of my descent into insanity? Here ya go!

  1.  New Season, New Project!
  2. Plans for Olivebridge Cottage!
  3. Oh Dear, Here We Go…
  4. Little House of Horrors
  5. From Bad to Worse (And Worse and Worse and Worse)
  6. Blogger is Hired to Renovate, Mistakenly Destroys Ulster County Art Piece “House”

180 Comments

  1. those plywood stairs!!
    can’t wait to see the whole thing….you house builder you!

    • Ditto re: plywood stairs! I love them! I love the simple look of plywood, but with the hint of detail (the layers).

  2. What a Monday morning treat! I have been waiting for a post on Olivebridge foreverrrrrr. Ok, now I have to go back and read it, had to comment!

  3. Oh my, this is amazing! Congrats on building your first house, Daniel! Can’t wait to read more about this huge project! I sometimes drop by your blog and wonder how things are going with Olivebridge Cottage, so I’m truly excited to see the final result! It looks just WOW, so far!

  4. SCREAM!!!

    I am soooo excited about this!!! And no kidding, what a freaking nightmare. I’m glad everything turned out ok in the end.

    And also, those plywood stairs!!! :D

  5. The teaser pics look amazing!

  6. You *should* be proud. Hell, I made my first set of chair cushions over the weekend and I’m proud—that’s nothing compared to a freaking house!

    I said it before and I’ll say it again, kudos to your clients for being the patient, understanding and trusting types. Those kinds of people are rare treasures.

  7. Can hardly wait to see what’s been happening with Olive Bridge, but I’m also dying to know what’s going on with “Bluestone Cottage”!

    • All the cottages! I know. The two are totally related…the short version, though, is that project will ALSO be making a comeback, but got realllllly derailed for a while with this one going so bonkers and some other things happening at the same time. Ultimately that house will benefit a lot from my experience with this one, but…welllllll like all my other stories, it’s probably more long and complex than anyone cares to know about, haha! :)

      • “…it’s probably more long and complex than anyone cares to know about, haha! :)”

        Just had to reply: No such thing. Look over your zillions of blog comments and get some confidence about that, you talented storyteller, you.

      • Yep, I have to echo Gillianne, Daniel. You could write thousands of words about pretty much anything at all and I will read it, just because you are so good at making it immediate and interesting and FUNNY. So write on, you crazy diamond.

      • Also echoing Gillianne. I love hearing your stories, Daniel, and seeing the way that you love homes back to new life. Gives me hope for my own home! :)

  8. As always, thank you so much for letting us into your life. Those stairs are everything. This is going to be so good, can’t wait for the rest of it.

  9. You are a Renaissance man.

  10. omg, not even one wide exterior shot?!? You are such a tease!

  11. You Sir have learned a very valuable lesson at a relatively young age. Sometimes you have to listen to the people talking than to the voice in your head. To believe in someone else’s confidence in you is one of the scariest and smartest decisions you will ever make.

    Wish I had learned it at your age than. Congrats on building a house!!!!

    • Such wise words, Gregg, glad they came from you instead of me but YES!!! Wait until you guys see the rest. So proud of Daniel.

      • Here here! Thanks, Gregg. It’s a scary leap to make, but I’m glad I did! :)

      • I love how Daniel’s mom’s comment name is just “Mom” like she’s everyone’s mom on this thread (and beyond). Congratulations on this project, and, frankly, all the projects!

      • Haha! I think it’s appropriate because she’ll at least talk to anyone like she’s their mom! Don’t mess with mom! :)

  12. Yippee! You lived to tell the tale! I look forward to the next installment.

  13. Woo hoo! Congratulations on seeing this through. I am so glad it worked out for you and the clients.

  14. I am SO sorry to hear that you were going through all of that! Glad to get a little peek into what I know is going to be awesome. Already dying over that light fixture :)

  15. I can’t wait!

  16. I AM SO EXCITED TO READ ABOUT IT!!

    Also Re: “Do you ever reflect on periods of your life and say confidently that someone couldn’t pay you 5 million dollars to time-hop back there and relive it?” Totally relating. I still have PTSD from my 2012-13.

  17. Oh Daniel!

    I feel a little silly now for having a total melt down this week when my contractors decided to ‘amend’ my bathroom design and extend a line of wall tile I never asked them too. I spent the whole day livid and sulking and obsessing over it. Its literally the ONLY thing to have gone awry in my renovation (touch wood) and this was a much needed kick in the butt to pull myself together. It could have been so much worse considering the previous owner’s love of Liquid Nails. He used it to install fire alarms on the ceilings and to tile an entire wall!

    It just goes to show you never know what you’re made of until something tests you to the limit. You’re made of tougher stuff than me. I loose the plot at extra tile! I can’t wait to see this house. x

    • Haha! I can say now that building a house is kind of like that…all day…all the time…with everything! It’s amazing how many big and small decisions go into every little thing, and how easily they can get screwed up the second you turn away!

      (Liquid nails to tile a wall—I’m dying!! Isn’t it amazing how people get so…inventive…for no reason other than they don’t know any better?! Really makes for some special finds.)

      • To be fair to the original owner, that Liquid Nails held up for over 20 years! It was only when we demoed that we found it. (Thank God it wasn’t in a wet area!)

        I think thats why I took the deviation from my bathroom design so hard. I spent an entire week scraping off all that glue residue and patching all the dings and gauges so I could have a beautiful fresh bare plaster wall behind my vanity mirror that I would play with in terms of paint colour later on. They tiled right over it in white subway tile. The tiler did the most exquisite job dealing with all the angles in our laundry. (Which has 6 walls!) He’s worth his weight in gold. He just didn’t see my vision.

      • Aw, sigh! I’m sorry that happened! Are you gonna just work with it? Happy accident maybe?

  18. Wow! I’m so impressed. I knew things must be going on when you weren’t posting as often for a while, but THIS is incredible. Kudos on building a house. I can’t wait to see more.

    • Thank you, Sally! I hope it’s worth it…it was SO hard to find free time to post (let alone just to talk about renovation-related anything…you hit a limit at some point!) while this was taking up so much of my life, but hey! Hopefully blogging about it will go a little smoother. :)

  19. CONGRATULATIONS DANIEL!
    I continue to love reading your blog after these years. I was sad about Olivebridge these past few months, knowing it was a mess you were trying your best to handle. SOOO excited for you, that you had clients who believed in you and that you pushed forward.
    I can’t wait to see all the amazing details. Way to go!

  20. I CANNOT WAIT I CANNOT WAIT OMG OMG OMG

  21. Daniel, you are BRAVE, and talented and genius. Adriana and Barry were so lucky to have you. You did an AMAZING job, bravo!

  22. I am so so SO excited to be reading this!!! Partly because I am thrilled to get updates (and a reveal!! soon??) of Olivebridge, but also because I am so glad to hear the nightmare situation is over for you and it looks like you have a gorgeous house to show for it! I appreciate you talking about your feelings- feeling like you are failing is such an isolating experience, it is a call back to reality to hear someone else talking really honestly about their struggle. Seeing this as a success story now is such a pleasure!!!

  23. Is that little wooden bowl of coins what Adriana and Barry have left to live on for 2017 after having spent everything else on their little woodsy getaway?
    The poor things. They are lucky to have you. I am sure you were much more meticulous and probably also cheaper than any builder they might have found. Can’t wait to hear every single detail.
    You should write a book about how to spot clues that your house is going to be a nightmare. It could be a graphic horror DIY (who says graphic books have to be novels?). I think Edgar Allan Poe offers some inspiration for titles: “The Fall of the House of Usher,” or “The Imp of the Perverse,” or “The Tell-Tale Hearth.”

    • No, that was my decor budget after construction wrapped up! Haha! But yes, these folks were put through the wringer—if I made this experience easier, cheaper, better, more pleasant for them, etc., I really am glad.

      I think the book title is At Least There’s No Poltergeist? which is maybe only funny to me. :)

    • Love the coins comment and I think the graphic DIY is a fantastic idea. Our host Daniel could put out a whole series.
      Daniel, I am so happy and relieved that you are able to write about this nightmare. I was worried that it gave you a case of PTSD. But if you can write about it, you’re well on your way!

  24. I’m excited to hear ALL the details! (But I feel awful that I’m so enjoying the saga.)

  25. Oh, DANIEL. I am so excited for you that this project is over… from the preview pics it looks amazing. Love your writing, love your blog, love your integrity and honesty especially in these scenarios. This has been my favorite corner of the internet for a long time. Thabks for keeping us in the loop!! <3

  26. I am trying to write a paper on social policy, so naturally I hopped over to check out your blog. I mean, I wasn’t expecting there to be a new post, I just wanted to soothe myself by looking at your furniture and your carefully painted walls for a few minutes. That’s not weird, is it? And then I *possibly* shrieked aloud, *possibly* frightening my cat who had to be soothed before I could dash back and read about Olivebridge. These glimpses are so pretty! This whole house is as if someone wandered into a horror movie where the place looks normal until the first night when you turn on the taps and it’s blood instead of water and then the walls start flexing while a spectral voice growls GET OUT and then all y’all stayed and renovated AND DIDN’T DIE IN THE PROCESS.

    Um, I’m really looking forward to seeing more of it, is what I’m saying.

    • Haha! Hysterical. It was JUST LIKE THAT! Except no blood in the taps…but contaminated water…that I unwittingly drank for months…now fixed, too. And I survived. :)

      • Oh my god. Of course the water was contaminated, because why not?

        You should definitely call the book At Least There Was No Poltergeist. If I dream about the ghosts of pissed off squirrels tonight, it’s on you.

      • WTF? I’m just hearing about you drinking contaminated water for months now? You know my daily mantra to all of you (meaning my children, not the whole internet-sphere) — always make decisions protecting your HEALTH & SAFETY!!! Have you never learned that basic lesson?

      • I didn’t know!! It seemed fine! It came from a well! I lived.

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  28. YES! Olivebridge is back! I might have let out a little yelp of excitement when I saw the blog post title in my Feedly reader this morning. I grabbed my coffee and settled in for what I knew would be a good read. This whole story would make such a great book – with illustrations and photos to boot! If Jenny Lawson can have a best seller (“Furiously Happy”) with a taxidermy raccoon on the cover, surely you can have a book with photos of some of those infestations.

  29. Also, where can I get that lamp in the first photo? Is that Schoolhouse Electric?

  30. Oh, wow!!!! That “I rationally know it’s not my fault, but I still feel like it’s my fault” feeling is THE. WORST. And I’ve never even had it over something as extreme as this, so I can only imagine! I’m so glad it’s all over and seems to have worked out and based on these teaser pictures I CAN’T WAIT to see it all!!!

  31. I was wondering what happened with this house! I have to say that I would have stuck with you, too despite the huge undertaking it turned into. Having worked with some shifty eyed contractors and workers in my lifetime, working with a sweet, honest young man such as yourself would be highly preferable! Good for them for standing by you and good for you for pushing yourself through such a scary situation! I’m just a fan but I’m proud of you! I can’t wait to read more about what happened!

  32. O M F G ! ! This is absolutely thrilling!! \o/

    What you said about your feelings in regards to this project–that right there is why you are so adored by your readers–because these things ARE an emotional investment, and you connect to and communicate that dynamic so beautifully. Thank you! <3

  33. Oh fabulous! That Z chair! Can’t wait for the rest, and heartfelt congratulations to all 3 of you for rising to your respective occasions again and again!

  34. Oh! So excited…this is like Serial for houses. I’ve been waiting patiently and now I can’t wait for this story to unfold. The sneak peaks (vignettes?) look so promising!

    • This. Exactly what Tisha said. This “preview” looks so amazing I’m going to be obsessively watching your blog waiting for the next post.

      Sorry you went through hell to get here but I think all your fans will agree that we knew you had it in you :)

    • Plus, when you get done telling us about Olive Bridge, there will be a pause (maybe a long one?) and then you’ll tell us about Blue Stone?

  35. CAN.NOT.WAIT.TO.SEE.THE.PHOTOS

  36. So, the big question is: the sink facing a window? Lol. Congratulations! Looks amazing!

  37. YAY!!! This is so great! Teasers of the house are gorgeous. CAN. NOT. WAIT. to see the finished project. Good on you for sticking with this! What a wonderful accomplishment.

  38. So glad to get an update and to see what you’ve done!

  39. I didn’t want to ask what happened to the Cottage because I have been involved in too many nightmares to try to prod someone else’s to the front of their brain inadvertently. I am thrilled to hear the clients hung onto you, forcing you to take on something a little larger and scarier. That’s how designers grow, as I am sure you have figured out.

    • Haha, I appreciate your restraint Colin! I felt so bad about going silent on this project and/or dodging questions about its status for this past little while, but yeah…sometimes it’s just too much to be living it and also trying to document it all in real time! I feel ready now though! :)

      (and yes, I just didn’t expect to make such a big leap all at once! New construction! New everything! Playing architect! Playing contractor! Playing designer! All at once! Super tight budget! Super short timeline! Ahhhhh!)

  40. Hooray! Can’t wait to hear the details.

  41. Daniel!!!! YESSSSSS!!!!! I am so excited to hear this news. Whenever I’m in a bad spot I try to remember that hard work ALWAYS pays off, and so does perseverance. And look! It happened again! Hard work works! My only wish is that someone from Amazon Or Netflix was smart enough to document this stuff for a series because I want you to become the celeb I know you are to all your readers :-) you’re the best! Congrats!!!

    • Hear, hear! (HAHA, that would be some crazy footage! Let’s film the SECOND house. I’ll be much more capable and less of a mess for that one.)

  42. LOVE this! The journey of this house seriously stresses me out just reading about it, so I can only imagine living it. Kind of fearing that my house will turn into something like this because we’ve been finding a lot of janky things. Can’t wait to see more of the house and I’m so happy you stuck with it.

    • Oh man, I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy! The good news is that houses (particularly ones that met some reasonable standard of quality when they were built) are generally very repairable. I think this situation is pretty extreme!

  43. YES!!! Those pictures are so so good. This is seriously the best teaser blog post I have ever read. I’m definitely looking forward to more posts! I missed Olivebridge Cottage…I thought it was gone forever!

  44. Daniel,
    Like lots of other folks, I have been waiting to find out what happened to the cottage…mainly because the size and budget is closer to what I might be able to afford. I am glad your clients stuck with you…a wise choice on their part. Your work, in Brooklyn or upstate, has always been wonderful and I am sure they felt safe with your judgement. Please, pictures, stories and details.
    all best,
    ellen

    • Thank you, Ellen! That’s very kind!

      (just out of curiosity, do you mean the original purchase of the cottage being affordable? The original renovation budget? For what it’s worth, I bought my house for half the purchase price of this one, and I’ve done a lot of work on it but nothing nearly this extensive!)

  45. OMG! I also let out a yip of excitement when I saw the post title! So glad you managed to stick with this project through thick and very, very thin. Cannot wait to read all about it, and see the pictures as well! The glimpses are so gorgeous already. That light fixture! Those stairs! That tile! Oh I am so excited. And your writing is, as always, a sincere pleasure to read. I am so sorry that you had to go through all of that dreck with this project, but hey, struggle builds character, right? You must be up to your eyeballs in character at this point.

  46. “Don’t b a tease bro u got more pics?”

    In all seriousness – congratulations, and damn! I was not anticipating that this would be resolved so well (budgets, time and mental health aside), nor that you’d want to stick around for the new house.

    But now I have to know, did you personally demo the rest of the old cottage? Cathartically watch it get crunched with an excavator? Burn it in a cleansing fire and dance around its smoldering embers?

    • Don’t use that grindr language on me! It won’t work! :)

      We’ll talk about those (CATHARTIC AS FUCK) few days, but I did take some realllll pleasure in helping take that bastard down!

  47. Sorry to hear the new relationship didn’t survive this though – and will you tell us the stories about running for city council and mentoring a teenager?
    Where do you get the energy/time?
    Plus I agree, you’re such a good writer, it seems like there should be a cool coffee table book in this somewhere.

    • Aw, that’s sweet—don’t be sorry! It’s fine! Sweet nice boy that I dated for a few months during one of the craziest/worst times in my life…it never had a chance!!

      (I DON’T get the energy/time—that’s the problem!! I have a terrible habit of over-committing, trying to do too many things at once, and then not being able to do any of them well. Live and learn!)

  48. So relieved to hear that this has a happy resolution! Can’t wait to read the next installment. Go Daniel!

  49. Wow, Daniel! Congratulations! Like so many others, I’ve been wondering how things had been going with Olivebridge Cottage. Love the plywood stairs. What a brilliant idea! Can’t wait to see and hear more. Also love the wide beadboard on the walls. Is that something you made, or was it easy to get from a home center? You know, you really should write a book after all this. Have you thought about that? Then you could get your own show on the DIY Network or HGTV, and maybe go on the lecture circuit and make a ton of money to help fund your other renovations…

    • Thanks Sheila! Some of the wall and ceiling surfaces are v-groove wood paneling. The majority of it is salvage from the original house (we’ll get there!) but we supplemented with new from Home Depot or Lowe’s where we were short! It’s readily available! Sometimes the other side of the board will be beaded, with the more plain backside you’re seeing here. :)

  50. Is it sad that just this last week I was thinking about both Olivebridge and Bluestone cottages and wondering how they were and hoping they were living better, more fulfilled lives? I’m so glad to hear that Olivebridge has been reborn!!! Can’t wait to read more.

  51. I, too, love the plywood stairs!
    But . . .
    My previous landlord installed a plywood floor in a room he was too lazy/cheap to remove the leaded paint from the floor in. I loved it, but every drop of water left a stain. And bunny pee, well . . . He applied 3 coats of polyurethane or something similar, no doubt not researching what’s best. I hope you were able to find a product that will prevent staining. The stairs do look amazing.

    • Huh! I used Bona Traffic HD on these (water-based poly for high traffic areas), and that’s held up great. No staining or scratches! I wonder what the issue was with yours—I dunno!

  52. So exciting! Can’t wait to see the rest. Btw, LOVE the (folding?) lounge chair and ottoman! Mind sharing the details on it? Thank you!

    • Thanks! It’s a Takeshi “NY Chair” (designed in 1958! Doesn’t it look so much more contemporary?!) and yes, it folds up! Which I love because it’s so compact to hoard, haha. I found this one at auction for about $100, but it’s still in production (here!) if your pockets are a little deeper!

  53. WOW!! So impressed already. Congratulations!

  54. YAAAY!

    I mean, I know this was a horrific and long soul-draining experience for you, but YAAAAAAAAAAAY YOU DID IT AND OH MY THAT LIGHT FIXTURE AND IT LOOKS LIKE YOU SAVED THE BEADBOARD AND THOSE STAIRS. THAT FLOORING. THAT RUG (you are like a rug wizard or something!) This is so amazing to see today! I can hardly wait for the full report!

  55. I enjoy all your posts Daniel, but especially these Olivebridge ones! What a headache….can’t wait to see the final results.
    Your sense of humour and writing style, plus your obvious determination, perseverance and ‘just do-it’ attitude are what keep me coming back. Thanks for sharing!

  56. Oh, Glob! I can’t wait to see what became of that cottage. Congratulations and please, please, don’t make us wait too long.

  57. I’m sitting in front of a thrift store in the dark reading this post and tearing up for you because I have gotten myself in so deep like this so many times to the point where I want it to be over but something keeps me in it. I’m not sure what that thing is, but you have this incredible ability to stick to things and see them through whatever your reasons may be. I so admire that and I can’t wait to see this house!

  58. You accomplished something very difficult and you should be proud of yourself! I know engineers who would simply give up on a project like that. I wish I were more fluent in English and could elaborate more on this subject, but in a nutshell this feeling that everything is your fault never actually leaves you. At least I haven’t found a way around it other that appearing to the clients and crew more confident. I always worry and for the most part I think it’s logical. It’s our job, we slap our names across these projects and want to see them through and the clients be satisfied with the result.
    I’m really excited to see the process in your next posts. I would also want to see how you collaborated with the engineers and if the suggestions were buildable(sp?) and cost effective.
    Have a great day!
    Maria

  59. Congratulations on building a house! Ditto all the wonderful things expressed in the previous comments. I never read the comments section for any other website or blog, but your fans are so supportive, funny, and encouraging it’s actually a treat to read. I am swooning over these teaser pics, especially those stairs! Bravo. Please treat yourself to all the massages.

    • AREN’T THEY THOUGH?! I’m obviously biased but COME ON, this is the best comments section on the internet, I’m convinced. You guys are so awesome and I love and cherish it so much and hope it never changes. <3 <3 <3

  60. oh the perfect Monday Morning treat… although i held it til tonight so i had something to help get me thru the monday blues…

  61. Daniel, I believe that many (most?) of your fans not only love your design aesthetic but the way you live your personal values, the time and effort you put into authenticity both architectural and in human relationships. Milky’s comment expressing sorrow that your new relationship didn’t survive, and hoping we’d hear more about your run for city council & mentoring a young person attests to this. Despite a few naysayers (from those old election posts), I think many of us would love to hear more about the way you are building Kingston’s (and our nation’s) future through ‘non-house’ structures and frameworks by civic engagement and support of/engagement with local youth. New meme: Act locally, impact nationally, influence globally.

  62. First comment here, but i *had* to tell you that you’re a trooper for going through with this house and that your design seems to have been worth the wait for us (and the work for you! can’t imagine!)

    in short : good job, this looks super promising and very exciting!

  63. Kudos to Adriana & Barry for recognizing that you were the right person for the job and hats off to you for sticking with it till completion. Judging from the teaser photos we are in for a special treat! Renovating a house should not be fraught with so much difficulty and I’m sure the owners savor every minute they spend there given how long it took and what they went through. I say this with a degree of certainty having lived through a two year house building nightmare wherein our original contractor abandoned the project leaving behind a trail of unpaid vendors & subs. While the house sat half built Hurricane Sandy hit & took out power lines & flooded the basement. We then found out that our paid for custom kitchen cabinets had been left in a warehouse that was also flooded by Sandy & 3/4 of them were destroyed. Very long story short, insurance wouldn’t cover damages because they weren’t installed in the house & it took a year of begging, pleading & screaming to the cabinet manufacturer to finally get them replaced. So…many lessons learned & it’s true that what doesn’t kill you … Anyway, so, so glad you were able to persevere and that the story has a happy ending.

    • Oh MAN, that’s rough Jannean! We had a small share of issues with contractors (REALLY small—I have no right to complain, really)…I can’t IMAGINE adding a lying asshole contractor and a flood to this mix! It would just be too much! You guys are troopers. But yes—I think the homeowners really love spending time in this house now and there’s nothing about this job that makes me happier than that. It’s a real joy to see the house being finally used and loved. :)

      • Thanx Daniel. I don’t think about it that much anymore but it was a crazy time for sure!

  64. When I have millions of dollars, I’m hiring you to make my house look gorgeous. Even if I hadn’t seen your previous posts, just knowing you were able to take that house from a hellish before to those chic afters has definitely sold me. BRB gonna buy a lotto ticket. (Congrats!)

  65. Hi Daniel.

    I have been reading your posts when they arrive in my inbox and was wondering what was happening with this little cottage. When I didn’t hear anything I had a bad feeling. So glad it has all turned out well. What’s happening with your other little house you were going to flip? Still love to follow your progress on the Kingston house. Love what you do!

  66. I don’t really know what to say except that, after following you online for some years now, you never fail to amaze me with your ideas and inspiration. Jawdropping. Please, please don’t make us wait too long for more details. Oh, and I love the chair.

  67. Did you get elected to city council??

    • No, which was absolutely for the best! A couple neighbors asked me to run at the start of this job, so I thought I’d be in and out of Olivebridge by the time I’d have to campaign before the primary and possibly in the general. Not my smartest move. I love my city and my neighborhood—which unfortunately needs better and more effective representation than most—but I realized during the campaign that I was not in a position to provide that. The city council jobs only pay a few thousand bucks stipend a year, so as a result all the members are older/partnered/financially established…ya know, in a place in life where they can commit to lots of work for very little compensation. I can’t do that. I just don’t have the resources. So in the end I was fine with losing quietly to the Democratic incumbent and refocusing the time and energy I DO have for my community on other things that I CAN reasonably take on. I learned a lot, though (including that I wouldn’t be opposed to trying again, just not anytime soon!), and it helped me meet so many people in the neighborhood (that’ll happen when you have to canvas for signatures to appear on the ballot!) and made me think more than ever about the real problems facing the community and possible means to address them. It also introduced me to a lot of people in city government, and I think sometimes just having the ear of the mayor or city council member is an effective way to have an impact outside of elected office.

      (DOES THAT ANSWER YOUR QUESTION?! Lol)

      • Yes! My city (Springfield, Massachusetts) recently changed the make-up of the city to have a mix of ward representation and at-large councilors. This has resulted in a whole shake-up with much younger people on the council (I think the pay is around $20k per year and everyone on it has a regular full-time job in addition) and often more responsivness to citizen concerns. Except for when it comes to snow plowing…
        I know what you mean about having access to city government. It would be nice if they just responded bc you’re a regular Joe, but having been on the scene makes a difference. If Kingston has a Historical Commission or a Community Preservation Act Board, those might be right up your alley! Or even the neighborhood association. I am a big joiner and love getting involved with groups and things, but it’s so hard to find the time. I’m going to be a beast on all that stuff when I retire!
        I love that you’re civic-ly engaged in your community. Homeownership really changes one’s relationship with one’s community.

      • That seems like a step in the right direction, for sure! I wish Kingston could/would expand opportunity for elected positions. As it is, it’s nearly impossible for younger and/or lower income folks to get involved at that level, and those are the people who need the most advocacy. So what ends up happening is that the city receives federal funds and grants and things—which we qualify for because of the low-income residents—but they don’t see those funds in action in their communities. They get allocated to wealthy areas and areas that the city deems important for tourism and stuff. It’s incredibly frustrating and unfair. But yes, I’ll keep trying, and I do have to get myself on the Historic Commission (in all my vast free time, haha!) and see if I can get them to DO SOMETHING. It’s great that we have one but IMO they should hold way more power as preservationists in a city that relies on its history as a means of attracting new residents, tourism, and businesses. Currently they seem to have no power and I watch houses and buildings get destroyed by various means on a regular basis because there’s just no regulations, or at least none that are enforced. As someone working doggedly to restore a house, it’s difficult to see those efforts weakened by crappy landlords who, by and large, seem to only care about collecting their rent checks. Sigh.

      • Our Historical Commission certainly has its ups and downs in struggles with preservation and enforcement. There are a few young folks on it and one longtime member (and prservationist/historian par excellance) recently got booted bc the mayor thought he was impeding the plans of the large casino complex coming to our fair city. The HistComm (and this former member) managed to finagle a new ordinance to allow for demolition stay of at least one year of historic properties and for the city to put out the equivalent amount they would spend demolishing a historic property into restoring/renovating it. It was a bold move! They kind of snookered the mayor into it.
        We’ve also got the Community Preservation Act here (I think it might be a MA only thing). We’ve got some very active long-term and more recent-arrival preservationists here in Springfield. If you ever want to come and visit and meet some of them, I’d be happy to introduce you (and would also bring you on a false-shutter tour).

  68. Yesss! I’m so dang excited to hear (and see!!!) more! You truly are a craftsman, and I love your persistence. Don’t make us wait too longggg!

  69. I can’t feel your pain – having never been through this, but I can’t wait to hear the story you tell!
    Those pictures are such a tease! And your blog is so so enjoyable to read.

  70. So thrilled to get the update! And glad you are past this project.

  71. Yay! I’m so excited to hear the rest of the story and soo happy that you were able to make it work! Those teaser pics are gorgeous. Kudos all around!

  72. Daniel,
    I love the way you write!!! It is really enjoyable to read!!
    Perhaps you should write a book from this post onward, when the weather isn’t ideal for redo-ing and decorating houses…,,,
    Congratulations on completing such a huge task and living through it!!!

  73. Congrats! Can’t wait to see more pictures!!

  74. Daniel we (followers/fans of your work) all were very aware of what that cottage and EVERYTHING else going on in your life did to your head. The little snippets of what you had time to share kept us abreast. We patiently waited for this to pass and knew (hoped) you would be back to blogging. And you are! Thank you for sharing. We look forward to hearing about all the cottages. The work looks amazing.

    • Thank you, Nadine! I so appreciate it. I’m trying to get into a good swing with blogging—I know there was a rough patch and I want to make it better! :)

  75. So pretty! Plain, simple, light and bright–it works on all levels for me. I see your style in your work. I guess I’ll just say that Olivebranch Cottage has been Kanterized!

    • Thanks Greta! I’ve never done a job this modern (both architecturally and decor-wise), so I love that you still see me in it! I agree! :)

  76. I can’t wait to read the full story and see all the pics! I’m so glad you have had this experience (minus the mental anguish) as it plays perfectly into my life’s goal of buying a country house in rural Virginia and paying you big bucks to oversee the renovation and design the interior. Don’t say you won’t come to Virginia–BIG BUCKS!

  77. I found your website via a link to one of the first Olivebridge Cottage posts and was hooked on your writing from day one. So much so that I backread your entire blog, over several enjoyable evenings. I’m thrilled you were finally able to finish this project and I’m looking forward to hearing all about it. The sneak peeks definitely make it look like it turned out AWESOME.

  78. JUST.ALL.THE.FEELS.!!! & ditto on what everyone has said. Genius, brave, beautiful pics, STAIRS!, such a tease!!!And is no one going to mention those amazing windows! all that light and you can almost touch those trees!! and that chair!!

    And yes, be emotional! – why shouldn’t you? It’s exhausting on all levels having plans and hopes dashed by reality then having to somehow overcome, plus dealing with the guilt about what the clients were living through? So happy you’ve shared this – You’re truly a gem and i really hope you get a camera crew following you around :)

  79. this is your great american moby dick saga. i had given up on hearing about it. can’t wait.

  80. Daniel! Congrats on such a beautiful house! And man, are you a tease or what.

    I’ve never wanted to pester you for pics or updates because this is your story to tell on your own timeline, but YOU ARE MAKING IT HARD FOR ME TO KEEP THIS COMMITMENT. I am … not pestering … just so deeply impressed at all that you accomplished. I can’t wait to hear all about every detail! (Please do tell us about how you finished those plywood stairs — I am also renovating a cabin in the woods that I just realized needs to be torn down to the studs, which is a bummer, so I have lots of budget-friendly finishes in my future. Spill the beans! When you’re ready!)

    • Haha! It’s all coming!!

      (Floors and stairs were sealed three times with Bona Traffic HD. Water-based poly, great to work with, seems extremely durable. No stain! The whole house is budget-friendly finishes so hopefully the posts about it will be helpful!)

  81. Wow! A long way from painting rooms white and stumbling upon mid century treasures at bargain sales! This is absolutely fantastic and will be fascinating to read.

  82. What can I say except thank you! So many posts lately and all of them so good. Yes! Can’t wait to read the next one.

  83. That light fixture! That chair! You have done something amazing here! Thank you for sharing it with us :)

  84. ok at the rest of sounding like the old lady i am fast becoming… is it possible for you to enlarge your font in future posts?

    omg, did i really just ask that? yes. yes i did.

    • Haha! Not really, but usually you can zoom on your browser so everything on the page gets magnified? On a mac it’s just command-+.

  85. This is so incredible! Hi, I’m just a random food blogger that loves your work and writing and can’t even hang a picture on the wall straight, but I’m cheering over this update. I can’t wait to read the rest.

  86. this post reminds me of why i enjoy this blog so much. you always offer context and those realities of life (like feelings, heaven forbid) that make your already-interesting projects seem like they’re part of the real world and a real person’s life instead of something purely aspirational. super impressive, tasteful, great to look at, yes, but not just eye candy that seems like it can’t exist in the real everyday world. anyway, thanks and please keep it up.

  87. Wow, congrats!! Your clients sound like lovely people as well :] So glad that things kind of turned around for the better. From the photos you posted, looks like things turned out beautifully! Can’t wait to read more!

  88. I was so happy to see this pop up on Facebook! Ohhhh how we have waited for it! I am currently under the beck and call of a three week old so I resisted reading until I knew i could sit in the quiet (showered, fed, with a hot cup of tea) and really enjoy it. Took a few days but it was worth it. Thank you as ever for the work you put in to sharing these stories with us. Glad you made it through the hellish challenges and have arrived at the point you can share those amazing photos! Can not wait to see more.

  89. I have wondered what ever happened to this cute little nightmare. Looking forward (muchly!) to seeing the finished project — your photos show it to be delightful. MOre!

  90. The house looks stunning! I can’t wait to see and read more. I’m so happy the clients had the faith in you to push and you chose to jump because you truly soared!

  91. I have to admit that I alwasy wondered what happened to this house after reading your last post about it. I am happy to read that it was both finished and you were responsible for making it happen. My wife and I love your blog and we can’t wait to read the 2.0 story.

    Also don’t apologize for not writing about it thinking you will jinx the project. I know all about the power of the jinx.

    • Thank you, Dimitrios! (ALSO can I just say how much the idea of a husband and wife reading my blog together warms the coldest cockles of my heart?! it does.)

  92. WOW. Kudos to you for taking on a bear of a project, and to the couple for having such faith in you! It’s a really inspiring story. Also, I love how many windows this cute little cottage has. I can just imagine that tearing down one or two of the interior walls made a big, big difference.

  93. Oh wow. Yeah. What they said. Ditto.

  94. Oooooh! Can’t wait for more details!

  95. Thank you for detailing the trials and tribulations you ran into with this property. I have been shopping for a home and feel you saved me from making a mistake on a money pit with a sketchy foundation. I would love to see more pictures of your completed project! And kudos to you for sticking with this huge challenge!

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