Designing Olivebridge Cottage 2.0: Part 2!

So, you may recall that last time we discussed Olivebridge Cottage, we had a plan to kinda-sorta rebuild the house and it looked more or less like this:

This period was the closest this job probably ever came to feeling manageable: we had the town and the engineers on our side, the homeowners were happy with the direction, and the tasks ahead were difficult but not that difficult. It’s a little one-story house—a few more months and we’d be out.

Then the homeowners threw a second floor master suite into the mix. Which they wanted me to design. In approximately 5 minutes. Two weeks before we were set to start construction on a plan that had remained unchanged for a few months.

At the time, the logic went like this: after spending so much time and so much money on this house, reselling the house at a price that bore any resemblance to the amount invested would be somewhat impossible if the finished product didn’t really differ materially from the original house. Adding a whole bedroom and bathroom would turn the house from a 2 bed/1 bath to a 3 bed/2 bath, essentially shifting it into a different bracket of real estate. Obviously the upfront building cost would be higher, but the homeowners felt that it was the right move.

And so, the second floor. Maybe it sounds easy to you. It did not sound easy to me. It didn’t even necessarily sound fun to me, because I think I’m more of a renovator at heart. I like working within the constraints of an existing structure. Pulling a design out of thin air…that’s a whole different thing.

And you can’t just plop a second floor onto a house and call it a day! You have to rethink everything. For starters, stairs! Stairs take up a lot of space. You also have to think about using that new space efficiently. You have to think about plumbing paths and electrical requirements and septic systems and all the codes. And you have to think about what that new house is going to actually look like! And, in my case, without really any experience to lean on, I had to do it in a really short amount of time and have it approved by two homeowners, a team of engineers, and the fine folks at the local building and zoning department. And then I had to be able to build it.

All that being said, it’s not like I could just propose/build whatever. Every design job has constraints, and often those constraints guide the design much more restrictively than your imagination does. As somebody with some educational background in architecture, and certainly a personal interest, my mind immediately went to all kinds of things I’ve seen or read about. The Eames Case Study House, constructed from factory components in a matter of days. The stark geometry of the Bauhaus. The undulating concrete forms of Saarinen and Niemeyer. Those incredible walls of glass and rich wood finishes and the indoor-outdoor dialogue they create that Neutra did so well. It’s easy to get caught up.

And then you come back down to reality, because these were my constraints:

  1. Experience: at this stage, we didn’t even have a builder. Obviously I can’t literally, single-handedly construct a house, so I knew I’d be working in conjunction with a contractor, but we didn’t know which contractor. New construction is somewhat uncommon around these parts, so there really just wasn’t room to gamble on some complicated or experimental design. This house needed to be simple and straightforward to construct.
  2. Cost: I had to be able to build it inexpensively. New construction is never cheap, but there’s a big difference between a simple, traditional stick-frame structure and a complicated one that requires steel supports or tons of custom components or hard-to-source materials. Time is money when working with contractors, going back to the ease-of-building point. Cost is also part of what eliminated prefab as an option: everything I found was priced much higher than we hoped to be on a cost-per-square-foot basis, not to mention really tiny!
  3. Footprint: partially because we were working with most of an existing structure, and largely due to zoning regulations and setback requirements, we essentially had to maintain the footprint of the existing house. More on that in a second!
  4. Site: this site was somewhat challenging. You have the beautiful wooded areas in the back and off to the side with big mature trees and boulders and the wonders of nature, but then across the street and next door you have houses. Two of the three are currently in states of disrepair (and even fixed up, it’s not like you want to highlight neighboring houses when you have nature as an alternative!), so I had to try to maximize the appealing views and minimize exposure to the less desirable ones.
  5. Practicality: even with the additional floor, the house still isn’t particularly large. You can dream all day about the architecture of a space, but ultimately you still have to have a functioning kitchen, three bedrooms, storage, wall space for art and small storage and display, two bathrooms that meet code, utility space, and laundry. The house has to work.
  6. Codes: There are codes for almost everything. Heights, spans, clearances, distances between supports, the rise and run of each stair tread, the R-value of insulation, the placement of electrical receptacles, forms of egress, the type of glass required on a given window, fire safety, vapor barriers, grades of lumber for interior walls vs. exterior ones, the space around the toilet bowl. To say the learning curve for me was steep is an understatement.
  7. Engineering: Regardless of what would have actually been possible, the engineers had some restrictions that my hands were somewhat tied to follow—the most consequential being the pitch of the roof. You hear a lot about snow loads being greater than they used to be, and our engineers said emphatically that our roofs had to be 6/12 at a minimum. This refers to the rise and run—for every 12″ of run, the roof must rise 6″, which is fairly steep. That’s kind of fine for a regular gabled roof, but wouldn’t allow us to build, say, a shed-style roof without the angles just looking insane.
  8. Time: there just wasn’t enough of it! I had to design it quickly, primarily because all of this came about in mid-September, and we had to get a foundation in the ground before winter hit! And we had to build it quickly. Had is a strong word—the homeowners wanted it done quickly. They wanted it done yesterday. There was quite a bit of time spent on this project trying to explain why various things were so time-consuming, and why we probabbblllyyyy couldn’t build and finish (and furnish!) an entire house in 3-4 months.
  9. Homeowners: as much as the homeowners and I really did get along and were on the same page about so many things, remember that I’m designing this house for them, not me! It’s easy to forget now, but during this period there was SO much anxiety and frustration that, for the homeowners, it started to feel essential that the house had mass appeal. OH DEAR. To me this house was always aspiring to be more modern, not less, but Adriana started showing me examples of these very traditional, kind of generic but well-executed new construction projects that just felt so at odds with the actual house, or what they even wanted to live in! I think it was really just panic about the future prospect of resale, which I understand. Not only did this feel really…uninspiring, it also seemed like an efficient way to increase construction costs: with modernism you can get away with simplicity and utilitarianism, but it’s hard to do that with more traditional styles without everything just looking cheap and flat. As a small example, we were aiming to reuse certain things like windows that were still in fine shape, but large single-lite vinyl casement windows were not going to look right on a house that’s supposed to have 6-over-6 divided lite double-hungs. Nonetheless, this period of not wanting to go “too daring” with the design was happening in the background of this and felt like a big complicating factor, even though they eventually got over it. Ha!

SO! The first thing was figuring out the space I had to work with. Our original footprint was this, with the top facing the street:

Since we asked real nice and applied for a zoning variance, the town allowed us to bump out the living room wall 6 feet, giving us an addition 120 square feet of space to play with. Like so–shaded section is new:

One of the challenges I see in designing a structure vs. renovating one is that with renovations, you tend to be thinking mostly about the interior or mostly about the exterior. Exterior work is often cosmetic—re-siding, re-painting, re-roofing, landscaping…ya know. But you have a structure: you have window locations, doorways, ceiling heights, the direction the roof pitches. But designing a building, you have to consider the how the interior looks and functions and how the exterior looks, and the two don’t always play well together! You might think a certain window would be nice inside the house, but then outside it just looks totally dumb. Or vice-versa! Or you want really high ceilings inside, but that makes the structure really tall and proportionately unappealing. There are so many things like this. In this case, it felt imperative to maximize light and views on the elevations of the house that face nature, but ALSO create a street-facing facade that looked welcoming and attractive, but didn’t highlight the undesirable views available to that side of the house from inside. Tricky!

In super simple terms: green is where we have good views, red is where we have bad views.

So, at THIS point, the back portion of the house (now the “guest wing,” since the master bedroom is moving upstairs!) was supposed to remain fairrrrly unchanged, although I wrote in the last post about some of the stuff we were required to do with it.

The kitchen and dining room plans were also more or less set, at least in their locations. That footprint wasn’t changing, and since we were hoping to keep some framing and the foundation under the kitchen/dining space, which would not allow us to put a second floor over that part of the house without redoing the foundation as well. Weight and stuff. So our second floor master suite is confined to the area where the whole foundation would be new—directly over the living room.

So basically we have this enlarged living room, which is also the only artery to get to the kitchen/dining spaces, the guest wing, up the stairs that don’t exist, and into the house at all unless you’re just going in the front door and into that long skinny guest room. It’s a ton of space, but once you add in all of those factors it gets a little tricky to create a room that doesn’t just feel like a massive pass-through.

It dawned on me that nobody was especially tied to the front door location, and that maybe it ought to be facing the street. Incidentally that’s where the front door was before the previous owners bought and wreckovated the house.

It also occurred to me that it’s not like you spend a lot of time in a stairwell, and you can get sort of creative with window placement in a stairwell, and that the stairwell should probably go against the street-facing wall, too. That way, we concentrate the views from the living room out into the woods, not onto the street and neighboring houses.

That’s how I got to some earlier version of this. You’ll notice that a couple of walls have shifted around in the guest wing with the elimination of the old entry, but those changes weren’t planned for until after we started building! A number of major things changed on the fly once construction got underway.

ANYWAY—if memory serves, all of this took place in a couple of days, and then it was time for another meeting with the engineers and Adriana the homeowner. In the background of all of this was the fact that I was no longer under contract at this point—we had to scrap and re-write my contract for the job completely, which was underway but not complete. This sounds inconsequential, but typically I wouldn’t be designing or sharing drawings and renderings (not to mention running around town to building departments and engineering firms) until after I have an executed contract and a deposit check in hand—a little freelancer safeguard against doing a bunch of work and never getting compensated for it if a client decides to be a jerk. Unfortunately it’s happened so I’m leery of it, even when I work for people that I know and trust!

The point is, we walked into this hour-long meeting with the engineer, and I didn’t really know what we were doing there. Adriana had called the meeting but without a design in place, it seemed premature and potentially like a waste of everyone’s time.

As it happened, Adriana had been corresponding with the engineer and had submitted a sketch of what she thought the second floor layout should be. I think she’ll be OK with me pointing out now that it was…a mess. Haha! Problem number one was that it wasn’t at all to scale and showed the staircase coming up in a location that made no sense for the first floor. The allocation of space was choppy and complicated and gave the toilet the best corner in the whole house! There was an enormous amount of space given over to closets, not enough room to actually use the washer and dryer in the plan…and I was just sitting there like…oh shit. 

Again. I am not hired. I am not being paid. I am watching the engineer set these plans in stone in CAD, and feeling like if the meeting continued on this way, we’d have a terrible plan that I could then be possibly tasked with executing, and a client who might not understand the need to start over with a different plan since why did we have that meeting in the first place where we designed the house in an hour?!

So, I stepped in. And drew up a little sketch of what had been tumbling around in my brain. Then we dropped it into CAD. And then we moved a couple things. Then we rotated the roof 90 degrees to have a street-facing gable. Then…the basic strokes of the design were all there. We had a shape. We had walls. We had rooms.

Then some more decisions. How tall are the first floor ceilings? I say 10 feet. Adriana wants 12. How tall are the second floor ceilings? I say 8. Adriana insists on 10. All of a sudden the house gets four feet taller. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but things like that had a bigger impact on everything—costs and time, for instance—than any of us appreciated at the time. That’s longer lumber, more insulation, more of all the finishing materials…whoopsie!

With those plans and decisions in hand, and shortly thereafter my contract executed, it was time to take our basic shape and basic layout and flesh it out into something resembling a house!

Because budget was such a concern, it was always the plan to reuse as much of the original house as we could in the rebuild! That’s right up my alley, of course, but it’s tricky—you don’t want to be so tied to the idea of reuse that the end result suffers because you were just trying to make too much stuff work together. This started with the windows, so I made a simple visual of all the windows that could potentially be relocated and the rough openings required to install them:

Pretty exciting stuff.

Then I set about placing them, and quickly realized that we’d need more windows, and the sizes we had were mostly really strange and difficult to work elegantly into a design. I tried, though! In order to keep costs down, I recommended that new window purchases be readily-available stock sizes.

Here was the first proposed design—oof! I hated that entryway when I proposed it, and I hate it now. Haha! Since the front elevation is where we wanted to minimize views, I kind of liked the idea of doing it up really fortress-like with just a couple little windows on the front. Those windows come from the list of windows with potential for reuse, but the sizes felt arbitrary and not so great.

The clients thought it looked uninviting and scary. I get that. Moving on…

Idea #2! In both of the first two designs, I sort of liked the concept of doing a shed roof over the kitchen/dining spaces, but the required 6/12 pitch was kindaaaaaa too much. I also turned the entryway inside-out, thinking a little recessed covered exterior mudroom kind of thing might be totally cool? Especially clad in a cedar tongue-and-groove or something? Given that we already bumped the front of the house out closer to the road than the existing zoning allows, it seemed like an interesting way to avoid pushing our luck with the building department by also asking for some kind of porch/portico/something that would bring anything structural even closer to the road.

The clients did not like the outdoor mudroom concept. Still not feeling the facade. Next!

I liked this plan! I think I still kinda like this plan! The mismatched window sizes on the second floor window are an error on the rendering, so ignore that. Anyway.

This plan definitely felt the best so far to the clients, but something still wasn’t sitting quite right (with all of us, really) so we brought in another set of eyes! Trained, talented, and experienced eyes! Adriana is great friends with an NYC-based architect named Matt Bremer, so she brought my renderings to him for some input!

Matt drew the above doodle, Adriana sent the doodle to me, I made the alterations in SketchUp, and that got us to…

Boom, house!

And that’s…pretty much what we ended up building. With some minor changes, naturally.

All in all—is this the house I would have built if I could have built anything my heart desired? No. But it IS a house that I think takes into consideration the things that I talked about at the beginning of this post. Simple and relatively inexpensive to build fairly quickly, satisfied our technical requirements, had the happy approval of the homeowners, made effective use of the site, and allowed for an efficient but spacious-feeling interior layout. Check check check!

Now let’s build this thing! This is where it gets fun.

Psssst! Olivebridge Cottage is an ongoing series about a renovation that flew off the rails (and then found its way back on)! For lots of backstory and schadenfreude, check out these past posts!

  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”
  7. Olivebridge Cottage: 2.0!
  8. Designing Olivebridge Cottage 2.0: Part 1!

52 Comments

  1. Oh my, my head aches! Probably not even close to how badly yours did. This is an amazing series. Thank you.

  2. Hard to contain my emotions reading this.

  3. Daniel, I don’t know how you kept your sanity!

  4. I really did not read every word. But, I am amazed that you took the time to write it out in great detail. So much hard thinking. But, as hard things usually do, you made a huge jump in the design world. Congratulations!!

  5. wreckovated!!! LOL

  6. Ha ha, I think the first facade is my favourite – I love the sloped roof on the portico thingy and the shed roof on the kitchen side.
    Starting to understand why this consumed so much time and energy!
    Also, I really really hope you guys actually painted it black!

  7. I studied architecture in college so I totally understand your pain! I almost enjoyed working with more restrictions as a challenge because when there is so much freedom and so much choice I got too overwhelmed wanting to do EVERYTHING. I think that’s why I like restoration so much. You have the set pieces and then you have to try and get the best result while making sure you still check all those boxes. It helps me to focus on the problems without the distraction of a billions more options. I think you ended up with some great solutions since function really is so important. The space may be pretty but if it sucks to use and live in you’ll end up hating it.

  8. I liked your plan before sending off to Matt, but I agree that the tweaks made the difference. With all that has gone on with Olivebridge, my sense is that by this point you have an absolute LOVE/HATE relationship with it.

    • Haha, sounds about right! I am happy with the result and glad that I saw it through, but this project definitely took a toll.

  9. I started reading and a few paragraphs in I went and made coffee and got some food because I needed sustenance just reading about it. I can’t begin to imagine what it felt like to be in the middle of it all.

    Daniel, that you stuck with it is incredible. Full marks for your perseverance. And surviving your crash course in building regulations (as we call them in the UK).

    If the owners need to recoup some of the costs they should open it to the public, to your readers. Advertise it as the house that Daniel built. Pity I’m too far away to see it.

  10. As an interior designer (with a legit degree and everything) – though honestly doing mainly commercial renos and new builds, so nothing ever this complicated – THANK YOU for highliting all the 4893478192472 things that have kept in mind when designing. I feel most of the he design and diy shows on TV have made Design look like something that happens easily, quick and fairly inexpensively. (Sure, if you have a dedicated team of designers, architects, engineers, etc in the background working and planning for months and then arrive on set with a dedicated building team – with zero changes, ever). But you know, easy peasy, right?! It’s so great to see the thoughtfulness you have into the design and functionality of a space. Thanks so much for sharing!!

    • I’m glad this rings true for you! Thank you! I’m sure this post is mega-boring to a lot of people, but I don’t want to sugarcoat it…all this stuff is hard!

      • I had to get up and pace around a couple of times while I was reading. I wasn’t bored: I was overwhelmed. This is what happens when your readership likes and identifies with you! Olivebridge is so stressful!

  11. WOW i hope those owners know how lucky they are to have you!
    And what a wonderful opportunity to do this… new career? (um yes!)
    love reading it (to help soothe my current anxieties… )
    cant wait for part 3!!

    • Haha, thank you! It really was a very cool, surreal kind of experience. Even if it’s not remotely what I thought I was getting into at the beginning and took WAY more time and attention than I initially signed up for, I kept having to remind myself that designing and building a house was a super cool opportunity that I’d be extremely unlikely to get otherwise (at least at this point in my life). I’m lucky to have gotten to do it!

  12. You need to put guidelines before anything about Olivebridge, something along the lines of “Do not read if you have access to sharp implements/weapons” or “Please ensure available supply of alcohol to help maintain sanity”. I’d be a card carrying member of the Funny Farm if I had to deal with all this.

  13. Wow, indeed! I don’t know if I could choose between all those renders, although I do kind of like the first one, and the one before you sent to the architect. Love all the windows! 12 foot ceilings sound improbably high for that small of a house, so I am curious to see how this came out. Can’t wait for the next installment!

  14. As a student who is currently pursuing a Masters of Architecture, I am wondering about New York building codes and whether or not you needed a licensed architect to sign off on the drawings. I am guessing it is only for a certain square footage or number of floors, but still wondering about that part of the process. Architecture school is a lot of work and a lot of time for gaining a specific set of skills, and I am curious about why a trained architect was not pulled in to work on the design once it was clear this was not a straightforward renovation.

    • As someone who also studied architecture this was/is a big problem in the profession. I studied in California and at least at the time of my graduation, it was one of the hardest state licenses to get but they had a law that when building a two story wood frame house you did not need an architect, only a contractor. It took away a lot of jobs for architects (like all the McMansion developments that made up most of the building that was actually happening fit in this category) and was a big reason for me not pursing working in the field after graduation. I also graduated at the height of the recession so there weren’t many jobs to be had anyway, haha! But I’d guess since they were already working with an existing structure, consulting engineers and contractors for any structural issues and it’s wood frame building, an architect wasn’t needed to draw up the plans.

      • I have many friends who also graduated during the recession and although most stayed in the profession it took a long time to find jobs for some of them. I think that law is the same (or similar) in Washington too and is a problem here as well. (definitely not nearly a big as in CA with all the new developments happening there) Here we have a lot of 5 over 2 that often aren’t the most attractive or well built but do require architects. That is a different problem for the profession, though.

      • Aurora—I honestly don’t know the answer to the first part of your question, other than to say that in this municipality at least, we did not need an architect to sign off on the drawings, but we did need the engineers to do so. I basically designed the house in SketchUp and then passed those drawings to the engineers for them to create more formal construction plans and specs, though not with the level of detail that an architect would have provided. Which, by the way, would have been extremely helpful.

        As to why an architect wasn’t brought in…that’s a good question! I am in NO WAY WHATSOEVER encouraging anybody to emulate this process or not use an architect for a project like this. Up until the second floor came into play, it legitimately did not seem necessary (I still think that’s true), but my first reaction to the second floor idea was absolutely that we needed to bring in an architect. The decision to have me do it instead was one the homeowners made, and I can’t really speak for them! In large part I think it came down to timing—if it were MY house I probably would have halted everything, regrouped over the fall/winter with an architect, and commenced work in the spring with a rock-solid, professional plan. The homeowners wanted everything rapid-fire, though—they wanted to be living in their house by spring, not starting a new construction project, and I was already there, available-ish, relatively inexpensive, and could get started immediately in order to turn things around fast enough to start construction within a few weeks of the concept even being floated. Again—not a strategy I’d recommend, but this is an account of what happened, not a set of instructions!

  15. So I am a little confused. Haven’t you already built the second floor? I distinctly remember seeing teaser photos of a staircase to nowhere and thinking, “Oh, something interesting is soon going to follow?” Have you been holding out on us? Its exciting.

    However, I’m the Eric who keeps asking about your house, like the former second floor kitchen. That is the one I am most interested in. I even obsess about what you will eventually do with that giant room on the first floor that used to be two rooms, before it was originally one room. And the kitchen. I know it’s gonna come one day.

    • Eric,

      He is now going back to recount the whole saga of what happened after they got back on track and that was a teaser he showed of the upstairs and this post is a continuation of explaining how they got it built now in retrospect, months after it was finished.

      • Yes, the house is built! I just wasn’t able to blog about it all in real time, but I’m a process kind of a guy so I’m choosing to dedicate a number of posts to the design and building process rather than just fast-forwarding through the whole thing. :)

        (and yes, it’s all coming!)

  16. Dear Daniel’s Mom and Dad,
    You did good. Obviously the boy’s got genius (from your genes) but his upbringing gave him the wherewithal to use it. Bless you.
    Cindi M

    • Thanks Cindi. It’s nice to be appreciated. We did try to encourage our children to follow their passions and embrace the creativity within them. While they went to good schools and were good students, enjoying the process of learning and embracing learning as something that continues through one’s life is also something we encouraged. Hopefully, these things have become ingrained in all of them.

  17. So, having googled up the photos already on the rental site, I thought the house ended up as an amazingly nice modern vacation home, both inside and out – amazing from the pile of crap it had been when you stopped posting about it for a long time.

    Now I think it is amazing that it came out nicely modern, if the owner was working against you and looking for something traditional at first.

    And amazing now since the design came together on the fly. Curious to find out whether you figured out all the code stuff, or if that was the point of having the engineers on board to finalize the design.

    Really nice job of maximizing the good views, and putting the staircase and entry on the road side.

    • Thank you, as always! The engineer’s function was pretty much entirely technical—they specified things like the size and spacing of lumber, R-value insulation requirements for walls, attic, and crawlspace, things like that. So some of the code-related things were easy, but I had to figure out a lot…like for instance, our plan had a stairwell location on it, but no detail on how the stairs would be constructed, how many steps, banister, anything like that! We had window locations but not header heights. A bathroom location but not a layout of fixtures. Nothing about hard-wired smoke and CO detectors, lighting and locations of switches and receptacles…that was all on me. Research!

      • So, do you want to take all this knowledge you gained into doing more house design for others, or was this experience terrible enough so as to be enough of that sort of work?

  18. This has been an interesting saga to be quite honest with all the ups, downs, and sideways twists to what ended up being a very badly maintained/updated house in deplorable shape once you began to renovate, discovering rotting sills and what not, not to mention, mold etc as well as extremely poor construction in many areas and it was a wonder the damn place was still standing!

    From the teaser photos from a couple of months ago, it looked fantastic and the saga of getting it to where you could build the second floor, and finish the project is fascinating as well.

    Can’t wait to read the next installment!

  19. Damn. I’d be pretty chuffed that the architect didn’t throw out my design. Looks like you have them something to work with! Nice work. I was waiting for the interior and remembered ‘ahh this isn’t his house.’

    • Thank you Annie! It was supppppperrrr intimidating having my chicken scratch plans shown to Matt the architect, so I was pleasantly surprised when he didn’t tear them up and run in horror! We’ll get to the interior, for sure!

  20. I don’t really understand this process. Why did these clients insist you do it when it started growing outside your scope? And why did you not say no at some point? Especially when they’re good friends with an architect, I’m feeling quite mind-boggled about that?? I assume you’re cheaper than an architect but at some point you have to hire the right professionals to get things done right (not that you didn’t, it looks great, but it seems an extremely tortuous, slow, expensive, risky way to go).

    • All fair questions! And ones that I’ve tried to address in this post and previous ones (and the comments on those posts, haha). WHY the clients were so intent on me doing this is really a question for them (see my response to Aurora, above, for my understanding of their thought process), but I’ll also say that being good friends with someone and retaining their professional services (especially at the drop of a hat!) are two very different things. I’ve tried to communicate this point several times, but this is not a process I’d recommend anybody try to emulate, just an account of what happened in this specific instance. As to why I didn’t say no…that’s a complicated answer, but partially because the homeowners REALLY wanted me to stay on board (I did try to walk away after the first engineering report came in, but they suckered me back in!), partially because the engineers assured me that I was capable, and in large part because of FEEEEELINGGGGS. The first few months of this job were so shitty and emotionally exhausting, and so at this point it was like…what feels worse? Basically uncovering an enormous mess and walking away, or keeping at it and seeing it through? I chose the latter, and I’m glad I did, but there was definitely a lot of consideration put into abandoning ship.

      (BTW—it might seem slow, expensive, and risky, but I think it was all really fast and relatively inexpensive, considering all of the twists and turns and changes. This house was completed and move-in ready about 16 months after I began on site, back when this was supposed to be a kitchen renovation and some general sprucing. I think it’s pretty typical for situations like this to drag on for years (like my blog posts!) so…I dunno, I guess I’m sort of proud of how rapidly all of this took place, even if I felt like I was losing it in the midst of it!)

      • I’ve found that in big projects at work (not construction related though!), having a person on the team who’s been on board since day 1 and knows a ton of stuff that happened, got decided, got discovered along the way, etc keeps the team from wasting time and getting confused. Daniel, maybe you were this person for Olivebridge Cottage, even more so than the owners. And therefore ideal to keep on the project.
        But it’s one thing to take on the role of “project manager guy who knows the past details” and quite another to be “creator of the building plans including a surprise second story”. I am impressed that you tackled this learning curve – just the fact that you had mentally planned the second story master suite and stairs and were ready to jump in with it right in the middle of the CAD session might have given the owners confidence that you could also see it through – to bathroom layouts and switch placements and the rest.
        Thanks for sharing the planning part of this project. It’s nice to see progress pics and pretty “final” photos, but after everything has come together, a lot of interesting challenges and creative solutions are essentially invisible.

  21. I really liked the fortress facade! But then, I am not thinking about resale, just my own weird taste.

    Kudos on working this giant puzzle out. I am waiting anxiously for the next installment.

  22. Yay, another update! Love these process posts explaining the hows and whys. I confess I also did some online stalking because I was impatient to see the finished project, and it’s beauuuuuuuutiful and seems like such a calming space, which is pretty ironic considering all of the blood, sweat, and tears that went into rebuilding it. I am looking forward to the post where you can finally talk about finishes, because I have sooooo many questions!

  23. Wow! I have been following along since the beginning of the process and I continue to be in awe – of what you’ve been through, how you’ve managed to persevere – and your incredible gift for sharing it with all of us! I can’t wait to read the next update!!

  24. I’ve been reading your blog since 2013 (after Googling how to make a Fjellse look fancier) and just from the way you level grinded your way up the Demo/Reno skill tree since then, it’s no surprise that you managed to not only salvage, but improve the wacky found art installation that was The House, despite the horrors you discovered lurking within.

  25. So, I googled and found the listing. I think that the best compliment to (you in) this project is that it does not show the struggle. Everything fits. Congrats. Knowing what is behind gives even more value to your work.

  26. Sympathetic chest pain in response to the oh-by-the-way-2nd floor twist to the plot. Kudos & I am now off to the rental site like everyone else.

  27. Husband: I’m worried that Daniel is going to bail out.
    Adrianna: Don’t worry.
    Husband: But if he bails we have to start all over again with a new . .
    Adriana: I called a meeting with the engineers. When Daniel sees how bad my plan is for the second floor, it’ll be full on panicky Jazz Hands.
    Husband: And?
    Adriana: In three minutes he’ll be drawing his own plan. In ten minutes he’ll be all in.
    Husband: You are Genius.
    Adriana: *laughs* You should see where I puts the stairs!

  28. Thank you for the process posts, Daniel! I’m sure they take a TON of work, but they are my favorite of all your posts. I love looking at the pretty after pictures, but I devour your description of the process. I’m actively avoiding the spoiler website, so don’t wait too long for the next installment!

  29. This whole post stresses me out! I kept wondering if it was going to end with “and then I quit!” Haha! Not that I’d blame you- it just seems TOO much! I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

  30. I was looking at the architect’s contributions again and it seems like he has noted something in the bottom right of drawing. I can’t read it very well, but I think it says v2. changes of grey between volumes? Did hewn the smaller side os the house to be a different color. Was gray discussed at all for the exterior?

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