All posts tagged: Olivebridge Cottage

Olivebridge Cottage: Little House of Horrors

It’s been quite a while since we talked about the renovation of Olivebridge Cottage—that little vacation house I was hired to renovate back in the spring for a couple of NYC-based clients. I’ve hinted at stuff here and there, but to be honest I’ve had a very hard time figuring out exactly how to tell this story.

I was hired to basically do a kitchen renovation and some cosmetic upgrades to bring this little 1,100 square foot house up to snuff. How hard could that be?! It was supposed to take about 6-8 weeks, at which point I’d hand over the keys to the happy homeowners, collect a nice little paycheck to keep other projects/myself afloat, serve up a cute and satisfying before-and-after on the blog, and move on with my life.

Instead, I’m 10 months into this project—longer if you count the weeks I spent on the design work before the physical demo work began. Even though this hasn’t been reflected in my blog content, this project has occupied more of my time than anything else I’ve been doing over that same period. So what the hell happened? And how do I account for it all here? That was a particularly difficult question to answer during the periods of this project where wasn’t even sure where things were headed!

So…I kind of sat on it all until I knew. Sometimes I forget as a blogger that the story doesn’t go away or lose utility just because it isn’t rehashed immediately—and in this case, I think it’ll be better because the teller finally has a reasonably good sense of the ending. So I hope it’s cool if we pretty much pick up where we left off on this, because skipping gory details for the sake of concision has never really been my style, anyway.

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So where did we leave off? This looks about right! I spent the first week on site demo-ing out the old kitchen and enormous half-bathroom and utility space to make room for the new open kitchen/dining space. The homeowners and I had settled on a design we were all happy with, and a budget that was optimistic but doable for the scope of work we were intending to do.

There were quite a few surprises that week, and none of them good. The house had clearly been altered over the years by somebody who evidently never thought to crack a book on the subject, leaving a variety of structural concerns in his wake. There was a lot of mold, everywhere, despite a very pricey remediation that had allegedly occurred only a few months prior (but very obviously had not). There was evidence of an extensive rodent infestation that had caused serious damage to at least the insulation if not even more serious things. And then, the rot. This structural, exterior wall that hadn’t been framed correctly in the first place, supporting half the load of the roof above it, had also rotted away to a point that would not pass code even if we’d wanted to leave it as-is, but moreover was a mold-ridden health and structural hazard that didn’t leave us any options that I can deduce beyond rebuilding it.

That was the first 6 days. Did I mention it’s been 10 months? Yeah.

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First, we had to pull out the old plumbing. I don’t mess with that. Everything was bad, basically—the galvanized pipe in the photo above was the drain line for the kitchen sink and laundry machine, which drained into…I don’t even know. There’s a main drain that goes to the septic system, but this one basically came out the side wall of the house and directly into the ground, presumably into some kind of dry well. It’s best not to think too hard about it. At least there wasn’t a garbage disposal.

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Since we decided to ditch the half-bathroom, all that plumbing needed to go, too! This was kind of exciting…the old plumbing had clearly just been added onto, cut out, added onto some more—creating a lot of half-corroded joints and areas primed for a burst. It’s nice to simplify systems like this! New plumbing will be run with PEX and PVC.

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Getting the plumbing out of the way allowed me to start removing the old subfloor. It was rotted, it was super uneven, it varied in thickness from space to space…it had to go.

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See that beam running perpendicular to the joists, to support them? Yeah, that thing had been cut in half with the installation of the half-bath and never fixed, rendering it more or less useless. The entire floor in this area of the house was pretty severely slanted, the under-sized joists showed significant signs of rot, there was no central support, leading it to bow…disaster! We’d hoped we could just shim up a new subfloor, but the damage was too extensive for that solution to be a lasting one—in other words, the floor might look OK for a while but would continue to shift and sink and move, which is not really what you want a year after a major renovation.

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The subfloor and all the framing under the half-bath (about 1/3rd of the space) was…a total mess. Essentially the whole floor system under the half-bath was build on some super shoddy and actively rotting 2×4 framing, resting on the dirt in the crawlspace, all built with drywall screws. It’s actually kind of amazing that parts of the adjacent floor hadn’t collapsed given how sloppily they’d been “supported” by the newer floor system of under the half-bath. Jeez.

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In preparation for reframing, I removed the aluminum siding on exterior of the rotted kitchen wall. This wasn’t a huge loss, since the rest of the house is sided with vertical wood tongue-in-groove boards and this section was not. That kind of tongue-and-groove is only about $1.50 per square foot, so the bright side of this was that we’d be able to have the exterior match without spending too much money.

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Underneath the siding was…more siding! This stuff is horrible. It’s a fiberboard kind of material that was used a lot in the 60s and 70s, often with a fake brick or stone pattern on the outside, which has the same kind of texture as asphalt roofing shingles. It is NOT a good thing to have between siding and sheathing, since any water that gets in essentially gets sucked up like a sponge and then sits and rots the structural components of a house. Yuck! I love how at some point they painted it white but didn’t bother to remove the shutters. Ha!

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The whole wall was so disintegrated. This enormous hole was the result of Edwin half-heartedly putting his fist through it.

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The underside of the eaves (which were covered in aluminum that had just been installed on top of 1/2″ plywood) had to be removed to get access to the top parts of the wall framing, and luckily things looked great. Kidding! It was horrible! So much rot! So much water damage! The ends of the original 2×4 rafters were all rotted! DAMNIT.

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Oh, by the way! These were nailed to the concrete foundation and supporting the siding. That’s called termite damage, right there! Instead of just letting part of the concrete foundation show and keeping wood off the ground, someone decided to run untreated wood down the foundation and into the ground. In case you’re short on common sense, this is just a big old invitation for pests and water damage.

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So, we set about reframing the whole kitchen wall. Fun times! The left corner had sunk so much that we had to jack it up about 2″ to get something resembling level.

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That’s not horrifying at all, right? Totally normal? Great.

At some point in there, the clients and I decided that while we were at it, we might as well put in a bigger kitchen window. The old kitchen window was only 3×3 feet and looked sort of dinky both inside and out. These unexpected repairs at least had bright spots because they also presented an opportunity to change things that we’d taken as givens at the beginning of the project.

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We framed as much of the wall as we could without knowing the dimensions of the new window, and then moved on to the floor. The old 2×6 joists all got removed to be replaced by 2x12s—SO much stronger! The space is only about 12 feet wide, so this also allowed us to get away without having a beam run under the joists to support them.

Oh yeah, that blue thing is the pump for the well! The well is literally right under the kitchen. I guess this is what happens when a house keeps getting added on to? So bizarre.

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For reasons unknown, the old floor was framed a good 8 inches higher than it needed to be, so we decided to lower it. Silver linings! This meant higher ceilings and fewer steps up to the kitchen/dining space, both good things.

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Edwin and Edgar rocked it out. The foundation (oh, we’ll get there…) was SEVERELY out of whack, so every joist had to be carefully notched to make things level. Here you can get a better sense of how needlessly high the old floor was—so odd.

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Looky there! It felt good to see this floor looking so fresh and level. I’m not scared off by old lumber (I’m used to it!) but I really hate rot and poor workmanship.

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The excitement was short-lived. Very short-lived. This is the condition of the wall opposite of the one that we’d just rebuilt. This shit is bad, folks! Also, see how there’s water-stained plywood above the concrete block of the foundation? That was sitting completely below grade. Helllllo, rot and water infiltration! See that bit of blue stuff on the far left of the photo above? That’s insulation in the wall of the adjacent bathroom, peaking through because everything that should have been covering it was completely rotted. See how it also has gnaw marks all over it? Thanks, chipmunks.

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Here’s the sill plate! That’s the piece of wood that sits on top of the foundation that supports…everything else. Terrific.

So…I guess we’re reframing another wall. That makes 2 major exterior walls, and an entire floor! THIS WAS NOT THE PLAN.

The homeowners were aware of what was going on throughout all of this, by the way. Our original budget was dependent on things going really smoothly and using materials that were really inexpensive, so all of this stuff hurt. Nothing thusfar was hideously expensive or difficult or time-consuming (it seems like it would be, but it wasn’t), but still—it was a lot more than we’d prepared ourselves for.

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This second major wall that I’m now talking about re-framing (the one with the sliders) was a little more complicated than the first, mainly because of this super weird deck outside of it. The deck was being held up by some posts but mainly by ledger boards screwed into the sides of the house—so to get access to this wall to replace it, the deck had to go. This was just fine with everyone because it was kind of stupid and pointless and tiny.

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Could NOT have seen that one coming! Or maybe I could have. Jeez. What you’re looking at is new decking boards toward the top of the photo that were laid directly on top of rotting decking boards below. There literally aren’t enough eye-rolls in the world.

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Naturally, the baseboard around the perimeter of this deck thing was also covering major rot to the bottom of the siding.

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Like, major major. This is the kind of thing that can really only get worse over time.

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Under the steps was this cute fire hazard! That’s a duct tape electrical junction and NM cable that’s not rated for exterior use. Peachy.

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Plywood half underground, all below a very wet deck, ledger board screwed into the studs and without any flashing, rot for days…do I need to keep going? This is bad.

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Oh, look! You can reach your whole hand through the exterior of the house and into the crawlspace below the bedroom! The bottoms of the studs are all totally rotted! The sill plate is all rotted! Everything is terrible!

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Cute, Olivebridge Cottage.

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Super duper cute.

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This is what it looks like when a house is basically mulch. At least it’s composting itself?

So…clearly THAT needs to be redone, too. This one extra sucked because part of this wall is the bathroom, and we really did not want to be renovating that bathroom, which cosmetically and functionally was OK. After some head-scratching, we figured we could remove the siding and sheathing and repair it all from the exterior.

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One of the things the homeowners really wanted to do was make this part of the living room function better. This kind of addition is clearly the result of an old porch being enclosed. The ceiling height at the front is really low (really too low to reframe the floor to be the same level as the rest of the living room), but we figured it would be drastically improved by removing the supporting posts and putting a structural beam in its place. That shouldn’t be that big of a deal! Just take the posts out, temporarily support the roof, insert the beam and a couple of built-up posts on each end—it should have been a one day project where the major cost was the price of the LVL beams.

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“Should have been.” HA. One thing nobody really noticed is that the “beam” here (which is really just the original top plate of that wall, without any other support aside from the posts) was made to look like a solid beam because it was sheathed in 1-by lumber. The same was true of the posts! 4x4s masquerading as 6x6s! This isn’t great. In a different climate, maybe, sure, but here we have to worry about crazy heavy snow loads that can lead to something like this collapsing!

Oh yeah, all that dust appears to be some kind of pest (carpenter ants? termites?) eating their way through the foam insulation in the living room ceiling. Delicious. I’m sure that’s contributing greatly to this house’s energy efficiency.

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The ceiling in here was, unsurprisingly, a piece of shit. The entire flimsy roof was being supported by those white rafters (too small, too spaced apart) toe-nailed into the original fascia. The roof itself was a layer of corrugated fiberglass with a bunch of tar thrown on top and a layer of EPDM rubber on top of that, held down with drywall screws (!!!!!!!). On the interior, there was an area of drywall that had been patched in with a piece of masonite, and underneath of that was a huge squirrel nest! As in, squirrels had literally eaten their way through the ceiling and a previous owner had fixed the issue by slapping up a 1/4″ piece of masonite to cover it.

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See that little sliver of daylight? See all that crap between the studs and stuff? See the acorn clinging to the original fascia board that’s supporting an entire low-slope roof? Lord DELIVER me from this madness.

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From what I can tell, the squirrels/chipmunks/whatever had gnawed their way into the house through some bad siding and framing, and been living it up in this ceiling.

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Aside from the yuck factor…this is—you guessed it!—NOT GOOD. Just some live electrical cable missing all of its rubber insulation. That stuff is there for a reason! Fire is the reason!

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Even where the electrical wasn’t totally eaten, there were illegal junctions hiding up in that ceiling, too. Just a little tape, right? Just because it works doesn’t mean it’s safe! SOBS.

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Not cool, Olivebridge Cottage. Not at all cool.

I know this might all read as kind of funny or so-awful-it’s-funny but at the time it wasn’t funny! I’m pretty good at taking things in stride, but it SUCKED having to call the homeowners everyday (sometimes more than once!) to report that we’d found some other awful thing wrong with their house. Not that the alternative of not knowing and potentially having the house burn down or collapse or consume its occupants in black mold was a great option, either, but sometimes you just wish you didn’t know about this kind of stuff. Ugh! Timeline, blown. Budget, blown. Expectations, dashed. Life, horrible.

At this point, we had to change approaches a little. We were trying so hard to stick to the original goals and timeline, so the basic strategy was to find a problem, quickly come up with a solution, and then quickly fix it. It’s not as though that totally wasn’t working, but given how many problems there clearly were, it seemed as though a more efficient long-term approach would be…an investigatory period. No more fixing before figuring out all the things that need it. At this point my priority became more about the long-term health and safety of the house than installing a cute kitchen and slapping up some paint. Gulp. What’s that thing they say? Seek and you will find?

Diary time!

Day 7: Dump run in AM. Met the plumber at house to disconnect old plumbing work. Returned to the dump, continued demo of kitchen/dining area and loaded truck for dump run tomorrow morning.
Day 8: Dump run. Removed trim in master bedroom and hallway, de-nailed, piled up. Demo’d ceiling in sunken living room. Met with Edwin about floors in dining/kitchen and plans for sunken living room. Removed aluminum siding on kitchen wall in prep for re-framing tomorrow morning.
Day 9: Edwin and Edgar went to Home Depot in morning for supplies. Met at site. Demo’d rest of kitchen wall and began new framing. Had to lift right side 1.5″ to level out roofline. Will try to find larger window tomorrow. Framed as much as possible before new window is found and sheathed in OSB. Will Tyvek tomorrow.
Day 10: Dump run in morning. Met Edwin and Edgar at site where they had removed all framing and subfloor from dining/kitchen. Discovered that other exterior wall must also be re-framed and window header replaced on other wall. Also discovered that we can drop floor roughly 8 inches! Edwin and Edgar had to leave early. I finished cleaning the crawlspace, organized, cleaned yard of debris, and loaded truck for dump run in AM. Went to the Door Jamb to look at kitchen window options.
Day 11: Edwin and Edgar completed work on framing kitchen/dining floor. Talked plans for reframing sunken living room roof. I worked on removing siding on bedroom/bathroom walls and demo-ing small deck to prep for reframing dining room wall with sliders.
Day 12: Continued demo on back wall and exposed framing below second bedroom. Sitting below grade—I think we will need to excavate area behind house to bring grade down several inches and create pitch away from structure. Demo’d deck and loaded truck for dump. Assessed condition of sill under bedroom and bathroom. Rot is very extensive…will likely need to reframe entire wall.
Day 13: Dump run.
Day 14: Cleaned up and organized kitchen/dining area, second bedroom, bathroom, and worked on cleaning up main living room and sunken part. Loaded truck for dump.

Olivebridge Cottage: Oh Dear, Here We Go…

Toward the end of high school, I became what some people like to call a “theater kid.” Those words make me cringe a little because everyone always assumes you mean that you were one of those annoying 16-year-old “thespians” practicing your “craft” for an “audience” of younger siblings and grandparents who were “emotionally riveted” by your “art,” who then typically turn into attention-craving nightmares of adults, but only the second half of that is true for me. Me, I was on crew. My high school was super cool because we had one of those experimental “black box” theaters, which is exactly what it sounds like, so every season we had to totally conceive, design, and build the set for our peers to tromp across with their forced British accents and fake theater cigarettes and stuff.

We didn’t mess around, either. When we put on A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, we built three 3-storey Roman houses, clad in faux-stone that yours truly crafted from foam insulation, which turned on enormous carousels to expose the backsides of the set during the second act. We were fast and loose and dumb and it’s amazing that nobody died.

Maybe the best part of the whole thing, though, wasn’t the building part or the shows but what came after that. After the final show, the actors would spend some time doing some weird bonding shit and crying and stuff, and then when they were all tuckered out from emoting, we’d get into strike-mode. Per tradition, the school would basically lock us all in while we spent hours and hours dismantling our months of work. We’d wield screw guns and circular saws with wild abandon until our masterpiece was reduced to a pile of lumber and garbage, and then we’d sweep the floor and eat pizza and the graduating seniors would do some awards ceremony thing and then we’d all leave, I guess. The details are a little fuzzy. This one time (er, probably every time) one of the actors had the forethought to bake and then kindly distribute pot brownies to the cast and crew after the show, but he got suspended and then things got slightly more supervised and significantly less fun.

I bring all this up because demo at Olivebridge Cottage reminds me a lot of striking our theater sets. See, we didn’t really know how to build things and it didn’t really matter because realistically the set only had to last through a couple of weekends. They always looked good, but everything was more or less held together with either 4,000 screws drilled in from every angle or 1 screw that broke in a wood knot and a bunch of duct tape. There was nary a middle ground. Because we saved anything salvageable to potentially reuse when building the next set, I recall spending a lot of time removing said screws from 2x4s and cursing whoever put all of them there.

The thing is, the insides of a house shouldn’t really remind you of a theater set built by a bunch of children with braces and anxiety disorders. They should probably remind you of, well, a house, ya know? Like maybe you’ve seen houses on TV or out in the world or on the internet, so when you see the insides of your house you can be like “ah, looks familiar!” while thinking about those things and not what you were doing when you were 16 and struggling to roll a halfway decent joint.

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Starting roughly 20 minutes after demo commenced at Olivebridge, little red flags began to slowly erect themselves throughout my brain. See that wall? It’s, uh, wrong. It doesn’t really look so wrong in the pictures but the thing you don’t see is that the entire thing was built not with lumber and nails, but with lumber and screws. SO. MANY. SCREWS. The screws were primarily of the drywall variety, but there were also decking screws, regular wood screws, some other types of screws…anyway. No normal contractor would build a wall this way, because the act of framing walls generally involves framing nails, as that is their function, but I sort of let it slide at the time. The wall was coming down anyway, and it was probably just this wall, right? Red flag #1.

Not right. Not even approaching right. I started depositing the removed screws into a cup, then when that filled up I found a mid-size tupperware, then I had to graduate to a bucket. Screws everywhere. Drill batteries could barely keep up. Total chaos. My life is wild.

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Removing the insulation (presumably there for sound rather than heat…) revealed a beautiful cornucopia of mold…everywhere.

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A mold issue had been noted on the home inspection report and having it professionally remediated and a vapor barrier installed in the crawlspace to prevent the issue from returning were conditions of the sale, but looks like some of those minor details might have slipped through the cracks. And by some, I mean all? And by minor, I mean relatively major? I’m pretty sure that actual mold remediation would have entailed removal of affected drywall and other materials, and I’m also pretty sure that some 6-mil plastic thrown down in the crawlspace without so much as a piece of tape, gravel underneath, etc., does not a vapor barrier make. Red flags #2 and #3.

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Then there was the unidentified rodent nest. Mouse? Squirrel? Chipmunk? What you’re seeing in this fun blurry picture is a bunch of eaten up insulation with a hefty dose of animal shit and a bunch of eaten acorns. It wouldn’t be terribly uncommon to find this in an exterior wall (though still troubling for reasons we’ll explore another time…hello, foreshadowing), but here? Inside of a totally interior wall with no obvious access point? No bueno. Red flag #4.

Great start.

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So, ahead I forged! Despite the unwelcome discoveries, getting this MASSIVE waste-o-space bathroom outta here felt good. It felt like the house was expanding and starting to look and feel right without this stupid useless space.

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Hopefully you can get a sense of how enormous this bathroom was, and how right-in-the-middle-of-everything it was. Totally dumb. The hot water heater is being swapped for a tankless model in the hall closet (this one was about 20 years old, so it probably didn’t have a ton of life left in it anyway). That metal thing that looks like a duct to the right is the backside of the big propane-powered heater thing. I didn’t know at the time but this thing was about 15 years old and rather than try to relocate this huge ugly beast and wait for it to die in a few years, we decided to spring for one of those little ductless mini-split systems that’ll do A/C, too, instead of just heat.

Anyway, holy moly, the framing up in here was some crazy stuff. It took a little while to disassemble, but I’d rather take a *little* extra time on this stuff and be able to potentially reuse the lumber than see it all go to a landfill. Spending so much time at the dump kind of guarantees everlasting guilt about creating more garbage so I try to keep it to a minimum when possible, since renovations generate more than enough garbage as it is no matter how conscious you’re being.

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Almost there! The construction of this wall that the bathroom shares with the kitchen sort of confirms my suspicion that the bathroom was added sometime fairly recently. See how the bottom part of the wall has older framing, and then some newer work was added on top of it? So I think the kitchen always had this division wall that ended a couple feet from the ceiling, which I can see being pretty cute when it was built. Our standards for “openness” have changed a little in the past 60 years or so, though, and I think having more of a flow between the kitchen and dining spaces will work really nicely in this kind of house.

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With the half-bath mostly gone, it was fun to start to really get a sense of how big this space will be! Even with that wall still standing, the amount of light traveling through the two rooms was vastly improved and way exciting.

I try to keep things reasonably clean when I demo, and on a job site in general. Especially if you don’t have a dumpster, taking periodic breaks to bag debris, sort out electrical (TURN THE POWER OFF), and collect and organize your tools so you don’t keep losing them all helps keep things running smoothly and without a massive pile of garbage to try to wrangle at the end.

Also, be safe! ESPECIALLY if you’re dealing with mold, a good respirator is important to protect those lungs. Add in a bunch of rodent nests and who knows what else and none of this is stuff you want to be breathing in. You’re welcome for that glimmering piece of very obvious advice.

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Andddddd, woah! Yay! Light! Space! Removing this cabinetry and this drywall was so awesome. Light just came FLOODING into the dining space and the whole house felt lighter and so much bigger. This is gonna be nice!

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Of course, this meant I had also moved on to demo-ing parts of the kitchen, which was exciting and terrifying. This kitchen has a lot of confusion and bizarre aspects so diving in was a little scary. You never know what you’ll find!

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For instance…removing the stove and the cabinet next to it revealed some funky crap. A punch through the back wall revealed lots and lots of totally rotten, eaten, and otherwise destroyed fiberglass insulation, and the side wall didn’t even have any drywall!! No wonder this kitchen (the whole house, really) was freezing in the winter! It’s essentially uninsulated 2×4 walls without drywall in places. Yikes! I keep debating whether my garage is more weather-tight than this house was.

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Once the final wall was gone, I got to work on removing the lower run of cabinets and appliances in the kitchen. Oof. So much grime and mold and nastiness.

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A little mold I can handle. Show me THIS much mold, though, coupled with the damp rotten insulation and the mouse shit and the acorns and the rest of the unidentified collection of horrible crap and I might throw up.

I did not throw up, FYI, but I COULD have is the point. This was some nastiness right there.

So…wanna know something fun and cool? See that big white PVC pipe going down through the floor? That’s the dryer vent. Guess where it vents into?

THE CRAWLSPACE. THE SPACE UNDERNEATH THE KITCHEN. WHO DOES THAT. I picture it going like this:

“Honey, I wonder why we have such horrific mold problems! I feel terrible all the time and the house is full of spores!”

“I wonder if it’s because the machine that dries our wet clothes has been pumping hot moist air into the enclosed space under our kitchen for many decades?”

“NAH.”

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Probably the consequence of this absurd venting situation (aside from the extreme mold) was…lots and lots of rot. At least on this wall. We’ve since found more and more and more rot in other areas of the house for other reasons (we’ll get there…) but this wall specifically seems to primarily be a result of the stupid vent.

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Also, the framing on this wall? Horrors. It looks like somebody basically decided to build a new wall about a foot in front of the actual exterior wall, except they had no concept of how walls are made. Then they built a soffit another foot out from the exterior wall just for funsies. Then they plopped a crooked window inside this lunatic construction with zero support, added some cabinets and plumbing and called it a kitchen.

You can probably get a sense from these pictures, too, of JUST how wonky the floors are here. Basically the entire floor slopes down overall about 1.5 inches from the left side to the right in the picture above, with a pretty significant dip in the middle to make matters even more fun and exciting.

I don’t have a picture of it because it’s too dark in the crawlspace, but a quick look down there revealed why the floors are like this. See, the flooring in this section of the house is a funny mix of 2×4 and 2×6 lumber. Because the span is about 13 feet from side to side, some sagging isn’t surprising at all…I think the modern standard for this is 2×12 lumber, so the joists are under-sized to begin with. Luckily there’s a big support beam that runs lengthwise down the center, held up by posts, to hold up the middle of the floor and prevent this…except whatever genius put in the 1/2 bath decided to CUT IT IN HALF and just leave it dangling in space, doing nothing and supporting nothing. Coupled with the fact that these joists are also rotted in places from the moisture damage, I guess it’s not that surprising that the floor looks like it’s probably about to collapse? Go figure.

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Cool header there, bro.

And thus began the Olivebridge Cottage renovation. Only up from here, right? RIGHT?

(wrong.)

Diary time!

Day 1: Demo’d half-bath, inspected crawlspaces and moved appliances out of kitchen space.

Day 2: Continued demo on half-bath and utilities spaces, started demo in kitchen!

Day 3: Kitchen demo. Noted extensive mold issues and likely plumbing concerns. Dryer vents directly into crawlspace, Jesus Christ. Loaded truck for dump in AM.

Day 4: Two dump runs in John’s truck, continued work on kitchen demo.

Day 5: Dump run in morning, then continued demo in kitchen/dining spaces. Loaded truck for dump run in AM.

Day 6: Dump run in morning, more demo in kitchen and dining spaces. Will complete next week.

Plans for Olivebridge Cottage!

Hey, remember that other house I’ve been working on? That vacation cottage? The one out in Olivebridge? That we called Olivebridge Cottage? For those nice sweet clients from the big city? That one that I wrote a blog post “introducing” and then never spoke of again?

Well, it’s done!

PSYCH. LOL. GOTCHA.

Oh, Olivebridge Cottage. Spoiler: you are so much more than we bargained for. Like, so much more. Like, an unthinkable, unreasonable, unfathomable amount more. I hope you guys like whatever the house version of blood and guts and gore is, because it is what Olivebridge Cottage has been serving up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner everyday for the past two months.

Honestly, I haven’t been sure how to even blog about this renovation because it’s just been total insanity. Plans and budgets and timelines have had to change on what feels like a daily basis, and I haven’t been totally certain of what the appropriate time is to jump into writing about it with some semblance of certainty or authority or professionalism. Thus are the hazards of trying to live-blog a renovation. Or at least this renovation. This little house is bananas.

Last time I posted about the house, it was a bunch of before pictures and some vague ideas about what the big plans were (I’d recommend going back to that post and just looking at the pictures if you need a refresher). That was only a few days into the job…back in the days when my heart was full of naive optimism and my brain still full of the understanding that this was more or less a kitchen renovation. We’ll get into how and why everything has changed since then, but for now maybe it makes the most sense to just start with…where we started? The overall aesthetic direction for the renovation hasn’t really changed, so before we dive into demo and all the lunacy that’s come with it, let’s all get an understanding of the basic layout and stuff…

 

olivebridgebefore1olivebridgeproposal1

Is it even worth apologizing for my Sketch-Up renderings at this point? Probably not. I really don’t enjoy doing them (to say the least…I might be the least tech-inclined blogger ever) but it’s helpful when clients and/or contractors are involved so everyone can be more or less on the same page with stuff.

Anyway, here’s a side-by-side of the overall layout. Before is above, proposed after is below. It’s oriented this way because the top is the side that faces the street, but the right side is where the entryway is. So you walk into this little vestibule space, and turning left brings you into the 2nd bedroom (which is an old enclosed porch) and turning right brings you into the living room space. The plan for the vestibule and second bedroom has always primarily just been some paint and a few other cosmetic upgrades, but there’s since been talk of bringing the new flooring into those two spaces as well. It’s a small house, so cutting down on the number of different materials all over the place would probably be a very nice thing. It’s mostly a question of budget at this point.

The living room is sort of an odd space because of the dimensions of the room and the location of the wood stove and size of the hearth. It’s all a bit wonky. At only about 12 feet wide (and having to function as a pass-through to the dining/kitchen area, the entryway, and the bedroom/bathroom area), it’s a REALLY difficult space to lay out with regular furniture in any kind of conventional set-up. Then off the living room is this sunken area, which is also an enclosed porch and sits about 6″ lower than the living room. It’s about 6 feet wide and is supported by a beam and four posts, so even though the area is wide open to the living room, it feels kind of closed off.

The proposed plan didn’t call for altering anything really with the wood stove, but that’s probably changing due to safety issues and code compliance and all that fun stuff that includes the house not burning to the ground. The proposed plan also called for at least putting a structural support beam between the living room and the sunken section so that we could lose the vertical supports, and there was a lot of talk of just leveling out the floor (which, yes, would leave sort of an odd ceiling height when you got way up to the front of the house, but would have still been OK…just kind of quirky?). If the living room were even a foot or two wider, I think leaving the sunken section as-is would have been the obvious answer (and building some kind of great bench or shelving or something below the windows), but the narrowness of the room more or less precludes the placement of even a normal-size sofa. So that was the thinking.

Spoiler: none of that stuff is happening because now very different things are probably happening.

olivebridgebefore2olivebridge2

ANYWAY. Up a couple of stairs, you’re in the dining room/half bath/utilities/kitchen area. You can really see here how enormous that half-bath is, especially relative to the size of this house, so I’m glad it’s going away! That funny-shaped wall inside the half-bath shows more or less where the hot water tank was and the guts of the big propane-powered heater.

In the proposed plan (which was actually the second proposed kitchen concept—the first didn’t have the breakfast bar part), the half-bath goes away and the kitchen gets a lot more space and a lot more storage. It’s still not a huge space but there’s enough for a couple of people to comfortably maneuver in the center of it, and opening up the kitchen/dining space is going to make the whole house feel much roomier and brighter and all those nice things.

That thing next to the refrigerator represents some kind of utility closet that we thought might be necessary, but luckily it’s been nixed because the plumber confirmed that we could put the new tankless hot water heater (which will be more efficient and much, much smaller!) in the closet across from the bathroom (where the washer/dryer will also live), and we’re doing away with the propane-powered heating tower thing altogether in favor of a new ventless mini-split system that will ALSO have A/C. Color me jealous! I’m not a fan of the way those things look in old houses, but it’ll be just fine in an all-new and modern space.

Spoiler: we’re now on to kitchen design #23478904587 so the kitchen probably won’t actually look much like this, at least layout-wise. So feel free to tear it apart or whatever because it’s not getting built anyway.

moodboard1kitchen

After we’d figured out the overall layout and more major decisions about the renovation plan, I sent Adriana and Barry this “mood board” do-dad to help sort of visualize the overall aesthetic direction and a few specific products I had rolling around in my head! If you’ll recall, the goal of this renovation is for everything to be very inexpensive without looking cheap, so I tried to keep things as budget-friendly as possible. The overall concept this is trying to communicate is that Scandi-mod vibe with lots of blacks and whites, but also throwing in some nice natural textures and some bright colors so it never feels to sterile or boring. Ya dig?

1. We weren’t really sure what was going to be lurking behind the bumped-out wall in the kitchen and the soffit above the bumped-out wall, so in case we needed to maintain a soffit of some kind, I thought a few fun-colored lights like the Alabax fixture (medium size) from Schoolhouse Electric would be so cute! I love the Marigold color. Adriana nixed this particular fixture because she doesn’t like exposed bulbs (I tend to agree, honestly, since I’ve been trying to transition as much as I can to LED and those bulbs aren’t all that cute to look at), but they both liked the idea of adding that element of color.

2. Range hood, sink, faucet, and cabinets are all IKEA. We’re keeping the existing stainless steel stove and refrigerator, so the plan is to use the LUFTIG exhaust hood and the DOMSJO double-bowl sink, which will be set in the new line of SEKTION cabinets! As I am a huge IKEA nerd, I’m excited to try out the new cabinets and see how they compare to the old AKURUM system. I’ve checked them out in the showroom and they seem really great. I pitched the RINGSKAR faucet but that was nixed due to lack of spray function and concerns about quality, so I’m on the hunt for something else. Anyone have a modern faucet they love that didn’t cost a billion dollars? Spill.

3. TILE! I was sure this backsplash tile would get nixed immediately, but Adriana and Barry were on board! I love a tumbling blocks pattern. This tile is made to look like nice cement encaustic tile that would usually cost all the money, but NOPE—this stuff is from Home Depot, of all places! Each tile is 7.75″ square, so at $1.97/tile you can cover a LOT of territory with it without breaking the bank. I ordered this a while ago (it tends to go out of stock every now and then, so I wanted to make sure we’d have it ready to go) and I have to say it’s quite nice in person. The whole line of these vintage-repro Merola Tiles is pretty great. A lot of it is made to mix and match and it’s a great alternative if you can’t spend the money on the real deal.

4. Since budget is so slim, we need the countertops to be super cheap. Adriana very specifically did not want butcherblock, which is my first instinct for inexpensive countertops, and we all agreed that the laminate options I found were kind of blah. As I am a blogger, it looks like I will be joining the ranks of many bloggers who have come before me in trying out Ardex Feather Finish for cheap, DIY-friendly, faux concrete countertops! Just google it and you’ll find lots of blog posts about people using this stuff right over their old laminate counters or even just over plywood if they’re starting from scratch. It can look pretty great! For this house, though, I really like what Jenny over at Little Green Notebook did by adding black concrete tint to the mix—I think it just takes it up a few notches and makes the whole application look really luxe. I’m psyched to try it! It seems kind of hard to screw up and I’m relatively good at stuff, so it should be OK. Right?

5. The two globe pendant lights are from Cedar & Moss. We’re still sort of playing around with lighting—kind of a challenge since things are so open, so the kitchen lighting has to play well with whatever’s going on above the dining room table and the living room, too. The thinking behind the globes was that we might have more of a “statement piece” above the dining room table so we’d just want something simple above the peninsula. I’m not sure if these or anything even like them are going to happen, but holy guacamole…Cedar & Moss makes some good looking lights.

6. I’m into these Roadhouse Leather Counter Stools from CB2, especially as a way to introduce some warmth into this business and balance out the colder, harder materials and textures. Like a lot of things, not sure if they’re going to happen, but I’d like to use them and they’re a good chair to know about regardless as they’re nice looking and fairly budget-friendly. They come in chair height, counter height, and bar height. I wish I could…refine the bases a little bit? But overall that’s a good-lookin’ chair.

OK, now that we’re finished with this whole thing, we can finally really get into renovating this sucker! Much like Bluestone Cottage (I’ll get back to you soon, I promise…), I’ve been keeping a daily diary of the insanity and have lots and lots of pictures of the progress/disaster unfolding before my eyes and taking over my life, so I hope you’re into all that. This one’s a doozy!

New Season, New Project!

It’s SPRINGGGGGGGGG! This might be old news to some of you but it just happened in the past couple of weeks up in the Hudson Valley. I’ve been blissfully popping Claritin-D and huffing prescription nasal spray and I don’t even care about these sinus headaches because it’s finally warm and sunny and not horrible outside.

You might be thinking to yourself: “since it’s finally warm, isn’t it high time Daniel got back to the cottage renovation?”.

You’d be correct.

Except it’s a different cottage. Not mine. I need another house like I need hole in my head. Bluestone Cottage is on hold for a minute while I attend to some more pressing matters that pay better than working for myself. Matters that look like this:

exterior1

Here we have a whacky little 1,100 square foot cottage out in Olivebridge, which is a whacky little town near the Ashokan Reservoir, about 30 minutes from Kingston. We’ll call it Olivebridge Cottage, as it’s a cottage in Olivebridge. I know. You probably can’t even handle my creativity.

This is a client gig and I am stoked. This house is one crazy mo’fo’ and I can’t wait to get my grubby little paws on it.

The clients are actually a couple of friends who I’ve known for a few years now, Adriana and Barry. Adriana and I met when I went to Sweden a few years ago (Max and she were in the same program at Parson’s), and my love for her was intense and immediate. She’s a lunatic ex-attorney Texan-Brazilian-Jew-Unicorn hybrid with possibly the most energy of any person I’ve ever known. I met Barry sometime after that and he’s equally lovely, though slightly less frenetic, which is such a groovy balance. They live in Manhattan but got the upstate itch a while back and closed on this lil’ fixer baby a few months ago. It’ll be a place for them to escape to on the weekends and a vacation rental for visitors (yeah, you can stay here when it’s all done!), so pressure’s on to make it amazing.

The budget on this project is small and the timeline is short and the expectations are high and the challenges are numerous, so what could go wrong, right? Let’s take a little trip inside…

entryway2

This is a funny house. Looks are deceiving here…it’s actually a pretty old house (maybe 1920s?) that’s been added onto at least 5 times, so there’s a lot going on and some weird spaces to contend with. The previous owner was a contractor of some sort who did some pretty heavy renovations in the 80s/90s—some of them good, some of them not so good. My job is basically to go in and fix what’s broken, do a big ole kitchen renovation, and refine all the small little details that just weren’t done so well the first time around. They’re not living there while this is going on, so I basically have the freedom to tear it all apart and put it back together again. Let me at it!

ANYWAY, above is the little entryway/vestibule thingy. It’s cute, but definitely needs some TLC in the form of paint, some better hooks, and maybe a lighting upgrade. I actually happen to kind of like that light but maybe not for this house. We’ll see how far the budget takes us…

guestbedroom

To the left of the entryway is this little enclosed porch, which can technically be called a second bedroom. It’s small but full of windows, which makes it feel super bright and pretty. The plan in here is to remove the closet (it just takes up too much space, isn’t necessary for this house, and doesn’t need to be there for this to qualify as a bedroom—I checked). Then it’ll mostly be a lot of paint, probably replacing that fan, and decking it out all cute-like with a little daybed and a rug and all that fun stuff. I have a feeling I’m going to want to crash here by the end…

entryway3

To the right of the entryway is the rest of the house! I’ll post a floor plan next time so you can get a better sense of how these spaces connect—it’s definitely a little unorthodox and bizarre, but totally workable.

entryway1

Inside the living room, there’s a wood stove on a big bluestone pad and lots and lots of beadboard panelling. The beadboard is the nice tongue-in-groove solid pine variety, but we all agree that painting it out is going to be the best plan here. The previous owners did a sort of white-washed finish on it, but pine tends to go kind of pink unless you compensate with some yellow/brown tint, which is what’s gone down here. The pink tone combined with the major wood bleed on all the knots is just not a good look, although admittedly these pictures are pretty flattering despite what it looks like in real life. It’s not cute. The subtle texture of the beadboard painted white will be nice, though.

LivingRoom1

Here’s that area from another angle, so you can get a better sense of the space! It’s so good, right? Or, like, it will be. The vaulted ceilings are great, and all the windows give the whole house such beautiful light and views. Not every window has a great view, but most of them are all forest and lichen-covered boulders and upstate NY magic. It’s already such a nice place to spend my days working!

My immediate reaction to this house is that it really wants to have a fun, bright, casual, minimal Scandinavian cottage kind of vibe, which is almost too appropriate considering a big basis of my friendship with Adriana is our time in Sweden and Finland. She and Barry are totally on board with this, which is so exciting for me. I’ve kind of been lost in old-house-restoration-mode for the past couple of years, so I’m excited to flex some modernist/minimalist muscle in here and whip it into the kind of house it’s aspiring to be.

sunkenlivingroom

One side of the living room houses this really odd sunken space, which I’m sure used to be a porch and was also enclosed at some point. The ribbon windows along the long wall and side let in a great amount of light, but the vintage corbels in the corners and that weird trim piece in the middle between the posts are just all wrong for this place. This area is part of the fun and part of the challenge of this house. I have a plan and I think it’s gonna be great.

TVcabetc

On the other side of the living room is this funny/terrible TV cabinet set-up, which is going to get demo’d and replaced with something much cleaner and better looking that’s flush with the wall. I’m assuming this was constructed in the olden days of the 90s when tube TVs were still a thing, but it doesn’t need to be this deep anymore.

Hallway1

Up those couple of stairs is this little hallway, with a closet on the left and a full bathroom on the right. The flooring in this hallway is kind of a mess and will probably get replaced. A big challenge of this house is using the budget to not only fully renovate the space, but also unify all of these additions that hail from different eras and make use of all these different materials—right now there are six different types of flooring in the house, which just makes it feel choppy and disconnected.

MasterBedroom1

The main bedroom is sweet but needs some work. The maple flooring runs into this room, too, and should look great with refinishing. The room is a nice size for a queen bed, a couple little side tables, and a dresser, but is going to take a deceptive amount of work to bring up to speed. The walls are in bad shape, the electrical is weirdly placed, that fan is driving me bonkers, and we have got to refine the moldings throughout the house. The 1×4 is just way too chunky for this modernist minimalist escape. That’s a lot of the work here…it’s like everything was done decently well until the last 10-20% of the last remodel and then things kind of fell apart. Nothing that can’t be fixed, though.

livingdining

Back in the living room space, we have a few steps leading up into the dining room and kitchen area. The folding table and chairs are not permanent.

To the right of the stairs is this big propane-powered heater, which functions as the main heat source for the living/dining/kitchen space when the wood stove isn’t burning and keeps the pipes from freezing when nobody’s home. It’s kind of a beast and pretty unattractive, so we’re looking into possible replacements or at the very least relocating it. One of the goals here is to extend the stairs and open up that wall where the propane heater is sitting as much as we can, so I’m meeting with my HVAC dude today to brainstorm what we can do about it.

dining3

The dining room is nice, though! We’ll need to sort out the moldings, electrical, a new light fixture, flooring, paint, and obviously furniture! Can’t you just see a nice round dining table with some great chairs and an amazing pendant light? OK, well, you don’t have to. That’s my job.

halfbath

On the other side of the dining room is the biggest issue with the whole house…this wall! Behind that door is a half-bathroom, which also houses a small utility closet for the hot water tank. We’re trying to figure out the best option for replacing it with an on-demand tankless hot water heater, which can hopefully move much more out of the way than where it is now—maybe even into the crawlspace below. And the half bath? It’s gotta go.

I KNOW. I know the classic wisdom is that more bathrooms add value to houses, but in this case, it’s just stupid. It takes up an ENORMOUS amount of space, and let’s just remember that this house is 1,100 square feet and really a one-bedroom but technically a two-bedroom. It does not need a half-bathroom like ten steps away from the full bath, and it certainly doesn’t need one practically in the dining room. I mean, excuse my french, but who wants to be eating dinner while someone is taking a shit right there? Nobody.

kitchen4

All that space could be put to much better use by giving it over to the kitchen, though! So that’s the plan. The existing galley kitchen is just small and cramped and worse for wear, so the bulk of this renovation is blowing out that half-bath, gutting the existing kitchen, and putting in a new fancy kitchen that’s open to the dining space and much better suited to entertaining and socializing and not having a poop-center right in the middle of it all.

kitchen3

The existing kitchen looks to be from about the 1950s and updated with a little paint and new countertops whenever the house was renovated last. Unfortunately the cabinets are mostly built in place and pretty much shot, so everything except the fridge and stove are getting replaced. The floor has a pretty significant slant going on, too, so we’ll probably have to take everything down to the studs and joists to get it all level and ready for new flooring and cabinets and everything else. Hopefully the structural issues aren’t too big of a deal, but unfortunately it’s one of those things that’s hard to figure out how extensive the problems are until things are opened up a bit.

kitchen1

Currently the kitchen also houses a washer/dryer unit, which we’re planning to relocate to the hall closet with new stacked units. It’s not super ideal to lose that much closet space to a washer and dryer, but it’ll free up the kitchen and because this is primarily a vacation house, it really doesn’t need a lot of closet space. We’ll need to add a little storage to compensate but that shouldn’t be a problem considering all the space we’re gaining back from losing the half-bath.

kitchen2

Anyway, tearing into this space is going to be fun fun fun. There are some things we don’t really know, like why the window sill is so deep or what’s contained in the soffit above the upper cabinets or why the sink isn’t centered under the window or how they got the checkerboard patterned curtains to match the backsplash tile so exactly, but I guess we’ll find out! Curtains might remain a mystery, though.

I can’t wait to get this project going! We’ve been talking and planning for a couple of months now and while the budget and timeline make me a little nervous, it’s all going to be great and so worth it. Adriana and Barry have been amazing to work with and I think we’re all totally on the same page with this place, which is just so much fun. Next time we’ll dig into the plans!

Yay for Olivebridge Cottage! This is going to be a fun one.

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