Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Little about Lighting

I wish I had some great ground breaking photos to share, but we're not there yet. We're currently in the painful process of sharing every minute detail of our financial history with the bank. We hope to break ground by the end of March, but that is still just a hope.

In the meantime, we have plenty of time to stew over our plans, and work on the one hundred zillion decisions to be made. If you think about all the decisions at once it is overwhelming, the stuff of 3 am anxiety. So we are taking all this time to make decisions at our own pace. This week its lighting and kitchen layout.

You cannot underestimate the importance of good lighting. Once you start paying attention, you'll notice three types of lighting in a warm, well-lit home:

Ambient lighting: provides the overall glow that lets you get from point A to point B without stubbing your toe; but if you have a wardrobe of black like I do, it is useless to help you make heads or tails of the sea of black within a dresser drawer.
Typically recessed lights in modern homes, or the single overhead light in older homes.

Task lighting: designed to help with a specific task like cooking or reading. Usually a recessed light or under cabinet light in the kitchen. Our current kitchen is quite dark, with most task lighting frustratingly placed behind our heads, casting a shadow right where we work.

Accent lighting: lighting used to illuminate art or a plant or some other focal point. Since we have no major artwork, we're leaving any accent lighting for a future project.

When these three types of lighting are layered well, it can make an empty box look warm and inviting.

For ambient light we know we'll need some hanging lights over the kitchen island. We like the look of the one shown here - somewhat period appropriate, simple.

There's really only four other places that require special light fixtures: stairway wall sconces, bathroom wall mounts, and the family room overhead light. Lots of decisions...but we're chipping away.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Location Location Location

As I mentioned in the last post, when we first purchased the home we thought it needed major work. The basement had such a mold issue you could smell it immediately upon entering the house. We imagined massive renovations would have to happen even before we moved in. Replacing windows, sandblasting doors...

Luckily after some research we realized that we really didn't want to replace the windows, we wanted to restore them. But the guy we wanted to use had about a 6 month backlog.
So we opted to just seal the entire house in a coat of fresh paint, and hope for the best until we could get around to the restoration. Here are some before and after shots from that initial paint job, completed before we ever moved in. Efficiency and cost dictated that we actually paint over the wallpaper! Actually a builder told us the plaster might not survive removal of the wallpaper, so until we were ready for a major renovation he advised we just paint over the flowers. And that is what we did. Its amazing what a coat of paint in the right color can do for a home. As you can see the windows are amazing. Two thirds of the home gets southern sun exposure. Like I said the house also has pretty much every original detail intact. Some stained glass in the foyer, an interesting double staircase. Here is an interesting set of windows in a gable on the third floor.

After our initial paint job and drying out the basement, we moved in and immediately started work with the architects.
Since moving in we've grown to love the house, and the neighborhood. It is one of the oldest neighborhoods in town, with smaller plot sizes. Our plot is about a half acre, which is larger than most nearby.

We can see about ten different neighbors' homes from our house, and we like it this way. There is a sense of community that is hard to come by.

As I mentioned, we've agonized over the scale of our project. We've wondered if we wouldn't rather just put our money into a home that already meets our needs. We even went so far as to visit another home -
just for a sanity check. Turns out even if it saved us some money and the hassle of construction, we would rather be here. Hopefully we still feel this way in 5 or 10 years.

We're close to town and less than a mile from Fort Williams
. Down the street is a quiet beach. There's even a sliver of a view of the channel from our yard and from the front rooms of the house.

So that's why we're doing this. Why we're willing to go through eight to ten months of construction. We like this spot and we're going to make the most of it.

Friday, February 12, 2010


Here is our beloved home as it stands today. It is a five bedroom, 1.5 bath home. It's actually quite comfortable for the way we live today, given that it was built 100 years ago.

When we toured the house as potential buyers, however, we had a list of "cons" including:

1. Detached garage - difficult to get to in the snow or while lugging car seats/sleeping toddlers.

2. Zero closet space. This is not an exaggeration. I guess closets were an afterthought in 1901. Maybe they had less clothes, or people were just smaller?

3. One full bath. Not a big problem now, but with two daughters, this would not work long term.

4. Small kitchen.

5. No "great room."

As potential buyers we wondered how much work was required before we could even move in. We painted the interior top to bottom, gutted a moldy basement, and immediately contacted an architect.

But now, after living in the home for over a year, we've grown used to its quirks. Only one outlet in many rooms. A single wall sconce for light in our bedroom. These used to be deal breakers for us, and now we barely notice them.

Perhaps this is why, during the planning phase we've agonized over this burning question: how much space do we really need?

We've gone back and forth and ultimately we decided that yes, we will want that larger family room eventually. Having a third child, and hosting a couple 15+ holiday dinners during the planning stage also solidified this opinion. When the kids get bigger, we will need more space.

After a few meetings with the architects to discuss our needs, they came back with the initial drawing.

Either we picked the right architects or we are incredibly easy to please, but we went with the first thing they came up with. Or the plan is just that obvious. In fact it was our idea to pop out the back and connect to the garage. They just drew a very life like picture of it.

This is not a new idea, people have built connectors for ages. You can see these rambling ells and old barns-connected-to-home structures all over New England.

So that is the plan, to connect the home to the garage. This gets us our attached garage, a family room, a mud room up front, a master bath and closet on the second story.... and also some extra living space above the garage.

When this project is complete, we will have a home that can serve us for the next 50 years if we want.

While the size of the project gives us heartburn, there are other factors that make us confident this is the right thing to do. Three words: Location, location, location.

Before Before

This story begins in July of 2008 when my husband and I decided to buy a 100 year old home near the Maine coast. We knew the house would need some major work, but we thought the plot size and location were perfect; we saw major potential.

But really, the story begins back around 1901 when our home was first built.

According to our local historical society, our home was built as the home of a resort owner here on the Maine coast. Or perhaps it was the home of the caretaker. We have not verified which, but either way our home was built in the middle of a subdivision called "Mountain View Park" even though there were few mountains to be seen and it was only steps to the ocean.

Above is the earliest photo we have of our home. Our house is the one in the center; the natural shingle color appears whitish in this photo, and the roof black. This was taken around 1902-4. It appears as if our home is not fully attached to the foundation in this photo, and it is also not at the same angle to the water as it is today.

We found this later photo, actually a post card, which shows our home in its current location and appearing fully installed on its foundation. (our home is the one on the far right of this photo, white-ish with black roof)

We believe that in that time period, homes were sometimes moved from one location to another. The two homes in the foreground are also still standing today.

We discovered some of the history of the home shortly after moving in. This may have something to do with our slowly growing appreciation of the home and all its original elements: almost every door, window and wall is original.

One of our first instincts on moving in with two small children was to rip out any potential lead hazards. We did some research and realized the windows were best dealt with by sealing them in paint so as not to disrupt lead dust with the friction of opening and closing them. Same with the doors.

We're so thankful now that we didn't tear anything out - after a year in the house, it is precisely those old doors, hinges, windows and doorknobs that make this house so incredible.

I also hated, HATED, the roofline originally. It has what is called "kicked eaves" which I considered flimsy and cheap at first. I'm embarrassed to say I even asked the architects if they could do something about it.

Fortunately the architects educated us a bit in a kind way and we have grown to appreciate the unique nature of the roof - and in fact we want to mirror this element in other areas in our renovation.

Which brings us to today. February 2010. We now have completed mechanical drawings, have chosen a builder and after some soul searching and even a tour of another potential home -- we are moving forward with a large scale renovation and addition project.

We hope to break ground by the end of March. The project is estimated to take eight to ten months. Please join us on our adventure!