Category Archives: Renovations

Flaimview, today.

Well, hello! I won’t even apologize for the five month lapse in posts–what else could you possibly expect from me at this point? Still, I feel the need to check in here, if only because yesterday marked one year since Ben and I first visited the house, and we’ve been using it heavily since mid-August, so post-demo pictures don’t really do it justice at the moment!

September 21 of last year, we went to see the house and I’m pretty sure I was sunk when I first saw the basement door. Yesterday I posted this to Instagram:

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In many ways, that sums up where we stand. The house is painted; the doors are crazy (and there was something wrong with the paint and it never set completely–we have to repaint them, so I need to decide if I want to change the color a bit); there’s still trim to be touched up; the roofer forgot to fix that little piece so he has to come back; the landscaping is nonexistent. But still: Progress.

I wish I’d had the wherewithal to blog throughout this process. I have learned so much, and now I’m aching to get to work on another project (preferably with someone else’s money, ha!). About seven months ago, a contractor looked at me and said, “you know, most people start with a 1200 square foot ranch or something.” Forget the deep end; we jumped straight into the middle of the ocean. My only previous experience with home improvement was getting Lee St. painted before we moved in, and replacing the kitchen there with the world’s simplest Ikea layout. There was no demo, nothing moved; it took us one week, with Tom’s help.

Here we went straight to a giant 100-year-old house in need of basically every kind of repair. We had to get a new assessment last week, and I spoke with the assessor on the phone before he arrived. He asked what kind of work we had done since buying it and I started listing it:
-Gutted the kitchen, including removing a load-bearing wall (in a balloon-framed house, yikes)
-Gutted 2 bathrooms and did a cosmetic upgrade of a third, plus a powder room
-Installed insulation
-Got a new roof (before closing, actually)
-Replaced and upgraded the entire electrical system, including upgrade to 200amp service and installation of a generator
-Took the heating system from one to three zones and replaced all the exposed heat lines; changed out three radiators
-Replaced water lines in basement
-Upgraded hot water heater
-Installed propane lines for stove and generator
-Restored/reglazed all 52 windows
-Painted (deleaded) entire house, inside and outside
-Replaced roof on porch
-Rewired or replaced all light fixtures
-Refinished floors
-Repaired plaster/rehung ceilings where necessary
-Started work on eradicating several acres of poison ivy
I just kept going and going and when I stopped he just paused and said, “You’ve been busy.” Indeed. It’s been almost exactly nine months since we closed, and aside from the (miserable) electrical work, most projects didn’t get rolling until late April or May. Not bad, now that I look at it all listed out. And of course, now I know the good contractors, so I could jump right in to another project without all the mistakes of bad hires and aggravation of finding the right person. In fact, I have My Guy now, who can do anything and would be the ultimate collaborator on house flips or renovation management–we’ve been half-jokingly discussing how it would work to have me be the homeowner liaison/designer and let him just handle the construction end. Who wants to give us a try?

The kids love going out to the house. Tuck, especially, is in heaven. Tom made him a little wooden ax, and he spends hours in the yard working on trees, playing with sticks, and generally getting grubby. He’s exhausted and so happy at the end of every day, it makes it feel like the whole stressful, costly project was worth it.

Anyway, enough chat from me for now. I know pictures are far more interesting!

A wider view of the outside:

And a reminder of what it looked like a year ago:

House from driveway

And back in the 1970s, with the shutters on (those are coming soon!) via the seller:

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Now inside. I don’t have “official” after pictures yet–our carpenters who have done the kitchen are STILL finishing up, three months late. But here are some shots from the last couple weekends:

Kitchen:

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There will be shelves on the top here, making a kind of built-in hutch in the dining area of the kitchen (this used to be the mudroom):

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Way before, looking towards that mudroom from the entrance to the kitchen (I can’t for the life of me find my photos from the right angle!):
Kitchen before

Powder room Before and Sort-Of-After:

Half bath off mudroom

Foyer:

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Dining room:

Living room (check out those original cushions on the window seats–those things are petrified!):

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I found this packing case–sent to the wife of the original owner–down in the basement!

The next phase is outside. My Guy is bringing in his brush hog (!!!) to mow all the non-wooded spaces around the house and clear the three or four acres of vines, poison ivy, sumac, blackberries, etc. that currently choke access to the woods and are keeping us from getting a sense of what we’ve got. Next year we will need to repair the driveway for drainage and non-mud-pit purposes. We also want to remove six or so gigantic white pines that block light and views, could endanger the house, and are generally just kind of ugly.

After all that, we will start thinking about an actual plan for the “yard” portions of the property. There’s a great huge front and side yard, and then there will be meadow space on the other side and down from the house after the brush hog work is done. The remainder of the property (about 22 acres, I’d guess) is heavily wooded, so we will just gradually work on carving trails into it and seeing what we see. There’s a little hidden meadow area that I found this summer, surrounded by overgrown (non-bearing) fruit trees, where I’d like to make a picnic area and so forth. That will be the fun stuff!

More soon. I can’t wait to see what everything looks like after the mowing!

Previously:
We bought a house!
We demoed the kitchen!

April update

When last we spoke, Tom and I had just begun demo on the kitchen at the country house. More than a month later, there’s been a lot more demo but not much else–our contractor got held up on her prior project and started almost a month late, and Tom did yeoman’s work getting things ready for her but eventually had to go back to stripping wallpaper and spending 8 hours at Ikea with me.

A reminder: Here is the kitchen the morning we started demo:
Kitchen before

Here it is 5 weeks later:

Hurray, one layer of subfloor through the two rooms! I had a pretty panicky week or so after initial investigation made it look like removing the layers of old flooring (decrepit linoleum, glue, plywood subfloor, glue, older linoleum, repulsive black mastic/glue, awesome tongue-and-groove old growth fir from Tacoma, Washington (SOB)) would be cost-prohibitive, and that the height achieved by stacking up all those floors would mean laying more wood would make the kitchen a full 2 inches higher than the rest of the house….well. Misery.

I’d initially considered Marmoleum, which would be appropriate to the age of the house (1915, it turns out*), but you need an extremely smooth and costly subfloor under it, and I’d already ordered wood, so between buying the more-expensive flooring and the subfloor and eating the shipping costs on returning the floor I ordered…well. I said to go ahead and plunge forward with demo, and wouldn’t you know? With Tom’s help they knocked it out in three days and the subfloors were at one height after all. Of course I wish we could have saved the fir, but that would have taken many weeks. Tom saved enough to build a chest or something for the house, hopefully.

Now that the Ikea cabinets have been purchased and Tom has sanded all the doors in preparation for a trip through the spray booth, I’m focused on all the other moving pieces. I placed the appliance order (ouch), the floors–which of course I’m now doubting–should be delivered next week, I know which sink I want, and I’m visiting a stone yard to look at soapstone slabs for the perimeter counters on Friday.

I’d planned on Ikea butcher block for the island but they have discontinued the oak and are phasing out all their solid wood options, so then I turned to Lumber Liquidators. Has anyone tried their butcher block? It has mixed reviews (I’m looking at maple to get a light color), and we need an enormous expanse of it, so now I’m considering spending more (but saving on labor costs in the long run) to get edge-grain from Boos block, which I can buy in a sheet that is close to exactly what I need. I was aiming for 87″x48″; they sell a piece that is 84″x48″; I think I can lose the three inches in exchange for better structural integrity and a nice uniform look, right? I am just not quite 100% sure I’ll love the maple. Need to check them out in person next week.

Here’s the thing about doing a massive project like this all at once: The decisions. Everything costs an arm and a leg, there are a million things we stupidly didn’t include in our initial budget forecast (the plaster repair guy! the insulation guy!), and there are 8 million tiny details that need to be settled right. now.

For example! Let’s talk about kitchen hardware! And I don’t mean that rhetorically, I mean let’s actually talk about it, please. Here’s the plan: White/off-white/v. pale greyish blue shaker cabinets on the perimeter of the kitchen. A few high cabinets (holding wall oven, pantry, broom closet, and panels on fridge) but no upper cabinets. 2″x8″ white subway tile to the ceiling with dark grout. Dark soapstone on perimeter cabinets. Island cabinetry potentially painted a darker color (Charcoal? Darker grey-blue? Navy?) with butcher block counter. Awesome retro-ish Aga stove (impossible to find decent photos, for some reason)!

So. Un-lacquered brass hardware, which will either age up and darken on its own, or which I can get going using a bucket of ammonia, supposedly? Or oil rubbed bronze, which is in essence black? My only concern w brass (which is used throughout the house for doorknobs, hinges, etc., as you’d expect from a house of this age) is that I need to get handles for the fridge and dishwasher panels, and I think it’s cheesy to use cabinet hardware, so I want to get much longer obviously-for-appliances handles so it doesn’t seem like I’m hiding the fridge. Easy to do in the black finish, but I haven’t seen much in un-lacquered brass. Plus we all know how ludicrously expensive nice un-lacquered sink faucets are, not that I’ve seen any black ones that I like. There is a good amount of stainless trim/handle action on the stove and the wall oven, as well as the silly microwave, and I don’t want it to feel crazy.

Who wants to poke through my Pinterest boards and give me some thoughts?
Nitty gritty kitchen stuff.
Inspiration shots.

Meanwhile, how ’bout a few more pictures from this week?

Salvageable flooring in the butler’s pantry, hurrah!

Attic bedroom wallpaper removal:

This stuff probably isn’t toxic at all:

Another attic bedroom before:

Third Floor: Bedroom 2

And after (I am so obsessed with this color; we can’t just stay with it because the walls need quite a bit of cleaning up, but I may match it. And the sheen of the old oil (lead**) paint makes me wonder about semi-gloss, is that crazy?):

Why we are spending all the furnishing budget on rewiring:

Tom teaches me to fell a tree:

Tom leaves for 10 days in Estonia this weekend. He’s going to live in a vodka-distillery-turned boutique hotel and built a timber-framed smoke sauna. Obviously. We are already weeping at the loss of our most valuable player. You should follow him on Instagram–he’s doing lots of cool stuff, including build spiffy greenwood furniture using lumber felled on the property.

*I did research on the house and found old local gossip-rag entries about the construction back in 1914-1915–we get to celebrate the house’s 100th birthday next year! It was built for the president of a big manufacturing company in central Mass, and I already bought a copy of his 1923 book on economics. So cool.

**I joke about toxicity and lead paint but don’t worry, we are having it all responsibly dealt with by licensed professionals at a cost of a kidney, a left leg, and Tuck’s indentured servitude from the age of 7.5 until adulthood. OMG.

Oh hi, we bought a house.

Blogging feels like something out of the distant past, doesn’t it? (And yes, this website is still broken and using stock photos, agh.) But there’s something to be said for having a written record, especially of the big life-changers. I treasure my word docs with my old Fit Pregnancy blog posts documenting my pregnancy and Tuck’s first 18 months. Poor Ellie has been relegated to a lengthy note on my phone, but I do update it regularly.

Regardless of audience (I assume there isn’t much left!), I think I should try to keep track a bit of the journey we embarked on last fall. B and I had long discussed staying in Cambridge long-term and investing in a weekend house outside the city instead of trying to buy a single family in town. We planned to start looking next year, but of course whenever we had a conversation about the idea we started looking on Zillow, and somehow in the late summer we got really obsessed and actually went up to NH one day to see a crazy old place, and we were basically spending every evening on the iPad combing through listings in a big semi-circle around Cambridge.

In mid-September (the 14th, actually. I still have the email filed) B forwarded me a Zillow link to a huge house full of ridiculous details. I replied, “Gorgeous and close but $$ and not sure about position…” and he wrote back, “Worth seeing? Only 1 hour away.”

Fairview listing 1

flaimview listing 2

We closed December 16.

Of course it wasn’t simple. It was a messy estate sale; vacant 6 years (though heated throughout that time). Six siblings, including one who did everything in her power to prevent the sale. We agonized, of course. The house and grounds need a lot a lot a LOT of work. (We got a new roof put on before we even closed!) But in the end it came down to a few things:

-The only other bites were from developers, most of whom wanted to knock the house down and put up a bunch of houses on the….
-25 ACRES OF LAND
-1 hour from Cambridge
-Unmuddled, very solidly built house with all the original details (molding, floors, glass knobs, built-ins, back stairs, everything) intact

We couldn’t pass it up.

So here we are, three months after closing, and the house looks worse than it did. My brother Tom is living there on and off and helping with the work–I got to help him demo the kitchen a few weeks ago. The electrician is currently 1/3 of the way done, has been paid 3/4 of his estimate, and is at almost twice the estimated time (oops). The contractor is hopefully starting next week. I’m in a huge panic over all the decisions that need to be made. But in the end I pray it will be worth it. The woods are stunning. Tom found a perfect place, about 10 acres back by the brook, where he plans to build a shelter and maybe a wood-fired sauna. There’s a carriage house full of treasures (including a rowboat) and a collapsed barn and a rocking horse in the basement.

Here, have a few peeks:

Front hall, before and after Tom stripped the wallpaper (the plaster is mostly in amazing shape):

Treasures from the carriage house:

Treasures from #flaimview thus far. (@tombonamici has put the kerosene lamps from the basement into regular use.)

The woods in the fall:

Lunenburg House: Woods

And winter:

@archivalclothing in the woods! By the brook!! #flaimview #whosewoodstheseare

The kitchen right before Tom and I started demo (one of the only areas that had been touched, as far as we can tell, since the house was built. This 1969 special was a real treat):

Kitchen before

The kitchen yesterday:

Kitchen sort of after

The house yesterday, getting ready for the first day of spring (note green astrovan, Tom’s sweet ride during this project, and total muddy swamp in driveway):

Flaimview: Last day of winter

I have trillions of photos, most of which I need to get off my phone. If you want to see more, feel free to poke through the ones I did organize into a set on Flickr right after we bought it. (Complete with wonky video tours!)

And if you’re curious about what I’m thinking, I have many Pinterest boards labeled “Country House.”

Thank you, by the way, to Daniel Kanter of Manhattan Nest for his many kind words of wisdom and encouragement as we started down this road. Daniel and Max, as well as Anna Dorfman from Door Sixteen, were hugely inspiring to me when it came time to commit to a big renovation on a weekend place!