Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Cottage

A realtor was the first to refer to this little house as The Cottage and this tag appealed to me immediately. 

The Cottage - Before
The Cottage - After

This run-down home had been abandoned by the family that owned it and although it had great potential, many had opted not to buy it.  Because no one else wanted it, The Cottage was the perfect project for me.  After I bought it, I got right to work; I moved every interior door, every window, relocated and rebuilt the stairs, demoed the old front porch and built new ones (at relocated front and back doors), expanded the second floor, added a half bathroom, moved the kitchen, moved all the interior walls (except one that was critical structurally), and lowered the floor downstairs to establish 8’ high ceilings (in lieu of the 6’ 4” headroom I’d inherited). 

I moved into the The Cottage after I sold and moved out of The Fire House.  I finished it while I lived there and then designed and built a new home on a vacant, adjoining lot that had been part of the original deal to buy The Cottage. After I sold it, I moved into the new house before I took on the next project; a home torn up by Hurricane Hugo that we call The Hurricane House.             

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Picture Window at The Bungalow

It will come as no surprise that I am a big fan of This Old House; the television show, the magazine, and the web site.  The current issue (Jan./Feb. 2012) of my magazine subscription put forth a question:  How have YOU used salvaged architectural details in your home?

In 2008, I bought a Pig’s Ear to renovate in Charleston, SC that we call The Bungalow. Although this 50 year old house had not been condemned, it should have been.  The roof leaked, the heated and cooling system had been abandoned, there were plumbing leaks, the electrical system was a mess, floors were caving in, there were serious structural issues, and without question it was the ugliest and worst home on the street.

The Bungalow - Before
The Bungalow - After

After I addressed all the major issues, I had one minor matter that was solved with a salvaged architectural item.  My task: a space within the heart of the home needed some natural light.  The solution:  replace window panes in the home’s original picture window with equivalently sized mirrors and mount it on an interior wall to create the illusion and feel of a window.  I understand that this is not an overly original idea.  However, I will take credit for carefully removing the window during demolition and then storing (and moving) it safely throughout the two year renovation until I needed it. 

This mirrored pictured window not only added natural light into this part of the house, but it brought charm and an element of craftsmanship that was not costly or time consuming.  Since I salvaged the home’s original picture window my cost for the frame was $0.  It took a couple hours to safely remove the glass panes, a little time for two coats of paint on the frame, and two or three more hours to buy and install the twenty 11” x 14” mirrors which I bought from a glass shop for $3.50 apiece (although I had quotes for twice that).

Eating Area - Before/During Renov.

Eating Area - After  (Same view)
When renovating a house, I always make an effort to redesign it to feel bigger than its actual square footage.  The Bungalow was one of these homes and the mirrored pictured window helped to make this feeling come about.  The wooden frame made it look like an authentic window and the mirrors created an effect of openness and light that felt real as well.  Most people (but not all) weren’t fooled and knew what the mirrored frame detail actually was, but what made it so gratifying for me was that it created something necessary and at the same time special because I was able to repurpose part of the original house and incorporate it within the interior that was all (except for the wood floors) new.   

Picture Window with Mirrors Installed

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Blood and Sweat?

I don’t have tattoos.  I have scars.  An injury that caused one of these marks came during the Blizzard of 1978 when one of my brothers accidentally hit me in the head with his shovel while we were trying to dig out the drive of our rural Midwestern home.  He stopped working for a minute to give my bloody head a quick review and then said, “You’ll be alright, but don’t stand so close to me.”  Since we were snowed in, medical attention was not an option.  I pulled the stocking cap back down on my head to soak up the blood and kept shoveling.  That would have been the end of it except for the scar that gets more prominent with age and hair loss.  A decade and a half after the blizzard I found myself working in the Appalachian Mountains on a large construction project.  A piece of rebar sliced my hand as efficiently as a razor blade, but for multiple reasons, a trip to the emergency room was once again not an option.  So, on that hot summer day, I covered the bloody gash with leftover fast food napkins, wrapped it with duct tape, and got back to my job of tying steel.    

I’ve consistently taken a hands-on approach to my renovation projects because I totally enjoy every phase of fixing up a run-down home.  I can and will hire subcontractors for scopes too great or technical for me to tackle alone, but if I’m capable of knocking out an activity working solo, I will.  When it’s been suggested that I pay others to complete various tasks I’ve often explained that I wouldn’t hire someone to watch a football game or play golf on my behalf so I’m not going to pay someone to complete work that I enjoy doing myself either.  It’s simply too much fun to pay people to do it for me.  Scrapes, cuts, work related wounds with the resulting blood are routine.  It’s not uncommon to see red drops suddenly start appearing on my work that serve as evidence that I’m bleeding.  This is not all about how I was raised, I really become so immersed in what I doing that I’m oftentimes oblivious to whatever caused me to accidentally injure myself. 

Sweat is part of the process too.  During the summer months I’ve gotten into the habit of rotating shirts to deal with the issue of excessive perspiration that often starts in the first sixty minutes on site and continues until sundown.  I’ll hang a wet shirt on a section of handrail or fence, grab a dry one from the stack, and keep swapping shirts in and out until the first shirt is dry.  Then I slip back into shirt number one as I start the rotation cycle from the beginning.  It makes me more comfortable so I can focus and I need a dry shirt for the seemingly endless need to wipe the sweat off my face. 

In addition, I make a point to fill an empty milk jug with water and place it in the freezer overnight.  In the morning I’ll throw the block of ice encased in plastic into my truck and I’ll suck it down all day as it thaws out in the sun.  I regularly finish off this gallon of water myself during an average work day in June, July, August, and September. 

Blood, Sweat, and Pig’s Ears, they all go together for me in a way that makes me truly feel right at home in a run-down house.