In late 2011 I leased a small beach cottage with an option to buy. Every once in a while you can still negotiate such a deal, but it’s rare.
In the spring of 2013 I exercised my option and became the owner of Chez Soleil, a charming getaway and secondary office where I would conduct business, host retreats, entertain clients and write the great American novel while basking in the sun on the deck overlooking the Chesapeake Bay.
Since then, I have been remodeling. Seriously remodeling.
After a year and a half of renting the 1948 cottage, I had the place redesigned in my head at least a dozen different ways, with details down to the color and shape of the knobs on the kitchen cabinets decided. I was just waiting for settlement so I could begin and the wait was killing me.
Have I mentioned that I was planning my remodel on the “pay-as-you-go” plan? Yep, I told my contractor, “When I can pay, you can go.” Consequently, I am still remodeling.
Now, this is not my first time at the rodeo. I have renovated a ton of homes and have seen a lot of, shall we say, unusual construction techniques used in older homes. My favorite was finding empty potato chip bags stuffed between floorboards as insulation in my Capitol Hill remodel of the late ’90s.
This new project, scheduled for completion in the spring of 2014 with a massive housewarming party for clients, colleagues and friends to follow, is now in its second year. I know there’s an end in sight somewhere, but I’m not putting any bets down on a date.
It’s usually best to begin reconstruction with a house that’s in original condition rather than having to undo someone else’s renovations before beginning your own. With only one previous remodel, I still managed to discover the good, the bad and the really, really ugly workmanship that I inherited.
The Good: The property began its life as a two-bedroom structure with a living room, kitchen, bathroom, summer porch and a view to die for. Somewhere along the way, a new rear addition became the laundry, storage and utility room.
The previous owner enclosed and reconfigured the porch into a climate-controlled sunroom with a more conventional entrance. She also replaced all the windows, added the deck and enlarged and repositioned the bathroom by sacrificing one of the tiny bedrooms.
The Bad: Demolition begins in June by taking up the carpet, tile and subfloor. Salty words are spoken aloud when I find that the original foundation has cracked across the entire width of the living room. (Rent jackhammer, remove concrete boulders, pour new slab and blame earthquake of 2011.)
With the bathroom repositioned, the remaining bedroom is too narrow for a bed to be placed anywhere but lengthwise in front of a closet that is too shallow to hang clothes. (Remove offending closet and discover the original one inside it, widening the room.)
Hooray! The kitchen cabinets have arrived! Sadly, the truck cannot get up the street. (Cry girly tears and bribe driver $20 and a six-pack of Heineken. Driver then backs truck up to driveway and leaves pallet of heavy, flat-pack cabinets jutting out into the street.)
The new, custom shower pan is ready to be picked up at Home Depot and the contactor ties it down on the flatbed of his truck for delivery. Somewhere along Route 4 it flies off the truck. (Reorder and be thankful nobody was hurt.)
The Ugly: Memorial Day 2013 shall always be remembered as the day the toilet clogged up, the plunger disintegrated, the septic tank backed up and the plumber was unavailable. (Introduce myself to neighbors with bathrooms.)
While adding a few electrical circuits to a relatively new panel box, we find open junctions and stray wires in the attic, faulty plugs and switches, and enough crossed and improperly installed wires to make a firefighter slide back up his pole in horror. (Rewire and wonder why the house never caught fire.)
The bathroom demolition reveals the source of the previous plumbing backups and we learn that the water and sewer pipes are sloped in the wrong direction. (Re-rent jackhammer, dig trench in concrete, reinstall pipes. Create a noticeable ding in the second custom shower pan in the process. Sigh and order another.)
Shall I continue? You bet! I’m looking forward to more surprises before I’m done.