“to make living itself an art, that is the goal”~henry miller *
When lifes in an easy groove, its satisfying to make ART out of life. But when I’m swirling in unexpected change, money fears, and legal contracts– art will come later. Or will it? Maybe my new house project is my art. Let me explain. We are moving. We are simultaneously buying a house to remodel, and selling a house –FSBO style–all at once. Its been a wild ride. There has been crying, hysteria, late nights, elation, and whiskey.
We’ve been searching for our forever home for 3 years now. The goals have been to radically downsize, enjoy our commute, get away from the freeway noise, remodel/design for maximum happiness, and have a mightily reduced mortgage when we’re all done. After a 3-year search, we finally found it. Well, we finally found the house the inspires the energies it will take to remodel it. And boy, do we have some renovations in store for it.
Doesn’t it look like the sweetest blue farm house in the woods? Here’s the catch: we are downsizing from a modern 3,400 square foot home with 4 bedrooms and 3 1/2 baths with a Frank Loyd Wright view–to a 1,500 square foot, 2 bedroom, 2 bath home–with an unfinished large garage and attic.
The original plan was to take 3-4 months planning things out and giving ourselves time to contemplate facing the implications of downsizing our living space by 1,500 square feet. Moreover, we are looking to reorient the efficiency of how we actually live. But then the big modern house we’re living in suddenly sold. One day we hosted an Open House, then next week we were in fast, personal negotiations with our buyer (more on FSBO later). My husband and I reassesed. We decided to be a bit more adventurous and just go for it: full-power renovations, starting as soon as possible.
So what are we doing?
This 2008 blue house is a textbook example of “tract house.” Every friend who walked through helping us decide, was, well, underwhelmed. No character, no charm, drinky living room and kitchen, low ceilings, fake flooring, Lowe’s finishings. Bleh.
However. Drum roll please. The location is heaven. The placement of the house is on a generous 2 acres in the woods. If you know Bellingham, our home sits at the base of the beloved Galbraith mountain in the Pacfic Northwest. There are miles and miles of wooded trails out our back door.
On the downside, the kitchen is annoying, there’s no space for a nice sized farm table for friends to gather around, there is no living room space, and there is no master bath, just a tragicomic room with a slanted ceiling over the shower. All the flooring is faux plastic wood with this creepy sheen to it. The front door is distinctly invisible, bizarrely located, and unused. The room over the garage is unfinished, unheated, and inaccessible–except for a tipsy ladder act. Crazy. The house was designed by a guy, and so the garage is huge and magnificent and was full of his motorcycles and cars. Here is a photo of the current South-west side:
The most obvious fix is to bump out the walls on two sides, giving us room for our farmhouse table, a living room to play music with our friends in, add a wood burning fire place to reduce heat consumption –and increase the happy coziness factor. We’ll remove the front door (locating it on the other side of the house where it belongs greeting people). This will allow us optimal light fixture placement, and room for two sets of french doors and a large Eastern facing window that will give us much light and heat for free – forever.
Upstairs, we’ll add a dormer, tear out the existing awkward shower, and install an efficient European-style enclosed space with clawfoot tub and shower head. Soaking in the tub, a large picture window will reveal tall firs to ponder. Next, a small dormer housing a doorway will connect the attic space (over the garage) into the house. Can we all say “cool guest bedroom” together?
After these most invasive parts of the renovation, everything else should be pretty simple: tearing out stairwell walls to open up the space, building a nice new island with a fat wood slab on top, and adding some farm charm finishes to the kitchen.
On the exterior, I have plans to move the 4 humungous garden boxes from the driveway–to the other side of the house near the kitchen where they belong. We’ll create pathways, fencing, gardens for increasing our grown food, and reducing our food budget.
One final–admittedly, the most exciting personal project for me–will be to remodel the garage into a large open, heated space for hosting personal artwork gatherings as well as music circles. So, the insulated garage needs a gas stove, french doors and windows, along with partition wall for a woodshop area. Outside the french doors, we plan to add a Pergola and vines to bring natural shade for outdoor living. I can already feel the warm breeze as I open the southern facing french doors of the art studio, and step under the Pergola to take a seat in the shade –and finally relax.
Our fabulous contractor has agreed to “rough in” all the engineered projects and get them through the permit process. He starts June 1. Then he’ll pack his tools and move on to many others who love his work. From there, we will roll up our sleeves, take back the projects, and become the badass do-it-yourselfers we aim to be. Searching for cheap materials is lifelong hobby. We’ve got several friends and my talented brother coming to contribute to the finishing. The end result of this big construction project should be a house that is ready for the next 100 years of its life, with a thoroughly personalized, bright and artistic new design and a fairly reduced level of energy consumption to go with it. Stay tuned for more updates as the project progresses.