Skipping Ahead

We’re skipping ahead, team. A lot of progress has been made in the span since kitchen rafters went up and present day, and hopefully I will go back in and fill in the details, but for now, I want to show you the first room that feels remotely “finished.”

With company coming for a week in October, we were suddenly faced with gentle pressure to create a livable space that we’d feel proud to host someone in. Nothing creates results like a deadline.

In the week leading up to her arrival, we bought a mattress, refinished a small bureau, and painted both the bedroom and en suite bath. We clearly need to have company more often and force them to stay in the other rooms so that we have that same sense of urgency to finalize other spaces.

Naturally, we hadn’t landed on a paint color for the room at that point but knew that we wanted a room that felt cozy, but not overly saturated in color – pretty much our theme for the whole house thus far. Some of our initial choices veered too far into beige and yellow territories (you can see below the transom window), but we ultimately landed on Mascarpone by Benjamin Moore, a lovely ever-so-off white that has a hint of yellow to create a warm vibe.

Thanks, Dad for painting!

We left the ceiling white, and still need to coat the rafters to give them a nice sheen, but a few passes of sandpaper got rid of the splintery look they had originally. The little metal brackets on the ends of the beams gave us a bit of trouble as we thought through how to hide them – cover them up with wood? purchase some soft metal sleeve? The silver wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t an accent color that we had around the house much, so we went for the quick option of painting them black. Now they’re in keeping with the style of the house and tend to disappear unless you’re truly looking for them.

Once the paint dried, in came the mattress.

There was much debate over whether to get a full or queen sized mattress. We ended up going full to keep the scale of the room as livable as possible. Although a queen would have made the room a little more luxurious, we didn’t want the whole room to feel dominated by mattress. Hopefully our guests will take the full size as an opportunity to get cozy with their bedmate.

We kept all original doors throughout the house, and even though this one has a large glass panel, it’s one of our favorites. For most of the year, it’s just us here, so we wanted to make sure that the door could carry light into the little hallway since it can feel dark otherwise. When guests are staying, no one except them use that hallway anyway, so there’s no risk of accidental peeping from outside the room. Of course, that said, we are thinking through options for covering up the window in an impermanent way so that light can still pass through if desired – maybe a roll-down shade or simple fabric curtain.

After almost a year of working on the house, it feels so nice to have a room where we can actually welcome guests comfortably. Now we get to start sharing the space!

The cat especially likes how the light comes through the east-facing windows. It’s her sanctuary, too.

Kitchen Rafters

Throughout this project, there were many moments where I dreaded conversations with our builders. Don’t get me wrong, they’re wonderful, talented people, so I didn’t dread them personally. All of these instances were because I had requests for them, and I was nervous about causing a huge inconvenience/not being taken seriously. Thankfully, since Steve was always at work, I could usually blame the requests on him so I could avoid some of the discomfort: “Hey, I’ve got a crazy request for you, totally Steve’s idea, feel free to tell me it won’t work, etc.” Here is the story of one of those requests.

Given that the second story windows were primarily facing north and west, we were concerned that the whole second floor would be rather dark for much of the day. Before renovations, the rooms on the second floor had felt rather cave-like (not helped by the fact that the roof pitch was pretty low), so we had legitimate reasons for our concern. As a result, we wanted to have a few skylights in the main roof to make sure that the second floor would get ample natural light.

Our builder, being as energy-conscious as they are, couldn’t quite understand why we’d want to punch holes in our roof for the sake of some light, but they agreed to proceed with our plan.

After some back and forth though, Steve and I decided that we also wanted a skylight in the kitchen roof. The only challenge is that we made that decision the same day that the guys were putting in the rafters for the kitchen roof.

My aunt was visiting at the time and had recently gotten home from errands. She came in and said how exciting it was that the kitchen rafters were up! I immediately panicked and wondered how I was going to tell these guys to undo their work and to please instead leave a hole for a skylight.

The dread that I felt when walking down to the house felt like a gallows walk. I’m exaggerating a little, but believe me when I say the anxiety was high.

My dad and I came around the corner of the house (obviously, I made him go with me so it wasn’t as scary), and we found that no, the rafters had not(!) been put up after all! Just the kitchen gable itself, and there was still time to tell them of my skylight plan. Once I sheepishly confessed that I wanted another skylight, they laughed and shouted at each other, “I knew they’d want a skylight here!” PHEW. It’s a lesson that I had to learn many times throughout this renovation, but it’s always worth asking for what you want/need, even if it seems scary. And really, things rarely turn out to be as scary as you think. So with that, here are some photos of the kitchen gable and rafters!


She’s the cute little sister of the main roof.


Rafter ribcage.


Look at that skylight hole that I so bravely requested!

And here’s a little video tour of the kitchen space.

Second Floor Reborn

It was disconcerting to see a house with no second floor. Or rather, it had a platform that you could stand on so you were at second floor height, but there were no walls to speak of, nothing that made it seem like a legit second floor that would ever be livable.

Thankfully, the new gable walls showed up quickly to reassure us that yes, in fact, we would one day be able to have a real second story.

In these initial stages of gable-raising, you’ll notice that the roofline is fairly similar to that of the former roof. The only difference is that we increased the roof pitch (from 8′ to 10′) to provide more livable square footage). That said, the real change will be apparent when you see the dormer go on the river-facing side (in a future post). The dormer will raise the ceiling height of the two upstairs bedrooms and prevent us from having to squeeze things underneath the eaves.


As you can see above, the guys started the day with basically a second floor platform. They built the entire gable wall on that platform and then raised it up and into place. HOW they managed to avoid pushing the wall too hard (and down onto the kitchen) is beyond me, but that’s why they’re builders and I am not. Also, please forgive the less than ideal quality. I was spying on the process from the window at my parents’ house up the hill!


Wall is raised and in place! The guys then spent the rest of the afternoon securing it into place – again, how the wall stayed upright and didn’t somehow fly over, I will never know.

Check out a video of the gable raising below!






Mudroom/Shed Demolition

Our last round of demo has dawned!

The shed to the right of the main house structure was dilapidated at best. Consisting of a small storage room and a crumbling porch, the whole thing sat on top of literal piles of rocks. Other than those rocks, there was no foundation to speak of.

Before getting a new foundation in place, we had to take the whole thing down.

First things first, get the tar shingles off the roof. We were possibly a bit too delicate about this process; it would have been a lot faster to use our contractor’s hand-saw demolition method.

As my dad and Steve scraped shingles off the roof, I had the wonderful task of picking up the shingles, corralling them into a bucket, and running them over to the dumpster. They were surprisingly heavy!

Also, somewhere during my shingle-shuttling, I dropped my phone into the dumpster and didn’t realize it until the very end of the afternoon. At that point it had gotten dark and my call was most definitely frozen (and dead), so attempts to call it and listen for it were fruitless. By the morning I had given up all hope that we would find it intact. The dumpster was full of exposed nails, and I had been stepping on top of everything as I loaded it in an effort to tamp down the materials to make more room for future debris. Surprisingly though, we found it intact!! A demolition miracle.


Above, my dad, the demolition king, surveys his domain.

By the end of the weekend, almost that whole structure was gone. We left the front step for temporary convenience so that you could easily hop onto the main structure, but that came out the following week!

Up next, we resume our coverage of roof and wall reconstruction on the second floor.

Roof Demolition

As you may remember, the original roofline of the house was very low. With a deceptively mild pitch (8′?) and no dormer, the usable space in all of the upstairs rooms was extremely limited. The mild pitch meant that the knee walls came pretty far into all of the rooms and made the remaining open floorspace feel claustrophobic, particularly since the ceilings were significantly below the peak of the roof (creating unusable attic space).

Ultimately, the plan for the roof is to “kick out” the back portion to create a dormer. This plan will allow us to drastically raise the ceiling height in the river-facing rooms. In addition to the dormer, we’re going to increase the roof pitch so that we can have even more livable space on the second floor, and the knee wall will be less invasive.

In addition to making the space more easily usable, the installation of a new metal roof will take care of some of the maintenance issues that were creeping up: leaks, various rodents taking up residence, etc. Also (!) we chose our new roof material (standing seam metal) so it could easily accommodate solar panels.

Even though there are so many things that will be improved by the new porch, it didn’t make the removal process any less intimidating.


Inviting, right?

The crew used hand saws to remove the material between the rafters. They made much faster work of it than we would have with crowbars!



Doesn’t everyone want a house where they can stand above and between their roof rafters? Here’s a short video to give you a different perspective. You can only hear slight panic in my voice!


The next day, things got even more interesting. The crew pulled all of the rafters down and we were left with a blank slate.


Oh, boy.



It looks bleak, but the good news is that the crew quickly got to work constructing the new second floor walls, complete with their new pitch and dormer. Before that happened though, we spent one of our final “demolition weekends” taking down the final remaining piece of the old structure: the shed. That’s up next!

Kitchen Takes Shape


The kitchen walls are up! When it was the “schoolhouse,” the room was divided in half and was pretty dark, but now that it’s one continuous space (and you can see through some of the existing walls) it feels so much bigger!

Much of the kitchen workspace and appliances will be on the left side of the room as seen in the above image. In the original plan, the space to the right of the side door was going to be used as a small office area, but we’ll likely put cabinetry there and utilize it as a small pantry. The kitchen won’t have any upper cabinets (not enough space and they’d make the room feel heavy), so having the pantry will free us from having to store food what will already be limited cabinet space.


The sink will live underneath the above window facing the river. If you have to wash dishes, you might as well give yourself a view to look at (as seen below).



We’ll have another small window above the cabinets on the south wall, and the fridge will live just to the right of the side door (as seen in the above photo).


The rebuilt schoolhouse/kitchen structure can be seen above on the left. Once she gets her roof back on, things will start to make a bit more sense, but before that can happen, the roof of the main structure has to come off. Brace yourself for it; things got weird. That’s coming up next.

Snow comes to visit


This is what happens when a structure doesn’t have walls, and it snows. *Note that this is from March, not June!

It felt very weird to be shoveling snow out of our house!


Thankfully, by March of next year we’ll just be responsible for shoveling a driveway, not a kitchen or living room.


Gotta shovel out the mudroom!

That lumber was really fun to use later, I’m sure.

Next up, the kitchen starts to take shape, and no more snow!

The walls keep coming!

You didn’t think we’d let that one new wall hang out all be itself, did you? Throughout the rest of that week, two more walls came to join the party.

Continue reading “The walls keep coming!”

New Walls

Before getting new walls laid our and built on the first floor, we had to iron out the floor plan. Throughout this process, we learned that when dealing with such an old house, architectural plans can only take you so far, and decisions often have to get made in real time when new discoveries are made in the walls. Case in point, the configuration of the first floor bedroom, staircase, and bathrooms. We moved the staircase to the opposite wall (I’m sure our architect was really impressed when we broke that news to him. Sorry Patrick!), moved the laundry upstairs, and reworked the bathroom layouts. All of this is to say that if you ever have the pleasure of taking on a significant renovation, particularly of an older structure, go into the project with very flexible ideas and expectations. Sometimes you’ll find yourself designing a bathroom around a toilet that can only be in one particular spot, and that’s OK! These decisions that feel absurd and frustrating in the moment will hopefully just become the cute quirks of your house that you can roll your eyes at later.

Continue reading “New Walls”

Are we making a mistake?

In order to pay for the house and renovation costs, we had to take out a construction loan. As many of you are likely aware, an appraisal is part of the loan application process. The bank wants to make sure that its money is being spent wisely, so an appraiser comes out to assess the “as is” value of your property, and then they take your construction plans into consideration to come up with a value for the home when everything is said and done.

Continue reading “Are we making a mistake?”

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