The thing about old houses is that sometimes they contain hazardous materials. Asbestos, lead, you get the picture. In our case, we had the pleasure of vermiculite insulation. Vermiculite insulation was frequently used in older homes because it was a naturally occurring material and according to Green Building Advisors, “vermiculite is a mineral that when heated, expands like popcorn. It’s lightweight, fire-resistant, and odorless; [and has an R-Value of 2].” What’s not to love, right? Well, the challenge is that it often contains asbestos which is linked to cancer. Bummer. Thankfully, we knew about this issue beforehand and were able to negotiate with the seller and take advantage of some grants available in Massachusetts for vermiculite abatement, so it wasn’t a dollar sign surprise.
After 187 years of sitting on the same sills and foundation, the cottage had started to get quite comfortable with her surroundings. Sinking into it here, restraining herself and staying level over there. She and gravity were getting friendly. With all of that settling in going on, you can imagine the impact that it had on the floors and overall structural integrity of the building. That’s a long way of saying, she was really wonky and it felt like a funhouse in there when walking around.
After the initial demo work in the two front rooms, we moved out way to the some of the smaller spaces in the center and back of the house. It’s tricky to get the proper wind-up on a crowbar when demolishing a closet, but what we may have lacked in finesse, we made up for in repetition and, on my part at least, brute strength. Kidding, kidding.
Once our family assumed ownership of the house (and once I’d had a chance to take some “before” pictures), the crowbars were unleashed.
You’ve made it to the end of the tour! Lucky for you, I’ve saved the best for last.
The cottage itself is cute, but what makes this property so special is its proximity to the Connecticut River. There is no way that we’d legally be able to build a home in this location, so we want to make sure that we’re maximizing the river view opportunities that we have.
The current porch is located off of the kitchen/dining space on the first floor (see above). It’s open to the elements at the moment, no screens to speak of though there are some large windows that you can (theoretically) pop in and out. The support structure underneath the porch is fairly shot, so walking on either of the far corners is an exercise in bravery.
Ultimately, we’ll enclose this porch area into permanent living space. Since we fully expect to spend hours planted on the couch watching the water go by, we’re planning to have windows on all three sides. Who needs wall space when you have a view?
Due to the fragility of the porch in its current state, the next phase for it is total demolition. Sorry, porch. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Once it’s removed from the main structure, we’ll be able to stabilize the back foundation, get the floors level, and drop in some piers to support the new living space.
Lots of work to be done, but we’ll use the river views to sustain us through the inevitable hiccups that come with a construction project!
Up next, demo day(s).
The stairwell leading upstairs is immediately on your left once you enter the side door. You go up a single step and then turn right to go up the rest of the staircase. The stair treads are extremely narrow (even my size 6 shoe can’t completely fit) and make the ascent feel fraught with the very real potential that you might lose your footing and fall. Tilt your body forward, power your way up, and we’ll all be fine.
Welcome inside! Lots of wallpaper awaits you!
For a home that may look rather tiny on the outside, it has more rooms than you’d expect. The first floor contains a bedroom, a living room, a kitchen/dining space, a hobby room, and a full bath. The second floor contains another two (small) bedrooms and another living room. Let’s take a tour. I should note that the rooms are rather tight, so please forgive the lack of photos that show complete rooms in one shot. Note to self to rent a wide angle lens!
It’s glamorous, I know. This is the dining/kitchen space that you see upon entering the side door. That door on the left goes down into the basement. In the foreground are cabinets that surround the chimney. Kitchen appliances were on the far right wall just out of view, and at the far end, you can see into the bathroom.
Though I don’t have a photo of the oven and stove (we were too quick on the draw to get things out of there, mea culpa), you can see in this shot the counter space that we’re working with. Also, we noticed that in an effort to insulate some of the pipes, they were wrapped in single layers of newspaper.
Beyond the far end of the kitchen is the sole bathroom. It’s actually one of the more luxuriously sized rooms in the home. The clawfoot tub will head off to a new home in South Deerfield; we tried to make room for it in the new floor plan but she’s a bit too bulky for the spaces we’ll have. The sink, though, will definitely be making a return. The water turns into an unexpected mini tornado as it goes down the drain. Hygiene and entertainment all in one.
Next to the bathroom is the “fish room.” Once used as a storage/hobby space, it’s a bright little room that that we’ve turned into our renovation headquarters. It’s out of the way of most projects that need doing, and it has floors that are fairly level – the same cannot be said for the rest of the house.
The living room boasts great eastern light, a quaint (if crumbling) fireplace, and original wainscoting. Virginia, the last resident, had lots of quirky art, anything from a rudimentary George Washington (more on him in a future post) to modern, geometric pieces. Alas, there were no Picasso’s in the mix, so many of the canvases have found new homes.
The small bedroom on the first floor has some sweet proportions and enjoys the same eastern light as the living room. Check out those 28 inch wide wainscoting boards. Imagine how big the trees must have been that those came out of! We’ve saved all of them and will be finding ways to reuse them throughout the renovation.
Next up, tours of the second floor and porch!