Now we’ve come to the day when the cottage became a funhouse with the ability to give vertigo to any who entered. The floor that went from the center of the house towards the river was very tilted. Not quite to the point where you felt like you’d fall off the back of the house, but it certainly wasn’t a reassuring slant. As with the front of the house, we had to jack up the back wall so that the floor system could be rebuilt, raised up, and restored to a comfortably walkable angle.
Like most cape-style homes, the cottage originally had a central brick chimney and a fireplace in the front room. We love the idea of having a working fireplace and tried many different floor configurations to see if we could make it work, but the location of the chimney created a lot of limitations as we thought through how we want the home to work. Location challenges aside, the chimney was also in really rough shape. Some of the bricks were gorgeous (and in fact have been salvaged for later use), but there was severe cracking and general instability.
When you install a new sill, you’re going to need to install new floor joists. And when you have to install new floor joists, you first need to completely remove the old floor. Then while you’re at it, you need to take the opportunity to pour a new concrete floor in the basement. This is beginning to sound like that book “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” but just like that book, construction projects create the domino effect that when something happens, a string of others must follow.
The original flooring from the front two rooms was in fairly good condition, so the removal process was done carefully so we’ll be able to reuse some (hopefully most) of it in the the house once everything is put back together.
The proportions of the cottage are charming, but what makes the property special is its proximity to the river. Whenever we find ourselves questioning the intelligence of our decision to do this renovation, we always remind ourselves that we’d never be able to build on a site like this today. So, when it’s all said in done, we’ll be happy to have this view in the end.
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 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.