I knew this would happen. It’s one of the first pieces of advice I give in my next book – IF YOU CAN, PLEASE LIVE IN A HOUSE BEFORE YOU RENOVATE. You need to experience it, have a few months of “day in a life” so you aren’t trying to guess your future behaviors. But we wanted to stay in this fully done mountain house while we renovate and since school was kinda “out” this year anyway it felt like the best thing to do for our family (and admittedly it’s way more fun living here in the mountains during a pandemic than a city where everything is shut – no real regrets here and certainly not complaining). But, now that it’s demo’d, no one will be living here for months.
Last week I felt like I was going MAD with indecision and I think Anne would agree (bless her heart for designing with us). We are trying to be the “good clients” that I promised her we would be, but Brian and I keep changing our minds due to too many unknowns. It’s all good and fun and honestly we aren’t stressed (mostly because Arciform makes us feel very safe and calm) but making decisions on your future home from another state when you haven’t lived in the house, lived in the state in years, or experienced the climate recently is not advisable. Add in the unpredictability of growing kids and dogs’ behavior. I don’t know how they are going to use the house, either! PLUS the pandemic has “forever changed me”, but has it?? I’ve become such a homebody, I’m not even going to have a car when we move, and right now I think I’m going to be at the house all day every day. So I’m trying to predict my own needs/wants but I have NO idea how I’m going to turn out once life is “normal”. I think I’m not going to go back to being as social as I was, entertaining as much as I did, but is that even true?? WHO AM I GOING TO BE???
We are going around and around and around not knowing how we are really going to use the house. Which door will the kids come in more often? The kitchen door via the car? The back kitchen door that’s closest to the gate to walk to school? The new big living room doors that go to the backyard/sports court? How can we predict? Where will the dog run be? We’ll need to create an area for them to dry off when it’s muddy but we don’t know where those mutts are going to play so we can’t predict. How muddy will they get? We have foregone the dog washing station when we lost the big mudroom but we could still do it somewhere, but we just don’t know where it makes the most sense???
Then there is the issue of the sun. My main obsession in life and design is natural light. I want as much of it as possible and I’ve been SPOILED living in California. All our past houses have had excellent natural light. The farm does not (except upstairs). So of course we can add it through windows, glass doors, and skylights (where we can) but the way the sun moves over the house is SUPER important to know because it changes how it moves and lights the inside the house. You don’t want to add windows where you’ll get blasted at the exact times of the day that you’ll be in that room (if you can avoid it).
Oh, we’ve tried to predict it, knowing which way the house faces at what time of day, during summer and winter but we don’t know the tree-line, what might obstruct the sun in a good way (during the hottest times of the day/year) or in a bad way (too much shade). So since Brian’s parents were already up at the mountain house visiting, we looked at the weather in Portland and it was sunny all week. We booked a ticket for the next day to go up and see for ourselves. A quick 30 hours trip to literally just sit and walk around the house on a sunny day.
Here were our main questions and the goal of the trip:
1. Should we put in skylights in the new kitchen? If we put in skylights in the new vaulted area (that faces south) will it get BLASTED with sun in a bad way? Or will it just be between a couple of hours in the morning when we aren’t in the kitchen that much anyway and we can put the shades down if needed? Or will the trees block that harsh light? It’s overcast so often so the skylights could bring in such beautiful soft light when it’s not sunny – and natural light is not just something I love but it makes my job so much easier. A dark room is VERY hard to shoot which means that we have to set up lights or spend hours photoshopping, and then it looks fake. But I don’t want to heat up the kitchen for no reason or make it unbearably bright to sit at the island in the morning. Once we plugged the skylights into the rendering (kitchen NOT designed yet) we were all like – YES WE NEED THOSE. It will bring so much soft beautiful light into the main kitchen but even more importantly the living room which needs some southern and eastern light. But sometimes it’s even harder to shoot spaces if one room is so much brighter than another because of light balance and the camera auto corrects, making the dark room even darker (good photographers can fix this but on an iPhone it will be hard to balance).
2. The living room is west facing which NOT IDEAL SO PLEASE LISTEN UP – if you are building a house and can control the direction of your main spaces, in general, you want to face north or south, not east or west. With a west-facing living room, you get less natural light during the day until it’s the hottest time of the day (nearing sunset) and then you can get BLASTED with this harsh horizontal light. Sure there are things you can do (oh and I’ll write a whole post about it) but our hope is that by being there for sunset we can see if the trees on the property block it in a pretty dapply way or if we need to rethink an overhang. Our last living room was east/west facing and it was only a slight problem for like an hour in the evening if the trees weren’t blooming – but it was fine – we would either pull down the window shades or people wouldn’t sit in that exact spot that it blasted (it did, however, bleach out the back of our sofa pretty quickly). So we needed to be there at sunset, even though the huge scenic door/window isn’t framed yet (so it’s just a wall) but we can stand outside where the new porch will be and get a sense of what the sun is doing at what time – LIKE FULL ON CRAZY PEOPLE.
3. To cover the porch or NOT?? We don’t want it covered because we don’t love the idea of sitting on the sofa in the living room, looking up outside, and seeing a structure instead of the sky. A covered porch will reduce natural light as well. However, we could do an all-glass structure on that side of the house. We could connect it to the roofline and give a sense of a “wrap-around” but then I’m like is it weird if it’s all of a sudden glass? If we are going for the charming “wrap-around” look then does glass negate this anyway? The exterior architecture would be prettiest with a wrap-around covered porch that ties in the sunroom. BUT Brian and I care more about how we experience living in the inside of the house rather than the EXTERIOR – our day-to-day is not staring back at it from a distance. I know I can make the exterior look good, but I can’t add natural light if we take it away. Oh and also if you are building, you can build an overhang without blocking light if it starts high enough. We have windows on the second floor that don’t let us go any higher (unless we reframe them all higher which seems ridiculous but could work… (also, where does the string end??)
4. Will the new sunroom be our version of a “covered porch” anyway? It’s full of windows that can open, but no it’s not out in the fresh air (but you can see the sports court from it). Will we even need a covered porch? Do people hang outside in the rain for hours? NOT HAVING LIVED IN OREGON FOR 20 YEARS, WITH KIDS AND DOGS, I HAVE LITERALLY NO IDEA HOW WE WILL LIVE. I’ve texted everyone I know asking them about their porch, what direction their backyards face, where the kids go in and out from. Very odd questions. Everyone has different opinions. For some a covered porch is mandatory and they use it frequently, for others they never go out in the rain/cold anyway. And if we find out that we want one we could also build some sort of cool gazebo situation by the sports court to provide shade in the summer while kids are playing. OH SO that’s another thing, without the covered porch in the summer it can get really hot and sitting in the sun sucks, but we can get a table with an umbrella! If we went with the glass roof outside the living room door it wouldn’t really do the trick anyway.
ALSO – the sunroom will get blasted with the sun in the evening (we think) so we’d likely have to put down window treatments if we are in there on a sunny evening. But if it’s sunny would we just sit outside at an outdoor table anyway??? Also, we can plant trees (and will) strategically to block the harsh sun. So knowing where that would be is a good thing to start thinking about.
5. Is our bedroom too big and am I making the new windows too small? I found these awesome vintage interior shutters for our bedroom (8 of them) that I was excited to use. But they are 16” wide which means that the window really shouldn’t be wider than 32” (they are close to 5’ tall). There would be four of them. But the view out those windows is really pretty, and if we went bigger then we might feel really open to the backyard (and we want our bedroom to feel like a retreat as it does here). This is why I would ALWAYS recommend a primary bedroom suite on a second floor – it’s innately more private and you feel like you are kinda away from the action even if you have lots of windows. Since I was afraid that the bedroom was too wide, I asked Arciform to frame it a bit smaller to give us really deep window sills (which I LOVE the look of). The problem is the deep sill now with the narrow windows means even less view and less light. So I’m fearful that these shutters are dictating too much of this room and I need to tape them out on the wall to see if we are going too small with them.
6. Will we regret giving up our small laundry room upstairs in exchange for an additional full bathroom for guests and future teenagers? This is the current plan – thanks to you guys, to add another bathroom where the laundry room was. It means we would only have a laundry closet on the bedroom landing with room for a hamper, but I know what will happen – a big pile of clothes will be on the landing all day every day. Maybe. But maybe not! The kids can just keep a hamper in their rooms and fold their laundry on their beds??
7. Are we TRIPLE sure that we want the kitchen to be in the former breakfast nook – the corner of the house, opened up to the living room but not actually creating a “great room”? That’s a HUGE decision to just say yes to without being inside the house to confirm it. If so, then we will have to demo and salvage out the existing cabinetry that we WERE going to turn into our butler’s pantry (and if you are asking why we can’t still use them… it’s mostly for functional reasons. We don’t need an additional sink/dishwasher there because we’ll need to put fridge/freezer and pantry on that side. So before the demo crew comes back to salvage (and we are giving everything we can’t re-use to Urban Renewal – stay tuned for that) we want to triple confirm the new kitchen layout.
8. Do we want to put back in the three original windows on the first floor even though we have to mix them with new windows? I know there is a way to make that work aesthetically but it’s definitely harder (right now the plan is all original upstairs, all new downstairs with a pattern that connects the new with old). The original windows could work but they are smaller than we were going to do AND next to a new window, the green tint of the new would be obvious next to the old glass. And no, we can’t double glaze them like I originally thought. Maybe the bottom half that is clear, but the original wood diamond grid is not deep enough to have two panes. I’m sure there are other solutions but at this point even restoring them with the original glass is about $1k a window (we are paying for that upstairs). So basically it doesn’t make sense to keep investing in them at a certain point, especially if they aren’t going to add value to the living room and instead just make it colder and make the new windows look too NEW.
It’s a lot. It’s all SO FUN but it’s a lot and we haven’t even STARTED the real decision making (tile, plumbing, lighting, etc). But these decisions are important and can only come from us – they are VERY personal to how our family lives and what we want out of our home. Anne is so patient, thank god, but we are done annoying ourselves and we are going to make REAL decisions this week.
So that’s why Brian and I flew up to just going to walk the house for a little over 24 hours. Live in it in the morning, afternoon, and sunset. Tape out the island. Tape out the new small mudroom and kitchen door. Tape out the bed in the bedroom and the windows. Sit and stare FOR HOURS. Pretend to lay in the bed. Pretend to carry in and set down groceries. Pretend to walk in from school. Pretend to sit in my bathtub to see what I’ll be looking at. Pretend to write the blog – where am I going to write?? I’m assuming the sunroom on most days (which sounds DREAMY) but maybe I’d rather do it in our big retreat-y bedroom??
The house is mostly demo’d which means the wall from the old breakfast nook is open to the living room – giving us a sense of what the kitchen and living room will feel like. And the 60s addition wing is opened up too (besides some structural framing that has to stay) so we can get a sense of the space, the ceilings, the view.
I wish so bad that there was a VR program where you could put your house renderings in and physically walk through your renderings while in the house. I want to open doors. Arciform uses Chief Architect for their initial renderings (because it’s so fast and gives elevations, plans, and 3-D capabilities very quickly). After every change we make they send us the latest version and we can walk through it on our iPad so we’ve spent HOURS doing that, going back and forth on every scenario, but it’s not the same as being there. I’m even going to force my brother to bring his kids and dog over to see what happens – where will they gravitate towards outside, how muddy does a dog actually get if it’s sunny outside?
So that’s the latest. It’s all good stress, honestly. The process so far has been so much FUN. The indecision makes me annoyed with myself, but otherwise the stress has been manageable mostly because I’ve renovated enough to know that stressing does not help and any major mistake is just a good blog post to write about anyway. We knew what we were getting into – it’s all good. Our main goal is to not make major changes after things have been framed or walls closed up because THAT’S when it gets stressful (and expensive). We are going to make all the changes on paper, now. And listen we keep reminding ourselves that we can’t have everything, nor frankly do we want to give our kids everything. We don’t want the fancy house on the street. We want the inviting, casual, and sweet family home with pups and chickens. But when renovating a house as a designer, it’s so easy to make it look new and fresh and yes, “perfect”. So I’m constantly battling that (and really wishing that there was more original charm in the first place – like wide plank pine floors or prettier windows in the 60s addition).
Anyway, Anne is going to write a post for the blog about how it is to work with Brian and I – both because I’m a designer, and the strangeness of doing this so publicly with so many people weighing in on every decision (of which I love and appreciate, but as you can imagine it’s also challenging). I can’t wait to read it, honestly.