Meet Our New Mountain Fixer Upper
Today is the day. You may have read the hints, seen the clues or even caught the 24 hour insta-story, but today is the official announcement of the new blog project – our mountain fixer upper. Like many an office romance, what started out purely professional has become quite personal. I started looking for a new design project around the time that I realized that our LA house was almost finished and fully revealed. I panicked, realizing that as you might suspect the most popular posts (both in traffic and engagement) are about our house. Unlike client work I can be the most honest and transparent on process, mistakes, resources and prices – and I can execute much faster. It only made sense professionally for us to invest in another fixer – but since we found one out in the country it became very personal.
Being raised in the woods of Oregon did something to my soul from which I can’t escape. Long time readers know that writing that kind of sap is hard for me. I loved living in New York in my 20’s, and after being in LA for 10 years I sure do love my friends, the weather and the opportunities that this city brings (while finding the culture/industry of “Hollywood” challenging). But, deep inside my guts, there is a pretty intense need for nature, for trees, for calmness. Many might say I’m suffering from the ‘too many small kids’ syndrome, and looking for an “escape” and perhaps they aren’t wrong, but I think it’s more than that. As someone addicted to social media, blogs, computers, TV and parties – I REALLY NEED TO ESCAPE.
Thus our decision to not buy a fixer in LA (not that we could afford one) and instead head outside of the city. The new fixer is about 2 hours from LA, in a small mountain-town, near a small lake and lovely people (but not many of them – and NO TRAFFIC!!). It has less of everything (in a good way). I want less, hell, folks, I need less.
Listen, the house has a stream. A babbling, adorable man-made stream that ends in a dirty, alge-ridden pond. I grew up being covered in mud from the creek in the woods behind our house and I’m happy to pass the dirt on to my kids.
I hope that this ‘I-used-to-be-a-normal-humble-dirty-poor-little-mormon-child-of-six’ story isn’t cloying or feels try-hard, especially when I just bought a second home. In a lot of ways I’m not as down to earth as I used to be, nay. Which is the entire point. Despite trying to remain “normal” in LA I’m not succeeding on a daily basis.
You wouldn’t necessarily think that buying a second home would bring the “normalcy” I’m craving, but removing myself, even for two days a week and focusing on my kids and nature makes me feel “normal”. It forces it upon me and pulls me down to said ‘earth’. No child-care. No meal-delivery services. Just us, our kids and a lot of woods.
So what is this house that we bought?
It’s not like our current house where I knew from the photos that it was “our” house. In fact thank God we didn’t even look at the photos of this one or we may not have bothered to see it in person. I am usually drawn to spaces that have interesting architecture or some innate charm (duh). Most of the houses in this town were built in the last 20-30 years. Ours happens to be from 1964, but was added-on awkwardly and renovated in what I can only tell is the mount-everest-of-peaks of the 90’s.
Let’s start with the living room.
This room has magical light. It faces Northeast and for whatever reason that sun never barrels in nor is it dark. I want to sit in here all day. But it needs some updating. Now a normal person buying this as their weekend house wouldn’t need to do much to this house – everything functions, it’s not gross at all, it is just not our style. And since we are doing this for content, even the smaller stuff that we would usually live with will be changed.
Above, which opens up onto the living room, is this super lovely loft with amazing light and view of trees. I call it the “yoga loft” because I did 4 minutes of pretty fantastic yoga one day before Charlie woke up. It feels like this peaceful place to either meditate or write. If we stay up here in the summer during the week (I mean when) I will probably work up here.
I’ve outlined all the things we are going to do to the space – but it’s safe to say ‘everything’ will get a facelift.
The facts are here:
It’s 3,400 square feet which we consider pretty darn massive and boy does it feel spacious. We wanted a house that could easily fit more than one family, so we could have friends up over the weekend comfortably.
It has 3 bedrooms, 4 communal areas and 4 1/2 baths. They REALLY liked their bathrooms. Additionally, it has an almost finished attic that is pretty darn cute. We will change all of that.
As you can imagine the kitchen could use “a stylist’ touch”. And I’m going to touch this lady, all over, with both hands.
It is a total gut job. We’ll open it to the living room, add a window and reconfigure the whole thing. It’s big and once it’s done it will be so pretty that I’ll surely start cooking (besides there are very few restaurants around and you bet there aren’t any meal delivery programs). GASP.
I will say that demo-ing and renovating something that is just “dated” as opposed to a disgusting-falling-apart-fixer is somehow a bit depressing and does feel wasteful. Your style and taste are costing you a lot of money when you do something like this. But it’s my job, and since most of the houses in this market were similar (dated, but not old) I came to terms with it. Plus I know that a lot of you might have these issues, too – a dated house with some McMansion finishes that need help. We all aren’t alone.
If you can’t tell everything is very builder-grade and neither the cabinets, appliances or finishes are high quality. Did I think about just refacing them? Yes, for a brief minute because Brian gets into my head sometimes. But then I realized that this is an opportunity to be AMAZING and not just “better”.
Did I think about making this a budget/DIY project? You bet your bottom/top dollar. But then I remembered that Brian and I are not John and Sherry of Young House Love. There is not a CHANCE that we could actually do much of this with our own two hands, so we’d be hiring out someone to renovate and like I’ve said before – the labor of a renovation is the most expensive part, so spending the same amount on labor just to install inexpensive finishes didn’t make as much sense. It’s going to be a combination of splurges, saves and sponsors – you know, the modern day (totally weird) makeover.
The house had one huge addition and one smaller one later, which creates some awkwardness as the finishes and styles don’t match. For instance how that lower ceiling doesn’t match the beamed ceiling in the kitchen and we are going to do our best to fix that. 🙂
The dining room is big and once those windows are larger it’s going to get more light. I really want to put a huge cozy built-in dining nook and have many a day-after-Christmas feasts there.
Like a lot of mountain towns that get cold in the winter we have 3 fireplaces and all 3 need to be redone. This one is specifically strange. We plan on making this room our rec room.
As of right now this room is the one that we kinda want to be in the least which makes it a good challenge. I think it’s because of the low ceilings and lack of light. It opens up to the backyard, but we are going to OPEN it to the backyard if you know what I mean. Like real open. This room will have heavy flow as it’s such an access point to the backyard, so it’s hard to figure out what furniture should be in here. I think it’s going to be a playroom for both kids and adults. Brian is dying for a pin ball machine and darts and this might be where the kids play while they are younger (then the loft when they are older – so they have somewhere more separate from the grownups). Currently we have a tent, play table and loads of books and games in there and the kids play so much more by themselves.
In fact the weekends we spend up here, where they just play by themselves has inspired us to turn our TV room in our current house into a playroom dedicated to them.
The flow of the first floor is SOOO good already. It barely needs to be opened up (just the fridge wall). But a bummer about it is that when they renovated they put a SUPER thick coat of orange peel on all walls, In case you don’t know what that is, it’s when contractors don’t want to spend the time and money to drywall, tape, mud, and paint. To be fair that process is laborious. So instead they spray this ‘texture’ that covers up all lines or potential imperfections. They then paint on top of what we dub as “orange peel”. It’s hard to see in the photos.
Then they doubled down by making every corner and window rounded and curvy, and not in a sexy way. Neither of these things are that big of a deal in a newer build as they do fit the era, but this is a 1960’s mountain house and it just feels wrong. It’s inescapable and the options are not cheap or easy to change it. I was recently in a good friend’s newer house and I didn’t even notice the rounded corners because it worked. But imagine that finish in a craftsman or a victorian style house – it feels displaced.
Above that rec room is another living area that we are going to turn into a master suite, thus adding a bedroom to make it a total of four bedrooms in the house.
If you were thinking you’d leave this post without a maroon wall, you were wrong. But don’t worry – there are only 2 of them. The former homeowners stopped halfway, obviously questioning themselves. 🙂
The windows again are rather short and this feels like a great opportunity to open it up to the upper deck – either french doors or something bigger and better. The trick is that if we were to close off the pony wall (where the stairs come up) we would lose so much light so I need to come up with a creative solution that adds privacy without blocking light. You know, like ice blocks. 🙂
**UPDATE: Due to all your suggestions (and i’m shocked I didn’t think about it) we will likely get rid of those stairs to make both the master and the playroom below bigger and less awkward. THANK YOU.
We’ll open up the small powder room and the old master bathroom to become a larger bathroom attached to this room, but there are some challenges for sure on where everything should go (I’m working with an architect now).
The triangle window will be changed into a rectangle, and I’m scared to say that virtually all the windows in the whole house will need to be switched out if we want them to match (except the large living room windows). I just feel like they could all be bigger and more special. Same with the doors. And mouldings. See what I mean? It doesn’t seem like a gut-job, but I think since I want this house to be stunning we will be spending on some larger architectural moments to give it that character and charm that it needs.
The current “master” doesn’t have a window and it may be impossible to add one (long story I’ll explain later) so we might turn this into a cozy bunk room for the kids, stay tuned. I kinda like the idea of a dark clad room with built-in bunks, but my architect is trying to find out how to bring in some windows. I just don’t want small awkward windows just for the sake of some light, at the same time natural light is the #1 most important thing to me so why would I not try to go for more. Maybe a skylight?
**UPDATE; Many of you commented that there needs to be a window for egres and you are right. So we will add one for sure.
That closet is HUGE so we will reduce it to add square footage to the room since we are stealing from it to create a master suite.
But we certainly won’t touch the in home spa 🙂
This bathroom was attached to the “master” but we’ll redo it and attach it to the new master – the maroon room. And then we’ll demo out this tiny powder room to make the bathroom even bigger. And you know how in LA our master bathroom couldn’t fit a tub? Well this one will and it’s going to be LUXURIOUS. I want a steam shower, huge soaking tub and anything else that says ‘spa’.
This powder room below will be removed and turned into a larger master bathroom. Once you see the floorplan at the bottom you’ll understand better.
The other two bedrooms are virtually identical and they’ll be totally redone. They are both rather long and only have light on one end because they share interior walls.
The more I dig into this house the more that I’m excited to talk about how to add charm and interest to basic homes – and you bet this is going to be a full series. I don’t think this house will have a lot of wallpaper or art walls so I’m looking into a million different things we can do to the walls to add texture, depth and interest.
They stole from the closet for this and the result is 2 back to back bathrooms – one connected to the bedroom and the other right outside the room to the first floor hallway. While I can’t say that anything is definitive we think we may just turn that back bathroom into a closet to save some money. While the idea of another suite downstairs sounds lovely and our friends/guests would of course be psyched, it will cost so much money and we simply don’t need two full baths on the first floor.
***UPDATE Many of you have suggested that we take the two long bathrooms and make a powder room for the hallway, and keep a suite for that bedroom. I think you are RIGHT.
The other two bathrooms look identical. This is a good lesson to builders – stick to the same style that works with the architecture of the house, but maybe shake it up a bit so it doesn’t look so mass designed.
I literally don’t know which bathroom is which. But they they are both going to be redone to be full baths – one downstairs and one up – so 3 full baths, total.
Lastly, we have an attic that is adorable. The pull-down stairs are rather dangerous so we might put in a spiral staircase instead or just say it’s off limits until the kids are a bit older. But once you get up there it’s pretty cute and big enough for an extra bedroom or a secret playroom. Since it’s above the kid’s room maybe it’s actually their upper suite/fort and we move the entrance….
You know this has to be a fort someday. I just don’t want them to fall down the stairs…
That’s the inside, folks. A big 1960’s boned lady, sporting a 1990’s wig. We love her so very, very much and I can’t wait to totally reimagine what she could be – it’s all I think about.
You might be thinking that the exterior could help inform the design direction of the interior, so let’s see.
It’s totally cute, but has some funky little elements happening. It’s a rather typical 1960’s mountain house that is similar to so many in the area. Now I don’t know too much about architecture but I’ll go ahead and say that this architecture isn’t necessarily one direction. It doesn’t need to be totally redone, just a paint job, better doors and some modern colors.
You can see that where it says ‘replace kitchen door’ that the roofline above is what blocks the ability to have light in the kid’s bedroom above.
The front yard is small, but we sure do love the backyard.
Now the backyard isn’t necessarily HUGE or what maybe you’d assume when someone says ‘country house’. But it backs up to acres of unused wooded property that we can access with respect. Our lot is 10k square feet which is about 1/4 of an acre but the house eats up a lot of it. It’s wide but short – the opposite of our current yard and in a way it feels smaller because it’s so shallow. But it has room for a lot and we just need to maximize it better by creating zones that draw you into the currently totally unused (or unseen) corners.
There is a man-made stream/pond that fools everyone. Sure, you can’t find the source of the flow, but once it’s landscaped I hope it will be more seamless. WE LOVE IT SO MUCH.
Both sides of the house have a decent amount of property that we want to utilize or pimp out with maybe a Bocce Ball court and say a Jacuzzi. Brian spends most waking hours looking for a hot tub that I’ll approve of, aesthetically, so if you know of any please let us know…
The side of the house had a fenced off dog run that could be where the bocce ball court or the hot tub end up. I hate removing any foliage but the shrubs really make the backyard feel smaller, but I know that kids love zones and feeling private so we’ll have to rework that. Regarding what we are putting on the ground … I have no idea. It freezes in the winter and I don’t want too much upkeep but I also don’t want just decomposed granite. We are considering artificial turf, but we also know we’ll get a dog at some point so there are considerations there. Plus there is just something that feels so weird about putting fake grass in the country.
I know that was a lot of information and understanding how the house flows can be confusing. So we drew up a floor plan of both how it is now, and one with our initial plans.
The blue shaded areas indicate where the major changes are going to happen.
I forgot to talk about this above, but the entry is tiny and the living room is huge with a lot of unused space near the front door so our architect has mentioned possibly creating a larger entry somehow. I was confused by the idea, but I’m hopeful. We are desperate for somewhere near the entrance to put beach bags/flip flops in the summer and snow boots/coats in the winter.
Everything will change and then even the changes will change. Seeing it overhead sure does help us make some decisions and see how we can move things to maximize the space, function and light. You can see that creating a new master bathroom could be challenging but we have the space – but the exterior wall is definitely awkward.
We’ve been living in it on the weekends and LOVING it. We brought in some pieces that may or may not stay, but it’s making it livable and easy.
It’s a total rehaul – a gut job, both in style and finish. The space is big. The property is WONDERFUL, the neighborhood is silent yet safe, the light is great and the flow is easy. But everything else is going to change. I’m so excited.
So what’s the plan, lady? What’s this house going to look like and when will you start?
Well, typically I like to underplay things but I’m too excited: This house will look absolutely different than anything I’ve ever even done. More importantly HOW I’ll design this will be wildly different than any other project. It’s an experiment in process, and its never been done before.
YOU (the collective YOU) will be heavily involved. No, this will not be a series of ‘Ask the Audiences’. It’s much more than that, both in tech and design and I’m trembling with excitement to start.
More to come, obviously. Much more. We are solidifying sponsors now with the hopes of demo-ing in January, done by June so we can spend next summer up there. Obviously we’ll be documenting the entire thing.
Meanwhile you’ll know where to find me on the weekends – covered in mud (not from a spa) and playing with two small children and some sticks.
***UPDATE: While we are dubbing this a ‘mountain’ house because indeed it is in the moutains, it is also a lake house as its walking distance to a lake. Its in the 80’s in the summer/fall which is likely when we’d be spending the most time. So we want to harness both the mountain/winter and the lake/summer feel. Just wanted to clarify as there seems to be a big push towards a cozy cabin with plaids and dark woods, of which I’m not opposed but fear that in the summer it might feel heavy.
My question to you is, as we are formulating all this content – what do you want to see? More videos? How-To’s? Gifs? Long form series or more weekly updates on facebook live? Do you want me to go super aspirational or more budget-y (or both)? Do you want more process? More behind the scenes? Is there a style you are dying to see or something you feel like was missing from the reveal of this last house? Like I said, we have a major plan in the works to involve the audience in a HUGE way but since this is kinda a blog-experimental house I’d love any initial input both on the how you want to see the design happen and how we put out the content. Eh??
*I also want to mention that if you know where this town is (or also have a place up there) please keep that private, mostly because it’s a small quiet non-tourist community, so we’d be sad to see that change just because some blogger came in and bought a house. We want to respect not only the town but the people that enjoy it and live there.