Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Remodeling Our Hut Part 5: The ONE Thing(s)

As we continue to work on house plans for our modest remodeling project, I think we may be driving our plan designer just a tad insane.

  We bought our own design software and it has been a wonderful help for us, but the fact is, we're not architects or designers and we overlook the problems she can see.   We've been through at least four of the designer's revisions already and I'm sure there's more to come.  

In her last email, she urged me to actually decide on something, "So my advice, is to find the one thing in addition/remodel you can't live without...what's the one thing that we absolutely need to do and then let everything else fall in place around it."

Well, she's right, I have to concentrate on The One Thing.  Which would be?  Ummmmm.....the mudroom? 

But just as the thigh bone's connected to the knee bone and the knee bone's connected to the shin bone etc., so the mudroom is connected to the kitchen and the kitchen's connected to the dining room and, well, you get it.  It's all connected.  And six inches here or there makes a big difference in a small home.

In a way, this whole process is reminiscent of a poker game, only with higher stakes. 

Designer: 'I'll see you one closet in the mudroom but I'll raise you by losing your countertop space in the kitchen'.  

Us: 'I'll see your lost countertop space and raise you by moving the stove closer to the sink.'   

Everything is a trade off when square footage is at a premium.  We can't figure out how to put a nook in the tiny room that will look the way we'd like and still see the silly garden, so we've given up on playing nooky and are on the search for other options.  

After mulling the plans over endlessly with our friends (aren't you glad you don't have to listen to ALL of this?  Our poor friends......) I finally sent our last revision to the designer late last night.   Now we wait and see how this hand plays out.

None of the homes we've toured have been the size of ours.  I'm sure there are other new homes in the 1500 sq. ft. range still being built out there, but let's face it, they don't make it to the elite 'Showcase of New Homes'.  For the contractors, I suppose it would be like entering a Shetland pony into the Kentucky Derby; after all, you want to impress potential clients with your skills, not have them smirking. 
(By the way, what happened to the Tiny House Movement?  Apparently around here, it didn't catch on.)

The open concept is still the Thing to Have right now.  Almost every home is the same layout, the kitchen with an island and seating, a dining room table next to the island and the living room beyond.

 Though the beige couch above looks lovely, what happens when a toddler launches a spoonful of Spaghettios in that direction?

The picture below is sort of what our kitchen and casual dining area might look like, but again, this house is way bigger than ours.  I may have an island, but there won't be a sink on it because I will need the space.  

I guess what I'm struggling with here and with almost all of the open concept homes is the 'openness', for lack of a better word.
When I walk into any of these new homes, what do I see? 


The vast spaces are impressive, true, but boy, I'd better be able to keep everything neat and tidy at all times if I lived in a house like this.  There's something to be said for having a little mystery.  (And rooms with doors that can be closed.)

Oddly enough, the biggest home on the tour in my earlier post, came in at a whopping 6009 sq ft (don't forget about those nine feet!) and with all of that space, had dedicated rooms for dining and living room separated by walls.  Even though it was a mansion, the rooms felt cozier.

I have been a fan of Sarah Susanka for years.  She is the author of 'The Not So Big House' and many other excellent books on the same topic.  In one of her articles she described meeting with the owners of a large new home who were unhappy.  They had built a McMansion, I guess, and though the views and room sizes were impressive, living in it was definitely not as pleasant as they'd hoped.  It didn't feel homey.  She also observed a party she'd attended in another grandiose home and found that most of the people would congregate in the kitchen, which was coincidentally, the smallest room in the public area with the lowest ceilings.   

It's the way we humans are, we crave shelter.  Little children love tents or possibly best of all, the big cardboard boxes appliances come in.  There's something comforting about a sense of enclosure.

I liken architecture to garden design.  Though we're not award-winning garden architects by a long shot, we borrowed a lot of their philosophies when we built this random plant menagerie of ours.  Carl had the idea of garden rooms in his head when we first planted the evergreens in a series of circles in 1980.  (We always called it our very own Three Ring Circus.) 

I'm very glad he had the foresight and the vision, it is always good to have a sense of mystery of what will be found around the corner.   The picture below is a satellite view of our insanity, taken last spring, I guess, since the apple trees around the dome in the formal garden are in bloom on the left.

 When I weed around here, I simply follow the sun around, if it gets too hot in one place, just haul your weed bucket to the shade.  And when people come to visit, they can't see the whole shebang at once, there's always just a small vista to draw the eye.  (And a place for me to hide stuff we're working on.) 

Though the open concept is bright and airy, there's nowhere to hide in this floor plan.

In this article, Ms. Susanka shares everything I'm hoping for our remodel to accomplish as we both grow older here at the hut.  

I guess there's not really just One Thing after all, it's a whole bunch of things that all boil down to one Big Thing.

Aging in Place is Everything. 

Monday, March 4, 2019

House Touring Once Again

The weekend was once again spent on the hunt for the elusive small kitchen and dining room designs with over forty houses to choose from.  

I think we've been through over a dozen homes so far, and have come away with a lot of new ideas.  Seeing a design on a plan or pictures of a space is one thing, but being able to experience the room in person is very helpful.

Joel, Abby and Audrey went along with us on a few of the houses, which was great.  Joel was providing valet service right to the doors, so there was no need to try to park a car and get out in the middle of a snowbank.
 The snowbanks are very impressive, but no fun to climb over.

We decided to buy a laser measuring device which is coming in very handy for these tours (and for our house, too.) 

 Whenever I want to know the size of a room all I have to do is press the button for a measurement.  It draws a lot less attention than the two of us holding a measuring tape, and we had a lot of people ask us to measure rooms for them, too.  

There will be remodeled homes on tour next weekend, and I'm really looking forward to those.  New homes are wonderful, but most of them are quite large and they can have any floor plan they want.  Seeing the before and afters of the remodeled houses is what inspires me.  

But there's something to be said for being able to tour a 'dream home', too.  The largest home on this tour was over 6000 sq. ft. 
 This house was laid out in a more traditional Victorian pattern, with a more closed off floor plan as opposed to the very open concept most new homes have.  

 Formal dining room is just what it says, formal.

 One of the turrets houses a very bright bathroom.
 Balconies abound.
 Lots of balconies........

 I always wondered what a round room would be like, it's very bright.
 In the picture below, Joel is waving to me from the other wing of the house.

Below, Carl is checking out yet another turret room.

 What a staircase this mansion has, it was really incredible.  There was an elevator, too, in case the stairs prove to be too much.

 The front door (wait, surely they don't call this a front door?) ok, the Grand Foyer had a gorgeous chandelier and very, very shiny porcelain (or maybe granite or marble?) tiled floors.

 Coffered ceilings HIGH overhead, beautiful woodwork, all I could do was shake my head in wonderment.

Apparently there is going to be a large family living here and lots of laundry.
The laundry room was wider than my whole house.  

I really do like touring the opulent homes even though we could never afford them.  

I do think the older mansions and even the smaller, more humble homes have far more character and attention to detail though.  On our way to the next new house, we came across this older Craftsman style home.  I had to have Joel drive by twice so we could take pictures. 

    No, it's not 6000 sq. ft. but this house has so much character.

By the looks of things, this house might have once been part of a neighborhood that must have been cut apart to make room for a large school.  I would guess this house to be at least from the 1930's, but I'm no expert.  

We're just glad it was allowed to remain after the school was built.  What we wouldn't give to tour this one.......

 Sometimes as we drive around we run across homes that make us catch our breath. This house is blessed with picture perfect proportions which makes it seem warm and cozy and yet exudes timeless elegance.  

What a beauty.

They sure don't build them like they used to.


Saturday, March 2, 2019

More Snow?

 We had more snow overnight on Friday, looked to be close to another four to five inches again.  I wonder if March's snowfall will keep pace with February? 
Good Ol' Castle Aaargh, disappearing from sight.

According to the historical weather data, February 2019 is going down in the record books as the second snowiest winter in our part of Wisconsin since 1890 with 30.2" of snow in twenty-eight days.  

Approximately 130 miles north of us in Rhinelander, however, they must think we're wimps, because February brought them a whopping 61.5" of the white stuff. 

This has been the kind of winter I remember from my childhood.  As we drive around here now, in places the roads abruptly turn into near-tunnels with snowbanks pushed up by the snowplows on either side.   Last night's snow was very light and fluffy again, just waiting for strong winds to cause more drifting and worse yet, whiteout conditions.  It's been much colder than normal for this time of year, too.  We're going below zero again this week with windchills forecast to be -20 to -30F.  

Oh, well, it can't last forever.  (Can it?)

 In between snowstorms, on sunny days, we have glorious blue skies and the sun feels so good on my face.  (As long as I'm out of the wind.  Yes, that's right, for some reason, we choose to live in a place where the air hurts your face sometimes.)   
If you've never lived in a northern climate, this next bit is going to sound ridiculous, but I assure you, this is not an exaggeration...   One way I gauge how cold of a day we are facing is when I take my first deep breath outside and my nose hairs freeze instantly.  Then I know it's cold out.  As in really cold.  It doesn't happen every winter, but this year has been a real nose hair freezer.  Yessirree.

And another strange phenomena for us Northern Nuts: For the last sixty years, when I go outside in the fall and winter, I wear a very unfashionable scarf over my head that I tie under my chin (our son David always says I look like a old-timey peasant lady.)  True, it's not a great look, but I have never found a hat that could beat the warmth of my scarves.  

Last week I went out skiing when it was down below zero again.  Even though it was cold, because I was breaking trail, I managed to work up a sweat and soon my hair was wet.  I took off my scarf for the last ten minutes of the trip, and voila!  My hair was frozen instantly.  There is no gel, mousse or hairspray that can match the holding power of ice.  As long as you stay outside, you'll have a windproof, muss-proof coiffure.

Yes, there are strange fluctuations in the weather here, we can go from -30 to +30 in a few hours  (a sixty degree temperature gain!) and it's still below freezing.  But when it's that warm, I don't bother throwing on a scarf or a coat to go get the mail. Heck, 30 degrees is balmy.

Why do we stick around?  Mostly because our wet mittens freeze to our doorknobs and we can't leave until spring.  Might as well wait it out, even if you could find the car in the snowbank, it won't start anyway.