So let me tell you about my tower #7: The Foundation & the Stories it Dug Up

Looking up the slope and over the shed.

It is fitting that my first tower post after Sandy is about its foundation. The house is perched 20? feet above the Hudson River.  I’ve always worried about the slope giving way.  Now I can also worry about the Hudson rising and sweeping the house down to the city.

Some say the world will end in fire
Others say in ice. . .

Water will also suffice.

Please, please, please:  may all those who admonish me for worrying about “worst-possibles” be the smart ones, and let me be the dummy.


Dave started to dig, but I didn’t watch.  Probably petrified.  Up until now the project could be put in a box and stored in the lower yard shed.

I had done that before – designed a new home and then put it in a box that now actually does sit in the lower yard shed.  It was a very happy time for me, one of those times when I was glowing.  Clark and I were starting a new chapter in our lives.

Building a new home was not even a fleeting thought until our neighbor told us he was selling his lot across the stream behind our house.  We lived in a small town with two dairy farms, on a quiet street near a pond with a stream that separated us from a beautiful large lot that belonged to the Davises.  We loved where we lived.

Every now and then the bridge over the stream would cave in and we were at the end of a dead end – that was best.  The boys in the neighborhood (and there were many) used to climb down to the stream and do good old fashioned outside play.

The lot intrigued us.  We were thinking of closing Book Nooks & Krannies.   Morgan and Alex were growing out of children’s books, Clark had actually gone back to high tech so that we could have health care, and without the family all involved, the store was not as much fun for me.  I would be able to devote my time and energy to the house.

The lot begged for a barn. We agreed on a price for the lot, and went up to spend a night at the Yankee Barn show home in Grantham, New Hampshire.  The boys were still sleeping and Clark and I were downstairs in the kitchen having our coffee and talking about how much we liked the casual, comfortable look and feel of the barn home.  All of a sudden a moose walked by.  It’s amazing what influences my decisions.

We spent several months designing our home, studying the sun and views and the slopes and the wetlands.

The timing was unbelievable.  We had already closed the store and were going to pass papers on the land in a day or two, right after the perc test.  But during all this, unbeknownst to me, Clark was dealing with another issue.  His father had just died, and he must have been thinking about his own mortality, because the week before the perc test he went to the doctor to have a swelling checked out.  He had non-Hodgkins lymphoma.  We decided not to do the house.

It was a very sad time for me and a terrifying one for Clark.  We had already closed the store, and I actually had taken a new job – librarian at Lowell National Historical Park. In fact, I started the job the day he received his diagnosis.  I cried a lot in private and in public.  It was Rosh Hashanah and the boys and I always met our neighbors at the temple.  Tears ran down my checks the entire service.

Life went on.


The front yard of my home slopes down from the street.  Dave thought if we went with the foundation as originally planned we would need to put in a retaining wall.  He asked if we wanted to raise the foundation slightly.  It would require a step at the door, but that rise would be offset elsewhere.  I can’t remember the details, but it seemed logical.

Nick came and built the forms and poured the foundation and then Sean laid sleeves between the cottage and the tower for the plumbing and heating, and Dave did the same for the electricity. When connecting the waste water pipes from the tower to those of the house we hit a snag.

Besides my obsession about the slope giving way, I also have a thing about septic systems.  This constant worry grew from having to build a new leach field when Clark and I were selling the house mentioned above because ours failed Title 5 in Massachusetts.

Considering all the hassle and money Clark and I spent to replace that leach field I never felt comfortable with the fact that no one could provide me with a plan of the septic system when I was buying my current house.  The county health department needed the date the work was done.   My realtor looked at me funny when I asked who did septic inspections. All I learned was that the septic tank was under the stone that pointed north in the walkway leading to the house.

If one worries long enough about something happening, it will happen.

Sean was connecting the waste water pipes from the tower to those that led to the septic tank and found a mess.  We had pumped the tank about a month before we started construction, so when we now found it full we knew there was a problem.  The 3-inch pipe that led out from the tank ran uphill.   Sean put in a bigger pipe, adjusted the pitch, and now I know all I want to know about the septic system.

A load of stone for the foundation arrived on May sixteenth.   Lee and Derrick spread that and laid insulation, and then Sean came in to lay the tubing for the radiant heat. We weren’t home when Sean was doing this work, but he told us later that our neighbor came down on his tractor to tell him that he was uncoiling the tubing on his land.  About a week later this neighbor installed a green plastic fence at the property line.

Then we had to decide if we wanted a polished concrete or painted concrete floor on the first floor, or did we not want a concrete floor at all.  Research on the subject proved inconsistent,  but it seemed like a cumbersome, expensive process, with lots of possibilities for disaster.

We unfortunately had lots of time to decide.  For the next month or more, rain was forecast at least every other day.  Nick, our excavator, was wary of having the cement mixer sink into a muddy front yard, so he held off until sunny skies were the norm.

We chose to forgo the smooth, slick look of concrete.  It wasn’t until we actually were going to buy flooring that we learned that outside of carpet or laminate there were very few “affordable” options.  We did, however, find a very good looking and well made laminate, and are happy.

By early June the slab was poured and we could move about on the first floor. In the meantime Dave had been building the tower and pondering the bridge.

So let me tell you about my tower #6: Permits and Credits

Lee and I brought our plans to the town building inspector on February 1, 2012.  Our fingers were crossed, at least mine were.

There was no reason the project should be denied.  We decided to go for the permit on our own – no architect and no builder. The inspector was alone in his office when we arrived.   In fact it seemed like the three of us were the only ones in the building, in the world, that night.  It felt like the Twilight Zone.  We ventured in.

The inspector looked the plans over, asked questions mainly about set backs and size, and who was going to do the work.   I must have started talking too much because at one point Lee gave me a look. It’s hard for me not to gush about the house.  The inspector made a few comments on the design and that the project was small compared to most that he reviews, explained the inspection process, figured up our fee, took my  money, and sent us on our way.  We crossed this hurdle easily. The inspector has been prompt and professional with all our dealings and inspections.  Thumbs up.

It was time to start.

We had already chosen our builder – Dave Wilt from Kerhonksen.  We first showed him the plans in November 2011 before the engineer beefed them up for gale force winds.  We knew Dave.  He is a friend of Robin who did house painting for Lee.  We have several of her paintings hanging in our home – two florals and one of a young lad with the most brooding eyes. Those eyes would stare at me when I awoke and went to sleep and finally I had to move him out of his prominent spot in the bedroom because he was giving me the willies.  Dave was a builder highly recommended by several contractors who had worked with Lee.  It is small world.

Emily watching Dave during a break

Dave has been great to work with.  He plans ahead if he thinks something is going to be troublesome.  He says he is always reading construction, talking construction, thinking construction.  He probably dreams it too.  He’s reliable, shows up with a good team and works hard and long hours.  Some of Lee’s construction buddies say they won’t work with Dave because he works them so hard.  But they all respect him and encouraged us  to give him a call.   He doesn’t seem to fluster – does very well with my questions and my difficulty with decision-making.  The most colorful of his crew so far has been Reuben, a hispanic chef who shared seder recipes with us.  Robin’s daughter Emily came and worked with Dave for a few weeks.  She doesn’t realize how much she is going to appreciate having had the opportunity just yet.

Al Dancy — a big guy from Kingston — took down two trees in the way.  He does outdoor work for Lee and built the steps to my “lower back forty”.

Lawn Ornaments

We needed an excavator and someone to pour the foundation.  We got estimates from two fellows Lee had worked with from the other side of the river, and from on my side also, as I wanted to support the workers in my community.  In the end Dave dug the foundation and Nick DeLaura from Stone Ridge poured the foundation and slab.   For a few months I was living in a Fisher Price construction site, a few too many months, because spring rains and fears of getting the concrete truck stuck in muddy ground delayed this part of the job.

Then we had to choose a plumber.  Again all fingers pointed to one person – Sean Lamkin of High Falls – who also works for Lee.  He brought his son with him during summer vacation and had him working.  In addition to all the work on the house, he also got one of my burners on my stove to light again.  He will definitely get a thumbs up at the end.  Plumbers are very expensive.  I’ve told Sean that already.

We were happy to learn that none of the work had to be done by licensed contractors, so Lee could do the wiring as well as act as general contractor.  The electrical inspector complimented him on his work at the first inspection.  He had a frustrating period when he couldn’t figure out which wires went where, but thankfully that is over.  He’s feeling quite competent now and he wakes up with a smile.

Lee and his chief everything man, Derrick Moore (and  brother Darryl), of All Home Services in Coxscakie, have been working hard on sheet-rock, flooring, painting, you name it.  They’ll be with us until completion, and then some.

Who else have I been writing checks to?   I contracted Hudson Valley Green Insulation from Rhinebeck, and Paul Groll of Hudson to grind up the tree stumps, and Scott Ziegler of Kingston helped with taping and is now designing and building the stairs to the observation deck.

Lee and I have been almost daily customers at Williams Lumber in both Rhinebeck and Red Hook. and have happily run to find things we need at the new Germantown Variety.  I bought lighting at Wolfberg Electrical Supply in Albany, and an antique red glass lamp at White Whale Limited on Warren Street in Hudson.  I bought paint from Sherwin Williams in Catskill, windows from Pella in Kingston and doors and windows from the Door Jamb in Shokan, more doors from a local scavenger on craigslist, flooring from the Carpet Store in Rosendale, stone from Quality Landscaping in Germantown.

Halibut Point State Park, Rockport, Massachusetts

We did have to go out of state for a few items.  We took a mini-vacation on Cape Ann when we picked up our gas stove at The Stove Shoppe, in Windham, NH.  We ordered our spiral staircase from Stair-Pak Products in Pine Grove, PA.  I bought a wild ceiling fan from Kennedy-Webster Electric in Downers Grove, Illinois which I found on ebay.

Of course we did rely on Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Amazon but only when it was totally crazy not to.

While corporations are hoarding profits and laying off workers, and banks are protecting their interests and making home owners jump through hoops to get loans, and the government is being strangled so that it has no money to hire a corps to rebuild our infrastructure, I have been recklessly pouring the remains of my decimated rainy day fund  into what sometimes seems to me to be single-handedly keeping the local economy alive.  My credits may not read like those in Architectural Digest but they are just as legitimate and I am proud of them.  I encourage you to get in touch if you need a good contractor in the mid-Hudson Valley.

I deserve a tax credit for job creation this year.

So let me tell you about my tower #5: It’s not on an island

Mom might like it better if I wore my pearls —

It’s been hard to write about the tower these few weeks. For one, I’m actually working on the house – painting, not very well but hoping to improve with time.  Yesterday I was up on scaffolding – and I was moving it around and pouring paint out of a five-gallon can.  My mother wouldn’t approve and the way my back hurts right now, I might agree.

Two, I feel guilty every time I sit down at the computer knowing Lee is hard at work. Third, my mind is focused more on the present stage of the tower than on a year ago when we were studying drawings.

I have also been totally distracted by the ugliness in the air:  the blatant disregard of truth, equality, ethics, science and suffering by so many of those in control in our country.   It didn’t seem right that I should write about my happiness.  It seemed disrespectful to those without a place to live, without food on the table, a job, health, without hope.

But Michelle made it okay.  She said it all last night at the Convention.  Rather than read my rant, hear her speak of the America I know and I want for my children.    Michelle said it better than I could and it is okay for me to think and write of other things.


We still held some hope to get the addition up and closed in before the winter.  Actually only 36 days passed between the “please rethink” email and the “love the tower” email of August 21, 2011, but it was a long 36 days.

From the south

Duke came to visit with the new model (which now looks a bit battered in the photos) and a set of drawings.  It looked fantastic and had “wow” appeal.  He incorporated many of my wants into the tower.  It had a greenhouse bridge over the doors to the two structures and the entrance to the house was not visible from the street.  He angled the house so that we captured the best view from the observation deck and maximized the footprint while taking into consideration the 10 foot-septic tank setback.

Street side

He topped off an 11 x 11 observation floor with a wide shallow roof that would enable me to keep windows open at least on the third floor during the rain, and provide shade (although not enough shade I discovered and grumbled about for a few miserable days after it actually was up).   And he lined up the first floor windows so that you could see green grass and sky through the addition from the living room.  It wasn’t the angle I had envisioned, but it worked just as well.

We talked a lot about the window walls that framed the spiral staircase corner.  They were visually striking and would allow lots of light into the space.

View during today’s morning coffee

Duke left and we played with the design.  Lee didn’t say much but I knew what he was thinking.  It was an expensive little addition compared with our original idea.  We had started simply:  one story plus a loft in a square shed roof structure with a balcony for morning coffee overlooking the river.

My thoughts were along the same line as Lee’s.  All those angles and windows and that large deck were going to bump the costs up, but we started calling the addition our tower.

First I cut windows.  It was easy to take away the transoms.   It was also easy to eliminate the two picture windows on the third floor.  One faced a brutal winter north wind, the other side faced neighbors, and we also wanted wall space to hang our art.

North side

We didn’t need five little windows in the second floor landing of the cottage.   Three more deleted.

We knew we didn’t need or want all that outdoor deck, which actually grew even bigger in subsequent drawings.  The tower is to be our private space, not for entertaining.  We decided to limit the deck to the area adjacent to the tower.  I don’t know what we will do with all that deck we still have.  The roomiest side looks over our neighbors’ yards and outbuildings – not the nicest view and definitely none of my business.  We may eventually put up a trellis and perhaps a clothesline or make a container garden in that area.  We’re thinking of getting IPE decking tiles for the deck, and we’ll add them a section at a time.

River side

The window walls around the spiral were the biggest problem.  Everyone – including me – loved the look.  However these windows didn’t face the water, they faced the street and our neighbors.  Lee and I sometimes thought of our tower as our cozy nest in a tree house.  Living with those windows would be like living in a fishbowl.

I obsessed for months on how to preserve the excitement of the window walls yet add privacy.  What was the point of all those windows if they had to be covered up?   The spiral stair made it troublesome, if not impossible, to reach to open and close curtains, let alone windows.  I didn’t want windows I couldn’t open or clean.   Even so, I checked into shades and blinds and tinted glazes and sheets.

My visit to Hunter Douglas was surreal.  Anything the saleswoman showed me that might work cost as much as the windows, if not more.   Lowe’s and Home Depot weren’t much better, nor was the web.

Dave, our builder, said we could wait to order windows until after the building was up.  That helped and I eventually settled on four large square fixed windows, letting the privacy issue rest.  I have used my mom’s old tablecloths, flat bed sheets, and rolls of woven toweling from Lowell National Historical Park for curtains.   Certainly I will find the right piece of material squirreled away amongst my treasures and hang it strategically.

We actually were able to place one awning window in the spiral wall and get some air circulating in that corner.  I didn’t have to compromise totally on the “no-windows-that-don’t-open” rule.

It wasn’t until we were actually ready to start building that I discovered a major omission in the drawings.  The original cottage had a dormer riverside, but not to the front.  If you were short to average size you could stand tall at the top of the stairs, but it was still a bit precarious to cross the second floor landing to get from one room to the other.  If you were tall, you bumped your head.  Even before planning this addition, I would fantasize popping out the roof and making that landing a livable space.  That was on my original wish list.

From the top before the dormer went in and oops, the roof is on crooked —

Somehow we all overlooked it.  When the architect added it back in I thought we were making it easier to put the pieces together.   Dave told me otherwise!  All of a sudden the original cottage had to support not only the bridge but also an entire new room.

Dave had another surprise.   Because Lee and I had told Duke numerous times that there were very strong winds coming down the Hudson which often blew for days with gusts of 40 – 60 plus miles per hour, he passed the plans to an engineer to make sure that the tower and especially its roof would be able to withstand this abuse.  The engineer added LVLs and Simpson ties and lots more lumber and. . .   We’ll get to that later.

The tower is standing.  It’s wonderful.  There have been frustrations and compromises, but in the grand scheme of things they are minor.  Lee reminds me each time that I will come up with a solution and that we will be very happy.  I pout, but he is right.

So let me tell you about my tower #4: Inspiration

Actually, we never thought we were designing a tower.  That came later.  We were designing a rectangular addition with a shed roof that would allow us to peer over the existing cottage so we could enjoy the sun coming up and down over the Catskills and reflecting on the Hudson.

We kept talking about this structure and were amazed to find it as a fantasy in a book on our own shelves.   We immediately sent it to Duke.

It would have a loft.

It might have a breezeway between the buildings, or it might have an enclosed entry.

It would have an open stairway.

And the bridge would be a greenhouse.

In keeping with the eyebrow window houses of the Hudson Valley it would have eyes.

I looked for inspiration everywhere.  Architectural Design was a disappointment.  The editors seemed to equate spending lots of money with quality design, and the magazine soon bored me with celebrity house tours.   San Francisco was energizing – it was my first visit and I quickly fell in love with the row houses.

There was a wonderful selection of design books at the Rosendale Library and many more available through interlibrary loan.    Unfortunately I didn’t realize until later that Mid Hudson Library System does not retain your borrowing history unless you ask that they do so.  Much of my bibliography is lost.

Zimmerman House

One book in particular, Wright-Sized Houses: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Solutions for Making Small Houses Feel Big, by Diane Maddex, shares the blame (or the credit) for changing my cost efficient plan into a design with pizazz and all its trimmings:  fun, challenge, compromise, and expense.  I read the entire text, remembering a long past visit to Chicago and a highlight bus tour of the Wright homes and Unity Temple.  The Zimmerman House in Manchester, New Hampshire, part of the Currier Museum, was one of my favorite places to bring out-of-town guests.  I never tired of the tour guides pointing out the specially designed music corner, the plantings inside and outside the floor to ceiling windows that made the walls of the house disappear, the specifically designed cabinets and storage space which never seemed sufficient to me.

But it was Wright’s overhanging roofs that excited me now.  I could picture that roof on the top of my house.  It would provide shade from the brutal late afternoon sun, and it would provide shelter so that I could leave the windows open in the rain.   I immediately wrote Duke.

Duke liked the idea.  He placed that shallow wide roof on top of my addition, giving it the feel of a forest ranger’s tower, a lighthouse, a prison guard tower, the squirrel queen’s lookout.

The plans came in.  We were very happy.


Other books that contributed to the addition and to the collage are:

A Little House of My Own:  47 Grand Designs for 47 Tiny Houses, by Lester R. Walker, 8/9/2011

Little House on a Small Planet:  Simple Homes, Cozy Retreats, and Energy Efficient Possibilities, by Shay Salomon

Living Under Glass, by Jane Tresidder & Stafford Cliff — greenhouse in collage

The New Cottage Home, by Jim Tolpin — peekover roof and enclosed double entry in collage

Inside the Not So Big House:  Discovering the Details that Bring a Home to Life (and others), by Sarah Susanka and Marc Vassallo

Pictures of Home, by Colin Thompson — fantasy shed roof in collage

More Small Houses, edited by Fine Homebuilding Editors and Kevin Ireton — loft in collage

So let me tell you about my tower #3: The Architect

Choosing the architect turned out to be very straightforward and satisfying.

Three of my neighbors had recently made additions to their homes.  I liked the end product of all.  Two of them recommended their architect, the third didn’t.  It was a start.

Within a week after pulling together my initial wish list for the addition, Lee and I met with the first architect.  He had designed a sunroom for my friend’s farmhouse — a very well proportioned and complementary sunroom.  It wasn’t much to go on, but it was well conceived.  He listened and looked, gave us some ideas, and explained his fee schedule.

The second architect had designed a very comfortable, roomy, attractive home from a neighbor’s existing cottage. His website showed some of his commercial, retail and residential projects.  Nothing looked particularly small and cozy, but that could just mean that none of his clients had that vision.

We corresponded and made an appointment for March 20th.   When we met he appeared confident, not at all arrogant, and he seemed flexible, both in his approach to the project and on his pricing.  His most memorable questions at this interview were about money.  He didn’t want to start something that we could not afford to finish.  And he was right to be concerned!  We wanted a tall house on a small footprint attached to a cottage by a bridge on the second floor that looked like a squirrel would live in it.  How much money would anyone in her right mind want to spend on that?   But I’ve never been very smart when it comes to my money.  With the addition the house may actually be worth its purchase price in 2007

Duke Beeson is a New York City architect who owned a second home in the town next to mine.  Before this meeting I thought it a long shot that he would take this project.  But by the middle of our conversation I was hoping that he might want to expand his business upstate, or he might be intrigued with the cottage, the location or the idea.  Lee and I pulled together the plot plan, my concept, and whatever drawings we had of the cottage and exchanged them for a business card.

It didn’t take me long to realize I had no idea of how to interview or choose an architect.  It is a little embarrassing to admit that I may have chosen Duke because he is tall and handsome and the idea of having a city architect had a bit of appeal.

By April 3rd we had a proposal in hand, Duke had checked out the code to see if we did have enough square footage and setbacks to build, and we took some time to think very hard if we were serious.   On May 16th Duke and his assistant came for measurements and I gave him a check for the down payment.

There was no anxiety because there was still plenty of time to have second thoughts.

Lee and I waited patiently, still getting used to the idea that we were making a commitment to live with each other, let alone build an addition together.

Finally Duke told us he was ready to bring over the design.  He entered our home on June 25th with a cake box from Dean and Deluca’s.  He opened the box and voila – there was a white board model of a house we didn’t recognize.  He had hand drawn plans of that addition and one a bit smaller.  Even the smaller addition had more square footage than the original cottage.  It provided us with lots of space and great views.  We talked, we were overwhelmed.  He left.

Over the next week I became more and more distressed as I compared the new house to my original concept.  The house he designed was a wonderful house, practical, and resale-able. But no matter how we wiggled and jiggled it, it had no whimsey.

It wasn’t until two weeks later, July 16th, that I wrote to Duke:

 After being dazzled by your detailed drawings and model, it took us                     quite a while to realize that what you provided was not what we asked for . . .

After a few more back and forths, I sent a diagram Lee and I had drawn up and Duke wrote back:

The concern I have about your diagram of the addition is that it will truly look like it dropped from outer space into the front yard.

Is that your idea to have two unrelated structures connected by a bridge?

I answered YES with enthusiasm, and knew that somehow we had chosen the right architect for the job.

So let me tell you about my tower #2: The How

Both Lee and I have experience with design and construction.  He has converted three lofts, in San Francisco, Manhattan and Brooklyn, into residential/studio spaces, and has renovated rental properties.

Our first home in needlepoint by me 1981. I never tried needlepoint again.

My late husband and I had picked up someone else’s crazy half-finished expansion of a cottage and turned it into our first home.  We later built  the home where our children grew up.  Our last adventure was to gut and redo the three-bedroom owner’s quarters of our 1790 bed and breakfast.

Hopefully the maxim “practice makes perfect” will prove to be true.

Entrance to the owner’s quarters, 2005

Lee and I were prepared for the work but had to work out some very important issues. Who would pay for what?  Whose house would this be?  Who would do what?

After much discussion, we agreed that it would be my financial responsibility and remain totally my house.  My sons do like the house and Lee, and we didn’t want feelings for him to have any sway over their decision-making when/if the house should become theirs.  Lee is a generous man and he is always taking chances.  I don’t have to worry and the boys don’t have to worry about him loving me for my house.

Lee is doing a lot of the work on the house: carpentry, wiring, taping, trim, tile, floors.  He has started grimacing about his shoulder, sometimes one and sometimes the other, and falls asleep during movies.  Hopefully he won’t become an  achy old man during this project. He will be bringing in help with the sheet rock and flooring and I’ve just set him up for a massage.

It made sense to divide the work so that the design is my responsibility and the construction is his.  It’s easier said than done.  There is a lot of interplay between the two.

I chose to hire an architect, even though Lee thought we could do it ourselves and wanted to save my money for materials and labor.

Our second home where we were a family, painted by my father, 1990

My husband and I designed our second home, and while we did pretty well, after living in it a few months, we realized we were not as smart as we thought we were.  We hired an architect for our owner’s quarters redo, mainly because we were stuck.  He got it perfectly, and we learned that working with an architect doesn’t mean one has failed.  (Clark was a do-it-yourself-er in theory and practice, and so is Lee, and so am I).  An architect is well worth the additional cost.

An architect would transform my squirrel house vision into an actual livable structure.  Having professionally drawn up plans I would be less likely to step on the contractors’ and Lee’s toes.   An architect’s advice and expertise would boost my confidence about the project and provide peace of mind.

There were practical considerations also.  What was code?  Could we actually put more structure on the little lot?  How much would it cost?   Where would Lee live until the addition was completed?

I read the town code and thought we could do it, and was hoping our architect would agree.

Lee and I picked a figure we would like to spend, a figure based on nothing in particular.  We’ve already gone over the first figure; we knew it was unrealistic.  We are hoping we come in close to what we chose for the second.


Lee moved in with his clothing, his dog, some art, and a lot of his kitchen in October 2011:  we didn’t want to commute across the river  another winter.  He found a space nearby for his office and man space.  I get a little romantic buzz walking from our home to his office for a cup of tea in the afternoon.

There were more difficult soul-searching questions.  Would our relationship make it through this project? Would I be able to complete the house if for some reason Lee couldn’t or wouldn’t finish it with me?  What would I do with this larger house if I were once again on my own?

We’ve touched on these questions but they are mostly floating in my subconscious.  Hopefully they will not have to be answered.

So let me tell you about my tower #1: Background

“Squirrel Bread,” is a dense, very nutty raisin apple bread of mine named for the little furry characters of Brian Jacques’ Redwall.  I read the Redwall books to my sons for many years, and always wished to be invited to one of the banquets prepared from chestnuts, honey, berries, apples, and crunchy, healthy squirrel treats.  It was a quick, easy jump from fantasizing cooking in a squirrel kitchen to fantasizing living in a squirrel house.

a dream book for designers of squirrel homes

When Lee and I decided we were tired of traveling 45 minutes, crossing over the psychological barrier of a river to spend our nights together, finding a squirrel house for our new combined life became a real possibility.  How nice to weed one garden, stock one refrigerator and always have what you wanted with you.

We felt strongly about both of our homes, which was probably why we put up with commuting for so long.  We had a country and a town house. Mine was referred to as a small gem:  brick walls, a picturesque hamlet location, a panoramic view of and access to the Hudson, lots of character and charm, very peaceful except for the New York/Albany train running past.

Rosendale Library

Lee’s apartment was in Rosendale, where, they say, people from Brooklyn move when Brooklyn gets to be too much or too expensive.  He lived on the main street, with shops, restaurants (my favorite is Bywater Bistro where we ate our first dinner together), the theater, the Alternative Bakery, Jane’s ice cream at The Big Cheese, the delightfully squirrelly library, and the post office all just a walk away.  His first floor apartment had five French doors opening onto a  large pleasant porch, and he had landscaped front and back.   Rondout Creek was across the street where our dogs could run free and swim.

Both of our homes were too small for both of us.  Mine had been completely gutted by the previous owners and reconceived as their weekend home. It made an excellent one-person cottage.  Lee’s was an apartment he had originally renovated as a rental.  We both had already minimized.  We each needed our own space, which was another reason having two houses was so nice.

We looked for other houses available on the market.  Perhaps we could find one that would fill some of the good things about the two of ours together.  We actually found a nice larger home on a lake at a near reasonable price, and it made us realize that we didn’t want to give up the Hudson River or the lively street.  Deep inside we probably knew the cottage on the river would finally win, and we finally started to play with the idea of an addition.

Lee and I work in different ways and speak in our own shorthands.  So to be as clear as possible to both of us, I wrote up a dream list and sent it off to him on March 13, 2011.

Approximate footprint:  14 X 24  (336 sq. ft.)


  • Adding square footage to make room for two
  •               Separate space to provide privacy for us when kids visit 
  • A space to give us each privacy from each other
  • Keeping the character of the original house intact
  • Complimenting the original house
  • Providing an outdoor space with a view that is sheltered from the intense summer evening sun, and the strong winds


  • Large open first floor
  • Loft second floor
  • Main bridge connecting two second floors bumping out the old house ceiling
  • Main entrance stays where it is with a covered walkway connecting houses???
  • Shed roof sloping towards the road?
  • Rectangle tilted slightly towards south to get the best mountain views
  • Simple but special

First Floor:

  • Large but not ridiculously large laundry room with roughed in full bath
  • Fireplace
  • Multifunctional – piano, office, studio, master bedroom if ever needed for us
  • Closets and storage space

Second Floor

  • Master bedroom
  • Master bath?  Or use bath in original house and make full bath on first floor
  • Protected deck with view of  water – perhaps to the north?  — accessible from master bedroom


  • Hidden from road
  • See through to the field
  • Places for flower beds
  • Door to new house
  • Mud room

Sometime later I added that I wanted the bathroom to look out over the field to the north of the house.  In the cottage the bathroom mirror reflects the Hudson and the Catskills and it is a wonderful way to brush one’s teeth.

Look good?  It looked great to us.