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.

Jackson

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.)

Concept:

  • 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

Design:

  • 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

Entrance

  • 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.