Our Chalet in the Rough

In October 2009 my husband Steve and I were hunting for a home.  We had a list of what we were looking for: a fixer-upper but not older than the 70′s, some what private, at least an acre, located on a safe street, it needed to have the potential for a studio apartment, a garage (for Steve), and it had to be close to everything – oh yeah, and we needed two full baths and two bedrooms and within our budget.

We found a handful of the classic one story, unfinished basement brick ramblers with potential.  The one we liked the best received an offer while we were scouting it out – talk about disappointing.  After a couple days of no luck Steve returned home and I resumed the house hunt on my own.

I discovered a home a few days later that I had missed previously, while perusing the local MLS.  The moment I saw the picture my heart swelled.  The home was a chalet style, very very similar to the house my parents built in Andover, Maine, when I was a kid.  The price however, took the wind out of my sails – way over our budget.

The listing only had one photo.  I put it in my head there was no way we could afford it, so I shut my mac, did laundry and went grocery shopping.  On the way to the grocery store I made a detour – it was harmless to drive by, right?  I could not contain my excitement when I realized the house was 4 minutes from my sons school!  There was a Volkswagen in the drive way (it had to be a sign).  Memories from my childhood home in Maine flooded my mind.  It was secluded, in fact it was hard to see the house because the yard looked like the enchanted forest from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty – nothing we couldn’t fix though.  I drove up and down the road 4 or 5 times really slow trying to get a glimpse through the trees.

I ended up heading to the grocery store because I was too chicken to take a closer look – the overgrown yard was a little intimidating.  Later that day when my daughter got off of work I asked her if she wanted to go for a drive – I took her to the house she went and knocked on the door – no one answered.  She motioned for me to get out of my Volkswagen and walk around with her.  My daughter said, “This is it, you’ve got to show this to Dad!”

Long story short on my birthday we made an offer and the home owner accepted.  This is the second home we’ve purchased and I must confess I feel like my Realtor didn’t listen to me about making a lower offer.  Maybe many people feel this way after they purchase a home – I don’t know.  If he had taken the time to look at the home and see its condition first hand and still encouraged us to make the offer we did, I might feel differently.  Bottom line – I’ve learned my lesson.

The house was and is a fixer upper – there is so much work to do.  The structure is sound, beyond that everything needs to be improved.  Over the next several years we will spend a lot of blood, sweat and time polishing this diamond in the rough.  I hope we will encourage you to tackle your renovations that seem impossible, daunting and overwhelming – right now ours is.

Here are pictures of the house from our initial scout, at the time it was rented by three college students.

What a piece of work the heating system is.  The homeowner originally built this house with solar heat panels, but they never worked.  Six years before we purchased she hired her friend’s son to put this system in.  Apparently he bought the unit from the company he was working for at cost and installed it himself – some of the worst work I’ve ever seen.  He ended up losing his job because he was  moonlighting and under cutting his employer.

To the right of the heating system is this window that still has the original shipping brace – notice the lack of insulation around the window?

A nice Englander Wood Stove – see the tubing in the sand to the right of stove.  Steve says there is a circulating pump near the hot water heater in the laundry room that moves the water through this copper pipe.  When the water runs through the pipe and the stove is hot it heats the water.  A clever money saving idea, but we won’t be able to keep it, because to the right of the wood stove is a functioning fireplace in this ‘furnace room’ – yeah, we know it makes no sense.

This is the top of the basement fireplace – I could not get a picture of the actual fireplace because there was too much stuff in the room.  On the outside of the house against the fireplace wall is the AC unit.  Genius moonlighting heat man cut through the brick on the fireplace to run the copper line for the unit – geesh.

To the right of the fireplace is the lovely closet – it was full of spider webs – ick!

Let’s make our way to the laundry room.  Oh look there on the left it is the box of rocks!  Used to heat the house or wait not heat the house (according to the homeowner).  It was 8′ wide x 4′ deep x 5′ high.  Isn’t that duct work attractive?

Three breaker boxes?  After a few minutes of examination we decided we could not figure out why – what was the purpose of three breaker boxes?

The old water filtration system still works – but it’s expensive to operate.

These are the stairs to the main level.  Underneath the stairs is the access the ‘student apartment’.

Open the door at the top of the stairs to the main level and the first thing you see is this fireplace.  When I saw it, I thought it was white quarts (a rock that is plentiful in Maine).  In spite of the 30 years of dirt – I fell in love with its rustic, white, glittery elements.  I was so distracted by the stone that I didn’t notice the Missing Mantle.

Here is the very tiny dining area.  I guess this is the point I should mention I lean more to shades of green than I do blue and hard floor surfaces than wall to wall carpeting.  This funny thing about this carpet is I would bet money it is the same stuff I sold my husband when we met 19 years ago!  When he walked in he said “hey look honey it’s the carpet you sold me when we first met.”  Getting a little sentimental, sorry – it was sort of a another sign – okay your right I’m taking positive thinking to a new level!

These are the stairs to the loft bedroom.  Not built to code by any means.  There is 9″ of space between each baluster.  The entire railing is very rickety.  Dig the paneling – at least it is real pine and not the paper printed stuff.  Check out the faux beams they are 2×4′s – snicker.

This is the living room.  Nice big single pane window.  Someone volunteered to caulk the outside of the window to the grilles with a white latex caulk – this is to prevent the glass from falling out.  I guess I should be thankful they didn’t caulk the inside, too (come to think of it, if they had I would of noticed it and insisted on a lower offer).  Do you see the jungle out there?

This is the cat walk that gives one access to the front outside balcony.  We never did find the missing pieces of paneling, that’s okay because we plan to rip it all out including the cat walk.

Other side of the cat walk.  Any one need a Spanish vintage 70′s light fixture?  You can’t see it in the photo but there is an outlet in the ceiling and this light plugs in.  Amazing ingenuity I know! (sarcasm intended).

‘Yuck’.

This bathroom is going to be a total gut job.  The only redeeming quality is the white carrara marble vanity top – We plan to recycle and reuse it in the new bathroom.

Loft bedroom, the only place to stand up is in the five foot center section.

Here is the other ‘full’ – well maybe not so full bath.  Did I hear you ask where is the sink?  Good question, wish I would of thought of it while I was there.  I didn’t realize there was no sink until after I returned home.  Not to worry I found it after we moved in, behind the door, in the bedroom.  Thoughts? Cheap Hotel.

Here’s the kitchen while we were unpacking.  We got rid of the pea green dishwasher immediately – I won’t go into detail what we found underneath it.

Yes, ladies and gentleman – this is a real outdoor lamp post attached to the end of the cabinet, it was wired too, just pull the chain and you have light!  At first look all I could do was laugh.  Then when I saw the view out the window (especially with all the snow last winter) – I thought I’ll put it out in the backyard in the woods, maybe it will give a hint of Narnia (my favorite fictional books).

I have to end here.  We could not take pictures of the basement apartment because it was filled to the brim with stuff.  Once we moved in we filled it with our stuff.  We seriously down sized in square footage from our previous home.

Here is a list of what we’ve accomplished in the last year:

  • Cleaned, repaired and re-grouted the shower and tub (temporary fix).
  • Installed a stainless steel, deep, double basin kitchen sink and a new faucet.
  • Installed a new dishwasher.
  • Scrubbed the entire house from floor to ceiling – yuck.
  • Removed the lamp post in the kitchen.
  • Installed new light fixtures in the dining room and main bathroom.
  • Removed the doors off the vanity in the main bathroom.  Ripped out the swollen particle board underneath the marble vanity top and replaced it with a piece of wood.  Removed the fake drawer fronts, Steve used them and built functioning drawers. Painted the entire vanity white and placed natural wicker baskets underneath.
  • Steve and Isaac removed the box of rocks and fixed some of the messy duct work.
  • Steve and I remodeled the 10′ x 15′ storage building.
  • Cut down over 80 trees (more to go in the future).
  • Continue our on going battle with wisteria vine – it literally took over the yard.  You can’t just mow the stuff because it will spread underground and shoot up in other places.  Right now we cut each stem to the ground and put a couple drops of Tordon on it.  Seems to work well – but it is going to take years to get it all.
  • My son Isaac and I gathered up a ton of slate strewn through out the yard (left over from when the home owner made a slate walkway) and stacked a nice wall near the kitchen entrance.
  • The old blue commode cracked (woo hoo!) so we purchased a new one and installed it.  Much nicer and the white is so much easier on the eyes!
  • Designed an addition and new basement living area that will utilize the fireplace in the now existing ‘furnace room’.

Creatively yours,

Lisa

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