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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A New Adventure

My in-laws live on a beautiful island in the Penobscot Bay in Maine for half of the year, and my husband John spent many idyllic boyhood summers there. Because Boston is so close to Maine, we've had the opportunity to visit more this year than ever before. Its forever been John's personal Mecca, but being there so often really solidified my own love of the place and amplified our desire to be there more often, to bring family and friends up, and to someday give our kids the opportunity to spend time in this truly magical place.

In a much-too-cute but actually real moment, John and I were eating ice cream in the island ice cream shop (which doubles as a real estate office) and scanning a "for sale" flyer when a house we'd never noticed before jumped out at us. It looked like a good size, was well-located, and the price was about 1/10th of what it would cost in the city real estate markets we're used to. We assumed something had to be horribly wrong with it, but decided to schedule a viewing to see the surely collapsing foundation/leaking roof/built on an ancient burial ground disaster of a house for ourselves.
The photo from the real estate listing that caught our eyes
 Much to our surprise, when we arrived at the property, nothing major was wrong. Before we even saw the inside of the house, the surrounding land won us over. You can't see the water from the house today, though it probably did have views when it was originally built in 1898 and the island was mostly farmland. The property abuts an old carriage road whose entrance is the most beautiful allĂ©e of two hundred-year-old oak trees that guide you down a trail through the woods to the east bay of the island. It's the loveliest path and I'm already fantasizing about full-bellied, post-dinner summertime walks down to the water to watch the moon rise over the bay.

John is most excited about the barn. The area behind the sliding barn door is a garage with a long workbench. It will be perfect for storing the rowboat he built last summer. There are two rooms upstairs in the barn. Long ago they were likely used for storing hay, and most recently as the second-to-last owner's groovy man cave. I'm hoping that once we rip out the retro carpeting I can use the space to get back into painting, as I'm a really messy painter and have been nervous to paint anywhere I've lived in the past several years! There are three other buildings attached to the main barn, two of which will eventually need to be torn down. One still has an outhouse in it, which in fact houses not one, but two side by side (!) seats.

As for the inside, some "before" shots to share with you: 

The Living Room. Last weekend we tore this carpeting out and found great hardwood floor underneath which is now waiting to be sanded and refinished.
Family Room: We know for certain we're removing the wood stove, ceiling tiles, cabinets (repurposing the top shelves for a pantry) and someday installing glass doors leading out to a porch where the windows are.
Dining Room - We'll likely paint these floors and sand down the popcorn ceiling, and as in every room, paint all the walls and trim.
As you can see from these photos of the downstairs, the inside of the house is a real maze of rooms. Parts of the house are meant to be completely shut down in the winter to keep heat contained, so there are doors everywhere. It has five bedrooms, which sounds luxurious at first, but in order to get to two of them, you have to pass through two others. If we wanted to host five different people or couples in the house, they'd have to be a pretty tight knit group....especially given that there's only one bathroom for all five bedrooms, and it only has a tub, no shower!

Suddenly the double-seater outhouse sounds perfectly sensible.

And the kitchen:

I think this kitchen was probably pretty awesome for its time when it was updated in the 1950s/60s. But every ounce of me wants to rip out the Formica countertops and linoleum floor as soon as possible.
John trying to make sense of the parallelogram window.


After spending countless hours in the house, we still aren't completely sure what its original footprint was. There have been several additions to it over the years and we'll likely spend years and years getting it back to a place architecturally where my eyes can rest peacefully. I get very hung up on a few things that just don't line up. The thing that's bothering me the most right now is the parallelogram window in the front of the house. Though kind of cool in itself, the way it's placed fills me with an indescribable mix of awe, confusion, and rage. 
Glass-enclosed porch - another conundrum. Cool mid-century vibe, but doesn't fit with rest of house and beginning to rot and leak. Do we screen it in? Replace the rotting wood and keep the glass? Incorporate it into the real inside of the house?
We're at a crossroads right now in deciding whether we should make minimal updates to get the place up and running next summer, or invest more right now in significant changes like building a hallway upstairs, expanding the kitchen, adding another bathroom, and reconfiguring the glass porch. We don't expect to be able to spend more than a few weeks there next summer, so part of the plan also involves making the house as appealing as possible to renters.
Back view of the house
I'm meeting with an architect this week to get a sense of what can be done structurally. And then our plan is to spend as many weekends as we can working on it ourselves. We're not getting into plumbing or anything crazy, but we'll definitely be sanding and painting a lot this winter. I grew up watching Bob Villa and This Old House at the age when other kids were watching Sesame Street, so renovating an old house is something I've wanted to do almost my entire life. Needless to say, this is very, very exciting for me and for us as a couple. I'm looking forward to sharing the progress and picking your brains for advice. It's going to be so great. Stay tuned!

xo, Christine