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  • Demolition and Discovery

    writer Jennifer Strange documents the journey of her studs-to-shingles remodeling project
  • It's a modest little Cape Cod cottage, built more than 90 years ago on a corner lot in Jacksonville, just up the block from where my husband, Terry Moore, and I were married last year. At 1,180 square feet, we knew it would be a close fit, but a lofty, unfinished attic held promise for storage and a future bonus room. Plus, t...
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    • Building a team
      It wasn't easy figuring out how to give a 90-year-old house some champagne touches on a beer budget. What we had to spend was exactly one-third what a general contractor was asking for the job. Yet...
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      Building a team
      It wasn't easy figuring out how to give a 90-year-old house some champagne touches on a beer budget. What we had to spend was exactly one-third what a general contractor was asking for the job. Yet how could we skimp on anything?

      The house clearly needed modern heating and cooling, electrical and plumbing. Those updates alone, along with plumbing fixtures, would cost more than $20,000. And then there were the framing changes we had designed: moving the front door a few feet, building a front entry with coat closet, elongating the hallway, carving out a teensy powder room under the attic stairs, reconfiguring the main bath into a two-room facility with a skylight, and remodeling the low-ceilinged shed addition off the back of the house into a sun room and utility room.

      The solution? To act as our own general contractors. If you knew us, you'd chuckle at the vision — we are both much more comfortable at a cocktail party or campout than taking measurements or discussing "furring and shimming" with tradesmen. Yet we rose to the occasion, embracing the first — and most important — task of building a team.

      We agreed to get three bids for every job over $1,000. After two weeks of interviewing, we brought in Jed Latvala of Talent as our builder, who came highly recommended by one of the contractors and is also a family friend.

      "Jed the Builder" has been a lifesaver, designing timelines and communicating with other tradespeople while expertly constructing the changes we desired. Along with his knowledge and skill, Jed also brought able assistants (including my brother, Andy Strange, and nephew, River Hawley).

      As we've said many times, it takes a village to remodel a house.
  • It's a modest little Cape Cod cottage, built more than 90 years ago on a corner lot in Jacksonville, just up the block from where my husband, Terry Moore, and I were married last year. At 1,180 square feet, we knew it would be a close fit, but a lofty, unfinished attic held promise for storage and a future bonus room. Plus, the place had history and, being a bankruptcy sale, would likely be the only thing we could afford in the town of our choice.
    After six months of navigating a recession-era mortgage crisis, we finally signed off. The celebration was short because there was much work to be done.
    Having been owned by the same family for five generations, the house had become tailored to their needs and lifestyle. An old, gas space heater in the front room was the only source of central heat — the rest of the house was outfitted with fans, plug-in heaters and window air conditioners. The plumbing and electric were antiquated. The former was responsible for serious wet and dry rot in the flooring, subflooring and walls; the latter was wired for 100 amps, which wouldn't allow for central air or other "mod cons."
    Cosmetically speaking, many of the interior walls had been covered in fiberboard and sprayed with a popcorn texture; several colors of paint were used throughout the small space.
    But we loved the home's cozy layout. Taken straight from the textbooks of American architecture, the Cape Cod is straightforward and uncomplicated — a rectangular footprint with central front door and generally symmetrical windows. There is typically a living room to one side, bedrooms to the other and kitchen and family rooms in back. A half-story attic is standard.
    First constructed by boat builders in the 17th century to withstand New England's harsh coastal weather, the Cape Cod was popular through the late 19th century and experienced a renaissance in the 1950s, when it became synonymous with affordable, suburban development.
    As demolition on the house ensued (we decided it would be more cost-effective in the long run to take it down to the studs so new electric, HVAC and plumbing could be installed), we discovered several historical reminders. Vintage glass Christmas ornaments, several coins and a large blue marble all seem to date to the 1920s. There must have been a remodel in the 1940s, as we came across a San Francisco Chronicle, a Saturday Evening Post and a Cosmopolitan, all dated 1947. Brochures advertising local Jacksonville clubs and the Rogue Valley bus schedule, all from the 1960s, were tucked behind wallpaper. Speaking of wallpaper: As we removed layers of fiberboard and painted drywall, 1950s poodles and hoop-skirted girls were revealed, giving way to classic 1930s shirt patterns. We even found 20 square feet of hidden space between two walls; this discovery netted a cool, old, wooden directional sign pointing to Bumblebee Creek, wherever that is.
    Perhaps the most eye-opening discovery was the alarming number of wasp and mud dauber nests that filled the space between exterior and interior walls. The insects had clearly been using the house as headquarters for many decades.
    Taking things apart one layer at a time was a great exercise for us — we were able to study our new home's roots, wonder about its inhabitants and honor its stories. As we rebuild, it is fun to imagine the new memories we are adding to its history.
    Look for "Chapter 2: Going Green on a Budget" in next month's issue of HomeLife.
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