How a Tear-Down, Temporary, Fixer-Upper Became a Dream Home
A year ago my family and I spent a month in the mountains. Prior to this trip, I don’t think my husband had taken more than ten days of vacation at a time. This month was transformative in so many ways. For me, I felt inspired to simplify our lives, so we could spend as much time as possible on vacation. For my husband, the takeaway was a desire to buy land in the mountains. He had fallen in love with a beautiful, and for the area relatively small, property that felt endless because it bordered national reserve land. He felt called to this particular place, and in a short time, we owned a second home. I wasn’t sure how a second home fit into my desire to simplify—but my husband felt a very strong calling that this was “the spot.”
So, amazingly and very fortunately, I found myself with a home on a beautiful mountain property. The land was truly gorgeous, but the house was another story. It was an old 1970’s ski retreat in need of a lot of love and care. When we bought it we considered it a tear down, but the more time we spent in it the more we thought maybe we should fix it up and live in it for a few years before rebuilding.
We took possession of the home in October and decided to renovate in time for the Holidays. Because of the eight-week timeframe and the fact that we thought this home was temporary and we would most likely rebuild in a few years, we only had three criteria for every decision. We decided each choice we made would be: healthy and safe (an inspection report revealed a laundry list of things that could cause leaks or fires); functional and simple, and; economical. The result and process of using just these three guiding principles was extraordinary. Not only were we pleased with how the home turned out, but also the renovation was about as easy, quick and graceful as we could have hoped.
Here is what I learned:
- People first: I was fortunate to have an amazing team of people working on the project. Especially when you renovate from a distance (I made only one visit), it is essential that you find someone to manage the project who you can easily and clearly communicate with and who shares your vision.
- Perfectionism stunts creativity: Thinking the house was temporary allowed me to let go of my perfectionism—I was no longer trying to make forever and “perfect” choices. The time constraints forced me to move quickly and thinking this was a “second home” and “temporary” allowed me to stretch beyond my usual choices both by picking things I would not normally choose and also by delegating and allowing others to make decisions. I realize now there are no “forever” choices anyway—as life tends to change unexpectedly.
- Functional homes feel good: I analyzed what our living needs would be in the house. I did my best to anticipate where and what I would need to keep clutter to a minimum. I thought a lot about what we would do in this house and our daily patterns. I knew we would be enjoying plenty of outdoor sports and activities so I put a great deal of attention on creating a mudroom in the garage. I really thought about the purpose of this home and how it could serve us and made decisions based on those needs.
- Easy and economical: For the most part I deferred to the least expensive and easiest choice—other than when it came to health and safety. Why buy a basket for towels when it costs nothing to stack them on the bathtub’s wide apron? I eliminated many decorative choices, which in the end I found enhanced my simplified style.
- Color helps: In my case, it’s lack of color—I painted everything the same color white which made smaller spaces look larger. Color has a significant impact on a space. Our eye tends to notice color before shapes.
- Edit versus add: Most of the renovation was about taking away thing that didn’t work, not adding new things. Just getting rid of what was in disrepair is sometimes easier or cheaper than fixing it. In my case, taking out plastic florescent light covers in the bathroom revealed higher tongue and groove ceilings.
- Cleaning and good energy goes a long way: I focused on cleaning everything from the inside out—from leaks and faulty wires inside the wall to the scratches and scuffs in the wall’s surface. I also performed an energy cleansing and put a great deal of intention into the project and home. It is amazing how far a clean, fresh space can take you.
- Light: For me, when a place is sunny it almost doesn’t matter what it looks like. We removed all the heavy drapes and shutters, as well as dead trees that were blocking sunlight. The difference was immediate and had a huge impact.
- Let nature in: We bought this home for the views. We tried to open things up and keep things minimal so the outdoors remained the focus.
- Keep what you can: I realized that if I were buying a spec house I would not be analyzing all the choices—I would live with most of what existed. When you compare two different faucets side by side the difference in style is obvious and it can seem like an important decision. However, if either one of the faucets were already in place, most likely either one would be fine.
- My favorite changes: I was very excited when low-cost decisions, or simply removing something, had such a big impact.
- Green choices can be more expensive, but not always: I was committed to being healthy and green even though it did, at times, cost more. But what good is a home if it does not support our health and the environment?
At some point during the project the house went from a temporary, funky space to a “keeper” and a dream home. Even though design and aesthetics were not the first consideration during the renovation, I now love the way the home looks. I learned that simple, functional, and economical is beautiful.
Exterior Before (but after removing a tree that was dying, which let in so much more light)
Side Exterior Before
Side Exterior After
Side Exterior After
Deck Exterior During Construction
Deck Exterior After
Deck Exterior After
Fire Pit After
Kitchen and Dining Area After
Dining Area Before
Dining Area After
Guest Bedroom Before
Guest Bedroom After (now the boys’ room)
Master Bath Before
Master Bath After
Living Room Before
Living Room After
Living Room After
Lower Level Bonus Room Before
Lower Level Bonus Room After (now a playroom for the boys)
To view pictures of another of Laura’s and Alison’s renovations, check out this article in Traditional Home.