This is a close-up of one of the things that can happen when a house is left to rot. Fortunately this house was left for just a couple of years, so things haven’t gotten too bad.

The house was built of the smaller stones that you see, then covered with a kind of heavy, 19th-century equivalent of stucco. As with contemporary stucco, it can crack. Water seeps between the structure and the stucco, then it freezes, expanding in the process. It can pop that stucco right off – and has done so on this house, in quite a few places.

My contractor will have to remove all the damaged wall coating. Then he will replaster the house with new stuff, all smooth and gold-colored. Some day soon, my house will be beautiful again. Then we will keep it that way with the floor heating, which will evaporate stray seepage and end the freeze-thaw cycle for a good, long time.


Demolition derby

rear facade before
So this is the back of the house. Notice the wild oats growing up to shoulder height. I am standing in the field as I take this photo. I have lovely roses , those pink dots, and fruit trees: cherries and apricots, I think. I have a lot of work in my future
I think this was a sort of winter garden. It would have let in some afternoon sun and allowed folks to start seedlings with just a little protection from the elements. It’s in pretty bad shape, now. The windows were never good and the roof is going. The only question is whether it will go before we take it down. We may take out the back wall, as well, to open the space to the back yard — garden, must call it garden. Over here a yard is paved, like a prison yard. Anyway, if we want to develop this space it will be nice to have it open to the view. We shall see.
garage before
Some previous owner kept pigs here, lots of pigs. I’m a California girl myself, which is to say I prefer cars to pigs. So the pipe rails, the concrete that holds them in place and the paving below them — cobblestones in places and not much in the way of drainage — will all make way for parking. Too bad I have only one car.

Attic Stairs

Attic Stairs

That’s enough depressing stuff for now. There will be plenty more to come. Let’s take a break. Let me show you something that I hope will give you an idea of why I got myself into this.

This is the upstairs landing, showing the stairs to the attic. Notice the light coming from below? Notice that they have walled off the access to above, so it’s relatively dark there? I’m sure that was for climate control but it looks dreadful. My plan is to rip out the walls and that green door. (Green Door, really: for San Franciscans of a certain age, depending on your interests in such matters, this either definitely goes or definitely stays. In my house, it goes.) This will leave a fairly nice staircase leading to the attic. We will insulate the attic and put a skylight over these stairs. This house has big windows anyway, so we don’t need a light well, but I think the visual effect will be quite nice.

Can you see the cracks in the ceiling? It is possible that this indicates structural damage, but I don’t think so. When you walk on the attic floor, it is solid. I think those are expansion cracks. There is significant heat gain at the roof. Of course when we insulate, that won’t be an issue, so I expect that the cracks will not return.

And then? My plan, of course, is to become the crazy lady who lives in the attic; Jacques is even learning how to get his stubby little legs to climb the stairs. This floor will be an office for me, guest rooms for you. One of you may have to share your room with a piano — not until my funding recovers, of course.


My inner mud room

So, to your left you see the one WC for the entire house. That is it — for now. To your right you see the service stairs.
This is the mud room. Eew, but that will change. We’ll tidy the WC and give it some cousins upstairs. The tile and radiator go, to be replaced by better-looking heated floor tiles. The window will be a door leading to the back garden. Okay, future garden, now a half-acre of weeds. Those service stairs are a safety hazard. They go. The captured space will be a bench, probably, with some storage behind. My hope is that the overall effect will be less cramped.

Future Mud Room

mud room
I’m about to get busy, so I’ll do another post right away.
This area will change quite a bit. This is at the front of the house, but to the side. The door straight ahead leads to a utility room which will become the mud room; a lot of mud gets tracked in, so I want to contain it. So. The door and shutter will be refurbished. To your left in this image will be a ramp that will lead to a terrace, which will be at floor level. Those steps will be pulled forward. The wall to the right will have a window and a door which will open to the kitchen. Up above, that curved shutter will be fixed up but will otherwise still look about like that. All this sad black and tan will give way to basically tan.
Those bedding plants might be relocated or might be sacrificed to the cause. I like species fuchsias and yellow roses, just not right in the middle of my terrace. I love the glass awning but my architect keeps whining about safety issues. Really, when it looks like that, who cares? We’ll be careful, honest! So we’ll see. Maybe that will be relocated, too.

Kitchen to Go

old kitchen
So, take a last look at this kitchen. Every surface you see will go, very soon. The radiator will be relocated. Cheap tile, cheap cabinets, old wallpaper, all gone. The windows will be replaced by thermopane windows that will retain the profile and general look of what you see here.
In the new plan, this won’t even be the kitchen. This will be the dining room. The wall facing the cabinets will go too, so that the dining room will look into the new kitchen. The new heated floors should make this space toasty in winter. In summer when we turn the heating off, the lovely new tiles will help keep the house cool.
I am still deciding about colors. The dining table and chairs will be cherry wood. Maybe a gray green, though green is supposed to be bad for the appetite. Fortunately I have a few months to think about it.
Apologies to anyone viewing this on a slow device. I just noticed that this image is 1.9 MP in size. That’s 1% of the size of the original. I could start making the originals lower resolution, I guess. Let me know if you are having download issues.

Waiting, waiting…

Olivier and Marie-Claude
While we wait for things to get going, I thought I’d let you take a look at Olivier and Marie-Claude, the folks who got me into this. They have had their house in the Vendee for decades now. When I get to be their age, I hope to be able to say that about myself, as well. These two are as delightful as they appear to be. I am pleased to count them as friends.
So we have a tentative start date of 10 June, less than two weeks from now. First comes demolition, of course. They will rip out the entire floor on the ground floor level. Then they will remove the old oil boiler and old geothermal compressor from the basement. I imagine other odds and ends will come out, as well. I should dig up a photo of the existing kitchen; none of it will be missed. Right now we are in the final stages of lining up the ducks and then we’re off! I can’t wait.