I’m not ashamed to tell anyone that my house is not what I had always imagined for my first home. Much to Erica’s dismay, I am a complete “old house” person. I think old houses have more soul to them. To me, modern houses can be extremely nice, but there’s just something lacking- they can feel generic. I like old houses with built in bookcases, unique woodwork, and stuff that you don’t find in every other house around…. I like, for lack of a better word, character.
My house was almost completely lacking in character. There were small things I found unique and appealing, such as the side door off the kitchen which adds another dynamic to the flow of the house and lets in a great breeze in the summer, or the wood spice rack hanging in the kitchen pantry that I don’t care about but my mom is obsessed with. However, for the most part, the rooms were pretty basic; square and flat.
When I was walking through the house last spring, I immediately started to see ways that character could be added to a house that was otherwise lacking in it. For instance, my plan to put floor-to-ceiling, built-in bookcases on either side of the fireplace in the living room (still to come):
Or the plan to put nice, white wood trim around all the windows that were currently just floating lifelessly in the wall (still to come):
While there was a whole list of options, no room was as obvious of a place to add some character as the back bedroom.
The back bedroom, as you would have seen in my earlier post, was a rectangular room with a closet; no depth or levels at all.
When I looked at this empty wall with the lone window, I had an immediate idea for this space: matching closets on either side of the window with a window seat in between them that opened up for storage. This idea was met with skepticism from anyone that I shared it with, who all assured me that it would be such a mistake to make the room smaller, because it was such a nice sized bedroom for a house this age.
The size of the room was moderate enough that it wasn’t quite big enough to be what most people would deem to be a master bedroom, but it was still plenty big as a guest room or a room for a kid. To decide if I should push forward with my idea or listen to the skeptics, I spray painted a queen-sized bed on the floor to see just how cramped things would be in a worst case scenario… only to find that it wasn’t cramped at all. The end of the room that I was wanting to build up was essentially just open space where a dresser would end up sitting or a chair of some sort. The closets / window seat idea negated the need for either of those, as it would provide plenty of storage for clothes, as well as a place to sit, while adding some built-in uniqueness that was a part of the structure of the house- something it needed badly.
I don’t like to be proven wrong; I know that is a shock to those of you know me. As a result, I was a little apprehensive to move forward on this when almost everyone, including my dad who generally makes good decisions on this stuff, was telling me it was a mistake. I’m a visual learner, and I am the first to admit that I don’t have the best concept of space. For me to decide whether the room was big enough for what I was picturing, I was going to have to get a feel for what the room felt like with it. Enter cardboard.
My friend whose family owns Greyhound Tavern is used to my strange, random requests, so when I asked to have their cardboard boxes that they would be throwing away, she wasn’t completely bewildered… somewhat, but not completely. As an artist, she was sympathetic for my need to make my vision into something three dimensional, so after calling me “ridiculous” and rolling her eyes at me, she instructed her kitchen staff to start saving the boxes for me. If she hadn’t, I may never have had the balls to stick with this idea and probably would have scrapped it, so if my brother deserves to have the kitchen named after him, I suppose the guest bedroom should be named after her.
Within a couple weeks, I had enough boxes to start constructing. Like a little kid building a fort, I was crawling around my living room with a tape measure, a knife, and a roll of duct tape. In the interest of full disclosure, I got extremely lazy after the left closet and just stacked various boxes to take the general shape on the right closet, as opposed to the precise replica that I assembled for the left When I was finished assembling, what I had been picturing in my mind had become somewhat real.
After living with the cardboard closets for a period of time and getting a feel for the space they would take it, I was completely comfortable with the decision. Late on a Sunday afternoon, when we had wrapped up other work and were just wasting time, my dad grabbed his nail gun and started framing in the closets.
Cutting and hanging the drywall for these closets was the first “building” that I felt comfortable doing on my own without supervision. Tearing out someone else’s shitty work I could handle; doing something that was going to be permanent and needed to be perfect was a lot of pressure, which usually left me reluctant to attempt it without my dad nearby to avert a major mistake. After realizing that I’m naturally pretty good at cutting and hanging drywall, I knocked out the closets on my own over the course of a few weeknights. Although it was pretty free of obstacles, I did accidentally drywall myself into the left closet for about 15-20 minutes, but that’s a story that has to be explained or demonstrated in person. With relative ease, the closets were in place.
My original concept for the window seat was a flat front with a lid that lifted up to store shoes, clothes, and (maybe someday) toys. This plan changed slightly when my dad came across yet another bargain pre-built cabinet; this time at the Covington Reuse Center. This analogy is going to expose me for the nerd that I am, but the Covington Reuse Center reminds me of that nasty flea market that Katniss goes to in “The Hunger Games” and sells the stuff she kills. It’s dark and dirty, and the people are questionable. A lot of the stuff is junk, but if you look through it, you will inevitably find a Mockingjay pin (another Hunger Games reference I should be embarrassed about). This pre-built cabinet which has become my window seat was certainly a steal.
It was all wood, sturdy as can be, and pre finished on the inside. The price: a whopping $40. There is no conceivable way that we could even have bought the wood to make this for that price, much less the stain and door hardware. Nothing was as much of a value as the time saved. Instead of lifting open from the top, the top will be a flat wood surface with a cushion over it that is thick enough that it is comfortable to sit on. The doors open from the front to a pre-finished cabinet that is almost two feet deep, three feet wide, and two feet tall. By propping it up with a wood frame and attaching it with nails, it is the ideal height for the window seat. Once the wood surface across the top is installed, the structure will be complete.
Acquiring the doors for these closets was a Saturday morning adventure that pushed the relationship between my mom and I to its emotional brink. They were being sold, frame and all, at a place called the Pease Warehouse and Kitchen Showroom in Hamilton, Ohio- about 40 or 45 minutes away. The price, however, was enough to justify the trip. I planned to borrow a truck from one of my uncles, but my dad assured me that, based on the dimensions, they should fit easily inside my mom’s SUV. In retrospect, I still have my doubts whether he believed that or if, since he wasn’t going with us, what ensued was all by his design.
They did not fit easily. In fact, we could not close her hatch, so they had to be tied down with a ratchet strap. The primary ratchet strap he had provided us with broke as I was tightening it, so we had to use an old one that just happened to be stored in the wheel well of her car and would never fully tighten. With no other options, we began our trek home; hatch ajar, doors slightly bobbing or shifting with each bump, and tensions running high. It was a long hour as we snapped at each other, I held onto the frame of the doors as long as my knuckles could handle it, and each of us had the image flashing in ours heads of the 7 foot door flying out onto the expressway and killing the driver behind us. When we arrived home safely and with the doors intact, all was well… although my mom did say that she needed a glass of wine. It was 1145 AM. That should tell you how tense of an excursion the acquisition of these doors was.
I sanded these doors tonight so that they can be painted this weekend and, hopefully, installed at the end of Sunday afternoon. From there, all that is left is to finish the top and paint the front of the window seat to match the doors. Then, this portion of the house will be completed… adding built-in, permanent character to the house that will stay with it for future owners.