Right from the beginning, Dean and I both agreed that we had to make the basement of 227 Hamilton into truly livable space. The back of the house is not underground thanks to the sloped lot, so the back and side of the house get plenty of light, decreasing the cave like feel that plague some basement spaces.
Because we only had two bedrooms on the top floor, we decided a comfortable third bedroom was a must for the house. Laundry facilities, a desk area for Dean, a craft area for me and storage were on the top of the list also. Finally, we decided a second bathroom in the house was a must.
When we moved in, there was linoleum on the basement floor, the walls were made of a thick, cardboard like material covered with layers of wallpaper, and the place most certainly had a musty, earthy smell and damp feel. If you descended the basement stairs, there was a door right in front of you. Walk through, and you were in a bright green room with a laundry tub. Go through the green room, and you got to a long, narrow area with cement walls that was used as a little workshop. This was located in the front of the house. If you hung a left off the stairs, there was a hallway and a door to your right, which lead to a cream colored room. Follow the hall and it led you to a door, through a 10 X 10 porch/storage area and out into the back yard.
More "before" photos, compliments of the MLS real estate system once again. These really make me shake my head at our ambition. First, down the basement stairs. Ahh, the lack of storage in the kitchen is confirmed - note the pots and pans stored on that shelf.
Next, what we called the green room, for obvious reasons.
And the cream colored room, which had a lovely large window and lots of light for a basement.
Finally, the basement hallway. From this view, you are standing at the back door looking towards the front of the house.
Of course, we got right down to the demolition and boy, did we have a lot of garbage to haul out of the basement area when we were through. Here's me standing at the top of the stairs, looking down to below. Abby is at the bottom, waiting to go outside. I'd have to bring her through the basement to let her out into the back yard for her last pee of the night, and when the basement was all demolished and dark, it was a creepy place.
Looking down the hallway towards the back door, sometime during the demolition process.
And here's what the cream room looked like, once we started tearing everything out of it. Yeap, there's that same chimney, which runs straight up the middle of all three floors of the house. At one point it looked like they painted a portion of the chimney green also, perhaps as some sort of accent. See the cute little door, used to clean out chimney ashes.
I will say that the basement ended up being the biggest challenge for us in many ways. First off, a concrete floor was visible in the small workshop in the front of the house, and this led us to believe the whole basement floor was concrete. But to investigate the damp, earthy smell, we took up a floorboard and, you guessed it, discovered the whole basement floor was wood placed on dirt. So we hauled every last piece of, well, everything in the basement out, until there were literally four walls, a pile of dirt and a chimney running up the middle.
I took lots of pictures of us digging and removing dirt (to lower the floor and therefore gain more head room); spreading the tonnes of crushed stone a truck dumped through our window in a huge pile in preparation for concrete; the all nighter Dean, my step-father Keith and I spent getting all prepared before the concrete truck arrived the next day; and my dad, Keith and Dean spreading the concrete dumped through the window on this home made chute that was rigged up at the last minute. I think I even took photos of Dean on our busy street directing traffic so the concrete truck could pull into the awkward space (wearing a hard hat he used in the shop at work so he'd look "official"). However, all those are gone now. I thought I smartly saved them on an external hard drive for safe keeping, and the hard drive broke. Alas, I'm not spending the gazillion dollars necessary to retrieve them, but I'll always have the memories.
I think that the hardest thing about the basement was designing it, deciding where walls and doors and bathroom fixtures would go, carefully measuring it all out on graph paper and then crossing fingers that everything would fit when the walls went up. It's hard to take a wide open space and envision how everything will look, how the space will feel when it jumps from the paper and you're actually walking through it, if the queen sized bed will look too big or too small, if that 6 inches will make you feel squished behind the door when brushing your teeth. Ultimately, I was pleased with how it all turned out. I think it really did feel like livable space, well incorporated into the rest of the house, not an isolated basement.
The hands down most frightening moment of the whole renovation also happened in the basement. When we were digging out the dirt floor, I unearthed a skull. It ended up being that of a small animal, likely a cat, but when I initially brushed the dirt off it and saw two eye sockets, my first though was that I had found the skull of a baby. Too much CSI, I guess.
Here's the finished space. First, looking down those same basement stairs, which were restored and carpeted. We actually pushed back where the door to the green room once was, and made that portion of the hall longer.
Standing in the hall, looking towards the back door. The door to the right leads to the guest room and a small office space, and the door at the end of the hall is to the porch.
Here's the view from the opposite side of the hall. To the left is the same guest bedroom door, then the bathroom door, and the closet style door at the end of the hall is now the laundry room
This is the guest bedroom, formerly the cream colored room. It was large enough for a bed, some storage and a craft desk for me.
Off the guest bedroom is a little nook that Dean and I used for open storage shelving, mostly for craft supplies, and a small office area for him. This nook was once part of the green room. We designed the space this way so that the room could be more multipurpose: it could be a guest room with an office nook as we had it, a small downstairs rec room with an office nook, or even a bedroom with large walk-in closet (with the bathroom also in the basement, it would make a perfect teenager or roommate suite). I loved the soothing blue tones. Alas, I don't think we had an official guest stay before we moved. Darn it.
Here's the window in the hallway directly outside the bathroom. We actually replaced all the windows in the basement. Cute little display ledge on this one, because we had to build out from the concrete walls to insulate before we put up drywall.
Finally, the laundry room. Truly, not much was done in here. I painted the concrete walls and the backside of the framed wood and drywall from the other rooms a bright white, hung a curtain to hide the hot water heater and installed shelving, but those few things really made a difference.
Well, that concludes the review of the two + year long renovation of 227 Hamilton Avenue, or what I've been talking about (dare I say sometimes whining about) all this time. We started out with a couple of goals - use every square inch of this small house for a purpose and retain some original character, and I think we achieved both.
I have no idea what made us leap into such a major project. By nature, I'm a little more cautious, but Dean has no fear when it comes to such matters. He's always been handy and knew his way around power tools, and I've always been arts and crafts/design oriented. Mostly, I think that we weren't afraid to try to figure things out - ask others, read books, watch HGTV. Would we do it again? Though both of us would have answered with a resounding "no" the day we left the house behind, I'm no longer sure that I wouldn't. I haven't discussed such matters with Dean, as we are in no position to do something like this right now. I do know that, if we ever did it again, we'd be much smarter about the process. We learned so much through this all.
We'd never have been able to get this done without the help of others, mostly family and a couple of friends. But many times, especially towards the end when the novelty of The Moaklers construction project wore off, it was just he and I, plugging along. I'm really proud of us and what we accomplished. I ended up loving the house and would have stayed if the move to New Jersey hadn't been necessary. But then, if we hadn't moved, would we have put the push on to finish, or would the bibs and bobs of leftover detail work continued on? I'd like to think not, but that may be assuming too much of my procrastinating nature.
The house was put on the market on Christmas Eve, which is no doubt a terrible time to be listing a house. Nevertheless, I used the same staging advice as I did when we sold our home in New Orleans a few years prior, and put out the fresh flowers and candles, simmered orange slices and cinnamon on the stove 30 minutes before any arrivals and put on soft, soothing music of the season in the background. Our efforts paid off, and within the week we had 4 separate offers on the house, all above asking price.
I can't tell you how very gratifying that was, especially since there were so many friends and family members who questioned our decision and our ability to complete a project of this magnitude throughout the process. Lots of negativity wondering why we'd do such a thing right from the beginning. The successful sale that had us walking away with our financial goals for the project exceeded and the positive feedback we got on the home itself was so satisfying.
As I said before, I don't miss the work or the chaos, but I do miss the house and am sad that we didn't get much time to enjoy it to it's fullest before we moved on. But one never knows what is on the horizon for us. Meanwhile, I wish the young couple who bought 227 Hamilton Avenue (their very first home purchase) lots of happiness behind it's doors.