There really isn’t anything wrong with our 1929 bungalow.
Except that it’s too small for the three of us. And the dog. And the cat.
And the roof’s beginning to dip in one spot because the foundation’s slipping. And there isn’t a bathtub. Plus the dishwasher stopped working a few years back, there’s dry-rot under the fridge, and the water pipes keep springing leaks.
A few years ago, I tested the water for lead. There was plenty of it. Plus there’s got to be lead in some of the paint on the walls and trim. Not to mention a bit of radon in the basement.
Oh, yeah: The house isn’t air conditioned, and this is Atlanta, where it’s hot and muggy (and seems to be getting hotter).
So, in the summer, when the afternoon sun fires missiles across the park into our living room, you’d probably want to take cover in the basement … except that it’s an unfinished, unconditioned basement — mainly crawlspace — with bad lighting, which makes it hard to tinker in my little workshop, particularly because I’m always bumping my head those damned dangling pipes — some of which aren’t even in use anymore. And it smalls like dirt down there.
In the winter, the house is drafty. Although I insulated the floor and the ceiling more than a decade ago, cold air finds its way through various holes and fissures, or it just jumps right through those rickety, old, single-pane windows.
Other than that I love the place. I really do. I’m not kidding. It’s a bungalow in an intown neighborhood that’s well beyond the fixer-upper phase. It’s on a deep lot across a pedestrian-friendly street from a public golf course.
The house itself is cute and basically comfortable — a porch with a swing bench, two little bedrooms, an office, and even a not-quite-badly-done half-cathedral ceiling that gives the living room a bit more panache than most prewar working-class bungalows.
You feel like you’re in a real place when you’re inside – not in some faux-this-or-that box that a homebuilder stamped out as quickly as he could before moving his molds on to the next “community.” The floors creak with character (although those creaks have a bit more character than may make you comfortable.)
We’ve assembled quite a list of needs and wants. But one thing we don’t want to do is to move from our great location. So a few years ago, rather than move, my wife, Silvia, and I decided to renovate.
For years, literally, I’d daydream on the porch or sit in the yard with pencil and paper imagining what our new, improved abode would look like — our dream house. There’s nothing like time and familiarity to help you understand a place. I had a pretty firm idea of what I wanted before we got started in earnest. This, we soon were too learn, was more likely to drive our first set of architects crazy than it was likely to make their lives easier. Yes, I did say “first” set.
First of all, I figured, the master bedroom would look out over the woods in the back. And, after years of just showering, I was ready for a good soaking, in a nice tub. With a window.
We also wanted a big kitchen. Silvia’s a chef instructor, and she wants to be able to offer classes to small groups in the new kitchen. It was bound to be tricky to design a kitchen that would work for the occasional class but that also would be comfortable enough to feel like home.
We also want the house to fit comfortably into the neighborhood – not a big blockish thing like an ordinary house on steroids. Since we started dreaming about our dream house, the trend in house size has moved in reverse. But we’re a family that moves too slowly to be on top of all the trends, anyway. The “medium” size that we’ve always wanted our house to be — about 2,500 square feet — still feels about medium to us.
We’re also kind of in the middle as far as style goes. I tend toward contemporary; Silvia’s more open toward traditional. But both of us are into balancing two design ideas: On one hand, form ought to follow function — so a streamlined, modern style, appropriate to the materials, makes sense for us. On the other hand, we want to build on the sense of place that our old, traditional neighborhood holds for us.