In our house, we describe certain circumstances as “luxury problems.” We are well aware that we are privileged to have the means to build a beautiful cottage from the ground up. It is fun, it is exciting, and we are fortunate to get it just right…except for one thing. Decisions must be made about what stays and what goes. Things must go, and yes, they are just things. And when the large things go because they are too large, small things must be purchased. This is an example of a luxury problem. Marie Kondo we are not!
Here are some things that Meredith and Elyse discovered way back in the spring while moving from a 1300 square foot home with a garage to a 613 square foot home without one:
- There will be many arguments. If I have to give away a table, you have to give away a desk.
- Things you thought you could never part with will suddenly find a new home.
- Downsizing is highly emotional and second guessing this whole plan will occur.
- No one makes recliners that are small enough to replace the ones you once loved.
- When you find a recliner you think is small enough, it just isn’t the same.
- Books take up a lot of space. You try to convince yourself, you no longer need to keep lots of books because you have a Kindle. This is sad. Very sad.
- Family photographs make the cut but they still have to live in the crawlspace.
- You will forget where things are stored. Christmas ornaments will have to be found next year.
- Precious collections can be downsized. You discover which tablecloths are your favorites, which photos show up on the wall again, and how to re-think your wardrobe.
- When you break through denial, the downsizing does lose some of it’s sting. Benefits begin to show up. Cozy spaces can still be created once the boxes are out of the way. It is fun to see our stuff being used by people we love.
Summer has officially arrived in Seattle and we thought you might like an update on how our settling in process is going. It turns out we can gather with friends in the living room, there is ample counter space to cook family meals, and it truly feels like home. The garden is blooming, the pups are free to roam, and on any given evening we can be seen chatting between the two houses from our back windows.
Oh, and our new storage shed is just adorable, isn't it?
Scout, our ten year old rascal of a bull terrier, passed on peacefully December 28, 2016. A beloved member of our tribe, he enjoyed the backyard cottage for almost two months. He had cozy beds upstairs and down, loved the close proximity to the “big house” and had adjusted well to the new neighborhood. He was an active participant in the early stages of the project, sniffing and inspecting every step of the way.
When Joe would drop by the West Seattle house to talk about building progress, Scouty sniffed him up and down and was fascinated with his boots. All the interesting smells were a foreshadowing of things to come. The cottage is quieter without him, but we know he is doing bully runs somewhere and will remain in our hearts forever.
January is a natural time for reflection. When we last wrote, Meredith and Elyse were preparing to move into the nearly finished cottage in time for Thanksgiving. Since then we've been busy nesting and settling into life as an intergenerational compound. We post with gratitude as we reflect on the whirlwind of activities in 2016 that have resulted in the completion of our backyard cottage. Here's a look back at what we've been up to since Drew and Jacob welcomed two new very important retirees to their Ballard abode.
On November 4th, Adams moving arrived right on time in West Seattle. After the swift sale of Meredith and Elyse's house and a month of packing and downsizing, they were ready to make the move. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We left you hanging on the final building details and want to catch you up.
After Joe installed the cabinets, it was time to put up the bold black and white backsplash. The countertops are oak and can be treated with cutting board oil. Everything coordinates well with the 24-inch stove and refrigerator. Joe’s meticulous measuring was miraculous. Everything fits!
The downstairs floors and stair risings are oak. The upstairs are fir. All the floors required several coats of varnish before we could bring any boxes in. The interior painting was completed prior to the floors and gives all the rooms a nice warm glow. Most of the lighting is from Rejuvenation in SODO, a company that makes exquisite fixtures.
Storage is at a premium inside the cottage which makes the pantry precious. It houses the hot water heater and several shelves. Besides the world’s smallest upstairs closet, which includes a crawl space, there are only the kitchen cupboards. This prevents Meredith and Elyse from acquiring more knickknacks or asking for anything but consumables for Christmas.
The upstairs bathroom vanity fits perfectly and contains three working drawers. This may seem to be a trivial detail until you realize that there is no linen closet or medicine cabinet. Pottery Barn saved the day and we are happy to report that Meredith and Elyse are getting along fine with this arrangement. In a small space, going vertical can be the answer, unless you have seventeen lovely windows that don’t allow you to hang much on the walls. Hooks and shelves are our friends, wherever we can fit them in.
Prior to the final inspection on November 1st, we were required to put sod down in the backyard, which created quite the mudpie effect once the rain set in. While our landscaping is far from finished (we see raised beds in our future) it's a far cry from the port-a-potty and dirt pit of yore. You'll notice that prior to pavers arriving Meredith and Elyse had to walk a wood plank up to their front door. It proved irresistible to a few kids Drew caught bouncing on it one afternoon!
Soon, the interior doors were shaved, the windows were professionally cleaned and Joe was ready to meet the inspector. We are happy to report that on November 1, 2016 we received the final occupancy permit three days before the big move.
You may remember that way back on May 20th, Joe and his crew arrived to knock down Drew and Jacob's fence. He promised to build us an even better one once construction was complete and he's a man true to his word. Our new cedar fence is complete with a sweet gate and arbor fit for future wisteria vines.
After the fence went up, Greg built the pathway from the front gate to the door with stone pavers, followed by construction of a small front deck. The yard was puppy safe for the first time in six months. The final bit of construction that makes life less soggy was an overhang at the entrance to the cottage. Meredith and Elyse can search for their keys and put groceries down without that awful sensation of rain down their necks.
This Christmas, Drew and Jacob gave Meredith and Elyse a little book filled with photos and memories of the building process. In it, they included a quote by Van Gogh, who reminds us that "great things are done by a series of small things brought together." While construction is complete, we continue to paint this picture as a family. The best is yet to come.
For more updates, you can follow us on Instagram @abackyardcottage. Stay tuned for a house tour, as well as tips from Meredith on small space living!
Oh, friends. There's been too much going on to possibly keep up! All we know is that as we type this, Meredith and Elyse are prepped and ready for a moving truck to arrive bright and early tomorrow morning. They'll be making their official move from West Seattle and Ballard will have two more permanent residents by Friday afternoon. How exciting!
Both houses are now a vibrant shade of blue, just waiting for a fence to finally unite them. Jacob and Drew spotted a few trick-or-treaters ambling up the walkway to the cottage earlier this week, but managed to usher them over to the big house. Next year will be quite different!
Expect a full house tour with photos in the near future. For now, we're settling in and cozying up. The welcome wagon is on its way!
Whoa, boy did we have boxes. 92 of them, to be exact. And they weren't filled with ticky tacky, either. Instead, they arrived full of all of the necessary components for our new kitchen cabinets. Now we know why Joe isn’t the biggest fan of Ikea! The puzzle has finally been completed and our kitchen officially looks like, well, a real kitchen.
We've logged quite a few busy weeks since our last post. We're happy to report that we passed the sewer inspection, the houses are breathing together and the trenches are filled, giving us some sturdy ground to walk on (and landscaping to dream about).
All the doors have arrived and most have been installed. The temporary front door has been replaced with its beautiful permanent cousin (soon to be painted).
And speaking of painting! Kevin and his crew finished painting the cottage last week and will soon be headed over to Drew and Jacob's house to create a matching set. Bye, bye ugly purple porch! We just hope they'll be able to tackle the 100+ years of paint over at the big house (yikes). After that, the interior walls of the cottage will be painted a delicious shade of creamy butter.
Have we mentioned the floors? And the stairs? Oh, friends, they're gorgeous.
Joe put his tiling skills to good use and did a wonderful job on the upstairs bathroom. Toilet shopping isn't a glamorous job, but that's what we'll be tackling next. One throne for the tiny powder room downstairs and one for the full-size bath off the upstairs bedroom.
Meanwhile back in West Seattle, Elyse and Meredith are trying to keep pace with the progress in Ballard. Downsizing is in full swing which means numerous trips to the Northwest Center truck in the Alaska Junction. Moving from a 1,700 square foot home to a 613 square foot cottage means lots of choices about what stays and what goes. Last week they officially put their home on the market and are hoping to find the perfect buyers soon.
As always, you can see regular updates by following us on Instagram @abackyardcottage!
Every day is Labor Day in our backyard! Today we're taking a break to catch you up on all of our progress. If all goes well, Elyse and Meredith will be official Ballard residents sometime in October. Now is the time for lots of rapid change, lots of transformation, and lots of downsizing.
Lately, there have been field trips for lighting, cabinets and appliances. We picked oak for the kitchen counter after much back and forth about granite versus quartz. The appliances have been ordered from Albert Lee (it just so happens that not everyone sells 24-inch stoves and refrigerators). Joe even moved a wall to help fit Elyse’s precious antique table into the kitchen nook. A trip to Rejuvenation was very productive, and we wound up ordering all of the lightning for both floors in one jam-packed afternoon! Here's a summary of what we’ve been up to in the last three weeks.
- The bathroom is in progress and tile has been selected for the bathroom floor, shower and wall.
- All doors have arrived and will be installed soon.
- Window, door, and base trim are being installed along with wainscoting.
- Stair materials have been ordered and are on their way.
- Duct work and vents have been installed.
- Fans have been installed in both bathrooms (did you know? we'll have a powder room and washer dryer set on the first floor and full bathroom on the second floor).
The painter has given his official estimate and painting will begin on both the cottage and the main house next week. If you follow us on Instagram, you already know that we're planning on painting both houses a very nice blue with white trim, tying everything together with a yellow door for Meredith and Elyse and a red door for Drew and Jacob. More to come soon!
This past weekend marked our third month of construction. We celebrated by picking out cabinets and buying light fixtures. So much has happened since the crew arrived that May morning to knock down Drew and Jacob's fence! Since it's been a bit since we last updated you on our progress, here's a full rundown of where we are today.
Meredith and Elyse returned from a short vacation and immediately drove to visit Drew and Jacob, although we suspect that they simply couldn't keep themselves away from the cottage any longer. Much to their delight it was snug as a house in a TYVEK home wrap, which we understand to be a very scientific material that prevents our very damp Pacific Northwest climate from infiltrating the cottage thus warding off rot and mold.
STEP BY STEP
The stairs are fully functioning, leading to the bedroom, sitting room, bathroom and closet complete with a peek-a-boo view of Puget Sound. Going into the project we had no idea that a tiny view of the water would be waiting for us on the second floor.
NO PANE NO GAIN
What a difference the window installation makes! Seventeen in all plus a little skylight in the upstairs bathroom. The windows will create a glorious cross breeze in hotter months and provide lots of light year round.
RAISING THE ROOF
The roof was completed on one of the hottest days of the summer, so kudos to the crew for their skills and sweat! A week later, it endured its very first rainstorm and is no worse for wear.
SIDE BY SIDE
Siding makes us happy. The cottage has board and batten siding on its upper half for a bit of pizazz. The belly band near the upstairs windows also adds a bit of flair, and is a nod to the Ballard neighborhood's Scandinavian roots.
A COOL DRINK of WATER
Plumbing is a three part process. Petr began his work before the foundation was poured. Prior to sheet rocking, he put pipes in the walls connected the water line from the main house to the cottage. The next step is digging towards Drew and Jacob's house to attach the cottage to the main century old sewer line. Installing the fixtures will be the last step.
We have a fuse box! Prior to commencing the wiring process, a meeting was held with Joe and Dan of Wright Electric to determine placement of lights upstairs and down.
All along the way the cottage has been inspected. These inspections have included evaluation of the concrete forms, foundation, plumbing, framing, electric, and insulation. We passed all inspections with flying colors, which is a testimony to Joe’s fine work.
WARM AND COZY
Our insulation looks like some of the coziest around, if we do say so ourselves. It is the latest addition to the cottage and will keep Meredith and Elyse warm in the winter when they finally move in!
WRITING ON THE WALL
A fun perk to building a cottage from scratch is being able to write on the walls during the planning process. Joe has lovely fat pencils. Last week we spent nearly two hours figuring out the placement of the kitchen cabinets. At the same time we've been on the hunt for a 24 inch stove and refrigerator. We’ve had success with both. We're now entering the zone of choice, lots and lots of choice. Dry wall starts next week, followed by digging a trench to connect the plumbing. Updates to come!
In 1956 Meredith’s father Richard built a playhouse for his children in the backyard of their Palo Alto home from a set of Sunset Magazine blueprints. It was painted in primary colors, had a ladder that led to the roof, and a chalk board wall to the left of the front door.
In 1988 Richard (otherwise known as Opa to his grandchildren) built the identical playhouse for his granddaughter Drew in her childhood backyard in Seattle.
We mention this because Opa passed away peacefully on June 27th at the age of 90 in the midst of our backyard cottage project. It seems he was always a trend setter, always loved an adventure, and always loved a project. Building and transformation are in the gene pool. We carry on. We miss him.
When your contractor moves at the speed of light, the recording process hardly lends itself to blogging! We could barely type out a tweet in the time it's taken Joe and the Viking Construction crew to accomplish the following:
- Roof blocking completed
- Eaves cut to the proper overhang dimensions
- Facia installed
- Roof sheathing installed and nailed off
- Beaded plywood soffits installed
What a difference walls make. And stairs! If we stopped building now, we'd have the coolest playhouse on the block. We can already envision the view from the kitchen sink, the garden waiting for transformation, and a very short walk to borrow a cup of sugar.
Just a quick update to share that trusses have arrived and a roof is just on the horizon!
Well here we are on day 47 of the construction process! Framing is nearly complete and car decking has been installed on the second floor. Something about seeing a space for doors, windows, and an honest to goodness roof really makes it look like a real house, doesn't it? Be sure to follow us on Instagram to see daily photos of our progress!
More Backyard Treasures
After sharing our last post about the origins of the mysterious items we unearthed during the demolition process, many residents of the Ballard area shared their own stories of discovering backyard treasure with us over on or local neighborhood message board. Some of these are just too cool not to share with you. We won't name names (or locations!) but items of note include:
- Lots and lots (and lots) of glass bottles.
- A jar of mustard plaster or "Musterole" for coughs and colds.
- A jar of marbles.
- A jar of money!
- Part of an old gravestone.
- Peanut shells.
- A giant bone and a piece of a clawfoot bathtub.
- A bottle of whiskey and a newspaper from 1947 discovered inside a wall during renovation.
One young neighbor has requested to investigate our yard with his new metal detector, so we'll see if he finds even more interesting items beneath the surface. We'll report back soon!
Today we interrupt our regularly scheduled programming with an important history lesson.
Who knew that in the middle of all of this construction we’d unearth archeological wonders? Remember the second mysterious brick foundation Joe and his crew discovered during demolition? Well that wasn’t the only thing we found in the dirt. We’ve turned into veritable super sleuths these past few weeks and are here to tell you all about what lies beneath.
Away We Go!
Drew and Jacob’s house was built in 1910, just one year after the great Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (also known as Seattle’s first world’s fair), which was responsible for much of the development of the University of Washington and the surrounding area. Back then Seattle’s population was an expansive 237,194 people. 17,000 of those residents lived in Ballard, the cozy neighborhood in which Drew and Jacob’s home still stands today (obviously, or else we wouldn’t be here writing about ourselves in the third person).
Drew did some digging (pun fully intended) at the King County Archives when they first bought the house and found a few pieces of interesting info, including original photos of the property from both the 30’s and the 70’s. While there aren’t many official records of renovation on file, it seems that every family that’s owned the house has done some serious work on it. Over the last hundred plus years, a sewer line was added, the porch was turned into a kitchen, the basement was finished and turned into bedrooms, and the dormer windows were removed, as was the fireplace and half of the chimney (sad). Most importantly to this story, the outbuilding located in the backyard was torn down and replaced with a garage.
Are you still with us? Good.
Back to the present, Joe and his crew from Viking Construction began the process of demolishing Drew and Jacob’s garage about a month ago. Everything was halted once the guys stumbled upon mysterious brick “walls” underneath the garage foundation. Drew arrived home that afternoon to the scene pictured below, complete with a question mark spray painted onto the brick structure. She quickly posted it to Instagram and Facebook, asking the people of the Internet to wildly speculate as to what it might be. Answers ranged from “an old septic tank” to “a root cellar” to “a bomb shelter”. One of her friends recommended breaking out the EMF reader and doing some ghost hunting, but she’s far too superstitious for that.
After some hand wringing and calling in the experts, it was determined that the bricks were simply another older foundation that hadn’t been removed when the newer garage structure was built sometime in the 50’s (property records show right around 1951 for a little under $100). But wait! That’s when things get interesting. Beneath the area inside of the brick walls, the crew discovered trash! And lots of it. There was charcoal from wood burning, parts of a wheel assembly from an old car, manufactured metal objects, and three glass bottles. All signs pointed to the area being a good old fashioned dump site. Our super sleuthing powers were activated.
Live From the Garbage Dump
In 1905, around five years before Drew and Jacob’s house was built, The Seattle Sunday Times ran an exposé of one of Seattle’s original landfills. Seattle had successfully and horrifyingly created a pile of garbage 120 feet long, 80 feet wide, and 60 feet deep on the city’s southern tide flats. Check out these headlines:
LIVE FROM GARBAGE DUMP
Scores of Men, Women and Children Daily Gang of Scavengers Exist Upon Decayed Food Carried Away by Human Beings Make Their Homes in Miserable Huts on the Tidelands in Places Unfit for Habitation of Animals
Yikes. It was no wonder, really, as Seattle’s population nearly tripled between 1900 and 1910. After the population boom, the city eventually made a major investment in sanitation, and garbage disposal was put under the direction of the health department. Still, there existed three types of dumps in Seattle well into the 1940’s: landfills, “sanitary” dumps (how sanitary these actually were is debatable), and finally, burning dumps. The Ballard neighborhood maintained a large landfill site near Market Street at 28th Avenue NW, but regular citizens with enough backyard space could easily burn garbage of their own. And that’s exactly what the former residents of Drew and Jacob’s house appear to have done. We have the bottles and assorted car parts to prove it.
Now About Those Bottles...
Just in case you ever stumble upon a garbage dump in your backyard full of bottles in need of archeological dating, don’t fret. The Internet has your back. Drew took a deep dive into the World Wide Web’s many glass collector sites to get to the bottom of this mystery. As previously mentioned, we happened upon three glass bottles: two that appear to be beer bottles and one vessel that looks almost medicinal in nature.
Through researching the imprints on the bottom of all three bottles, Drew was able to determine the manufacturer of each, as well as the years they were produced.
$15, A Borrowed Horse, and Four Types of Medicines: W.T. Rawliegh's Remedies
W.T. Rawliegh launched a humble door-to-door sales operation in 1889, traveling the rural Illinois countryside by horse selling a whole variety of medicines and extracts. Fun fact: Rawliegh even produced a popular colic cure for horses and cattle made of cannabis oil prior to the criminalization of marijuana in 1937.
By the time 1914 rolled around, the W.T. Rawleigh Co. was recognized as one of the largest manufacturers of household products in the United States. While the horse and buggy salesmen of yesteryear were long gone when the previous residents of Drew and Jacob’s house purchased what appears to be a vial of vanilla extract, W.T. Rawleigh’s business was still booming.
The little clear glass vessel unearthed from the backyard appears to be from 1935, an early machine made bottle that could have held a number of flavorings or medicines before being discarded in our unofficial burning dump. Drew managed to find an illustration of packaging from that time from Rawleigh’s annual Good Health Guide, Almanac and Cookbook. We promptly purchased it on Ebay, of course!
“Two Bottles of Beer in the Dirt” is much less catchy than “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”
The two beer bottles were found side by side, tossed together during what we hope was a lovely summer evening of garbage burning. Markings on the bottom of each amber bottle indicate that they were manufactured by the Owens-Illinois Glass Company in 1935 at the Alton, Illinois plant. While we’ve pinpointed the manufacturer, the brand of beer is nearly impossible to identify, with many local brews sporting the popular “steinie” bottle at the time, including Seattle’s own Rainier Beer.
So what does all of this mean, anyway?
It means that the Internet is a bountiful cornucopia of information! And also that the ground on which our backyard cottage will sit has a lived a life of its own. And also that there was originally an outbuilding with a brick foundation on the property that most likely was demolished sometime prior to the 1930’s. For the next 20 years, the site was probably used as an informal dump until a garage was built in its place in 1951.
Whew! If you’d like to nerd out on bottle dating of all kinds, Glass Bottle Marks is a great resource. Looking for even more dirt? You can read more about Seattle’s early garbage woes (complete with photos) here.
See you soon with lots of photos of our progress, including framing and a second floor. And remember to follow us on Instagram for daily updates!
This week, when the world seems big and scary and painful in so many ways, something quietly wonderful has taken place in our backyard. We officially poured the foundation for the cottage, complete with a date to mark the occasion. Drew added the heart.
As an LGBT family this project feels especially meaningful right now.
The personal is political. Love is love is love is love.
Welcome to progress! The permitting process may have taken three months but building seems to be happening at lightning speed. We’re capturing this transformation as fast as we can. First, for context we’ll share a photograph of Drew and Jacob’s backyard prior to breaking ground:
The first step in the construction process was tearing down the old garage. Drew and Jacob’s house was built in 1910 with a small shed out back which was upgraded and replaced by the current garage in 1951 according to the documents we found at the King County archives. Not too shabby! Since the garage was only one foot from the neighbor’s garage, Joe’s crew did the demolition by hand, board-by-board, sledgehammers in hand, which took 2.5 days.
After the garage went to its final resting place in recycling heaven, Joe called in the excavators, a company called Fasoldt Gardens. The bobcat arrived and as the crew proceeded to remove concrete and dig down to eventually establish the parameters around the 14 by 24 foot cottage, they discovered another foundation made of brick. Everyone stopped, everyone got nervous. The excavators spray painted a large question mark on the brick foundation and called Joe.
Long story short? All is well. It turns out that the brick foundation did not have to be removed. It was below the level necessary to dig the new foundation and was actually the foundation of the original brick structure that preceded the garage we demolished. The crew speculated that at one point it had been used as a trash pit for burning neighborhood refuse and we even found old beer bottles and car parts hanging around!
Fasoldt Gardens worked around the old foundation and proceeded to build the necessary trench two feet deep for the new foundation. Constructed forms and rebar were fitted in the trench with cement poured by Salmon Bay.
Petr The Plumber has now entered the picture to dig trenches for the pipes to connect to the sewer. This pretty much brings us up to date.
Last week ended with a meeting with Joe and Bruce to discuss doors, floors, windows and ceilings, keeping in mind that space is precious, or as Elyse asked, ”are you sure you measured it right?” Yes. This is what 616 square feet looks like.
Home sweet home.
We love houses. We love one another. This leads the four of us to the optimistic conclusion that our tiny backyard cottage adventure will go swimmingly. We already know that the bull terrier and the chihuahua are fully committed. This past month has been what our contractor has described as "the tearing off the band-aid stage," and that is exactly what it feels like. No “wait the garage isn’t empty yet.” No "wait the checking account isn’t robust enough." No "wait, the neighbors don’t know."
You see, the planning and permitting process took nearly a year and then this day arrived. There was no saying "wait!" there was just scurrying and hurrying to rescue a few last items from the garage, fatten the checking account and inform the neighbors. Everyone was anxious except the contractor and the dogs. A port-a-potty was delivered, followed by a trash bin big as big as the soon-to-be-built cottage. This was really going to begin.
So here we are! This is our record of the intergenerational living arrangement we are about to embark on and share with the world, or at least our families and loved ones. The cast of characters will evolve over time but for starters here are the brave souls who are tearing off the band-aid:
Drew! She is married to Jacob and lives in the 1910 craftsman home which (fortunately for her parents) has a backyard big enough to “trash” (the words of the contractor today). Meredith and Elyse are her mothers.
Jacob! He is married to Drew and also lives in the 1910 craftsman home. Meredith and Elyse are his mothers-in-law. They lovingly call him their "super son in-law". He handles it well.
Elyse! She currently resides in West Seattle, is the mother of Drew and mother-in-law to Jacob.
Meredith! She is also the mother of Drew and also mother-in-law to Jacob and lives with Elyse in West Seattle. Yes, Jacob is surrounded by a tribe of women.
Maude! She is the rescue chihuahua who is lives in the craftsman with Drew and Jacob. She is fully committed to the project, primarily because she will have more company.
Scout! He is the bull terrier who loves everyone and subscribes to the philosophy that home is where the heart is. He resides in West Seattle with Meredith and Elyse and thinks Ballard might be a nice change.
Bruce! He owns Microhouse. We had our first backyard cottage conversation with him. He designed the cottage and managed the permitting process that led us to where we are today.
Joe! He owns Viking Construction. He is very tall and very calm. We have complete faith in his powers of transformation.
It is important to note early on that Meredith and Elyse are baby boomers who will retire in 2017. This is part of their retirement plan. Stick with us as we play in the mud.
We're making plans. In Summer 2016 we'll be building a backyard cottage in the heart of Seattle's Ballard neighborhood and creating a multigenerational compound for our great big family. Join us on our journey!