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!
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!
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.
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.
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!