In recent weeks, many people would say that water comes from Hurricane Sandy: in waves over beaches and homes along the northeast cost, or in sideways through cracks in windows, roofs, and walls. Although we hunkered down for the storm in our Maryland home, we worried about the cabin the whole time. Could it withstand 90 MPH winds? Would the trees give out and topple on our roof (which is precarious at best)?
Five days after the storm, we arrived to find the cabin in fine working shape other than a loss of water. Which was curious, since our water system is spring-fed, meaning it comes directly out of the ground. Macguyver/George (the previous owner) built a cistern across the road that captures spring water from the hillside and funnels it into a second cistern under the house. An inspection revealed that our problem was some cracking of the roadside collection site, which looks like this:
But how do you fix a crack that’s under running water? Jen had the brilliant idea to try pool cement, which you mix up into a putty consistency and hold in place one messy handful at a time. Several ruined pairs of work gloves later, the water was once again running into our water lines. I still can’t figure out how 10 inches of rain caused a cement cistern to crack, but mother nature is a tricky gal. We got the water on again just in time to close the place up for the winter. Karma, man.
Renovating a weekend house — especially a cabin you bought for less than the price of a car — is very different than home improvements in your own house. We’re finding that good enough, close enough, and well, it wasn’t quite what we wanted but I can live with it are really just fine. We are reusing, recycling, and taking a lot of secondhand items out of friends’ garages.
About a month into the renovation, a friend’s boyfriend introduced me to a new idea. You see, he’s a manager at our local Home Depot, and he tipped me off that home improvement stores have tons of marked-down inventory that customers never see on floor… and that you can buy it for substantial discounts if you know to ask.
Sebastian explained that appliances and fixtures, like clothes, are updated every year. When that happens, the old ones go “out of style” and end up as clearance. But stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s have very limited space for clearance so they usually just put out two or three items at a time. They keep all that other stuff way up on the shelves or in the back of the store. If you ask nicely, and if you’re flexible about your expectations, they can usually help you find something that meets your price point – and can even have items sent from other stores. The same is true of display items, which can be marked down 50% or more!
The secret is this: go at a quiet time (such as between 10 and 4 on a weekday), ask nicely, and be flexible. During this process, we’ve gotten to know a lot of the folks at our local home improvement stores and they really are happy to help as long as it’s not noon on a Saturday.
For our bathroom, we had very specific size requirements but could be flexible on the style. Because of that, we took a slightly damaged, $299 floor model sink for $49. A quick touch up with a furniture marker covered the few tiny nicks, and you’d never even know. It’s covered in tools here, but I think it looks pretty snappy!
Renovation and relaxation at the cabin ground to a halt in June and July while Janeé and logged a few miles for personal and business trips – 14,740 miles combined to be exact. Planes, trains and automobiles across two continents, and all the while, missing the cabin.
Destinations included: Portland, ME, Boston, MA, Seattle, WA, one wedding, and Paris, France
This first night after I stumbled across the cabin I laid in bed going through a mental checklist of what improvements and repairs I thought would need to be done…. but of course I did some dreaming too: I wanted a barn door. A rustic cabin with few updates would showcase a sliding barn door really well.
I wanted to be reminded of the large, massive barn doors that slide back and forth on the front of the big barn at home on the farm. I romanticize my memories of opening and closing them during summer hay making season, always looking forward to escaping the warm sun and walking into the barn ahead of the hay wagon the tractor was pushing in.*
Surprisingly, hardware shopping was the hardest part. Although popular in Europe, it’s very difficult to find modern sliding door hardware in the US. I did find a few useful sites such as Barn Door Hardware and Cordia, but the prices were not what I expected and the selection was limited. Neither Home Depot or Lowe’s could help; Paul at Home Depot (my go to “window and door guy”) said they are not yet available in US stores. I also searched through farm supply stores but could only find typical track hardware. I finally decided on purchasing my Cordia hardware from Cool Barn Doors, an eBay seller.
After so much effort in fixing and securing the hardware, I had decided I wanted to build my own door rather than modify a used barn door or vintage door from a second hand shop. The door is simply wooden pine planks. Paint comes next.
*To be honest, the most exciting part was pushing the empty hay wagon back through the doors and creating enough momentum to force the wagon down the ramp and out into the barn yard on its own – sometimes you even got to ride it!
With the 4th of July on a Wednesday, we were so happy that we found a cabin just 90 minutes from home so that we could pop up for the day. Our friends, Mary and Frode, and their three dogs joined us for an all-American celebration of BBQ, beer, swimming in the creek, and not-too-loud fireworks (so as not to scare the pups) and sparklers. On the way there, we caught the fireworks in Stewartstown, which was a great little show! All in all, a perfect holiday.
PS: hi to our neighbor Bridget from E. Trails Road, who came by to introduce herself and ask us over for a cookout!
Hey, who knew we had the awesome boulders in the creek?
We’ve been so busy enjoying the cabin these summer weekends that I haven’t been back to blog about all the fun we’re having. Sorry to disappoint. I’d be remiss if I didn’t shout out to our neighbor from up the road, Melanie, and her pal, Jane, who found this blog and emailed us to welcome us to the community.
Melanie and Jane are on a two-woman crusade to protect the private roads of Susquehanna Trails from trespassing four-wheelers. In our township, unauthorized use of private property for off-roading caries a fine of $600 …. plus the wrath of the residents. It may seem like faun place to let loose, but the damage these riders do to the landscape takes years to repair. Kudos to Melanie and Jane for their work to protect the natural environment of the Muddy Creek banks. Melanie is also fighting back against the invasive Japanese Knotweed with some innovative organic weed control methods.
We’ve also met some other friendly folks: Ed, from two doors down, who so thoughtfully brought us a hummingbird feeder; Chip, with the cute Jack Russell terrier named Ruby; and a really nice guy whose name I forgot so I hope he comes by again sometime. It’s been surprising to find out that most of the property owners are from the Baltimore area, not locals as I had assumed. Everyone has been very friendly, and it’s nice to know a few folks who would let us know if a tree fell on the cabin when we weren’t there. It’s also great to get the scoop on the community and find out about some decent contractors.
We went to the woods to find solitude, but we found some nice neighbors instead!
All along, our goal was to have this place “campable” by memorial day weekend. We decided to sell our loved Fleetwood Element pop-up camper to fund part of the renovations, so we wanted to make sure the cabin was at least as usable as the camper by summertime.
For us, this meant not sleeping on the ground, and when our air mattress met demise thanks to a nail, we knew a bed was in order. With the addition of a mattress and a pendant light to the bedroom area, we’re all set for summer!
It’s funny, the things you learn about the person who lived in a house before you. In our case, the cabin is just a getaway, but the previous owner, George, lived there year-round for 25 years (according to the realtor).
During this renovation process, I feel like I’ve gotten to know old George a little bit thru the things he left behind and what he’d built. I’m not sure I’d like the guy — in fact, I am fairy confident that we have very little in common — but I do admire his ingenuity and flat out moxie.
Here are a few things I’ve learned about our neighbor in time.
1) Dude loved to hammer. If George built it, sturdiness was the number one priority. We’ve ripped out bookshelves held together with 4″ nails designed for decks, and wood paneling attached with dozens of nails per piece when two would have done just fine. He was either single-handedly propping up the nail manufacturing industry or one day he stumbled upon the nail sale of a lifetime. I guess if you live alone in the woods, you need something to keep you busy.
2) I’d like him with me if I was stranded in the desert. Originally built as a campground community, few of the older style cabins nearby have running water… it was camping, after all. But George figured out how to run water from the natural spring across the road into a cistern under our deck so we have a continuous freshwater supply. He trained a small waterfall to flow into a cement bowl, into which he embedded a water line that runs under the road. A mini well pump under the kitchen sink and a small hot water heater completed the system. Let’s not talk about plumbing codes, but it’s a genius use of existing resources that would make MacGuyver jealous.
3) He wasn’t ready to leave. One of the things that most struck me when we first saw the cabin was that it was frozen in time: clothes in the closet, toothbrush in the medicine cabinet, and half a cup of coffee on the kitchen counter. It’s rare to get a snapshot into a stranger’s life with such intimate detail. From this, we guessed that George fell suddenly ill and never was able to return to his home in the woods. The realtor shared that he had moved instead to Georgia to be with relatives. I hate to think that a survivalist like George was taken down by something so routine as a heart attack or stroke, but I suppose even the mighty must fall. Godspeed, Georgie boy.
After eight weekends of work, we have finally (nearly) finished the kitchen! With all the demolition finally completed, it’s so rewarding to be making visible progress each day. On Saturday, Jen sanded the final coat of plaster and we put on a coat of primer and two good coats of paint. The metal shelving from Ikea went up — with the normal amount of Ikea-related bitching — and we finally had a kitchen! The fridge is resting on three one-inch boards to be level, but who’s going to notice when cold beer is at hand?
Here’s a photo and a short list of materials we used. The next kitchen project (far, far down the road) will be adding cabinet faces and eventually purchasing a small range.