Renovations of the Past and Renovations to Come – Part IV, The Bluebird Cottage


     As we journey down this path of being a family farm venue, we are always attentive to new thoughts – new ideas – solutions – options.  We ponder them and Jill and I always discuss them and must agree.  It is one of our cornerstone philosophies.  Two minds in agreement before we proceed.      We have considered the idea of Guest Lodging for a year or so and imagined how it might work and how we could achieve this.  Building a cabin on the edge of our property?….Maybe, but this might cross the line for us as we struggle to maintain our property as our home – as much as we can while we juggle the needs of our business.  Buying some adjoining property and building a guest house?  This alone is a daunting possibility burdened by much time and investment – but we have mulled this as a serious contender.
     So – when in late fall, one of our neighbors houses came up for sale as a foreclosure – we jumped at the chance to move forward with this new venture.  I say jumped and that was pretty much the proper verb for this. It came up quickly and we made an offer and it was ours. With all of its issues and challenges, it was ours to transform – and of course, that means a transformation on a strict budget and with as much creativity as we could muster.
     I admit, part of me hates to show the “before” pictures because they look awfully distressed. One can’t help but think somebody out there is saying, “my goodness, what were you girls thinking?” but we both saw the possibilities, saw the strengths beneath the rubble, saw the challenges – yes, but envisioned some great ideas.  For those of you who have been keeping up with my blogs – this all feels somewhat reminiscent of our visions of the farmhouse….a diamond in the rough.

     A “diamond in the rough” did I say?  This is the description that was on the realtor ad for this foreclosure:  “A Little Diamond In The Rough. This Quaint Cottage Is Just Waiting On A New Owner To Come And Restore It To The Charmer That It Is Destined To Be. ”  This home indeed was a cottage – cute design if you look at it.  Pretty detailing on the porch portico – lots of windows – shutters – a fireplace – and really a great lot of over an acre.  Built in 1937, it was certainly in need of updating and with it being a foreclosure – it was definitely in need of restoration and frankly – some rescuing. 
     The challenges:  1. Needs a new roof, 2. Mud Room is almost caving in, 3. Parking in the back which is a fair walk to the front, 4. Needs outdoor painting and curb appeal, 5. only wall heaters and a hole in the wall for an a/c unit,  6. Plaster wall cracks everywhere, 7. dark dated paneling all over the place, 8. Tiny and isolated kitchen, 9. Outdated and small bathroom, 10. Floors all need repaired or replacing, 11. Bedrooms need updating, 12. Door hardware had been stolen, 13.recent handicapped alterations were handicapping the house’s appearance and traffic flow, and 14. surely there were needs of electrical and plumbing upgrades.  There is my dirty laundry list for this house.  Of course this also meant coming up with a plan “on a tight budget” and trying to think outside the box as much as possible to produce a “pinterest-inspried get-away” suitable for almost anyone. Was this going to be possible?
     The bathroom – oh, that was the worst part.  I swear, I think I could “almost” sit on the toilet and wash my hands at the same time – had I tried!  The flimsy sliding glass doors and crumbling tile were admittedly a stumbling block to my imagination at first.  Yet – we were determined to make it work.  So – we set forth with a slew of ideas and  possibilities – deconstruction and construction – wings and additions – porches and extensions – walls moved, kitchens expanded, and….and….and more.
     Once we began getting project price bids on our ideas – things came to a quick halt.  Yikes!  Let’s go back to the drawing board, pick our fights; i.e. figure out what projects were most important and which ones had to be professionally handled.  Once we had that short list – the rest would just have to come from our own resourcefulness and imagination – somehow!

   First – stop the bleeding.  The Mud Room off to the side either had to be rescued or demolished. Our contractor, Woodward Enterprises (Steve Woodward) said the space was too valuable to get rid of – so a new roof and some structural “shoring-up” rescued the wing for future possibilities.  Our plans for this was to convert this room from a Mud Room to a Kitchen Pantry.  This suited the space much better and the odd exit to nowhere was virtually eliminated.  The door still in tack allows for an exodus of the garbage but the new purpose was a splendid idea.  I found a cute Victorian style old screen door – cut it to size – gave it a paint-do and now….it has presence!
     Before above and After Below


   The kitchen also presented some interesting challenges.  It was indeed a tiny space.  The various cabinetry was an array of mis-matched sizes and shapes of cabinets.  Mis-match can be a good thing but not in this case. Some cabinets went to the ceiling and some not. The counters were not the same height anywhere.   The ceiling tiles were broken and irreplaceable.  The floor (several various layers of vinyls) were surely secured in some sort of industrial quality glue yet somehow chipped and yellowing.  The plaster walls were cracked. The plumbing was likely original.  This would require a full gutting of the room.  Away with most of the plaster, old plumbing, old electrical, and flooring.

     One of my most exciting “ah-ha moments” on this project came with the kitchen.  With new sheetrock on the walls – things quickly went from drab to clean and fresh quickly.  My contractor, Steve, asked what to do about the ceiling tiles.  A few of my million trips to Lowes confirmed that there were no ceiling tiles similar to the one’s that were currently on there.  With the cabinetry removed – it left huge gaps needing to be filled.  What to do – what to do?  As I surveyed my storage room of rescued boards, baseboards and trim pieces, and such – I looked at this huge stash of plaster wall furring strips that had come out of the walls and scraped clean of the plaster.  These furring strips are cheap rough-cut pieces of thin wood used to help support the plaster on the walls.  I began to imagine how I could possibly use this bounty of resources that I had for the ceiling wall need that confronted me.  The idea came to me and I began to paint.  Everybody thought I was crazy and far-fetched ideas don’t always pan out as wonderfully in real life as they are imagined in your mind….but this began to take shape and it truly was one of my most proud achievements with the house makeover project.
     I used a short list of various colors from my pallet of shades that we planned to use in the house. The Bluebird Cottage obviously means we are using some blues but one of our colors is that turquoise type blue that looks sometimes green and sometimes blue.  I more or less dry painted a ton of these furring strips in these various shades.  Let me also say that I spent oodles of hours removing all of the many mini-nails from each furring strip before I set off to my painting tasks but the hard work paid off.  I can still see the look on Steve’s face when I explained to him what I wanted him to do with these strips.  “Use your nail gun and in random orders – just begin nailing up the strips so that the colors are fully mixed.”  As crazy as they all thought I was, it was in a matter of minutes before I had a room full of true believers.  It is indeed funky but I love it.
     Next we found an old timey farmhouse cast iron sink, hand crafted a stand for it from a couple of old Victorian style porch posts, painted the room a bright fresh color, made some simple cabinets, new counter top, and new appliances.
     This room was fun to decorate.  A couple of old sconces from Ebay added the vintage touch to the lighting.  Jill sewed our curtains made from our stash of vintage handkerchiefs and kitchen towels which adds again to our old vintage/retro feel. We made a rag curtain for our farmhouse sink.  One of my best “finds” were these huge red signage letters (found at Joy’s United Gift Shop in Ringgold) that spell out “EAT” that we placed on the wall.  We added a plate rack and some of my old cute vintage dishes and the room just came together beautifully.  We also cut a hole in the wall above the stove to open up the area and visibility to the “Great Room” so it would feel more open and inclusive….I love the way it turned out.
    Next “must have” room make-overs was the bathroom.  I can deal with one bathroom but it has to be updated, cuter, and a bit larger.  So – we robbed a bit of space from an adjoining closet and gave it the bathroom space.  This made all the difference in the world.  Again….almost a full gutting of the room initially but in the end – many repurposing uses for much of what we tore out.
     The varnished wood pieces from the old bathroom wall were salvaged and placed on the ceiling in tongue-and-groove fashion. Then primed and funky-painted and distressed a bit and created a flurry of vintage color above.  The old cast iron tub was salvaged, cleaned, and re-used.  The old distressed window was revived and even allowed to keep some of its distressing to go along with the new tiles that we put on the floor and tub areas.  An antiqiue-store find of this old dresser was painted turquoise and converted into the bathroom vanity.  A vessel sink was added to dress it up.  A chandelier was placed above the sink – and old mirror on the wall.  We kept the old doors and made due with their issues. We added a chalkboard sign area on this bathroom door to welcome our guests with a friendly sign. Added an adorable shower curtain from Anthropologie to match our color scheme…an antique medicine cabinet was added to the wall for decor…and again…..the room transformed before our very eyes. 
     While much of the inside was being destructed then constructed – the outside was getting a new roof, a new front door, a new heating and air system, new porch railings, and a new color on the house and front doors.  How about a deep rich gray with nice white clean trim and a turquoise front door for a noticeable curb appeal?
     The hall seemed like such an insignificant space but the paneling just made the area look dark. The plaster ceiling was all cracked overhead but my budget was bleeding from the gut at this point so tearing out the walls and ceiling were not an option.  Repurposing to the rescue!  We painted the paneling walls and we used some old roof tins from one of our barn projects – cut them into small strips – and nailed them up to cover up the plaster ceiling.  I love the look…..I wish I had enough of that old ripply tin to have done a huge room.
     Bedrooms were going to be transformed so to create a certain mood.  The first bedroom was more or less just a work in progress.  I was determined to paint the paneling but didn’t want just a regular paint job….so begin an evolution from traditional paneling to a gray weather barnwood effect.  Primer and some paint and faux glaze and some fun mixed together slowly changed the room.  Using one of the kitchen cabinet bases – painting it a funky but distressed turquoise – ripping off the vinyl countertop and painting it – add a thrift store mirror find…well – that produced a dresser area for any guest to prep by.
We have some interesting ideas how to create a “faux headboard” pinterest style…so there are bits of extras to be done here and there.
     Second bedroom again needed a good paint job and some decorating vision.  We went with a brown “nest” color – Jill again created some beautiful country cottage curtains – we found a great quilt like duvet on ebay – added some country decor with old rewired lamp stand, an old vintage seat tapestry for the wall, some cute pillows and such….and it looks totally new. (Items from Joy’s United Gift Shop, The Green Door Trading Company, and Sugar Plum Antiques).  The house had some original oak wood flooring – yes they had been abused – but a good sanding and refinishing – they are like new….for both bedrooms, hall, and great room.
     The last of the room transformation was a pivotal change. This was the Great Room. What once had a handicapped side entry door aside the fireplace wall….and on the other side – a hole in the wall for an a/c unit – virtually gutting this one end and closing it up changed the look and flow of the room.
     Paint the walls a colonial blue.  It was amazing how the drab dark paneled walls came alive with a few coats of paint.  The large room has two double sets of windows giving it plenty of light. The white trim adds a crispness to the color hue.  We salvaged a very old wooden log from a Blacksmith Shop on Garrett’s Chapel Road in Chickamauga – and made a fireplace mantel out of it.  We rid ourselves of the outdated ceiling fans and added a vintage ceiling light in the living room (ebay) and did a make-over on one of our lamps for the dining area (striped it up a bit to pull in the same theme as the kitchen ceiling boards).  I also added the same effect on some wooden chairs for the dining area.  I refurnished an old pale farmhouse table that we found at a local estate sale.  It turned out stunning – what some staining effect, polyurethane, and some dark wax can do to a table!
    Find some Craig’s List outdated lamps pretty cheap – give those a makeover with white paint and some dark wax – producing a two tone vintage lamp that has a doily effect.  Found 3 tables for $89 and re-painting them with my distressed white effect.  Added the retro couch/chair with our “Jetson” chairs (looks like they came straight out of the cartoon – but man, are they comfortable!)….and this room begins to come together as well. The TV on the mantel fits nicely is easily seen by a room full of guests.  I found a great cupboard and painted it just the right color….added some decor and vintage kitchen pieces to pull this retro/vintage look together…and well… is almost completely done. 
     We did put in an extended driveway “loop” around the Magnolia tree so that it  drops the guests off at the rock sidewalk that we have added.  We are still working on the landscaping outside.  With the winter months here – this part will slowly improve as we wait for pretty days here and there to make changes.
   So – some quick side by  side comparisons…..if nothing else is said – good or bad – I can with confidence say that this home has improved with our ownership – that alone is a good thing.
     We still have some finishing touches – some decor to add here and there – some landscaping to complete….a bit of painting on the porch.  But we are ready to have our unofficial Open House and to begin to allow guests to rent  the Bluebird Cottage.
     We have had brides interested in it already so they can rent it when they come into town for their planning session.  We have brides who want to use it for any of their family or guests lodging the night of the wedding.  We even have some who are interested in having it for the bridal party preparation area.  If you have a large group of girls in your wedding party – it gives you much more room and a nice space – with the kitchen and dining areas – to do your preparation.  Many choices for sure.  So if you are interested in booking the Bluebird Cottage – just email us or contact Jill.  If you are interested in popping by for our unofficial Open House – email us for the time.
     As for the next blog – we are actually going to continue this series again one more time (maybe even two).  We have an exciting winter project at the barn that we have begun that we will want to share with you as it starts taking shape.  Do I tempt you with any tidbit of information about the project?   Hmmmmmmmm?  Maybe so.  Our project is being called The Dance Hall.  Stay tuned.