Friday, March 21, 2014

New House: Little, Tiny Steps


For many years the only residents of my new house were a few neighborhood cats, who left abundant evidence of their tenancy in the form of stinky corners and sooty footprints under the ledges of broken windows they climbed through as they came and went.

Seeing these markings, I thought of the line about "little cat feet" in Carl Sandberg's poem "Fog."

I can't really come up with an apt use of the literary reference here except to say that the start up of this renovation project is creeping along as carefully and gingerly as a feral cat in an abandoned house.

There are reasons for the delay.

First, I've learned that taking time to plan a project like this is important. When I bought my first home in Mérida in 2003, I had all sorts of great ideas about what I wanted to do with it. I then inhabited the house, "as-is," for three years without doing any kind of work beyond some cleaning, painting and minor repairs. When eventually I finished the renovation effort I noticed that ninety-nine percent of my initial ideas had been thrown out the window. The time spent living in the house before making changes had allowed me to work out how I would actually use the space. That made all the difference in the quality of the results.

So although this time I won't actually move in and live in the new house before renovating, I am not in a huge hurry to start. I've been getting a feel for the place. The rental I am living in is only a short distance away, so at different hours of day or night I sometimes walk over to the new house to hang out. I've left a pair of comfortable, old chairs there, and have moved them around the rooms, sitting, observing and working through ideas. I've slung my hammock there and slept over a few times. This "think time" has produced good results and I have a good list of questions and ideas for the architect.

Speaking of the architect, Victor Cruz is on board and we've had a couple of planning meetings. His crew has drawn and measured the house and blueprints of the existing structure are in the works. In the past I've had Victor do a couple of smaller designs for me and I have seen a number of his projects. I like his work. I believe that Victor's style and skills will mesh well with this project.

Cleaned up, the floors look pretty good

The other delay right now is due to the fact that I bought two side-by-side properties. The original house was subdivided years ago and I am reuniting two houses with separate deeds. We can't obtain building permits to knock down partitions and open up doorways between two legally-separate structures, so I am waiting for my lawyer to work through the bureaucratic process and produce the single deed I need to restore the building as one house.

Added to that, I've got another new project in the works that could take priority and delay the start of construction for a few months. It looks as if this project may creep along on little cat feet for a while longer.


Text and photos copyright 2014 by Marc Olson

20 comments:

  1. Oh good - now there will be two projects from which to enjoy the occasional update.

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    1. Well, I don't want to overload this blog with project reports (there are already lots of house-redo blogs out there), so I am not sure how much will appear here. But I'm always willing to share with you, Stan. You ought to make another trip to Mérida soon.

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    2. Please do share! There's always room for one more house-redo blog, especially if it's from someone so smart and resourceful and with interesting points of view.

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  2. As you know from our conversation when I was in town, I have long wanted to restore an old colonial home. But I cannot imagine doing it. My life tends to fill up with the daily concerns of living in this little fishing village. The fact that we have no colonial homes (in fact, no building older than I am) will probably keep me from stretching my imagination. As you are. Best of luck on this project. This place to live. This home.

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    1. Thanks, Steve. As you know, I enjoy these types of projects. There's nothing quite like seeing your own creative ideas form in bricks and mortar, and then live in them.

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  3. I thought your cover photo was a 'charcoal on paper' painting. Very artistic cats with sooty paws!

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    1. Yes, John, that was my first impression, too. Years of city soot buildup on the floors made the dirty paw prints really stand out. I have these "drawings" under each and every window ledge in the house.

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  4. Very smart to feel the vibes, get a sense of its siting on the property and feel the bones of the place.
    I've often suggested that to people but seldom did those who were in a hurry listen and ended up with stuff they weren't happy with because their "plan" was just that without thought of the place the plan was being prepared for! Good for you Marc - Enjoy it all.........

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    1. Yes, Babs, and I've learned a thing or two just hanging out there. For instance, it's important to know where street noise comes from (it can surprise you) and where the breezes come from, and how air flows through the house. And I've already discovered, by spending some time, that my first impressions were only partially right. And that the location I thought was best for my bedroom is way too hot in the afternoon and evening. Some design changes will be needed to bring in more air. That's just the start.

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  5. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.
    Think, look, design and build, do it once, do it right.
    I like your way of doing things.

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    1. Thanks, Peter. I don't like to hurry. No sense putting pressure on myself unnecessarily, and things turn out much better when done carefully. The work will get going soon enough.

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  6. We had similar cat prints on the walls of our empty house when we took possession. Same artists, perhaps?
    Hope you will not be too sparing with your posts on the projects. It's almost as satisfying as renovating ourselves. Maybe more so. Please say hello to Victor for me.

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    1. Perhaps the artists are related. This is not the first time you have said that reading about renovations is at least as satisfying as doing it yourselves. I know you've done a couple of big projects over the past few years. They turned out well, but maybe you're suffering a little from project fatigue? I passed your greetings on to Victor. He sends "saludos."

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  8. This is such good information, Marc. After making my little corner house livable, I often have wished that I had wondered the house a bit longer before making any decisions. All phases post the initial work have resulted in much better use of the space. Living in a house does grant a deeper understanding of how we and the elements (sun, rain, breezes, humidity) move through a space. I am totally okay with waiting until I really understand how to pull the rabbit out of the hat! So very excited for you and your new home.

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  9. Don't worry about overloading your blog with project reports - your project is unique and you're a good writer. It's very interesting.

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  10. Ah, paw prints. Our ancestors did likewise, intentionally, while living in caves. Perhaps putting up a canvas where they traffic, and positioning some slow drying paint, would yield some fun paintings. ~eric. MeridaGOround dot com.

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  11. Lovely post, Marc. I might add that your followers at least now know that the "cat did not get your tongue."

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  12. Good luck with your renovation projects. I think you're going about it the right way... slowly and methodically. I'm sure that the finished results will be wonderful! I look forward to seeing your progress the next time I am in Mérida.

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  13. The floor does look nice. Taking your time and getting things right is key to saving expenses down the road, and won't involve as much regret, and thinking you need to redo specific things. Hammocks...best sleep I've known has been in a hammock after a long day of hiking.

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