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The house that Dick built - #2
A mountain mess.
If you missed the first edition describing how we ended up in a tiny mountain town at 10,000 feet, read this.
My first memory is of wallpaper. I was 2 years old, seeing my room in our new home in rural Ohio for the first time. The wallpaper was chunky orange flowers. No green leaves. Just massive, monstrous, ugly orange flowers.
I hated it.
So did my parents. They took it down. But being 3 and sure of my place in the center of the universe, I presumed they took it down because I said so, thus commencing my flirtation with the power that comes with changing spaces.
That’s the appeal of homeownership for me: power. I want to do what I want, where I want, how I want, whenever I want. I want under-the-sea tile. I want teal and yellow stairs. I want warehouse windows in my office. I want tissues in every room. I want enough pillows you could hide in them. I want wood fucking everywhere. I want my space to feel like all my favorite places on earth, all of the time.
Growing up, this desire to decorate like you’re somewhere else was also my parents’ design aesthetic. The only issue was their favorite places were not the same places. There were mounted antlers alongside decorative motifs of sea turtles. There were paintings of Antigua in the same room as elk-stitched pillows. One room had wooden ducks on the floor, another had tropical fish on the wall. Their decor matched their explorations. One year, St. John. The next year, whitewater rafting. Then St. Maarten, then Idaho, then the Caymans, then camping. In the years before the late 90s crash, my parents would always try to take us on one big trip a year, and I always came back with a new layer to my identity.
Mostly, through years of moving towns and renting rooms, I expressed these identities through fashion. A coworker in 2012 told me it looked like I opened my closet each morning and said, “who am I gonna be today?” Which is accurate, and why in these photos you’ll find me being Sexy Architect, Dom-Adjacent, and Annie Oakley Goes to Forever 21.
At that point, I was sleeping in rooms and living in offices. Decor didn’t matter. It wasn’t until I changed careers in 2015 that I was spending enough time in my apartment to think, “this place looks like shit.”
It took me a few years, specifically decorating and redecorating our dilapidated hunting cabin in Topanga, to develop any style of taste. Some of you might argue I still don’t have any. But my style is at least consistent now: jungle vibes, Moroccan antiques, an inescapable admiration for the buyers at World Market — all vaguely rooted in growing up somewhere I didn’t want to live, reading Treasure Island and Charlotte Doyle and Boxcar kids thinking, “I could do this, all of this, by myself.” I wanted to live somewhere adventurous and difficult, but whimsical and cozy, that felt secluded but homey and tropical but snowy. Shouldn’t be that hard.
And now here I am, 10,000 feet up surrounded by plants. When we first toured this cabin, there was an unbelievable amount of stuff. Here’s a photo of the garage:
There was so much stuff in fact that on closing day, a good amount of stuff was still in the house. It didn't matter. The cabin is huge. It's 2,400 square feet, built with deadfall. The lower level is made up of the very long garage, a bedroom with full bath attached, a utility hallway, and a general room open to the garage. The floorplan in the "basement" is difficult. That bedroom has no windows, a concrete floor, and the only entrance to the bathroom is through that room. The utility hall where there was a type of kitchenette is essentially a mouse corridor. And the general room's "ceiling" is just the floor above it with cardboard stuffed between the rafters. There's also a narrow garden between the general room and the windows, with a 3 foot by 15 foot wall of stone. The garden for now is just home to dying geraniums.
In a dream world, we would completely reconfigure that whole side of the basement, changing where the entrance to the bathroom is, creating a functional mud room, plus a kitchenette, as well as insulating, decorating, and turning it into a guest suite. We want people to come stay without having to share a bathroom with us and the litter box. But that's easily another 30k, potentially 40k if we want to update the old south-facing windows. So... maybe for now we'll just put a ceiling in.
On the main level is the living room, kitchen, primary bath, and two bedrooms, including ours. And the massive fireplace. Our last cabin had built-ins on essentially every wall, and this has none, so now we have a lot of items that go on surfaces and no surfaces to put them on. A brand new level of un-cluttering and donating begins, despite already having done this in California.
Up in the loft, there's nothing now except a half-bath and a giant open space. We tore up the soiled carpet and subfloor, then painted the remaining plywood floor white with intentions of layering it with big rugs.
This will eventually be segmented into my office and work space, but our first mission was to get rid of the bats. Bats were living in the top cross-beam log and they would shit in a straight line down from it. Ben was able to seal off the whole internally, so... here's hoping we're back down to just mice (of which Snoots has killed 3 already. A champion mouser at 4 months old.)
If you're interested in a 5-minute narrated tour of the house once it was cleared out, watch this.
We had about $30,000 for renovations on this house after closing, so we've just been using our own labor. We've managed to tackle the first few projects with relatively few hiccups, but there'll come a time when we need professionals. Below is a breakdown of what we've been doing, and what's ahead.
Here's what we accomplished so far:
tearing out the upstairs carpet and subfloor, painting the remaining plywood floor white
ripping out the carpet in the window-less bedroom, staining the concrete floor
painting almost every plaster wall in the house
sanding the main room floors
removing old blinds and installing updated ones
painting the basement stairs with primer for a future project
tacking the loft stairs with burlap to keep the cats from climbing through
removing upper kitchen cabinets
sanding and staining all lower cabinets
tiling the kitchen pony wall
installing floating walnut shelves
changing some plumbing configurations (paid a plumber)
getting a hot tub delivered (hot tub was free, delivery was $500)
Here's what's upcoming:
get the hot tub installed (need an actual electrician)
build a privacy fence around said hot tub
replace all lighting fixtures
replace the ceiling fan
install all appliances
build an interior wall with warehouse windows in the loft for my office
actually paint the basement stairs
chinking the interior logs
close off the downstairs suite, insulate it, install a wood-burning stove where there used to be one, cover the cinderblock wall with wood, install a door
also downstairs build a kitchenette, reconfigure the layout of the full bath (probably paying a professional on this one), and decide what to do with dungeon room longterm (podcast studio? dark room? TV room for two?)
rebuild the deck
screen in the porch
and eventually reconfigure the entire primary bath to split into a 1/2 bath and an ensuite for the main bedroom (again, likely going to work with contractors on anything plumbing related.)
That's what I can remember. We're gonna be working on this house for decades.
The aesthetic for the house is Tropicabin. I am my parents' daughter, and I can't escape a childhood decor headlined by mountains and Mai Tais. I don't think these two aesthetics are counter to each other. At their essence, both are rooted in an appreciation for natural materials. I also don't believe you need to match your decor to your environment. Tropical can be cozy. Rustic can be vibrant. And even Dick, the previous owner, collected sea shells to pepper along the front path through the mountain mint. They'll stay.
When we investigate "look and feel," the feel of this place is baked in. That's why we bought it. The lava rock, the monsteras, the sunburning warmth of the south-facing windows, all of that makes this place feel like where we belong. But inevitably, the look of this place will take a long time. Sourcing materials in a county of 8000 people is difficult. Even finding an electrician willing to take such a small job takes months. Road trips will have to include pit stops for antiquing and free-styling and flea markets. We bought a few pieces online to settle in: a new bed, our first floor-length mirror, bar stools, a new dresser, but ideally most everything else we'll find used. We're not shabby chic people, but we are weathered people. And as long as it has the feel and the utility, it will find a home here.
Just a month in, I can feel it echoing in the house. I am surrounded by my favorite places: the beach and the backcountry, the jungle and the mountains looming. If only in the sheer quantity of pillows and wood, we've nailed it.
Follow our journey of high-altitude relocation and renovation at @shangrilogs.