Published October 13, 2019 in Warp & Woof
The Homestead: Next Ten Years
We’ve been here 35 years, among the old-timers now in our Arlington neighborhood. The house began as a simple center-hall colonial, built in 1947, but grew with our family. Two boys went from birth through high school graduation in this house. Both returned for customary “back-with-parents- after-college” periods in their lives. We didn’t become confirmed empty-nesters until about 2014. I retired the following year. My wife has not taken that plunge yet – she still commutes daily between the house and Capitol Hill.
While there is no official timetable, it seems appropriate to begin speculating on how much longer we’ll be comfortable remaining in our now apparently too-large home. The assumption is that at some point, downsizing will be advisable.
But, the usual reasons for downsizing have not settled in for either my wife or me – yet. We can still both negotiate the stairs easily for all three floors. We enjoy the space, the copious storage (especially, empty bedrooms), kitchen and dining room big enough for our friends and family to gather. And, neither of us foresees a reason why this will change in the near-term.
My wife anticipates her second knee replacement will mean a temporary disability for her, as did her first, “I’ll have to live on one floor for a while.” But I can handle the nursing, fetching, and driving. My own physical health remains astoundingly good for my 72 years.
It looks like plans for improvements, once again, have higher priority than plans to move. This happened twice before, when expansion of living space was the driver. This time, it’s enhancement and beautification of living space and outdoor environment that captures our imaginations.
The next ten years should see both a remodeled basement and reconfigured landscaping. In addition, some details too small to be considered “projects,” like replacement of broken bathroom fixtures (a robe hook) and upgrades to technology (new computers) need resolution soon. Procrastination is a bad habit for me, as my wife keeps reminding me, “When are you going to replace that robe hook?” A ten-year plan shouldn’t mean that we wait for nine years, then try to do it all!
Improvements generally have their greatest payoff when you get to enjoy them, not simply for increasing resale value. We learned with our previous construction that Zillow, at least, doesn’t support the Cost/Benefit ratio of either of those additions. My wife says, “You know, we’ll never get our money out of it!” Now inured to that real estate fact of life, our final round of improvements will focus on our own ability to appreciate them while we’re still living in the house. Our Arlington privilege makes us feel that we wouldn’t be able to sell unless we address the two major projects – basement and landscaping. “Everybody” in our neighborhood has beautiful homes. Logically, we should do basement first, then yard and plantings.
We intend to keep the same footprint for the basement – no new foundation. We now have three rooms and bath under the original 1947 house (crawl spaces for our two additions).
One of these rooms is dedicated to laundry and HVAC installation. Another was originally intended as a bedroom (pre-code renovation, no egress), with nice built-in closet space. The third room, with bath, serves as my wife’s office, but functioned as a family room (“playroom”) when our kids were young. There is pantry storage under the stairs and very cheap paneling from Home Depot throughout (we re-paneled the family room shortly after we moved in, with my father-in-law’s help). And, there is an equally passé drop-ceiling with probable asbestos tiles. A fine home like ours, in a neighborhood like this, surely requires an updated basement living space.
It all needs to go. The bathroom will be reconfigured as a larger powder room (minus shower stall). The laundry/HVAC room and ersatz bedroom will be combined into one large open space, while retaining built-in closets. This should allow minor relocation of HVAC unit for more efficient ducting design, counter space for laundry, and moving the refrigerator-freezer from its semi-accessible location in the small laundry room. Being able to fully open the fridge doors would be a real boon — that’s where I keep my beer!
A newer, more attractive, family room/office will feature recessed lighting and drywall, and egress window in front — some excavation will be required here, sacrificing our dead compacta holly bushes which now occupy the space in front of the window well. It should contain a play area for grandkids, with juvenile furniture, as well as desk and computer equipment for wife’s office. “I like it here,” she says. We’ll probably get a futon to replace the broken sofa-bed and TV will remain in place. This is our plan. We made drawings and invited one contractor to give us an estimate. It was high. We stopped, but now it’s time to proceed where we left off.
After we finished work on our second addition (2009), incorporating a large kitchen with master suite above it, more or less swallowing up our backyard, we hired a local landscaping company to give us a usable hardscape patio and walkway from our new addition around to the driveway. Plantings front and rear, and river-stone-filled driveway median completed the plan.
The backyard, especially, was a beautiful, compact, outdoor space with photinia, vibernum, skip laurel, inkberry holly, and azaleas. Liriope ground cover for the beds, and a relatively small lawn. It was nice for about seven years. Then, things started going south. Now, there is no ground cover, virtually no lawn, overgrown photinia and scrawny, but tall, vibernum, dead inkberries and azaleas. Moss grows in the cracks of the hardscape patio. We never use our backyard furniture anymore.
Would a pruning routine, as vigorous as lawn maintenance and weeding, have made a difference?
Perhaps, but there’s a limit to how much time I’m willing to spend simply for external appearance – even in my neighborhood.
In any case, it all needs to be replaced. No plan yet, and I’m ready to search for another landscaper. My original company, although presenting an attractive picture at first, has not been very helpful with maintenance. “It’s much too expensive,” says he. I’m apparently on my own for replacing dead plants.
A realistic ten-year plan will likely be:
1) engage contractors for the two big projects
2) continue to close off unused rooms (if climate control costs don’t explode), and:
3) optimize our large front yard for appearance only – although a usable backyard might be nice.
The little things I should get to right away – of course! Robe hook, new computers; yeah, yeah …