Katy Elliott

A daily design journal about new england life, home decorating resources, and renovating a 257-year-old house in Marblehead, MA.

House Renovation: Gut, Redesign, or Fix

Posted on | February 26, 2009 | 17 Comments

back of house

I know what your thinking, “That place looks like a dump!”. Don’t worry we have a vision. I’m sure once it’s done you won’t believe your eyes. At least that’s what I tell myself.

The winter has been slow renovating the house. We don’t have insulation in our walls and our pipes have frozen now about 3 times? Basically, we are just trying to survive. Now that Spring is around the corner we been thinking about some outdoor projects. I really want to get the whole side part of the house dug up and leveled so I can make a garden and add a patio. I want add a fence like the image of the house from early 1900’s (below postcard). We also need to figure out the driveway situation. I would love a pea gravel type driveway.

I’m skirting around the biggest project/issue. What to do with the rotting back section of the house? We’ve discovered the back two columns are relatively new and also the most poorly constructed. The walls and floors are rotted, sagging, and a complete disgrace.

We’ve contemplated knocking down the whole back side and reconstructing it. I would like to the back space to be re-designed so the house didn’t look so odd. The design just doesn’t make sense, it’s completely asymmetrical. The back columns need to merged or something. But then we run into historic code problems. Could we get a redesign passed? If that’s not possible, do we just fix it?

How much could this possibly cost us? I wish I still had my job to cover these big expenses. I guess we need to get over our cost fears and call an architect. We definitely need a plan.

p.s. we bought the house painted two different colors. Note the blue and gray on the side.

p.p.s. I love all your comments. fyi we can’t just get rid of the columns. our bathrooms (all three stacked) and main drain is in the smaller column and the larger column is our kitchen also with some heavy plumbing that would be costly to move.

side of house
Postcard of the House

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17 Responses to “House Renovation: Gut, Redesign, or Fix”

  1. abigail
    February 26th, 2009 @ 10:49 am

    call an architect it will save you money in the long run. (full disclosure: I am married to an architect and we work together so I'm biased.) I would think the best thing to do would be to knocking down the back, and that the historic commission would be fine with that because it doesn't look original, but historic commissions can be a pain to work with when you are figuring out what to put in its place but an architect can help with that too.
    I'm sure you've looked into blowing in insulation. We did it last year in our 100 year old house and it has made a HUGE difference. the only draw back is that dozens of cracks have appeared in our plaster walls, but it was worth it.
    It's such a beautiful house, I can't wait to see what you do with it!
    (love your blog!)


  2. Jennifer
    February 26th, 2009 @ 11:19 am

    Knock down that back section and set yourself up with a nice little back yard and deck area, and new windows. It may cost $$ to demo, but think of the money you will save in trying to heat and salvage decaying pieces of house that you don't need! What an adventure! Stay strong!


  3. elisabeth
    February 26th, 2009 @ 11:39 am

    It doesn't look like a dump to me! I love it.
    I have no idea what you should do, however — my instinct would be to only remove the tall narrow section, if it is indeed crumbling, and renovate the 2-story wider section. Then relocate the back door to the side, to give access to your new patio, with a gravel path leading to the driveway.


  4. Laura.
    February 26th, 2009 @ 11:42 am

    i like the idea of just getting rid of the ugly, unhistoric part and having a nice backyard/garden/deck. that is what i would do. but i am do not have to live in the house (although i am kind of jealous!) it has so much potential.


  5. Donna
    February 26th, 2009 @ 12:10 pm

    I agree with some of what everyone is saying: an architect will save you money, and is absolutely essential for dealings with historic commissions (though in full disclosure, I am also married to one!) Your picture will help with any review board, but it will still be an arduous process. The narrower, taller addition does look like the best candidate for demo—a semi-enclosed courtyard is always nice in older towns and cities. And consider brick–there are lots of cheap old bricks in salvage yards. It is a BEAUTIFUL house!


  6. Amy
    February 26th, 2009 @ 9:46 pm

    I understand the pull toward the pea gravel driveway but wanted to pass along the advice my excavator gave me after he had to dig up our blacktop driveway to connect to the Town sewer… pea gravel not only gets stuck in your tires but its troublesome to have plowed / shoveled in the winter. My neighbors put in paver-stones that I totally covet! (I would love them in a brick herringbone pattern). Cons: expensive. Pros: beautiful, don't need to be repaved like a blacktop, damaged areas can be spot replaced, if you need to reach plumbing beneath the driveway they can be carefully pulled up then re-layed after the work is done. I think I read somewhere that Martha did her own brickwork by hand! Good luck – I love your blog!


  7. Annmarie
    February 26th, 2009 @ 10:31 pm

    Hi Katy – I love your blog!! I live in an old home on the South Shore (but only about 160 years old). Architect for sure, but in my (limited) experience – they may not be able to advise how much the construction of their design will cost. I would have a few General Contractors look at the things first. Their initial opinion is free, after all – just to see what you are in for/if the whole thing has to go. Get someone who likes/has experience with OLD. Not sure of your living arrangement – but you might consider losing the top floor/3rd BA on the tall stack altogether. Join the kitchen stack and the other 2 bathrooms into one roofline, squaring off and expanding that kitchen area. A traditional ell. Your home/corner lot/future fence and patio so remind me of houses in Newport, RI – check out their historical society for inspiration!


  8. katy elliott
    February 26th, 2009 @ 10:46 pm

    Amy- I love the paver idea. My boyfriend read your comment and said, "see, she knows." I love pavers in a hex pattern I'm just afraid of the cost. I found a place with old cobblestones at $2 each. Multiply that it and the driveway will cost thousands even if I lay them all myself. Maybe we will do it little by little?


  9. katy elliott
    February 26th, 2009 @ 10:51 pm

    abigail- we have looked into the blown insulation, but when the insulation guy was busy till jan and we realized the back side of the house maybe redone, we decided to just wait. I can't wait till we have have insulation. The winter has been rough!


  10. The Little Big House
    February 26th, 2009 @ 11:55 pm

    I think your house is lovely, and how lucky to find a historic picture of you home – the clues you can learn from that are so valuable!
    My take would be to find out how extensive the damage is (maybe get in an engineer or architect to consult?) because in my opinion one of the charms of old houses is the unique and sometimes bizarre additions /modifications. Of course if they were done very badly it might be easier to just remove them and rebuild something better. I have a similar dilemma – our new old house is a mess of varying additions, and my first instinct is to remove the worst offenders but i wonder if i will be removing some 'charm' as well.

    anyways good luck!


  11. Brittany Noel
    February 27th, 2009 @ 9:05 am

    I have no idea how to help you on this one! I don't have any experience with house issues like these. Sounds like the rest of these ladies do, though. No matter what you do, I would want a garden and some space to run around in the backyard.


  12. Kirsten
    February 27th, 2009 @ 10:15 am

    Katy, I agree with Abigail, it’s time to call in an architect. I too am married to an architect and we have spent the last 12 years renovating our mid 1800’s Marblehead home ourselves. It’s amazing how many different construction tools I know how to use. Renovation is never ending, exciting, tiring, challenging…but it’s about the passion for the end product that keeps us going. My husband has been practicing architecture here in Marblehead since 1991 and has worked on numerous jobs in the old and historic district. I know he would provide you a free consultation on the challenges you are facing if you are interested. Keep up the good work, your house is absolutely beautiful and has wonderful details.


  13. katy elliott
    February 27th, 2009 @ 1:36 pm

    Thanks everyone for all your nice comments and suggestions. I guess it's time to call an architect!


  14. lauren
    February 27th, 2009 @ 9:35 pm

    perhaps a two story porch at that corner area with french doors instead of those back windows…not sure what rooms the windows go too, but it's an idea!!!!


  15. Philip Lee
    February 28th, 2009 @ 11:22 am

    I moved to Marblehead about a year ago, and am also doing some work on my home (much younger) and learned that Marblehead Electric will re-imburse you for 1/2 of the insulation up to $1,600. Bob Dane has responsibility for the program, and check out their website with other info too. We did blow-in for the existing walls, but there's other insulation type too especially good if you have exposed studs. March & Martin in Peabody uses Icynene, but they declined to use the product in our existing walls because they likely would have damaged them as the product expands greatly. I have no connect to March and Martin.

    Good luck


  16. Anonymous
    March 23rd, 2009 @ 2:33 pm

    Great blog, I'd suggest when you are figuring out what to keep and what to demolish you keep sun in the foreground of your mind. Trust me, you want sun pouring into your house, especially in winter, and you want not to obstruct your views, if you have any.


  17. Anonymous
    May 17th, 2009 @ 10:14 am

    I think your house looks totally cool, additions and all. I'm sure you know "Renovating Old Houses" by Nash, "The Old House Journal" book and another book entirely on the topic of additions to historic houses (see Amazon) address these questions in detail. Depending on the cause, you can fix sagging floors quite easily, no need to tear the house down. I love this blog and check it often, I find it so inspirational, please keep posting.


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