Special to The Washington Post
Old homes are like people, full of history and interesting stories. And at 94, I’m sure ours has a few good yarns to spin. Old homes are not perfect, and I’m having to learn that because of her age, I need to respect our old lady’s quirks, rather than worrying so much about perfection.
I’ve been chronicling my effort to turn a corner of our unfinished basement into a guest bedroom, though the permitting process, the demolition and the lessons along the way. We’re nearing the finish line.
The good news: The construction is moving forward. We now have a huge window that opens and lets in more natural light than I thought we’d ever see downstairs. And the nifty drainage contraption that leads from the window well to the sump pump works like a charm. I can thank last week’s storms for proving the concept, even though they messed with the schedule. The framing is essentially finished, and the insulation is in. It’s a much warmer space than it used to be.
The not-so-good news: We live in an old house, where many things aren’t even or level, and some stuff just can’t be moved. Over the last few days, I’ve come to terms with a few things I’m just going to have to live with:
My closets will be funky. I had envisioned two closets of equal size that would flank a generous window seat, in hopes of hiding unsightly pipes that I didn’t want to pay to move. However, once my contractor tore the old “walls” down, we quickly discovered that the placement of the window is not exactly in the middle of the room.
So, he’ll need to make the closet on the left side 10 inches wider than the one on the right. This will allow for the four-foot box to sit perfectly square under the window. The hope is, the eye will go directly to the window and the seat beneath it, ignoring the fact that the closet on the left is bigger than her sister on the right. It’s the kind of thing that would give people used to new construction fits, but I’m going to just accept it as a part of living in an older home.
My doorway will still be low. I can live with our 6’4” basement ceilings, because most of my relatives are really short! And all the tall people who come visit can either stay upstairs or go to a hotel. Even so, the entrance to the guest room is really low—just over 5’5”. We had hoped to enlarge the doorway to accommodate at least my husband’s family. But when those same walls came down, we discovered a massive beam over the door. This beam holds up our house.
If this was a design show on HGTV, I’m sure I could call in an engineer and have him do something fancy with support somewhere else. But let’s face it—my budget is pretty fixed, and I don’t have the money to monkey with this stuff. So, if you sleep over, just duck and get over it.
My heater will greet me when I walk in the room. Like the rest of the basement, we’ll heat the guest room with an electric wall heater (see prior statement about my fixed budget). The placement of that heater is making me a bit nuts. The safest spot is on the north wall. So whenever I enter the room, I’ll be greeted by a heater. I’m going to try and move it slightly closer to the closet, to block its view with a strategically-placed piece of furniture. But safety is critical, so if I can’t move it, I’ll just have to live with it. The city inspector is coming this week, and we’ll just see what he has to say about that.
Previous installments of My Renovation Saga:
Anne Marie Borrego is the media relations director for a non-profit organization and a resident of Alexandria.
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