When we first bought Tett House, we had big plans to renovate and restore it.
As someone who studied Visual Design and Interior Decorating, I couldn’t wait to get started! I love old houses, and it was my dream to one day live in one and make it my own. Tett House, in its relaxed and somewhat shabby elegance, seemed like the perfect fit. Our goal was to retain and repair the home’s original features and add modern conveniences to improve it, but not compromise its integrity or ambience. We knew it would probably be a lifelong project, especially given that we are not DIY-ers and could not do the work ourselves.
If you’ve been following this blog, you already know our story: the day we got the key to Tett House, we discovered that someone had vandalized the well. Since we knew no one in the area, it was likely done out of spite directed at the previous owners, who had not been (*ahem*) popular locally. It was a hugely stressful and expensive problem to correct, and delayed our moving in by almost two months. A year later, the new septic system which had been improperly completed (again – thank you, former owners) backed up onto our property, resulting in Stressful & Expensive Experience No. 2, pun very much intended.
As you can imagine, our interior renovation budget was completely drained. We could not make any of the exciting updates we’d planned, necessary or aesthetic. It was a bitter blow..
Consequently, for the last six years, we’ve been living in a house that has some raw, unfinished spaces and rooms that don’t function as well as we need them to. Among other challenges, this has made Tett House hard to organize and difficult to clean. We still have damaged sections of original hardwood floor, stacked storage bins, patched walls. Sometimes I can accept this for what it is; at other times, it drives me crazy.
This year, after six years in the house, we were finally able to start on some updates!
The room we needed to renovate the most was our main floor washroom. Tett House has two washrooms, one up, one down. The upstairs bath is just that… it’s a sweet Bed & Breakfast-style bathroom, with a toilet, sink, and tub. It’s totally charming and was newly updated when we moved in, so we didn’t need to renovate it. But… it has no shower.
Our only shower was in the downstairs washroom, which badly needed an overhaul. The tile was cracking and there were pieces missing. The baseboards were falling off. The vanity was old and cheap and smelled funny, with cupboard doors that sagged crookedly on their hinges. A hideous light fixture, bargain-basement washroom accessories, and dubiously plumbed toilet were the icing on this very ugly urinal cake. But the biggest problem was the shower – our only one, remember. It was an iron-stained enclosure that felt like a dark cave, and was impossible to keep clean. Trevor, who is 6’4″, couldn’t even fit in it. The water from the shower head hit him right at chest-level, and he had to stoop and bend like a pretzel to use it.
He’s been doing that for six years, my friends. SIX YEARS.
The main floor washroom had some redeeming features however: 1) It was a good-sized space with a high ceiling, so there was some flexibility in layout and design, and, 2) It had an original built-in corner cabinet, which adds warmth and a nice architectural detail. (Because the room used to be adjoined with the dining room, we believe it was once a library or office, which would account for the woodwork.)
Our plan was to install a spacious walk-in shower, with no curb or curtain, on one side of the washroom, and a new toilet and vanity on the other. These two zones would be separated by a large piece of shower glass with black grid. The idea was for the space to somehow feel like both a spa AND a powder room. We had no clue if it was going to work.
This was one of our inspiration photos, even though our bathroom space was a lot different in size, shape, and appearance:
I was nervous about starting this washroom reno, even though I knew whatever we ended up with was going to be WAY better than what we had. Like every project we’ve tackled so far at Tett House, though, it wasn’t without its surprises. Anyone who’s read this blog knows how many “unsexy” reno’s and repairs we’ve done… there are no glamorous “Before & After” pics of a new water filtration system or septic drain field. *le sigh* You can read my salty “Renovation Reveal” for more.
SURPRISE #1: The washroom was built on top of a broken old cistern in the cellar. Before we could even begin the demo, we had to install additional support in the basement and shore up the main floor of the house. Turns out, there was a reason that old tile was cracking and breaking. Our contractor opened the floor up, repaired beams, added joists, and in some cases removed and repositioned stones in the foundation. He basically rebuilt the entire corner of the house.
SURPRISE #2: The crumbling tile had been laid on top of the original hardwood floor, not stuck down. Unfortunately, there was old water damage on a large section of the hardwood, so we couldn’t restore it. But we kept all the pieces for future projects!
SURPRISE #3: Three years ago, we discovered flying squirrels in our house and spent the winter of 2020 (humanely) evicting them. Now, as our contractor ripped out the walls down to the lath and plaster, he found the nest in the wall where they had been living. It was fully 3 ft. high. Beside it was a slightly smaller inactive mouse nest, and it may be presumed both families lived happily side by side until their human landlords kicked them out. (Hey, Disney, call me for the film rights to this super cute story. We could use a cool million.) The contractor said you could tell the difference in housing because flying squirrels import their building products whereas the mice use local materials. Evidently, when we had Tett House insulated, the spray foam guys missed a section.
We were not prepared for how long this renovation would take. I think our original expectation was around six weeks. Seems reasonable, right? The demolition began in earnest on April 12. We had one working washroom upstairs, and from that point on, we all took turns bathing in the freestanding tub. I didn’t mind it, but for my tree of a husband, and growing teenage son, it was a tight fit.
We ended up doing that for over three months.
Our renovation unfolds in Part 2, coming soon!