A Loose Schedule and a Tight Budget


Above: Eric Ernst, Tree Man of Montauk, thinning out my overgrown forest so I stand a chance of growing something other than ferns

I’M ALL OVER THE PLACE HERE. I still have so much to do pull this house and garden together, I’ve hit another impasse of indecision. So I’m planting daffodils. (Though everywhere I dig, I hit inch-thick wisteria vine, and spend more time pulling and cutting wisteria than digging holes for the bulbs.)

I’ve accomplished a lot in the four months since I bought this cottage in May. But I have so much further to go. Not knowing whether this is a long-term home or a flipper makes it that much harder to proceed. If I knew for sure it was the former, I would take my time and spend more freely. But if it’s going to be a flipper, I just want to get it done.

Perhaps I should buy the Zen mindset my friend is trying to sell me. “You’re here now,” she says. “When you decide you don’t want to be here anymore, you’ll go somewhere else.” Yeah, but how exactly do I proceed with my renovation on that basis?

This I know: as soon as possible, I’d like to feel “Oh, how charming” pulling into my driveway, instead of “Eeewwww. Ugh.” That driveway — broken asphalt studded with weeds — is part of the problem. As is the house itself, with its discolored cedar shingles. And a front yard more brown than green. What’s the opposite of curb appeal?

The deer fence and patio have fallen off the top of my priorities list. I’m thinking of letting the deer have one last winter of ravaging the evergreens and rhododendrons, and spending that money indoors instead, on a fireplace, new bathroom, new kitchen counter, and a paint job. I also need a whole new roof. I’m gathering quotes from tradespeople: two roofers so far, two bathroom contractors, and a housepainter.

Viburnum plicatum tomentosum

In the meantime, I’ve been canvassing the nurseries for shrubs on sale. I’ve fallen for a viburnum tomentosa plicata, or doublefile viburnum, above, eight feet across and flaming red, at Spielberg’s in Amagansett (the picture shows it in spring). At 40% off, it’s under $100, plus another $100 to plant (it’s very heavy). Deer don’t like it, but it needs a good sunny spot, and those are still in short supply on my lot. I also want a river birch somewhere; I love the peeling bark and delicate leaves. And dogwoods.

The truth is, I’m not in that much of a rush. I keep reminding myself that this is not a HGTV project done in a weekend. It’s real life, on a loose schedule and a tight budget.

About cara

I blog for fun at https://casacara.wordpress.com, and write about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites. My recently published posts and articles can be found here: https://casacara.wordpress.com/recent-articles/
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5 Responses to A Loose Schedule and a Tight Budget

  1. might be a fake name says:

    I love your turn of phrase. That loose schedule / tight budget can sometimes feel debilitating. I really like the “be here now” advice, though. Combine the two, with the knowledge you could wrap it up for a flip if something shiny catches your eye elsewhere.

  2. Nancy says:

    The day you flip a property….Even if you eventually sell this house, you will be staying for a while. Enjoy it and do it up the way you like!

  3. patrick says:

    Hi, Cara. Excellent idea on the daffodils. I will have to copy you and do the same.

    About the dilemma on doing work for yourself or for a flip: I think you will get more satisfaction out of doing the work in the garden, but you might as well re-do the kitchen and bathroom now so you get to enjoy them yourself. Since you’ll probably end up re-doing them eventually before you sell, you can have the pleasure of using the renovated areas, not just the pain in the neck of doing the renovations.

    For the kitchen, Ikea has real wood butcherblock countertops that are really cheap (I think it’s $195 for an 8 foot length; shorter ones are available, too), and you can easily install them yourself with a table saw or a circular saw (I’ve done it and still have all 9 fingers). There are also some pre-fab granite places in NY metro area where you can get slabs of granite (I think around $300 or less for 8 linear feet – see Craigslist ads, and by the way you might even find somebody selling a nice countertop that is being replaced in a renovation) that you can cut yourself to fit (with a wet circular saw – they are less than $100 at Home Depot and maybe $30 on ebay). The hard part is doing the sink cutout, but the cheap white china Ikea farmhouse sink (I think it’s called Domsjo) makes it unnecessary to cut out a hole, as it goes from the front of the cabinet (apron) to the wall (backsplash). That sink is around $185 for a 24 inch wide model and around $300 for a 36 inch wide model, and it looks very nice. (I bought the 24 inch one to do over the kitchen in my apartment for $85 on Ikea clearance (there is a chip in the underside of the back that does not show so what do I care?) I am planning on doing over my kitchen in the next month or so). That should be fun.

    Here is a budget tip for the garden: Buy small plants/trees/shrubs now and just plant them someplace temporarily – a season or two – and let them grow, then move them wherever you want them once you figure out the master plan. The smaller plants are cheaper and easier to maneuver, and if you have time on your side, you can save the money on larger plants. You can maybe cordon off a small area of the yard and “fence” it in to protect from the deer before you deerproof the whole yard. It would also be easier to water/fertilize them if they are all together in a small area.

    By the way, I like the discolored shingles, they look natural and rustic. But if you don’t, maybe you can powerwash them, although I’d be afraid of blasting them right off the house! You could probably also pickle/stain them. A whitewash pickling might be nice and make the house stand out more, given its wooded surroundings.

    Anyway, enjoy!

  4. cara says:

    hey Patrick, good to hear from you! Thanks for reminding me about Ikea. I was thinking wood for the kitchen counter but I was NOT thinking of doing it myself. That’s what guys are for. It’s a U-shaped counter with a cut-out for the stove as well – far more than I can deal with. As for the plants, I definitely will buy/am buying small plants (with one exception this season – stay tuned) but I feel it’s easier in the long-term to put them in their final place rather than move them later – also I want to see how they do in their designated spot, since my sun is limited. The question of what to do about the shingles is an open one. It’s such a small house I was even thinking of trying a bucket of water + clorox and a stuff brush on a few shingles and seeing if that does anything. But that’s not a priority right now. Anyway, all useful suggestions and food for thought. I so appreciate your taking the time to write all that out! And even though I’ve more or less nixed all your ideas;-) keep ’em coming!!

  5. Joe says:

    I second the advice to live in the moment and enjoy the here and now, which I know you already do! It seems there is so much joy to be had in your current home and garden. Repairs and replacements will come in time and only you know which is most important to you. So what if the shingles are decayed – that just comes with time and it’s something to celebrate. I vote for having a friend over, enjoying a few glasses of wine with a bonfire and/or lots of candles, enjoy some laughter, stay up too late, get up too early and drink coffee while strolling through the garden barefoot. Listen to the birds.

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