Renovation Frustration


IT WASN’T MY MOST productive week. It started in a blaze of sunny optimism and ended in wind and rain, loneliness and discouragement, with an identity theft nightmare that took a precious day at the bank to sort out, and the realization that things are going to take longer and cost more than this impatient, frugal renovator would like. So what else is new? It’s a renovation.




Propped open all the wood battens along the back wall of the house for the first time. They have no glass, only screens. They seem very much a summer-house-at-the-shore kind of thing, and I’m not sure what to make of them or do with them.

I’m undertaking these improvements cautiously — not because I’m not wholly committed to the house, but because it’s a quirky house, the likes of which I’ve never seen or dealt with. I don’t understand it yet, and I’m not willing to impose stylistic choices on it until I do. But I must make some, if I’m to have a functioning kitchen and bath.


Kitchen sans old appliances

In the past, I’ve played with retro fixtures and glass mosaics and expensive European faucets. Now my watchwords have become “plain, basic, cheap”– as well as “available immediately.” I’ve just come from Cancos Tile in Southampton, where I ordered plain white 6″ square ceramic tiles for a new shower surround, and white 2″x2″ squares for the floor. Octagons seemed like going too in a 1930s direction, and I’m tired of them; I’ve done them so many times before. And choosing any kind of color for the bathroom, when I haven’t chosen color for anything else, seemed premature.


Bathroom sans fixtures

On Monday I waited for the plumber to show up, and my mood plummeted when he didn’t. All the tradespeople are suddenly busy now, all their customers deciding to spiff up their homes for the season. I’ve got dibs on them, too. They like me, this feisty silver-haired lady with the interesting house and weird ideas, and I try to be as charming as possible while foisting money upon them.


Existing kitchen sink top to be recycled

I ran out to the local plumbing supply co. and bought a bathroom sink and faucet, a shower body, and a kitchen faucet (all American Standard, chrome, in stock), just to be able to call the plumber and say, “Charles, I’ve got everything! It’s all here for you!” The bathroom sink is a plain pedestal on sale, below — perfectly nice, but more Deco than I would have liked. I would have liked a wall-hung cast-iron utility sink, but this one came to hand (as soon as I finish this blog post, I’m going to Google the sink I would really like).


I do whatever I can do myself — trash-hauling, leaf-raking — but there’s not much more I can do without water (or building skills). I tried lopping some of the excess saplings that litter the property, but got quickly overwhelmed and indecisive. What if some of these trees have good fall color, or would provide welcome screening? I realized anew the wisdom of living in a place for a year before making landscape decisions. Instead, I sank down on a bench in the sun and mused. I decided that all 23 awning windows must open. They are the articulation on the front of the house. I can’t screw them in place just to save a few bucks on labor and hinges. I went around and opened all of them, to air out the house and see how it looks that way, and I like it.


On Tuesday, Charles showed up, tore out the kitchen  and bathroom fixtures single-handedly,  and got the water pump, above, going (though with nothing for the water to flow into). I don’t have to dig a well, which is cause for celebration. And on Wednesday, Keith the Metal Man came, below, and hauled away what Charles tore out, which made me very happy. Miguel, who’s going to restore the windows and do the necessary building and tile work in bathroom and kitchen, promised to give me two days a week, starting next week.


That other part of the house — the 1960s addition which is the living room or great room, has been forgotten for the moment. I don’t have the resources to plunge in full steam ahead, and that’s OK. Because what I also do not have is an iota of buyer’s remorse.

About cara

I blog (for fun) here at casaCARA, and write (for money) about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites.
This entry was posted in HAMPTONS, LONG ISLAND, RENOVATION and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Renovation Frustration

  1. Mary-Liz says:

    That you don’t have any “buyer’s remorse” is the good news!!! Keep at it, girlfriend. If anyone can pull it off, you can. I have infinite faith in you and your talents & patience!!

  2. Dean Gary says:

    I love following this tale of renovation and restoration. Thank you for showing it and even sharing the frustrating part. Many of the bloggers make it all look so easy. I am wondering why you wouldn’t keep that charming kitchen sink.

  3. Corinne says:

    I know what you are, a house whisperer! Best of luck to you. I look foward to see what your home will look like.

  4. mud4fun says:

    Hi, my wife and I enjoy reading about your renovation work. It is a fascinating house. More so from our UK perspective as we don’t generally have shutters or even timber framed houses like you have there. We renovated our old 1850’s house a few years ago and we fully sympathise with what you have to go through. Our house was in a semi-derelict state and I had originally planned to take just 12 months (working at weekends or after work) to get it fully refurbished but in the end it took nearly four years! Jobs just took far longer or cost far more than planned. It was worth it though as we now have a lovely family home while our mortgage is quite small compared to many of our friends who bought new or already refurbished houses.

    We do have a couple of questions though, in the photo above with the ladder down what appears to be a well – is it a well or just an underground pit? I cleaned out our victorian well a few years ago and it was brick lined but without mortar and at the bottom was a set of huge stones with holes in the middle similar in style to those in your picture which I assume is to allow water (natural spring in our case) to flow into the well.

    Also you mention the water not being on, is this simply because the house is not plumbed yet or because the area only has water at certain times of the year? We were a little confused on that one as it sounded like it was a season thing, again something we don’t really have in the UK.

    Keep up the good work,


  5. cara says:

    Great to hear from all of you, even some people I don’t know — and all the way from England too! Ian, there’s no water yet because its essentially a summer house, unheated and insulated, and in our freezing winters, plumbing pipes with water left in them can burst — so these were properly drained last fall (thank goodness) and its only just safe to start it up again. The well is out in the middle if the yard. The pit pictured contains the pump, which is under the front deck. I’m more familiar with mid 19th than mid 20th century houses myself…!

  6. cara says:

    I am keeping the kitchen sink, Gary. By recycled, I meant by me!

  7. cara says:

    Love that, Corinne – “house whisperer”!
    Great name for a blog:-)

  8. mud4fun says:

    “there’s no water yet because its essentially a summer house, unheated and insulated, and in our freezing winters, plumbing pipes with water left in them can burst”

    Ah, thanks for the explanation. We are up on the North East coast of England which gets pretty cold weather blowing in from Scandinavia/Eastern Europe so we know about cold winters. However despite lows of -20c last few winters we still have our water mains on all the time. I guess because our house is heated all winter (solid fuel stoves) it is quite warm so frozen pipes aren’t an issue. Holiday homes that would be empty all winter are pretty scarce in the UK. There are a few on the south coast of England in holiday areas like Devon and Cornwall but up here in North Lincolnshire/South Yorkshire most houses are lived in 365 days a year.

    You are brave to contemplate living in your ‘summer house’ all year around. The construction is very similar to how I built my workshop which is dreadfully cold in winter. Thankfully these days there are some great insulation materials around that can sound convert a wood framed building into a very warm and well insulated home. I’m about to build a timber framed office in our garden that I will use 365 days a year to work from. I’m planning on putting 4″ thick foil faced foam SIP’s into the frame and lining the interior in plasterboard – with a little wood burner in there it should be toasty and warm. I’m guessing you are planning similar for your house?

    BTW my wife and I had a read through other parts of your site today and loved it. Some gorgeous buildings and gardens.


  9. cara says:

    I will insulate eventually, not in the near future. I have an apartment in Brooklyn for the winter. So glad you discovered my blog, enjoyed it, and let me know :-)

  10. Delighted to see an update on your renovation. And am looking forward to seeing your progress. You have quite the project ahead of you and all the best in making decisions and getting the right person at the time you need them.


  11. AF says:

    For some reason. loved most the picture of truck filled with detritus from house…it had a poignancy about it

  12. John says:

    Cara, After reminiscing about my youth Summers on Noyac Bay through your photos of some of those bungalows today, I came across this project you’re undertaking. You are living one of my dreams – to restore an old home in what I truly consider one of God’s most blessed areas. I ran out of time and money – although we did rehab several 30s and 40s homes in the San Bernardino Mountains out here in Calif. and rent them out. Nothing like East Hampton I assure you. Thank you for saving that house and sharing the process with us.

  13. Looks like Keith the Metal Man hails from New Jersey. Why does that not surprise me?

    Carry on, Cara; you’ve already accomplished quite a lot. You’re just too close to it to see it.

  14. Collin says:

    This place is a gem. I’m ready to trade in my 19th c Philly townhouse for all those beautiful horizontal lines. Looking forward to seeing the progress.

  15. cara says:

    You cannot imagine how welcome your comments are at this juncture. Collin, to hear you call the house a “gem” when I’ve heard it called a teardown and a shack is extremely heartening. Literary and others, your cheerleading warms my heart and strengthens my resolve. Back to pulling carpet tacks and waiting for workmen…

  16. Collin says:

    A teardown? No way! This place rocks. Incidentally we have the same kitchen sink. In fact, I found a second one in our carriage house in case you ever want one for another project. Has Max told you what a hoarder’s disaster our carriage house is inside?

  17. cara says:

    He told me you had a tag sale, which he unfortunately missed the beginning of…

  18. Oh, I agree. This place is a gem. What people tear down and maybe more, what they then put up, often makes my stomach turn. Love that photo of the long corridor with all those windows flapped up. This is going to be a really interesting space. Now if only it would warm up a bit….

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