How Great is the Great Room


JULY WAS HOT. Too hot for blogging, and too hot to do anything worth blogging about. I had back-to-back-to-back-to-back visits from friends and family, which were uniformly wonderful, even if a lot of the conversation was me explaining why I can’t put in air conditioning (no glass in some of the windows, no insulation in the walls or ceiling, no clear time frame for accomplishing any of that).

I’m getting to know my house, and it’s a 1,200-square-foot summer-camp cabin. I’ve discovered that a house that is not insulated is not just cold in the winter, it’s hotter in summer than the temperature outside. When I realized that the house would be comfortable only within a 20-degree range (when outside temps are between 60 and 80), I wasn’t happy. While I reveled in the company of my friends, and swimming in the bay on a daily basis, I wasn’t able to enjoy the house itself.

Somewhere mid-month, one of those friends asked, what could you do to be happier here? What could you do to enjoy the house more? And I thought, Fix up the great room! That’s the large room, top, that was added on 20 or so years after the house was originally built in the 1940s, and which I hadn’t used at all since moving in last May. Making the great room livable would be like settling the frontier (I know, nothing to do with moderating temperature extremes — though perhaps it will, since that high-ceilinged room seems a bit cooler than the others).


I actually drew a bubble diagram, with a big bubble in the center reading ‘Usable great room by Aug. 1,’ and satellite bubbles all around: move extraneous stuff to shed, remove carpet tacks from plywood floor, prime and paint floor, lay rug. I achieved all that by my deadline. A few bubbles — hang curtains, install ceiling fan, find furniture at yard sales — remain.


Painting the very dirty plywood floor, as I’d already done in my all-purpose den/studio/dining/sitting room/library at the other end of the house, was the biggie. It made a world of difference. I did the job between guests, pulling out old carpet tacks and tufts of padding with a pliers, on my knees, all around the 400 square foot room. And it was hot. But like many things, the dreading was worse than the doing. I vacuumed well, then put down two coats of primer, first with a brush around the edges, then a roller. Each was supposed to dry in an hour, according to the can, but it was so humid, the floor was still tacky two days later.


When it finally dried, I put down a coat of white floor paint. It went fast and seemed to cover, so I left it at that. The rug is a 15-year-old kilim bought at a yard sale last spring.



To celebrateIMG_3811, my sister and I brought in two  plastic IKEA outdoor chairs (left behind by tenants years ago) and a straw pouf. I set up my favorite driftwood lamp and plugged in the radio. We lit a couple of candles, and made it official: the great room is open for business.

When the weather cooled toward the end of the month, I felt less overwhelmed and everything seemed better. I started to enjoy spending time at the house, even had trouble tearing myself away. While I still miss many aspects of my previous place — the deck with its endless view into the woods, the best outdoor shower ever, the screened porch, the satisfying results of my landscaping efforts, the washer/dryer, the air conditioner, the furnace — I’m appreciating things about this house too:


the morning light coming into the den/whatever room…




the general pleasantness of the room itself…


sitting on the brick patio contemplating improvements to the existing deck and shed…


my first ‘test bed’ of perennials that remain uneaten by either deer or slugs…



the surprising efficiency of my new small kitchen…


the simple bathroom that, like all the rooms in the house, has a summer-bungalow quality I would hate to ever Sheetrock over…


…having found a place for my battered Cassandre 1930s travel posters…



room for guests and beds for them to sleep in.

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, INTERIOR DESIGN, LONG ISLAND, RENOVATION. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to How Great is the Great Room

  1. Anita says:

    The place looks great! What color did you use on the plywood floor? Did you sand before painting? I want to pull up the 1970 shag carpeting in pur cabin and do the same.

  2. caren sturmer says:

    WOW! Looks great!!!


  3. cara says:

    Thanks, Caren and Anita. No, I did not sand. I did not even consider it. I layered on two coats of Zinsser 123 water-based primer – could not deal with the cleanup of oil-based paint. Then I used Benjamin Moore white porch and floor paint.

  4. mud4fun says:

    Looks lovely Cara.

  5. Mary-Liz says:

    It looks wonderful – especially considering how it is all evolving. Love the new great room!!

  6. Craig Lyman says:

    As far as insulating the ceiling/roof goes, my inspiration was a magazine photo of a year-round house in Vermont where it was the same. (Both ceiling and roof deck.) The owner loved it, and seemed to feel that it insulated fine. Just something you might want to consider.

  7. It does look good; more comfort temperature-wise would also help, but looks-wise, a big improvement. The place is really shaping up. This stuff is like childbirth–there will come a day when it’s all just the way you want it and so comfortable–and you’ll have trouble remembering sweltering and freezing in there!

  8. Craig Lyman says:

    As for the walls, like you I would never sheetrock over them. My solution was to insulate from the outside and put up new siding.

  9. Nia Knowles says:

    What a great space! I love reading your updates. I’m so proud to see the progress and simple decisions you’ve made. The home feels warm and loved. Each room brings a smile and your happiness if felt. Thanks for sharing.

  10. cara says:

    Nia, what a nice thing to say. Glad you’re still following along. literary, thanks for the support, as always. Never thought of the childbirth metaphor! I think they call that childbirth amnesia — you forget the pain once the cute baby is out.

  11. cara says:

    That’s my plan, Craig, in theory at least: to insulate from the outside and hang new siding. That would likely require re-hanging windows or installing new ones, so it’s a long way off. Not sure about the ceiling/roof, since you put a new roof on there fairly recently and it works fine — not a leak in the spring rains. And the beams in the great room, at least, are so deep I’d be able to insulate between them on the inside and not lose the look. All still in the fantasy stage. If you ever find that magazine photo of the house in Vermont, please send it my way. Though a roof deck is something I never even considered!

  12. Craig Lyman says:

    Actually, by roof deck, I meant the underlying base that one lays their shingles, or in this case rubber, on. Now that you mention it though, the views from up there are pretty nice!

  13. Julia Mack says:

    It certainly is a Great Room!
    Nice proportions, wall of windows and a large fireplace, too! A big ceiling fan would really help the place to cool down.
    Also–why not install an outdoor shower like the one in your old house? Shouldn’t be a big deal and it would make you (and your guests) so happy.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Cara, The house looks so charming and cozy. Funny – I was going through old magazine cuts and one of them was written by you! Enjoy your place, when you get back to Brooklyn, I can show you the new fence in my backyard!

  15. Finally I’m getting a sense of the place. Congratulations and thanks for show it getting done and showing it done.

  16. Barbara Schwerin says:


    I love what you have done to your new house!

    barbara schwerin

  17. cara says:

    Thanks for all the supportive remarks, and apologies to Terry and others who have been confused. I know I never supplied a floor plan – because I don’t have one. Maybe someday;-) The house is in the shape of an L. The great room comprises the shorter leg, and all the rest is in the longer leg of the L. Clear as mud?

  18. Ada Frumerman says:


    Sent from my iPad

  19. Cate says:

    Wow, super cute. You have made insane progress.

  20. cara says:

    Why, thanks, Cate! Glad it looks that way to you. Why doesn’t it feel that way to me?!

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