Here is Part 2 of the 2-part digression into our beloved domiciles. In the spring of 1965, my grandfather, an about-to-retire teacher, achieved his lifelong dream…a cabin in the woods of Maine, not far from the sea. Gree and Gramp had been married 35 years, lived through the Great Depression and never had much aside from their family home. They worked hard saving for this place, and this was their dream come true. After hiring a contractor to put up the shell, they, along with my uncle, did all the finish-work themselves.
Though they moved elsewhere for his teaching job and settled in another state, to them, Maine was always “home”. As a child, I spent many a summer in this idyllic place, which was now owned by my mother’s brother. I loved the cabin, and couldn’t wait to get there to visit each summer, though admittedly over the few years following my grandmother’s passing, it was more difficult for me to go there without her.
When my uncle passed away in 2016, the place rather surprisingly became my husband’s and mine. People called the little cabin a “tear-down” and said we should start over. But for the sakes of departed family members, and indeed for my own sake, we were bound and determined to save it. After some soul searching, I took a deep breath, left my management job in the corporate world the following spring, took a seasonal job in the museum field in the area, and…there was now no turning back.
When we arrived, the place didn’t look all that bad at first glance. To my delight, original furniture, light fixtures, and kitschy mid-century tchotchkes that I remembered were still there, untouched. Except for the beds and upholstered furniture which we immediately had hauled away to the dump, most things were in good shape and salvageable. When younger, I often fantasized about what I would change or update if I could. When I’d discuss it with my grandmother, she would laugh, her blue eyes twinkling, and say “but I like it just as it is!” Now that I’m older, I see the wisdom in her words and began to have visions of making it a little 60s time capsule without changing much at all.
We soon discovered, to our utter horror, that the floor joists supporting the entire structure were all broken or eaten away by wood-boring insects, and the supports for the second floor over the porch were bowing forward. I may have cried a little, thinking we’d never save it until several kind neighbors who toured the place with us, reassured us that all was not lost. Three contractors later, we found someone actually willing to help. So here’s a shout out to Shoreline Construction for the work that they did to save something that means so much to our family!
There was also a horribly unsafe walkway between the actual loft space and a secondary loft bedroom that Gramp created when we needed an extra room. Basically, it was just a couple of boards stretched across the ceiling rafters. As kids, we thought it was fun and cool, but clearly, it had to go. Gramp was a very creative inventor of many things, but he wasn’t of the generation where one worried about permits and building codes. So down it came, and until we come up with a workable solution, the back loft is not in use. In place of the walkway, is a big fan, which sat in the basement of our old house in the box, for about 15 years and comes in handy during the hot days of July. See, I knew we’d use it someday!
The first thing we really had to do was eradicate mold in the crawl space, or the Shoreline dudes wouldn’t work down there. We didn’t blame them, but there wasn’t time to hire someone so hubby decided that he’d don a hazard suit and do it himself. This is the sight to which I was treated for several days…mmmm, sexy marshmallow!
Under some stained carpet in the living room, the wood floors were absolutely filthy. Several gallons of bleach later (actually I think it may have been Pine Sol- bleach was for the bathroom), we were in business and work began in earnest. Shoreline Construction came and repaired the damage to the floor joists first. Once the floor was supported, the rooms no longer felt like trampolines, the furniture didn’t lean inward and the doors didn’t scrape against the floorboards, the next step was to rebuild the porch that was supporting the second floor. There wasn’t any way it was going to look like the original because apparently, one can no longer obtain rounded cedar posts that still have the bark intact. What to do, what to do? Fortunately, Grampy kept every single blooming thing related to this cabin, including every cent he paid for every screw, nail, hook, window, light fixture, and piece of furniture, most of it still there, in a folder which was now in my possession. Sure enough, there were the original plans, with the porch as it was intended before it was modified to suit his specification. Texted a picture of the plans to the construction manager, and voila!
I’d started my job at the local historical society, so even though the house wasn’t ready, living here for the summer had become a necessity, and as you can all imagine, construction in a vacation hotspot at the beginning of the season can be chaotic…they were trying to make all of their customers happy and finish the major work before the 4th of July so that we could all enjoy our homes. “Hey lady, you want real walls? You don’t want to keep all that knotty pine do you?” Yes sir, as a matter of fact, I do want every board of that knotty pine. Please don’t even throw the scrap in the dumpster! Our job was small, relatively speaking, so once the structural stuff was done all we needed was a bathroom. Yeah, try living without a functioning bathroom. I’d describe all the times the toilet was removed and I made desperate phone calls to get it reinstalled in between the steps it took to get the bathroom done, but that’d bore you to tears. Suffice it to say that we lived in a cold-water flat with no kitchen and no heater (it was 42 degrees at the beginning of June) for a while, but at least we didn’t have to go in the woods with the bears. Ok, there was that one time that I stayed with the neighbor across the street because there was no bathroom at all, I had to work the next day so we couldn’t go home, but that’s a minor detail. Mr. H. is handy so he fixed the kitchen sink and built a new floor around the pipes, got the water heater going, fixed the leaky toilet so we didn’t have to replace it, de-moused the small heater and got it working (I guess my idea for a gas stove that looks like a woodstove will have to wait), repaired some woodwork, scraped the old varnish off the window trim, repaired screens to get at least one more season from them, sanded cabinets so I could re-stain them, washed stained floors a million times, sanded part of a floor that was badly stained with 60 grit paper and a hand sander, re-painted thereby saving a rusty old glider from the 1930s, located the septic system so it could be pumped (it had not been in 52 years…so THAT was that weird smell under the kitchen sink), built a stone wall around the yard, built a holder for wood, made me a decorative whale for the living room out of a plank from the old walkway, and basically was my hero. He did a lot of this using Gramp’s old hand tools that he discovered in a closet. He also patched the roof with me freaking out about whether or not I could catch him if he slipped.
The first room tackled was the bathroom, out of necessity. It was a complete mess with the original floor gone, an odd narrow wooden floor running in the wrong direction that was stained, dirty, and black and warped from moisture. An old rug was stuck to the surface (it had to be pried off with a shovel), and there was a large vanity (that I don’t remember ever being there) that made it awkward to walk in the room. EEK!
Fortunately, the original light fixtures were there and just needed to be cleaned up, and a decision was made to go with “wood look” vinyl flooring rather than real wood since history has shown that occasionally the floor gets wet in a beach cottage. I wanted to try to match the original floor’s color exactly, but Mr. H. wanted something with a little more patina, since it was never going to match the original wood anyway, and we weren’t going to remove the current threshold (which wasn’t there originally).
We didn’t have any good photos of the original sink, but I remembered that it was an American Standard one with chrome legs, so we trolled Craigslist until we found one. It was Kohler, rather than American Standard, but it would do the trick. It had the original faucets but they didn’t work right. We aren’t sure exactly what our plumber did, but he either fixed the originals, or he found the exact same replacement faucets and drain. I went with my mother to find curtains, towels and a shower curtain before the bathroom was even finished.
We put some of the vintage advertising items we found in the house on a shelf in the bathroom, and we installed a cabinet above the toilet (another item we had stashed in the basement that came in handy…sometimes it’s good to be a hoarder, right?). The original medicine cabinet was also still there and just needed a bit of cleaning and polishing.
Some shots of the living room from the 60s, and Grampy in his chair.
This is the condition we found it in, in 2016 below. The original wagon wheel light fixture and lamps were still there. The carpet was a mess and we hoped and prayed the original hardwood floor underneath was salvageable, and fortunately, despite a few burn marks left by previous renters it was. Ripping up that carpet was possibly the most satisfying of all the work we did. The soft furniture was in rough shape, so most of it went out with the trash. My uncle was elderly, and had rented the place out after my grandmother died, hence the condition of the house. We didn’t keep everything that was up on the walls, but all oil paintings were done by my mother and were originally in the house, though most had been returned to her to avoid damage or loss by renters. My husband made Moby out of a leftover piece of pine. The living room tab curtains were decent so we washed them and put them back up.
The kitchen was the most fun. It was a filthy mess, and at first, we weren’t sure we would be able to save either the original kitchen cabinets (we figured we’d need to paint them) or the original Formica countertop. I scrubbed and scrubbed the countertop, very carefully sanded out a burn mark in the Formica, and we scrubbed and sanded the fronts of the pine cabinets. We found a can of stain in the closet and figured what the heck; worst case scenario was that we’d have to paint over it. But it worked beautifully, despite the fact that the can of stain was probably from the 1970s. I read online about how one could clean up old chrome by scrubbing it with wet aluminum foil so we gave that a shot. I’m happy to report that it worked, and although the chrome knobs are slightly pitted, we were able to save them all. The table and chairs from the 1930s had been painted red by Gramp back in ’65 so I cleaned them up and my husband repaired them. They could stand to be repainted, so that will happen this year. Mum remembered that she made the original gingham curtains for my grandmother, so she offered to do that again, though she made a slightly different style. We cleaned up all the little items and put them back up on the walls, and saved as many of the original dishes and pans in the cupboards as we could.
The bedrooms and loft were next. The master was such that we could only fit twin beds on opposite walls. So, Lucy and Ricky it was for us! All the original light fixtures were there in both rooms, a couple of the bedcovers only needed a wash and a repair, and the Navajo rugs my uncle brought back from Arizona in the 1970s were in great shape. We had an old rope bed for “the Indian room” as it was always known (PC or not), and after a comedy of errors where the tall box spring brought the mattress way up above the headboard, Mr. H. set about making a frame to sit inside the bedstead, and rigged it up so that it looked from the outside as if it were strung with the ropes. Before and after pics of the 2 bedrooms and the loft below.
The porch, the yard, and the shed all need some further improvements, but the original 1930s glider was still on the porch and all it needed was a coat of paint. We set up the porch and it became our informal dining room where we could smell the pines and the ocean, and feel the breeze when the tide turned and was coming in a half mile down the road.
My husband is a lot like Gramp, and I’m sad that they never had the chance to meet. They’d have been partners in crime at rummage sales, buying in bulk, picking free stuff up off the side of the road like Fred Sanford, making creative things, and fixing things the old-fashioned way. There is still more to be done, such as repairing the porch screens, finishing the back steps, grading the yard, cleaning and treating the exterior wood, adding gutters, exterior lighting, and possibly a new roof, but we’re getting there. Right now, I’d like to think my grandparents are smiling down at us in their little cabin in the pines.
Stuff Gramp made include a lamp, an incense burner, and a dollhouse modeled on the cabin. He made the dollhouse for me when I was 9 (the roof came off so I could play with it, and he carved all the little furniture too), and also made me a lamp that was modeled on the fishing shack at Cape Neddick.