On a gorgeous fall day at the end of October, I had the pleasure of driving down to Gig Harbor to catch up with homeowners Janice Rosaire & Brian Best, who you may remember from Part I, purchased a fantastic mid-century gem in Gig Harbor last spring that was in desperate need of intervention.
Janice and Brian put an offer on this home, sight unseen, with the intention of doing a full-scale home rennovation. The place was definitely in need of some love, as it had seen some pretty questionable remodels throughout the decades, but Janice and Brian saw the potential. The home’s best architectural features were still intact, and they believed that they were the right pair to make this home shine again.
Janice informs me that it’s been quite a ride so far. Unfortunately, a few surprises, and some delays in progress have added to the whole situation becoming a little more daunting than they had originally anticipated. Janice and Brian are not new to home renovation, as they had recently completed a total renovation of the Seattle condo they resided in before buying their Gig Harbor home. This is, however, the first time they have ever taken on a project of this scale.
Janice and Brian recently returned from a two-month long cross-country motorcycle trip that saw 12,000 miles, lots of great countryside, and an abundance of delicious BBQ joints. While the trip was quite the adventure as Janice informs me, in hindsight, it probably would have been better to remain home to oversee the renovations first hand. Shortly after returning from their trip, the couple surprised their friends and family with an impromptu elopement in New Orleans.
Now home from their journey, Janice and Brian are living on site in their guest suite, which is a 200-square foot space, attached to their garage. They are making it work, but it is starting to cramp their lifestyle. As Janice explains, ‘we have been living with no kitchen and no laundry facilities here. We have been eating mostly take-out, or what we can make in a toaster. We have to wash our dishes in the bathroom sink. At this point, it’s getting pretty old.’
Janice informs me that they’ve got more accomplished in the three weeks they’ve been back than the two months they were gone. Unfortunately, they’ve run into some challenges with the different contractors they’ve been using, but they are eager to keep moving forward with the process and get the renovations completed.
Janice and Brian would like to be in the house within the next couple of months. Janice tells me, ‘as soon as the painting is done, we are going to put the floors down. Then we need a new electrical panel installed before we’ll have enough power in here, and that has to go through the city. So that is the real determining factor. I’m hoping we are in here by the end of November, but we’ll see.’
When first pulling up to the driveway, immediately I can see the drastic changes that the home has undergone. Now in this mid-transformation state, the potential is starting to take shape. The first thing I notice is that they’ve changed the exterior paint color from the former unsightly green color to a more fitting black, which makes the structure look much more at home in its natural setting.
Thank you for opening your home up to us once again, Janice. Walk us through where you are at the current moment with the project.
Because we were gone for the summer some of the steps were done out of sequence. For example, we already have our kitchen in, which isn’t typically done until much later in the process. We wanted to be here for some of the more important finish work, so we had them do these things before we left for the trip. Unfortunately, this ended up not being as crucial, as they did not end up making as much progress as we had hoped they would have while we were gone. Now we have to make sure that things like countertops and cabinets remain covered while they are doing the rest of the work to ensure that nothing gets damaged.
As far as changes go, I think the biggest transformation in the home so far has been the kitchen. There used to be a big wall screen that separated the living room and kitchen and blocked off those great Sound views. We ended up removing the majority of the screen, but keeping a small bit of it in place because it was an original feature, and it was important to us to maintain the homes unique architectural integrity. Now we have a support beam that spans the length of where the screen once was. This allowed us to make what I think, is the most dramatic change to the house, because we no longer have any obstructed views.
For the cabinets, we went with all high gloss, white acrylic cabinets from Ikea. Three years ago, when we first moved to Seattle and were in the process of renovating our condo, Ikea had just come out with this exact line, which we ended up using in our kitchen and we just loved it. For this home, I contemplated doing something more custom since it is such a unique space, but I didn’t find anything that I liked better. Plus, I just love the components of Ikea cabinets. We went with a white marble look granite for the countertops and backslashes, and for our pantry, we used a California company called Semi Handmade, who specializes in custom cabinetry. Their niche is that they do faces for all Ikea. So that is what we did here, with the faces in walnut for a nice accent to all of the white. I’m just delighted with how it’s all turning out.
Over in the living room, we ran into some challenges with the fireplace. We knew we wanted to keep it, as I try to maintain accents of the original architecture whenever possible. Especially those featured in other areas of the property. Like the aggregate on the hearth of the fireplace, which matches the benches outside made of the same material. Right now, we are debating whether we want to turn it back to a wood burning fireplace, or put in a new gas insert. The problem with that approach is that it has a 50” opening, and they don’t make gas inserts that big. If we end up putting in a smaller one, we will lose some of the drama of the large opening. Right now, we are weighing our options and may end up going with a hybrid approach.
In the dining room, we kept the coat closet but made it half the size, so that we could fit in a custom shelving unit I made a few years ago. I’m pretty attached to it. It is a suspension system, the same length as the dining room, which allows me to display my pottery and art. Below the row of clerestory windows, we had a beam installed so that we can suspend the shelving unit from it.
A major challenge throughout the space so far has been the lighting. Because of our low-slung roof, we have limited options. We found a flush mount modern light that looks like a can light to use throughout the main living space. This should work out well, since we don’t have enough room for actual cans. We have beautiful modern chandeliers picked out for the dining room, and main entry, and black Tom Dixon Beat Lights for above the kitchen island. I’m all for pendants but want to make sure that they don’t take away from the view.
The two rooms of the house that are so important that you can light up like Vegas are the kitchen and bathroom. We are planning on doing track lighting in the kitchen so that I have coverage over the sink. We will have washers installed throughout the home to cast spotlights on to our art. There is some concern with having too many competing lights and fear of creating visual noise, so we’ve decided to install very low profile flush lights throughout that will provide a similar look to recessed lighting.
The space where there used to be a black 1980s bathroom, is now going to be our media room and den. We want this to be a really inviting and cozy room, and will add more color here when decorating since most of my furniture selections throughout the home will be more subdued, earthy tones. Off of the media room, the space that was originally a strange closet area, is now the laundry room. This is also where all the control panels are for the entire house. Brian is obsessed with using technology so we’ve created a fully “smart” house. Practically everything can be controlled by our phones.
In the master suite, we have added a large walk-in closet, bedroom and master bath. Over the summer we had a pretty big surprise in the master bath when we were pulling up the floor. We uncovered a full-length swimming pool! We think that it must have been a part of an exterior courtyard, and at some point, it was closed in to get more square footage in the home, but we’re not sure. As would have been typical of this type of architecture, I think it may have been a large coy pond or reflecting pool. It’s in such good shape but doesn’t look like they ever used it. It’s perfectly plumbed, and the drain is pristine. It’s pretty bizarre.
In the master bath, we want to do a monochromatic spa-like, subdued theme, and the whole space will be covered in tile. We will have a walk-in shower with a glass enclosure, and a bench. We also have 91 feet of vanity coming in, with one large teak vessel sink. The free-standing tub across from the shower will have a shelf to put your wine on, and above that, we will have a wall-mounted TV. This will definitely be my retreat! We have added a dropped ceiling intentionally above shower for lights and ventilation. We were very concerned with ventilation in the bathroom because of the lack of opening windows.
Past the Master suite, the hall originally continued on to the other side of the house, but we have closed it off to create a separate MIL suite. We were pretty concerned about sound getting through so we used triple barrier sound proofing between the two spaces. We completely reconfigured the space where this unit is. It used to have two bedrooms, but we wanted to make it a nice big one bedroom. We put in a large walk-in closet, and a nicely sized bathroom with space for a washer and dryer.
The kitchen in the MIL was just finished being installed. We have a large island with a sink and dishwasher, and a stove top with a wall oven/microwave combo. We would like to repurpose the appliances from the old kitchen, but we need to make sure that they are all still in working condition first. All the cabinets in this space are Ikea, like the home’s main kitchen, and we will be installing white quartz countertops soon.
On the deck, which spans the entire eastern side of the home, we are going to put up a frosted glass screen to create privacy between the main living space, and the MIL suite. Our tenant will have their own private entrance, and an isolated deck area for their own use. On our side of the deck, we will have two separate outdoor living spaces. One side will be an outdoor dining area that is easily accessed from the kitchen. Here we will be adding a built-in grill, with a dining table, and have twinkly lights above for ambiance. In the other space, we will have an outdoor living room with a firepit, outdoor gas heaters, and sofas. We haven’t decided on what to do with the deck railing yet, but we will be replacing the current decking with Trex composite decking.
I am comfortable with the Interior design of the home, but as far as landscaping is concerned, I have no idea. I know that we want to keep the grass area on the side of the house, but all other grass we want to have taken out. It’s just too hard to maintain, and it only looks good for a short time throughout the year. We also have so much dense foliage here, and I am looking to simplify. We have gorgeous Japanese Maple trees which we are intent on keeping, but the rest I would like to see removed. We are considering bringing goats in to clean up the hillside.
What are some of the major challenges that have presented themselves so far?
We came into this thinking that we could have things really perfected. Brain and I are both very detail specific. One of the main things we realized is that when you buy a house this old, it will never look like new construction. Unless we decided to completely replace everything, which is not feasible, it will never be new, and so we have to learn to live with the imperfections.
Also, we have definitely paid the price for leaving for two months this summer. I think we were a little misinformed about the progress taking place while we were gone. When we got back, we realized things that we were told we done were not done, or worse, not done to our specification. So that was pretty disappointing.
This must be a pretty big change from living in Capital Hill in Seattle. How are you adjusting to life in Gig Harbor?
We’ve only had a little time to explore Gig Harbor so far, so we are still getting to know it. The scenery here is magnificently beautiful, and there is so much to see. It’s a really quaint town with loads of growth potential and possibility given its close proximity to Seattle and Tacoma. I think you can often predict the future of a place by the quality of their restaurants, and I’m happy to say that Gig Harbor has some great restaurants that are on par with the best that Seattle or San Francisco have to offer. Also, Gig Harbor has probably the best movie theater that I have ever been to in my entire life, the Galaxy Luxury Theater. I’ve been to other theaters that offer food and drinks and comfy seating, but this theater takes it to a new level in luxury. This is also where they host the annual film festival, which we look forward to checking out. Another really cool thing is that the 2018 HGTV dreamhouse is in Gig Harbor, which was just announced. So that is exciting because I feel like that will bring some attention to Gig Harbor.
We have been extremely fortunate that through a dear friend from Seattle we’ve been introduced to other newcomers to Gig Harbor from Southern California (which is where I grew up). There are two great families now that we have become fast friends with. We are all new to the area, so we are in it together. That has been really helpful and made this transition so much easier.
I think the hardest part for me is not being able to entertain. Brian and I both love to entertain, and we want to be able to have people come here. I feel like I’m starting to meet people, and I want to invite them over, but the house just isn’t ready yet. As soon as we get in the house, one of my goals is to start a supper club and game night. We have the space for it. So I’m very excited for that. Now that we are back from our trip I feel like I am ready to get embedded.
Thank you for taking the time to show us around, Janice. We can’t wait to check in and see how everything looks once the home is complete, and you’ve officially moved in!
Part I of this story can be found here.