Monday, June 27, 2011

Local wildlife, more visitors, and the art of persuasion

My cousins Györgyi and Jancsi are here from Budapest, and haven't seen the DC sights since they were here in 1980.  So, of course, we brought them to see the Bungalow on Sunday morning.  Needless to say, there were more than a few raised eyebrows as we walked through the place.  My mom's side of the family tends to go with Courtney in the whole renovation scheme of things-- let someone else do it, and buy once it's done.  We took them on the path that starts at the French Colonial and goes around to the English Castle-- the kids call it the "secret passage."  Saw a whole bunch of wild raspberries, although Györgyi decided it'd be better not to eat any, lest they not be edible and cause her to go to a hospital in a foreign country...  (Anyone from the area have any idea whether they're good?)  En route back to the Bungalow, Abby and the kids happened upon a deer grazing in the bottom of the glen.  Startled, it ran straight up the incline, right past the house.  We had seen a couple of deer last week when we brought Donna by, but that was at twilight from across the glen, and this was midday right down there.  After his close encounter with a few deer on Teddy Roosevelt Island a few weeks ago, Isaac's gonna think he's the Deer Whisperer!

Tracking the deer in the glen in front of the Bungalow
It's funny how we've become the Welcome Wagon for the Colonial.  We liked Jason and Ashley so much (or at least the idea of them) that any time we see people looking at the place, we feel it's our responsibility to encourage them to move in.  As we came back from meeting Bambi, there were two different prospective buyers checking out the place.  (Not to mention the woman we met while heading to the path earlier in the day, who probably thought we were nuts for going right in with "hey, are you interested in buying this place?")  I gravitated toward one of the prospectives, a younger woman from Michigan who just moved here after a failed stint in Arizona; I told her about how the previous offer fell through, and offered to give her our finance guy's contact information.  Abby gravitated toward the other, a man who liked the house for its artistic qualities, and had enough cash on hand to be uninterested in the financing aspect of it all.  (To recap: I went to the woman from the Great Lakes, and Abby went to the artsy, rich guy.  Figures!)
Isaac in Forest Glen

In actual house news, Rory reports the plumbing and electrical subcontractors came out late last week, and the HVAC guy is coming out tomorrow.  Mohamed sent the plans he drew up, and we are trying to set up a time midweek to meet and discuss final room layouts.  I really hope to have this all done by Wednesday, when we leave for Buffalo for a week for Courtney's wedding.  And to top it all off, another set of cousins showed up in DC this morning, announced only about 12 hours previously.  Fingers crossed on getting stuff done!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

No Movement, Nighttime

Courtney just emailed me: "Why aren't you updating your blog anymore, slacker?"  Well, unfortunately there has been nothing about which to blog.  Well, not nothing, but the most newsworthy thing that has happened this week was that I spoke with Patty, the woman at the obscure Delaware-based firm that will be managing our FHA Mortgage until we (hopefully) refinance in a year or so.  Patty informed me that we'll need to have monthly inspections of the house to make sure work is progressing, which will be interesting considering the first couple months will likely have nothing concrete to show for them, save for building plans and the necessary submissions to the various historical boards in order for those plans to go through.  Especially with our next-door neighbor, the Dutch Windmill, going full bore ahead with exterior renovations right now, it's gonna make us itch to sit and wait.  We do have to remember it took several months for the Windmill to get the go-ahead to start construction, but it's gonna be hard; with our current house, I was on the stairs pulling out carpet staples before we even closed, and it wasn't long after that when we invited my coworkers over for a day of free labor, bashing in all of the old ceilings and walls.  It's definitely going to take patience to a) go at the required snail's pace that is the historical review process, and b) allow for the fact that most of the work is going to be done by contractors and subcontractors, on their schedule.  We rest assured with the fact that everyone sees this as an approximately one-year-long project, and we all know how long it took to rehab the current place.  (Bid October 2003, Closed December 2003, Moved in September 2004, Heating January 2006...)  At that pace, Isaac'd be in third grade or so by the time we get in there.  Not gonna happen!

We did get to see a new face of the Bungalow last night, when we took my second-cousin Donna to see the place at night.  I realized I had never been there at night before.  The lighting around the house is actually not nearly as bright as I thought it would be, which is nice.  Directly behind the house are four parking spots-- two for us and two for the Windmill-- and a streetlamp, which I assumed would light the place up as much as the streetlamps directly outside our current place do.  Instead, it's much more subdued lighting; the kind that would be romantic/eerie in the fog.  Out front, there's no lighting on our house yet, of course, but the circle is pretty much dark, but for the lights on the front of the main condo building, which are pretty subdued as well.  That's great for me, because I'm a big front-porch-light guy, but I wouldn't want to overdo it.  (In fact, Bonnie from the Seminary just let us know she had saved the original light from the house, and will give it back to us when she next sees us.  It'll be interesting to see whether it's salvageable... and whether its design is something we're gonna want to salvage!)  Other than lighting, the place is pretty neat after dark.  Enough ambient lighting that it's not completely black, but with all the tree cover, there's a definite barrier between Forest Glen and the rest of the DC Metro area.  Okay, so you can hear the cars on the Beltway, and the occasional freight train crossing the bridge nearby (Abby & I both noted it was the first time we had heard a train while we were outside of the house, and although it was louder than expected, from inside the house you hardly notice it), but neither are enough to annoy.
The main Seminary buildings, directly across the street from our house, at night.

Inside the place, the first floor gets decent shadowy light at night, thanks to the (over)abundance of windows.  There's no electricity, of course, so we were able to get an idea of how bright the house might be at night with the lights off.  Definitely can walk around without bumping into things, but that's the same as our current place, thanks to those aforementioned streetlamps outside.  Downstairs is a lot darker, but will probably lighten up some because of some changes I'm proposing to the downstairs layout.  (Oh no! Changes!)  Nothing huge, but our current plan is to have Isaac's room run lengthwise, along the rear two-thirds of the house, with Lola's being situated where the current kitchen is.  The change would basically be a 90-degree shift of the two rooms, having Isaac's now run along the side of the house (with one wall along Dewitt Drive) and Lola's running the rear-two thirds, albeit the two-thirds closer to to the Windmill, not to the street as Isaac's room's current positioning is.  (Got that?)  Regardless of whether you can picture it, it would take 3 big windows away from Isaac's room (which currently has 6) and add three small ones, and would add 3 big windows to the family room / den area, brightening it significantly.  It would also make me feel better in that we wouldn't be wasting as many windows by putting them in closets.  (We'll still have a few of those, just not as many.)  I'll see if I can put some plans up on this site for you all to peruse... although our architect may have something to say about that as well!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Great Room It Is

Thanks to the sweltering heat, we spent a good deal of this weekend indoors (in the car or the house) planning out the floorplan for our main floor.  If we didn't draw up a dozen different takes on the plan (and use up half of Becky & Larry's pad of graph paper) then we did nothing at all.  Turns out, we think we'll be going with the "Courtney Plan" -- namely, the one with the large Great Room and the teeny tiny bedroom.  By moving the fridge from one theoretical wall to another, we opened up a big part of the kitchen to cabinets (and a pantry!) we hadn't previously considered possible.  We should be able to keep the radiators, which is a bonus.  We think it's gonna be the best of both worlds, but we'll hold our breath until Mohammed takes a look and says it's doable.  (Fingers crossed)

Other news?  Abby met with Bonnie Rosenthal this morning.  Bonnie is the woman who spearheaded the whole movement to save the Seminary site.  I haven't met her yet, but Abby says she's super nice.  (And who knows: with that last name, maybe she's a relative?)  She handed over the code to get into the main Seminary building, where we will find the various gyms and common areas (pool tables, foosball, computer terminals and, most importantly for the next few months, bathrooms!).  Some annoying stuff: apparently we don't get access to the ballroom, and we don't have a key to the front door-- which is directly across the street from the bungalow-- and instead have to circle the complex to enter from the other side.  I remember meeting some of my neighbors a few months back and hearing complaints about who gets access to the ballroom and who doesn't.  All I know is I'm paying a homeowner's association fee, and I am now extremely interested to find out what that required $112.50 a month gets me-- and what it gets other people.  More to come on this issue, I'm sure.

Finally, I knew it wouldn't take long: a big ol' thumbs down to Home Depot.  With all the crap we took from them doing our current house, it shouldn't be a surprise that they're ready to screw us again!  This time, Abby was at the Home Depot in Columbia, MD, and someone there asked her if she would like to have a closet professional come out and talk to her about organizational needs for the house.  Abby explained to the person that there was nothing in the house, and all the closets were aspirational at best at this point, and the person said that wouldn't be an issue.  So Abby packed up the kids early this morning and took them to meet the closet person.  She showed up late, and annoyed that it was hard to find the place.  (My guess is she didn't use Google Maps!)  Then, without even going into the house, she said she only works with existing closets.  The best part: she turned around and left, and didn't even say goodbye!  Good thing Abby had arranged the meeting with Bonnie, or schlepping the kids up to Forest Glen the morning after getting back from a road trip would've been for naught. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

We're on the map!

After a monthlong back-and-forth with Google, our house is finally on the map!  When we first started looking at the place, none of the local streets were listed on Google Maps; they were all stubs coming off the main road (Linden Lane).  But the satellite imagery was there, so it's not like Google hadn't seen the place or anything.  (Unlike Courtney & Chris's place, which is still in various stages of construction when you see it online.  I wrote in and opened up several "issues" with Google, and now all are fixed.  They put in all the streets, labeled them correctly, put the addresses in correctly, and got rid of the gray shading that showed it had been part of Walter Reed Army Annex, which now ends south of Linden instead of extending to the Beltway.  (Our property had been part of the Annex.  Wounded soldiers recuperated on the grounds during WWII, and officers were housed up through the early 1980s.)  Now all of my neighbors can thank me for making it easier for people to get to their homes.  (You're welcome, neighbors...)  Anyhow, all of those issues are fixed, and here are the results!

Google Maps: 9618 Dewitt Drive

The Seminary Grounds, with properties labeled.

Hi Gregory,

Google Maps has been updated to correct the problem you reported. You can see the update here, and if you still see a problem, please tell us more about the issue:  Link to view and/or reopen issue

Report history
Problem ID: C468-E278-5ADA-F7E6

Your report:
Dewitt Dr., Dewitt Ct., and Dewitt Cir. are all labeled as Dewitt Cir. Just the circle should be Dewitt Cir. Just the court sticking up at the far right (east) should be Dewitt Ct. The rest, from Hume to Dewitt Cir., and from Dewitt Cir. to Linden Lane (which is not even marked as a street on your map) is Dewitt Dr. It's possible you don't have Dewitt Dr. marked as a street because it passes under a building. But rest assured, it is there!
Thanks for your help,
The Google Maps team New! This email was sent because you clicked "Report a Problem" on Google Maps. We thought you should know that you can now edit the map yourself, on Google Map Maker.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Layout Dilemma

Alright, folks: we have a dilemma.  Today, we went out to the Bungalow to meet with the Maryland Historical Trust folks.  Not only were they exceedingly nice, but they were wonderful people and joys to behold. (I'm not just saying that because they hold the keys to our renovation in their hands, but still...)  We also met with Rory and our architect, Mohammed.  Everything went well.  But now we're confused and fretting about pretty much everything having to do with the top floor of the Bungalow.  What's wrong?  Well, in the last 24 hours, both Courtney and Rory have presented us with options for the layout of the floor that both Abby and I concede are better than our original plans.  (Yes, folks: Abby and Gregory are admitting not just one but two plans are better than their own.  Savor this moment.)

The original plan had a "Great Room" centered around the fireplace and having attributes of both living and dining rooms.  It had a half-wall separating the Great Room from an area with closet space and an entry into our bedroom, which would be surrounded by windows.  The half-wall would allow the Great Room to appear as if it stretched the entire width of the house.  And the kitchen would be off the dining room area of the Great Room, with counters flush to the windows and appliances against a far wall.  Don't worry if you can't picture this all: it's not happening.

Courtney's plan took out the half-wall entirely, stretched the Great Room into a truly great room that went side to side, giving more room to both the living room and dining room areas, and pushed most of the closet space into the bedroom.  If we thought the living room was the most important room, she said, then get those closets out of there.  She was right.

Rory's plan not only doesn't build a half-wall, but keeps the existing wall up in its entirety.  However, it relabels every room clockwise by 90 degrees.  The Great Room becomes solely a living room.  The kitchen becomes a dining room, thereby alleviating the need to block windows with cabinets.  The bedroom becomes the kitchen, with cabinets against a wall that would have had the bedroom's entry from the closet area. And the closet area, retaining its current walls, becomes the bedroom, with a whole wall of closets on the far side.  If we don't want to waste windows, and if we want more living room space, he said, then don't tear down the wall at all, and instead maybe put some sort of architectural element into it, like an antique salvaged window or something, that'd draw the light from the window boxes on the far side without giving away precious square footage.  He was right.

So here's our dilemma.  We know our plan is now moot.  But do we go with Courtney's Plan or Rory's Plan?  We're asking you, our potential visitors, to let us know which you think we should choose.  And just to be sure, here's our pros/cons list:

Courtney's Plan:

  1. Kitchen located in preferred location, at NE corner of house, to see prettiest view.
  2. Privacy issues in the bedroom; everyone in condos can see into our bedroom, necessitating blinds.
  3. Cramped bedroom space.
  4. Amazing Great Room, with fantastic view from main entrance
  5. Kitchen cabinet issues, with cabinets against lower part of windows and no ability for upper cabinets.
  6. Need to change from radiant to forced-air heating, due to placement of radiators in kitchen.  Loss of radiant heat means we will have to insulate the roof, and deal with Maryland Historical Trust's issues concerning keeping the historic nature of our roofline.
  7. Air conditioning returns will be more conspicuous, possible need for a vertical conduit somewhere in the living room.
Rory's Plan:

  1. No cabinets against any windows.
  2. No privacy issues in the bedroom
  3. Wall cuts Great Room's ceiling in half
  4. Bedroom may feel more spacious, although it's only slightly larger, due to high ceilings
  5. Dedicated living room and dining room
  6. Living room furniture layout difficult due to angles of entrances into the room
  7. Entryway divided with wall separating bedroom from living room
  8. Possibility of keeping radiant heat, cheaper to power, and potential to leave roof as is (or fiddle with it less)
  9. Natural conduits for A/C can be built into existing wall.
Thoughts?  Votes?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A New Perspective?

Swung by the bungalow tonight after work to show Courtney the interior of the place, and she ended up doing more "harm" than good: namely, she mentioned thoughts she had about our plan for the layout of the great room, and actually got us thinking that her idea was better than ours.  Oh no!  Actually, she had a few ideas, but one of them won out.  (One involved moving where the dining room would be, which I'd be amenable to except I would never want a dining room to have a bathroom next to it, so that was nixed.)  But now, we're meeting with the architect tomorrow and have to seriously think (at nearly midnight...) about whether we want our plan or our plan with Courtney's edit.  Thanks, sis!

The great room, with Leo guarding it.
Met a new neighbor tonight-- Melissa, along with her two dogs Homer and Ella.  The kids were adorable playing with the dogs by the fountain, and continued doing so while we gave Melissa the grand tour.  It's great how the neighbors want to see the place.  Some of them have lived next to the place for up to 3 years, and are understandably excited about seeing renovations begin.  Luckily, they have the windmill next door to watch while we go through the creative process.  One Saturday a couple months back, we had at least two dozen people file through to take a look at the place when I was in there with the doors open waiting to interview contractors.  Some even said they were checking on the place to make sure the door hadn't swung open inadvertently.  Nice try, neighbors, but I have no problem with looky-loos!

Experienced rush-hour traffic for the first time today after Courtney picked me up from work.  We got past the Maryland state line in no time at all (20 minutes at most), but then had to wait seven cycles to get through the intersection of Beach Drive and East-West Highway because of the traffic stopped at Jones Branch.  Very poorly designed intersection... especially because it took us at least 20 minutes to get through there, whereas it'd probably have taken ten just to park and walk to the house.  Oh well.  More news tomorrow, as we meet with the Montgomery County Planners and the architect, but let's see what Courtney has to say about her evening tour.  Courtney?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Good communication

Looks like everyone we're dealing with is on the same page as us communications-wise, which is great.  I love it when you email someone a question and you get a reply within the hour.  Our realtor, Arial, was that way.  Our finance guy, Scott, was that way.  Our general contractor, Rory, is that way.  And this morning I found out that the Montgomery County Planning Commission is that way too.  Three different people, three email chains, immediate response.  Hooray for Amy, Renee, and (a different) Scott!

An archive photo of Leo & Theo in their rightful place,
where they will return once Save Our Seminary refurbishes them.
Theo in our living room, where he and Leo currently  reside.
And here's what we were able to accomplish: we have back-to-back meetings with Montgomery County and our architect on Wednesday morning, and we're working with Bonnie at Save Our Seminary to get our resident lions out of the way.  Movement!  (Both literal and figurative...)

Oh, and amazingly, Courtney told Abby tonight that she wanted to see the inside of the house, since she's only seen the outside.  Courtney (my sister) is not the fixer-upper kind of person.  Her place is a brand-spankin'-new condo in Gainesville-- so new that it took more than a year after she moved in for the street to appear on Google Maps.  (Props to Google Maps' good communication too, by the way: our street was on the satellite image, but it wasn't labeled.  One email to the good map guys in Silicon Valley and *poof* Dewitt Drive is on the map.  Hooray for Sergei Brin!)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Weekend Baby Steps

Dropped by the house for the first time as the owners today, and showed the place off to Laura, Brian, and Katie Stewart, who drove all the way down from Buffalo to see it (and us).  Accomplished a few picture-worthy things:

  1. We took down the For Sale sign.  I would've liked to have a "SOLD" sign up for a while, but this'll do!
  2. Abby took a hammer to a couple of walls she wanted to see behind.  (Rory had said it was okay.)  Good results: the wall we want to remove completely in the living room has a beautiful continuation of the ceiling behind it; the kitchen ceiling has the wood indicative of the porch roof it used to be, which is likely okay to remove. (Fingers crossed.)
  3. We got the keys!  No more lockbox access for us.  Feels like home already...

Friday, June 3, 2011

Work next week?

Abby just spoke to our General Contractor (Rory), and he says he'll get together with the architect early next week, and we can move forward with plans from then.  I'm steadying myself for the months ahead, when my wife will stay awake at night planning every square inch of the place...

Yellow House Back on the Market

So there are three houses right next to each other, with our house being on one side, the Windmill house in the middle, and "the Yellow House" on the other.  An army surgeon (Richard) from Walter Reed has bought the Windmill house, and is in the process of fixing it up (solo!) in order to live in it with his wife once they retire.  The Yellow House was put under contract the day we saw the Bungalow with our realtor, by Jason and Ashley, a married couple a few years younger than us; he was from Charlotte, but was a Bills fan whose parents were originally from Buffalo; she was from Jersey, and went to West Point.  Anyhow, I just emailed with Jason and it turns out they have dropped their offer because no lenders were willing to work with them, on account of the house being attached via one of those elevated walkways to the condos.  The first thing I thought was "uh oh, Abby's gonna be upset that the Yellow House is back on the market."  Called her up-- yep, that's the first thing she said.  But the renovations would cost a heckuva lot more than ours, and who knows if we would have had the lender problems as well.  (We had enough issues as it was.) 

So, if any of you want the yellow house (Becky?!) it's up for grabs again!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

It's Official!

Mark your calendars: June 1, 2011 was the day they took our (large!) check and gave us the (theoretical) keys to our very own bungalow.  I say theoretical, because the keys are still technically in the lockbox on the door, but hey, we put our downpayment down, signed a mess of papers, and are have started our homeowners' insurance, so for all intents and purposes, it's a go!

Sure, it took four closing dates and a lot of leeway from sellers looking to unload quickly, but about 100 days after we first saw the place, it's ours!  Now to talk to the General Contractor (Rory) and see about historical requirements.

I hope to get this page up and running with links to other people's pages on the house (and neighboring houses) as well as info on what exactly we're doing.  Stay tuned!