The Gift of Renovation: New Understanding

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One of the things that fascinates me about house renovation, or any kind of restoration work (including digging invasive weeds in Yellowstone, which I'll be doing next month) is that the process of changing something outside ourselves often shifts our internal perspective as well.

In the process of working with my contractor, the amazing Jeff Durham, and the other tradesfolk who have helped me revive this long-neglected house, I've experienced "aha!" moments that I'm not sure I would have seen in any other way. Certainly not so quickly or so clearly.  

Take our current project, replacing the old, leaky, and cloudy windows in the bay in my office with new ones. (My office is the extension off the back of the house in the photo above, with the bay where my desk has sat since I moved in a year and a half ago.)

We replaced all of the other windows in the house last summer and fall. (Except for one other bay window, which I'm not going to replace, but I am going to refinish.) I didn't plan on replacing the windows in my office bay, first because I thought since they were 30 years newer than the rest of the windows in the house, I could live with them. 

I could have, except that with new windows throughout the rest of the house, it was painfully clear how cloudy the ones in my office were. Looking through them was like looking through a perpetual mist.

My office, pre-window-replacement

Then over the winter, I realized how leaky they were compared to the new windows in my bedroom, which shares the same airspace with my office (the two rooms are separated only by a wide doorway and two steps down). The hot water baseboard heat was on in my office about twice as much as in the rest of the house, and I still had to run my electric fireplace to stay warm. 

Once I decided to replace those windows, I ran into issue number three: design. My office was added to the house in 1982, when bay windows were in vogue and mid-century modern design was not. So neither the windows nor the bay follow the horizontal lines of the original house. (In the photo at the top of the post, notice how even the huge triple-window unit in the living/dining room is wider than it is tall, and the horizontal framing separating the lower panes emphasizes that.)

The office windows were taller than wide, proportionately wrong for the rest of the house. So the question was, without tearing off the bay itself (an expensive proposition), how could we give the windows a more horizontal look? 

I decided to make them shorter, so they would be proportionately similar to the large upper panes in the living/dining room windows. After measuring the windows, we settled on two-thirds of their original length. Meaning below the top of my desk would be solid wall, with glass from there up. 

We ordered the new windows and then Jeff got busy with other jobs, and soon it was winter, when neither of us wanted to tear out the old windows in below-zero (F) temperatures. 

Window replacement time finally came this week. I spent Sunday evening moving my desk, plus printer stand and file cabinets, and reassembling the whole thing under the bookshelves on the east wall of my office. 

My desk in its new location, before window replacement

As soon as I finished, I sat down at my computer to try out the new configuration. I looked over my left shoulder at the window bay and realized the now empty space would be perfect for a window-seat. So now instead of moving my desk back there once new windows are in, Jeff will build a deep, comfy window seat to fill the bay. 

I would never have "seen" that window seat without moving my desk out of the space, and reconfiguring my office. And I wouldn't have gone to the trouble of moving my desk at all if it hadn't been smack in the way of replacing those old windows. 

The open-air office: windows out, framing for the new ones in progress, with the studs for the wall behind the new window-seat in place.

Moving my desk shifted my perspective in some deeper ways too. Instead of facing the windows and my backyard-renovation-in-progress, my view is now my bookshelves with their rows of volumes by favorite writers on the West. Looking at those spines revived a long-dormant dream of spending more time exploring these expansive landscapes, and less time taking care of my beautiful but large-for-one house and yard.

New windows in, wall "dried in" with sheathing and house-wrap, and a much clearer view of my backyard... 

Since I was a child, I've imagined "someday" hitting the road fulltime to wander, write, and explore wild places throughout the West. I'll be 62 this year, older for the first time than Richard was when he died of brain cancer. That fact reminds me that I can't assume life will offer me a "someday." If I want to follow my long-time dream, I need to start planning now.

So I've decided that my next house will have four wheels and solar panels on the roof. But first, I have a house and yard to finish renovating. With a great deal of love and care, and eyes open for what other new perspectives the process may yield. 

Trimming the exterior of the new windows. Shingles and paint to come... 

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