Both of us have lived in the same home for decades. As retirement approached, we both wanted change. Karen wants to go newer and higher. I wanted to be on the water. Thanks to some serendipity, a trusting husband, and a beach shack that hadn’t seen any love for fifty years, the dream is coming true.
I confess that the idea to drive out to the beach, have my husband go along for the ride (though he was adamant, not for anything else), and call a real estate broker--all just for something fun to do one lazy beautiful sunny retirement day--may not have been as innocent a suggestion as it was portrayed at the time. Though my long term motives may have been suspect, my short term intention was not: to plant the seed that since we no longer had to adhere to commutation schedules, the beach could be a happy place for us. Somewhere we could spend quality time alone and with family and friends. Something we should think about. Maybe we could rent and, with fingers crossed, it would take.
All was going according to plan that day. We saw lots of houses. “Move in ready” moved the husband--in the sense of "this is nice." We were just getting a feel for the place and the market, nothing more. And then came the serendipitous part. Just when I was about to promise that we were done, the broker proposed one more stop--something a bit “challenging” that had been on and off the market for almost a decade, with lots of rentals in between. And there it was. Love at first sight. At least for me.
A small old house on stilts with a big deck facing the setting sun and 180 degree views and very little property. BUT. Peeling plastic siding. One bathroom orange and brown. With an orange bidet. The other with plastic navy/white polka dot walls and a red sink. Formica with raised yellow daisies were the bright spot in the dismal kitchen. Terracotta floors from the 60’s and a not so charming washer and dryer in the middle of the living room that made the house shake. Dropped ceilings with fluorescent lighting everywhere.
No insulation or air conditioning, plywood floors with flimsy carpet on top in the bedrooms and single pane windows that looked iffy (but had apparently withstood many storms). Ceramic tiles with birds on the fireplace. Clearly, nothing had been done to this house for fifty years, except maybe a new microwave. It had so much potential. It could be perfect. It was a mess. We drove home.
But I couldn't let go. My husband watched as I talked to environmental types and architects and contractors to probe whether we could fix it up and at what cost. Nobody would give us any assurances about what the permit police would let us do. At best, some thought we could do "something."
My husband--well, he is a trusting soul. So taking a leap of faith and choosing to believe that whatever that something was would be enough, we bit the bullet. Maybe, they said, it would take a year or even a little longer. We weren't in a rush. That was fine too. We had time.
So we bought a refrigerator and lots of air mattresses, painted absolutely everything white (including the orange and the brown and the fireplace tiles and the polka dots), and removed the fluorescent lights. We had a fabulous summer. The deck, the views, the ocean (and the food and the wine) made up for just about everything. Except nothing met any code. We couldn’t use it year round. The bathrooms were a disaster as was the kitchen. It never could get clean. It was the place, but not the house, of my dreams. But that would come next year. Little did we know.
It turned out that the permit policeman invaded our lives and our pocketbooks. Every time we came up with a plan, there they were. The initial plans for a slightly bigger house which took months to finalize --nixed. Too many septic issues. And then deck issues. And then wetlands issues. And neighbor issues. Resolve one, and another popped up. A voodoo doll might have been a good outlet. Midway through, we gave up.
Change of plans. Renovate exactly what is there--same rooflines, same footprint. Just replace. Not one more square inch. Should be simple. But oh no, you can’t do that either. Even though the shack suffered no damage in Sandy, you need to raise it another 8 feet. FEMA, you know. Once that’s done (and of course certified), reno can begin. Almost three years later.
Now, after still another year, we are almost done. Turned out better than we could have ever imagined. Only one permit to go. Shout out to our architect. He is the most talented, patient, clever and lovely man. Without him, I undoubtedly would have alienated my family, friends, and everyone who ever worked on project. No point, of course, in that.
We all know it takes work to realize your dreams. The nice thing about dreams is that when you sit there, on the deck with friends and family and a glass of wine watching an unbelievable sunset, you have no doubt that it was worth it.