We purchased a 100+-year-old house in Memphis, Tennessee, last fall. Before we even knew for sure that it would be ours, we began discussing the renovations we would require in order to make it into the home we would enjoy living in for the next decade or so.
Nearly 20 years ago, in Oregon, we completed a major remodel of our family home. We moved into an apartment for that project, mostly because we had young children and it involved tearing off the roof structure and dismantling the heating system in early spring. Our youngest turned one and started walking in that apartment, and our oldest started high school (after being homeschooled for several years) while our family lived there.
This is the open floor plan and kitchen that we created in our Oregon remodel. We relied heavily on the help of an interior designer at that time, and the space successfully stood the test of time. There were many things we loved about our Oregon creation and the open floor plan was the most important of all. Many of my memories from the years that we raised our five kiddos in that house took place in that open space, from the first hours with new kittens and later new puppies, sugar cookie making parties with a dozen pre-teen and teen aged swimmers, family dinners around the island, multiple cooks at one time claiming space to execute their portion of a large meal, gatherings for holidays, birthdays, graduations, Super Bowls, Duck football games, and the last hurrah (though we didn’t know it at the time) a Thanksgiving gathering for 30 in 2016.
As we began interviewing contractors for our Memphis renovation, after our general description of the goal (an open floor plan) more than one of them said, “Why did you buy this house?” We love a lot about this grand old house, including the features that proudly declare, “I am 100+ years old!” Our inspector explained that this house, our Peabody house, has many features that Memphians, especially Midtown dwelling Memphians lovingly refer to as, “Midtown Charm.” That would include things like sloping floors, creaking floors, draftiness in winter, wood windows that are painted and caulked shut, warped doors that won’t completely close or latch, lead pipes, probably lead paint, knob and tube wiring, to go along with hundreds of huge mature trees (many of them flowering), gorgeous woodwork, limestone exteriors, and delightful front porches.
We chose this Peabody house to be our Memphis home because it was move-in ready for us and for our intended AirBnB guests. We arrived in mid October 2017 and by mid November we had three AirBnB listings on this property up and running. The Pool House is our back house with a separate entrance and gated parking for up to four guests, and we offer two bedrooms in the main house, each with its own bathroom, for up to two guests each.
Our Peabody house proved perfect for our AirBnB vision, but we quickly realized that we abhorred the kitchen space. Our first guests were our oldest daughter and her family plus my mom and her husband. It was fall and that means college football season. We love college football season. We love hosting gatherings that include good food, friends and family, conversation, and the game on TV. In an open floor plan, all of these things can occur simultaneously, but in the Peabody house, the kitchen is a galley with no seating space for anyone who wants to keep the cook company, and no access to the other areas of the house where conversation and the game are happening. There is also not adequate space for multiple cooks, and we like lots of cooks at one time. The renovation that had seemed like a good idea was suddenly an imperative. We hated entertaining in this space. We needed to recreate the open space we had lived in for 20 years in Oregon. We were not willing to live in our Peabody house without recreating that space.
We had a general idea of how to get the open concept at Peabody. It is a traditional foursquare house with the stairway to the second floor smack dab in the center of the house. You enter the house and see the stairway right in front of you; it goes up to a landing where a back stairway from the back of the house meets at the landing and then the stairs continue to the second floor. We figured we could eliminate the part of the stairway that came up from the back part of the main floor, appropriate about one third of the living room, blow out the sitting room walls and all the walls that surrounded the kitchen, eating area, pantry and full bath on the main floor, thereby creating enough space for a new kitchen, large kitchen island, and a family room (hearth room per the lingo here).
One of the other things we loved about our Oregon space was the large fireplace with a hearth for sitting or sleeping on, and a vent-less gas log set that warmed the whole space. We froze our first winter in Memphis when there were many days at a time with the lows in the teens and single digits and the highs in the low 20’s. These temperatures were very difficult to battle in our drafty old house. Gone were the days when we could turn the heat off at night; if we did that, the house would never get warm the next day. So the remodeled space at the Peabody house would need a grand fireplace with hearth. There are lots of fireplaces in Memphis’s midtown, but they are usually non-functional and they do not have raised hearths.
The basic goals were defined: an open floor plan, a large kitchen island set four feet out from the wall of counters to allow multiple cooks at a time with no bumping butts, a grand fireplace with raised hearth, and a space for the TV. That last should be embarrassing. But it’s important to us, and hey, it’s mostly just us these days, so we can do what we want and in the evenings that involves watching news on the channel we prefer, sports, or binging on our favorite TV series.
Our first step was to hire a designer to draft the new space. His job was to draft the existing space and the new space with a layout to accomplish our objectives. He wouldn’t have anything to say about the structure and whether or not the walls we wanted to come down were structural; his only job was to help us determine if the space could support a floor plan that would meet our objectives. Our first meeting with him was on November 7, after arriving in Memphis on October 17. It clearly did not take long for us to think seriously about remodeling. We had our first look at his floor plan on January 3. That first look was disconcerting. He had placed the kitchen on the exact opposite side of the space than we had envisioned. It took us a bit of time, but after thought and consideration and a few minor revisions, we agreed that his vision was superior to our initial thought, and before the end of January, we had a set of plans that we could provide to contractors for bidding our project.
We interviewed 6 contractors: two we never heard from again, one said the project was well beyond his capability, one put his finger in the air and gave us a high number which was what he said it would take for him to touch it and that we should expect it to go higher, and two gave us detailed quotes. By mid-March, from those last two, we selected our contractor, Capital Construction (and specifically Gage Morefield), and a project start date of April 16, a Monday. It was necessary for us to go out that far to get beyond any AirBnB reservations for the main Peabody house bedrooms. After that, we would shut those listings down until the project was complete. We would continue to rent the Pool House during the remodel.
We had a date certain, and we began to make plans. This time around, it is only Hubby and I who live in the house, and we intend to continue to live in it during the entirety of this project. The air conditioner for the first floor would be dismantled early on, but the air conditioner for the second and third floors would remain functional. We would lose our kitchen the first demo day, but we could move the fridge into the formal dining room (which is the pool table room for us), and move our five foot square table into the front of the living room and it would hold our temporary kitchen – Berkey water filter, coffee maker, toaster oven, silverware, paper plates, plastic cups, some spices and storage containers, paper towels, wine bottle opener and that’s about it. We moved our couch toward the front of the house, moved the TV down in front of our formal fireplace in the living room (the one without a raised hearth) opposite the couch. We covered the pool table with plastic, and planned on covering the TV, the couch, and the temporary kitchen with plastic each day to protect them from demo dust and later sheetrock dust. We would turn our master bathroom claw foot bathtub into a dishwashing station for the few dishes we planned on using (coffee cups, wine glasses, silverware). Everything else on the main floor (the kitchen, pantry, laundry room, sitting room, living room) would go upstairs and be covered with plastic, or would go into storage.
We would be ready for demo day on April 16.