Austinites’ take on thoughtful, DIY remodels.
Austinites’ take on thoughtful, DIY remodels.
“The house was charming all in itself, it just needed a little help finding its full potential,” says Kayti Duffie, of the East Austin cottage she bought in 2007. Originally built in the 1930s in Tarrytown, the house was moved to its current location, near MLK and Airport, in 2005. “Right away,” she explains, “the history and original wood ceilings captured my heart…When I was dating my now-husband Connor, he walked inside with amazement and said he “felt like he was in a cabin in Colorado.” At that moment, I fell more in love with my house (and him)!”
A typical cottage, the home’s original footprint was heavily compartmentalized, with limited room-to-room flow. Priority number one was space maximization: tearing down a wall between the living room and kitchen. In the process, it added square footage for a dining room and created a ‘Great Room’ effect to a house under 1,000 square feet.
Once the addition was completed, lots of little projects ensued to make use of every square inch of space: remodeling the bathroom from floor to ceiling, converting doors to barn sliders for added moveable space, and adding a roof to the deck to be an alternate living area in the cooler months. Thanks to the help of two handy brothers, countertops were made from refurbished old floors and a couch was constructed from scrap wood. Today, its these handmade details—furniture, and smaller pieces like hooks and curtain rods— that Duffie believes give the space warmth and character, “forcing us to recognize and appreciate the hard work and creativity that laborers and skilled craftsman possess and use everyday.”
“Miraculous dilapidation.” That’s how Tim Krcmarik explains the state of his Chestnut neighborhood house when he and his wife Jody Snee bought it in February 2008. “The house was a wreck when we moved in,” he says. “It’d been neglected for years. It was open to the elements in many places [and] teeming with wildlife.”
With a leaky roof, broken pipes, rotted windows, no working HVAC, bad wiring, and rotted floors in the bathroom, to put it gently: this was a fixer. “We quickly realized this house would be a total remodel, top to bottom, inside and out,” says Krcmarik, a firefighter and poetry alumnus of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
But after stripping the house, Tim and Jody had a happy discovery: a solid heart pine frame and salvageable longleaf pine floors, previously buried under layers of carpet, padding, linoleum, and newspaper from the 1940s. The beautiful old growth East Texas lumber, Krcmarik explains, is part of the architectural heritage of Austin and this part of Central Texas, no longer available except from salvage. Able to save 90 percent of the original flooring, Krcmarik also repurposed the lumber from a few walls to become trim, casing, baseboards, and a large bookshelf for the living room.
Five years in, the house now fulfils what was the biggest priority behind the remodel: “Building a house someone might want to fix up again in a hundred years,” Krcmarik explains. “That’s the greenest thing any builder can do, and the most beautiful…A good house should make you want to care for it. Age and history really count toward the health of a neighborhood and of a city at large.”
When Greg Hammond bought his East Austin house in 2005, he had no intention of remodeling. “As a first-time home buyer, I was just excited to have a house and not be paying rent,” he says. “The house had good bones, a fresh coat of paint, and a working AC, so I was set.”
Remodeling his 750-square-foot house started small, with landscaping the yard and adding on a back deck. But as Hammond would learn, modest intentions often snowball into something way bigger. After living in the space for three years, Hammond hatched a more comprehensive plan. He took out a loan and “spent several months crawling around underneath the house” leveling and replacing rotted support beams. He replaced plumbing and gas lines, and rewired the electricity. He redid the kitchen, replaced three of four interior and exterior walls, vaulted the ceilings, replaced the teardrop siding on the exterior, and installed energy-efficient windows. In sum, Hammond remodeled 90 percent of his house in three years.
“I never set out to do so much,” he explains. “The projects unfolded organically, [which] I think produced a more customized, site-specific result...Had I not been doing the work myself—and had the time—I don’t know that things would have turned out so well.”
Hammond’s project comes with a good lesson: know your neighbors. A benefit of starting with the landscaping was that in the process, he met and was able to hone the expertise of his community. “I’ve made so many friends in this neighborhood, many of which ended up helping me with various projects on the house,” he says. “[Since] labor is practically your biggest cost, if you can tap into a friend’s expertise or pay them in beer for a little help on a back-breaking project...that’s just the way to go.”
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