We went over the house with a fine-toothed comb looking for signs of wear and tear from our first few rounds of guests. We were amazed to find none.
Instead, what we found were helpful comments in our “Suggestions” book for making the house better equipped for future guests.
“We were all set to make cosmos one night and couldn’t find a cocktail shaker. Maybe you could get one in time for our visit next year?”
“I’m a compulsive baker, and yes I know it’s way too hot down here to bake, but one morning when I decided to make some muffins there was no muffin pan. Maybe you could invest in one for your next weirdo guests.” Delighted.
This was the kind of feedback we wanted, needed, welcomed. Our goal, after all, was making a stay at our house as good as it could possibly be.
The third morning of our stay I woke up early, grabbed the key to the second floor and made my way down the side stairs and around the driveway (remember, we still didn’t have a staircase connecting the floors).
Having more or less gotten the hang of the upstairs part of the house, I have to admit I felt a little excited by the challenge of gutting and rebuilding the lower level. But once I swung open the door and switched on the single overhead light, the magnitude of the project hit me in the gut.
It was a dump—an even bigger, more disgusting dump than I’d remembered from previous trips.
Of course, we had already given the project lots of thoughts. We had walked through the derelict rooms many times over the past few months, and had even hired a crew to scrape away the top layer of crud and to haul away smashed cabinets and rusty appliances. We had measured all the existing rooms and thought a lot about how we’d like the whole thing reconfigured.
But now it was time for action.
I flipped through some drawings we’d made a few months earlier and tried to imagine what the space would look like if these spidery lines were translated into concrete walls.
Our main goal from the beginning was to take advantage of the view (duh), which admittedly wasn’t as dramatic as the panorama from the floor above but was a knock-out all the same.
We were still puzzled and amazed by the fact that many of the locals, the former inhabitants of our house included, didn’t seem to value the ocean view as much as we did.
In fact, the second floor faced inward, as if deliberately ignoring the view. The L-shaped living room stretched straight across the middle section of the space from the breezeway on one side to the garden on the other, with the kitchen in the short leg of the L at the far end. The only windows faced the garden or, even worse, the carport.
Spaced like cells along the front of the house (the ocean-facing façade) were two tiny bedrooms with miniscule windows and a bathroom in between. It was if the ocean view didn’t even exist.
To them, it was invisible—something they’d seen every day of their lives. To us, it was both stunningly beautiful and a commercial asset.
Our idea was to keep at least one of the bedrooms where it was but open the other one up to the living room, with French doors leading onto the terrace. The bathroom would need to stay in place—moving it would simply be too expensive—but we could move the kitchen to the garden end of the living room and use the old kitchen space as a second bedroom.
As I sat there that morning, I could suddenly see the whole thing. And it was a thing of beauty.