Lisa and I awaited Mrs. Dunne's response with an equal mixture of anticipation and worry. What in God's name were we doing? Was tendering a bid on this dilapidated museum of a house a foolhardy move? And given that we were accustomed to life in the faster lane of downtown Columbus, could we - would we- be happy in the slower-paced quaint Village of Pinehurst, North Carolina? In reality the whole venture seemed fanciful given the low likelihood that Mrs. Dunne would reduce her price to a number within hailing distance of what we then thought was our rather modest offer.
Mrs. Dunne's counteroffer crossed Lisa's computer screen two days later. Wow! To our surprise, if not downright shock, we were not very far apart! But before making another offer, Lisa and I took stock of the situation. The bottom line was we had no idea what it would cost to put the house in acceptable shape. Our realtor, Jamie, suggested that we ask the seller for a lengthy "due diligence" period to assess what the rehabilitation of the property would involve. If we found the cost prohibitive, we could under North Carolina law back out of the deal, no questions asked, until the due diligence period expired. After conferring, we submitted a reduced offer and requested that Mrs. Dunne grant a 60 day due diligence period. In short order, Mrs. Dunne accepted our counteroffer. Perhaps these two lifetime Ohioans were about to become Tarheels!
We realized that the 60 days would go quickly. We had to act fast on several fronts. Our German Village house would have to be fixed up and made ready for sale. And we needed to choose a home construction contractor in Pinehurst's environs.
Soon we were back in Pinehurst for a scheduled home inspection and interviews of two contractors who were interested in doing the work. The inspector's report contained some sobering findings. He deemed the ancient "knob and tube" electrical wiring unsafe in several places and the roof definitely required replacement. On the plus side, he informed us that the home possessed "great bones" and its heart pine timbers and joists appeared to be in excellent shape.
Both contractors we interviewed impressed us, but we rapidly concluded that a soft-spoken gentleman from nearby West End was our leading candidate. Yates Hussey came to us as the result of a recommendation by our great Columbus friends Paul and Jackie Thompson. They had employed Yates to build their lakeside vacation home in Seven Lakes, not far from Pinehurst. But while Yates and the other competing contractor were able to provide estimates for some of the likely costs of rehab, both expressed the difficulty of predicting the entire cost of the project at this preliminary stage. Clearly, a decision to go forward with the acquisition and restoration of Rose Cottage would take a mammoth leap of faith by the Cases.
Back in Columbus, we deliberated once more. Our final opportunity to pick up our chips and withdraw from the transaction was at hand. Do we pass or play? Lisa and I decided that if Mrs. Dunne would agree to another reduction in the purchase price, we would proceed. In retrospect, I suppose Lisa and I subconsciously felt we had invested far too much time, emotion, and energy to simply back away. Mrs. Dunne acceded to our reduced offer, and we advised Jamie to schedule an August closing. We telephoned Yates Hussey to inform him that we had selected him as our contractor. Yates is not one prone to overly display his emotions. Still, he clearly was pleased to be leading our restoration efforts. He suggested we hold another meeting at the cottage to plan the work. Yates also recommended we retain an architect to re-design the kitchen and to provide an analysis of how best to reconfigure the hodge-podge of little rooms on the first floor into more useful space. We ultimately chose solo practitioner Priscilla Bailey to join our expanding team. Priscilla brought Brooklyn-reared savvy, creativity, and good humor to the project.
Mrs. Dunne graciously allowed us to meet with Mr. Hussey and Ms. Bailey on site notwithstanding the fact we had yet to close. Our planning meeting with Yates and Priscilla focused on two tricky issues: (1) how were we going to redesign the kitchen given its current small dimensions? and (2)since the floors in the house were far from level, something would have to be done to correct this before installing new kitchen cabinetry. The downstairs floor plan with which we were coping is below.
We considered expanding the kitchen into the existing laundry room, but then where would we relocate the laundry? Given plumbing concerns etc., the laundry would have to stay put. What if we flipped the existing kitchen with the existing breakfast room? Then we would be able to view the outdoors from our new kitchen through the attractive set of three angled windows on the north side of the house. Nope! Still not a large enough room to accommodate a modern kitchen!
"Ok!" said I. "What if we knocked down the wall that separates that space from the existing downstairs powder room and closet areas? That would give us a good size kitchen, wouldn't it?" Hmm. Maybe it would. But as Priscilla pointed out, such a move would cause a loss of closest space, and a new location would have to be found for the powder room. Perhaps the closet on the south side of the downstairs could be converted to a powder room. As we turned this rubix cube puzzle over in our respective brains, Yates suddenly threw up an unwelcome caution flag. "That wall may be load-bearing. If it is, we can't knock it down. We'll check it out."
The unlevel floors were of major concern to Yates. Construction of a new kitchen would be rendered impractical without level floors. He indicated two possible remedies for a fix. He could jack up areas of the house where necessary or alternatively "build a level box" inside the kitchen to ease cabinetry installation. The latter option seemed the most feasible and least costly. Mr. Hussey also determined that the home appeared to have been built in three different phases. An examination of an early photograph (shown at top) revealed a markedly smaller cottage in 1895. Additions had been made on both the north and south sides of the house thereafter.
Lisa and I both assumed that we would retain the fuel oil system that heated the house. However, Yates mentioned that there were numerous space-eating radiators that could be eliminated if we switched over to propane gas. So we needed to think about that too.
Frankly, Lisa and I were reeling from the flurry of bewildering issues requiring resolution already on the table. It was only the beginning. Over the next eight months, we would be forced to address scores of dilemmas related to Rose Cottage. After the meeting, we gratefully took time-out and marched two minutes to The Villager Deli for lunch. Savoring my delicious BLT, it occurred to me that we should establish some infrastructure in Pinehurst. I asked Coley, the owner of the restaurant, which bank he recommended. He spoke glowingly regarding his dealings with First Bank. So Lisa and I wandered across Chinquapin Road and introduced ourselves to local branch manager Teresa, and opened an account. We also needed to hire a lawyer to assist with our closing so Teresa provided names of several capable real estate attorneys, one of which was Buck Adams. His office was a mid-length putt from the bank, so we moseyed over there. Luckily, Buck was on the premises. We immediately liked this affable gentleman, and promptly engaged him as our counsel.
The day after we returned to Columbus, Yates Hussey called with good news, The wall separating the existing breakfast room from the powder room and closet WAS NOT load bearing. It would be possible to knock down the intervening wall and design a kitchen in the expanded space. Priscilla was instructed to go to work drafting a drawing for the design of the downstairs area including the proposed movement of the kitchen. We also told Yates to "build a level box" as he had proposed rather than jack up the house. After going back and forth on the issue, we determined to abandon the oil furnace. We would use propane gas downstairs supplemented with an electric heat pump to warm the upstairs. Selecting this option would enable us to knock down an unattractive chimney on the back side of the house. Its removal would in turn open up room for a rear deck which Lisa had in mind. I asked Lisa how she planned to access the deck from inside the house since there was no door in the area. She cogitated on the matter for a spell and came up with a solution: she proposed removing a rear window and replacing it with a French door. She reasoned that such a door and its wide expanse of glass would provide a nice vista when dining in the proposed new breakfast room area (the old kitchen).
Priscilla came up with a brilliant design that maximized our available space. She even found room for a pantry. She found space for a powder room in an existing closet space. Her design shows Lisa's French door, a peninsula marking the transition between the flipped breakfast room and kitchen, and a new "sitting area" next to the three angled windows.
But without breaking the bank, there was little we could do with the narrow, curvy, walled in staircase. It would have to stay.
Our closing in August transpired uneventfully as Buck Adams skillfully guided us through various hurdles that typically arise in real estate transactions. The seller's realtor, Emily Hewson passed along a note from Mrs. Dunne wishing that we would be as happy as she had been in Rose Cottage- a very gracious gesture on her part! Meanwhile, we made plans to sell our Columbus house. Thanks to a great sellers' market in German Village and the unflagging efforts of both Susan Sutherland and Lisa to get the house readied for showings, we obtained a contract to sell our German Village home the first day it went on the market. Our closing on the German Village residence was set for mid-October, and we made plans to move to Pinehurst on October 15th. The Rose Cottage would not be ready for occupancy so we needed to find temporary housing. Jamie McDevitt referred to us to Jennifer Maples. Jennifer showed us a golf condominium available for short term rental next to the 18th tee of Longleaf Country Club, two miles from Pinehurst. It would suffice for the transitional period.
By early September, Yates Hussey Construction commenced work on Rose Cottage. The first order of business involved submission of plans for our planned work to the Pinehurst's Historic Preservation Commission. The Commission approved our plans and we were underway. The roof was replaced in a two week period. It was not long before Yates's crew was hard at work building the "square box" inside the kitchen area. When we arrived to stay in Pinehurst after our move, we were somewhat startled to find that the downstairs kitchen and breakfast room areas had been gutted. All the ancient floor joists had been removed. This was necessitated by the fact that a level floor could not be feasibly formed unless new joists were laid. However, Yates would subsequently repurpose these heart pine joists when we needed additional wood for flooring in the hallway. The home's kitchen sink would ultimately become the laundry room sink. The marble basin in the master bath would find a new home in a guest bathroom. Both Lisa and I wanted to preserve the history of this venerable home as much as possible.
After the move, I spent considerable time visiting the Tufts Archives at the Givens Library. With the assistance of the Archives' Director Audrey Moriarty and Kaye, I discovered the photo below which shows the Ross Cottage circa 1895 with the Carolina Hotel clearly visible in the background behind the cottage. The Carolina is no longer visible from this vantage point as vegetation and intervening housing block the view. But the grand old hotel and its many amenities are still there a short walk away.
Next Chapter: Priscilla and Yates tackle the upstairs while Bill and Lisa are confronted with more decisions.