Editor’s note: this is a new feature, spotlighting area homeowners and their residences.
Kit House Cool
The secret to a good renovation is two-fold. You must have vision. And you should hire a contractor not because he’s good looking, but because you can trust him with your money and he can deliver a quality project on time.
This advice comes from Matt Gaffney and Ned Kesmodel, a retired couple who recently downsized from a large multi-story Nantucket-inspired shingled house in Rehoboth to two modest cottages: one here in town on Henlopen Avenue, and one in Delray Beach, Florida. We all like to see other people’s houses and hear their stories, so, let’s step inside.…
Matt and Ned were gracious enough to greet me after they’d spent the morning helping the Rehoboth Art League clean up its gardens, pulling ivy and cutting out dead branches in enormous old boxwoods. Of the pair, Ned is the head gardener. “He’s a dirty boy,” says Matt, “always dragging in all kinds of debris. It’s why we slipcover all the furniture.”
Ned shrugs. The place looks immaculate to me, but I take Matt at his word. Ned also serves on the city’s Park and Shade Tree Committee, and the Board of Elections. The two men are long-time supporters of CAMP Rehoboth.
These fellas are mad for home renovations. I think they’d rather slit their throats than tear down an old house. As the owner of an elderly home myself, I can appreciate that. This house is their eighth project together, a reno of a homely little 70s kit house tucked in among oak trees and loblolly pines. Friends were perplexed when they bought it, but Matt and Ned could see the potential.
FYI, a kit house is one where the manufacturer delivers pre-cut materials for a specific house model to the owner’s lot. The owner then hires a local contractor or carpenter to put it together.
The concept is said to have originated in England and entered the US market in the late 19th century. Sears, Roebuck & Co. was one of the more recognizable manufacturers of these “mail order bungalows,” which are said to have democratized the home buying process in this country. Kit houses are gaining popularity again these days, especially trendy eco-friendly ones.
“Our boring little house badly needed a face-lift,” Ned explains. “It didn’t have much going for it besides the big screened-in porch and a row of glass windows on the front of the house. We’ve always wanted a screened-in porch. Now we practically live on it. And we can look across to the Epworth graveyard and keep an eye on our plot.” They won’t need to renovate that.…
I cast my eye about. At 10’ x 25’ there’s plenty of room on the porch for lounging and entertaining in comfortable sofas and chairs—perfect for morning coffee or evening cocktails with friends. A dining table easily seats six for dinner.
The guys reconfigured the outdated 70s design by removing the walls separating the living room, kitchen, dining room, and one bedroom to create a large living space opening onto the screened porch. They kept the pine floors and added a wood-burning fireplace and built-in bookshelves.
They ended up with three bedrooms and three bathrooms. Outside, they re-sided the brown planking with board and batten siding and painted it Oxford White, a Benjamin Moore color that I wholly concur is the perfect shade of white with just a touch of grey.
It sounds straightforward, but it was a lot of work. Never in their wildest imaginations would they have thought it would take a full year to complete. Our protagonists, you see, were simultaneously working on a renovation in Florida.
They were managing both projects from the Sunshine State because their little pink stucco house in Delray needed more time and attention than originally planned. When the duo finally moved back to Rehoboth and into the house to supervise the lengthy final construction push, they stepped into what sounds like the set of a reality TV show.
Matt describes it. “We had one electrician who would show up at 11 p.m. and work until dawn. We’d get stuck entertaining the girlfriend and the dog until we went to bed. A carpenter regaled us non-stop with stories of his ribald escapades with women, including the time an irate husband caught him in bed with his wife and shot him five times!”
All the hard work and headaches, however, paid off handsomely. The house is light and cool, crisp and clean. A white color palette predominates and it feels like a beach cottage without screaming beach cottage, if you know what I mean. It was a hit on last summer’s Rehoboth cottage tour. Even the garden has a casual elegance to it.
My favorite element is the Irish moss pathway winding its way across the front of the house. I was delighted to learn it came in a box. Moss in a box—a nice nod to kit house history. An old hot tub was replaced by a he-shed to store bicycles and garden tools.
I’m not sure what impressed me more—the house or the couple’s cool demeanor towards a hell of a renovation. After listening to their tale, however, I think they should add one more piece of guidance to anyone considering a major renovation: keep up a good sense of humor!##
Rich Barnett’s CAMP Stories column just celebrated 15 years. CAMP Houses is his latest project, exploring interesting houses and their interesting owners. Rich’s CAMP Stories will be back on a sporadic basis as well.