All posts by Susan Laidlaw

Blanketed in snow

Picking up from my last post in August…

DSC_4379

 

Stockbridge  February 2017; bleak, cold and gray.

The sun hasn’t made more than a brief appearance since November and I wonder, will it ever come back? Yesterday, the clouds parted briefly to reveal sun and blue sky and that felt alarmingly unfamiliar. I wanted to put a straw in the sun and gulp it down.

Now snow blankets the new lawn, sparkle-less under these overcast skies. I have lost sight of stonewalls, and the old foundations in the yard. Inches more threaten to fall tomorrow filling in the trails of dogs, coyotes and squirrels and covering the tiny footprints of the birds that hop under the feeder.

What a difference from last summer, when the sun beat down unmercifully on our newly planted grass and the rain never came. Timing is everything.

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Moving on ….moving outside….

Dateline August 2016:

Rear view from the red house..
Rear view from the red house..

 

 

The red house is now 80% complete. We can wait for winter to unpack boxes, paint, fine-tune, decorate– Turning our attention to the long neglected yard, the gardens and the grass.

 

The gardens and yard had been poorly tended since the late 1990s when the house changed hands, so we knew we had a fairly large landscaping project ahead. The damage incurred digging drainage trenches and foundation work added lots of insult to injury: the marble terrace –chopped up and obliterated, plants–uprooted, stonewalls–knocked over. Old foundation–crumbled walls. What used to be patches of grass, now littered with rocks, gravel, and cement chunks. Oh Boy.

Another big dig- this one for the gas line
Another big dig- this one for the gas line
The  old foundation...crumbled walls and all
The old foundation…crumbled walls and all

 

We often wonder what the yard looked like when it was in its prime.

I have been able to piece together an idea of what Miss Hague’s yard may have looked like from recollections of people who visited Miss Hague and Christina Conklin, the master gardener who nurtured the gardens when she owned and lived on the property during 1975- 1998.

 

“Although I was young, my memories of her and the two cottages are very sharp. Both were that New England red color. There were lovely gardens out back leading to a small stream. Polly and I (the only remaining members of our immediate family) still talk about them. The gardens were like an English country garden, organized beds, but loose flowers without the sort of restrictions found in French gardens. Those gardens were a magical place with paths down to the stream, a little rounded bridge, and paths through the beds. Miss Hague could be seen in the mornings in a straw hat with a tie, snipping away and filling up a shallow basket with blooms from the taller plants.  There might have been some vegetables and a strawberry patch. Not sure.” (Penelope Duffy, daughter of Dr. Alfred B. Starratt who inherited Miss Hague’s house upon her passing in 1971.)

 

 

In the course of all the research I have done about Miss Hague and the red house I stumbled upon a book by Robin Karson, Fletcher Steele, Landscape Architect, An account of a Gardenmaker’s life, 1885-1971 that documents the renowned landscape architect Fletcher Steele designed the gardens for Miss Hague in 1935.

 

Fletcher Steele graduated from Williams College and entered the Master of Landscape Architecture program at Harvard in 1907. Steele created over 700 gardens from 1915-1971. He was widely regarded as the key figure in the establishment of modern landscape design. Steele believed that landscape architecture was an art form, like painting or music. Steele renovated the gardens at Naumkeag for Mabel Choate, one of Marion Hague’s closest friends, which explored early Modernist rethinking of design and materials.

 

I have been unable to access any of Steele’s plans or drawings of the gardens at the red cottage. It certainly makes the mind reel, wondering how delightful and unique they could have been.

 

And this is where we are……………

what was field of grass and tiny narcissus bulbs.....
what was field of grass and tiny narcissus bulbs…..

What went down at the red house February 2015

These two excavators took up residence for weeks. Frigid temperatures, frozen ground, cranky diesel engines.
These two excavators took up residence for weeks. Frigid temperatures, frozen ground, cranky diesel engines.

The other night I was sitting on the couch, fireplace in full swing, all warm and cozy on a cold winter evening. The fragrance of Valentine lilies wafted, filling the air with a marvelous sweetness. A rack of lamb marinating in mint and garlic was resting on the kitchen counter. Maxine was snoring. (Those of you who know how I really feel about a snoring dog will get a chuckle out of that) Will handed me a glass of red wine and sat down beside me. And for the two hundredth time I looked at him and said, “ Can you believe we live here?” and we clinked our glasses in toast.

warm and cozy in the red house
warm and cozy in the red house

“ Two and a half years ago if someone had said this is what the red house will look like I probably wouldn’t have believed them.”

And then Will said, “ If someone told me how much it was going to cost…”

Good thing we didn’t have that crystal ball.

This major renovation was nothing short of a marathon putting our new marriage to a quite a test. Good thing we had the endurance to see this project through and still be talking to each other! I’ll toast to that any day.

Writing about the red house renovation process in real time has been really hard for me at times.

If you take a look at the blog history you will see that it wasn’t until May of 2015 that I finally got to posting on the progress we made in January. I quickly skipped over everything that occurred between February and June and blissfully posted about moving in on June 23rd, our third wedding anniversary. Was I in denial or avoidance? Probably both.

In case you are curious how we got from last January to the couch in front of the fire a year later, here goes a recap of February with lots of images:

 

 

 

February 2015 delivered another month of frigid temperatures, frozen heavy machinery and disappearing contractors. Will kept trying to cheer me up, reminding me that we were no longer taking things out of the red house (demolition) – but actually putting things back in. I just rolled my eyes.

Too cold and too much snow - the frozen excavator as art installation?
Too cold and too much snow – the frozen excavator as art installation?

 

Now as I sort through the dozens of photographs I took I just can’t believe how much progress was made – astonishing to say the least.

The radiant heat was installed in the mudroom and concrete floor poured.

Radiant heat laid down in the mudroom
Radiant heat laid down in the mudroom

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Concrete begins to pour
Cement  begins to pour
Concrete being poured over radiant heat pipes in mudroom
Cement being poured over radiant heat pipes in mudroom

Framing the interior begins

necessary tools
necessary tools
Harold and Jason  dressed in lots of layers working on  the framing
Harold and Jason dressed in lots of layers working on the framing
Framing the great hall, looking into the mud room, and the bathroom
Framing the great hall, looking into the mud room, and the bathroom
Maxine walking the plank
Maxine walking the plank

Insulation is blown in

Living room insulation

The insulation blown in, subfloors going down in the kitchen
The insulation blown in, sub floors going down in the kitchen

Restored windows are installed

Original windows, beautifully restored by Emily
Original windows, beautifully restored by Emily Majer

 

The cement mixer moves to the other side of the house and pours for basement floor and bulkhead foundation.

Our beloved concrete mixer- getting ready to pour
Our beloved cement mixer- getting ready to pour
Concrete being poured into the new foundation for the bulkhead.
Cement being poured into the new foundation for the bulkhead.

 

The installation of the French drains was completed in February leaving the yard, patios and stonewalls ravaged and all but destroyed.

Pipes stacked, ready for installation
Pipes stacked, ready for installation
Just one of the dirt piles - at least 8 feet tall
Just one of the dirt piles – at least 8 feet tall
the weapon of destruction
the weapon of destruction
The pipes in the trench- this is outside the living room back door
The pipes in the trench- this is outside the living room back door

 

Our contractor promised the crew would return in spring to put the yard back- well he was wrong.

 

More about that in the next post.

 

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Holidays and Miss Hague!

 

Grace and Henry and Cooper strolling up Yale Hill on Christmas morning
Grace and Henry and Cooper strolling up Yale Hill on Christmas morning

The red house really is a wonderful place to be in. It is a happy house.  It is full of light and  welcoming energy.  At the end of the day, when Will and I sit down  in front of the fire to catch up on the news,  not one evening goes by without looking at each other and saying,

“Can you believe we live here?” We are indeed so very very fortunate.

It feels good to fill the rooms with friends and family.  I wonder a lot about who lived in the house before us, and if they all felt the same way.

This holiday season we put the red house to the ultimate test and hosted four generations of my family (which happens to span 89 years in age between patriarch and the twins) and everything worked, everything flowed, everything was perfect. Just ask Grace and Henry who figured out how to run in circles around the downstairs, playing peek-a-boo and dissolving us all into gales of laughter.

So yes, a day doesn’t go by when I think I have to get back to posting on the blog- to keep you all updated and to tell you all how all that hard work was worth it.  It is not that I don’t want to, or am no longer interested- I do have a lot to post about- but it is just…. call it Christmas, call it working, call it my new role as airbnb chambermaid…call it too many excuses right?

And then this happened- a comment on my blog that magically appeared and has given me just the reason to start posting again :

I came across your blog about the red house that belonged to Marion Hague. I was doing some research on Marion Hague, who happened to be my great, great aunt. My father, James D. Hague was the last owner of the North Star gold mine in my family. I would love to tell you more about Marion, Eleanor, et al should you be interested.

I couldn’t be more excited about contacting this person, and finding out more about Miss Hague- I have missed writing about her.

More to Follow!

 

 

A prisoner in a state of wordlessness, or what ever happened to that blog?

Affordable housing on Martha's Vineyard?

 

 

My blog has become a casualty of the back-to-back renovations of the white cottage and red house we have been working on over the past two plus years. This May, when the temperatures were still so cold and the ground remained frozen several feet below the surface, I stopped posting. I became a prisoner, held captive in a state of wordlessness. It overtook me without a hint of notice. Why?

 

The harsh weather had slowed down the renovation process of the red house to a snail’s pace, now barely inching towards the finish line. We had hoped to be moved in by April 1st. Mid May, still cold and six weeks later, being granted a Certificate of Occupancy seemed nowhere near in sight. The frozen terrain prohibited the installation of the gas line and water line so our plumber joined the ranks of MIA. The excavators were a “no show” for weeks at a time, leaving huge trenches and mountains of soil in their wake. Our yard looked like a ravaged war zone. Our contractor’s team, still working without any heat source, was exhausted.

 

As for Will and I …well….

We had been living in the tiny space of the cottage for the past seven months and that intimacy was wearing thin. Peace and privacy? All but thrown out the window. Each morning at 7:00 AM a disharmonious symphony of rumbling heavy machinery, high pitched whining saws, and pounding hammers greeted us. Even the sound of Will’s dog Maxine soundly snoring was enough to make me ricochet off the walls.

 

Frustration levels were rising all around us.

 

SO…my blog posts became the first victim of this new wordlessness state of mine. I started to dread scrolling through the daily reels of the photographs I took, documenting the daily progress of the renovation. I was running out of steam. Instead of spending luxurious amounts of time tapping away on my mac top, romancing this renovation on social media and posting new photographs, I withdrew. I bottomed out.

But- thanks to a visit to Newport this month to see my Uncle Jack who said “Gee whiz what ever has become of that marvelous blog of yours?” I am getting some words back.

Stay tuned for a little back tracking, and a little more about being wordless in our social media crazed world.

June 2015- we moved!

Moving day, week, month....months
Moving day, week, month….months

An old friend e mailed me yesterday and asked what was going on with the house and the blog. I haven’t posted in months. Why? Well I have been busy, that’s all!

We got the CO in June, two years after we bought the house- and spent our first night on the evening of our third anniversary in the red house.  We rented the cottage to a member of the BSO this summer. All is good- but lots to do

Wedding presents boxed three years ago, finally on their way to the red house
Wedding presents boxed three years ago, finally on their way to the red house

Stay tuned- more to follow

 

 

 

Remember January and how cold it was?

January 1st
January 1st

January was busy.
January was freezing.
Our crew persevered.
They were intrepid.
Days are filled.
Excavators, backhoes, jackhammers
Concrete, trenches, drainage pipes.
Serious work begins.
January 1st, 9:00 AM.

We began the New Year with Danny Clark and his excavator- digging for the water line
We began the New Year with Danny Clark and his excavator- digging for the water line

Excavator arrives here.
No frost yet.
Water connection begins.
Danny Clark digs.
He installs pipe.

Danny Clark and crew digging for the water line
Danny Clark and crew digging for the water line
Water line
Water line

He refills holes.
Drives excavator home.
Happy New Year.

Building permit approved.
New addition begins.
Old addition ends.

Shed removal
Shed removal
Watching the shed demolition through the window - too cold to capture outside
Watching the shed demolition through the window – too cold to capture outside
The shed is off- you can see through the house now- hallway between kitchen and bath now framed in
The shed is off- you can see through the house now- hallway between kitchen and bath now framed in

Ground is broken
Jackhammers shake house.
It is 7:00 AM
Neighbors don’t complain
We are grateful
Ledge is broken.
Dirt piles high.

Beginning to dig for the new foundation for mud room
Beginning to dig for the new foundation for mud room
Breaking up the ledge for the foundation under new mudroom
Breaking up the ledge for the foundation under new mudroom
DIgging for the new foundation- new back yard landscape
DIgging for the new foundation- new back yard landscape

Foundation is dug.
Foundation is framed
Greenhouse tent made.

Area for the new foundation
Area for the new foundation
plastic greenhouse over new foundation
plastic greenhouse over new foundation
Here it comes.....pouring concrete into the framing for foundation
Here it comes…..pouring concrete into the framing for foundation
Getting ready to pour concrete for foundation
Getting ready to pour concrete for foundation
smoothing out the first layer of concrete
smoothing out the first layer of concrete

Keeps ground warm.
Frost has set in.

Concrete truck arrives.
Shoots concrete in.
Concrete is spread.
Greenhouse tent returns
Propane heaters crank.
No room for frost.
Foundation walls poured.
Propane heaters crank.
Greenhouse tent removed.
New foundation finished.

Ta Da! The foundation
Ta Da! The foundation
The new addition for the mudroom is framed in
The new addition for the mudroom is framed in

Addition is framed.

Sills are rotten.
Drainage is issue.
A big issue.
Architect advises us.
We need drains.
I imagine it.
Garden bed size?
Lined with stones?
Was I wrong…
Trenches are dug.
Five feet deep.
Four feet wide.

The pipes for the new drainage system
The pipes for the new drainage system
Down in the drain
Down in the drain

Garden is destroyed.
I am despondent.

 

Deep freeze sets in.
Trench progress halts.
Diesel engines too cold.
We shiver.
I hide inside.

Basement is next.
Water meter freezes.
Water floods basement.
That’s no fun.
Structural engineering begins.
Concrete poured in.
Concrete covers dirt.
Concrete covers ledge.
Stone walls supported.

preparing the basement walls
preparing the basement walls
Basement foundation supports in
Basement foundation supports in
A new member to the fleet of trucks at Yale Hill- the cement mixer arrives
A new member to the fleet of trucks at Yale Hill- the cement mixer arrives
Concrete pour commences- little did I know it included pouring cement on the grass
Concrete pour commences- little did I know it included pouring cement residue on the grass

Progress.
More than a little paint and wallpaper….

This is how things looked at the end of January- no shed, plastic greenhouse for new foundation to cure, caution tape surrounding the trenches dug around the house
This is how things looked at the end of January- no shed, plastic greenhouse for new foundation to cure, caution tape surrounding the trenches dug around the house

The Red House renovation continues

 

DSC_3748When I found Miss Hague’s letters and checks I dropped into the research rabbit hole to find out what I could about her. I came across a considerable amount of information that will make a fun and interesting post one day, but now it is time to get back to writing about all the work we have done on the red house.

There is a lot to document as I  catch up with this blog. The project is not a sprint, but more like a marathon and today I feel our renovation is at the 20 mile marker, so close and yet still so far to go. Kind of like this spring.

I have been scrolling through the hundreds of photographs I have taken and it is an astounding reminder of all the work we have poured into this renovation, and how much progress we have made.

I wonder how to condense it all, without driving everyone, including me, to boredom. Pictures help but…..In my writing workshops with Michelle Gillett I have been working on  a new writing style-condensing a ten year period of time to only two pages using short, three word sentences. I think it is a really cool exercise and thought I would use it to try to capture the renovation progress of three months, October, November and December,into three word sentences, with photos of course.

I hope it works. It should be an easy read.

The renovation continues.

Plaster is removed

Lath is removed.

It is dusty

Insulation is bagged

Bags and bags of old insulation...ick
Bags and bags of old insulation…ick

Windows come out

We could not restore the corner windows in the master bedroom. This is the beginning of reframing and opening up the corner for more dramatic windows.
We could not restore the corner windows in the master bedroom. This is the beginning of reframing and opening up the corner for more dramatic windows.
We could not restore this window in the living room either- too much rot from water damage
We could not restore this window in the living room either- too much rot from water damage

Floors are removed

The original wide plank floor boards in the kitchen are carefully removed one by one so they can be restored.   The opaque white bubbles that can be seen in the photograph are the particles of dust and old insulation flying around- definitely respirator worthy.
The original wide plank floor boards in the kitchen are carefully removed one by one so they can be restored. The opaque white bubbles that can be seen in the photograph are the particles of dust and old insulation flying around- definitely respirator worthy.
These are the original wide plank floor boards stacked and ready for repurpose
These are the original wide plank floor boards stacked and ready for repurpose

 

Basement has dirt

Dig out dirt

The floors removed in the original two rooms of the house. Underneath is a small basement space , but mostly crawl space and dirt which had to be removed.
The floors removed in the original two rooms of the house. Underneath is a small basement space , but mostly crawl space and dirt which had to be removed.

 

Plywood is laid

The kitchen in the red house. Plywood down, and new framing. Note the make shift supports like lally columns to hold up the house.
The kitchen in the red house. Plywood down, and new framing. Note the make shift supports like lally columns to hold up the house.

Walls come down

Writing is discovered

When we broke through the wall separating two bedroom upstairs we discovered writing on the walls...turns out the room had always been one room, but the family who lived in the house put a wall up so each of their daughters would not have to share a bedroom.
When we broke through the wall separating two bedroom upstairs we discovered writing on the walls…turns out the room had always been one room, but the family who lived in the house put a wall up so each of their daughters would not have to share a bedroom. This is Tara’s autograph wall circa 1986

 

Walls are re framed

Framing the new kitchen wall. Before the space looking straight ahead to the door was a make shift laundry room and hallway.
Framing the new kitchen wall. Before the space looking straight ahead to the door was a make shift laundry room and hallway.
Framing in the hallway, bath and laundry, and "gallery" space by front door
Framing in the hallway, bath and laundry, and “gallery” space by front door

New windows are framed

Back to one room- On the far left you can make out the original roof line of the salt box.
Back to one room- On the far left you can make out the original roof line of the salt box.

Tree work begins

photo-54

Then it snows

The front entrance room, plywood down for floors, and new framing
The front entrance room, plywood down for floors, and new framing and snow…………..

We are frustrated

Arborist is undaunted

Caleb Turner getting prepared
Caleb Turner getting prepared

He is fearless

Caleb Turner in the trees
Caleb Turner in the trees

Locust is tall

Holding my camera in two hands, holding my breath watching Cal climb his way up into the tree
Holding my camera in two hands, holding my breath watching Cal climb his way up into the tree

Locust is rotten

Locust is removedIMG_2278_2

Basement is opened

The stairs down to the creepy basement. The foundation now opened to the outside
The stairs down to the creepy basement. The foundation now opened to the outside

Access is easier

The basement access now cleared for oil tank removal, new footings and all kinds of concrete.
The basement access now cleared for oil tank removal, new footings and all kinds of concrete.

 

Extricate oil tank

Happy Oil tank removers
Happy Oil tank removers

Snow is slippery

Slide tank out

The snow came in handy- sliding the oil tank down the hill
The snow came in handy- sliding the oil tank down the hill
Safe and sound
Safe and sound

 

 

Concrete truck arrives

The cement mixer arrives
The cement mixer arrives

Concrete is poured

 

December 31, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

Behind Closed Doors series sponsored by the Stockbridge Library – Tonight at 6:30

Red House

 

 

 

I will be speaking about the red house and white cottage tonight at 6:30.

Please come!

http://stockbridgelibrary.org/2015/04/behind-closed-doors-at-home-in-stockbridge-7/

Researching Miss Hague…a peek into American history

“I always called it Miss Hague’s house. She was an old lady who lived there for years. She had one of the first cars in Stockbridge. Her license plate was the number 3.”     

Susan Leroy Merrill, Yale Hill resident.

Miss Marion Hague owned the red house from 1914, perhaps even earlier, until 1971 when the house and contents passed onto the local Episcopal minister upon her death. I was so excited to find the letters and her cancelled checks that it has led me to do a fair amount of research, digging up clues and trying to string together random snippets of information to find out more about her.

Doing the research about Miss Hague has been like slipping down Alice’s rabbit hole and the next thing I know I am somewhere else, my own version of Wonderland-Miss Hague’s world, and weeks have passed and I haven’t posted a word.

Surprisingly this has also become six degrees of separation for my husband Will, who is related in various ways to several of the main characters in Miss Hague’s life that I have stumbled upon,  including the artist Lydia Field Emmett who also owned one of the three plots of land in the deed, Frank Crowninshield who started Vanity Fair, and Joseph Hodges Choate, lawyer and diplomat.

My research into whom Miss Hague’s parents were has become a fascinating look into American history..think gold mines…abolitionism…artists… There is much much more to discover and post.

This is my teaser alert….

Miss Hague’s father, James D Hague, Harvard educated, was a mining engineer in San Francisco, Ca. He purchased North Star Mining Company,Grass Valley California, in 1887. It was the second largest producing gold mine in the country. Miss Hague’s mother was Mary Ward Foote, great grandaughter of General Andrew Ward who served under George Washington in the Revolutionary War, also cousin of Harriet Beecher Stowe, American abolitionist and author, and sister in law of Mary Hallock Foote, an American illustrator and author.

How is that for starters? It only gets better from here.