Schoolhouse renovation: phases 1 and 2 complete!

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There’s is something about stacking wood that really makes you feel settled down. Is it the weight of each log as you sling it up on the pile? Or is it the stack you’re creating with its delicately balanced parts in a sort of whimsical but well considered appearance? Is it the appetite you work up in the process, usually on a cold day in fall when the warmth of the house and a bowl of soup sounds like the high-speed train to heaven? I’m not sure…but this stack we made a few weekends ago really sunk it in that this is home.

Since I have not been a very up-to-date blogger, I should fill you in on what and where is home. Home is Two Fish Farm. We moved on to the farm immediately upon purchase in early August. We set up a tent and outdoor kitchen and started work planting trees and berry bushes, transplanting the tomatos and peppers that we had started in pots and carried with us from The Ant and the Grasshopper Farm (where we lived in the sugar shack…see previous postings), and started working with local tradesman on fixing up the house that is on the property.


The house on the property is a 112 year old one-room schoolhouse, that previously sat about a mile away on a rural road. In the 50s or 60s it was moved to the edge of Bear Lake, just 5 or 6 blocks away, and was renovated into a 3-season cottage. The owners didn’t keep it up and finally gave it away in 1999 to a couple who moved it to this fallow farm land. That couple ended up abandoning the schoolhouse and property in 2010 for personal reasons and it sat to continue its demise until we came along.

The first order of business was to get the water running in the outdoor hydrant so that we could have on-site water for our camping life. The house sits nearly a quarter mile down our long driveway from the road and there is no conventional electrical lines running on our road. IMG_4893The previous owners set up a solar and wind electricity generating system with the help of a local renewable energy pioneer, but tried to sell back their equipment when their personal troubles started. The man took back the equipment for a tiny fraction of the original cost and left all the wiring in place because he knew that someone else would come along since the property was so beautiful. Lucky for us, in two days and with a relatively small investment we had a solar panel and inverter running the well pump and charging our cellphone batteries. IMG_5600The total solar-wind system needs some updates which we are working on, but what a feeling!…When you turn on the faucet in the city you’re not only drinking water that is jam-packed with chemical purifiers because the same water source you drink from you also drain your sewage into, but the power to pump the water into your home is generated by coal or nuclear powered electricity. There is imperfection in the sustainability of materials that solar panels are made of, but the clean feeling of drinking fresh water straight from the ground below your feet and brought to you by the power of the sun is truly amazing!

Once we got the water running, we were ready to dig into the house…literally. For the entire month of September we broke down walls, pulled out old electrical fixtures and wiring, removed rodent nests (some were 4 ft long and seems a half century old or more!), tore down 112 year old plaster and lath, delicately removed wooden trim made from some of the last local old-growth hemlock and maple before the area was completely logged in 1901. IMG_5369

Medicine Man swept an entire contractor bag full of bat guano from the attic and then some friends joined him in kicking down the water-damaged plaster ceiling, exposing the grid of 24 ft hemlock ceiling trusses and a breathtaking cathedral space. IMG_5390                      IMG_5437

We carefully disassembled the original slate blackboard and neatly packed it in a storage shed, and removed the staircase from the 60s cottage renovation off of the original stage where we presume the teacher’s desk or podium sat. Since we’ve been here, several neighbors and delivery-men have come by to comment on the history of this schoolhouse. Some have suggested that there were political events, community meetings, community theater, and other recreational events held in the schoolhouse building where it originally sat. IMG_5490As we got deeper into the reconstruction process we realized that the stage is an important feature of this unique piece of architecture, so we had our friend Thomas Hirsch of Bungalow Builders design and build us a stair case that would match the curvature of the stage, but sit next to it and not on top of it. In the future we hope to use the stage for house concerts, community theater, and other recreational gatherings.IMG_5644

October started the reconstruction and build-out. We worked with a few local carpenters to install new windows, rebuild the staircase and reinforce the loft with a fallen down ash tree from our own woods, and also do a reconstruction of the ceiling joists so that we could raise the ceiling to a standard 8ft above the loft floor. Well it turned out just under 8ft, but that’s as much as the structural engineer would allow…he’s one guy you listen to. IMG_5628

At some point in late October we had a horizontal rain storm and when Medicine Man and I walked into the schoolhouse we noticed much of the exterior boards–the sheathing– were soaked through to the inside. We knew that had to be repaired because we are planning to insulate with blow-in cellulose insulation which breaks down with too much moisture…so we pulled out our “To-Do” list and added “RE-SIDE” to the top. The builders we were working with at the time both suggested James Hardie Cement Board siding, so I did the math and found that it was by far the best option in terms of cost, ease of installation, and sustainability. And on top of that, Hardie has a very nice looking red color that you can have the boards pre-painted with for less than it would cost to purchase the paint and hire painters (which we would have to do in the spring because we would need scaffolding for the 30ft high ridge on either side of the house.) So we ordered the pre-painted “Country Lane Red”, started tearing down the old original siding with the help of our friend Aaron, and in two weeks were started the re-siding project which just finished last week after the first snow.


And that brings us to now….John and I are finishing up the interior with some floor installations and final bits of framing. We’ll take a break for the holidays and hopefully start fresh with the plumber and electrician January 2nd. Then we’ll install the tongue and groove ceiling, insulation, natural plaster walls, fixtures and tile, and…MOVE-IN!…

Writing in a blog makes it all seem so simple and perfect, but building your house is real strenuous and tedious undertaking. We feel so blessed to have this opportunity in life and we love what we’re creating and hope to share it with friends and family very soon.

Happy Winter!


6 thoughts on “Schoolhouse renovation: phases 1 and 2 complete!

  1. What a beautiful reconstruction (pun intended) of your arduous but joyful construction project! It already looks beautiful, even unfinished, and is shining with love, every inch. It will be a blessed place to live and nurture more life yet to come.

  2. Love, love, love the way all that old wood LOOKS! I bet it smells nice too (now that you’ve cleaned up! 🙂 and what a cool stage and other architectural details! Can’t wait to see the next thing! Are you sleeping inside now?

    Good vision! Can’t wait to see you guys in a week!
    love, cg

  3. It looks absolutely amazing, congrats on how far things have come! The new beams and elevated joists really make the space look great. Can’t wait to experience the transformation in the schoolhouse.

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