The Cross House

If I Could Turn Back Time

WARNING:

This is a long and winding post. You might wish to read it when you have some time. And some wine handy.

 

The 1894 carriage house to the Cross House. Today.

 

The poor carriage house. The poor dear.

It sits, patiently, while Ross does battle with the Big House.

And each year the carriage house…erodes just a tiny bit.

 

SPRING 2013

When I first looked at the Cross House with the intention of perhaps buying it, the owner, Bob, gave me the grand tour. As I was leaving, I pointed to the adjacent house next door, which Bob also owned.

“So, that’s the original carriage house?”

“No. While everybody thinks that, it was actually built around 1920.”

Me, confused: “Ahhh, I don’t understand. It looks like a mini-Cross House.”

“It does, but was built decades later.”

Me, still confused: “But…why then does it look like the Cross House?”

“The person who built it had always loved the Cross House so, when the lot became available around 1920, he hired the builder of the Cross House and told him to construct a mini-Cross House.”

Well…ahhh…OK. I mean, I guess that might have happened.

As my offer was on the Cross House, I gave the adjacent structure no thought.

 

WINTER 2014

In January, after having my offer on the Cross House accepted, but before I closed, I pulled into the driveway one day. Suddenly, I was struck by how close the Cross House was to the adjacent NotTheCarriageHouse. In a flash, I saw myself spending decades of time, and my every penny, restoring the Cross House…while having no control over the NotTheCarriageHouse seemingly just inches away. What, I wondered, if I poured my heart and soul into the Cross House, while right next door somebody in the NotTheCarriageHouse put an orange sofa on the front porch, parked a half-dozen cars in the expansive front yard, and tossed empty beer cans all about?

The possibility induced terror in my heart. Without any hesitation, I called Bob: “I’ll also buy the NotTheCarriageHouse!”

And so, a month later not only did I own an almost 9,000 square foot house, its every inch requiring emergency work STAT, but I also owned the NotTheCarriageHouse, itself a huge project, being a 5-bedroom house. It only looks small by comparison to the titanic-sized monster next door.

After closing at the end of February, work began on the Cross House and carriage house.

 

The carriage house, around 2002, shortly after Bob purchased it. You can see that my worries about an orange sofa on the porch were not, ah, without reason. The front had a huge L-shaped porch. Note the three concrete-block columns.

 

2007. Bob had much improved the carriage house. Note the two new porch columns. And this is what the structure looked like when I purchased it in 2014.

 

And…soon after I removed the porch. Its floor and floor joists were massively rotted. One could access its roof from the second-floor, but one of my legs fell right through the roof as its condition was perilous. Bob’s two new columns proved but a temporary intervention to total collapse.

 

So, the porch came down.

I had a sneaking suspicion, based on nothing, that the tower was originally a turret, meaning that it was always meant to be a looming, extended presence. With the porch gone, my suspicion proved 100% correct as the turret had a finished headboard ceiling where it cantilevered.

So, the porch was a later addition!

During those first few crazy, hyper-intense months, I also tore out a 1990s bathroom that had turned the expansive rectangular dining room in a highly awkward L-shaped space (oh, the horror!), removed an eccentric addition in the rear which basically existed simply to provide access to the basement, and a 1970s cheap addition which connected the eccentric addition to the 1950s garage.

 

SPRING 2014

One day I realized, in a flash, that the NotTheCarriageHouse was, in reality, the original carriage house to the Cross House. Later research proved that the structure, around 1920, had been sold off, moved forward on the lot, and placed upon a basement. Its 1894 “barn wing” had been severed, rotated 90-degrees, and was now the kitchen wing in back. Read all about this here.

In short, the NotTheCarriageHouse was, in fact, TheCarriageHouse.

I was not displeased with this discovery.

 

SUMMER 2014

The Cross House proved all consuming and I put progress on the carriage house on hold. While there has been some intermittent work, the carriage house has been mothballed for five years.

 

SPRING 2019

If I could go back in time, what would I do differently?

I am 97% OK with all that I have done to the Cross House, even though I am in a state of shock that this is now year #6 and I have not yet spent a night in the house. I am also in shock that I have been painting the entire exterior as this was SO not even a thought in my head when I purchased the house.

Regarding the carriage house? Oh dear, I do so have regrets.

When I purchased the house, Bob was 90% complete with a Home Depot renovation of the kitchen, and three bathrooms. In 2014, I yearned to make the carriage house F A B U L O U S rather than, well, normal. So, I began tearing out all the almost completed work. And the collapsing porch, eccentric rear addition, 1970s rear addition, and the horror of a bumped-out bathroom insulting the dining room.

And now, in year #6, the poor carriage house is still pulled apart and empty.

I am a very bad home owner.

Looking back? If I could turn back time?

I would have done the carriage house differently.

I should have finished the almost complete kitchen and bathrooms, slapped some plywood over the rotting porch floor and its roof, and got the place rented! This would have generated like $48,000 in income; more, had I Airbnd’d it.

Sigh. BIG sigh.

 

In 2014, I basically had no idea who architect Charles Squires was. Today, I know a great deal about the man, and I also know that not only did Squires design the carriage house, it appears that he likely designed its conversion into a proper house circa 1920. This means that the porch I ruthlessly tore off, and the rear eccentric addition, were likely designed by Squires.

Oh dear.

I am a very bad home owner, yes, and a very bad preservationist.

Today, I think, think, I would still tear off the porch. It had to be demolished in order to rebuilt it anyway. And I love love love the “floating” turret, which is actually how Squires intended it to be in 1894.

 

I did save the Squires molded concrete porch columns. As well as Bob’s plain concrete columns.

 

Click to enlarge. This is the carriage house when I purchased it, save that the kitchen counter had just been renovated to an L-shape, and the north window covered over (to the right of the stove). You can see the huge porch to the left, now gone. Note also the 1990s bathroom jutting into the dining room. Oh, the horror. Note also the triple closets in the bedroom; we will return to these.

 

Click to enlarge. And this…is the new plans. The huge front porch is gone. It will be replaced by a new porch, nestled under the overhanging turret above. The rectangular dining room is back! Whoee!!!!!!!! Note the office. Remember the triple closets from the plan before? One was originally a hall accessing the room. I returned this feature, and will be closing up the office door into the dining room, making the office a kinda secret room. Very cool. The circa-1950 garage had been connected to the eccentric addition by a cheap 1970s room. I made the garage free-standing again. And a garage again. Note how the living room, kitchen, and garage form a courtyard outside. This will be a deck. A fabulous deck, level with the kitchen floor. A powder room will be created in the current pantry. The sun porch off the kitchen will have a washer/dryer, and a breakfast table. The north window in the kitchen, covered over, has been uncovered. The walls between the dining room and kitchen will be new, and will enclose a pantry, broom niche, side-by-side refrigerator, and an adjacent counter for the microwave. I drew this plan several years ago and am still quite pleased with the design.

 

The “before” plans again. The red circle is the eccentric rear addition. To its right was the cheap 1970s addition. Sadly, I have no image of the exterior of the eccentric addition but…

 

…I do have the interior. The room was like a 1960s split-level. A half-dozen steps led up to the kitchen, and a half-dozen steps led down to the basement. While the room is now gone, I kept the door, the wood of the walls, and the…

 

…diamond-paned window, a very typical Squires favorite.

 

While I don’t regret removing the 1920s porch, I now 51% regret removing the eccentric 1920 rear addition.

When I purchased the carriage house, the kitchen was very dark. And I loathe dark kitchens. Passionately. It’s north window was blocked over, and the eccentric addition precluded any additional north light.

 

With the eccentric addition gone, I was able to install a salvaged glass door into the kitchen, and a window to its right. To the left, is the reopened north kitchen window. The door will open to an expansive deck, level with the kitchen floor. You can see the former roofline of the eccentric addition to the far right.

 

The new door, and window. The widow is original to the 1920 conversion, but relocated.

 

Today, the kitchen is filled with light. And this delights me.

Still…the eccentric addition was, by very nature, kinda cool. And today I think I should have kept it. By reopening the blocked-over north window, the kitchen did get more light. Perhaps a skylight over the eccentric addition would have let more light into the kitchen?

In any event, all this recalls the huge effort to restore the Frank Lloyd Wright home and studio in Oak Park, Illinois. The complex had been endlessly rebuilt by Wright while he lived there, and then later rebuilt, and rebuilt, by Wright for new owners after his departure, including significant alterations in the 1950s. When the house was restored in the late 1970s and early 1980s there was a massive debate over just what to restore. Should everything Wright built be retained? Or should the complex be restored to its appearance when Wright last occupied the complex in 1908? The latter approach prevailed but not without furious debate.

The carriage house, like the Wright complex, has been altered and changed significantly since it was built in 1894. Today, save the turret, it is unrecognizable from its 1894 appearance. This has offered considerable leeway regarding my approach.

In short, there seems no perfect approach to the carriage house. The front porch had to be demolished due to severe rot. While it could have been rebuilt with pressure-treated lumber (and still could be), its removal vastly increased the light to the living room, foyer, and front bedroom. I love light. Too, the porch covered four basement windows, and the basement apartment (yes, there is an apartment in the basement) was depressingly dark. The porch also wholly obscured the thrill of the overhanging turret.

However…however…I now think, well, I now think 51%, that I should have retained the eccentric addition. This creates an unsettling battle of thoughts:

  1. Should I just let it be and continue as planned?
  2. Or should I make the bold and crazy decision to recreate the lost eccentric addition?

I am pondering just how crazy I should allow myself to be.

Oh! I could not finish without paying homage to The Goddess…

 

 

34 Responses to If I Could Turn Back Time

  1. Three cheers for windows uncovered and light! With the new plans- just wondering how you access the basement?

    • Hi, Ramona!

      I was initially planning to have a trap door in the new deck to access the current basement stairs.

      Now? I am planning a new basement entrance on the north side, to allow me access without bothering the future tenant.

  2. I love that you still draft your plans by hand (they’re very clean-I can tell you’ve been doing it awhile!)…although, the sight of them gives me nightmares about my first hand drafting class.

    I do all my work in Revit now. It’s the best thing since sliced bread! All you do is check a box for wall height and it draws your elevations for you simultaneously. *praise the lord*

    Will the new front porch be covered, kissing the turret, or more like the deck-just a floor and railing?

    I’m in the camp for NOT recreating the wonky 1920’s rear addition. The expansive outdoor space will be a huge selling point for prospective tenants. I have an enormous deck off the bedroom of my apartment, and I use it all the time.

    • Hi, Cody!

      The new front porch (partially built) will have no roof, thus allowing the turret to be FREE!

      Incredibly, I have some of original 1894 carriage house railings and will be re-using them on the porch.

      Regarding the kitchen deck, if I recreate the eccentric addition, instead of a deck I will do a patio. So, the use will be the same.

  3. Oh, the carriage house looks so bad without the front porch on it! That strong horizontal line was the only thing whatsoever unifying the facade.

    • But, I can only imagine how dark the basement was when those windows were totally covered. Just a difficult situation all around, especially considering it’s probably still dark down there.

      To be honest, I personally wouldn’t even waste the effort on the carriage house. The floor plan is weird, the outside is awkward, and the living room faces NORTH??

      It was a compromised design from the first conversion, not even Squires could save it. Cut your losses is my advice! But if you want to work on it, I wouldn’t stop you.

      • The carriage house is, actually, a delight in person.

        The living room is HUGE and has windows to the east, north, and west. The fireplace has a STUNNING tile surround.

        The dining room is also large, and with lovely leaded-glass windows.

        The foyer is charming, and with all the eccentric Squires bits re-installed between the foyer and LR, the space will be wondrous.

        The kitchen is going to be a knock-out.

        The whole second floor is delicious, with sloped ceilings, dormers, and a charming scale.

        I adore the carriage house.

    • It looks ‘off’ because itlooks nothing like it was intended to when it served as a carriage house without a porch. From what I remember, none of the gables or dormer windows we see today were extant in 1894. The roof sloped down wholly uninterrupted, and the turret was the only element that stuck out from the MUCH simpler roof line. As intended, it would look fabulous, but removing all the windows would mean trashing a ton of usable living space on the second floor.

    • I am confident that when I done with the facade of the carriage house it will be STUNNING.

      The 1920s porch neutered the drama of the turret. And it killed the light for the basement, front bedroom, foyer, and west LR window.

  4. Here are my thoughts : sometime in our life, there are events we are not proud of, we dislike, or we better not have. But without them, we wouldn’t be the same. It’s life. For me, it’s the same for a house. It have history, and evolve with a new owner. Keep trace of this, keep important items, but make her livable. I suppose that you want a house, not a museum here. I’m a huge fan of the Cross House, but I would be frightened live in, and dommage her. The carriage house is more… accessible

  5. To paraphrase a wise man, No, no, no, no………NO! Finish the carriage house with the plans that you have already made. If you still have regrets when the main house is finished, then make your changes. If you want to be a real purist, convert it back to a carriage house.

    • ^^^

      I agree with that logic. If you keep fussing over it, you’ll never be finished. THIS is something you can return to in the future if you wanted.

      • Cody, but I am very good at the art of fussing!

        NOTE: this blog was a thought exercise. I am not currently working on the carriage house, and have no plans to. My current focus is on finishing the south facade of the big house.

    • Stewart!

      You are demanding that I, essentially, hold to a straight line.

      I’m an Aquarian. We don’t do straight lines!

  6. I think you made the right decision the first time when you removed the awkward additions and the rotten porch. Once something is in place, it has an inertia and it’s really hard to make changes. Yes, you could have been making money from rent if you’d left things the way you found them and rented out the carriage house. Then imagine deciding when to end their lease and tear all that out and fix it up the right way. You would feel so much more reluctant because the tenants would be settled and it would be more work to change everything.

    I don’t think you should recreate the addition. The carriage house looks so much better without it! From your photos and description it was awkward and made the house dark. Everything will be much more comfortable and accessible for tenants with the door with glass and the deck.

    • Hi, Carlyn!

      You wrote: “Once something is in place, it has an inertia and it’s really hard to make changes.”

      Yes! That was exactly my fear in 2014. I felt that if the various features of the carriage house which diminished it were left in place “for now”, they would remain forever.

  7. I say move ahead and store the blocks in the basement. An income producing lovely carriage house sounds pretty terrific. No unit in the basement, right? That will just be HVAC, etc? When you purchased both, I think you did the right thing. I also would have had a strong desire to own/control that house as well, even if you didn’t initially think it was the carriage house. That strong gut feeling was there. In my opinion, you are buffing it up, and it will be a lovely place to live (no orange sofa. . .).

  8. I’m just waiting for you to finish the Carriage House so I can move in. Actually, if you let me live there, I’ll help finish it. I know nothing (like Jon Snow), but I take direction reasonably well. And my Dad has a basement full of power tools exactly one mile away, and I can borrow them at any time, as long as I return them to their exact places every evening.

    p.s.: I sent you an email.

  9. While I understand wishing not to have removed the “eccentric addition,” now that it is gone, I say leave it off! It is so much cleaner and allows so much more light into the kitchen that adding it back seems like a backwards move at this point. I’m sure whatever you decide will be lovely!

  10. Ross, I am with the folks in the “full steam ahead” camp to follow through with your plans for the carriage house. The plans you designed look wonderful but I would change the door to the garage to be on the same side as the steps to the deck so one could easily park a car, exit the garage and go up the steps, over the deck and enter the house through the kitchen. Maybe you could use the saved collums to form the frame for a trellis or pergola near the deck? Wild idea…if some of the wonderful craftspeople who have helped you with the restoration of the Cross House could offer several week long workshops and use the carriage house as a “practical laboratory” for restoration and renovation.

  11. I think we’re all curious about this basement apartment. What era(s) and how terrible is it? I’m assuming the juice ain’t worth the squeeze when it comes to fixing it up, either as its own unit or as more space for someone who would rent the entire house.

    Basement apartment? Bring back half the 20’s addition.

    One tenant gets house & basement? Full 20’s addition.

    Basement storage for Ross? No addition, no trap door.

    Basement gets forgotten? Trap door is okay.

    But in any event, as much as I’m enamored of the courtyard, maybe a deck to the back of the house and South of the garage is more private for you and your tenants? The easterly Northeast kitchen window could be a door in this scenario. With the courtyard, you’d be looking down on it from all three stories of south facade Cross House. And not every tenant will feel comfortable work their landlord’s home looming over what should be a relaxing space.

    Points for that Cher video! The USS Missouri was a museum ship in my hometown (Bremerton, WA) and my DOD policeman grandfather her main security guard. Many happy memories of that boat!

  12. Wow, many opinions! I say forget the wonky 20’s addition. Carry on as you are. It’s your house, do as you wish. You are not beholden to the past, but it does add charachter to leave/create what was.
    That’s my 2 cents. Love your work on the Cross house and watch intently on your progress.

  13. Ross, do you plan to eventually paint the carriage house to match the Cross House (since they share design elements and were obviously meant to work as a pair), or use a complementary yet still historically accurate color scheme to provide for some separation?

    Either way, I fully supported the courtyard deck idea until I saw the exterior photo of the former “eccentric addition” area. I’d make it a ground-level patio and retain the exterior steps up to the kitchen and down to the basement. Seems much simpler than a deck and a trap door, as well as somewhat more original.

    • Brian, yes, the carriage house will be painted to match the big house. The two NEED to read as companions.

      Regarding the deck, it will be MUCH easier to use if it is on the same level of the kitchen.

      Regarding the basement, I will be creating a new north basement entrance. This will allow me access independent of any tenant in the carriage house, and I plan to use the space for lighting storage. This will free up the fabulous third floor of the Cross House!!!!!

  14. Hey Ross, I love those new plans for the carriage house, so smooth and clean ugh!

    But I have but two requests.
    Firstly, I’m now dying to see the fireplace in there.
    Secondly, do you think Squires would have put any brackets underneath the turret? I can’t help thinking about that, and about the fact that…. it looks like you may need some clapboard siding for where that porch ceiling is missing.

    Anyways, best of luck on both houses! Seeing them makes my heart ache and if I’m ever in Kansas, I would volunteer to help out in a heartbeat.

    • Hi, JP!

      You need not die to see the fireplace. Just look here.

      The turret never had any brackets.

      Yes, there is missing siding!

  15. Sorry, the front needs the porch. It just looks naked. It’s not a mini cross house without the porch. But it’s yours so as you wish. I’m Aquarius as well Feb. 11 1958, and I do what I want too!

    • Hi, Dawn!

      I agree that the face looks naked. Now. However, I am confident that when the carriage house is properly painted, and with the roof-less porch done, it will be gorgeous.

  16. My mother, OBM, was a docent to the State Capitol, here in Sacratomato. When they were renovating it, starting in the late 70s, they had the same decision (as the FLWright house): to WHAT era should it be restored?

    They decided on 1906. The “Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire” put California on the map, as far as the nation’s consciousness went, and the State of California’s response to it, from the State Capitol, was picked as its *most complete* and important, historical era. Hence, as far as the “museum” aspect of the Capitol goes (affecting the working portions not a bit, which are set at—what year is it?—2019 ;-/), 1906 is it!

    As far as “what I would have done different” vis-a-vis the NotCarriageHouse/CarriageHouse goes—I thought you were going to say “I would have made it livable, FOR ME, Ross, temporarily”. While you still wouldn’t be moved into the Cross Mansion 6 years later, you’d be very close-by! [Though of course, I don’t know how close your actual current domicile is to the C.M.] But renting it out would also have been good…

    • I have thought, several times, of moving into the carriage house as a temporary measure.

      Two things have stopped this:
      1) No cat fence.
      2) I can’t move with ALSO bringing all my lights with me. These will go in the basement of the big house, but stuffing the basement full of fragile antique lights while ALSO still doing plumbing and wiring and HVAC is inviting disaster.

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