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Our lake house: Renovation goals
How we're approaching the remodel—and a peek at a few "before" photos
Teahouse is a newsletter about home, travel, and community. Here you’ll find renovation documentation and destination inspiration alongside a curation of things I’m creating, consuming, and coveting right now.
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The last couple of weekends up at the lake house have been a revolving door of architects, builders, and designers as we figure out how to put together a team for our renovation this winter.
Even though we’re no stranger to remodeling at this point, starting from the beginning always feels sort of insurmountable—when EVERYTHING is one big question mark.
Today I’m going all in on our months-long thought process around the remodel and sharing all the background that we’ve been talking through with contractors.
The planning method
When approaching a remodel, my process begins with some soul-searching and fact-finding. Mike and I always have several conversations and a couple of domestic disputes over the course of several months to reach common ground on a few things:
Our lifestyle: How do we plan to live in and use the home? What are our main activities in and out of the home? How should it evolve with our 3-, 5-, or 10-year needs?
Current challenges: What are our biggest challenges and frustrations with the current home? What about the house doesn’t currently meet our most important wants and needs?
Renovation goals: What do we hope to accomplish with the remodel? What does a successful end product look like?
Aligning on all of this *stuff* between the two of us—and then documenting it—is so extremely helpful in communicating with architects, designers, and builders.
We used to roll out of bed, meet with a builder, and then casually bring up random ideas that popped into either of our heads during a walk-through. I call this the “it would be cool if” method, because we would just blab about things that would be cool if we did.
Builders would probably hear “and then we thought it’d be cool if there was a boat house with a deck on top of it… and what if we popped the top to open up the attic?” and wonder where our $1 million budget was going to come from. It was not productive.
Getting it all down in writing means the conversations we’re having with contractors are more clear and consistent. And, helping people clearly understand our priorities means they’re better equipped to make recommendations to meet our lifestyle.
Note: These photos are truly the *before before* photos—with furniture and decor from the previous owner. While we haven’t invested a ton into decorating the space, rest assured I have not been living with a fishing net hung over our windows as a design element.
How we live in and use the home
A year into lake house ownership, we’ve really gotten to understand what our mountain life looks like in practice. When we first bought, we imagined it’d be a three-season (summer + fall + winter) house—spring is pretty cold and slushy in the mountains! In reality, we used it more than anticipated in the summer and less than anticipated in the winter. We’re here every free summer weekend that we have, but we only came up 3-4x times in the colder months.
We primarily head up to the lake by ourselves for weekends at a time, with the occasional visit from friends. When we do have visitors, typically it’s one or two other couples, and the occasional baby or dog.
A typical day starts with coffee on the deck or down by the lake. We make breakfast, spend most of the day out and about hiking or boating, and often come back home to cook dinner. Most of the time we’re both in the kitchen at once, and we love to have guests hanging out while we cook. We grill often and eat on the deck whenever the weather allows. In the evenings, we’re usually curled up in the living room with our pups, and we have the occasional firepit hang down by the lake.
We love having a quiet office space in the attic that offers the privacy to take calls. And the dirt space off the deck behind the house is used as a dog run for Steve and Cleo.
Our main activities outside the home
When we’re in Grand Lake, you’ll find us boating, hiking, cycling, skiing, golf, and fishing. We want to be able to store our gear and grab-and-go whatever we need easily. Having two parking spots in the garage is much needed for the winter months, when our road out front gets heavy snow.
How it needs to evolve to meet our needs
Since many of our friends are starting families, we want our home to be family-friendly and to be able to accommodate dogs and kids. Nothing should be too precious. Friends and family will likely use the house when we’re not heading up there ourselves, so we want it to be easy and comfortable—think smart locks, clever-but-obvious storage solutions, etc. While we don’t rent the cabin out today, we may do so in the future, so we want it to be able to withstand the use and abuse of less careful renters.
Challenge 1: A dated interior
Our cabin was built in the 70s, and well, it looks exactly like it was built (possibly by some drunk fishermen) in the 70s! We have some furry carpet that our pup Steve LOVES, dark faux wood paneling on the walls, mushroom-colored baseboard heaters and linoleum/cheap LVP tiles that could definitely be brought into the current century.
On the bright side, the previous owners (who had owned it since the 80s) didn’t use the house a lot, so even though it’s old, everything is in relatively good shape.
For better or for worse, this is not one of those well-crafted historic homes with stunning vintage tilework that just looks out-of-date. While remodeling often comes with a slew of sustainability issues, I’m not harboring a lot of guilt about ripping out anything in this house… I truly think any upgrades we make will extend the longevity of the home.
Challenge 2: Poorly used square footage
I often walk through homes (including our current Denver home pre-remodel) and wonder how anyone, much less a trained professional, thought the floor plan was their best idea. This is the case with the lake house, where there’s not a lot of square footage to work with to begin with, but the space that is there isn’t well laid-out.
On the ground level, we have an extremely deep garage space—it only fits two cars side by side, but it’s super deep and could have allowed for an additional bedroom or bathroom. A huge fireplace structure dominates the living room—love the novelty of having a wood-burning fireplace, but not at the expense of more living room lounge space.
Challenge 3: Suboptimal light and enjoyment of the lake
The entry/mudroom, hallways, and stairways don’t get very much natural light—most of our windows are on the smaller side, so there’s a lot of opportunity to brighten up the space by letting in more light.
Though we paid the waterfront real estate premium, the house doesn’t necessarily capitalize on the lake views as much as it could. The deck is on the narrow side with only a small side door leading out to it. Between not fitting a ton of furniture and not having the most conveniently accessible entry door, we use it less than we want to.
Our renovation goals
Our overall goal is to increase the comfort and livability of the house. This translates into:
Goal 1: Expanding the usable square footage of the house, making it more functional for a six-person stay.
Some of the ideas we’re looking into are eliminating a little-used hallway and swapping out the fireplace for something smaller. There’s also attic space that we believe could be opened up to make the top floor rooms larger. Right now, the house can feel tight for six, with two couples sharing the main level bathroom. We’re exploring the possibility of adding a third bathroom, so that each couple will have their own bathroom for use.
Goal 2: Make the home feel brighter and more open, especially by optimizing natural light and lake views.
We’re planning to paint the interior walls with my go-to white paint, Benjamin Moore’s Simply White, which will make a world of difference in brightening up the space. We’re hoping to put in sliding or folding glass doors on the front of the house to create a more indoor-outdoor feel (and perhaps put in glass that offers some UV protection :). And we’ll also look into options for changing out the deck railing to make it easier to enjoy the lake views from the deck.
Goal 3: Modernize the home without losing its cozy cabin feel.
We’ll definitely replace the carpet and either paint or remove the wall paneling altogether. Next up is freshening up the kitchen and bathrooms with updated cabinetry, countertops, tiles, and plumbing and light fixtures.
That said, while we went bright and airy our Denver home, I want to make sure the cabin emphasizes warmth and coziness—and reflects its setting and its history: a 70s-built, small-town Colorado home on the lake. The goal is to make it feel layered and comfortable, with lots of natural light and materials that root it in the landscape of the Rocky Mountains.
Stay tuned for a house tour and a closer look at the floor plan in the coming months. If there’s anything you’d love to see—budget breakdowns? sourcing tips? something else?—let me know in the comments.