An Oregon Home Landscape Comes to Life: Part 1

I may be jumping the gun a little with this blog, but I’m excited about a personal project I’ve got going on and wanted to share how it came to life and where we’re at with it.

This will be a 2, possibly 3 part blog. I swear I’m not trying to pull an “Avengers: Infinity War” here (my partner was shocked at the cliff-hanger ending. He may have been the only one in America that was!)

Let me give you some background:

Our first house, bought a few (many) years ago; it was a small 80’s ranch in Hillsboro, and this picture was taken after I did quite a bit of landscaping!

My partner (let’s just call him Number One because I’m a geek) and I purchased our first home soon after getting married way back in <a long time ago>.

We loved our starter home and put a lot of effort into making it special, because it certainly didn’t start out that way! It was previously a cat house, as in lots and lots and lots of cats. We were told that floors and quite a bit of drywall had to be re-done, which made it into a very basic, boring white box of a house. A “blank slate” as we’d say in real estate!

But, after a <long amount of time> our needs had changed and we decided to “trade-up” (as you do).

<Many years> ago we bought our current house, which is in a great location for all the driving around town I do.

After several more years, we were at another crossroads. We wanted more out of our property than it was currently giving us.

What should we do? Look for a home with a layout and landscape that better suited our needs? Or make a long term commitment to staying put and work on the one we’ve already got?

Overly-formulaic or rollicking good fun to watch? (I feel like I could ask that question of pretty much any HGTV show nowadays!)

Overly-formulaic or rollicking good fun to watch? (I feel like I could ask that question of pretty much any HGTV show nowadays!)

This sounds like an episode of “Love it or List it”, except this is for real! (And we don’t get any tv sponsor project discounts, either, booooo.)

Most homeowners at some point or another will take up this great debate. Remodeling is a pain and expensive. But, selling a house and buying another one (not always in that order) is also a pain and expensive. There are a lot of factors to consider:

  1. Do you have the cash flow to remodel?

  2. Does it financially make sense to sell?

  3. Is renting out the current home and buying a different home an option?

  4. Are the things you’re unhappy with fixable and, if so, are those fixes prohibitively expensive?

  5. Do you have the time to manage a remodel? Because, it doesn’t matter how hands-on you are, you will need to keep an eagle eye on the process and be willing to speak up!

  6. Does your lifestyle and family allow you to live in a construction zone?

  7. Is the timing right to house hunt and make a move (you may have to consider school year, work schedules, life events, market, etc.)

  8. Do you have the time it will take to get your current house show-ready?

  9. Does what you want in a different home exist in a price range you can afford?

  10. Does what you want in your current home translate into a reasonable remodeling budget? (Remodeling is getting much more expensive as the cost of labor and materials continues to rapidly increase.)

Okay, there are some homes that better suited me, they were just a teensy bit outside my budget…

Okay, there are some homes that better suited me, they were just a teensy bit outside my budget…

We debated these questions for awhile (as in, a couple years) and kept our eye out for homes that might better suit us. Window-shopping style house hunting is the most fun kind of house hunting. It’s a lot more fun than “down to business” house hunting, and as a Realtor, I should know!

Over that time I never saw anything that really excited me, and even more importantly, never saw anything that suited us any better than what we’ve got right now.

In the end, we decided that we’re putting down some serious roots and staying here for the long haul.

Our current home is a single level which gives us real options for aging in place, the location is excellent, the half acre sloped lot gives us the amount of privacy we like, and the smaller house is easy for us to maintain. It’s also got the large garage we need to house our motorcycles (which isn’t exactly easy to find in the style of homes we like).

Since we’re staying here possibly forever, we want to make the space we have more usable. Which brought on a whole new debate. Money isn’t limitless! Where should we spend what we have?

Kitchen Remodels are Usually the Way to go!

All good home photos have background dogs. This is my kitchen; I just took a quick photo today. Please ignore the cluttered countertops.

All good home photos have background dogs. This is my kitchen; I just took a quick photo today. Please ignore the cluttered countertops.

There’s no question that the kitchen in our home could use an overhaul. It’s not dated, per se, but it doesn’t match the mid-century feel of the home. It’s a small galley-style kitchen with just enough counter space for Number One to work his magic (the only thing I cook reliably is chili). It’s got a gas stove and appliances are all fine (okay, we need to replace the microwave-hood, but other than that…). We’ve also got plenty of pantry space.

What we’d really like to do is blast the space out and add-on to the house to make a larger, more usable kitchen. But that would be part of a much larger project that we aren’t ready for.

So, we decided that we can live with the kitchen for now.

Or, the Master Suite…

I’m standing in the small walk-in closet to take this shot. Imagine doing the gut-suck limbo past your partner every morning!

I’m standing in the small walk-in closet to take this shot. Imagine doing the gut-suck limbo past your partner every morning!

The master bedroom suite is awkward and cramped. The bedroom itself isn’t big; in order to fit our king sized bed and two nightstands in the room, we have to position the bed in front of a window, almost completely covering it (which is annoying). A queen bed isn’t an option since Number One isn’t a small dude. However, we’ve made it work this long…

The master bathroom layout is ridiculous. The previous owners, for whatever reason, seemed to have been determined to fit a double vanity, walk-in closet, separate water closet, and regular-sized bath tub/shower into a space that really wasn’t meant to fit that many things.

We have to walk past the sinks to get to the closet, which is fine, except the space is so narrow that we’ve both gotta suck in our guts and squeeze to get by each other. There’s not a ton of counter space because of the double sinks, either. The tub isn’t useful since neither of us are into baths.

Similar to the kitchen, the bathroom isn’t exactly dated, but doesn’t fit the style of the house (the former owners liked traditional style and did everything possible to make a mid-century home look traditional).

We put in a lot of debate about remodeling this space. We could improve the bathroom/closet layout a bit, but given the way the bedroom is situated, there’s no way to add space here. Any remodel would likely be dissatisfying in the end. Realistically, if we want a bigger master suite, an addition upward to the home is the best option, and neither of us were ready to take on a project that big.

So, we decided that we’ll just commit to losing weight so that squeezing by each other in the bathroom won’t be such a big deal, and we’ll eventually get a new bedroom set that fits the space better. (Ugh, furniture shopping is the worst!)

We gotta dump our money somewhere, so why not the yard?

Apparently, I almost never aim my camera TOWARD my house… so, this is one of the few shots I have of the front. And yes, I’ll be changing that paint color. Any suggestions?

Apparently, I almost never aim my camera TOWARD my house… so, this is one of the few shots I have of the front. And yes, I’ll be changing that paint color. Any suggestions?

Okay, it’s not traditionally the part of the home that you want to blow a lot of money on. The ROI on yard work is almost never anywhere near 100%… often it’s closer to 50%. As a Realtor, I would generally counsel people not to overspend on their landscape.

But, seriously, we’ve got a half acre of virtually nothing. And I worked in horticulture for almost a decade! This is just shameful…

BEFORE: Big gravel firepit area built last year by yours truly. Oh well, it was a good workout.

What we did have was a gigantic, ugly aggregate concrete patio and an equally gigantic and ugly gravel patio (which I installed myself to be used as a fire pit and raised garden bed area… I just never made it to building the beds). The rest of the yard was sloped lawn (weeds) and a sloped, forested backyard mostly covered in ivy, which I’ve been slowly beating back for 6 years.

BEFORE: Big aggregate concrete patio + dinky covered structure that just barely fit the BGE and didn’t quite fit a very tall cook.

Number One likes to cook, and by cook I mean cook in every way imaginable. We’ve got a deep fryer, we’ve got a sous vide. We’ve got a Le Creuset. We’ve got an instant pot. We’ve got a saucier and cast iron skillets and all kinds of gadgets and he uses every one of them.

More than anything, he loves to grill. We have a Big Green Egg (BGE) and a Weber gas grill. He often uses both of them at once.

BEFORE: Big grassy sloped front yard (nice woodsy view will remain). Don’t worry about the chair. It was windy. We WILL recover.

And yet here we are, in Oregon, with rain 8+ months of the year, and all he has to grill under is this dinky covered thing I bought him off Amazon one Christmas (which he has to duck to get under).

We clearly need an outdoor kitchen area of some sort. We also have 2 puppies that SERIOUSLY need a fenced yard. A fire pit area is a must, and a raised garden bed area is a must. Oh, and by the way, did I mention that I worked in horticulture for nearly a decade??? I NEED A GARDEN, PEOPLE!

THIS was an area that clearly was not working in any way. It’s not about ROI. This is our HOME. And we want to live in it the best way we can.

The debate was over, we were going to throw some real money into turning this yard into a LANDSCAPE.

If you follow me on Instagram (@dilithiumre) then you’ve seen me post pictures of how things are slowly taking shape. But I’m taking a deeper dive here to show you how we got to the construction phase!

So, we’re gonna hire a landscape company. who do we hire?

My original design plan, drawn up several years ago. No, we weren’t REALLY going to put in a bocce ball court (and I have no idea how that ever would have worked with our slope)… but the idea was fun!

About 5 years ago, we had a design plan drawn up by a professional landscape architect. We thought the sensible thing to do would be to find a landscape company to implement the existing plan for us.

I briefly considered serving as my own general contractor. Unfortunately, all of my landscaping expertise is confined to plant identification, eastern US sales, and wholesale nursery growing, which really doesn’t translate well into hardscaping. I scrapped the idea of coordinating this thing myself.

I polled some friends for suggestions but I quickly realized this was a bigger project than the landscapers my friends and I collectively knew and I was looking for a specific aesthetic. So, I went to Google and to Houzz (a truly awesome home and landscape website/app) and began looking into local area landscapers.

At first I mostly had the usual results when you try to find a good contractor: inability to reach people, too busy, outside their wheelhouse, etc. I came down to three companies that seemed interested in the job.

The first I talked to was extremely negative about my design plan. I could understand that, but his attitude skewed into being derisive. I really don’t need a lecture when I’ve barely just met you. If that’s the sales pitch, I shudder to think how we’d communicate down the road!

The second company thought they could tackle the project and get it close to budget. They measured the site, put together the different pieces of phase 1, and sent me a cost sheet… that ended up 50K over budget and was missing several elements of the design (it didn’t even include a covered area).

The third company was Paradise Restored. (Check them out on Houzz.)

I met Micah, the owner of the company, and discussed the project. I showed him the design plan we had. He was respectful, but he let me know quickly that they’re a design/build firm. They’d want to complete a new design using modern technology. He understood if we wanted to stick to the original plan, but felt that it was lacking on a couple of fronts.

His opinion was that concrete is, by and large, not a great idea in the Pacific Northwest (if you enlarge the plan above, you’ll see that half the project consisted of concrete work, including pathways, major retaining walls, “fence”, patios, etc.).

You see, the original concept was an ultra-modern, minimalist garden, full of gorgeous light-colored brushed and board-formed concrete…similar to what you see in photos of amazing southwest gardens found in Southern California, Arizona, etc. Unfortunately, with our weather, concrete tends to crack and discolor very easily, is extremely expensive, and is rarely installed properly.

He also felt the design plan didn’t take the contours of our sloped yard into account enough. Design tools have come a long way in the 5 years since we’d had the plan done. Our needs and wants had changed in that time, too. Not to mention, we never truly completed the plan… we needed construction renderings, which would have meant a lot more design work, anyway.

It didn’t take much convincing for us to decide to scrap the original design and have it re-done from scratch. We hired Paradise Restored and the WILD (Whitaker Insane Landscape Design) Project began!!!

The design process begins:
Early November, 2018

Molly: the designer

Molly: the designer

After we hired Paradise Restored, we got to meet Molly, our designer.

But to hear how things progressed from there, you’ll have to stay tuned for Part 2!!

Have questions about this project? Thinking about selling vs remodeling? Just really want to talk to a realtor that will listen? Drop me a line!

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