Bellingham couple transforms old house into dream home

Published on Thu, Sep 23, 2010 by By Tara Nelson

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When Jeff and Carol Arvin wanted to relocate to a bigger house but couldn’t because of soaring real estate prices in 2004, they decided to try something different.

Jeff Arvin, who works as a building designer at Cascade Joinery inā€ˆFairhaven had the experience and know-how to transform his family’s aging home in a Fairhaven neighborhood known in the early 1900s as “Swede Hill,” to a modern-looking dream home.

Over the years, Arvin said the home was remodeled at least three times, leaving its outer appearance awkward looking and unmatched. The home was built somewhere between 1913 and 1917 in a neighborhood with an east-facing slope used primarily for worker housing for the area’s lumber yard and dock workers.

“Our house has had at least three new beginnings,” he said. “The first one was somewhere between 1913 and 1917, depending on your source. Most of the houses built then were very small by our standards – well less than 1,000 square feet, and many of them, like mine, in the 600-700 square foot range.”

Arvin said the kitchen was less than 100 square feet, there was no master bathroom (there was an outhouse in the back alley) and the ceilings in both bedrooms – one of which was nothing more than a wide hallway – were so low that at 6 foot, five inches tall he had to stoop as he passed through.

“There were tiny closets, no Jacuzzi or Viking range or Energy Star appliances,” he said. “There were no appliances at all, come to think of it.”

Over the years, the kitchen was slightly enlarged, and the plumbing was moved indoors.

In the mid ‘90s the house doubled in size with the addition of a real kitchen and master bedroom upstairs, but the end results looked too funky for their tastes.

By 2003 Arvin said his family size had doubled, but that they liked the lot placement with regard to sunlight exposure, view of Mount Baker, good neighborhood and proximity to services, not to mention plenty of fruit trees.

“After a year of looking at expensive projects, also known as existing houses we could afford, we made one of the best decisions of our lives – we stayed put,” he said.

After working through a couple different schemes, the Arvins settled on one that involved reconfigured the space in the existing house to create another bedroom, changed the existing master bedroom into a home office and added a dining room and new master bedroom. 

Also, they removed the roof of both existing sections, raised the walls of the original house to match the 1990s addition and framed a new roof that would blend all three sections of the building into a harmonious whole. 

Five years later, Arvin said staying put was an even better idea than it did at the time. 

“We recycled lots of the old house and took advantage of new materials with recycled content,” he said. “We also updated all appliances to Energy Star standards and have lower utility bills to show for it. But best of all, we now have a great house in a great place.”